Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Missing the Halloween Spirit This Year

One of the things I like about the town I live in is how people go all out for Halloween. We usually get a ton of trick or treaters and it's just a blast overall. I was having fun in the leadup to this week, but suddenly I've lost the spirit.

Part of it has to do with the ridiculous obligations in my life right now, both in terms of work and parenting. I am just tired, all of the time. During the few moments I have to rest my mind is preoccupied with the sad, depressing state of the world. This month has brought war in the Middle East, related murders in this country, a mass shooter, a radical anti-democratic gerrymander in North Carolina, and an election-denying Christian nationalist weirdo being elevated to the Speaker of the House. (I wrote about the latter on Substack.)

This is all being experienced through a media filter that constantly promotes lies and manipulations of all kinds. It's getting hard to tell the truth, and soon people will stop trying. Once that happens, there's no bottom.

I can't escape the feeling that everything is collapsing. On inauguration day in 2021, I cried tears of relief and joy, hoping we were through the Trump years. I had been vaccinated against COVID the day before and the two events together felt like two horrible crises might finally be ending. Looking back I can't believe my naivete. Trumpism and COVID are not past. They were tipping points knocking down a rotten and rickety American and world social order that had been teetering for decades. 

Neoliberalism hollowed everything out, including basic social obligations and connectivity. We've lost the capacity for positive collective action and the privations of COVID have made us even more angry and suspicious. We interact through social media, which only brings out the worst in us. In the face of all of this progressives have retreated into making self-righteous statements ("In this house we believe...") because deep down they know there's nothing that can be done about it in any material sense. Social movements have adopted a "leaderless" model allowing them to take to the streets while accomplishing nothing. 

The scariest thing this Halloween is the world we are living in. I once believed in the capacity for change, but right now my main focus is trying to survive the coming onslaught. Just take the shooting in Lewiston, for example. We know there's absolutely no chance that we will regulate guns, and that our society is awash in so many guns and gun nuts that any attempt to regulate them would be useless. A conservative Supreme Court would strike that down, anyway. We talk about the 2024 election as if it's a referendum on democracy, but democracy already lost. 

I tried posting about this on Facebook and people assumed my feeling that Halloween had no joy this year is curmudgeonly, not the result of existential dread over the state of the world. Don't worry, you'll probably be feeling the same way by next Halloween.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Geezer Rock Sweepstakes

 Last week on my Substack I wrote about how both Mick Jagger and Madonna are trapped in a rebellious image dated to the epochs when they were the "it" figures. Some of the inspiration came from things I've written on this site. This week I am planning on looking at the implications of what is happening in the House.

Writing last week's piece got me thinking about "legacy" musical artists who have actually managed to endure and flourish in old age. I've noticed some distinct approaches that I will name here.

The Dolly Parton Approach

Dolly has been a pop culture figure my entire life but I don't think she's ever been as revered as she is now. Lots of people who never seemed to like country music have a lot of affection for her. Beyond opening up to new musical styles and going with the times, her philanthropy has burnished her reputation. Turning yourself into a cultural figure rather than a musical artist seems to pay dividends, especially if it looks like you aren't trying that hard.

The Bob Dylan Approach

Dylan has kept touring consistently for decades, which I think has kept his music fresh. He's been willing to explore new avenues in ways that keep his fans invested while occasionally confounding them. Ever since he sloughed off the "voice of a generation tag" he's also not been interested in stardom. By not caring what people think he's avoided the trap of Madonna and Jagger, who seem painfully addicted to adulation. 

The Smokey Robinson/Paul McCartney Approach

Keep playing, keep performing, keep your smile and good nature and keep making your fans happy while never getting too predictable or pretentious. This is the simple path and I don't know why more legacy don't do it.

The Tom Waits Approach

Put out a great album, take a step back, and say nothing. Don't officially "retire," just enjoy life out of the spotlight and people will talk and say "Are they going to ever put another album out?" and "Gee, I miss them." Waits never hurt his reputation by putting out lame records to support cashgrab tours and I respect that. 

Monday, October 16, 2023

Putting the House Republicans' Disorder into Historical Context

Over at Substack I wrote about the current fight in the Republican party over the Speakership. We are so used to seeing political events in a decontextualized 24 hour news cycle that many miss how McCarthy's fate mirrored those of Boehner and Ryan because the same dynamics are at play. I basically argue that Gingrich broke the House as a legislative body, and that it's impossible for a Republican Speaker to be both his party's ideological firebrand and an effective legislator. 

I mention the power of conservative media in the piece, and I after I wrote it I read that Sean Hannity is whipping votes for Jim Jordan. I guess I'm pretty smart. 

Saturday, October 7, 2023

October Baseball

Last Sunday, I went to the last game of the Mets' season and wrote about it over on Substack. I tried to articulate the feelings of both disappointment and longing on the last day of the season when you root for a losing team. I wish things had turned out better, but I am already longing for April and new beginnings. There's always next year.

In the meantime, I get to watch some high-stakes games in October without the anxiety of my own team's performance hanging over me. Last year I spent the first round of the playoffs ripping my hair out over the Mets' collapse. I would listen to late-season and playoff games on my headphones during my daughter's autumn travel-team softball games. Her coach, a fellow Met fan, wanted the scoring updates. At least I had a fellow sufferer when I delivered bad news. This year, I can just enjoy some baseball.

When your team is out of the running it still helps to watch the games with a rooting interest. I find it hard to be some impersonal observer of baseball so I still insist on investing myself in at least one team still playing. While this can bring more disappointment, it also pays dividends. Back in 1988, I decided I wanted the underdog Dodgers to best the dominant As. When Kirk Gibson hit his improbable home run in game one I felt part of the collective joy and the baseball moment that is closest to a real-life myth. An injured player coming off of the bench so feeble that he can barely manage his eventual home run trot winning it all? That has to be made up. 

I also just enjoy the intensity of October baseball. The change in the weather reflects a radically altered vibe. In the regular season, baseball is the Summer Game (in the words of Roger Angell.) Like those long, languid, sunshiny summer days, the season seems to stretch on forever. There are 162 games, and none in the summer seem make or break. You want to win, but if you lose, there's another chance tomorrow. When the leaves start to fall and the temperature drops, things suddenly change. Losing games means having to go home. The grass browns, the trees shed their leaves, night falls early, and the baseball season wanes. 

When the baseball games matter more in October, the late innings have an emotional intensity that is not matched by any other sport. In other team sports, a late lead is safer because the clock is on your side. In baseball you must get the other team out. Dennis Eckersley could not take a knee or get a trip to the free throw line. He had to pitch to Kirk Gibson. I love those late inning moments, pitchers and batters staring each other down, the tension between pitches reaching an almost unbearable level.  

As an 11 year old I stayed up late by myself to watch game six of the 1986 World Series. I was not an official Mets fan yet, but I decided that I liked their swagger and players like Gooden, Hernandez, Carter, and Strawberry. It looked like they were going down. Infamously, in the 10th inning, the Shea Stadium scoreboard briefly flashed a message of congratulations for the Red Sox, assuming it was all over. What followed is legendary and confounded any sane expectations a Mets rooter could have had. I was a casual baseball fan going into that game; afterward, I was hooked for life.

In '87 I saw an intense seven-game series between the Twins and Cardinals. In '88 I witnessed that mythic Gibson homer. In '89 there was a freakin' EARTHQUAKE during a World Series game. In this era the Super Bowl, by contrast, was a ridiculous blowout of whatever weak AFC team had the misfortune to be a sacrificial victim. There have been some other memorable Octobers since, few of them featuring my White Sox and Mets. No matter, I can still dig that October baseball feeling, its triumphs and tragedies. In 2006 I was living in Michigan and swore I heard a statewide collective cry of anguish when the Tigers made their last out. Ten years later I experienced such joy when my many Cubs fan friends and relatives finally got to celebrate. I am looking forward to more October baseball, and for my Phillies, Orioles, and especially Twins fans friends to have something to cheer about.