Thanksspinning: Modern Baseball — Sports

Special Features / November 24, 2014

In what may become an annual Thanksgiving celebration here at Modern Vinyl, our team of writers have each reflected on an album that, fittingly, they’re thankful for. These reflections are in every way a personal spin on a traditional look at a release and we’re excited to share this series of unique recollections with you throughout the week. 

My name is James Cassar. I am Modern Vinyl’s Managing Editor.

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The record I am thankful for is Modern Baseball’s Sports.

 


When I was just a boy, we’ll call it fifteen or so,
I found myself annoyed by a syndrome of sorts in my bones
That girl who’s next to me, she found herself bored to tears
She realized that if she wanted conversation, she’s out of luck for three more years

Indeed, it always had started in my bones. Sometimes the joints running parallel to them would constrict and struggle against whatever else made my legs drag and slide. There had always been a severe bend in my spine, a snag in the bony road which caused my thin frame to diverge further from a normal stride. I changed into different uniforms every year — whether it be the special blend of whatever Hot Topic vomit I was into that week or an actual Catholic school uniform — yet I kept the limp.

I watched my hair grow and recede back into my skull as the seasons and my styles shifted, yet I kept the limp. It wasn’t really strange for me to think having cerebral palsy was the reason my romantic track record in high school was equal to the Detroit Lions’ 2008 season. I was in New York, texting my first girlfriend in the ninth grade, when my family and I saw our hometown football squad return to Michigan with the NFL’s first winless record. We were continually reminded of this fate — it cycled around Times Square in digital Helvetica one blustery afternoon for what seemed like hours. It’s only fitting that when I too returned to the Great Lakes State I would too taste my own version of 0-16. I just wasn’t paid millions of dollars to suck at being athletic.

It took me three years to succeed in asking out another girl. It was in some overstuffed chair my parents lugged into the basement “man cave” after pulling it out of some Craiglister’s house. The TV was on; some episode of Drake & Josh cycled through teen drama in a CD store. It was three hours before homecoming and I was a senior in high school. She didn’t know how to dance; I didn’t know if my legs did, either.

The only senior prom I attended was hers a year later. We trudged through a tangle of southern Virginia to get there. We were safe from the rain in a late-Eighties BMW five minutes from exploding every time she’d start it. She had a CD player installed in the car, but didn’t have any of the umpteen mixtapes I sent her burned to plastic. There was a band we both discovered together on Bandcamp. The album cover, she said, reminded her of this picture she had taken of her when she was five. She wasn’t wrong, but I won’t prove it to you. That weird blend of pop-punk and folk spilled through those left-panned speakers until she pulled the key out of the ignition.

In a passenger seat reeking of exhaust and a busted air freshener canister, I learned every word to Sports. I watched this girl walk down the aisle of an art gallery with the rest of her class in some act of empty symbolism while mouthing a few lines from it.

You’ve got a certain “who knows what” about you
And I got a small amount of time
To figure out what it is exactly
And to whom does it apply
 

We had always been long-distance. It was 208 miles from my house to hers, a gap I couldn’t bridge with the license I didn’t have. I wrote that number down everywhere. I appreciated that there was a young band that appreciated such a romantic obsession with detail.

You could also argue Modern Baseball and I shared some sort of literary ambition. I had written a book when I was 16. Sports was recorded during a finals week at Drexel University and released by a pair of Drexel nerds under Lame-O Records. We were both creating art when we could’ve been taking in those of others.

Side A of Sports starts with “Re-do,” Side B kicks off with “Re-done.” When Brendan Lukens sings about seeing “you from the bottom of the stairs,” I’m reminded that James Joyce wrote something like that in his novella “The Dead.” Sure, there’s a song about Twitter (“@chl03k”), one shamelessly about Facebook (“I Think You Were In My Profile Picture Once”), and a song bookended by nods to locking text messages — can you even do that on an iPhone? — and a voicemail recording (“Hours Outside in the Snow”), but these are indeed still very intertextual references for a dude who has now lived in infamy thanks to a ridiculously terrible Internet presence. 

I had the insane opportunity to talk vinyl records with executives at Warner Music Group every day for eight weeks the following summer. Over pizza and Diet Coke somewhere east of Hollywood, a group of co-workers asked me what labels were worth looking into. I learned that major labels were also distributors for smaller ones, WMG’s Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA) being the current conduit for wider distribution of releases from everything from Epitaph to Rise.

Modern Baseball was picked up by Run for Cover Records shortly after Sports‘ first vinyl pressing sold out, and the second pressing I’ve spun into the ground finds the two label logos bumping elbows on a co-released reissue. It was clear the past two years of my life were indebted to RFC — Tigers Jaw’ self-titled LP being a testament to the last angst-choked months of high school and Basement’s I Wish I Could Stay Here a sobering reflection on my first year at the University of Virginia. Sports being added to their discography was just the icing on the cake. Naturally, I offered up their name as a suggestion, with Modern Baseball as a highlighted artist.

I think that’s when I knew I could make some difference in some corner of the industry — I heard Sports being played from three different office computers after that meal break. Run for Cover would be later scooped up by ADA and now you can pick up their releases across the country. Someone was listening not just to a band I found analogous to my personal experience, but me.

That’s when I knew I was in this media world for good – a trap I’ve been happy to be set in.

But I know how you get from time to time:
‘We’ll do this and that, travel the map’
And maybe just for a while

The last night we were ever together we talked about the time we hit a deer the night of her high school graduation. She wasn’t the one to do it, her mom was. I remember the scream she made; I jumped at the noise. There was a headphone in my right ear, anyway, drowning some of the pandemonium out. Yup. Modern Baseball.

She pulled out of the driveway and before I knew it, I was back at school pawing at some used records in a makeshift shop. Communication between us had been thin since she headed off to her first weeks in college, yet I was still working closing shifts at work, scrubbing gym equipment and fighting sleep to take the train out to her university. The night I figured out I didn’t have to push myself any harder was the night I missed the bus home. It was 11:30 p.m. and Charlottesville, Virginia was flooding.

Apparently she had an Instagram account now. Apparently those were another dude’s feet next to hers.

Sure, I heard that voicemail message a thousand times, the gnawing confirmation that yeah, there was something else swirling between us. Was it a tornado? A hurricane? Some sort of storm. I guess it made sense all of this transpired when it was raining about as hard as it was before her prom not even three months earlier.

I was listening to Sports outside, soaking wet. The mixes I made her were gone the next day. I felt a sense of power selecting “Move to Trash” on my keyboard and hearing the digital affirmation of oblivion. The Facebook evidence was erased, too. I think you were in my profile picture once.

The first few stones are the worst
They fall in unnoticed
And scare you for more than they’re worth
And all at once you will not hear your own words

I watched at her number — now no longer attached to a contact — slunk lower and lower in my Recent Messages list. I felt the foreign pang of anger writhe inside me as I saw that everything was okay up north without me. For someone who spent the majority of their high school career asking me for help battling some sort of internal monster, it was weird to see that internal monster spewed up and mixed in with my reflection. I stared at my legs a lot, entering some sort of infinite mental loop questioning if that was why my feet weren’t the ones framed in that 640×640 square. They just weren’t worth capturing.

I had started a return to physical therapy to make sure this hypothetical reason wouldn’t happen again. At the same time, I had met more people. I was becoming re-done, re-focused. That didn’t last too long.

My psychology final was in five hours. A light dusting of snow blanketed the world. There were 11 cans of Vanilla Coke on my desk, five empty cans of Mountain Dew pushing out of the trash. I was doomed to fail this exam. I ended up passing with a C — I probably should’ve stayed off the Internet. I could’ve done better, but hindsight is always 20/20.

When you have people start pointing fingers in your direction, so close to home you can see the dirt under their fingernails, you tend to take that to heart. There’s something you’ll never be and that person you wish you become will never jump inside you. You’re what they call “worthless,” “insane,” “trash.” These poisonous thoughts can claw at your mind until you finally give in to whatever accusation burns in their throats, or in this case, thumbs.

So there I was, fielding fire, seeing my name pop up in contexts I really didn’t want to be corralled into. They say the Web really can’t translate to tangible problems, but there I was, drowning in it. I was stuck witnessing my own disaster.

There was one record spinning in the room at 5 a.m., four hours before that exam. I was on my bed, sporting hooded eyes and a pained glance. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to drop off or drop out. Both seemed equally appealing at this point. I dropped the needle into side B and let my mind drift. There were 15 Advil in my gut, freshly chased with another caffeinated bomb.

I don’t really understand medicine, but that’s probably not a recommended dose.

I’m circling the drain

I remembered dragging two feet, so lightly that they convulsed, over hardwood floors. I remembered grabbing a waist to this song in an attic bedroom and closing my eyes, subconsciously running through the lyric sheet. It seemed morbid to dance to a song as in tune with death as “Cooke” was, but it seemed stupid not to try at the time.

I remembered running naked across the University of Virginia Lawn with my two best friends — writing off relationships in a shower of expletives — half-wasted and half-intelligent. It was raining hard; our feet were kicking up mud like horse hooves. I wasn’t even supposed to walk, and I was streaking the fucking Lawn. I guess that counted for something, wrecked GPA or not.

I saw a trashed vinyl record mailer, written on in chicken scratch by Lame-O Records three weeks before, accenting my name with four exclamation points. It was an emblem. I was becoming something worth “!!!!,” and I was threatening to cross that out.

I remembered a picture of my family on the cork board near the door.
I remembered the way the world still smiled with me in it, independent of whatever refuse I refused to acknowledge.

I saw a future. I didn’t know what that meant besides a question mark I would undoubtedly pencil in a Scantron, find in the contours of another girl or another version of myself.

I heard the same record I had heard thousands of times before. It just sounded different.

But I’m picking these bones up, ’cause man, they don’t live there today

I’ve seen Modern Baseball twice this year. I have tickets to see them twice more before the year ends. The second time I piled in a car, then piled into a train, to watch them headline a set in New York. I was left during the set with the person I came with, but I still handed over a copy of that book I wrote to the band. It was my second-to-last copy. I don’t know what the symbolism of that is, but I felt it important at the time. The pair behind Lame-O Records was watching. They were smiling. I’m pretty sure I was, too, despite shaking knees, in a Modern Vinyl T-shirt.

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There was a sticky note on the front cover I wrote, a rip-off of one of their lines: “These are the words I brushed up on.”

Sometimes albums can take you places. Sometimes albums can get you out of them. Sports is one that’s continued to represent me at my worst and at my best. It’s an amalgamation of personal failure and reconstruction that came at the expense of a broken heart and broken self-confidence, but I’m glad it arrived at the right time. That’s why I’m never letting it leave.

Shed an ounce of light
On my half-hopeless life
Don’t let me go back

I’ve watched my name transform from something you’d read on a class roster to be something you can actively Google. I’ve been more confident to share stories and words with the world in ways I would have never been able to a year ago, simply because I figured no one would plug into them. It’s not to say Sports is the reason I’m the person I am now, but it gave me the push I needed to realize I had the tools to become that. I still have that limp. I’m just not letting it drag me down anymore.

We’ve got calloused hands
But these arms aren’t tired
At least not yet

I’ve got so far to go.
I’m just glad you were here to read where I’ve been.


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James Cassar
James Cassar is Modern Vinyl's Managing News Editor and a co-host of The Modern Vinyl Podcast. He is also an artist manager, co-owner of the record label Near Mint, and can be found in bed before 9 p.m. James lives in Philadelphia and no, he won't check out your band if you add him on Facebook.






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