All Things Go Mad In March: How I Won ATG’s Music Blogging Tournament

Last March, All Things Go pitted its writers against one another in a music-blogging tournament in which each writer was to select a “theme” — the qualifying rules as vague as the word — and four artists from any point in musical history that could be included in said theme. From there, we were to choose an artist/song each week to defend against our opponent’s selection. Winner moves on; loser gets tweeted serious shade at them.

And I won it all. Gloriously.

Here’s how I did it…
 

My Team:

The Penis Mightier, a reference to one of the greatest SNL skits of all time: Celebrity Jeopardy with Will Ferrel as Alex Trebeck and Darrel Hammond as Sean Connery.

When choosing the category The Pen Is Mightier — one that Ferrell/Trebeck explains as “having to do with literary references (like all my team’s names do) — Hammond/Connery calls it “The Penis Mightier.” Hilarity ensues.

My Roster:

Modest Mouse, Fugazi, Joy Division, and Bob Dylan

My Draw:

East Region

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The Sweet Sixteen

Opponent: Just The Two Of Us, coached by Stephanie Katchmar

Opponent Selection: Olympic Ayres — “Magic

My Selection: Fugazi — “Waiting Room”

My Strategy: Elitist intimidation disguised as folksy nostalgia

My Submission:

First off: This is “Waiting Room” we’re talking about, the most universally beloved song from a group whose impact on rock music is just hitting its third reincarnation. That opening bass line alone is reason enough for this to advance.

Secondly, Fugazi — who were eligible for The Penis Mightier because their name is short for “Fucked Up, Got Ambushed, Zipped In” from Nam by Mark Baker — were instrumental in promoting a modern brand of DIY that helped grow local scenes around the country.

All Things Go gets a bad wrap for not appreciating the grittier genres out there because #synthpop, but this is our chance to show that we respect our musical elders.

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“I’m going to have to go with Bryce’s Fugazi pick on this one. Fugazi, in this tournament, is the team full of seniors that beats out a team of athletic whippersnappers because they’ve been around the block a few times and know how to play the game. Have they put out an album since 2001? No. But it doesn’t matter: “Waiting Room” was Fugazi’s first salvo in a discography that laid the groundwork for an entire generation of artists and helped craft the sound of a city & a genre. As such, “Waiting Room” has to take Bryce to the 2nd round.”
– Charlie Rybak

 

The Elite Eight

Opponent: You Want To Ty Me Up With Your Tys, Ty? coached by Nate Scott

Opponent Selection: Tysson – “Lost

My Selection: Joy Division — “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

My Strategy: Combining a can’t-miss song with the blatant exploitation of my friendship with my opponent, Nate.

My Submission:

Love.

Love will tear us apart.

Again.

I met Nate because he was dating a girl I once thought I was in love with.

It had been the better half of a decade since I had let this girl take over my still-developing high-school brain, but I still instinctively recoiled at the mere thought of him; it was all I could do to look him in the eye when I first started running into the two of them at shows and bars around town. But at the same time we were discovering that we had more and more in common.

And resentment rides high,
But emotions won’t grow.

And after they broke up and the girl left town, all of a sudden, there was no reason to not want to see Nate. In fact, I found myself looking forward to seeing him at concerts and totally got friendship butterflies (cause that’s a thing) when we first started GChatting.

And we’re changing our ways,
Taking different roads.

But it’s March, a month whose mere name feels destined to end with the word ‘Madness’ (with a capital M), a month which is built around cutthroat competition.

Is my timing that flawed?
Our respect runs so dry.

And now I have to duel against this friend, this mentor, this person I have come to respect and love in some sort of music-blogger Shakespearean tragedy.

But love, love will tear us apart again.
Love, love will tear us apart again.

Good luck brother, and may the best man win. And that best man is me…

I laud Nate’s pluck in choosing a roster for its scrappiness, it’s why we love March Madness to begin with; we can jump on Dayton’s bandwagon and be greeted with open arms by others who want to see a miracle.

But that’s not what those underdogs are praying for as they step onto the court. They’re hoping that they play to their best of their abilities — which is all they can really do.

Except the favored team is saying that same prayer too.

These are 18–22 year old kids that, no matter the big name school on their jersey, have the potential to completely shit the bed (see: Jabari Parker). So when listening to “Yonkers” by Tyler the Creator or that molly song by Tyga that’s enjoyable for only as long as the MDMA is still working or whatever other song ‘with moxie’ that Nate has chosen, it may be easy to focus on the occasional flashes of brilliance and how fun it would be to see That Ty Team win, but that would be doing a disservice to the songs like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” that show you how the game was meant to be played and bands like Joy Division, who, lets face it, are Joy Division.

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“Nate perfectly summed up this match-up when he said it was basically the Miami Heat vs. some random high school team. On one end we have a great English rock band with a massive international cult following and on the other end we have a set of New Orleans up and comers with 31 followers on Soundcloud. One group is in the UK Music Hall of Fame and basically invented the post-punk sound while the other just made their live debut last month…

…As much as I’d love to continue the Tysson cinderella story, frankly I just can’t. Joy Division is going to have to be the winner here, but I’m excited to see what this year and next year have in store for the young New Orleans band. There’s no upset alert here just a case of old vets coming in and taking care of business.”
Neil Barlow

 

The Final Four

Opponent: Bible Study, coached by Nate Cover

Opponent Selection: Lorde — “Buzzcut Season

My Selection: Modest Mouse — “Gravity Rides Everything”

My Strategy: I needed to keep Dylan for the championship round, so this meant just letting go and believing in my #1 favorite song of all time.

My Submission:

I guess it’s okay to admit I’m nervous.

Even though I chose a team full of veterans who have paid their dues and then some, there’s always nerves. But when you trust in your team, your preparation, and your ability to execute, you just have to go out there and play the game.

Because it all will fall, fall right into place.

Sure there are other, flashier Modest Mouse songs — “Float On,” “3rd Planet,” or even “Dramamine” might have been safer choices — but sometimes you have to dance to the song that brought you. And “Gravity Rides Everything,” above all else and music blogger tournaments be damned, is just that. It’s my Favorite Song of All Time (aka my FSAT).

It’s my #1.

The intro with those back-tracked guitars swirling and stirring around; them dissolving into that simple two-chord guitar pattern whose only real assistance is a hypnotic, tentative wooden click-click. An Isaac Brock that’s about as optimistic as we’d ever seen him up to this point in his musical career (and even then, this song is more of a resignation than a celebration).

“Gravity Rides Everything” is a guided meditation that reminds us that for all the worrying we do throughout the day, everything will fall right into place. Yet it’s realistic…

Fruit drops, flesh sags, milk spills.

But it’s all part of the gravity plan. It’s up to us to realize that wherever they do fall, that is the place for them.

And now, in this tournament, we have to believe that one of the best indie rock bands of the late 90′s/early 00′s and the power of realistic optimism will be able to overcome unwarranted cult fanaticism or a synth-pop flavor of the month which recently decided it would be just fine for their brand to open up for Foster The People.

And we have to be thankful that Nate wasted the two best acts on his roster (Kanye West and St. Vincent) in the first two rounds…

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“This is a matchup that is ripe for an upset. In fact, if I – being seven at the time – had any recollection of the game at all, I would say that it was reminiscent of the USA – Yugoslavia gold medal game at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Bryce’s squad of all time greats is an absurd group (under a very dubious unifying theme — is there even a theme? I don’t think there is a theme), not unlike the grouping of Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon, et al. on your squad. On the other side, you have Nate’s Yugoslav team, a group of unknowns relative to their competition save a sprinkling of NBA-level talent (Vlade Divac/Kanye West).

These two squads – both fictional and not – coasted through the opening rounds to get to this showdown. In Atlanta, the vastly more talented US team barely clung to a 5 point lead at the half. Did the Yugoslavs have a chance to pull off one of the all time great upsets in sports history?

Hell no. The Dream Team went on to win 95–69.

I wish I could say this matchup was even that close. Lorde’s meteoric rise is nothing to scoff at and in other pairings she may have pulled the win. Unfortunately, “Buzzcut Season” is a middling album-cut rehashing themes that Ella better expositions elsewhere on the album. To quote the artist, after hearing “Royals,” “Ribs,” and “Team,” “Buzzcut Season” is the “cola with a burnt-out taste.”

“Gravity Rides Everything,” however, is David Robinson dunking all over your ass. Not much to add to Bryce’s analysis other than Isaac Brock sure knows how to depress the hell out of you when he’s trying to be optimistic. Honda minivan ads be damned, Brock’s thoughtful musings about existence and spirituality make Lorde’s declarations that she’ll never go home again sound like… well, the words of a seventeen year old.

(Selfishly, I want to see Bryce write something about Bob God Damn Dylan that ten thousand people haven’t already written. Gauntlet thrown.)”

Ben Wormald

 

The Championship Round

Opponent: How To Make A Baby, coached by Jia Tolentino

Opponent Selection: Perfect Pussy

My Selection: Bob Dylan — “Subterranean Homesick Blues”

My Strategy: Come clean that for a music journalist I know an embarrassingly little about Bob Dylan and his music, use this as an excuse to go into a Goldblum-esque deep dive on him for a few weeks, discuss the results.

My Submission:

I got in over my head.

I honestly didn’t think me and my team would ever get this far.

I assumed Fugazi would lose to RAC’s latest remix of The Knocks’ remix of Ellie Goulding’s cover of The Weeknd in the first round or something.

The truth is, I don’t really listen to Bob Dylan; or at least, I didn’t until now.

Sure, I knew him in that I could tell you a ‘most critics would agree with this’ list of his best songs, and when “Just Like A Woman” finds its way on my iTunes, I always break just like a little girl. But honestly, I’ve definitely played Blink 182 more than Dylan in my paltry 27 years of existence.

And now I have to write about him in the championship round…

So of course, I’ve been careening down a Google blackhole for the past few weeks cramming on All Things Dylan, and while I may now be squeezing in a few more Robert Zimmerman songs to my at-capacity iPhone’s library, the main thing I learned from my research is that the legend and legacy of Bob Dylan goes beyond anthologies and deep cuts and bootlegs. I learned that he transcended music and kind of changed the whole game up.

Some fun facts I found:

– Dylan was on stage when Martin Luther King Jr gave his “I have a dream” speech because he had just sung “Only a Pawn in their Game” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

– His rebellion against Live Aid (he suggested the some of the money be used to help may American farmers crippling mortgage) was what inspired Willie Nelson to start Farm Aid.

– Six different actors to played him in Todd Haynes’s Dylan biopic I’m Not There. One of them was a black child. Another was Cate Blanchett.

– He pledged the entire proceeds of his Christmas album Christmas in the Heart to homeless charities, in perpetuity.

– He introduced The Beatles to weed.

– He’s won Oscars, Golden Globes, and Grammys.

– Dylan on ‘Like A Rolling Stone’: “Every line in it is actually the start of a whole song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all those songs, so I put all I could into this one.”

– He was hired to write incidental music for a Western in which he was playing a bit part, and he came up with “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”

– He took Allen Ginsberg with him when he went on tour.

– Honoring Dylan at the Kennedy Center Honors Reception, President Clinton described him as “striking the chords of American history and infusing American popular music… with new depth and emotion. He probably had more impact on… my generation than any other… artist.”

– Tom Waits called him “a planet to be explored… for a songwriter, Dylan is as essential as a hammer and nails and a saw are to a carpenter”.

If you can’t tell, I’ve gotten a little Goldblumy about the whole thing…

But slight OCD aside, I’ve decided to pick a song that I think captures my three-week long journey/obsession with Dylan so far, a song I have probably heard countless times in my life but one that I hadn’t really ever listened to until a few weeks ago: “Subterranean Homesick Blues” off of Bringing It All Back Home.

With one of the most timeless opening lines in history — “Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine / I’m on the pavement thinkin’ about the Government” — this song is a firecracker that zooms through abstract images and definitive ideas with such a unique mix of informed desperation and laissez-faire resignation that its both inescapably enticing and near-hopelessly depressing.

It was once described as “an extraordinary three-way amalgam of Jack Kerouac, the Guthrie/Pete Seeger song ‘Taking It Easy,’ and the riffed-up rock’n’roll poetry of Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business,” but it somehow found a way to blend those inspirations into something that was not just consumable but inspiring in and of itself.

Sonically, it paved the way for the introduction of his electric sound — which Dylan once tried to articulate as “that thin wild mercury sound” — and the song’s lyrics have been usurped by the likes of everyone from the radical leftists (see: The Weathermen) to your garden variety lawyer (In a 2007 study of legal opinions and briefs that found Bob Dylan was quoted by judges and lawyers more than any other songwriter, “you don’t need a weatherman…” was distinguished as the line most often cited).

As rock journalist Adam Hill once wrote, “An entire generation recognized the zeitgeist in the verbal whirlwind of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’.”

And yet despite its unique sound and provocatively progressive lyrical content, it still became a hit; Dylan’s first Top 40 hit in fact.

Even the way-ahead-of-its-time video for the song, which was filmed for the opening segment D. A. Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary of Dylan’s first tour through England in 1965, has a cultural impact that is at least coffeetable-book worthy.

So in this championship round, don’t be disillusioned by those that have mistakenly put the perfect pussy on a pedestal.

Because you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

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No one!

This bullshit of an organization All Things Go is more corrupt than the NCAA, and somehow Jia and I were cheated out of a declaration of who is the most mad in March or whatever it is we’re fighting for. Whenever we bring it up, ‘Commissioner’ Justin McCarthy just apologizes with that adorable goofy grin of his and then we forget what we were talking about in the first place.

But you know what?

I got to spend a lot of time reflecting on some of my favorite bands and songs — possibly sharing them with a demographic that wasn’t familiar with them so #knowledgeshare — and I was finally given the unpassable opportunity to learn more about Bob Dylan, someone I can now say I am an actual fan of.

So maybe I won after all?

Let’s put it in the record books!