Enter the great . . . Bidini

Dave Bidini, is there anything you don’t do?
Dave Bidini, is there anything you don’t do?

It’s not enough for Dave Bidini to be one of Canada’s greatest musicians, he wants to be one of its finest authors too.

His band, The Rheostatics, have firmly established themselves as one of the most important Canadian bands of all time. Despite lacking much commercial success, the band has reached musical and cultural iconic status as purveyors of unique, and distinctly Canadian, art-rock for nearly two decades. They have always achieved their success on their own terms, without major label support, or much video or radio airplay. Now, with the release of his third book, Baseballissimo, Bidini is quickly carving a name for himself as one of Canada’s most celebrated authors and sports writers—and he’s still doing it in his own, unique way.

For his sophomore literary release, Tropic of Hockey, Bidini traveled to China, the United Arab Emirates, and other obscure lands in search of hockey in its purest, most unadulterated form.

With Baseballissimo, Bidini traveled to the place of his cultural heritage, and the birthplace of Italian baseball, to document the season of the Nettuno Peones, in the Italian minor leagues.

Baseballissimo is classic Bidini, filled with hilarious anecdotes, wonderful characters, and captivating stories, all in his own compulsively readable and incredibly insightful style. The Journal had a chance to speak with Bidini to discuss his take on the commercialization of professional leagues, his evolution as a writer, and the beauty of sports.

Journal: You speak frequently in the book about your fumbling with the Italian language, yet the book still shows incredible insight into the relationships and events surrounding the team. How were you able to overcome that seemingly huge obstacle?

Dave Bidini: That actually played into my hand as a self-deprecating style in a way. I just realized that I had to go with that as one of the tropes of the book. Part of one of the themes is literally as a kid trying to understand Italian culture, so it actually reflected those first experiences thirty years later; literally still trying to understand.

Is your attraction to documenting the state of North American sports in strange lands simply an admiration for the underdog?

I think underdogs have the best stories, you know? And underdog teams and underdog players are the most human, I think, because most of us would like to see ourselves as being the stars. The underdog is the closest to the best everyman. So, I do think those stories are the ones that are most memorable. I think that’s where the real drama of sports is. That’s where sport is magical and crazy and unexpected and beautiful—it still holds that power, you know? Despite the fact that it’s had all those cosmetic changes and philosophical changes, that’s still where it’s really interesting—when it can hold this sort of impossible power.

In the book you talk about having a desire to “experience sport unblemished by money”—seemingly a very similar spirit to the inspiration behind Tropic of Hockey. What do you think commercial interests and corporate involvement have done to sports?

I’m less cynical about baseball than I had been about hockey, partly because hockey is a little dearer to my heart. For some reason, those cosmetic changes and all the money didn’t really ruin it for me, the way it had ruined it for me with hockey. I think partly it is because baseball, despite the fact that there’s a lot more advertising, and it’s a long ball game now, and they’re falling prey to a lot of the things that have besmirched hockey—like in-game entertainment, etc—but, in baseball, you know, pitcher’s can still be fat, and you’ve got 80-year-old guys sitting on the bench. Baseball is still a very inclusive game. Hockey, now, seems to be a game for giants.

How would you change professional sports?

I mean, there was a time . . . like when they built the skydome, they built it so you couldn’t see the bullpen, so you couldn’t see who was warming up, so you had to look to the jumbotron, so it drives your eyes to the jumbotron, and there’s advertising on the jumbotron, you know? There has become a lot of really evil corporate control, and I would try to limit that I guess. Although, baseball has been a little self-limiting. I mean there was that whole Spiderman campaign, which was shut down, which is really encouraging. Yeah, I think just breaking down that boundary between fan and sport.

So, with this your third book, how do you see yourself evolving as a writer?

My philosophy often is that whatever book I’m writing at the time, I just don’t want it to suck so bad that I can’t do another one—and that is what kind of drives it. But yeah, being perceived as more established allows me to be a little more relaxed. I just signed on for two more with M&S, which is great, so I know there’s a little bit more breathing room and stuff. With music, I feel really comfortable on stage, it’s easy to be on stage, and now I’m feeling a little bit more comfortable in front of the computer screen or in front of a notebook, you know? I’m a little less neurotic about the whole process.

With the Rheostatics, you’re all succeeding in your various solo projects, is there any competition between you and your fellow bandmates?

Generally, I think we’re quite proud of each other’s accomplishments really, because we sort of came up together, grew up together, and we’re able to do a lot of what we do, because the band works the way it does, because we are the way we are to each other. You know, all the things, both loving and cruel.

Baseballissimo, as well as Bidini’s previous two books (On a Cold Road, and Tropic of Hockey) are available now from Mcclelland & Stewart. He’s also scheduled to release For Those About to Rock, his fourth book, in October. For more information on any of these titles visit mcclelland.com or rheostatics.ca

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