Monday, May 20, 2019

Does there have to be a winner?

Recently in this space I was extolling something delightful my local indie alternative rock station was doing. The Current, a public radio station, was running down the best 893 (because their call number is 89.3 FM) songs since the year 2000, as voted by listeners. My point was that democracy made for great radio. And it did, especially when we were in the 500's and then later the 300's.

But I had an inkling that there might be a problem for me going forward. And I was right.

The higher we went on the list the more my sense of competition and judgement crept into it. 

Avant Gardener by Courtney Barnett at 274 is an entertaining and interesting song, and one I just enjoy on its own small and appealing merits. But this song placing at 51, where it actually is, becomes a little irritating. Is it hundreds of songs better than Cat Power's lusciously sad The Greatest?  Could it possibly be a hundred places better than The White Stripe's Ball and Biscuit, the greatest rock guitar masterpiece in 30 years?

No. It's not.

It's a nice song Avant Gardener, but it shows up very poorly against these other two songs. Very, very, very poorly. And down here in the top 100, or even more in the top 50, it gets harder for me to listen without all the context of competition.

This year I faithfully and with much delight watched Messi and The Barcelona team play a season's worth of brilliant soccer. Messi astonished at every turn. I witnessed unworldly, wondrous things. And then late in the most important and contested competition of the season, with a seemingly unassailable first game lead, Barcelona were crushed, stripped of dignity, and summarily tossed out of the competition. I can barely express the devastation I felt. The joy of 40 games of soccer were stripped from my heart in roughly 30 minutes.

As I write the 893 songs count down slowly in the background. Number 42 is playing right now. Everything in its Right Place by Radiohead. I breathe a sigh of relief. With a song like that everything really is in its right place. But it's all on the line now. Will I feel so approving about the next song? It's all in my nature, and in the nature of competition. Less fun, more tension.

I have no solution here. Competition provides focus and clarity. It can filter excellence up, all in good fun. But it never knows when to stop. It's only for the strong. It breaks hearts. It always, always, always gets too serious. 

And it always ends in tears.

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