by Neal Kitterlin
“In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection. Slowly screwing my way across Europe, they had to make a correction.” – The Silver Jews, Random Rules
The Silver Jews is one of the many things I missed out on while it was happening, but to which I nonetheless feel a very deep and personal connection. I was living in the Southern cultural wasteland and probably listening to something by turns horrendous or life-shatteringly embarrassing (think the blandest of rock or the nuest of nu metal) when David Berman entered the scene in what was widely considered to be just another Pavement side project. I only discovered the band around the time they headlined one of the very early Pitchfork music festivals. I don’t even think I went the day of their set – I was just intrigued by the name, downloaded some of their music, which was followed by mainlining their entire catalog, which was followed by so many train commutes soundtracked by Berman’s quick wit and dry delivery.
Our current cultural and technological moment allows us to make such corrections, to catch up, get up to speed, to forget about being there when, with all the sprawling possibility and uncertainty that entails. We can binge watch, or listen, or read, cram it all in to the point that it’s hard to remember when we arrived at all. Sometimes I feel like I’ve always loved the Silver Jews, even though I was only aware of them in time to get that swell of anticipation buying their last album on vinyl. And in even in realms like comics, where catching up has always been possible, readily available collections and digital comics has made it much easier than the days when I scoured E-bay (itself a tool that has made collecting easier) and convention back issue bins to get a full run of Grant Morrison’s “Doom Patrol” series.
You may be asking what any of this has to do with fantasy football? Well, the truth is I’m not entirely sure myself – in thinking about this column I couldn’t get those opening Silver Jews lines out of my head, then I started thinking of how happy I was to see Daniel Berman reading at Printer’s Ball in Chicago a few years ago, how he signed my copy of “Actual Air,” “to Neal. Cordially, Daniel Berman.” There is a full-bodied weariness to most Silver Jews music, even the more upbeat numbers, that is also present in Berman, who arrived late and spoke in his laconic monotone, electrifying the crowd. I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else such a charged atmosphere of resignation.
Then I thought about how I’ve been playing fantasy football five years now, and how five years is long enough for it to feel like I’ve always played it, even though my head knows that’s not true. It’s a heart habit I have to correct, something I have to remind myself of if I’m ever concerned with any kind of historical accuracy and not just the visceral day to day feeling of being alive.
I guess as human beings we correct course all the time, alter perception, challenge assumption, but we probably don’t do it enough. How long did it really take, I wonder, until pretty much no one still believed the Earth was flat? For me, and probably for you, it’s easier just to hold on to our pre-conceived notions about things until confronted with actual evidence to the contrary, and maybe even beyond that. That’s why we still have a Newtonian view of a quantum world, why high level physics feels strange and wiggly in our guts.
So deep down I have always loved the Silver Jews, have always played fantasy football, have always been at war with Eurasia. Behavior is hard to alter after a while, and usually it doesn’t really matter anyway in the grand scheme of things. But if you want to succeed in competitive endeavors, it pays to question the assumptions and perceptions. It’s hard to think of the New England Patriots as anything but an offensive powerhouse, but many very unsatisfied fantasy football owners who started Tom Brady this week desperately need to adjust that perception.
And despite some basic success, I’m guilty of it too. I started Shane Vereen in a couple of leagues, despite really knowing that most of the pre-season hype around him was dead wrong, that the Patriots aren’t what we have been conditioned over the years to think they are, and honestly haven’t been that for some time. But it’s hard not to look at that uniform and hold out some hope of gaudy numbers.
My strategy lately has been to err on the side of cutting ties early, to give favor to under the radar plays when I think that radar has a blind spot based on youth or market (it’s so much easier to pick up a player from teams that get little media attention, like the Browns or Vikings). That means staying away from booms as well as busts sometimes – I basically refuse to draft Peyton Manning at a spot commensurate with his reputation, because I don’t want to torpedo my entire season in the event this is the year he finally succumbs to age or injury.*
Sports are communal and about immediacy – very few immerse themselves in a bygone season to catch up. If such immersion occurs, it’s more likely about nostalgia. Upon returning from his desert island adventure in Castaway, Tom Hanks was amazed to learn Tennessee had a football team, but he didn’t ask to see the game tape. But for all that immediacy, we still hold on to outdated information. We draft aging veterans too high and up-and-comers too low, we ignore good teams and bask in the past glories of bad ones.
We need to make a correction, but the old way just feels too right.
*And yes, my real life fandom sometimes obscures this thinking. I should probably start considering Drew Brees in the same way, very soon, but I’m not really ready to do that.