Daniel and I didn’t plan to both write about sports. We only found out while talking outside the L-Bug and Family Benefit in Richmond, VA a few weeks ago. So, appreciate this nice moment of synchronicity. We promise that we’re not using this space to air out our disagreements.
"So, which do you like better, State or Carolina?"She was referring to the athletic rivalry between the Triangle area's two largest universities. Those who cared about such things tended to express their allegiance by wearing either Tar Heel powder blue, or Wolf Pack red, two colors that managed to look good on no one. The question of team preference was common in our part of North Carolina, and the answer supposedly spoke volumes about the kind of person you either were or hoped to become.— David Sedaris, “Go Carolina,” from his memoir Me Talk Pretty One Day
Growing up in the Triangle, “State or Carolina?” was a playground rite of passage. After the boys and girls segregated (because cooties), it was divvied up by college basketball affiliation. Red on one side, blue on the other. After that was, “Baptist or Catholic?” Race and ethnicity weren’t even considered until years later.
Like many teens in the 1990s, I was enamored by (Carolina alum) Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls dynasty and played a lot of basketball. It wasn’t so much the competition I enjoyed, but the solitary practice of shooting. Every day, I’d square up in the driveway and shoot free throws for hours, past dusk, and well into the night.
It was a zen-like activity: bounce, bounce, swish, bounce, bounce, swish — a repetition that surely annoyed the neighbors. What probably didn’t help was the soundtrack blaring from the cassette boombox plugged into the garage. It started with West Coast rap, then to East Coast. Eventually, punk rock took over that boombox. Unlike a lot of y’all, I never went through a metal phase.
I realize now that the endless shooting around was never about honing my jumper. As the motions became instinctual, and I learned how make shots from every nuance on that inclined driveway with uneven turf stone, I zoned out. Everything became about the music. It was just me, outside, alone in that impressionable pubescent wonder, just soaking up whatever racket was coming out of that banged up noise machine.
Punks are supposed to hate jocks, and vice versa — an extension of the classic jocks vs. nerds trope popular in 1980s cinema. Spectator sports are met with indifference, or a sardonic mock-bellow of “SPORTBALL!” It’s a rejection of the macho mainstream culture that bros jock to, and it’s completely understandable. Punks eclipsed the freaks, weirdos, and whatever outsiders that went on and on about unlistenable music. Physical activity must be relegated to emotional outbursts of moshtastic angst, performed in front of a live band. Jocks are jerks who just suck. To assimilate into this world of nonconformity, I pretty much stopped shooting hoops altogether.
There’s a lot to hate about sports: any mass market entertainment oozes gross public relations residue, homer rhetoric depicts us vs. them chauvinism at its most id, the structural system that nurtures black athletes is inherently racist, the protagonists are excessively paid, and some commit egregious acts of rape, murder, and violence in their personal lives (no links because I started whittling down from a score of examples and it just got too bleak), often getting away with no more than a slap on the wrist (if you click on one link in this entire blog post, Diana Moskovitz’s exhaustively researched exposé on Greg Hardy’s domestic violence charges is some hound dog journalism). That’s just skimming the surface. Don’t get me started on owners hijacking cities for stadium subsidies, the NCAA amateur system structured as modern indentured servitude, or Curt Schilling. Ugh.
While attending NC State for college, I didn’t attend a single athletic competition, opting to venture out to Tar Heel country for house shows, or see bands at that long-gone tiny burrito joint. Living among fellow college students, the sports fandom becomes an oppressive din, which fights the contrarian in me.
You get older, and life’s edges get duller. The youthful alienation that was once embraced feels pretentious, especially at a deli when a construction worker asks you about last night’s game and you have to reply, “I don’t know — it’s not my thing, really.” Like mundane conversations about the weather, sports is an equalizer.
In 2002, I was visiting Bloomington, Indiana with a couple friends. Songs: Ohia was playing a show that night at some warehouse space with a half-pipe. It was a solo show, and Jason Molina played right in the middle of that half-pipe. At some point in the set, the Indiana Hoosiers had upset Oklahoma to advance to the NCAA Tournament finals, so the streets had filled with revelers. The crowd noise was so loud, it droned out his set and the audience was clearly agitated. At one point, Molina stopped, mid-song and said, “Oh, fuck it. GO HOOSIERS!” with a fist-pump. Maybe it was ironic, but it was cathartic. He finished out the set, and everyone ran out onto the streets to hi-five a bunch of college students and burn couches or whatever it is that corn-fed kids do when their team wins.
Tommy was a catalyst of a lot of my poor decisions throughout the aughts. We met down South — he of the lesser Carolina — and peppered each other’s lives until we both ended up in the Midwest. He was “gettin’ learned” in South Bend, Indiana and, understandably, crash on my couch in Chicago every weekend. Lots of nights were spent at the old Tuman’s in the Ukrainian Village, who had the Los Crudos discography on their jukebox, and we'd pester strangers for change in an attempt to play all 74 songs in a row. Sunday afternoons were recovering on the couch, and Tommy, being in the passionate throes of a Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts team, watched football.
I started reading sports blogs. I joined a co-worker’s fantasy football league. I favorited an NFL team. I asked my partner (now wife) — a regular ESPN viewer — too many questions about today’s players. Tommy and I started skipping out on late night bars to play Madden in my living room. Around punks, I felt embarrassed over my sports fandom, until I realized that everyone else was already there.
In 2003, the Chicago Cubs made the playoffs with serious momentum behind them. There was a basement show during one of the playoff games and every few songs in the headlining band’s set, Liz Panella (of Libyans, Broken Prayer, and Earth Girls), would take the mic and update the crowd on the score — she was listening to the game on a radio walkman in the hallway. After the set, the place emptied and filled the bar the next block over to catch the last couple of innings.
The Chicago punks are generally massive sports fans — there was a lot to celebrate. I lived in Chicago long enough to witness one Superbowl loss, one World Series win, and two Stanley Cup wins. The Bears in the Superbowl doesn’t count — it was laughable that they were there in the first place under Rex Grossman. Plus, Prince played that halftime show and that overshadowed everything about that game, except maybe the first play. White Sox World Series didn’t unite Chicago, as half the city roots for another team. So, that leaves the Blackhawks.
When the Chicago Blackhawks won the 2013 Stanley Cup, my wife and I were honeymooning in Canada. At our wedding, half the reception opted to watch Game 5 rather than dance to the Greatest DJ to Ever Exist. My Mom’s side of the family mostly resides in Boston, so they were Bruins fans in the lion's den of Blackhawks fervor.
Say what you will about the Bruins, but their franchise is the muse for the best sports/punk crossover to ever exist:
The day after Game 6, I was checking out of a Montreal record store when the clerk struck up the casual conversational gauntlet on my choices of purchase. After a beat, he asked, “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“No, we’re on honeymoon from Chicago.”
“Just married? Congratu- wait, Chicago?! Well, congratulations on winning Lord Stanley!” The record store clerk seemed a lot more excited about the hockey game than our recent nuptials. And more excited to talk hockey than over my dumb records. O Canada!
Weeks after our Canadian honeymoon, I was in a Dunkin Donuts line, getting my morning coffee before work. Brand new Blackhawks gear was strewn across every appendage, including a man at the end of the line, who decided to wear an Andrew Shaw jersey over his business suit. Another man got in line and called out, “Ayo! My man Shaw got the face of a killah!” then punctuated it with a Chief Keef inspired “Bang-bang!” Suit guy turned and beamed “Oh yeah, Shaw’s the man!” They clasped palms and bumped shoulders — the bro hug for strangers and acquaintances, but probably the closest those two will ever get.
That jollity reflected a city in revel. For 2010 and 2013, witnessing the Blackhawks wins was like watching Chicago — with all its class divisions and racial strife, corrupt government, and hard as nails weather — hug it out. For a brief moment, everyone exhaled and everything felt ebullient.
Doug pulled me aside at the back of the club. We had met, half an hour ago, through our mutual friend, Jim, who said, “Hey, Doug just moved here. You two would get along great.” Sure enough, he overheard me comparing notes with someone else about fantasy football and wanted to talk trades and stats like those losers on The League.
He had moved from Portland, where he kept his Washington Football Club fandom so close, that when his then partner (now wife) discovered his WFC trade magazines, she felt like she discovered some secret porn stash. He knew other football fans, but they kept it on the down low. Like, the kind of down low that involved hanging up the bullet belts and rocking a Marshawn Lynch jersey in the privacy of their own home.
I told him that the kids in Chicago were pretty open about spectator sports. “You know that Jim’s a lifelong Bills fan?” The band had started playing, so we closed out the conversation, and he shouted his parting words, “Listen, I don’t have many people to talk about sports with here.” His eyes darted from side to side from slight paranoia. It’s what I imagine Tim Duncan did in the Spurs locker room when he found out another teammate played Dungeons & Dragons, which probably never happened.
I’m still trying to figure out the Triangle. I occasionally watch Carolina Panthers games with my nerdy metalhead friend Neil, and his pal, who I think is married to someone in Future Crimes — we’ve never actually talked about music. It could be the smaller market, the Duke vs. Carolina vs. State rivalry might be too oppressive, or the Hurricanes can’t get a better franchise narrative than “Owner’s sons sue their dad.” There’s just not as much of a sports camaraderie amongst the punks.
However, most of this BLAG was written after returning from a Durham Bulls game, the local minor league team made famous by Hollywood. It was the fourth year where local indie institution, Merge Records, hosted a night. John Darnielle threw the opening pitch and William Tyler twanged the national anthem. Batters walked up to the plate to Redd Kross playing over the PA. There were $1 veggie dogs. I had fourths. It's all very surreal. My friends and I make it an annual thing, and about 80% of them don’t know — and don’t care — what’s going on in the field. It’s like going to Wrigley Field and watching Cubs fans watch the Cubs.
I jeered a 6-4-3 double play by the opponents, the Norfolk Tides. My friend Jeena chirped, “Wait, Vincent. You actually follow baseball?” Busted. I mustered up something about playing when I was a kid. She wasn’t trying to embarrass me — just surprised. Maybe I should have taken a swig of my beer and yelled, “Sportbawls!” but I was having too much fun.
SECT / s/t LP
This Portland/Raleigh/Toronto band would rather skip its pedigree, but that’s part of the novelty: a ridiculous sampling of ex-members includes Cursed, Left for Dead, Ruination, The Swarm, Earth Crisis, Catharsis, Undying, Racetraitor, The Kill Pill, and Fall Out Boy. Save for Chris Colohan’s instantly recognizable vocals, the rest only hints at its 1990s-era resume. Sect’s breakneck speed (at times bordering on grind) is a pleasant surprise, with the outcome being torrential, metal-tinged hardcore that sounds like what a defibrillator probably feels like (GET IT? THEY'RE OLD).
Daylight Robbery “Rememoration” video
Our little underground punk world doesn’t get many music videos, a medium with firm roots in the promotions industry. As consumerist descendents of the MTV generation, we know that — with some creative vision — a band can get an effective short film. “Rememoration,” off of Daylight Robbery’s fantastic third LP, is about bassist/vocalist Christine Wolf’s struggles with her father’s rare form of dementia and it's great.
Jered Gummere / ‘An Audio Sketchbook of Midwestern Fear’ demos
Self-described as “songs I demoed, not good enoughs, what was I thinkings, alternate versions, and so forth” from the Bare Mutants swinging ax (also see ex-The Ponys and ex-The Defilers). Perhaps Gummere is starting with the cream of the crop, but for a collection scrounged from old tapes and drives, it’s a solid collection of promise and fuzzed out experimentation here.
Annie Saunders / demos
You might know Annie Saunders from fronting Ambition Mission or This is My Fist or her current incarnation, Bullnettle. You definitely know the voice — it’s one of my favorites in punk. There’s a warm, tuneful scratchiness that’s familiar to Leatherface fans, and Saunders’ melodic inflection makes it all the more endearing. Three tracks, one’s a Therapy? cover.
Vincent Chung is a designer and writer living in Raleigh, NC. Sometimes, when he wears his red Sorry State shirt around the Triangle, people think it’s some kind of anti-State statement.