The book you are about to read is a collection of stories I've published in various media outlets over the past ten years. I like these stories and wouldn't republish them if I didn't. But I certainly hope you like them more than I do. The process of compiling old articles is not difficult, but it also isn't pleasant. It's just not enjoyable to reread things you've written in the not-so-distant past(I think this is true for most writers, discounting those real crazy motherfuckers who believe the world would be radically different if they weren't involved). Every positive memory is coated with the ooze of regret: You want to delete every semicolon and alter every joke. Moments that once seemed revelatory now seem banal. You're forcibly reminded how rapidly society evolves, and it's disheartening to revisit an arbitrary event from five years ago that suddenly feels like a factoid from 1958. It's the worst kind of time machine.
Yet I must admit something else here, even though it will make me seem like a megalomaniac: I love reading the index to any book I publish. It's always my favorite part. Exploring the index from a book you created is like having someone split your head open with an axe so that you can peruse the contents of your brain. It's the alphabetizing of your consciousness. Sometimes I will pick up one of my old books and sing a random section of the index to the tune of Billy Joel's"We Didn't Start the Fire," purely for pleasure.(Actually, I'm lying. I don't"sometimes" do this. I did this once, just now, simply to see if it would work, solely for the purposes of writing this introduction. There was no pleasure involved and I'll never do it again. I don't even like making this joke. But the experiment was successful, so feel free to try this at your leisure. In fact, try it a hundred times, even if you don't really remember the original song. I'm sure all the people in your life will love it.)
I only note this indexical preoccupation as a warning to you, the consumer: This book is deceptive. It is not as panoramic as it appears. Taken at face value, its index suggests an anthology about many divergent topics(wizards, chemical weapons, Donald Trump, Thai sandwiches, et al.). And—technically—that diversity is real. Those references do exist. There are stories in this collection about literature and zombies and postmodern television and the essentialism of Charlie Brown and the capricious nature of our illusionary universe. One could even argue that the only reason any interesting story is"interesting" is because it's not actually about whatever it superficially appears to suggest, and that the only significant purpose of text is to provide a superstructure for subtext(which always matters more). All of that is true. But here's the deal—I wrote these stories. I know what these stories are about. And almost all of them are about one of two things: music or sports. Consumed in aggregate, this omnibus equates to a short book about music, a short book about sports, and a short book about everything else that could possibly exist.
It is not a portrait of what the world is, or of what the world could be.
It is a portrait of my interior life: I watch games, I listen to music, and I daydream about the rest of reality.
When I started as a reporter in the early nineties, there was an incontrovertible firewall between music culture and sports culture, spawned(I suspect) from dark memories various members of the mu sic community still carried from high school. There was this in grained Reagan-era belief that"jocks" and"meatheads" terrorized"punks" and"goths" and"miscellaneous longhairs," and that the type of alienated teenager who liked art had a condescending view of the type of teenager who liked football. Now, I'm sure some of that social derision was authentic. I'm sure that negative experience did happen to somebody, and it was certainly baked into every teen movie of the era. But nothing like that ever happened to me. I was obsessed with music and I was obsessed with sports, and the synthesis never seemed uncomfortable. I suppose it's possible my hometown was just too small to have stereotypical cliques. It's also possible I was so emotionally engaged with both concepts that I couldn't feel anything else. Maybe the estrangement went over my head. Maybe I was just too dumb to care. Still, I knew this conflict existed for other people, even if I didn't relate to it or understand why. I knew that people who wrote about music rarely wrote about sports, unless they weren't especially serious about either. It seemed like you had to choose one or the other. I went to college in 1990 and started my career as a sportswriter. One of the first beats assigned to me was collegiate wrestling, a subject I knew nothing about. I didn't even fully understand the scoring system, so I just described every match like a correspondent for National Geographic. Every single story included the phrase"catlike quickness." My only memory of covering wrestling is comparing humans to animals.
In 1994, craving the facade of legitimacy(and maybe the potential access to drugs), I switched over to culture journalism. I wanted to generate theories about why the guys in Anthrax wore shorts, and this was the only way. Once I made the switch, I didn't write another sports story for five years. I'm not sure any traditional newspaper editor would have let me—the fact that I was interested in Radiohead somehow annihilated the possibility that I could be equally informed about Scottie Pippen.
But this imaginary war eventually ended, at least for me. At some point, I stopped caring about this nonproblematic problem. I just started writing about sports and music at the same time, occasionally in the same article. I haphazardly jammed them together, even when they barely fit. And to my mild surprise, everyone else decided this was okay. As it turns out, the divide between music and sports had dissolved during the nineties, so slowly and incrementally that no one even noticed. Pearl Jam named their first album after NBA point guard Mookie Blaylock's jersey number. Power pitcher Randy Johnson became an arena rock photographer. Members of Pavement and Sleater-Kinney joined fantasy leagues with members of Quasi and Built to Spill. Master P played in the CBA. Public Enemy's liner notes made reference to Pooh Richardson. Drew Bledsoe jumped off the stage at an Everclear concert and injured a female spectator. All the coked-up Britpop dudes refused to shut up about Manchester United. Or was it Man City? I've already forgotten. But by the time the twenty-first century started, the notion of being a rock critic and a sportswriter was no longer awkward(or even contentious), which nicely coincided with the period of my life when I tried to earn a living by doing so. Which is what this book is, more or less. The surgery was a success and the patient is resting comfortably. I'm not fully accredited by either side of the professional equation(sportswriters think I'm too pretentious and music writers don't think I'm pretentious enough), but I'm able to write about whatever I want, as long as it actually happened. Which, from my limited perspective, is a dream I could not anticipate.
Please enjoy this collection of nonfiction dreams.