Monday Update: 8/8/2022
I am aware it is Tuesday - Discussing the Loons, The Last Samurai, and The Macarena
Apologies if this goes out very late in the day or on Tuesday, also apologies for missing last week’s Monday - I’ll explain in the sentence immediately following this one:
Last week I was out on a sort of vacation up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Alexandria, Minnesota, specifically. This yielded me a lot of time to myself and not very much connectivity to the internet, by design. This is why I haven’t given you anything over the past few weeks, I’ve been untethered to the information super-highway. Regardless, I’ve done quite a lot of note (and some writing, though I’ll get to that at the end here) and you deserve an update!
Anyone who reads this and has any history of reading my work or can scroll down on my blog knows I love soccer, and American soccer in particular, and Major League Soccer even further in particular. I’ve long desired to turn this love outwards and go on sort of touristic voyages to soccer matches the way that many people do with Major League Baseball games. I am mostly alone in this desire, though, and living in the middle of the country means that there’s a significant distance I’ll have to travel for every match, something that wouldn’t be as much of a problem if I lived in somewhere like New Jersey.
And yet, despite the difficutly, I have done some of this - In 2019, I saw LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium, in 2020 I saw San Diego Loyal play their first matches at Torero Stadium, and in 2021 I saw Forge FC take on CF Montréal in the Canadian Championship at Tim Horton’s Field during my brief Ontario exile. This week, I added a new one - Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota, home of the Loons of Minnesota United FC.
The Twin Cities have a lengthy history in American soccer, dating back to the 1970s NASL days of the Minnesota Kicks in Bloomington, continuing with the Minnesota Thunder of the lower tiers of American soccer in the 1990s and 2000s into the current iteration, Major League Soccer’s Minnesota United FC. As I tend to find, there is a lot of history to soccer in this city which only came to MLS less than a decade ago.
The Loons are in their sixth season of MLS play, their… well, it’s kind of a difficult question to answer how many years they’ve played overall. Officially, according to MLS, it’s their sixth season (even clubs that started as lower division clubs are considered to become “new franchises” as they enter MLS), but they kept continuity with the Minnesota United FC that played in the (now defunct) second NASL from 2010 to 2016, and that team kept some continuity with the Minnesota Thunder franchise that played from 1990 to 2009… The new ownership of the NASL team even changed their name from Minnesota Stars to Minnesota United to sort of signify that they weren’t trying to leave the original Thunder memory behind… I don’t know exactly what to think, and it doesn’t really matter whether they’re a 32 year-old club or a twelve year-old club or a club in its sixth season ever, they are a well-supported club in a truly impressive stadium with a dedicated fanbase out in the Twin Cities.
Allianz Field is a wonderful venue for soccer in the United States. I had a great seat, third row behind the corner flag opposite the supporters section, on the side where six goals were scored over the course of the match (Which finished 4-4, I’ll get to that later). The lower-deck seats, even in the rows furthest back, are so close to the pitch, it reminds me of an old college basketball arena in a way, even walking around the concourse you feel like the action’s right in front of you, closer than I’d expect being used to modern stadiums. I didn’t go up to the second deck, so I can’t make any statements about how it feels being up there, but it sort of helped give off this enclosed, intimate feeling to the stadium. Most similar example I can actually come up with is Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas, where having an upper deck on one side of the stadium opposite the press box and luxury suites has a similar effect, except with a larger population within the stadium. The fans I sat next to were very friendly, the woman next to me told me she’d been coming to games ever since the team’s first MLS season in 2017 at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota and that the team’s growth in the city after the opening of the new stadium had been interesting for her to see.
That massive supporter’s stand, the Wonderwall, is an impressive sight, too. The only criticism I had (and I was on the other side of the stadium so some sound reflection issues might’ve affected my interpretation of this) was that they seemed disorganized as a standing support section, like even when they were up by a few goals, the songs and drums would die down fairly quickly. That might be an issue inherent to having such a massive section, but it could’ve been just overpowering with sound if the whole section was more in unison. It seems like they’re and jesus christ this is the most specific and obscure jargon I’ve potentially ever used in a piece of writing that’s left my computer dealing with a circa 2007 pre-Nordecke Columbus situation where they have two major supporter groups that each have their own way of doing things (I think one’s the Northern Guard and the other is the Dark Clouds), their own songs and everything, which seems to have them out of sync — plus maybe not enough drums to support it. I compare it to what I saw from the 3252 in Los Angeles a few years ago, who’s just constantly bringing it for 90 minutes, who might be the gold standard in MLS now. I’d love to see a playoff game there for this reason, if they can all get together on the same page it’ll create a fantastic effect.
Loons fans’ big thing is scarf-waving on corner and free-kicks (Which I imagine will stand more timelessly than our singing of an LMFAO song has. The “Shots” chant from the Cauldron has been around now nearly twice as long as LMFAO themselves were. I still love it, for the record.), which has an impressive visual effect (I tried to take a snapshot of it but it doesn’t do the scene justice) and apparently an impressive on-field effect as they scored multiple set-piece goals right in front of me, one a diving header from Franco Fragapane and another off a rebound from Bongokuhle Hlongwane, both of whom came and celebrated right at the corner flag behind which I was watching. Their new forward (as of this year) Luis Amarilla scored off a great run in the first half as well, and really had a good game in totality. I think they have found the striker they’ve been looking for.
I also saw Sebastian Blanco just narrowly miss making history twice in this match - First when he scored a goal only fourteen seconds into the match, which was the fourth fastest goal ever scored in MLS history, then later in the second half when he was briefly credited with a third goal, giving him the first MLS hat-trick in Portland Timbers history, though credit for it was later rescinded as it was deemed an own-goal by Minnesota’s Kemar Lawrence. I’d never seen Blanco play in-person before this (he was injured as he is unfortunately frequently when they played in Kansas City last year), but I love his game so getting to see him have a dominant performance like this was a treat. I couldn’t tell for sure if the Minnesota fans knew to be wary of Sebastian Blanco (he ripped KC’s hearts out in the playoffs in 2018, so I’ll never forget him) as he scored twice in their playoff loss to Portland last year.
MLS is in a weird place compared to other top American leagues, wherein a large chunk of the fanbase doesn’t watch many league games outside of their own team’s, so outside of its absolute like top-level stars, like Carlos Vela and Chicharito and I suppose Gareth Bale now, many of the league’s best players enter away stadiums under relative anonymity.
Side note - I think this is one of the biggest cultural shifts that MLS should somehow seek to make happen if it wants to gain image and legitimacy as a top American sports league. I was at a Sporting KC bar earlier this year during our season opener against Atlanta. I remember Ozzie Alonso got a yellow card, and a lot of people just didn’t seem to recognize that it was Ozzie, a really good player who gets a lot of yellow cards, whom Sporting faced multiple times per year as a Western Conference opponent (and twice in the playoffs) over a twelve year span from 2009 to 2021 when he was with Seattle and Minnesota. The most similar analogue I can think of regarding his relationship to a KC sports team is what Chris Harris Jr. (most recently with the LA Chargers, for a long and successful time with the Denver Broncos) has, and I can’t imagine die-hard Chiefs fans wouldn’t have recognized him when he broke up a passes against them last year. That’s one of the issues that MLS has, most of its fans don’t cross over into caring about the league as a whole. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but the day that I go to an MLS match and hear fans worried about a player with the high skill/relatively-low-international-notoriety-level of a Hany Mukhtar or Carles Gil or Sebastien Blanco will be the day that MLS has crested some sort of hill in its domestic image.
It was one of the highest scoring soccer matches I’ve ever been to, to my recollection I’ve only seen the four goal barrier broken from one team four or five times, and never from both of them. I’ve been to three Sporting matches in MLS this year - Opening weekend (1-0 over Houston Dynamo), one in late-April (0-0 against Columbus Crew), and one in late-May (2-1 over Colorado Rapids), and this game had twice as many goals in it as those three did altogether! And it was a dramatic 4-4 (Though how many 4-4s aren’t dramatic?), Portland took a 3-1 lead into the half, gave up 3 of their own, and then Luis Amarilla scored relatively late on to salvage the point.
It was one of the most exciting matches I’ve attended, maybe the best in a dramatic sense, only thing that would’ve improved it would’ve been a late winner from either side (I was hoping either for an Amarilla goal to complete the hat trick or a Dairon Asprilla spin-flip-kick golazo, but I saw neither). Regardless I had a great time, I only made the decision to travel to St. Paul from Alexandria (about a two-hour drive) on a whim the night before but I’m glad that I did.
Over the course of the week I finished two books that I’d started well before I got to Alexandria. One of those was Robert Andrew Powell’s This Love is Not for Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juarez, about which I don’t have an overwhelming amount to say (but if I’m inclined to say anything it’ll go on the What Got Cut blog), and the other was Helen Dewitt’s novel The Last Samurai.
The most significant personal takeaway I have after finishing The Last Samurai is that it will spare me two explanations for people who ask me what I’m reading -
1) I’m not reading a book about Samurai
2) What The Last Samurai is actually about, which is something I still struggle to define: Fatherhood? Motherhood? Expectations? Growing Up? Being Gifted? Being Average? Being Special?
I think that last one’s the central conflict of the narrative (I am going to describe specific plot details here so skip ahead to… probably the section about the Todd in the Shadows video to follow if you’d like to read it yourself without this knowledge) — In flashbacks, Sybillia is confronted multiple times with the reality that she’s in some way relatively average: She’s an average musician, she has a one-night stand with a famous musician but it’s not a particularly beloved one, she has another and is impregnated by a famous author but he’s no highbrow literary master, she can’t fulfill the requirements of her relatively menial job, and she hates it and wants her son to be special like she is. Ludo (and there’s some symbolism in her giving him this unique name but him so commonly describing himself using a much more common name to other people) is genuinely prodigious in his ability to learn languages and mathematical forms at a young age, but also seems constantly miserable, unsatisfied by answers to questions that define his life, and at points reveals that his knowledge is relatively shallow despite how impressive it is on its surface.
On a narrative level, I must admit I tired of Ludo trying out new potential fathers. This might be like me getting frustrated at how many fights there were in Bloodsport but particularly the scene with the mathematician I found to be a little past the point of diminishing returns. Maybe the final scene with the pianist, the first adult man whose house he enters in which he doesn’t try to establish a father figure, isn’t as impactful if I don’t tire of reading Ludo doing that the fourth or fifth time, but I’ll admit I struggled to maintain an interest.
Rhetorically I love some of the efforts that Dewitt underwent particularly in communicating Ludo’s mental state, of course there’s the gradual shift from Sib’s perspective to Ludo’s over about the first half of the book, with which she shows through his self-narration Ludo becoming more confident. He only ever refers to his mother by her first name, even in relatively early childhood, though when he finally meets his biological father, he can’t stop using the phrase “my father”, even when he doesn’t want to. In my eyes probably the strongest scene in the novel is the scene immediately following Ludo’s meeting with his birth father, where he can’t keep himself from letting the words from their conversation slip into his internal monologue. It’s one of the better depictions of a hard mental shift, as in a scene where a character’s mindset has been altered to an irreversible point in a short span of time, I’ve read in any novel.
I would recommend this to any readers interested in literary fiction, though I’d recommend you start with Dewitt’s short story collection Some Trick first and decide if you’d like to read 800+ pages of her brand of storytelling, which very closely aligns with me but I can imagine is not universally appealing.
The New Todd in the Shadows Video
My goodness. Every now and then it hits me that I have, nearly without fail, watched each new Todd in the Shadows as soon as I could ever since August 2010, give or take. Isn’t that astounding? Who else can I say I’ve done that with? And his videos really have only improved in quality ever since then - His forays into music history, starting in ~2012 when he started covering one-hit wonders and later the “Trainwreckords” series he started in ~2017 have allowed him to branch out and do some excellent research work and continue making good work even as he’s become bored with the state of modern popular music (This is just my interpretation but it seems like he does five history-based videos for every one new pop song video. I don’t blame him, I’m bored with popular music now just as well — and it seems like the charts and listeners are as well if the past few weeks of a 30+ year old song sitting atop the charts means anything). I really admire that from him, it might be the key to his longevity.
He used to do these lists of the top-ten worst songs of a given year (I think it was one of these, on 1987, that got me to start watching him way back in the ThatGuyWithTheGlasses days), and he’d complain constantly about how much he hated doing them even though they were successful, and eventually he stopped doing them. That is an unfortunately uncommon thing on YouTube, where success involves constantly putting forth new videos that get ever-increasing view counts. I have to imagine that making videos on new pop songs are getting into that category for him. I could probably write a more focused essay on what my twelve years of watching Todd in the Shadows reveals about how the state of music has changed over that period of time, if I get the time soon it’d be interesting.
This video is a phenomenal example of what he does at his best, particularly through the use of the viral metaphor, the Majora’s Mask-style cutaways that mark each passing year, and goodness, just the amount of footage he was able to find from the song’s peak. He makes these connections I haven’t seen made elsewhere - The line dancing phenomenon of the 80s and 90s which preceded it and the current TikTok-borne dance crazes. I was born during the period just in advance of the Macarena craze taking over mainstream American culture, so I don’t have a real understanding of what that was like, I only understand it in retrospect.
So I guess my question is: Could anything this big ever happen again in popular music? It’s about longevity, but it’s more about ubiquity, and I think the current structure now that TikTok is the most influential social media site and Spotify is the most popular method of listening to music is really quite hostile to the concept of both. The construction of TikTok and the algorithm which pushes it along constantly introduce novelty, nothing should stick around for that long in order for the site to give you what it’s trying to give you. Spotify almost works in the opposite, it’ll find out what you like and then keep trying to give you what you like.
He really lays out that the growth of Macarena took place nearly half of the decade, it started in Spain then there were remixes that brought it to American clubs in South Florida and Texas before it finally broke through four years after the song’s original creation. The song had a very gradual climb to prominence in the United States, and the current platforms are not meant to give anything a gradual climb.
Granted I write this as that Heat Waves song is currently in its eightieth week on the Hot 100 and still in the top 10, a song I didn’t recognize by its title when it was brought up to me in conversation a few weeks ago despite having heard it many times.
There are dance crazes like this which spread every week on TikTok, and their popularity is primarily capped to success on TikTok, and they’re promptly forgotten once the For You Page gives you something else… Maybe it’s in a rejection of TikTok? Maybe it’d have to spread the old fashioned way (like through the radio and baseball stadiums or… I can’t even imagine what it’d look like, I’m way out of my depth here), but that would take people choosing to engage with something the old fashioned way, and choice is not what big fads are made of.
So, no. But maybe. But no.
Introducing Football Hell 2022
And here we are. If you’ve stuck around to read this long, then firstly - wow! Good job!
Secondly, I will be re-undertaking the Football Hell project I undertook in 2017 for the Kansas Jayhawks football season. I’m here in Lawrence again, I’ve got access to tickets and a verbal agreement from my mom to go to Norman with me. It’ll be diffused via SubStack this time instead of Wordpress because it sucks using Wordpress now:
Give it a sub! I’m aiming for having the prologue chapter posted by the end of this week, and I’m aiming for at least once-weekly essays all season.