Link: “Why We Fight: Your Chemical Romance” (Pitchfork 1/13/2012)
A great read on Pitchfork last week from critic Nitsuh Abebe that draws a parallel between the mid 2000s MySpace bands (with My Chemical Romance as the prime example) and Skrillex. In both of these cases, MCR in 2006 and Skrillex in 2012, I feel like I was a couple years too old (in that if I encountered either of these things at a different time of my life, I could see myself being completely into them) for these bands/scenes, which only made the article more interesting to me. In particular, having discussed music with my students (who are now a decade and a half younger than me), I’ve seen many who exclusively listened to Myspace (or YouTube, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and probably now places that I’m not remotely in tune with) bands with small but devoted followings. This isn’t new, of course: hardcore had (still has) scenes long before the internet, and I had friends whose bands had MP3.com pages (and I’m pretty sure I played on one or two of those recordings), and the idea of music habits being ingrained is one I’ve thought about while examining my own taste. When Abebe suggests that the kids who grew up on MySpace bands “might be carrying that frame of reference with them, Boomer-style, forever, no matter what kinds of music they liked, made, resented, or grew into in the future,” a lot of the other parallels he outlined made a lot more sense to me. It’s certainly an interesting lens to examine some of these distinctly 2010s sounding acts (Skrillex and Ke$ha in particular) with unexpected roots, or at least ones less apparent in their sounds).
It’s also the latest instance where I’ve found My Chemical Romance more interesting / compelling than I did the first time around. One of these days I’ll probably find myself listening to one of their records and kicking myself for waiting this long.
In just about every form of writing I’ve tried in my life, I’ve found that getting started after prolonged absence ranks among the hardest tasks. Whether trying to make the time to blog, or begging for forgiveness with friends I haven’t emailed back (and if this is you, I’m sorry and you should probably just send me a quick email to
yell at me catch me back up with your happenings), getting over the initial hump offers just enough resistance to keep me away from writing.
So to take some of my own advice I’ve offered others, I’ve decided to just start writing again. No over-elaborate apologies (just this pseudo-apology), no grand pronouncements of schedules or plans, just an acknowledgment that this is a thing I’d like to do more often than once every few months. To be honest, I don’t really have any big things I want to write about right now, so this will probably start with links to things I read and found interesting with a little comment or endorsement of why it’s worth your attention. Hopefully from there, I’ll end up with longer tangents or my own ideas or whatever.
The one thing I will say is that I’m going to try to spread things out a little bit. If I’m inspired and write three short bits, I’ll spread them over a few days. If I have an idea but don’t have time or find myself stalling, I’ll let it sit in the drafts folder until the right time returns.
So the first of these non-apology apology posts will go up tomorrow after I write it in a few minutes, and hopefully a few more will follow over the next week and a half or so. It goes without saying that you should probably just subscribe through RSS/Twitter/one of the other things in the right hand bar rather than check back in here.
One time at my old job, a coworker asked me how I knew so much about some bewilderingly random topic. “Some people go home and watch TV,” I told her. “I go home and read blogs.” It’s a little hyperbolic (sometimes I read blogs while watching TV!), but by and large I spend a lot of my free time reading music and sports websites. When I joined Google Reader several years ago, I achieved a strange paradox with this spare time. By using Reader, I found I could keep up with more websites in a smaller period of time. Using a RSS reader meant that I saved time rereading news items I already read but forgot skimming, and let updates come to me rather than having to click through a few dozen bookmarks every time. Naturally, this increased time meant I could keep up with more websites, and my subscriptions grew bigger and bigger.
However, the thing that made Google Reader the essential part of my internet routine was the sharing features. Reader made it simple to share things with one button, but more importantly, it made keeping up with my friends’ shares incredibly easy. As my subscriptions piled up and my free time dwindled, there was always one section I kept current – my friends’ shared items and comments. Here, I discovered some of my favorite websites, funny memes, incredible deals, and different ideas. My friends’ curated this strange mix of posts that I might not have read on my own, that challenged my own thoughts, or made me care about a topic I only had a loose grasp upon previously.
So roughly a week ago, when Google announced that Reader’s social features would be stripped and be “available soon in Google+,” many devoted users freaked out. Since then, my shared feed turned reflective, with many of my friends (or, in the parlance of the service, “ShareBros”) digging out their first and favorite shares (sometimes with amusing techniques to find this post) and waxing nostalgic about the impending changes (which, as of tonight, haven’t happened yet. Tomorrow will be one week since the announcement, so I would not be surprised to see them implemented any time now). A common theme arose in these posts, tweets, and shares: Google Reader is an important part of a lot of people’s days, and the social element is the most rewarding. Many went as far to call Reader’s shared feeds the best social network, or the most worthwhile, or whatever other superlative indicated its value.
For me, the value of Google Reader sharing goes beyond just the ease of use. Sharing in Reader, and the comments section that made sharing exponentially more valuable, created conversation. Sometimes, through other people’s shares, I had conversations with writers I admired and complete strangers with interesting opinions. More importantly, I kept in touch with my friends. Some of these friends I rarely saw, and through Reader and the comment section, I got an idea of the things they were into or the ideas they were chasing down. I could ask a question or provoke an argument and the comment section would light up. Most importantly, even if it was in a relatively tiny way, I felt like these people were part of my daily life. Sure, it wasn’t the same as when we lived together in college, or saw each other a few times a week, but it was better than nothing. Reader was (and continues to be, even though we live together) one of the ways that my girlfriend and I kept in touch throughout the day while living in separate states. Sometimes, on the phone at night, our conversation looped back into reader, and we shared a laugh about some strange cat picture, or discussed a post about marketing, or whatever. If I couldn’t get all my friends together for a dinner party, at least our ideas could come together, mingle, and sometimes inspire each other, even if it’s just to come up with stupid puns.
As I told my friends on Google Reader this afternoon, this won’t be the end of sharing. I’ll still share links (perhaps on this blog, which I guess would be a good thing for this), and I’ll still get into conversations with my friends about the things they write on their blogs or share on Twitter. We just won’t be at the same party anymore. Who knows, maybe we’ll find ourselves at another party, and maybe Google+ is the location (although I’m skeptical, but more on that another time perhaps). As for now, the party is ending, the music is running out, and we’re enjoying our last few minutes together before Google kicks us out in the cold to go share our separate ways.
(Above: the new video for Wild Flag’s “Electric Band,” one of my favorite songs off their self-titled debut, premiered today and happened to be about baseball and/or The Bad News Bears. I’ll take it as an omen).
The baseball season isn’t quite over yet. There are at least two more games guaranteed, and if I had to wager, I’d bet on a third game later this week, but I had the time (and, perhaps more important, the itch) to write this afternoon, so I’ll say thank you for a great season of baseball today.
For a variety of reasons, baseball is my favorite sport. It’s the only sport where I have a “favorite team.” It happens during the seven best months of the year (eight if March gets lumped in, I suppose), and its arrival means the end of another cold New England winter. There’s far too much baseball to digest (especially compared with the NFL), and in a weird way that’s liberating to a fan. With so much baseball, I don’t feel obligated to watch every pitch, or see every team play in a given week. Despite this willingness to let go, baseball remains a constant in my daily life. From watching a game on a Sunday afternoon to listening to the replay of the overnight talk show on XM radio on my drive to work each morning, baseball stays by my side throughout the day.
With the exception of the 2006 baseball season*, I found myself more emotionally attached to this baseball season. I’d attribute it to 2011 being a year of changes (almost all positive ones, for what it’s worth), but my deepest attachment came in the last two months, when a lot of things that were in flux settled in. I thought about this in the car this afternoon, and I think the progression worked this way:
1. Getting MLB.tv for the final month of the season.
When I got MLB.tv for the last month of the season to watch the Mets after moving to Boston, I expected to watch a handful of games. I didn’t expect to find myself glued to my computer when Stephen Strasburg returned from Tommy John surgery**, or when whispers of Rays’ pitching prospect Matt Moore’s major league debut bubbled up on Twitter, or searching through a game archive to find a blown call in a Marlins-Phillies game. Looking back, though, it makes sense; now that I had the tools to see the kind of things I’d normally read or hear about the next day, I could follow along. The MLB.tv media center became a site I’d open without thinking just to check out the different matchups that night.
2. The Moneyball movie.
I loved Moneyball (and, for the record, the “anti-Moneyball” Three Nights in August) when I read it a few summers ago, and I was skeptical about the film adaptation for a long time. However, the final product was terrific – a beautifully shot movie that painted baseball as both complex and evolving yet simple and visceral. It also painted baseball as a game capable of maddening frustration and extreme exhilaration – one that Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Billy Beane made into a borderline classical tragic flaw. It’s this capacity for heartbreak and hope for nirvana that spoke to me as a fan. It’s the same feeling I see bubbling up from the Cardinal fans in my Facebook feed and the same one that turned Boston sports talk radio (and, by proxy, national baseball talk radio) into a series of tell-alls and witch hunts. And it’s the constant reminder that every time a team celebrates, another wonders if the misery is a series of mistakes or a random chain of unlucky events. Not to mention the reminder of a familiar fall phrase – “there’s always next year” – and how a simple phrase could be a challenge to one, a reason to hope for another, and a reminder of futility for the rest (and, for some fans, a combination of all three)
It also helped that one of the film’s final scenes took place in an empty, gloomy Fenway Park. I saw the movie the Sunday after it came out on an overcast afternoon, and when I walked out of the theater, an empty Fenway (empty because the Sox were out of town, at least at this point) cut through the light fog. It felt right.
3. The last month and a half of games
In a season where the Mets were more frustrating than inspiring (yet exceeded my expectations – but let’s leave them out of it for now), the September playoff races (or, in the parlance of the people in my new city, “the collapse”) was a godsend to a baseball fan with no clear rooting interest in the playoffs. I wore out my iPhone’s battery updating MLB.com that final night of the season, listened to Bob Uecker call playoff games, and nearly did a double-take when Gary Cohen’s voice described a baseball game between Tampa Bay and Texas. The last month of baseball feels like a bonus – games that I’ve cared about immensely even if my team isn’t playing. They’ve just been a delight to watch and hear.
And then the World Series began, neither with the teams expected to be there nor the teams whose bandwagons I joined (sorry, Tampa and Milwaukee fans), yet I can’t imagine a better World Series unless I had a specific rooting interest***. The games have been exciting, both in the tense pitching duels and the explosive offenses in Game 3. There are plenty of storylines to latch onto (“Is this Josh Hamilton’s baseball redemption?” “Will Pujols Bash His Way to a $300 Million Contract?” “Which Manager Will Make the Strangest Substitution?”) or ignore completely. Most importantly, when I haven’t been able to watch, I felt like I was missing something, and I would hurry home to catch at least part of the game, even if it meant jogging back from the T just to see the final fly out last Thursday night. For a game between two teams I rarely watch throughout the season, this is a high compliment.
So I will enjoy these final two or three games before baseball hibernates for the winter. There may not be games to listen to or highlights to watch, but I doubt that it will stray too far from my daily routine. After all, there are free agents to find homes (Jose Reyes being foremost in my mind, but again, for another time), and questions to ask and answer until spring training. And even on the coldest day this winter, I’ll know that I’m one day closer to finding out if next year is Next Year. And even if it isn’t (and as a Mets fan, I’m not holding my breath), I’d be very happy with next year being a lot like this one.
(Oh, and if I may address MLB directly here: learn from the NFL and, most importantly and heart-breakingly, the NBA and get your new CBA done as soon as possible. And while you do that, modernize your blackout restrictions****, particularly for MLB.tv. It will go a long way toward convincing me to drop the $120 on it next season).
*If I get around to writing about the 2011 Mets, I will probably have to revisit the emotional punch of Carlos Beltran’s 9th inning Game 7 strikeout in 2006. This almost certainly affects my “rooting interest” in a following footnote.
**One thing I will say about the Mets’ this year – In the time since Johan Santana last threw a major league pitch, Stephen Strasburg hurt his elbow, had Tommy John surgery, rehabilitated, and pitched half a dozen major league games. I know Santana is older and Strasburg is a freak of nature, but it still feels like an appropriate summary of this year’s team.
***I’m on record pulling for Texas with the caveat of “I want at least six games, preferably seven,” so even if the Cardinals win, I’ve already won.
A quick run through of a few things I’ve been playing a lot recently.
Mirror Traffic, the new album from Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, comes out on Tuesday, but it’s streaming on NPR’s site right now. You may have heard “Senator” or “Tigers” already (or his live version of “Tigers” and “No One Is (As I Are Be)), and you might have heard that Beck produced the LP (and I don’t have much to add to that yet aside from the overall crispness of the sound reminding me of the sound of the last couple of Beck LPs). I’ve told people who asked (and some who haven’t) that this is an album covered in highly melodic, expertly played electric guitar, but the album also shows off Malkmus’ range as songwriter in addition to his (and the Jicks’) virtuosity. I’m looking forward to catching them at Royale in Boston on September 24.
Spin has “Off-Screen,” a song from Kevin Devine‘s forthcoming Between the Concrete and the Clouds, out September 13 on Favorite Gentlemen. The jangly guitar and Devine’s promise that Between the Concrete and the Clouds heavily features his collaborators The Goddamn Band, has me especially excited to hear the entire album. The album is available to pre-order and offers another song from the record for immediate download, and Devine is on tour this fall (coming to Boston October 20th to Royale as well)
I’m a little late to the party here, but I finally listened to all of Beyonce’s newest album 4 the other night and immediately succumbed to the one-two punch of Beyonce’s killer voice and her overwhelming personality. This is the sound of a pop star sounding confident, creative, and uninhibited, and it certainly seems like we’re watching an artist approaching her creative prime. She’s finishing a run of “intimate” shows in New York City this week playing 4 in its entirety, and I can only wish she was doing the same in Boston.
Finally, the solo debut from the Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Freidberger Last Summer is on sale today only at Amazon MP3 for $3.99, a bargain for an album full of summery tunes. Go get it while it’s a deal! (Friedberger opens up for Wild Flag at the Paradise in Boston on October 14).
(I also listened to Watch the Throne a bunch the last couple weeks, but plenty have already spilled enough words about that record).
Tuesday and Wednesday night, I wrote a couple of posts for Some Songs Considered, my mostly dormant music blog. The first was on the New Pornographers’ “Up in the Dark” being one of Carl Newman’s best songs (particularly lyrically). The second was on Ted Leo’s demo recording of “Biomusicology,” one of my favorite Ted Leo / Pharmacists songs.
I also realized that during my long gap of not posting in this blog, I didn’t link to my stint writing about Ted Leo and the Pharmacists for One Week / One Band. The concept of the site is that a different writer spends a week writing about a band, and it was a lot of fun to over-immerse myself in the last few Ted Leo albums. You can read all of my posts here, and the list of contributors and bands covered is here. It’s an excellent site with a ton of excellent contributors, and I recommend just subscribing to the whole thing.
(Another music post is coming later today or tomorrow)
Monday morning, Google Reader greeted me with the news that a bunch of really talented writers want to start a sports-themed website dubbed The Classical. The more I thought about it, the more I found myself considering the site from these three angles.
First, I’m extremely excited for the site. Its mission, via The Classical’s Kickstarter page (more on that in thought two), is to “be a running, wide-ranging conversation between us and our readers about baseball, basketball, soccer, football and fighting, and about things that aren’t sports, too. Our model in this regard is The Awl, a site for which many of us have written and which all of us love.” I’m on board with this vision, but mainly its the contributors involved that excites me. The list of sites in these writers’ bios could be a best-of-the-web right now (seriously, think of the sites with the most consistently brilliant writers, and its sure to feature one of these gentlemen), but the most important ones are the outlets that, on some level, already carry out this vision of continued dialogue and outside-the-box sportswriting. Sites like the hoops masterclass Free Darko, the quirky baseball blog Pitchers and Poets, and even Tom Scharpling’s The Best Show on WFMU radio show / podcast (just to name a few) show what happens when brilliant individuals take a little bit of freedom as an opportunity to create something unique and insightful. The thought of bringing these like-minded individuals together under a broader umbrella sounds like a must-read site to me (and, if I was more serious about writing and far more devoted and talented, a pipedream of a place to get a byline).
Second, The Classical came about not after being discovered in blogpot/wordpress obscurity or through a massively hyped press release. Instead, it came through a Kickstarter page (presumably through Twitter) explaining the need to raise $50,000 of capitol to get the site off the ground. It struck me as interesting at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. While the individuals involved are incredible at what they do, this doesn’t seem like the kind of site that would attract angel investors. If anything, getting sponsors before launch might undermine the artistic freedom (for lack of a better word) that this site needs. This site should have advertising once it’s up and running, and perhaps this will pay the bills for a couple of the contributors, but I imagine this will be a side-gig for most of the writers. In a way, funding the site’s launch through Kickstarter also builds its audience; by asking friends and fans to contribute, there’s a (literal) investment in the product. I know that after donating (a relatively small amount), I’m already following the site on Twitter and Facebook and keeping tabs on the mentions in my timeline. I’m even rooting for the site to hit its goal (which, as of writing this post, has already hit 20% of its goal within the first 36 hours, with almost a month and a half left). I’m actively rooting for this site, of which I haven’t read a single word, to succeed and continue to succeed. Granted, most of it comes from a rooting interest in a number of the contributors, but the Kickstarted drive only adds to that team feel.
Finally, someone on Twitter (apologies for forgetting who, but I imagine many have said this before/after) compared the site to Grantland, the ESPN-offshoot led by Bill Simmons. It’s mostly foolish to compare these two sites, as The Classical has a huge advantage in that it’s purely hypothetical at this point and doesn’t have any dud posts to use as evidence of its failure (not to mention the opportunity to learn from Grantland’s growing pains). Still, it’s a natural comparison, as at least on some level the sites share a similarly wide-angled approach to sports. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Grantland as a whole, especially since I’ve found myself less interested in Simmons’ in recent years. Four or five years ago, I would have anxiously refreshed my browser for a site curated by Simmons, particularly with the high-profile contributors he’s courted, but in recent years I’ve found myself less interested in Simmons’ columns. (As an aside – feel free to skip to the closed parenthesis – Simmons has become an easy target the last few years, primarily because his teams are more Evil Empire than Underdog, and his passion-and-pop-culture style of writing is the standard for many bloggers. I can attest to Simmons’ continued ability to put words together well, but I can’t comment on the frequency as I don’t check in with him as much as I did half a decade ago. I’m not a huge fan of ’90s nostalgia for reference sake, and I really don’t need to ever sit through another mailbag, but I know this suits him well.) For all the things that bug me about Grantland (including, but not limited to: the design-particularly the way that it’s very difficulty to read everything without subscribing to three separate feeds, and the site’s name), there is some excellent content: smart takes on professional wrestling from The Masked Man, Jonah Keri’s baseball analysis, and even some solid writing from Carles that doesn’t rely on Hipster Runoff’s usual tricks. The stuff I’ve liked most on Grantland is the kind of content I hope to see on The Classical – smart takes from smart people who chase down insight rather than page views. If nothing else, I hope the two sites push each other the way two top rivals demand the best out of their opponents. Even using those terms, “rivals,” “opponents,” doesn’t feel right, as good writing is good writing no matter where it’s published. There’s a place for both sites as long as they give reason to keep reading.
All of this is a lot to say about a site that doesn’t even exist yet. I hope that it becomes something worthy of many more blog posts (not by me, thankfully) for a long time to come. If nothing else, I’ll be rooting for it.