Discover more from The Will Leitch Newsletter
Volume 4, Issue 68: Albert Pujols
"A dramatic, towering three-run home run."
Pre-order The Time Has Come, my novel that comes out ON TUESDAY. I think you will like it. This is the FINAL opportunity to get your pre-orders in, with proof of purchase, to enter the contest we unveiled last month. Hi.
Two years ago, when my son William and I went to Cleveland to go cheer his truly unfortunate choice as his favorite football team, we stopped by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with your then-10-year-old is a disorienting experience, because in many ways, it’s a museum in which all the exhibits feel a little bit lamer simply by being in a museum at all. When you go to the Louvre, you don’t see the Mona Lisa and think, “well, this is a stupid place to look at art.” But when you look at a display of, say, Mick Jagger’s leather pants, it somehow diminishes not just Jagger’s music, but even his pants: The point of dancing around in leather pants is that you are an immortal rock star engulfed in the moment, and to try to encase that rock star in amber is to destroy the whole experience. I mean, honestly, who wants to look at James Taylor’s hat?
But—but—there was one exhibit that I still cannot get out of my mind. The museum had a special section focused on Super Bowl halftime shows, which was mostly filled with the usual banal tchotchkes, the studded boots Fergie wore with the Black Eyed Peas, the microphone stand Bono used, the sunglasses Dan Aykroyd during his performance at Super Bowl XXXI. (An actual thing that happened. In New Orleans.) Having gone to many Super Bowls, they’re almost always, inevitably, underwhelming in person, because the stadium is so big, and the fans are so far away, that what projects as massive and intimate on your television screen just looks small and silly from the upper deck: It is a little like watching ants jump up and down.
But in the middle of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame display, surrounded by all that worthless junk, was a huge screen that went all the way to the ceiling.
It was showing this:
For some reason—late stage capitalism, I presume!—the NFL won’t let you embed that video, but it’s Prince playing “Purple Rain” at Super Bowl XLI in Miami. Prince played a melody of his songs (and, oddly, the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You”) before culminating with his most famous song, with the most incredible of all his mind-bending guitar solos.
There is a moment, right before he breaks into it, when he says, in the driving rain, to billions of billions of people, “can I play this guitar?” and then this happens.
In this dopey museum, with a bunch of middle-aged white dudes wearing ballcaps and shorts and carrying gift bags with pictures of Jimmy Buffet on them, everyone went silent and stared. Here was the greatest of our rock stars, at the absolute peak of his powers, in front of the biggest audience on the planet, doing exactly what he was put on earth to do, making some of the most gorgeous sounds available to humanity. You think of all the things that had to happen for that moment to exist, how an epileptic junior high basketball player in Minneapolis saw James Brown in concert and had his mind blown, how he had to have been struck by that ineffable, impossible thunderbolt of genius, how many individual decisions had to be made and not made, how many things had to go exactly right, how he had grown and evolved and become an American institution, how it had all somehow come together to produce that moment, on that stage, making that sound, all of us sharing that experience, one that, even as it was happening, you knew it was something none of us were ever going to forget. In this big dumb building full of big dumb mementos, we stopped what we were doing, shut up and finally did what had brought us all there in the first place: We listened.
“That was awesome,” William said when it was over. He turned to me. I was too choked up to speak. I coughed briefly, composed myself, everything is fine, let’s go get something to eat.
Prince had been gone five years at that point. That moment is gone. There will be no more like it.
It is not unusual, as people get older, for them to get more sentimental, more nostalgic, more emotional; my father once told me how discombobulating it was to see his own father, as he neared the end of his life, so vulnerable and plaintive. (It was like he was a different person, which I suppose he was.) And as I’ve gotten older, I understand it. But it’s not naked emotions of love or hate or wistful longing for a time past that get me. I find myself, instead, getting emotional not about sad, overwhelming moments of extreme drama, but instead by displays of brilliance that are unique to the human experience, things that, the more I think about them, the more I understand just how random and chaotic this world is, seem truly magical that they’re able to exist at all.
I felt it watching Robert Altman’s Short Cuts this week, a movie whose achievement is so magnificent that it’s impossible to imagine it being made today, and I felt it re-reading my friend Kevin Wilson’s novel Nothing to See Here, which is writing at such a high level it feels beamed directly from the subconscious. I felt it watching Cate Blanchett in Tar, in listening to a band like Big Thief, in the precise, cynical melancholy of that particular episode of “Succession.” I feel it from watching someone make something—something that didn’t exist before, that appeared from thin air—at the absolute peak of their skills. It awes to see what people are capable of creating, and, as I get older, I find it even more and more moving.
But it is not just art. This exists everywhere—expertise, jaw-dropping human achievement on the grandest scale played out in miniature, in front of us, every day. My son just got Invisalign for his teeth, and he has to replace each retainer with a new one every Sunday. The dentists and orthodontists have figured out, somehow, how not to only create a mold of a child’s teeth that will slowly, imperceptibly wrench them into being aligned and straightened, but one that can actually predict how the mouth will grow and alter each week. That’s incredible! If I were, right now, to collapse with some sort of physical ailment while sitting at this computer, someone would find me, and they would dial a phone number that would bring a car with several people to my house, and these people would take me to a big building with a bunch of beds and medicine, where they would run a battery of tests to find out what was wrong with me, a complete and total stranger to all of them, and do what they can to fix it and make me better. I mean, isn’t that incredible? We are just these big weird bags of meat and consciousness, and we’ve somehow organized ourselves in a way that can cure the sick, touch the soul and unspool a guitar riff that oils up the loins. I used to take all this for granted when I was younger, just saw it as the natural order of things. But it isn’t. It’s magical. It’s unbelievable that we can do all of this—that we have done all this. Every day. All of the time.
I was thinking the other day about Barry Sanders. Barry Sanders is the greatest running back I have ever seen. To watch him play is to see a man who was created to be a running back: His body, his instincts, his very spirit, it was all the platonic ideal of a running back. His quickness, his size, his balance, his very body structure, it was all carved to be perfect at that specific job. He would not have succeeded in any other position, in any other sport, than that one.
(The NFL is very annoying about its YouTube clips apparently.)
But Barry Sanders’ body—the genetics that made him, the instincts he came equipped with, the brain that made decisions faster than anyone else could keep up with—did not know that it was hardwired for football. It is just a body: It has no idea football even exists. If football had never been invented—and it has only been around for the tiniest fraction of human existence—all of these talents would have been pointless. Barry Sanders is the perfect football running back, but football has to exist, and running backs have to exist, and they have to exist at the exact time that Barry Sanders is at his physical peak, for any of that to have any meaning at all. It all has to line up exactly right. The number of things that could have gone differently, in the lifetime of Barry Sanders and the world that surrounded him, things that would have denied Barry Sanders from creating art that no other human on the planet would be capable of, bends toward the infinite—toward the impossible.
But those things didn’t go differently. They went exactly the way they did. And we all got to benefit from it. We all got to witness the impossible.
And it is everywhere around us. From Prince playing a guitar solo so beautiful it can sound like the rapture, to a passage in a book that can change the way you think about everything, to a doctor’s office that has solved mysteries of the universe, to the majestic arc of a three-run homer …
It all just blows you away the more you think about it. These moments are rare, and special, and touched with magic and madness. They are miracles. They are also everywhere you look. You just have to look.
BOOK RELEASE WEEK
The book is out on Tuesday. If you’re not going to pre-order it now, you’re never gonna. The Harper folks made an excellent book trailer that I think drops some pretty good hints at what the book is about. (Since I’ve generally been sort of cagey about it, for better or for worse.)
Also: The Time Has Come Book Tour kicks off this week.
If you are in or near Athens, Georgia, you can see me at the Athens Clarke-County Library, hosted by Avid Bookshop, at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday, May 16.
Here is the full tour schedule:
You can also keep your eyes peeled for me to be all over your television, radio and podcast dial over the next fortnight, trying to sell this thing. I really can’t encourage you enough to buy the book. If you are a reader of this newsletter or anything else I’ve ever written, this is something you will absolutely be into, I promise.
I hope some of you will be able to make it to an event or two as well. I can’t wait to see you.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Home Run Celebrations, Ranked, MLB.com. The Dong Bong should have been on here, I have no argument here.
Which of the 2023 Playoff Teams Is in the Most Trouble? MLB.com. First place is not difficult to guess.
Your Quarter Pole Report Card, MLB.com. We’re somehow 25 percent through the season already. All three of these baseball pieces were fun this week.
Grierson & Leitch, we previewed the 2023 Cannes Film Festival and talked about "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3” and the great Robert Altman film “Short Cuts,” which was a direct inspiration for The Time Has Come.
Seeing Red, the most spirited show Bernie and I have ever done, on the Willson Contreras debacle.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
Also, I was on the immortal Effectively Wild podcast talking about the Cardinals, and about how I stole Ben Lindbergh’s name for the title of the pharmacy in The Time Has Come.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“Short Cuts: City Symphony,” Michael Wilmington, The Criterion Collection. It’s Short Cuts week here, apparently, so here is Wilmington’s great essay on a film I truly believe is one of the best movies of all time.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
This is your reminder that if you write me a letter and put it in the mail, I will respond to it with a letter of my own, and send that letter right to you! It really happens! Hundreds of satisfied customers!
Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Shout Bama Lama,” The Detroit Cobras. I’m not sure there’s a more underappreciated and underrated rock star than the late Rachel Nagy, the leader of the Detroit Cobras, who died in January of last year. I have yet to find a person who isn’t delighted when introduced to the Detroit Cobras. This Otis Redding cover is probably my favorite song of theirs. What a loss.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
We had a friends-and-family launch party for the book this week. This is a lot of Leitch bros right here.
Launch week. Buy the book, please.