Friday, April 5, 2013
Let's All Take a Moment to Look Back and Laugh at How Clever We Thought We Were Once (and How Wrong We Were)
This has been a rough week. Finding out a dear friend of mine, who seems far too young to be dealing with news like this, was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma and then hearing of the passing of Roger Ebert within a 24 hour time span will really do a number on you. But it also got me reading and ultimately writing. Which, for better or worse, is why what you're about to read now exists.
Let's rewind the tape a little bit. Back when I was a snarky blogger (as if there is any other kind) and had just gotten my first ink and paper column, I told anyone who would listen about the genius of Will Leitch. I watched friends breathlessly praise Chuck Klosterman and what I considered his backdoor humblebrag approach to pop culture writing. But Leitch was my guy. As time has softened my stance on Klosterman, my appreciation of Will's writing never waned.
A few years ago, for reasons I can't remember and probably aren't all that anecdote-worthy, I got in touch with Will. We had a mutual friend, a successful record label owner turned sports writer whose identity could be revealed in a five second Google search. Well, scratch that. More like I know someone who we both admire but who also may have become one of Will's earliest and most vocal critics. Like a kid with sweaty palms and shake-voice standing in front of a hastily slapped together Science Fair project, I wrote him to introduce myself and send him a link to a piece I'd written about why he was better than Klosterman.
He wrote back. Nothing earth shaking, just some complimentary notes on what I'd written. He was gracious about the fact that the man who brought the world Pavement (the band not the concrete stuff we walk on) hated him so much and how weirdly flattering that was. Then he mentioned that he was responding in between trying to bang out chapters for a new book. To use a very lazy sports analogy, that was as huge to me as Tiger texting (sexting?) you between holes at the Masters.
We didn't have any further contact and life and job stress has largely kept me from being as current as I'd like to be with Will's output. But I've never lost my starry eyed admiration of his work. In fact, I gave SMIMLWSNBN (Special Man in My Life Who Shall Not Be Named) copies of Life as a Loser and God Save the Fan for Valentine's Day. Yeah, I really know how to bring on the romance.
So when Deadspin re-ran an old piece that Will wrote about his correspondence with Roger Ebert in the wake of Ebert's passing, it gave me pause. It's certainly worth reading the whole thing but if you aren't a fan of extra homework, here's the deal: after a few years of back and forth correspondence with Ebert, in which he offered nothing but support, Will got sucked in my the siren song of snark.
He wrote a piece about how Ebert was the old guard and was tarnishing his writing legacy by selling out to the devil that is television. This understandably hurt Ebert, who emailed to say as much. It seems that time healed (or at least bandaged) the wounds but, as you might imagine, it's a moment that Will Leitch regrets to this day. And that reminded me of something.
I guess I too was, in some small way, part of the new wave of bloggers turned actual journalists. I was rewarded generously every time I could write something so incendiary that page views spiked and people, love it or hate it, felt so compelled by what they read that they re-posted articles. Negativity and cattiness always "sold" (provided you are pretty flexible with actual definition of what selling is) and I was fed hatebait like 1950's studio starlets were fed uppers and Benzos. I was young and was told that I was good about being really mean about stuff. Works for me.
One day, I was assigned to write the cover piece for the Mavs season preview for that year. As being a basketball blogger was what originally put me on the map, this seemed like a full-circle kind of moment. I went to shoot around and got to talk one-on-one with Rick Carlisle and Shawn Marion and a VERY petulant Brendan Haywood. Then I asked Mark Cuban if I could email him some questions to include in a sidebar interview. He said sure.
Cuban and I had emailed back and forth over the years. He's never been anything but generous to me even when it was clear that I could offer very little in return. I pulled together a list of questions that I thought were on-point and fired them off. Much to my surprise, he responded with something along the lines of, "Jesus, can these questions get any more depressing?" Then he called me the Edgar Allan Poe of sports writing or something to that affect.
The snark switched had been flipped many years before and I didn't even realize it was on constantly at that point. At first, chalked it up to a team owner only wanting softball, feelgood questions about his team's chances in the upcoming season. But Mark Cuban isn't really a feelgood pull-quote supplying kind of guy. So I re-wrote and then re-re-wrote the questions again, just for good measure. I re-submitted them to him as my "new and improved Norman Vincent Peale persona." He gave me good answers and told me he liked the Norman Vincent Peale version of me a lot more than the Poe one.
The Mavs won the championship that season, which has absolutely nothing to do with the season preview that I wrote. But as they came closer to the title with each win over the Heat, I thought about how glad I was that I shed the snark and stopped writing just to tear things down and watch them burn. Of course, it also put a nail in my career as a sports blogger but I'm okay with that. Today, I will watch the Rangers home opener with nothing but positivity. Okay and maybe a slight wincing regret that Yu Darvish was two batters away from the earliest perfect game in baseball history on Tuesday night.
Snark is a vile parasite capable of making writers turn on their heroes. The fact that the last words Roger Ebert sent to Will Leitch were "I hope you're well" gives me some weird sort of peace that Ebert almost certainly understood that better than any of us ever will. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go put the finishing touches on my column for this week, tentatively titled "Will Leitch Poops His Pants Almost Daily." Just kidding. I think.