Q&A With Chicago Cubs Broadcaster Len Kasper

chicagocubs540bWe mentioned this when we told you about his annual benefit concert, but it bears repeating that Chicago Cubs TV broadcaster Len Kasper (pictured with Tommy Keene) is not your typical baseball talking head. In fact, he’s probably the only one who’s ever heard of the Talking Heads. With the season at long last in full swing after yet another dreadful winter, we talked to Kasper about his musical tastes, how often he gets to see bands on road trips and if next year is finally here.

Your Indentured Servants’ “In The Loop” (download):

MAGNET: Before we talk about music, you broadcast one of the Cubs/Yankees exhibition games at the new Yankee Stadium. What are your impressions of the new facility?
Kasper: I loved it. It’s a fantastic facility. On TV, it looks almost exactly like the old Yankee Stadium. The only thing I don’t love—and this is nitpicking—is that it’s still an enclosed ballpark with just a sliver of the outside world in view. You can barely see the subway train going by out in right-center. But they definitely kept the feel of the old ballpark while upgrading the amenities considerably.

I know what kind of music you’re interested in, but rather than speak for you, give us a few of your current and old favorites.
Well, for me these days, it all starts with the Replacements. When I was in high school and college, I was really into ’60s music—Beatles, Stones, Doors, British Invasion bands, etc.—because my mom had a lot of Beatles records. I also worked at an oldies station late in high school. Eventually, I got up to speed on my generation’s music. I like a lot of different stuff, but power pop is my favorite genre, so I’m really into Tommy Keene, the Romantics, the Plimsouls, Cheap Trick, etc. But again, if I had to pick a favorite band, it’s the Mats.

Since you mentioned the Replacements, what were your thoughts on MAGNET’s Over/Under entry on them?
I regard “Can’t Hardly Wait” as one of the best songs of all-time, regardless of the version. The horns don’t bother me at all, and my favorite version of it was the Westerberg performance on Saturday Night Live circa 1993. I also like “Merry Go Round,” so I’d have to disagree there. On the underrated list, I would particularly agree with “Satellite,” which should have been included on one of their last records. I might add “Anywhere Is Better Than Here,” simply because that title seemed to sum up where the band was around 1989. It stood out on the otherwise pretty quiet Don’t Tell A Soul, and looking back now, it almost seems like a big middle finger to what they had become: a big-label band that didn’t fit the mold of a “famous” rock group. Kind of reminds me of the sad, but disarmingly honest, quote from Paul during one of their last shows—I might be paraphrasing a bit—”Here’s another one you don’t want to hear … Frankly, neither do I.”

What’s the last record you added to your iPod?
The Angels’ Greatest Hits. I would say it’s new-wave power pop with a hard-rock edge. My favorite download of the past year is American Princes’ latest record. It was MAGNET’s number-one album of 2008, so I checked it out. And MAGNET was right on.

You were in a power-pop band years ago called Your Indentured Servants that, your modesty aside, actually is pretty good. (And whose record is available at Amazon.) What do you most recall about that experience?
That I can’t believe I was forced to be the frontman! Nobody else wanted to sing, so the chores fell on my shoulders. I hear some potential there, but we never were able to give it the time it deserved. Being in a band is a hobby, but being in a good band is work—good work, mind you. All the guys I played with were much more talented than I, but we all had jobs and other commitments that made it difficult to really fine-tune it. The shows were a blast, and recording was loads of fun. I’m proud we did it. There’s some stuff I really like and some stuff I wish we had developed a little more.

What would be your ideal concert triple bill?
Wow, that’s a tough one to answer. OK, here goes … opening would be Dom Mariani, who is a criminally overlooked power-pop singer/songwriter from Australia. I’ve never seen his band live. Next up would be the Plimsouls, another one of my favorite groups and one I’ve never seen. Headlining would have to be the Replacements, for one reunion show. Yes, Chris and Slim would have to be there, too, not just Paul and Tommy.

When you’re on the road with the Cubs, how often are you able to go and see bands?
It’s not always easy. Couple of quick stories. Last year, I saw the Dirtbombs were playing in Philadelphia the night we were flying in for a weekend series. Of course, I was thrilled. Then I noticed our game that day in Pittsburgh was actually a night game. I couldn’t believe it!  Normally, getaway day means a day game, but the Pirates had to foul up my plans, so I missed one of my all-time favorite bands. Fortunately, I’ve seen them twice, so not all was lost. In 2002, when I was with the Florida Marlins, we had a day game in Florida before flying out to Los Angeles to play the Dodgers. That night, Tommy Keene was opening for Jay Bennett at the Troubadour. I did the math, and I was in great shape time-wise—until our game went really long. I think it was an extra-inning game. We landed around 8 or 8:30 L.A. time, then got picked up by a friend and raced toward Hollywood. We made it mid-set and only caught about four or five Keene songs, but the silver lining was we got to meet Tommy and hang with his band. Later that weekend, I got them tickets to one of the Marlins/Dodgers games, so that had a nice ending.

In Chicago, you often get recognized at shows. What about on the road?
Never! I don’t get recognized much in Chicago, to be honest. Most people are focused on the stage, and unless they know what the back of my head looks like, most concert-goers never even do a double take. I will say, everyone I meet who does know me is really cool. I like to blend in with the crowd.

What’s the best on-the-road live music experience you can remember? What’s the worst?
Best was in San Francisco a couple years ago when I caught Michael Penn for the first time. Just a fantastic show in a small club setting. Worst? I would say all the ones I can’t make because our schedule doesn’t allow it.

Give us your five favorite road-trip cities in which to see bands and why.
San Francisco is great. There always seems to be good shows in town, whether I’m able to go or not. Milwaukee counts, right?  I lived there for a long time and know all the good clubs. That’s a place I can sometimes drive to if we’re in Chicago and I have a night off. I haven’t seen a show in Denver, but I’d like to at some point. We’re there for five days this year (including two off nights). I’m going to see Keene in St. Louis on April 25, and I’m very excited about that. I haven’t seen too many shows in other places. NYC is a great city for music, but most of our games there are at night. By the time we get back to Manhattan, it’s normally too late to see a show.

Lastly, is this the year?
I sure hope so.

—Matt Hickey

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