On Basketball

Not to bury the lede: I’m not going to write about the Grizzlies, at least not this season.

When I left the Memphis Flyer to come to the Daily Memphian, there was a certain amount of relief involved around backing away from the NBA grind. I’ve been writing about the Grizzlies since the summer of 2011, and I’ve been covering them as credentialed media since the summer of 2012. In all that time, I’ve been the only person in my organization in that role (both at the Flyer and previously at Grizzly Bear Blues), so I’ve been to a lot of games in that time period.

Things have changed for me since I started doing this, younger and dumber and with way better hair. I have two small kids. I’m in a different, albeit very exciting, “day job” role that requires a lot more mental energy. For at least a season and a half, I haven’t been having fun, and I think it’s come across in the work. There were whole weeks last season where I physically couldn’t make myself write anything, even though I was technically on deadline. The last post I wrote at the Flyer sounds a lot more like a goodbye than I realized at the time, and it took me two weeks to write. I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of thousands of words about a basketball team, two handfuls of Flyer covers, two Memphis magazine cover features, done probably a thousand radio appearances…

…and I finally feel like I don’t have anything else to say. Like I don’t have anything interesting to add to the conversation around this team, and like forcing it out of a sense of obligation would only mean I’m not doing my best work, which isn’t fair to other people and other voices who would otherwise get that attention.

Since I’m blessed enough to be in a position where I have the option, I’m going to bow out now. Better to leave on a high note, right?

I’ve made some great friends doing this work, and those friendships will no doubt continue (though Herrington might be a little mad that he has to think about renaming “Turn Four”). There are thousands of you that I know by Twitter handle only, and I like all of you, except that one guy (you know who you are).

All of this is to say: so long, for now. Thanks for reading. Thanks for making my life brighter and more fun all these seasons. I may be back, but I’m not going to promise anything other than my undying gratitude for the support you’ve all given me–far more than I deserve.

Some High Points From 1970 Jimi Hendrix Bootlegs

1970 was the year Jimi Hendrix died, but it was also a time of great creative growth for him. Free of the Experience (sort of) and free of the contractual mess that led to Band of Gypsys (more on that in a bit), he holed up in the nearly-finished Electric Lady Studios to work on his next album of material, most of which would trickle out unfinished on various compilations after he died.

For whatever reason—greedy management, according to most accounts—Hendrix had to head back out on the road for a grueling tour, playing the hits, billed as the Experience but with Noel Redding nowhere in sight, trying to play the new stuff and also enough of the hits to keep the crowds happy. The result were some of my favorite performances of his.

You can get some of the tour on official releases already, so I’ve left those off my list, though there are certainly some gems there. The US tour is represented by the Berkeley show (highlight: “Johnny B Goode,” probably, but “Straight Ahead” is also really good) and the Atlanta Pop Festival (not one of my favorites) and there’s a Blue Wild Angel record that captures his kinda-bad Isle of Wight show from August (highlight: “All Along the Watchtower”). The new material was where all the magic happened for the whole year; the older stuff mostly just sounded rote except when “Foxey Lady” got stretched out into interesting jams, and the two exceptions I put on my list. Hendrix also played the “Star Spangled Banner” at most of these shows, just as he’d played it a couple of times before Woodstock, but it’s not exactly something that you need to hear done more than once.

Here are some of my favorite performances from Hendrix’s 1970 tour, in chronological order. If you like pristine audio, you probably won’t be able to hang with most of these, but like so much lost art from the history of humankind, it’s a blessed miracle that we have what we have.

Continue reading “Some High Points From 1970 Jimi Hendrix Bootlegs”

Nine Books for 2017

This was a weird year of reading for me. I re-read some things that I love, but I didn’t finish most of them; the experience was more about seeking comfort in the familiar and drawing inspiration from beloved works than it was about completely re-experiencing them. There’s one exception there, a book I re-read which I devoured because it was exactly what I needed, but I’ll get there.

The books that changed my thinking this year were nonfiction, and they were all about the same thing: the end of the world—which, even if it’s not really going to happen, which some days seems like a rather large “if”, feels inevitable enough that it has to be dealt with—and the ways in which we (“We”) are completely unprepared to deal with it.

The fiction I read mostly made me want to write fiction again, which is a big development. After a couple of years of beating my head against that particular brick wall  I’ve had to do some serious introspection about why I do that, what I expect from it, and without these books, I’d probably just add “failed novelist” to my Twitter bio and move on. I’m not even working on anything yet, but now the thought doesn’t fill me with dread. Sometimes it’s the small things.

These aren’t in any particular order. I couldn’t pick a tenth one so I left it as it is.

Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke

I read this book early in college, long enough ago that I didn’t remember much of it. The characters are mostly not characters, but vessels for epiphany or the lack thereof, and they all have the same God but they’re not sure he/she/it is particularly interested in what happens to them. This book didn’t really help me understand anything about the Vietnam War other than I’m thankful I wasn’t there, but I think that was the point.

Denis Johnson, Train Dreams

People used to live their lives in one place. In living memory, if only for a little while longer, this was a wild place, an untamed one, where you could live so alone that no one knew of you. This book was unsettling, but beautiful, and it made me long for something. To explain what that “something” is would require me to write Train Dreams.

Antonio Di Benedetto, Zama

I read the NYRB translation of this on a plane to DC and a plane back. I picked it up because I read about it on biblioklept and it sounded up my alley. It was, emphatically so. The narrator of this book is so charming that you don’t realize for quite a while that he’s never going to get what he wants, and nothing will work out the way he wants it to, and even once you see all the way to the end of his life, past the end of the book, his voice still compels you to keep reading.

Oakley Hall, Warlock

This was (also) a re-read. America is a nation founded on and fueled by violence, even in our most hackneyed myths. Oakley Hall takes the Western and its honor codes and its machismo and shows you what it really is, and what it really means: the senseless killing that undergirds everything we think we know about ourselves. There’s a horror at the heart of this book that only sets in after you finish it, when it clangs around inside your head and you realize how many times you’ve seen this lie told elsewhere, and that’s all true even when it’s the second time you’ve read it.

Roy Scranton, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization

Things are bad. Things are probably going to get worse. You can either live in tension with this fact, or you can start to imagine how you’ll continue to find meaning even within it. This book is the only one I’ve read so far that clearly elucidates a path towards the latter. Things will get worse. What do we do about it? What can we? Start here.

Gilgamesh (Penguin Classics edition)

After reading Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, I realized that people 4,000 years ago were just like we were: they told stories, they fell in love, they worried about money, they wondered what would happen to them in the time they had left to live. And then, one day (though it maybe wasn’t that quick) their entire civilization was wiped away, and no one knew about this great epic for thousands of years. Even when that happens to us, to our Babylon, we were still just like them. If there are people 4,000 years from now, maybe they’ll find our stories and feel the same way about us.

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?

Capitalism, of course, is most of the reason we’re in this particular mess, spiraling towards an end. An end of what, we’ll just have to find out. But at times, it feels impossible that other ways are possible, or that anything can be done at all. Can our global way of living be saved? Probably not, but it doesn’t help that our way of thinking has been so impoverished by the forces that drive us towards this indeterminate oblivion in the first place.

Brian Evenson, The Open Curtain

It’s been a long time since I was so viscerally captured by a book. I was compelled to keep reading it to the end, even as I was horrified by its unravelings. Religion, when curdled, takes sick people and makes them sicker, and this is a brutal exploration of what that can mean. Sometimes people’s brains break. They’re not always prophets.

Barry Hannah, Airships

This was another one I read because people on the internet talked about it. I’m usually not a short story person, but the language in this book is electric—Hannah cuts to the heart of things like no other American I’ve read. His visions for the smallness of some people, and the dignity of others, and the way we talk to ourselves about ourselves, the things we “speak” where no one can know them, filled my head up and I have yet to empty it somewhere.