I bet Malkmus spells it “phantasy” football.

January 15, 2009

124711__malkmus_lI’m too cool for several things.

I’m too cool to approach famous or semi-famous people in a setting where a conversation between us would never naturally occur.

For example: I went to see Stephen Malkmus in concert last year. Prior to the show, Malkmus walked into the pub where I was having dinner. Now, I wasn’t too cool to text two of my friends to tell him he was there. But I was far too cool to get up and say hi to Malkmus, who was sitting alone sipping water and watching an NCAA basketball tourney game. He gets bugged by strangers all the time. Why interrupt the dude just to have a brief and awkward conversation? I’m way too cool for that.

Another thing I’m too cool for is fantasy sports. I played fantasy football once a couple of seasons ago, just to see what it was like. It was predictably lame, no doubt due partly to the presence of several profoundly apathetic players in my league. By week 7, half the owners stopped bothering to update their rosters. After it was over, I walked away thinking, “Man I’m glad I’m too cool for that, because it’s really boring.”

So you can imagine the vortex of bewilderment I was thrust into when I read, via Deadspin, that Stephen Malkmus is an avid, passionate fantasy sports player. According to an interview with Malkmus at Rotoworld.com (its tagline: America’s #1 Source For Fantasy Sports News!) Malkmus “is one of those guys that who will always field a strong fantasy team, regardless of the sport.”

The writer (who, coincidentally, mentions seeing Pavement in ’95 at Lollapalooza in Indianapolis) continues: “He’s smart, committed, does his research and is active on the waiver wire. Regardless of what else you have going on, those ingredients are the start to a recipe for fantasy success.”

This isn’t some joke article from The Onion. This is a real interview posted on web site devoted exclusively to fantasy sports news. It also tells us that Malkmus’ fantasy sports basketball team is named “Widespread Perkins” and that his wife gets pissed when he’s one the waiver wire while cooking dinner. “It’s better than internet porn, right?” Malkmus quips. “Especially during dinner!”

It’s good to know his wit is still intact. Meanwhile I’m left wondering what to do with this information, or how it will affect the things I thought I was too cool to do. Because Malkmus used to be the poster boy of too-cool. In the early ’90s he was too cool to tune his guitar, sing on key or dress like a rock star. Yet in 2009, he isn’t too cool to utter the phrase, “Baseball is all about the roto, basketball is all about the head-to-head match-ups.” What does it all mean?


“Pitchfork gave my record a 5.4, and all I got was this awesome marketing gimmick.”

December 9, 2008

music-criticWhen I worked at the Indianapolis Star, I occasionally reviewed local CD releases for INtake, a free weekly tabloid mag. Most of the reviews appeared online only. Probably only about 30 people — and that’s being generous — read them. Thankfully, INtake ceased to exist and its old Web site is cyberdust now. Because if I had it to do over again, I never would have reviewed a local record I didn’t like.

I can remember writing at least three less-than-stellar reviews of local releases while I was writing for INtake. One was of a band called thesociety (yep, all one word), whose singer or guitarist, I can’t remember which, wrote me a nice yet insistent e-mail explaining why he thought the review was off the mark. Another one was of Marmoset’s really pretty decent Florist Fired. I actually reviewed it fairly favorably (I’d say my review would rate around 6.9 on the Pitchfork scale), yet I still ended up having an uncomfortable conversation with the band’s lead singer when I was introduced to him a few months later (on New Year’s Eve of 2007, actually). And then there was that lukewarm review I wrote of a bigbigcar (yep, all one word) album. I never received a pissed off e-mail from any of the band members, but a co-worker told me later that the band gave away photocopies of the review at one of their shows — a sort of passive-aggressive, ironic response to a perceived diss. I thought it was funny. Better than a whiny e-mail.

After awhile I decided to give up reviewing local music altogether unless I liked the band in question unreservedly. I did it not because I don’t like receiving shitty emails (sure, that was part of it) but mostly because I realized that, when you review a local band, you’re playing by different rules (whether you choose to acknowledge those rules or not).

You can’t hold a regular old local band to the same standards you hold a commercially viable band to. Folks in the local music community expect you to bolster the scene whenever possible — especially in a city like Indianapolis, where coverage of local music is so scarce. It is  incumbent upon you to use what few column inches you’ve been given to pump the scene up, not tear it down.

To summarize, people expect you to simultaneously be a critic and a booster. Problem is, the two don’t mix.

You can’t be a credible critic when you’re cheering for the home team. And in the majority of cases, you can’t very well help a local band out if you’re honest and objective about their music. Because — and this is the pink elephant in the room — much of the music coming out of Indianapolis isn’t that good. This is just my opinion, but I know a good deal of people who share it. Why? That’s a whole other post. But that’s the way it is.

So I pity the Indiana music critic who reviews Indiana bands on a high profile web site. Take Eric Harvey, who has recently been taken to task by a number of local music supporters for giving Grampall Jookabox’s new album a middling 5.4 on Pitchfork.

Grampall Jookabox is the project of David “Moose” Adamson — incidentally the same guy who headed up the now-defunct bigbigcar. His new album, “Ropechain,” was released by the excellent Asthmatic Kitty label, which has offices in New York, Portland and Indianapolis. Its Indy A&R fellow is the venerable Michael Kaufman, the man behind the oddball Land Of A Thousand Rappers project. I’m not surprised Kaufman was drawn to Grampall Jookabox — who, I gotta say, has grown leaps and bounds since the bigbigcar days. “Ropechain” is a schizophrenic, frenetic, intriguing-as-hell amalgam of paranoid noise, apocalyptic hip-hop and melodic pop. Having said that, I don’t think Moose and Michael could very well expect it to be everyone’s cup of tea. And to their credit, they seem to have taken Harvey’s so-so review in stride, even using it as a springboard for a pretty brilliant promotion that involves the selling of “Ropechain” for the dollar amount of the value ascribed to it by Pitchfork: $5.40.

But from reading the comments on Eric’s blog as well as at (the awesome) Musical Family Tree, it seems some believe that Eric shouldn’t even have reviewed “Ropechain” at all — especially for a site like Pitchfork, where a review can have a big impact on a newcomer band like Grampall. I agree. But whereas they argue that Eric’s Indiana address could present a conflict of interest or lead to a lack of objectivity on his part (which, you’d think, should work in favor of the band reviewed), I think that, for a Hoosier critic like Eric, reviewing Indiana bands is way more trouble than it’s worth.

I look at it like this: If I’m going to be honest (and as a critic, that’s my job), I’d rather the object of my honesty — which in some cases may be brutal — be far enough geographically and emotionally removed from me that I don’t have to worry about running into it at a party. That’s just me, though. If Eric has the stomach for this kind of thing, well, more power to him.

Jason King is a weak sister.

December 5, 2008
A Jason King column receptacle

A Jason King column receptacle

I’d never heard of Jason King until just a few minutes ago. Had he not chosen to “write” a column about Ball State’s football team, I never would have known the dude existed. He’s a sports columnist for Yahoo! News of all thingsenough said.

I put “write” in quotes because I refuse to dignify his screed about Ball State’s decision to decline to play a bowl game on Boise State’s home field with a word that suggests craftsmanship and logic. A more appropriate verb to describe the act perpetrated by King in writing the above-linked column would be “shit.” Not coincidentally, that same word is also the best noun to describe the quality of King’s argument. Which, by the way, is that the Cardinals are — get this — “scared” for not wanting to play a bowl game on the home field of their opponent.

King rather conveniently ignores that Boise State was invited to play Ball State in the Motor City Bowl, but Boise State felt that would give Ball State an unfair advantage.

You read stuff like this and realize why so few good writers end up as sports columnists. The job application must ask questions like, “Are you capable of hyperbolic statements so patently stupid that anyone of average intelligence would find them laughable?” This King guy makes the Indianapolis Star’s Bob Kravitz look like David Halberstam. It’s astonishing he gets paid to write at all. Look at this paragraph:

The bottom line is that people still want to see if Ball State is for real. All season long, fans and notable alums have complained that media-types and voters haven’t given the Cardinals their due, but it’s tough to shower too much praise upon a program that displays such cowardice the one time they have a chance to face a quality opponent.

“Cowardice?” Really? Was that the best synonym for “scared” you could find at Thesaurus.com, King? You probably don’t know this since your reading habits are limited to Deadspin.com, ESPN.com, SI.com and other real sports websites you secretly yearn to work for, but there’s this thing called nuance. Actual writers consider it when choosing their words.

Ratting out a friend is cowardice. Letting your wife defend herself when an intruder enters your home is cowardice. Calling a team of 200-plus pound athletes “scared” not to their face, but in an online column, is cowardice. Declining to play a bowl game because it’s on the opponent’s home field? Call it what you want — annoying, disappointing, lame — but it’s not cowardice.

My guess is King is really just super jealous of former Ball State football player and sports columnist Jason Whitlock. They both worked at the Kansas City Star (Whitlock still does), but Whitlock has gone on to bigger, better things, including subbing for Jim Rome on his mega-popular talk radio show. I’m not a huge Whitlock fan, but he’s David Foster Wallace compared to King. Shoot, Doug Zaleski, the Cards beat writer for the Muncie Star Press, could write circles around this clown. Seriously Yahoo News! — step your game up.

Treadmill Man, I apologize.

December 4, 2008
Perhaps this is more your speed, Treadmill Man.

Perhaps this is more your speed, Treadmill Man.

To the man on the treadmill next to mine last night: I’m sorry. You were probably just stopping by the gym for a quick routine workout, not a course in Humiliation 101. But what began as an innocent foray into a few minutes of cardiovascular training turned into a race with a stranger — a race you never stood a chance of winning.

When you pressed Start on your machine, I was already well into my run. My shirt was partially sweat-soaked. My breath was heavy. Meanwhile, you turned on your iPod nano and upped your pace from a walk to a brisk jog. I glanced over at your machine — you were running scared at 6.1.

I saw you steal a glance at my dashboard, too. You must have been disappointed to see I was gliding along at a  6.8 clip. More than a whole MPH faster than you, my friend. Did you also notice I was running at a 2.0 degree incline? Or did the furious movement of my arms obscure your vision?

Your head kept turning in my direction as you “ran.” There were no attractive women nearby, so I could only assume you were looking at me, thinking, “I can’t let him win.”

You’d never been more wrong.

I never made direct eye contact with you. But make no mistake, I could see you. And even though I had my earphones in, I could hear you, huffing and puffing like a woman in the delivery room. Why couldn’t you accept that you’d lined up against the wrong guy?

You did eventually. Oh, your will was strong, but your body wasn’t. When I noticed your energy flagging, I delivered the coup de grace, upping my speed to 6.9. Then 7.0, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4….you were probably astonished the circuits in the thing weren’t burning up.

As I pushed the gears of my treadmill to their limit, you pushed the emergency stop button on yours. You slowed down, toweled down and dismounted, just enough air left in your lungs for the walk to the locker room.

I’m sorry Treadmill Man. Last night just wasn’t your night. Good luck next time.

How sports columnists are like porn actresses.

July 28, 2008

Football and murder sell lots of newspapers.

When I worked at the Indianapolis Star, the online team sent a daily e-mail to the entire editorial staff with a list of the previous day’s most clicked-on stories. And with a few exceptions (like when the House voted on a gay marriage bill) crime and sports topped the list. No crime was more popular with readers than murder, and no sport was more popular than professional football. The numbers were astounding. Nothing else even came close.

Which, of course, is why someone like Bob Kravitz (who I never once saw in the newsroom in my nearly three years at the Star) reportedly makes six figures to write either transparently formulaic or cynically inflammatory (often both) columns about Indianapolis pro sports teams, especially the Indianapolis Colts.

A young, fro-coiffed Bob Kravitz.

A young, fro-coiffed Bob Kravitz.

Make no mistake, Bob Kravitz is an excellent sports columnist. But that’s like saying Perez Hilton is a terrific celebrity gossip blogger, or that Gianna Michaels is a first-rate porn actress. It doesn’t take much talent to excel at writing a sports column, it just takes audacity and narcissism.

Kravitz was recently the subject of an in-depth profile in Indianapolis Monthly magazine. As usual, writer Tony Rehagen did a fine job. But does Indianapolis really want to hear Kravitz’s life story told Horatio-Alger-style?

I’m afraid to say, yes it does. I read it. Why? Maybe because to some degree, I envy people like Kravitz, Michaels and Hilton — people who all obviously share a drive to succeed in careers that have little or no redeeming value beyond a little fame and a good chunk of cash. I envy them because I could never muster the discipline to work high-paying but personally compromising jobs I knew were ultimately meaningless. I’d rather settle for less money, even less fame, and absolutely no job-related health problems or pangs of conscience.

Peyton Manning sac’d

July 15, 2008

Calamities often announce themselves in unexpected ways.

If you are an Indianapolis Colts fan, you’ve watched in a state of suspended horror every time Peyton Manning has gotten knocked forcefully to the ground. And every time — in some cases, rather miraculously — Manning managed to get up, relatively unharmed.

However, it was announced this morning that Manning underwent surgery for an infected bursa sac yesterday. The inflamed sac, which Manning apparently had been nursing since February 2008, finally became too painful for the famously durable quarterback to bear.

Manning’s sac situation is distressingly similar to the injury suffered by Marvin Harrison last year. Harrison, whose bursa sac became inflamed after taking a hard hit, sat out for the remainder of the season, only to return to play poorly in the playoffs. Doubt still lingers over whether or not he’ll ever fully recover.

Manning is expected to be near-ready to start come the beginning of the 2008 season. That there’s eve the smallest bit of doubt about this means you can expect to see some serious competition for backup quarterback Jim Sorgi during preseason. Beyond that, it means is that for the first time in several years, the Colts are not a shoe-in for the playoffs before the season even begins. And beyond even that, it means that thousands of Colts fans may well find the coming winter in Indianapolis to be even colder and more bitter than usual.