As a character, Pusha only offers so much. He’s Marlo before the fall, a cold, meticulous, and godless student of pushing powder. But Pusha is more knowing, more creative than that. He’s subject, not object; no mere character, he’s, a gifted pulp author with a laser-sharp (and at times questionable) focus and no lasting use for reflection. If anything, Pusha is more Slim Charles, dispensing wisdom as the all-knowing insider, the storyteller who has seen so much he operates at a distance. — Wrote about that new-ish Pusha T for Hazlitt.
The loss of perspective is as central to my internal monologue as my ability to solve the world’s problems when I get going. It’s far worse television, to be sure. Yet sometimes I worry that Carrie Mathison exists only to rationalize the topsy-turvy structure of Homeland. — I wrote about Homeland and myself for GQ.
Sometimes, narcissism is anything but bombastic. There’s a circularity to Big Star’s story that might be its most comforting feature. They never wanted to be part of the underground, and indeed, Big Star today is hardly esoteric. People commit their songs to memory, live and cry by them, take them on as pop in the most fundamental sense. The music has ended up where they always wanted it to be, but where does that leave the people who made it? Ambition means very little if there’s nobody left to enjoy it. — In case you missed it, I wrote about Big Star and Death and documentary legacies for Hazlitt.
The New Yorker web item about Jack Kerouac and possible concussions is, on its face, an important melding of sports and literature. Football has always been part of Kerouac’s All-American backdrop. But we’re rarely given any reason to consider the difference between one sport and another, or acknowledge which one he excelled it and what that might mean. This line of inquiry belong to football and football alone. It also has the effect of extending Kerouac’s sports biography as something more than a symbolic echo. It gives it, um, resonance.
It also has the unlikely effect of deepening the divide. Beyond-the-grave CTE check-ups are inexact science but they are science nonetheless. The self-destructive literary genius is at best pop psychology; often it verges on mythology. Here, sports beat up literature and not only took its lunch money, it stripped away a key narrative and reduced it to a doctor’s visit. Body beats mind, reason screws Romance, life becomes a little less magical even in suffering. The most important thing here is a human life, so keeping score like this is kind of tacky. Then again, shouldn’t that be the case whether we’re talking about the nuts and bolts or sports or the inner workings of authors?
On some later date I am going to write a lot about the place of Romanticism in sports, specifically when it comes to injury (what up, long lost book proposal!) I’m not sure, though, if it’s indicative of a shift in the way we view creative heroes or just how resistant concussions have proven to poetry of sports injury.
I’ve been thinking a lot about McGrady, Iverson, Odom, and their particular era of the NBA—you can read some of it here on the GQ website. But aside from the simple chronology of “the last beacons of a messy, charismatic era are falling away, let the New Bawses reign from up on high,” this is also a story about those of us who have been writing about the NBA is various unconventional ways since T-Mac, AI, and Odom truly mattered.
A friend on Twitter asked if the “era” I was referring to was “the FD era.” Any way you want to take that comment, it’s true. Everything I learned how to do with basketball, from a critical and creative standpoint, came out of this problematic, if endlessly fascinating, crop of players. Their basketball issues were also very human issues; their successes and failures could never be reduced to X’s and O’s. It’s worth noting, too, that when we wrote about them, we were also writing about ourselves, even as the athletes themselves existed on a plane we could barely grasp.
As people and performers, these were gods. And yet to dig into their narrative was about as messy and laden with hot entrails as anything in your local therapist’s office. Even when teams were the word, like with the Kings or Suns, there were very strong personalities guiding the way. Webber’s moods are the history of the Kings; between Nash and D’Antoni, the Suns were as much about eccentricities and they were new offensive systems. Hell, the first iteration of that squad was basically an exercise in aimless joie de vivre that happened to win big. If writing about sports always seemed to present itself as not only something bigger than wins and losses, but a theater where athletes could wow us with feats and then lose us in their countenances.
There’s also a highly technical and possibly uninteresting way for me to look at this era. My writing-about-sports career was launched by these players; as they started to fall away, I lost of lot of my heart and soul in the writing. There were notable exceptions, like with Russell Westbrook. But there was a marked shift away from soul-searching and on toward the theorizing and jargon-forming that, in particular, marked the work Tom Ziller and I did together.
Not to say that this stuff was leaden or humorless (probably applies more to my attempts at parsing the mysteries of human nature via T-Mac). I can safely say, though, that with these players the NBA was something it isn’t anymore. The local color is gone; long live the ideological formations.
Some might see Jennings as a bust or a tease; I prefer to think of him as, in true southpaw fashion, perplexing, imperfect, and at his fleeting best, an original. That’s the curse of the NBA lefty: They’re outsiders whose very presence sows chaos but who rarely rise to the level of self-definition. That same madness they can inflict upon others also infects their game. Yet there’s no angst to it. Jennings is a ghost who hasn’t quite figured out the meaning of death. — Celebrating the New Look Pistons and left-handed NBA players for GQ.
This goes back to Maura’s point about the conversation being centered around that oh-so-marketable 18-35 privileged white male demo: Those dudes’ free reign on the Internet and in life has made them feel empowered, and a lot of them tend to speak from a position of authority when they don’t yet know what they’re talking about — not just about feminism, but about rap music, politics, you name it. As for being gentler, I firmly believe it’s the role of the ally to learn all they can on their own before trying to speak for and even with the people they’re allying themselves with. — Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, from a SPIN roundtable on male feminism. More importantly, it explains why my demographic is so often utterly useless when writing about music, film, television, or sports these days.
As I wait breathlessly to watch the final Bill Hader episode of SNL, here’s an old draft I wrote in 2010 about Stefon and meta-comedy that never ended up going anywhere.
I watch Saturday Night Live because it’s there, and so am I. It’s kind of like that person you always ended up going home with because it was 2AM and you were too drunk to go home alone … except this is also a story about marriage, adulthood, relative sobriety, and life in a city that makes a bad job out of “quality of life”.
When I laugh, it’s usually because the show is silly, not funny. When SNL does better than that, I get extremely possessive about it. I guess you could even say I’m proud of it. Will Ferrell’s idiot-pure version of “Goodnight Saigon” tried, through mockery, to wring real emotion out of overwrought pap. It turned senseless cameos and a mismatched imaginary big band into something resembling community — and from there, on to loss and redemption. It did all the work the Billy Joel original could never do today, and did so, at bottom, by making fun of the troops. I spent most of Monday and Tuesday trying to organize my thoughts on it. Jenny Slate’s ethnic doorbell lady was just as good, and I wouldn’t dare ruin it by trying to play critic with it.
I’m pretty sure that, when Bill Hader’s Stefon first appeared on “Weekend Update” last April, I didn’t think much of it the next morning. Stefon, the overgrown club kid with psychedelic long sleeves creeping out from under a tight green t-shirt with a dragon on it, was a lisp with a grocery list of non sequiturs. In his segment, Stefon hips Seth Meyers to a series of New York clubs sure to appeal to anyone visiting from of town. The basic joke — the contrast between Meyers’ plea for wholesome travel advice and the degenerate Stefon — went stale before it started. The real meat of the character, if it makes sense to call it that, were his descriptions of the clubs. At once prudish and knowing, all of them involved some combination of sitcom figures, physical abnormalities, abjection, and various queer sub-categories.
Hader is poised, and all about selling this character, up through the “high-waisted midgets” and “Teddy Graham people”. Then, when asked to explain “human fire hydrants”, Hader just loses it. He starts to crack up, turns away from the camera, and sets off wild applause. Luckily, one of Stefon’s mannerisms is to place his hand over his mouth, and by the end, Hader is relying on it for cover. That’s when you wonder: what if the whole point of this gesture is to provide Hader with a safety valve?
As funny as Stefon has been—and let’s face it, the repetition (and repetitiveness) really only strengthens the gag—this moment is the highlight. Whether or not you think Saturday Night Live, or this sketch in particular, is funny, it’s heartening to be reminded that the performers do. A movie like Funny People, or to some degree, Louie, explores not only the intersection of comedy and reality, but also the fascination we have with comedians as people—and comedians as essentially engaged by their own jokes. It’s affirmation that we are laughing at the right things. And we aren’t laughing, well, it makes us happy to get that kind of authentic glimpse into the emotions behind the delivery system.
Stefon was back in May. This time, the audience isn’t exactly jolted when he finally has to take a step back and quell his laughter. In fact, from the beginning, Hader has trouble holding it together. In October, not only did Stefon get some of funniest lines yet— I particularly like “a Russian guy talking on a pre-paid cell phone” and “Is that Mick Jagger? No, it’s a fat kid on a Slip ‘N Slide.”—he also gave in and let his shakiness become part of the humor. That’s the tenor of the exchange; we’re laughing at his inability to do his job, but also with him. Hader himself laughs not only at the material, but also the meta-gag of comedy too potent for the comedian to handle. There’s no joke without the performer; if the performer succumbs to his own tricks, is that the ultimate success or an amateur-ish failture? It depends, again, on how much you value professionalism. Or if it’s sometimes reassuring, even sublime, to be reminded of the craft and the subject behind it. Meyers, the straight man whose job it is to anchor Hader, providing a foil and a steadying influence if need, erupts off-camera. Everything is falling apart, and what began as an vehicle for wacked-out imagery has turned into a bit of pomo theater that revels in its own dysfunction.
We got our latest look at Stefon on Saturday, and now, the bit itself has evolved into a vehicle for the controlled chaos of October. The lines have grown more spare, as if to give him less to choke on, or slow down the goofball momentum that makes it so hard to keep a straight face. Hader is also very clearly reading from cards, and now has Stefon periodically covering his whole face. The goal is to prevent a total meltdown, or perhaps the intent is to keep the unrest to a minimum, reaping its comedic advantage without risking collapse. Either way, it backfires.
The new rhythms are almost like an admission of defeat, and the way Hader reacts to the lines as he reads them makes you wonder if he’s ever seen them before. When Stefon appears, the audience not only anticipates Hader and Meyers breaking character; they approach the whole thing as if it were a challenge to the performers, one that, when they fail, will allow them all to share a good laugh. It may not be as spontaneous, or fresh, and the sudden unity has been replaced by a more contrived collaboration. Yet the audience seizes on Hader’s every missed beat, as if anticipating the crack-up. They seem to understand that the sketch becomes truly participatory, an inside joke from the beginning by virtue of their expectations (and those suggested by the new safeguards in place). What results is biggest mess of all the Stefon appearances, and despite the paucity of language, probably the most rewarding.