The Chicago Cubs Won the World Series

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

I have been repeating this to myself since Wednesday just to make sure it’s real. It can’t possibly be. But it is. They went to the World Series, were down three games to one, and won. This team won a championship for the first time in 108 years. There are so many ways and historical benchmarks to point to in just how long that is. There is no way to describe what it’s like to root for a team that literally never won, has never gone to the World Series in your lifetime (or in the lifetime of anyone under 71), and do it. I remember 1998. I remember 2003. I remember 2007 and 2008. Last year, too. This year had to be more of the same, right?

img_1845No. It wasn’t.

Sure, they were competing some years, frustratingly, sometimes epically bowing out when they really needed to win. More than the Boston wins, more than the White Sox win, the Cubs World Series win challenges what you know about, well, anything. How do you even make sense of something that just feels purely wonderful when you’re predisposed to expect the worst?

Neither of my parents are sports fans. I came to baseball when I was seventeen, around the time of the Cubs 2003 playoff run. It was thrilling – six outs from the World Series before the collapse. But that didn’t break my heart. Game 7 did. I remember being hopeful the next morning after Game 6 and Steve Rizzo painfully contorting his face and saying “no, you don’t understand, it’s over.” I didn’t want to believe it. He was right. They lost 9-6.

img_1954-jpgWhen I got my first apartment in college, I lived a mile from Wrigley Field. I could see it out my window. My school offered discount bleacher tickets through the newspaper, and I’d go more than a few times and soak up the atmosphere – this was the early Lou Pinella team. Ted Lilly was my guy, basically on the premise that he inexplicably signed on with the Cubs after Toronto offered him an identical deal to stay there. He declined, citing a “change of scenery”, but that’s just because he got in a fight with the Blue Jays manager. That’s beside the point. His actual full name is Theodore Roosevelt Lilly III, which is just ridiculous. He’s still the only individual player I own a shirt for. Apparently he’s a Special Assistant to the President/General Manager so I think that means he probably gets a ring. Amazing.

Portrait of a young Jordan at 13.

Portrait of a young Jordan at 13.

That was almost the fun of being a fan. Through the playoff run, Jordan, who has loved the Cubs since I have known him, just texted each other names of Cubs of years past that we knew better for their funny names or terrible play. How would the team pull defeat from the jaws of victory this time? During the rollercoaster of Game 7, a masterpiece if there ever was one, maybe the greatest game ever – no, fuck it – DEFINITELY the greatest game ever, I felt stricken after the two run homer to tie.

But then they bounced back in the tenth after the rain delay. I jumped into Jordan’s arms not unlike Jason Varitek did into Jonathan Papelbon’s arms when the Red Sox won in 2007. We looked at each other in disbelief. This World Series victory is for everyone who ever cared about the team. Die hard, bandwagon or lapsed. It’s a feel-good story by a team that was so fun to watch. With the Bryant to Rizzo final out, every disappointment we had about the Cubs and what we thought knew about them evaporated, leaving nothing but unbridled joy.

There are so many more words and things I could say about this. Baseball is a sport that you can access on so many different levels. If you want to obsess about the history like me, that’s all available. If you like stats, you can do that. If you don’t get any of it, watching players hit baseballs into the stands or watching a guy masterfully throw pitches that dudes whiff on is your thing, go nuts. You don’t have to be totally invested if you don’t want to. The Cubs have always been a great example of that.

But now, somehow, improbably, we are on the other side of that. Of course, this team was built to accomplish this specific goal, but it doesn’t mean anything unless there’s the follow through. The Cubs are champions, and for future generations, it won’t carry that same desperation and crushing feeling of failure. Maybe they’ll win more championships in the next few years, and fans will complain about their dominance. Maybe they never win another and the 2016 Cubs will turn into this generation’s version of the 1985 Bears – one magical team surrounded with a few years of really good teams.

Whatever happens, there will always be 2016. A year that’s just wrought with so much horrible shit and an election that never seems like it’s going to end also contains a World Series between two teams that never won and they captivated us until the final moment (and then some). They really didn’t win that game as much as they didn’t lose it. The margin of error in the 10th was either get the out, or have the other guys swing a bat into the record books. It’s amazing as something as simple as a game can make a person so happy.

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-4-02-12-pmWalking around Chicago and seeing all of the hats and shirts and jerseys has been remarkable. We’re all sharing in this one moment together. Even Steve Rizzo, who I haven’t seen in a decade, has checked in: “This is unbelievable.” It’s uniting generations, giving us reasons to celebrate those who didn’t quite make it to see this moment, and turning what we know to be real and true about something as escapist as a baseball team on its head. Enjoy the moment as long as you can and cut out the outside noise. Even if the Cubs win the World Series again, it will never be quite the same as this. It couldn’t be. It’s a singular moment that comes once in a generation. I am so grateful I lived to see it and be part of it.

Mourning View

morning viewEarlier this week, Morning View by Incubus turned fifteen. While it may not have aged as well as some, it very much played a part in my musical development and remains one of my favorite records. It’s a good one, and one that somehow manages to sound of its time and completely out of it all at once.

October 2001 was a bottomless, scary time. 9/11 had just happened, the country was literally putting the pieces back together. Every news report fixated on the wreckage at Ground Zero. I was a sophomore in high school, cognizant that something massive had taken a few hundred miles from me – but I didn’t know anyone that had been affected, or anyone that I knew that was directly impacted. But you could tell in the air that things were about to change in a big way.

Rock music at that time was probably in one of the worst periods as it ever had been – rap rock was still very much en vogue – and I was still consisting on a steady diet of whatever I heard on the radio and was still months away from hearing about a local Chicago site called Pitchfork Media. Incubus, at the time was not far separated from the pack of the rap rock bands, a shapeless group of Southern California dudebros with loud guitars and a dude who sang with soul but none of the chutzpah. 1999’s Make Yourself was a bonafide hit, containing “Pardon Me” and “Drive” both nice singles, especially the latter, which appealed to the sensitivity and found in 14-year-old boys living in the suburbs. These songs have somehow have survived through the years on alt-rock radio in varying forms, which is kind of amazing, considering so many of their peers have not.

For their follow up, Incubus famously decamped to a house in Malibu on a street called “Morning View Drive”. The resulting album from the sessions is something that feels a little spacier and what is probably best described as “pocket ambience”. (Also, before we go any further, I want to mention this was the first and last record I pre-ordered at Sam Goody at Spring Hill Mall.)

For those weightless moments, there are also the hard-edged rock ones – “Nice to Know You” and “Circles” with punishing guitars, “Wish You Were Here,” one of last decade’s very best alt rock singles, all ‘Bob Marley poster on the walls of my room at my parents house” poetry aside. Songs like “Warning” with a slow-burn churn and “Echo” were soft without being entirely saccharine. “Aqueous Transmission,” with its use of a Chinese instrument called the pipa, was unlike anything any teenage suburban midwesterner had ever heard.

Somehow, in pre-9/11 America, Incubus made a record that soothed what was about to come. Released a month after the attacks, It was angry and sensitive, but nuanced enough for teenagers to find meaning. It was art for people who didn’t really get art, and was a direct route to making new friends and relating through music at school.

Incubus never again made a record as balanced as Morning View. What has come since has always been intriguing (seriously, Light Grenades, people), nor did they ever make something as fluid, either. It’s a record that legitimately feels hazy, capturing the mood of its era, but somehow cutting through the gritted-teeth anxiety of a terrible time. That’s why I remember it.

John K. Samson’s Winter Wheat is Part Postscript, New Beginning

jks_winterwheatI dont claim to know the entire Weakerthans catalog, or really know much about John K. Samson, but I can tell you that the release of “Winter Wheat” is an album that hews closest to a new Weakerthans release as we may ever get. Perhaps that’s why he utilizes the band’s former rhythm section throughout the release.

Samson’s work is kind of a curiosity to an American like myself. Pastoral descriptions of Canada, a place that is easy to generalize as one-note, nice and America-lite, are always fascinating. He’s a songwriter whose turn of phrase strikes the balance of sensitive and strange – opener “Select All Delete” begins with the lyrics “That hashtag wants me dead/but I don’t mind.” Virtute the cat reappears, a reoccuring character from Samson’s Weakerthans songs A warning: that song, “Virtute at Rest,” is a goddamn heartbreaker.

Samson’s lyrical prowess is not done justice through an album review. He’s definitely one of the world’s greatest living songwriters, lesser known to a mass audience, ducking out and re-emerging every few years with songs that have earned the right to be dissected, quoted and shared by those that know his work best. Whether “Winter Wheat” is truly the postscript to the Weakerthans or is the next evolution in the long musical history of John K. Samson remains to be seen. We’ll know eventually. For now, take your time, listen over and over and pass it on. Like all great stories, they’re meant to be shared. “Winter Wheat” is one of them.

Winter Wheat is out today on ANTI-.

The Wild Heart

This video has been making the rounds lately in large part is that it is an uncredited sample found on “10 d E A T h b R E a s T” by Bon Iver from his new album, “22, A Million”.

I can’t stop watching it. While getting prepped for a Rolling Stone photo shoot, Stevie Nicks effortlessly (and gorgeously) performs “Wild Heart” like it is as essential as breathing. It’s a performance that never was supposed to be, somehow surviving so many changes in technology to make it to the internet 30 years later. It’s remarkable that something as tossed off as this has impact now. Watch it. You will more than once.

Every Song Was Right: 10 Years of Boys and Girls in America

dc69676781d3af88-holdsteadycoverToday marks the tenth anniversary of Boys and Girls in America by The Hold Steady. Even the casual acquaintance has heard me stump for this album pretty much any occasion I get. But it’s the most meaningful and impactful musical document I know, and quite literally changed the trajectory of my life. I went from mopey college kid to someone who found a sense of purpose and community along the way. Of course that’s not without speed bumps, but that’s a different story.

I have so many thoughts about the record itself that are best said loudly and in person, preferably while playing the songs. This is still a common practice. Simply put, it’s a marvel of rock and roll construction: “Stuck Between Stations,” is quite possibly THE best leadoff rock song in history – the opening lyrics reveal the thesis: “There are nights when I think that Sal Paradise was right…Boys and Girls in America have such a sad time together.” Crashing guitars, dancing pianos, a tight-as-hell rhythm section and Craig Finn’s lyrics and BOOM, we’re in to the thick of one of the most essential albums ever.

What I loved about this record as a 20-year old has morphed over time. While I loved the songs and the lyrics that made great Facebook statuses (I’m learning this daily thanks to the ‘On This Day’ feature) it’s been so much less about the music and more about the people. That’s continued for a decade.

My college friends sort of tapered off in the months after the album’s release, so I joined the band’s message board in 2007. There, I found a bunch of like-minded individuals and families filing scene reports from all over the states and Canada, sometimes Europe, or proselytizing for bands I’d never heard of – Drive-By Truckers, Lucero, some group called the Mountain Goats. It became a place of community and education. These were lawyers, students, photographers, people with insisted on being called by their pen names instead of their real names, a lady who talked about how much she liked a group called the “Ass Ponys”, bible salesmen and self-described “rabble rousers”. I’d never met anyone like these people before. But they welcomed me in, for better or worse.

The next year, I started traveling to see the band. I’d crash in strangers hotels when our car would get locked in a garage overnight, get rained on all day in an abandoned pool and meet my best friend in the process, end up in parts of North America I’d otherwise have no business being in. Friends of friends I’d met through the band would help me move to New York. I’d forget to close my mouth more than once when throwing confetti and gambled for the first time in a casino in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin. There are so many other stories, but they’re just not fit for public consumption.

I’d get to know the group, slowly, some of the members better than the others, and be able to call them friends or temporary roommates. For someone who has seen them at such an exaggerated clip, their good-naturedness and trust that I was not completely insane was always appreciated. That extends to their crew, an extremely patient bunch that went out of their way countless times to be kind to us in whatever city we were in. Eventually, we’d all work together, which still is a total dream come true.

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-8-21-11-pmAs with time, I’m grateful for all the people that have come in and out of my life. So many of these are true friends I’ve been able to lean on when things did not look that sunny. Some I’ve met in person once or twice, or not at all, but we maintain that closeness. You know who you are. Growing older along with a band and its fans doesn’t really happen a lot, especially when you’re just starting your 20’s. I know many times and for many years I was not the best version of myself. So, if you’re reading this and knowing what I’m talking about, thanks for sticking around.

Ultimately, Boys and Girls in America is the story of the people that The Hold Steady brought together through their music, who built a community and changed the lives of a lot of people. As I look back on the past ten years, I’ve still got a lot of work to do, but through the totality of the experience of just playing some songs, I’ve grown into someone that I like being. It’s given me so many people important to my everyday life, incredible experiences and stories that no one else will ever have, and mostly, a freedom to just be who I am and love what I love. When we eventually dry up and crumble into dust, hopefully it will inspire a new group of people to do the same.

Bon Iver’s ’22, A Million’ is Fascinating Transformation

phppjpToday, Bon Iver releases their third album and first in five years, “22, A Million”.

Justin Vernon started the project in 2007 pretty much as a guy with an acoustic guitar, and pretty quickly morphed into something that was using a lot of digital manipulation – one song on the follow up EP, “Blood Bank” is literally just him building layers of his voice with autotune. Years later, Kanye West would find this song “Woods,” and use it as the template for “Lost in the World”.

On 2011’s “Bon Iver,” another about-face. Here was an album of deliberate soft rock-as-soul, lush, organic soundscapes on this side of Bruce Hornsby. Deeply touching, somehow feeling both in and completely out of time.

But now, with this new record, another transformation. Obscured by technology, bending the realm of what’s physically possible through a literally invented filter – his engineer literally created an instrument for this album called the Messina – Justin Vernon presents another chapter of the Bon Iver story that feels familiar, still deeply distant. What’s contained on the record is just fractured bits of a life, forget song structure. Verse chorus verse means nothing.

It’s a whole statement, a composite of parts, not whole wholes. I am always fascinated by Vernon’s mindset, someone who seems by all intents very accessible, maybe even *normal* by today’s standards, but that’s totally not it. There’s always a mystery of what goes on in his head. The sounds, his words, almost feel elemental. I don’t know how else to put that. Get a pair of headphones, close your eyes and immerse. It will reveal its gifts to you.