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Volume 4, Issue 13: Al Hrabosky
"I tell ya, they just don't play the game they way we used to anymore."
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There is an incredible moment in The Worst Person in the World, my favorite movie of last year and one of the best movies I have seen in a long time, in which Aksel, the Gen-X cartoonist played by the great Norwegian actor Anders Danielsen Lie, sits in a hospital and reflects on his life. He is not that old, only 43, but he is dying of pancreatic cancer. He realizes, for the first time, not only that is his life behind him and he has nothing left to look forward to, but also that all the things he cared about while he was living his life ultimately were meaningless—that he has nothing to hang onto at all. That all his obsessions ended up just vanishing forever.
You can stream the film right now on Amazon Prime or wherever else you rent movies. I cannot possibly recommend it enough.
His reflections just kill me:
I’d given up long before I got sick. Really. I just watch my favorite old movies over and over. Lynch, “The Godfather Part II”… How many times can you watch “Dog Day Afternoon”? Sometimes I listen to music I haven’t heard before. But it’s old as well. Music I didn’t know about, but from when I grew up. It felt as though I’d already given up. I grew up in an age without Internet and mobile phones. I sound like an old fart. But I think about it a lot.
The world that I knew has disappeared. For me it was all about going to stores. Record stores. I’d take the tram to Voices in Grünerløkka. Leaf through used comics at Pretty Price. I can close my eyes and see the aisles at Video Nova in Majorstua. I grew up in a time when culture was passed along through objects. They were interesting, because we could live among them. We could pick them up. Hold them in our hands. Compare them. Like books. That’s all I have. I spent my life doing that. Collecting all that stuff, comics, books. And I just continued, even when it stopped giving me the powerful emotions I felt in my early 20s. I continued anyway. And now it’s all I have left. Knowledge and memories of stupid, futile things nobody cares about.
I’m not sure there’s a better way to describe how it feels to be a member of Generation X than, “Now it’s all I have left. Knowledge and memories of stupid, futile things nobody cares about.” Aksel is dying, so his memories have an extra urgency and sadness. But it can feel like dying sometimes, to know that everything you valued your entire adult life, and thought would last as profoundly important, has gone away. And nobody really noticed, or cared. There was a time in my life when everybody I knew had fierce, passionate debates about Jim Jarmusch movies, or TV on the Radio records, or the mysteries of “The X-Files.” Nobody gives a shit about any of that stuff anymore. Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember anyone ever did.
I’ve never been to Lollapalooza. The closest I ever came was 1994. The previous fall, I had been in my dorm room, Oglesby Hall at the Florida Avenue Residence Halls in Urbana, on the phone with a ticket agent at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, waiting for everybody in the room to give me their credit card numbers. Nirvana had a show scheduled for that October, and I’d never seen Nirvana, and I desperately wanted to. Everyone had agreed they wanted to go, but once I got a broker on the phone, they all backed out. It was a bummer, but that’s OK, because, in a major coup for the festival, Nirvana was scheduled to headline Lollapalooza that summer. I’d just see them then.
It turned out that I did not see Nirvana play Lollapalooza that summer. The headliners ended up being the Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys, George Clinton and A Tribe Called Quest. I would have enjoyed that show, had I gone. But I was too sad about missing Nirvana. I do not know what happens to us when we did, but I like to think that if I’ve lived a good life and am rewarded with some sort of eternal paradise, one of the first things I will ask for will be to see Nirvana in concert because it never happened while I was live. At least I can listen to the Aragon show on YouTube now.
And there I go: Telling old stories about the old times again.
I’ve thought about going to Lollapalooza at some point: It sometimes feels like I’m the only person I know who has never been. And hey, this year might be the right one, no? We’re two years into the pandemic, people are out and gathering again, I’m trying to see every live show I can after being nearly without for so long now. Maybe I’ll go! OK, so let’s see who’s playing …
I can name songs by exactly five artists on that poster: Metallica, Green Day, Manchester Orchestra, Wet Leg and Dashboard Confessional. That’s it. I just watch my favorite old movies over and over.
You are also reading the words of someone who went to see Wilco play their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot anniversary show in Chicago last night. It was great. I love those old songs. But they don’t seem like old songs to me. As far as I’m concerned, that album just came out. Twenty years is yesterday. Twenty years is nothing.
Part of getting older is recognizing that the things you care about are not the things everybody else cares about, and being comfortable with that. Deep down, I don’t really care whether or not anyone thinks being a Wilco fan makes me “washed,” or if you think the third greatest rom-com of all time is freaking You’ve Got Mail (????!!!!!), or you don’t like watching college basketball, or if you get bored reading. I love Wilco, I love college basketball, I love reading, those things provide me pleasure, and if they don’t do that for you, I can’t do anything about that … and it doesn’t take anything away from my pleasure. There was a time that I would have obsessed over persuading you that you were wrong, that these things are fantastic and that you should come be a part of them with me, all the powerful emotions I felt in my early 20s. But it’s fine now. I like too much salt on my french fries, I like Rhone running shirts and Tracksmith running shorts, I like to sit in the third row at movie theaters, I like my car seat pushed farther back than the length of my leg necessarily requires. I like things the way I like them, and I’m comfortable with that. I don’t need you to be. And you shouldn’t need me to be comfortable with whatever you like.
But I do miss sharing them sometimes. That’s part of getting older too, finding fewer people who care about those specific things that you care about, and feeling a little lonelier because of it. It’s no wonder we hang onto them longer than we should. They are remnants of a time when we mattered more to the world than we currently do—and will continue not to moving forward. There is a specific moment, one you don’t usually notice until it has long passed, that telling a story about your life becomes “telling old stories.” And I’m not sure you can turn back from it. My dad’s brother and his wife, my aunt, came to visit Georgia a few weeks back, and I took the boys to go see them. But we couldn’t get anybody’s attention. They were sitting at the table with my parents, telling old stories of Mattoon and growing up and my grandparents and their first cars, and they were so happy: They were reveling in getting to relive all that again. But the boys and I just sat there and twiddled our thumbs. Their conversation was a closed loop. It was about a past none of the rest of us had experienced.
I spend a large portion of my week—too large a portion, really—thinking about what I’m going to write about for each of these newsletters. Lately, I’ve noticed them falling into a bit of a pattern. Things used to be like this. Now they are like this. Here are some observations about why that matters. Maybe I’m talking about the Internet, maybe I’m talking about the media, maybe I’m talking about movies, maybe I’m talking about baseball. But the pattern has subsisted. The thing is, though, that it doesn’t matter. Just because I remember a time that the Internet was gentler and friendlier and sillier than it is now does not mean it actually makes a difference that I remember it. We’re not going back to it. That time is over. My remembrances are just for people who also happen to remember it, and there are less of us every day, and our influences vanishes more by the second. So I should probably stop, or at least try to cool it a bit. Aksel’s right: Knowledge and memories of stupid, futile things nobody cares about.
I do not know when it did, but, over time, it sunk in that I had more in my life that had already happened than what was going to happen. You don’t need Aksel’s pancreatic cancer to understand that timeline. And it’s that thinking that will make you evaporate. It’s so easy to get lost in the past. It can feel quite good. But really: You’re just lost.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Kyrie Irving, the Most Interesting Man in the NBA World, New York. For better or worse.
What’s Going to Happen to Kim Wexler on “Better Call Saul?” Medium. I have a lot of theories.
Seven Early Season Surprises That Might Just Stick, MLB.com. NL West looks like even more of a gauntlet now.
What Do You Say to Someone With Covid Now? Medium. It’s a different conversation, anyway.
The Thirty: The Biggest Surprise For Every Team So Far, MLB.com. Everything is very surprising to me, but I am very gullible.
Your Friday Five, Medium. All I wanna do is zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom and a poom-poom.
The Long Game With LZ and Leitch, we discussed NIL rules, baseball’s unwritten rules and the Washington Commanders.
Grierson & Leitch, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” “Ambulance” and “Cow.”
Seeing Red, Bernie and I are optimistic!
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“They Know How Journalism Works! They’re Just Against It!” Alex Pareene, The AP Newsletter. An extremely timely and helpful reminder that a lot of the reason that people who hate journalists do so for the simplest (and, really, most logical) reason: Because they don’t want people to know they’re doing a bunch of shady shit.
Also, here’s an extremely smart piece on what happened to Jon Stewart.
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CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Poor Places,” Wilco. As I said, I saw Wilco play their “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” show last night in Chicago, and it was terrific—it was impressive how the attempted to actually play the album (with all its bleeps and blurps and weird ambient sound) rather than just the songs. It wasn’t the best Wilco concert I’ve ever seen, but it might have been the most interesting. This is actually my favorite song off this album. (Which is actually fourth in my Wilco album rankings, behind “A Ghost Is Born,” “Sky Blue Sky” and “Summerteeth.” Still great, obviously!
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
We went motorcrossing last week …
Have a great weekend, everyone.