thanks to Aaron Thompson for these terrific shots! Click for full galleries from each day:
This conference looks cool as hell. If only it weren’t scheduled opposite the EMP Pop Conference this year.
thanks to Aaron Thompson for these terrific shots! Click for full galleries from each day:
This conference looks cool as hell. If only it weren’t scheduled opposite the EMP Pop Conference this year.
In 2011, I attended a panel discussion about Record Store Day at the South by Southwest music conference. Titled “Record Store Day and Revitalizing Indie Retail,” this early afternoon discussion was framed more as an awareness rally than a conference panel. Moderator Susan Tanner—a Record Store Day volunteer and former label employee and talent booker—began the session by excitedly handing out Record Store Day buttons and other souvenirs. “Independent retail is still out there,” she noted once she had taken her seat on the dais. The three panelists—Record Store Day organizer Carrie Cotillon, record store owner Joe Nocero, and Scott Register, the owner of an independent distribution firm, stayed firmly on message. During the question-and-answer portion of the panel, any inquiries that were critical of the holiday’s operation were rephrased as motivational statements. Others came up to the microphone not with questions, but simply to profess their love for record stores and the role they play in their local community. For about 10 minutes of the discussion, Tanner cued video testimonials recorded by famous musicians for Record Store Day on a laptop connected to a projector, and Cotillon breathlessly read submitted testimonials about the value of local, independent record stores from artists such as Tom Waits and Paul McCartney.
This panel was an extension of Record Store Day’s branding, a broader attempt to create a manifesto for 21st century music consumption. In Lury’s phrasing, Record Store Day aims to establish “a set of relations between products or services,” and “a platform for the patterning of activity, a mode of organizing activities in time and space.” Record Store Day has no offices or paid employees; all of its organizers are volunteers who work in some other aspect of the recording industry. The networks of participating stores, which by 2013 numbered over 1,400, overlap with existing retail coalitions: the Association of Independent Music Retailers (AIMS), the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS), and the Music Monitor Network (MMS). The trademark on Record Store Day’s logo is collectively held by the members of these coalitions. “Technically, we own a small percentage of Record Store Day,” Jason Nickey, the owner of the Bloomington-based, AIMS-affiliated Landlocked Music, told me with a chuckle. “Which is worth…goodwill, I suppose. Not any money.” Record Store Day’s website contains the specific criteria for the type of store allowed to participate in the event:
A Record Store Day participating store is defined as a stand alone brick and mortar retailer whose main primary business focuses on a physical store location, whose product line consists of at least 50% music retail, whose company is not publicly traded and whose ownership is at least 70% located in the state of operation. (In other words, we’re dealing with real, live, physical, indie record stores—not online retailers or corporate behemoths).
This definition of “independent” retail is based on a political economic ideal in which ownership, and therefore acts of consumption, are localized—not transacted online, and not via a local outlet owned by a distant corporation, or for which music recordings comprise a small percentage of their stock.
For hundreds of independent music retailers, participation in Record Store Day means opting into a branded network that helps them promote their store. In Latour’s (2005) terms, this network is defined, powered and stabilized by a consistently negotiated affiliation of actors (record store owners, distributors, spokespeople), actants (local, independent record stores; exclusively released vinyl records, the Record Store Day logo), and strategic discourses (the value of independence and community, and shared strategies to maintain relevance). Each on-message utterance, each iteration of the event and its media coverage, and each purchase of exclusive vinyl recordings by consumers, are the “vehicles, tools, instruments, and materials” that provide the “inertia, durability, range, solidity, commitment, loyalty, (and) adhesion” to allow Record Store Day—and thus independent record stores themselves, to continue (Latour 35). Eric Levin, owner of Atlanta’s Criminal Records and one of the event’s co-founders, situates Record Store Day as advertising. “All the music industry has for advertising, what’s left of it, which is very little, basically sends (consumers) to Amazon, Best Buy, or iTunes,” he explained to me. “So this was really a matter for us to advertise, and get our own word out.”
The founding of Record Store Day arose from a desire to “speak with one voice, or at least a larger voice, to our industry,” Levin told me. “The whole point of doing it in the first place,” he explained, was “to counter some of the overwhelming negativity that was out there.” He continues,
There’s been a strange…almost a schadenfreude as far as the collapse of the music industry. And we…record stores were kind of the butt of the joke. And those of use with successful and kind of exciting community record stores were scratching our heads, wondering “why are we portrayed as on the verge of extinction, when we’re actually quite important regional entrepreneurs?”
Throughout the interview, Levin linguistically aligns independent record retailers with the “music industry” at large, as a subtle linguistic move to include them in larger discourses about its ostensible decline. Record stores, however, are an integral part of the retail end of the recording industry, one of many sectors selling music and music-related objects and services (one might also speak of a licensing industry or an instrument industry, which are affected very differently, if at all, by the commercial forces Levin notes). In Latour’s phrasing, Levin creates a “figuration,” or an actant with “some form or shape…(which) gives it exactly as much a figure as when it is endowed with a name, a nose, a voice, or a face.”
Within popular music discourses, Williamson and Cloonan highlight a similar linguistic pattern used by the recording industry’s lobbying groups (the BPI, RIAA, and IFPI) in their claims about the corrosive effects of music piracy. Presenting ‘the music industry’…as a collective mass, rather than a number of smaller, less economically significant, companies and industries,” they write, “is a means of…disguising the social and political differences within ‘the industry.’” Levin’s aim in conflating the financial woes of the independent retail sector with the entirety of the music industry is done in better faith than the RIAA and IFPI, though the effect is similar. Record Store Day is helping to revitalize not just retail, but music.
The ideas and strategies driving Record Store Day align with those that have been adopted in other cultural industries. The original idea for the event was borrowed from Free Comic Book Day, which started in 2002 to promote independent comics retailers. Stores which opted into the event received exclusive items from publishers, which were given away free to customers as a reward for their patronage but also as a consumer prompt, reminding them that local, independently-owned retailers care about them more than chains or online retailers. Levin’s store Criminal Records is also a comics retailer, so his input was crucial to the formation of Record Store Day in this regard. Record Store Day also has a connection to independent booksellers, another group of retailers who see themselves as beset by the incursion of online and big-box retailers. “We followed a lot of the rules laid out by the American Booksellers Association,” Levin explained about the event’s membership criteria.
Like independent booksellers, the shape, scope, and point of Record Store Day are defined by its spokespeople defining it in opposition to what Latour calls “anti-groups.” For Levin, a significant rationale to start the event was to publicly demarcate what actually constituted a record store. “That’s kinda why we had to put those clampson it,” he says of the criteria for inclusion. “We didn’t want FYE or Best Buy to try to get in there. ‘Hey it’s Record Store Day, we’re a record store!’ No you’re not.” Such a strategy highlights the shared ideologies and strategies between independent record stores and bookstores. Many of these are cited by Miller: “Independence signifies smallness…being locally based, and limited in geographic scope” along with a relationship with the customer that is unavailable elsewhere. “If a record store is doing its job, it’s a place of education, it’s where, this sounds a little silly, it’s where inspiration happens,” Levin told me. “It’s just not gonna happen in the aisle at Best Buy, it’s not gonna happen at the digital columns on Amazon. I’m talking about real interaction.”
In building a moral economy, the Record Store Day participants must also ensure its own members behave according to clear principles. Though the Record Store Day participants primarily define themselves against corporate-owned and online retailing anti-groups, the organizers also seek to regulate the participation and behavior of smaller stores in their network. In response to those stores who withheld exclusive merchandise and sold it for higher prices online—as with stores “flipping” the Hold Steady record—in 2011 the organizers developed a “pledge” that stores are required to sign, at the risk of being excluded from future events and merchandise. The Record Store Day website describes the pledge, which is associated with a logo that stores can embed on their websites:
The stores with this mark have signed the Record Store Day Pledge, which means they have agreed to act in the spirit of Record Store Day, and sell the commercial Record Store Day releases to their physical customers, on Record Store Day; not to gouge them, or hold product back to sell them online.
The Record Store Day pledge is part of the event’s visual and discursive branding, reaffirming, occasionally with odd phrasing (who would not count among “physical customers?”) the ethical practices that the event promotes. All independent record stores, the pledge states, are not the same. “We invite every record store, even the shittiest ones, to be a part of Record Store Day,” Levin told me. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that they get access to all the same product we get, a used store should not have all the same access to product as a new store, because a new store is supporting the industry on a daily basis.” Record Store Day, in other words, does not just pit local, independent record stores against corporate-owned chains and digital retailers, but also demarcates the behavior of small stores who are not deemed to be acting in the best interest of their in-store customers.
MHGC at the AASL
This past weekend, IMA Archives Assistant Amy Auscherman headed down to Miami to present at the Association of Architecture School Librarians Annual Meeting! As a presenter in the lightning session, Amy spoke about Tumblr as an outreach tool for sharing architectural collection material. Her presentation focused on how we here in the IMA Archives have used Tumblr to follow the digitization process and share interesting and unique finds from the Miller House and Garden Collection. Amy gave attendees a quick tutorial on setting up a Tumblr page, selecting material to share, and effective tagging and promotion methods. Hopefully the presentation inspired other architecture librarians to share their visually rich collections through this medium that has proven so successful for us in sharing the Miller House and Garden Collection!
The conference included a tour of many parts of the University of Miami Libraries: Special Collections, University Archives, Cuban Heritage Collection, and the digitization and conservation labs. Three photos from the tour show some of the architectural materials they shared, and the high-tech humidifcation chamber in the university’s conservation lab. This piece of equipment helps reduce the curling associated with rolled documents like maps, drawings and blueprints.
Amy is blowing UP!
From YouTube, to Pandora, to Spotify, streaming music is piloting our listening habits in fascinating new ways that both upend old hierarchies and recall innovations of previous eras. Eric Harvey explores how these developments are affecting ideas of taste, access, and ownership today—and what this shift means for fans and artists alike—in our latest Cover Story.
Spent the last few months working on this. Thanks especially to Ryan Dombal for editing it, and Joy Burke, Mike Renaud, and Mark Beasley for creating the ridiculous layout. If nothing else, you have to give me credit for interviewing David Bazan and dj/rupture in the same article.
So, this morning, I got in an email exchange with a relatively new and very good writer who wanted my opinion on dealing with edits, accepting them, etc. I thought my response might be useful to other people and kinda gets at some stuff I’ve been telling a lot “young” writers lately.
This is worth a read, definitely. The basic process of having someone evaluate your writing for clarity and (house) style is invaluable. I always tell young writers to blog like crazy to get better, but being edited by a professional is another step entirely. And yes, the first few times I had my writing (gently) trashed by an editor, I took it way too personally, not realizing it didn’t fit with the publication’s general tone and style. Thankfully for my blood pressure, I don’t do that anymore.
While on her way to a Miley Cyrus concert, Lindsay Zoladz encountered a stranger on a bus. This stranger had only the slightest idea of what Lindsay does for a living, and likely thought that it’s kind of weird to go to a huge, fun concert to do homework. After a brief conversation, Lindsay experienced that spark of recognition that us who professional write about music professionally have on occasion: there are other people who don’t care at all about what I write about. Lindsay’s Tumblr post about this conversation is empathetic, curious, and well-articulated, because Lindsay is a very good writer.
At the end of her post, Lindsay encourages music writers to reach outside what she calls “the 1%” of people who actually care about what they write. This is much harder than it seems, particularly when the majority of the music that most music writers write about itself only appeals to the 1%. And writing about this kind of music (we’ve taken to lumping it under the specious heading of “indie” and “experimental” and “avant-garde”) is almost automatically going to mean writing in a way that only appeals to the same 1%. Writing about Miley is one thing—her millions of fans are going to find it, don’t worry—but there are only so many Mileys, and so many ways to talk about them.
For everything else, there’s Pitchfork, which employs me on an increasingly spare basis, and which is based around reviews of mostly obscure music. I reviewed this mostly obscure music fairly steadily from 2007 until 2010, and more sporadically since then. When I think back about my reasons for wanting to do so when offered the opportunity, it was mostly that Pitchfork provided an exponentially larger audience for the same kind of writing about tiny bands I was doing on my tiny blog. At the time, it was like the walls of a small, dark room had fallen down to reveal a vast audience, wandering around and waiting for something to catch their eye.
In context, of course, that “vast” audience wasn’t really terribly vast, and was really a bunch of people more or less like me. People who desire to read writing about music they already like (not a lot of people), people who desire to read writing about music they don’t already know (even fewer people), people who are capable of parsing the cross-genre references, label name-drops, and oblique deployments of adjectives that populate Pitchfork’s reviews (hey man, how’s it going, glad you stuck around).
What I think about a lot more with a bit of distance is that I was really aiming to impress fellow music writers, bloggers, and the close friends/family/significant others who would read anything I wrote because they liked/loved me. I was doing this because they were the only audience I could see beyond the bright klieg lights of publicity shining in my face. Everyone else—the vast possible audience who might click through and read—were the invisible population of some vast void: The Possible. I had (have) no idea how to write to them, because I had no idea who they were, and what kinds of translations of music into writing they might enjoy reading.
I don’t mean this as a good or bad thing, just one of the realities of writing-as-communication. As we write, we simultaneously conjure audiences for our writing—that’s what happens when we choose a topic and think about ways to explain that topic. The words we choose, and the ways we choose to arrange those words, ripple outward, picking their own readers based on their accessibility, their place of origin (the publication), and often, their secondary stops (recommendations by friends).
That paragraph right there, the one you just finished reading, is probably the one that eliminated the majority of people who started reading this for another (more fun and cool) reason (Miley, Lindsay). My audience has collapsed, because I’ve gotten a bit too esoteric. The words don’t reach as many. But at the same time, the topic I’ve chosen to talk about—how words create audiences—is inherently esoteric. Esoteric derives from the Greek, meaning “belonging to an inner circle.” That’s why I’m writing this on Tumblr and not Pitchfork.
It’s a bit cozier in here now, no? Onward.
As a professor at a large-enrollment college for the past year (and before, as a grad student instructor at an even larger-enrollment college for a decade) I’ve long experienced Lindsay’s minor epiphany on a daily basis. The Unknown of a writerly audience is infinitely vaster when applied to populations at large. When I encounter an 18-22 year old student who’s heard of Pitchfork, it’s shocking (over the past decade, it’s happened maybe 10 times amongst thousands of students). Aside from the rare Pitchfork artist who breaks through to a much wider consciousness via late-night talk shows or SNL, no one I teach (about communication, media, and popular culture) is aware of any of the topics that have populated my everyday conversations for the last several years.
I imagine this is true for most college professors, especially in the humanities—we like to talk with our peers and contemporaries about our personal fascinations and research subjects, because those audiences are often interested in similar things or similar categories of things. But when we’re teaching these things to students, we have to do our best to render these esoteric interests as entertaining and illuminating as possible. And even then, it’s a Sisyphean ordeal to keep eyes from wandering down to smartphones. Writing about non-Miley types of music: yeah, same deal. There’s so much music out there, but a limited time to read 500 words about something that 400 people are going to buy.
There’s been a lot of esoteric talk lately amongst music critics (as happens every few months) about what music writing is, and to whom it may (or should) appeal. Ted Gioia, a man who helped found jazz studies at Stanford many years ago, published an essay in The Daily Beast, a publication that tries to appeal to a very different audience than say, Pitchfork. Long story short, Gioia believes that there is not enough music theory in music writing, and that music writing is suffering for it. Of course, there’s some truth in Gioia’s statement, but his insistence that music theory should be a major part of music writing is where he’s wrong. The theory that Gioia loves so much has dwindled in importance to the vast majority of artists and fans over the past half-century as to be more or less irrelevant for their appreciation of a song or recording.
How terrible one thinks the dwindling audience for music theory is a very subjective matter, but the reality is that they’ve not dwindled because music writers aren’t doing their due diligence, but because basic music and arts education has itself dwindled over the past several decades, the result of a depressing (for Humanitites folks) focus on STEM education over all else. Compared to the myriad, exciting, ever-mutating ways that aritsts and fans choose to describe music with words and symbols nowadays, music theory—always the privilege of the few, if you consider music itself a basic form of human communication—is perhaps itself a dying language, outside music schools and piano lessons. Though Owen Pallett can really make it sing.
At a basic level, though, this sort of self-reflexive, “inside baseball” chatter about any profession, conducted between those who labor as part of that profession, is invaluable. It’s what conferences and email threads are for, whether those conferences or email threads are populated by insurance agents, composition teachers, or music writers making 50 bucks a blurb. These gatherings and specific discourses allow on one hand for the ritualistic airing of grievances to audiences of self-selected peers, but they also permit the self-reflexive consideration of what in the world one is actually doing with one’s life. Even the most seemingly inconsequential meta-conversationover the deli table in a hotel conference room (how long have you been doing ____? Is ____ a good way for the field to proceed? Is that ham or roast beef?) can allow for crucial moments of reflection and revelation.
But if you’re still with me and have experienced these kinds of chats (hey you! Heading for the door! Come back!), you know that, by necessity, they’re loaded with terminology and the concerns of a professional group about which other groups (or readers, or students) could really care less. Shop talk works really well in the shop. But they’re increasingly leaving the shop, via various user-friendly web technologies that emerged from more private forms (Twitter emerging from SMS chats) and are built to support quick exchanges of discourse, regardless of geographic location. In the case of Twitter (or Tumblr: hi!), these conversations also transpire in front of audiences who couldn’t care less about them. For Lindsay and myself, it’s something that belongs on Tumblr, not anywhere else.
I don’t know about Lindsay, but for me, that’s because Tumblr doesn’t feel quite as much like shouting into the void as a bigger platform does, and my esoteric concerns can be directed at the 50 or so people who care to read this far. Social media platforms are virtual like radio broadcasts or magazines, inasmuch as they’re all spaces to interact without regard to spatial (or sometimes temporal) limitations. From the perspective of communicating to an audience, however, the big difference between Tumblr/Twitter and, say, radio, is that the audiences aren’t strangers.
It’s possible—nay, preferable—for us to be able to quantify and identify our audiences in these platforms, and therefore to craft utterances—at least on an unconscious level—that are directed at them. Facebook is the epitome of such a model: a walled garden of family, friends, exes, and professional acquaintances, imperceptible to anyone not in the garden, and which offers the possibility to infinitely tailor the audience for one’s new utterances. Strangerdom disappears on Facebook—that’s the point.
Twitter and Tumblr are similar, but more public by default. There’s a ring of Known People who follow me, and who are unconsciously present in my brain when I type anything new. The risk of what danah boyd calls “context collapse” is always present, though: if I participate in an esoteric conversation specific to my profession, others are automatically privy to it (unless they have me filed away in a Twitter list and only see my babbles once a week when they peruse “big-mouth music nerds”).
After this ring of Known People, however, my Twitter and Tumblr utterances are faced with The Void—the unknown public that any utterance travels outward toward, perhaps making an impression to a stranger, but likely only meeting those in whose ersatz image it’s been created in the first place. Our ideas only travel as far as our language lets them.
The ideas expressed via music and popular culture journalism hadn’t reached the girl Lindsay met on the bus, and Lindsay’s job was mystifying to her. But the blog post that Lindsay (and Ryan and Jordan) wrote about the concert did travel—it just so happened to be traveling with the name “Miley Cyrus” attached to it. For many amongst Pitchfork's typical readership, the post was likely ignored, if not sneered at. Lindsay and Jordan opened the post by addressing those people as if they were standing just within earshot of a person-to-person conversation: “I’ll ask you the question that our entire audience was grumbling as they closed out of this tab five seconds ago, ‘Why the fuck are these people talking about Miley Cyrus?’” I wonder what the non-Pitchfork reading Miley Cyrus fans who found that post thought when they read that part.
new New Inquiry cover is amazing
My first response to the #CancelColbert hubbub, as it was for many people (both White Like Me and People Of Color, from what I’ve read) was the kneejerk explanation “it’s satire!” but I quickly realized that it’s not nearly a nuanced enough response. Satire is a way of using (ideally sharp and well-written) humor as a sword to the gut of the powerful, from a position of less power. On one hand, yes, of course, Colbert is using humor to go directly after the NFL and Dan Snyder, the billionaire owner of the Washington NFL football team whose name shall go unmentioned here.
But the actual weapon Colbert (and his mainly white/male writing staff) chooses to use isn’t satiric. Colbert’s joke is representative of a powerful institution (a well-respected comedian on a Viacom-owned property with a vast audience) exploiting a stereotype of a long-exploited ethnic group to make a political point. As Britney Cooper rightly pointed out in Salon (quoting someone else): “you can’t make Asian people collateral damage on your way to proving a point about racism toward Native people.”
You lose the “satire” defense if you’re punching down in order to punch up. Colbert’s joke wasn’t sharp, it was basic. I’m not a comedian, but I believe that someone as smart and well-intentioned as Colbert (and his staff) could come up with a much more clever way of making the same point. So can Deadspin.
Stuart Hall, the pathblazing cultural theorist who died this past February, left us the tools through which to understand why Asian-Americans and their minority contemporaries might be so taken aback and upset about Colbert’s joke, satiric or not. I posted this quote on occasion of Hall’s death, and it’s perfect for this situation. I’ve highlighted its most relevant parts:
The cultural industries do have the power constantly to rework and reshape what they represent; and, by repetition and selection, to impose and implant such definitions of ourselves as fit more easily the descriptions of the dominant or preferred culture. This is what the concentration of cultural power—the means of culture-making in the heads of the few—actually means. These definitions don’t have the power to occupy our minds; they don’t function on us as if we are blank screens. But they do occupy and rework the interior contradictions of feeling and perception in the dominated classes; they do find or clear a space of recognition in those who respond to them. Cultural domination has real effects—even if these are neither all-powerful nor all-inclusive.
Hall locates a very fertile middle-ground between two stark positions: that “the media” have an all-encompassing power, and that “the audience” has the infinite capacity to define its own meanings, independent of the will of “the media.” The reality, of course, is much muddier. Mass media (owned and operated nearly exclusively by straight white men) have significant (though not singular) power to shape the representation of oppressed minorities. Though while these representations don’t have hypodermic effect, they nonetheless take up significant psychic space in the minds of the oppressed.
And when white male employees of those same media corporations claim progressivism and satire as license to use these stereotypical definitions to make their audiences laugh, it’s not only understandable, but obvious that members of communities traditionally underrepresented in these spaces would not only take umbrage, but get very, very angry at such a joke. Don’t invoke satire unless you’re ready to discuss power.
My first job out of college came while the Pacers were really good, as good as they are right now. It was 2000, and I was working for a video production company (the same one I’d interned at for free—but then I got a job there, so as a Big Ol’ Marxist I’m conflicted, it was basically a summer-long audition as much as an internship, I suppose). I started out as a production assistant and boom-mic operator, and worked my way up to senior videographer and senior editor pretty quickly, not out of any particular expertise, just a willingness to learn. And also that the only two guys above me both quit suddenly so I got a big raise and everyone else had a lot of crossed fingers. It was kind of like the thing you’d see in a Capra movie, only not nearly as interesting and I wore cargo pants a lot (you have to carry around a TON of smallish tools and weird gear when you’re a videographer).
I did fine at that job, the only “real” job I’ve had outside academia and high school-era part-time stuff. I didn’t excel in my field or anything, but I got a few hours of stuff on TV (Discovery and its properties, and also the Indianapolis PBS affiliate). One documentary was about surgeons who operate on race car drivers (their feet get hurt in very complicated ways! I shot footage of Al Unser, Jr. getting a screw taken out of his ankle, with a sterilized Craftsman screwdriver, and got really, really dizzy. Didn’t faint, though). Neither we (who designed the DVD cover) nor TLC (who named it) were very subtle. It was a good show, though! The first one, without “More” in the title, won a regional cable Emmy.
The company liked to position itself with these cable documentaries, but it was the quickie production work that kept the lights on. The kind when you rent a shooter/editor (me) out as contract labor for whoever wants to pay. I did a promo video for a super conservative Christian political activist once, and learned to ideologically compartmentalize a lot.
The Pacers, though.
They’d had a 56 win regular season in 1999-2000, and earned the first trip to a championship game for any Indiana team since the Smart shot. They were playing the Lakers, who came to Indianapolis for Game Three, which the Pacers won, bringing the series to 2-1. The MacNeil/Lehrer Report wanted to do a feature on Phil Jackson. I just found a transcript of it. It was Jackson’s first year coaching the Lakers, and a reporter and producer were coming down from Chicago, and I was tapped to shoot interviews with the Lakers, on the court at Conseco Fieldhouse, about Phil Jackson. To provide “color” for the package. So we did, during a media availability session-slash-shootaround.
Kobe Bryant was hurt, maybe you remember. He’d muffed his ankle in Game 2, landing on Jalen Rose’s foot, which Jalen Rose later said he’d engineered by sticking his foot out and letting Kobe land on it. Kobe didn’t play in Game 3, which is why the Pacers won that game, and the series was 2-1 going into Game 4, and it wasn’t clear if Kobe was going to play (probably not). (He would play, and do good, and he’d win his first championship).
After the (video) shoot, the team did a (basketball) shootaround, and we shot some b-roll and mostly just hung out in the stands. And there’s Kobe, ankle heavily wrapped, hopping around on one foot at the halfcourt line, just throwing up halfcourt shots and hitting maybe 30% of them. I was chatting with a few other members of the crew in front of the stands directly behind the basket, where the red arrow is pointing in this “photo illustration” I just made. For some reason I was holding the boom mic pole in one hand.
This is where the story sort of peaks really fast, in a really terrible way. I was idly chatting with a few other people—the sit-down interview with Phil Jackson wasn’t for another couple hours, so we had time. Then, a basketball rolled and hit my ankle, very softly. Just a little tap. I looked down, and then looked back up, nowhere in particular, seeking some sort of cosmic advice on what to do with it. It’s a basketball, I own one and know how to use it, but this was different. It was a celebrity basketball. I looked at the group of guys I was with and one of them signaled back toward the court. I looked, and out of the dozen or so huge men wandering around, there’s Kobe at halfcourt, holding up his hand, as if to signal “hey, toss that back to me.”
I picked up the ball and threw it back to Kobe. Haha BUT WAIT. It didn’t go back to Kobe, or anywhere close to him, or the court. Instead, my throw, because I was nervous maybe and not paying full attention, and because I thought I’d be cool and toss it with my one free hand, whapped against the back of the backboard and comically shot back into the seats near us, making a very loud WHAP FIBBBBIBBBBBBBIBBBB noise that everyone heard. I sometimes blame the boom mic pole I was holding for my errant toss when I tell the story. It depends on the audience.
I don’t know if I actually looked back at Kobe half a second after it happened to see him disappointingly shaking his head at what I’d just done, but I remember him doing it. I’ve likely made that memory up in my mind over the years to process the trauma, maybe to give the story some sort of ending. The initial shock wore off fairly quickly, thankfully, but then right after that came a really sharp shock of panic in the gut. As we left the floor soon after my little display, a guy on another crew said, “I hope ESPN didn’t get that.”
Waiting for SportsCenter to come on that night (as well as every local newscast, which all had people there) was like dreading pistols at dawn. In retrospect, this a vastly different media era than we’re in now, and today I’d have to worry about checking YouTube, or Instagram, or Vine. But this was still Game 4 of the NBA Finals, and a fair representation of national and local media were trained on Conseco Fieldhouse.
So I had to watch 2 or 3 hours of Sportscenter and local news to make sure I wasn’t going to be a national and/or local laughingstock for… forever? Who knew how that perfectly dumbassed basketball toss of mine would look on camera? I watched Sportscenter in the morning before work, too. It was a 12-or-so-hour walking nightmare of existential dread. Weirdly, no one at work the next day said anything about it. Maybe it’s because it’d already left their mind, or maybe it wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought it was? What if it’s a story they still tell?
I think that it’s good to remember the distinction between the things that lend color to your life and the pale, translucent thing to which their color is lent.
So for example, you have the Egyptian tomb that Howard Carter excavated in 1922. I get uncomfortable and excited when I think about it. I find myself imagining the plates of carbonized fruit, the mummified cats, the fillets of fish laid out to feed them—fillets that were found to have raised themselves into arches as they dried, and then suddenly crumble to dust when touched.
The immense period for which the tomb’s contents stayed perfectly still gives you the sense that time has been building up inside of it. And that the silence you hear once the doors are hauled open is not a silence at all, but instead a deafening testimony that time is bearing to a secret kept for three thousand years.
The testimonies of culture deafen us in a similar way. They are loud because life is hard. They are bright because disappointment can bleach. And to the kind of person who needs to make representations of their connection to culture, these accidents can easily be confused with an essential lack of vividness.
But then I think of a moment in the tomb after the excavation was complete, after the gold, the corpses and the treasure had all been removed. In this moment a junior archeologist is alone, copying hieroglyphs from the walls. And the only thing he can hear is the sound of wooden beams that creak and pop in the new air.
The Zebra Book of Facts for Boys compiled by Cyril Parsons (1968).