Sunday, October 31, 2010

Guest Post - Review of The Last Play At Shea

Editor's Note: I have not seen The Last Play At Shea myself. I wasn't at the concerts at Shea in 2008, for which I regret not going, and I wasn't at Citi Field for the premiere of the movie in 2010, for which I regret not going. I've missed it in the theaters too, another regret. But I was lucky enough to be approached by my friend, let's call her "Coop", best known for her work on the Mets themed blog My Summer Family and her contributions to Metsmerized Online, asking if she could write a review of The Last Play At Shea for my blog. So here is Coop's review...

Let It Be

Those of who know The Coop know that she never hides her feelings, never minces her words and is never afraid to admit she's made a mistake. And here – thanks to DyHrdMet's generous offer to have me jump into the booth here at Remembering Shea from time to time a la Ralph Kiner – I have an admission for you all.

I never attended a music concert at Shea Stadium.

That may not be a big deal. After all, my father raised me on two things: music and the Mets, which shaped a lot of my personality today. When I was 7 years old, I was introduced to two of my true loves: the Mets and Duran Duran. Anyhow, my dad claims he never went to a rock concert at Shea Stadium either (well, as he claims, at least he doesn't "remember" – and if you "remember" it you really weren't there but that's besides the point).

However, I had plenty of opportunity to have done so. I was invited to see Bruce Springsteen in 2003, but I had just seen him at Giants Stadium so I passed. In 2008, when Billy Joel announced the last shows there, I was nonplussed. I am not a Billy Joel fan, but I don't dislike him. I probably know most of his songs, even lesser known quantities that weren't played on the radio. I wouldn't say that I was exactly dying to see him live. The so-called "Last Play at Shea" was horribly mismatched. Why get Billy Joel, a Yankee fan, to close out MY favorite baseball team's home? I thought they could do better, but I was proven wrong seeing this movie. Potentially, my biggest regret is never having seen a rock concert at Shea, but most importantly, not seeing Billy Joel due to my stubborn shortsightedness.

That's the backdrop.

So at this point I've seen the documentary Last Play at Shea twice. Those of you who are looking for a Mets documentary will be disappointed. Those of you looking for a documentary on rock concerts at Shea will be as well. While the backdrop of the movie was Billy Joel's last shows at Shea Stadium, there is a heavy concentration of Joel's career and lifespan, but that in and of itself isn't the movie. Those who are looking for a history of New York, how Shea Stadium came to be and how it tied in to how the Mets were born and how rock concerts became a mainstay of Shea Stadium…that is the story. So in effect, it's an obituary to a stadium we loved so much, a home that we probably can replay each nook and cranny in our mind's eye, and a place I took very much for granted even to this day.

No matter what your reasoning for seeing the film, whether it's to see old concert footage from the Beatles, or Billy Joel or seeing the great days of the Mets, I don't think you'll dislike it. There are many underlying themes here. I swear I will bring them all together.

One is the history lesson. Billy Joel called Shea Stadium where "New York meets Long Island." Literally, Shea was in New York City, but geographically, it was on Long Island. There are many historical and symbolic themes in the documentary.

One is Robert Moses, the man almost solely responsible for the landscape and infrastructure of Greater New York and Long Island specifically. No documentary about the Mets would be complete without a reference to Brooklyn Dodgers leaving town. However, the tie-in to Moses is that the Dodgers wanted clearance to build a stadium in Downtown Brooklyn; Moses declined, and offered them a plot in what we now know as Willets Point. As history has it, the Dodgers left for the West Coast. But Moses still wanted that stadium built. Bill Shea made a few phone calls and got a team to fill it, the team we know as the New York Metropolitans.

The other story is the real-life lesson. The element of irony here is that we all know Billy Joel as a kid from Levittown, the ‘burbs, which Moses was responsible for providing the infrastructure behind. In fact, I doubt anyone would disagree that if Billy Joel was just some kid from the Bronx, we wouldn't have all the art he created today. However, Joel was also uprooted from his family home in the Bronx due to a freeway Moses himself was responsible for building.

So like the landscape of greater New York, the Mets' birth and the root of who Billy Joel is, was indirectly and directly shaped by Robert Moses, the Power Broker himself.

As a result, the Mets themselves and Billy Joel's existence really paralleled one another. The Mets were new and coming into their own, and Billy Joel was making his mark as a musician in the ‘60s. The Mets were floundering in the ‘70s, and Joel was trying to get out of bad record deals. The Mets had a heyday in the ‘80s, and Joel became the pop star most of us know him to be.

What's more is that the Mets really tied into the history of New York City. I remember reading a while back that the reason why New York City fell into fiscal ruin in the ‘70s was years and years of Moses' policies of getting the blue collar and middle class out of the city and into the suburbs, yanking out that income that was pumped into the economy. When the Dodgers and Giants left in the ‘50s, that took out a lot of money out of the city's hands that was still very much felt in the ‘70s. Look at the Mets: they were broke, Shea was falling apart as was the team. New York City started to enjoy a renaissance with the greed-is-good and drugs-are-better era in the ‘80s, as did the Mets. Baseball became a stay of normalcy after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and then came full circle in 2008.

The main character of the Last Play at Shea was the last part of that title. This was a movie about how Shea Stadium meant to volumes of people, from Mets fans, to music fans, to Pete Flynn (the head groundskeeper at Shea who figures prominently in the film), to even musicians themselves. Gordon Sumner, aka Sting from the Police, reportedly decided on stage at Shea Stadium that he was leaving the band, that he wouldn't top it.

To those of us who were intimately involved with Shea Stadium, many of us would agree with Darryl Strawberry's sentiment, "It was a dump, but it was our dump." During the last concerts at Shea though, the idea that Robert Moses had to build the Colosseum of Rome in the middle of Flushing, Queens, certainly resonated. With the lights out, and the only thing illuminating were the screens in the background of Billy Joel's show and the lights in the corridors provided the backdrop of something that was lost. Shea Stadium WAS a work of art. Those who graced her fields were artists to an extent. All that time, I was certainly one that took it for granted. If anything, this picture was so lovely to see Shea again in all her glory.

One of my biggest regrets in life was to have never attended a rock concert at Shea Stadium. I do know that I have it better than most: some have never attended a playoff game, or a World Series game, or even the last baseball game ever at Shea Stadium. That, to me, is absolute music. When I find myself in times of trouble, as Paul McCartney sang to close out the park, Shea Stadium is what brings me back to my happy place. And I'm certain those of you who follow this site know that to be a fact.

Coop, thanks for writing this review

Leave a comment or drop me a line at DyHrdMET [at] gmail [dot] com.
"Like" RememberingShea on Facebook (the function formerly known as "Becoming a Fan").
Become a Networked Blog