Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What "Come Together" Means to Me

My friend Ariel recently put together a series of posts on the songs that get people through their teenage years. It's a rather excellent series of posts on what is a rather excellent blog. He did some crowdsourcing, putting out a call for examples of these songs. I responded somewhat lengthily, nominating "Come Together." Ariel didn't have room for elaborations on why these songs meant something to the several hundred people who replied to his call for submissions, but he did include my song. Going with the theory that whatever I write should see the light of day, here's my nomination for "Come Together," from The Beatles' Abbey Road:
I didn't have many strong musical influences during my teen years. This happens, I suppose, when your parents listen exclusively to AM radio in the car and you don't have any older siblings. I clearly remember, though, going with my mom to Livingston Mall and buying a CD called Abbey Road from some music store which is, undoubtedly, no longer in business.
My mom said I would like it. She was right.
I particularly liked "Come Together," possibly for no reason other than its placement as the opening track on the album.
This song--this album; this band--made me feel as if I was a part of this larger thing called music, as if I understood something that just about everyone else in the world knew about, as if I fit in. And isn't that all a teenager really wants?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving at the Movies

Celebrate Thanksgiving with this ode to food in film, from the master of the video essay, Matt Zoller Seitz.

MZS correctly recognizes that the preparation, presentation, and plating are just as important as the eating.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How We Remember Sports: FreeDarko's Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History

The title of the FreeDarko collective's latest book--The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History--is something of an elaborate joke. The only part of the title that accurately reflects the book's content is that two-word segment about Pro Basketball. If not for the need to market this thing with a keyword friendly title, it very well might have been called The Subjective and Personal Recollection of Pro Basketball Memory.

FreeDarko's first book-length effort--The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac--presented its thesis right at the start, with a six-part manifesto outlining the group's conceptual approach to basketball, elaborating on such concepts as the primacy of the individual and the superficiality of judging basketball players and teams solely by the unforgiving categories of wins and losses. The Undisputed Guide, on the other hand, hides its working thesis on page 210, in the book's afterword.

And I quote:

As historian Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi wrote, "Certain memories live on; the rest are winnowed out, repressed, or simply discarded by a process of natural selection which the historian, uninvited, disturbs and reverses." In sports, history is winners and losers, statistics and dates; memory, which is where the stories start, is imperfect, stylized, personal.

The chapter introduction pages contain the most basic achievements of history--NBA champion, MVP, along with per game leaders in points, rebounds, and assists--but the meat of the book, as one might expect, is devoted to topics more closely associated with memory. This most often takes the form of re-readings of accepted wisdom, interpreting, for example, Red Auerbach's Celtics not as the embodiment of slow, stodgy, right way basketball that have become the darlings of strong-willed coaches over the last forty years, but, instead, as a fast-breaking, ass-kicking team that was "tough and focused, sure, but a hell of a lot of fun."

The book's strongest sections, though, describe not the result but, rather, the process of memory. Two examples will suffice here. The first is the essay "Cult of Personality," which examines the ways in which shoe commercials redefined or defined basketball stars of the 1990s. Chris Webber's barbershop commercials amplified his essential character. Larry Johnson was viewed as Grandmama, that slam-dunking old lady in Converses, even after he "grew a beard of Abrahamic proportions to signify his conversion to the Nation of Islam, called his Knicks a teams a group of 'rebellious slaves,' and remarked that he and Avery Johnson were from the 'same plantation.'" Dikembe Mutombo overcame the affected Africanization of his Adidas-designed multicolor shoes through the sheer force of his personality. Perhaps most interesting, though, are those players whose personalities are seen entirely through the prism of their sneakers. When Penny Hardaway's personality was found by Nike to be lacking, the marketing folks replaced it with a stronger one. Thus was born Lil' Penny, voiced by none other than Chris Rock. And Dee Brown simply "was his shoe," the Reebok Pumps. This chapter may necessarily oversimplify these complex athletes, but it serves as a forceful reminder that in the public memory, the shoes really do make the man.

Appropriately enough, the book's ultimate chapter, "Arbiters of Amazement," discusses YouTube's democratization of basketball's public memory. No longer does the NBA and its corporate partners hold exclusive control over the dissemination of basketball moments. They're not mentioned by The Undisputed Guide, but Ron Artest's various post-game interviews given during the 2010 postseason are perfect examples of this new democratic spirit. Artest's meandering conversations with Craig Sager and Doris Burke would never have been given a place in the sanitized official history of the league, but they have been viewed many hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube.

This book is really strong. While other recent additions to the basketball enthusiast's library have claimed to tell the story of the NBA from a fan's perspective, I much prefer to align myself with the approach espoused by these fans and with their thoughtful conception of the game I love.


The Suburbs

This makes me sad that it's no longer summer and that I'm no longer a teenager and that I can't ride a bike and that suburbs are, apparently, now operating under martial law.

The song is not really my style, but the, oh my, the video. Music by Arcade Fire. Video by Spike Jonze.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Paragraph of the Week

From "Mikan and Modernity," an essay in FreeDarko's The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History:

When [George] Mikan joined the pros as a member of the NBL's Chicago American Gears, the challenges posed by the 6'10" star were undeniable. No longer was an irregularity of space something that could be corrected through a strong governing body. It now arose not from the field of play, but from the differences between the players on it. Mikan led the NBL in scoring for six straight seasons; basketball's best player was also its most unique.

For more on the geometry of sports, see Infinite Jest.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Paragraph of the Week

David Owen's article "Taking Humor Seriously," a profile of longtime The Simpsons' writer George Meyer, from the March 13, 2000 issue of The New Yorker:

"I just watched everything," he [Meyer] told me, "and always with the same slack expression on my face. I watched so much and from such an early age, in fact, that I didn't understand what TV was for. I say this to people and they think I'm kidding, but I didn't realize that 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' was supposed to be funny I thought you just watched it. The people said things, and they moved around, and you just waited till you saw the kid-you know, you liked to see Richie. My brothers and sisters and I rarely laughed at anything we watched. We watched more to learn what the world was like and how adults interacted, and what a cocktail party was, what a night club was, what you did on a sea cruise -- although I did like shows where the joke would be that somebody got shot or fell out of a window. When you're a kid, you like to see adults getting away with stuff; because you hope to join them one day in anarchy and mayhem."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Don Draper, Saying What

I'm partial to angry what? (around the 17 second mark, for example). But bemused and cocky what? is also great.

[via Skeets]