Friday, June 06, 2008

Blog blast past: Deadspin goes big time ... as explained by Almost Famous

Will Leitch is leaving Deadspin, but really, the ride had irrevocably changed course almost two years ago, way back on June 28, 2006....

Music, true music, not just rock ’n’ roll, it chooses you. It lives in your car, or alone, listening to your headphones, vast scenic rituals and angelic choirs in your brain. It’s a place apart from the vast benign lap of America.

Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in
Almost Famous

Not to get all navel-gazey, but fast-forward three decades, replace "car" with "computer," since for some of us in the year 2006, the computer is the car, a status symbol you practically wear. Make the legendary typist Hoffman captured so note-perfectly into an obsessive sports nerd, and you likely have a Deadspin commenter.

Fortunately, the feeling of those commenters (including this one) today can be pretty much be summed up with Almost Famous and Simpsons references. It's nice to use that as a defence mechanism.

Among sports bloggers and their readership, it's barely an exaggeration to say Deadspin is on par with how Homer Simpson once described television: "Teacher ... mother ... secret lover!" This isn't sarcasm. It's just hard to articulate what kind of positive impact Deadspin has had without coming across as gushing.

There is no other, non-Fanboy-sounding way to say it, even if describing it to the uninitiated beggars language. What is Deadspin exactly? It's hard to sum up in a sentence. It's defined by what it isn't. It's somewhere in the middle between the amatuer on the message board, the preening TV talking head and the beat writer with questionable critical reasoning skills.

Remember Lester's line about why he preferred The Guess Who to Jim Morrison? "They have the courage to be drunken buffoons -- which makes them poetic!" They will go where the MSM can't or won't.

(Footnote from the present: Did this not totally intuit Drunk Jays Fans, which launched a few months later?)

Like rock 'n' roll, there's no need to explain it -- try to, and you deserve the treatment Penny Lane (Kate Hudson's character in Almost Famous) gave the teenaged rock writer, William -- snatching his pencil away when he tried to take notes during a Stillwater concert. You just feel it.
It found me during some random night of typical late-night multitasking -- Internet-scouring, channel-surfing and drowning some sorrows -- last November, about two months after its September '05 launch. Here was a site that promoted itself as "sports without access, favor or discretion." It contained stream-of-consciousness lines such as, "We were never quite down with the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- they always seemed like what would happen if you introduced frat boys to heroin," and "Is it possible to do anything dignified wearing a Hawaiian shirt?"

It was the "Does anyone remember laughter?" moment. As the world of big-time sports gets fuller and fuller of people who are full of themselves, someone made sports fun again.

Alas, if you're clicking over there now, you're a little like William Miller when Bangs tells him, "You got here just in time for the death rattle, last gasp, last grope."

You know how people like to jump the gun. That seems to be the consensus among the site's commenters in the wake of not one, but two shout-outs from ESPN this week in columns by Patrick Hruby and Bill Simmons. Quoth wildcatfan: "Close commenting now!"

It's inevitable. Anything good and original gets mainstreamed eventually, taking what Bangs deprecated as the "long journey to the middle." Or as rsr26 put it:
So Deadspin is about to go mainstream? And I was in on it before the masses?! I feel like I'm back in college, and REM just released "Green." You're with me, pretentious cultural snob.
That's about the size of it, and it all went down right as yours truly had a post that jokingly asked to be co-opted, and made note of how much cultural capital is involved in understanding the joke behind "You're With Me, Leather," which has grown pretty much organically into a T-shirt that has been worn by a host on MTV, that much-maligned exemplar of faux rebelliousness serving to feed soulless corporate consumerism.

Bart: "I don't get it, Lis. If everyone is acting like me, why does it suck?"
Lisa: "It's very simple, Bart. You've defined yourself as a rebel. And in the absence of a repressive milieu, your societal niche has been co-opted.
That's no knock on the geniuses behind Deadspin, Rick Chandler and Will Leitch, who have been kind enough to toss a link Out of Left Field's way from time to time. In St. Urbain's Horseman, the late, great Mordecai Richler, as he so often did, took the piss out of the artistic integrity crowd with his protagonist joking about those, "Who would never sell out, because the opportunity would never be offered."

In other words, if you don't get mainstreamed eventually, you ain't tryin' hard enough. Deadspin will still be a must-visit for yours truly today, tomorrow and next week, but the handwriting is on the wall. You can count on seeing dim high school boys wearing "You're With Me, Leather" t-shirts by this fall. All that from two guys and a lawyer.

You’re coming along at a very dangerous time for rock ’n’ roll and that’s why I think you should just turn around, go back and be a lawyer or something. I can tell from your face that you won’t.

Start-up in September '05. First signs of colonization in June '06. You're with me, Deadspin.

That's all for now. Send your thoughts to

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