Greatness: The quality of being great, distinguished, or eminent.
Is it true what they say? Do strip clubs serve a great steak lunch? Or does the steak only appear tastier, juicier, and enormously tender since you are eating it while simultaneously peering at scantily clad women, as they strut their stuff on the catwalk?
What makes something great? No, not good, but FUCKING GREAT. Can something be intrinsically great, or is greatness dependent on the environment and/or the atmosphere of the situation at hand? Conversely, do we tend to write things off if our experiences are lackluster? Think about the last time you were at a trendy restaurant and you had to wait over an hour for a table. How would you rate the service? How about the food?
Consider something as simple as the Big Mac. It’s an American institution. “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, onions, pickles, and cheese – on a sesame seed bun.” If your mouth isn’t watering right now, you don’t understand what it means to be American. The sandwich, alone, is great. Look at it this way, “Seventeen [Big Macs] are sold every second of every day…in the US alone.”
However, McDonald’s, and fast food in general, is not focused on capturing an upscale dining experience. The burger acts as fuel to get us through the day, or perhaps it serves as an unnecessary indulgence at 2am. Certainly, eating mass amounts of fast food is unhealthy, and over time it can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other such health complications. Furthermore, no respectable dude is going to plan a first date at McDonald’s. Society doesn’t work that way.
In Office Space, we learned that “People can get a cheeseburger anywhere, okay? They come to Chotchkie’s for the atmosphere and the attitude. That’s what the flair’s about. It’s about fun.” Suffice it to say, this is the atmosphere at Chotchkie’s:
Anyhow…I went to SXSW in March, and I attended a concert at The Owl. The space is billed as “an experimental/independent music venue.” But, let’s be honest, it’s simply an old house on East 12th Street, way off the beaten path. And, on this night, the lineup was stacked with buzz bands du jour: Parquet Courts, Tyvek, Eagulls, and Amanda X, to name a few. Oh, and admission was FREE, and there was FREE beer. You know, extremely last minute, under-the-radar stuff. There were probably 150 people there.
So, are all of these buzz bands great? I don’t know yet. To tell you the truth, the Miller Lite was flowing, so my memory is a bit hazy. But, I’ll tell you this much – I had a FUCKING GREAT time! It was all about the exclusivity, the experience, the people, and the atmosphere. On this night, the music was almost secondary. However, as I write, Parquet Courts’ recent LP, Light Up Gold [2012, Dull Tools; 2013 (reissue), What’s Your Rupture?], is blaring in my headphones. I can assure you that they’ve mastered their craft.
I haven’t seen them live yet. Hell, they’ve only been a band for a handful of months. So, are they (intrinsically) great? Rolling Stone and Pitchfork seem to think so. Indeed, the music is loud, there is a lot of distortion, and you might not comprehend the majority of Meredith Graves’ vocals. But that’s what makes it so great. It’s raw. It’s honest. It depicts real life. Graves says, “I was mad when I wrote the [debut cassette] tape. I was mad at other people. But when I wrote [the debut LP, Say Yes To Love], I was mad at myself. So it’s sad. It’s me being really upset with myself. It’s probably the most vulnerable thing I have ever done. It’s scary.”
Look, Perfect Pussy are not your run-of-the-mill pop act. This five-piece, Syracuse-based punk band bucks the trends. Screw fashion. They bring their own style to the table. They adhere to their own set of values, and they are firmly entrenched in this lifestyle. They know the how the game works. Forget the hype, it’s all about the experiences, doing what you love, and pushing the critics aside.
To say Perfect Pussy are a hard-working band is an understatement. Unfortunately, the intersection of art and commerce is a “weird” place. Graves confirms, “I literally have not made a nickel off this band…[but] I’ve been presented an opportunity to have an experience that some people will never get to have.”
At any rate, let’s continue our trek through the valley of greatness…
The future is unwritten; for now, let’s reflect on The Story So Far (TSSF). Based out of Walnut Creek, CA (about 25 miles east of San Francisco), this rock quintet has reinvented the pop punk genre. They’ve released two albums through the Berkeley-based label, Pure Noise Records: 2011’s Under Soil and Dirt, and 2013’s What You Don’t See. They’ve been on the cover of Alternative Press, they’ve played the main stage on The Vans’ Warped Tour, and they’ve toured overseas.
Sure, TSSF wouldn’t exist without Blink-182 or New Found Glory (NFG). After all, the name is an homage to the NFG song of the same name, “The Story So Far” (Sticks and Stones, 2002, Drive-Thru Records). Nevertheless, the hooks draw you in, the harmonies are addictive, and the energy at their live shows is unprecedented. There’s an abundance of crowd participation, including, but not limited to fervent sing-alongs and adventurous stage dives.
Something is great when you can get lost in it. The environment, the atmosphere, whatever, it doesn’t matter. I saw TSSF in Austin at the Pure Noise Records/Equal Vision Records showcase on March 13. It was nuts. Words cannot describe. On March 21, I saw them at the Oakland Metro Opera House, as they headlined the Pure Noise Records’ Five-Year Anniversary Party. Yes, twice in one week. They’re that good. After all, it was their homecoming. And, let me tell you something – hometown pride is big thing in the world of music. The Beatles were Liverpool. Nirvana defined Seattle. And, TSSF carry on the tradition of punk rock in the East Bay (à la Rancid, Green Day, AFI, and NOFX, among others).
We can relate this idea of greatness to professional sports, as well. Strip it down to their purest form, and competitive sports are great. Baseball is our national pastime. Football carries such intricate strategy. And basketball is an engaging, fast-paced affair. Just watch this slideshow and tell me that you’re not excited for the MLB season. Baseball’s back, baby! (Just for fun, queue the slideshow at 0:51 and 1:36).
But add in big business, and we get a watered down version of greatness. It doesn’t matter if your team is in the Super Bowl. It is merely a spectacle; it is a showcase for brands. And, on the first Sunday in February, a large majority is engaged for reasons other than football.
And what about the increased trend of instant replay in professional sports? It’s going to change the whole complexion of MLB – you know, the flow of the game. Furthermore, could it be that the application of such technology is simply a bridge to more brand-building opportunities? Think about it – while the referees (or umpires) are in the review booth, there is either a commercial break or the announcers are reminding viewers that, “Today’s game is brought to you by Subway. Eat Fresh.”
Granted, the business end influences professional sports immensely, but let’s not forget about the greatness attached to athletes. In doing so, let’s look at Sonny Gray’s (potential) impact on the Oakland Athletics. Is Sonny great, or is he poised for greatness? Is the hype simply a result of good timing?
Certainly, Gray rose to the occasion last October, outdueling Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the 2013 ALDS (No Decision, 8 IP, 4 Hits, 0 Runs, 2 Walks, 9 Ks, 111 pitches; A’s Won 1-0). I was there. It was unreal. But then, he wasn’t good enough when he faced Justin Verlander in Game 5 (Loss, 5 IP, 6 Hits, 3 Runs, 3 ER, 4 Walks, 3 Ks, 1 HR, 98 pitches; A’s lost 3-0). Again, I was there.
But this is a new season, with bigger expectations. I’m talking World Series expectations. Billy Beane knows that it’s now or never. He’s frustrated with the trend of first-round exits in the playoffs. The A’s have been eliminated in the ALDS in 2000, 2001 (The Jeter Flip), 2002, 2003, 2012, and 2013. To buck the trend, Beane constructed a deep arsenal of talent for the 2014 campaign. Now, with Jarrod Parker undergoing Tommy John surgery (and thus shelved until the start of the 2015 season), Sonny has been tabbed as Oakland’s ace. Can the 24-year old live up to the hype?
Furthermore, does greatness peak at certain points in time? Is greatness sustainable? Can one be great, fall off, and then return to form? To illustrate, let’s dissect Bad Religion (BR), a seminal punk rock band that came of age in the Southern California skate punk scene in the mid-late 80s and early 90s.
Critical acclaim followed their debut LP, How Could Hell Be Any Worse? (1982, Epitaph). The album is a collection of supercharged, fast-paced, hardcore punk rock songs. It’s a classic. Seemingly, out of nowhere, BR decided to change the pace, and released the prog-rock inspired, Into The Unknown (1983, Epitaph). The album featured long guitar ballads and synthesizers, thereby delivering an entirely different brand of rock music. As a result, their fans were alienated, and BR took a two-year hiatus.
BR re-emerged in 1985, and released Back to the Known, a five-song EP that marked a return to their punk roots. Brilliance followed. Suffer arrived in 1988, No Control was released in 1989, and Against The Grain hit record stores in 1990. BR fans refer to this artistic peak as “The Holy Trinity.” “With so much writing being done is such a short time you might think the quality would suffer. You would be wrong.” One might even argue that their peak (and subsequent mainstream success) continued into the early 90s with Generator (1992, Epitaph), Recipe For Hate (1993, Epitaph / re-released on Atlantic), and Stranger Than Fiction (1994, Atlantic). Any way you look at it, Bad Religion are largely influential, and in some regards, are still quite relevant in today’s punk rock scene.
Finally, how do we monetize greatness? Hey, it’s tough to monetize anything in the music business nowadays. However, in professional sports, the extrinsic value of greatness is in the hundreds of millions, and it will only grow exponentially. Last week, two similar, yet very different contracts were executed. The makeup of each contract is quite fascinating. One rewards the potential for greatness; the other rewards past achievements.
First, the Los Angeles Angels agreed to terms with center fielder Mike Trout, rewarding the young man with a six-year deal worth $144.5 million. He is only 22 years old. He is great. He is the next MLB superstar – the next Derek Jeter, if you will. And he will continue to be great for a long time, barring any serious physical injuries.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers re-signed Miguel Cabrera, effectively doling out $292 million over the next 10 seasons. Yes, he is still great. But, he is 31 years old, and he is currently peaking. And he can barely run. How many more years will he be able to play third base? How many more MVP-type seasons does he have left?
The Angels struck gold with Trout, no doubt. He’ll only be 28 when his contract is up. That’s still a prime age for a ballplayer of his caliber. The Tigers, on the other hand, are banking on short-term results, and effectively using Cabrera’s presence to stimulate their brand name. The contract will most likely increase advertising revenue; it will present more opportunities for corporate sponsorships; and, there will likely be a noticeable spike in Miguel Cabrera t-shirt sales. As for this season, it’s quite possible that the Tigers could win the World Series. After all, they’re built for the playoffs. They arguably have the best three-man (playoff-compatible) starting rotation in MLB – Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Annibal Sanchez – and, of course, they have Cabrera.
So, what really defines greatness? Is greatness attached to the environment or the atmosphere? Can something be intrinsically great? Do we perceive greatness through our (favorable) experiences? Furthermore, is greatness sustainable, or is it merely a trend? Does greatness peak at a certain point in time? Can we return to form? Or is it like The Menzingers say, in that “All good things should fall apart?”