January 14, 2009 9:59 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
INDIANAPOLIS -- In 1980, Steely Dan released Gaucho, a seven-song album full of disco-jazz pop songs about getting laid and drugs and revenge, all set in Los Angeles. All three are popular enough themes that the record went double-platinum. Due to various production problems, the album took the group three years, 11 engineers and 42 musicians to record. After the album was released, the band was discontinued, but nowadays the reunited group can be found performing expensive casino shows for rich burnouts.
One of the songs that has never been on the setlist is "Kulee Baba," one of a large number of Gaucho-era demos that was never polished completed, many of which ended up on illegal Nice Price CD's. It exists only in stripped-down piano/keyboard demo form, and it remains my absolute favorite Steely Dan song. I can't find a better example of their mastery of the five-minute musical short story format, as opposed to the general reputation as lite-jazz godfathers they ended up with. Predating the Discovery Channel by many year, this is likely the only tune ever recorded about an exploitative remote-location TV host. And since the beginning, it's been the reverse theme song of The Mid-Majority.
My nom d'voyage is McSwain
I carry the proper papers
I've seen the primal rhythms of the bush
I preserve great moments as they come
I'm sure this must be one
It doesn't become obvious until you try it yourself, but tone and approach is of the utmost importance when discovering an existing world and repackaging it for public consumption. After five years, I still struggle with getting that part exactly right, and still fail from time to time. I can't tell you how easy it would be to present mid-major college basketball in a condescending or archeological way. As I've continued doing this, I've seen competitors attempt to do just that, and I've had no problem openly mocking them. Each of our past targets has moved on to something else, and this site is still here.
More subtle -- and more difficult to navigate around -- is Marshall McLuhan's old notion. The song's protagonist has no problem inflicting personal judgement on the material ("cruel, primeval") or jumping into the frame in his green suit. The idea that his presence and presentation grants the subject lasting importance -- that's makes him an asshole. When the show's over, it's on to the next one: more, more, more content. As I go from game to game, I realize that's an easy trap to fall into.
Or at least a fine line. Sometimes when I'm sitting there on press row in my suit and silver shoes, I feel a lot like McSwain, a cheap grandstanding huckster breezing in from out of town. Truth is, I'm still trying to figure out how best to balance professionalism, fun, and respect for the subject, and not come off like a complete jerk in the process. It might take me a few more years to get it right.
People ask me why I'm so adamant about not using the first person in my ESPN articles, why I twist sentences into knots to avoid it and why I get so angry when editors splice in an "I" (something that hasn't happened in three years). Others ask why posts on TMM lapse into the royal we (it's not a tribute to Will Leitch), or the real reasons for the no-radio rule. I just want to stay out of the way of the story, be as good of a conduit as I can be, but that's just part of the answer.
The full answer is "Kulee Baba."
Hello, Bally... Wednesday?
No contest turnover yesterday because of the winter travel. So let's quickly get last week's formalities out of the way. The assignment was to find the team with the longest conference losing streak to open a season and then go on to the NCAA's, and while there were a few good and inventive answers from years past, Coppin State 2008's eight was by far the most popular and exact answer. It's fitting that somebody from Bally's alma mater won the random drawing. Terry from N.C. State, come get your prize. Use the form, enter the same e-mail address as you used last week, and please allow 2-4 weeks for delivery.
Now. I've never posted this, but it's time. Back during the 2003-04 season, the trial run for everything that came afterwards, I went to 83 games, kept all the tickets, and the whole thing went undocumented. That was more of a hobby, and I hadn't settled on the whole mid-major angle yet. I mean, there are Big East and Big Ten games in that list. But there was a moment in January that helped crystallize the mission.
Almost exactly five years ago today, ESPN.com published the work of a columnist who had, in their regular power-conference travels, spent an evening at a Southland Conference game in Texas. It was the complete opposite of Ben's Tennessee-Martin chronicle -- it was a McSwainian archeological study, and the upshot was that sometimes people forget that there's basketball being played that's not on TV and not as good as the real thing. Imagine that!
I can't remember who wrote this, and I haven't been able to find it in the archives. All I recall is that it made me angry, that I spent an entire Delaware-Drexel game stewing about it, and that the groundwork was laid for a site that would feature mid-major information, and mid-major information only. The Mid-Majority launched 10 months later... and yes, this story arc is ironic in the classic, Morissettian sense.
Your mission this week is to find me that article, and send the address in using the form.This is a race against time -- the first person to send me the correct URL gets the Bally. I won't relink it here, in deference to a colleague who probably doesn't want to be embarrassed like this. I just want it for my scrapbook, to remember what inspired me on my journey.
Mid-American: We sure enjoyed last night's 63-61 Buffalo victory at Akron -- it was a good game played by two young and hungry teams, either of which could pull a surprise conference championship. That's because, once again, the MAC is impossible to read. Ball State is the only 2-0 team right now, with its six-point G!O!T!N! win over Northern Illinois. Akron is 0-2, Kent State is 0-1, and Western Michigan, 4-10 overall, has a better league record than either after winning its MAC opener at Central over the weekend. We have a feeling that the confusion is just beginning.
Big South: This is shaping up to be a very special season for VMI. The Keydets have won 10 straight games (their first double-digit streak since 1978), are 14-2 overall, and claimed their first six conference contests. The latest victim was Presbyterian, which took a 15-point loss up in Lexington, Va.. Radford is currently VMI's shadow, just behind at 5-1; the Highlanders smothered Chuck S. on Monday night 82-53.
SWAC: Monday night means SWAC-tastic action, and the league just completed its second full weekend. Alabama State, loaded with talent, is at 4-0 after squeaking by tourney champion Mississippi Valley State on the road, and few league-watchers are surprised at that. The other undefeated team is Prairie View A&M (3-0), a school that hasn't won more than seven conference games since 2003. The Panthers have beaten Alcorn, Southern and Texas Southern, teams that usually feast on them.
U'useless Stat of the Day
Last night in the NBA, where non-stop iso happens, a record for 3-pointers in a game (23) was set by the Orlando Magic. Now that XM has those games, we'll admit to listening to Orlando games while driving. The Magic is something of an ex-mid all star team, including Adonal Foyle (Colgate), Jameer Nelson (Saint Joe's), Anthony Johnson (Charleston) and Courtney Lee (Western Kentucky). So we're happy for them.
It came just a night after a 3-point performance of a very different kind. Stephen G. chimed in yesterday:
In case you haven't seen last night's box score, New Hampshire shot 2-33 from 3-point land and 12-58 from the field in their game v. BU. 2-33. Ouch.
Aiiigh, my eyes! It was the sixth-worst 3-point performance of the year for sub-Red Liners, not counting the many team performances with zero 3's hit or attempted. After looking at that, you might be interested in washing your peepers out with one of the better 3-point team nights. All the below teams in bold hit a Division I season high 17 of them... some even in a losing cause.
11/22/2008 - Hartford 91, Saint Francis (NY) 82
11/29/2008 - Niagara 103, Hartford 63
12/04/2008 - Saint Francis (NY) 87, Robert Morris 79
12/22/2008 - Troy 101, North Carolina-Wilmington 92
12/28/2008 - New Mexico State 104, Loyola Marymount 62
01/10/2009 - Virginia Military Institute 103, Coastal Carolina 102
|Hickory Picket Fences||27629|
|The Hopping Cats||21526|
|Under a Blood Red Line||10379|
|Jen Folds Five||6895|