Friday, October 23, 2015

Smoke 'Em if You Got 'Em, 'Cause We're Never Gonna Learn

Following the federal election on Monday, I got into a pretty heavy Dillinger Four kick, specifically their 2002 album Situationist Comedy, which is my personal favourite.

The reason being, Dillinger Four is one of the more leftist bands I could think of off the top of my head at the time. They also are a particular type of band for me. I don't listen to them often enough and each time I put them on, especially this album, I'm immediately pissed off at myself for not remembering how much I love the band. They write really great pop-punk, but have so much going on beneath the surface that it really elevates the band from good to great if you're paying close enough attention.

Granted, I came up with the idea for this post about 4 days ago and only got around to writing it now, so I'm sure some of the ideas will be diminished.

Dillinger Four have long been the darlings of your average and Fest frequenter and a lot of that is due to the band's image as four burly guys who like to play fast, sing loud and drink lots. Especially the last part. This image mainly comes from the band's live show, which is a whole lot of the last three things. However, I think that this is way too sweeping of a generalization and really undermines the sharpness of the thought that is put into the band's lyrics. 

The song "Gainesville", which is about the Fest, is what the band is most well-known for among your average punk fan and while that is a really good song, I think it's unfair. Fest has gotten to be very, very popular and most goers adopt the song as a sort of anthem for the festival, for obvious reasons, but Dillnger Four released the album in 2008, meaning they must have wrote the song even earlier than that. To me, that means that the song represents the band during the very earlier stages of the festival, like the 4th or 5th edition, rather than the larger punk circus it's become now. I'm not trying to deny that the festival is still fun, but I'm definitely sure that it's not the same as it used to be at all. The song is about feeling good and drinking in the sun in Florida when you're used to cold weather where you come from. Again, while a good song, to me that doesn't even come close to summing up Dillinger Four and it seems lame that that is what most punk fans have distilled their existence into.

For me, Situationist Comedy, is what defines the band. The opening song, "NOBLE STABBINGS!!", was my introduction to the band as it was including on a Fat Wreck Chords compilation I had bought, which is what caused me to pick up this album over their earlier releases. At first the band seems like a pretty rough ride because of how fast they play (very fast!) and their guitar tones and vocal style. 

Bruh, the bass tone. Holy fuck.

And this is correct, I think this is a very conscious throwback to early 80's hardcore by the band. Given that the members are older (I would assume they're close to or over 40), this comes off as the member experiencing that music first hand and playing their punk music that way because that's how they learned it. This is rather than an appropriation of an earlier generation's style of playing, which is more and more the case with punk and especially hardcore these days.

But underneath this fast roughness is a band who is absolutely phenomenal at writing melodies and especially vocal harmonies. They are so good at that you don't even really notice it until you realize that you are humming along to a song that's like over 200 bpm. Every single chorus is huge. There's these great, unconventional but catchy guitar riffs everywhere you turn. The pop sensibility is astounding.

Case in point, one of my favourite cuts from the album, "folk song.":

I guess that I also really like this release because it in particular really fits with my personal politics. The album was released at a time when being a "political" punk band meant yelling about about George W. Bush and the military and not much else. Dillinger Four instead took a more subtle approach, describing their experiences living in a post-9/11 United States and how it affected them. This works out really well, because rather than being introduced to their ideas, you are introduced to their experiences and you can then relate to them. The result is basically you thinking "I can understand why you think that." instead of just "You think that."

There are a ton of great lines about being working class, which is why the album was on my mind during and following the election. It's a great soundtrack to being critical, but also thinking about why you should be critical.

I'm not really one for giving political statements to people, but I would like to leave with the following, that I think is helpful for people to keep in mind in today's world:

Try to be aware of the greater system that you are a part of and think of why you are a part of it. Be aware of your relationship with money and commodities and do not let them govern what and how you do things. Always think "Why?" and do not let people force you to do things you do not want to do.

And crank this fucking album while you do that, I guess.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

October 14th, 2015

On October 8th, I resolved that I had to buy a ticket to see the Blue Jays play a playoff game at home. My mom has told me that I had been to a playoff game, but given that the last four times the Jays before 2015 were 1989, 91, 92 and 93, and I was 0, 2, 3, and 4 in those years, my memories of those playoff drives are hazy recollections of Toronto freaking out about Joe's home run at best. They were about to play their first that afternoon and I figured that buying a ticket for the second game would be a good bet, in case the series ended before it came back to Toronto for the 5th game. I paid a 70% mark-up on a 500-level ticket and watched the Jays lose in 14 innings on October 9th, to fall within one game of a series loss. That was an absolute heart-breaker of a game to be at, but the experience of being at a playoff game in a hot crowd was just wonderful.

I never lost faith in the idea that the Jays would come back and win the series, despite being down 0-2 and going to Texas, but I had resigned to the fact that the October 9th game would be my only playoff experience for 2015 and I was happy with that.

The Jays then won both games in Texas, like I knew they would.

I came home on Tuesday morning to find a note from my mom saying that her and my dad had gotten seats for the 5th game of the series and that my dad had to work and couldn't go. In terms of surprises, this was pretty far up there. Not only was I going to a playoff game and not only was it in good seats, but I was going to see this series be decided.

By now, most of the world is passably familiar with how the game went. Really what you need is this:

I have been to a lot of Blue Jays games in my life. Probably more than 95% of people. This was the best and craziest, but most importantly, most emotional from a fan standpoint that I've ever been to. You could not ask for more from a baseball game. This game was up and down and up and that final up was just about the highest one you could get. Being a Jays fan, I experienced pretty much everything thing that you able to feel while watching a baseball game during it.

I've said this many times, but my family is a Blue Jays family. My mom found it was a great and affordable way to do things with my brother while she was a single parent. Hearing her describe the first game they went to, in 1983 is heart-warming. While they were at The Ex, the Jays were giving away free tickets to that afternoon's game, the Jays of course still playing at Exhibition Stadium at that time. Upon entering the gate, they found that the team was giving away free hats as well. My mom was supporting herself and my brother on just her salary as a new high school teacher, so to have something so affordable to do with him was absolutely great. From there, she started to buy more tickets, before eventually getting season's tickets in left field behind her favourite player, George Bell.

Before Wednesday's game, to our surprise, George Bell threw out the ceremonial first pitch. My mom immediately jumped up, in her George Bell jersey, and started screaming "GEEE-OOOORR-GGYYYYY!" and it put a smile on my face a mile wide. The two fans in front of us turned around to give us a thumbs up and we struck up a conversation with them. It turned out that they were from Long Island and had grown up with the game's starter Marcus Stroman. They showed a bunch of pictures of them with him and they cheered with us all game, giving high fives and hugs whenever the Jays got a hit or made a play. Given that Stro is my favourite Jay, it was a great and positive section of fans to be in.

As much as baseball is fun to watch, for me it also has a much deeper emotional resonance. It is a physical manifestation of my family's strength and bond. We've joked that main reason my dad, a life-long fan of the sport well before there was an MLB team in Toronto (He traveled to see a World Series game in New York in the 70's! He can remember his teacher putting playoff games on the radio during the 50's!), married my mom was the season tickets. They are truly in love and are a picture of a successful and loving marriage, and while it would be stupid to suggest that they got married because they were both ballfans, it would also be stupid to suggest that the Jays and baseball don't play at least some type of role in our family's relationship.

I always wondered why other kids went on vacations while my family didn't when I was younger. It seemed like every kid in my class got to go somewhere, while I stayed put in Toronto. It was only later that I realized that we got our Jays tickets every year instead. Maybe I was jealous when I was younger, but I'm certainly not now. Going to games for my whole life with my tried and true ballfan parents is how I learned to truly appreciate the game and all its subtleties; realize the importance of a lead-off walk, appreciate the pitcher throwing a 0-2 pitch in the dirt, runners taking an extra base. There's a lot that goes on in the game's quieter moments and when you become aware of this ebb and flow and the minor mindgames that accompany these miniature battles, it's when you become aware of the true beauty of baseball. It's through these that you realize what makes a great player great.

I hate to play the superiority card and talk about how I'm a good or a true baseball and Jays fan and most people at the game aren't, but following the shitshow at yesterday's game I kind of have to. There were two very drunk and very bro fans behind us at the game who were indicative of many of the fans there who clearly have no idea how to act at a baseball game. This has long been a condition that you have to deal with as a Jays fan, because Toronto is not a "baseball" city. Or maybe no city is a "baseball" city and most fans have no idea how to act at sporting events, but I know that when I went to a Mets game in New York, that they sure knew how to act. But Toronto does seem especially bad sometimes. The two bros behind us incessantly yelled "HAAAAMM-ELLLLLS!" all game and yelled that every Rangers batter was "A JOKE". I can understand being a vocal fan and cheering loudly, but if you are here to only heckle the other team and not cheer for your own, then fuck off and give your ticket to someone who actually cares. If you are calling Adrian Beltre, ye of 413 career home runs and 74.9 career WAR, objectively one of the best 3rd basemen of all-time and one of the finest ballplayers of the last 20 years, a joke, then all you are doing is calling attention to how much of a joke you are and how little you know about the game.

Of course the biggest embarrassment in the game was when the fans started to throw beer cans onto the field following an odd play. For the record, the umps absolutely made the correct call and double checked with the office in New York to make sure. They did absolutely nothing wrong and went out of their way to make sure that they didn't. The imagined slights that fanbase keeps yelling about are starting to get tiresome. NEVER THROW SOMETHING ONTO THE FIELD. If you do, you deserve to get kicked out and I hope you do. There are few things that say "I don't know shit about baseballs and am knee-jerk reaction garbage" than what happened last night. As soon as the downpour from the 500's started, I said "Embarrassing." and our new friends from New York agreed with me.

Your own players were telling you to stop. Fuck all of you.

But this does not detract from what followed that inning. Elvis Andrus forgetting how to field, a bases-loaded RBI by Josh and then, of course, Joseeeee, Jose, Jose, Jose.

I commonly tell a story, mostly about how you should never give up hope on your team, in which my Dad ceded going to game 6 of the 1993 World Series in favour of a possible game 7. This meant that my mom got to see Joe Carter's walk-off home run to win the World Series in person. In terms of Jays moments, you can't get better than that. That is her personal "Jays Moment". 

It has been different for me, because I have watched mostly out-of-contention teams throughout my life and each of my favourite moments have been singular player accomplishments. I was at the Halladay-Burnett game, which was a big one, Jose's 2010/11 seasons were also up there, watching Carlos Delgado mash for 12 years, everything that was Roy Halladay, I couldn't say that I had my own moment in Jays history until yesterday.

In my last post I mentioned that the beauty of the playoffs is that you can't expect what comes next and you never know what type of things can go right. Of course this also goes the other way, as for 15 minutes or so many people that the Jays could possibly lose the series on a momentary defensive lapse by Mr. Defense, Russ Martin. To have gone 22 years without playoffs, go down 0-2 and then battle back at the away park to tie the series, only to lose it on a mind-boggling, albeit correctly-called, play would have been the ultimate injustice. To go all-in trading for the biggest names in baseball only to lose in the first round. In my mind, I knew it wouldn't end like that, it couldn't. My mom and I immediately stood up to sing "OK Blue Jays" as loud as we could.

Jose Bautista has gotten a little bit of a rotten deal in Toronto. For some reason, until yesterday, the city has been very hesitant to embrace him as the home run-on-base-arm strength machine that he is. First it was because he was too good, too fast. Then because he yelled at the umpires too much. Maybe all the white Torontonians thought he was too Hispanic, I wouldn't be surprised. Everyone refused to accept that he was "the guy" despite the fact that he could not more obviously be "the guy". He is a generational talent who excels in many aspects of the game and seems to be a strong presence among his teammates. He is the best right fielder of this decade. He magically turned around his career out of nowhere with the Blu Jays, and still Toronto was hesitant to embrace him as our baseball overlord.

It had to be Jose. All along, it had to be Jose. After the high tensions of the seventh inning and the fans going crazy and the high pressure situation he got himself in, it had to be Jose.

This will forever be my Jays moment. I was there and nothing can ever erase that. It really does feel that the last 26 years of my existence as a Jays fan, all the games I went to, crying when my Dad and I left early during a blowout as a child, all the games watched at home bemoaning the lack of getting the runner at third home, re-watching plays from '92 and '93, it was all just a build up to the release of this specific moment. Jose's home run was perfect in every way and even though I was in a building filled with 54,000 people and we were packed into tight seats in section 125, it felt like my mom and I had our own little space there in seats 6 and 7. I could not imagine a more perfect way to celebrate the home run than I did, hugging my mom beside me.

Go Jays.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

I Was on Top of the World, Livin' High

Last night the Blue Jays clinched the American League East for the first time since 1993. Considering I was 4 years old when they did that, and eventually won the World Series, I have only vague memories of this period of my life. I was born into a Blue Jays family that have been season ticket holders since 1984, so being fan wasn't even a choice, it was just something that I grew up with and has always been a part of me. I eagerly awaited going to Saturday day games with my mom and sister so that we could all sing the "Woo-Hoo!" refrain of Shawn Green's walk-up music, "Song 2" by Blur. I would look through binoculars at Pat Hentgen to get a better look from our 500 level seats. When my sister started diving competitively, my dad and I went to almost all of our family's night games. I saw Chris Woodward hit three home runs in a game. I remember watching Carlos hit 4 on TV and thinking his batflip on the final one was just the coolest. I always liked going to baseball games and playing baseball, but baseball, and specifically the Toronto Blue Jays, becoming one of my favourite things in the world, something I devoted a significant portion of my time to and something that I had a very large amount of emotion invested in crept up on me.

This was because it wasn't an interest that I shared with the kids at school. They only cared about the Leafs. Baseball players were all fat. They were all on steroids. A kid in my class getting Leaf tickets was treated was treated like VE Day, whereas if I came in and said "I went to the Blue Jays game last night." nobody would care in the slightest. It really didn't bother me all that much, it's just the way it was. Because I didn't have anyone to talk about baseball with at school, it internalized all of my feelings about baseball and the Jays, I just learned that nobody seemed to care about it and for that reason, didn't really talk about it.

And this is because the Jays were bad for a long time. Not "no World Series in 106 years" Chicago Cubs bad. Close to "no finishes above 3rd place for 30 years" Cleveland Indians bad. But just bad enough that they wouldn't even sniff the playoffs for the next 22 years. It was frustrating. They were good enough to show promise and make you wonder if maybe, just maybe, this would be the year if this would work out or that would work out. But it never did, not even in the slightest. There was rebuild upon rebuild and they never worked out.

But all of a sudden 22 years of frustrated watching consistently sub-par teams doesn't seem like it matters at all, because the Blue Jays just won the American League East. No Wild Card games for the Jays. Whenever there is a narrative of failure (my specialty), the hero always has to conquer that which has kept him down in order to be victorious. Mario must slay Bowser before getting to Peach. Luke must beat Vader. Harry must kill Voldemort.

The Toronto Blue Jays had to slay the New York Yankees. The Yankees, the winningest team in history, has long been the schoolyard bully to the Blue Jays' meek nerd due to the fact that they both played in the AL East. 19 games every against each other every year and every year the Yankees took them to task. If the Blue Jays wanted to get into the playoffs to have a chance at the World Series, they would have to get through the Yankees first. And they did. They won 13 games and the Yankees won 6.

And now the Blue Jays are on their way to the playoffs.

Whenever an incredible run, like the one that the Blue Jays have been on since the end of July, happens, it requires pretty much everything to go right. When the Jays failed in the past, one or more things went wrong. Often it was good hitting, but bad starting pitching. One year the Jays had 5 great looking young starters, but an awful bullpen and no hitting. This year everything has gone right. They have an amazing offense, a very good starting rotation, and a very good bullpen. But I don't just mean that the greater parts of the team need to perform well, I mean that even on a smaller level, everybody has to do what they are supposed to.

This always creates a lot of interesting stories about unlikely candidates. A great example would be Dave Roberts, who had an up-and-down career as a low-power base stealer for about 10 years, but will live FOREVER in Boston as the guy who stole 2nd base off of Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 9th while facing elimination. He was a pinch runner and that was all he did in that game and he wasn't on the World Series roster for Boston. But none of that matters in the slightest. What matters is the World Series victory that Boston fans commonly trace back to this steal.

There have been tonnes of feel-good stories on the Blue Jays this year. I already talked about Kevin Pillar. Another example would be Chris Colabello, who toiled in independent baseball seemingly forever before making his MLB debut as a 29 year-old (that's late) two years ago. He put together two short and garbage seasons before the Jays grabbed him for nothing this year. He came up to the Jays while the roster was suffering due to injuries and played the worst fucking left field I've ever seen. But he did hit. He didn't walk and he struck out a lot, but somehow he kept defying the BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) gods and seemingly went 2-4 with a double or home run every night and had an 18-game hitting streak. I kept expecting him to crash and his batting average to plummet, but it just never did! He kept fucking hitting! Chris fucking Colabello became an anchor in the goddamn lineup somehow! He looked like his body was disproportional at the plate and his swing made no sense and he kept not really walking that much, but he just kept hitting.

I don't expect Colabello to reproduce his 2015 season ever again. I would not be surprised in the slightest if he just bounces around the major leagues for the rest of his career, not really ever nailing down a roster spot. But I will always remember him fondly and always praise his name to the highest for how he lead the Blue Jays to a goddamn AL East title this season.


Sidenotte: Reyes celebrating in that video :')/:'(

Even smaller things just keep going the Blue Jays way. When stud/all-star/is he even human? shortstop Troy Tulowitzki got hurt, the team traded for light-hitting infielder Darwin Barney to shore up the roster for the end of the season. Barney is a defense-first player, but has proven to be more than adequate in the role requested of him. He's made a ton of great plays in the field, as was expected, but I think what I'm going to remember most is this play from last night. For reference, when the Blue Jays clinched the division, it was in the first game of a double-header, so though they wanted t celebrate, they had to wait through an entire other game. Ultimately that home hum meant nothing, as the Jays lost 8-1, but after a Darwin Barney home run that followed a 15-2 win to clinch, I found myself thinking "What else could go right this season?"

I suppose that the beauty of playoff baseball, especially when you've waited this long and are so unfamiliar with it, is just that: You don't know.