The Greatness Factor

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the_menzingers

The Menzingers

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.”

BIG MAC

Mmmm…

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:

[Office Space Script at IMSDb]

office space

“Now, it’s up to you whether or not you want to just do the bare minimum.”

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, TyvekEagulls, 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.

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Parquet Courts

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.

Now, I encourage you to check out Perfect Pussy. Then, read the Wondering Sound interview.

I haven’t seen them live yet. Hell, they’ve only been a band for a handful of months. So, are they (intrinsicallygreat? 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.

Perfect Pussy

Perfect Pussy

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.

TSSF

Walnut Creek’s finest

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.

Sonny

It’s Always Sonny in Oakland

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.

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Bad Religion

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.

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Mike Trout

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.

 

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Miguel Cabrera

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?”

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#FaceOfMLB (Part 2 of 2)

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David Wright is the #FaceOfMLB

Just a quick update to this, because I find all of this quite fascinating, and it offers a lot of good parallels. Then we can put it to bed, because after all, it’s old news.

If you didn’t hear, Sogard lost in the finals to David Wright. Albeit, it was a very close call – 51% to 49%. Sogard was leading by a hefty margin at one point. Sports Illustrated reports that Sogie held a commanding 55% to 45% advantage as of 3am PST on Friday morning. Then, all of sudden, the East Coasters got in gear and catapulted Wright into the winner’s circle. Or did they?

Studies have shown that social media usage has peaks and valleys throughout the day. Trends have developed to capture engagement, and thereby increase response rates. Increased engagement strengthens your brand. To illustrate, Facebook posts are common between 1pm – 4pm, with 3pm Wednesdays being the peak (probably because everyone is bored at work and looking for distractions to get through the day). Meanwhile, Pinterest posts generally peak on Saturday mornings (because that’s when you actually have time to share your new muffin recipe). Research also indicates that Twitter is a beneficial tool when used Monday through Thursday from 11am – 3pm. The worst time to tweet is between the hours of 8pm – 9am. Generally speaking, your tweets will evaporate into the cloud and go unnoticed during this time frame. Fewer individuals are online between 8pm – 9am, so there is less engagement.

The voting ended (strangely) at 8am EST, which is Twitter downtime. Furthermore, this meant it was 5am PST – a time when a large portion of West Coasters (and, in particular – A’s fans) were still under the covers or were focusing on their morning routines. A’s fans weren’t actively voting in the wee hours of the morning, so this presented a slight disadvantage. Furthermore, how can we be so sure that the Mets’ community was, in fact, executing a (legitimate) comeback? More importantly, how did the Mets’ fan base construct such a rapid turnaround?

King of Queens

“What does ‘Met’ stand for, anyway, you know? I mean, what’s a ‘Met?’ What’s the deal with that?”

Granted, the Mets have a devoted fan base – actually very similar to that of the A’s. The people in Queens are a very simple bunch, much like the working class in Oakland. (Hell, both locales could benefit from urban renewal, but that’s another can of worms). You ever watch The King of Queens? Yeah, I know it’s cheesy, but Kevin James’ character is pretty accurate. People from Queens love the Mets. Just mention “Game 6” to anyone in Queens, and I’m sure you’ll have a great conversation.

Meanwhile, the Mets play in the shadows of the New York Yankees and their 27 world championships. Here in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Giants have executed recent championship runs in 2010 and 2012. In turn, they have been able to bring in more business, because they have proved to their fan base that they are a winning team. And, seriously, that’s how you grow a business. Instill confidence in yourselves and your customers. Now, they can easily cater to the tech crowd and the San Francisco elite.

Just this week, the Giants offered the A’s somewhat of a consolation residency should Oakland move forward in their plans to build a new ballpark. Do the A’s take it? I don’t know. There are lots of factors at play – there are legal issues to flesh out, scheduling conflicts to acknowledge, and a bigger issue called pride. Will A’s fans be able to enjoy a home game in an unfamiliar park? This is something A’s management has to digest and sort out.

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Mike Trout

Look, MLB wanted to see Trout versus Jeter in the finals. It would have been a story that the mainstream cared about. Everybody loves a story. Trout, the center fielder of the Los Angeles Angels, is the up-and-coming MLB superstar.  He’s the first baseball player ever to sign a $1 million guaranteed deal before he is eligible for free agency and/or arbitration (i.e. a big payday). He’s going to be a rich man, and he deserves it because he’s got the talent to back it up. This kid is 22 years old, and he can play. He’ll hit 30+ HR, drive in 120 RBI, collect 35 doubles, steal 30+ bags, and his defense is superb. Just wait.

The Captain

The Captain

Meanwhile, Jeter is retiring at the end of this season, much like Mariano Rivera did last season. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you know who Derek Jeter is. So, it’s another way for the Yankees to make money. It’s an insurance package, because if the Yanks don’t perform well on the field this season, they can still put asses in the seats, because everyone from all corners of the world wants to see The Captain play one more time.

Is there a Mike Trout in the music scene nowadays? Someone so talented in all facets – recording, live performance, stage presence, general appeal, etc? I’m not talking about the Lady Gagas of the world. I’m talking about music created today that we can still appreciate 50 years down the line. Like The Beatles.

Deon Cole

Deon Cole

Consider this – I recently witnessed Deon Cole’s stand-up routine at Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco. It was hilarious. Do you know who he is? He’s a writer (or at least he used to be a writer) on CONAN. He also appears on some of Conan’s sketches. He’s clever, personable, smart, and he has great stage presence. But can he appeal to the mainstream? Does he need to? Or should he simply focus on his own fans?

That said, have you ever heard of the Long Tail Theory, a concept developed by Chris Anderson? To quote, “The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.”

Sogard in the field

This is Nerd Power

To circle back, was the voting process in #FaceOfMLB genuine? Were there other factors at play? I guess we’ll never know for sure. Hey, CSN Bay Area reminds us that David Wright does not even have a Twitter handle! How did he connect with all of his fans the way Sogard and the A’s community did? Furthermore, go ahead and track #DavidWright on the Trendsmap (via CSN Bay Area), and you’ll see a lot of tweets coming from South Korea. Is it possible MLB bought tweets, the same way that Facebook buys “likes” via “click farms” in Southeast Asia, and other pockets around the world? At the end of the day, David Wright received more votes, but were Mets’ fans actually more engaged than A’s fans? Do you follow? To better understand, watch this video, courtesy of Veritasium. It’ll blow your mind. I’d subscribe to the YouTube channel, as well.

That’s all for now. I’m gonna go watch The Oscars.