I fully intended on writing a number of insightful and thought provoking words regarding Kurt Vile’s latest opus, “Wakin On A Pretty Day,” but then Wednesday brought a few events that took my mind elsewhere. One of those events I will not discuss here, as it made me very sad. The other also made me sad, but in a much different way. I will attempt to unfetter my thoughts on that second topic now. (you’ll soon see where I’m going with this, in a direction only tangentially related to music, so if that’s what you clicked here for you can probably stop reading)
I’ve long been a hockey fan. Growing up in Western New York I naturally gravitated towards the Buffalo Sabres. I had a few years as a kid where I was into a player named Pavel Bure and therefore somewhat changed my alliances to the Vancouver Canucks. (I still sort of think they’re ok as a Western Conference team, though that fandom lapsed before I had armpit hair) He was well known for being extremely fast and was an excellent goal scorer. I fancied myself the fastest kid in the world and so was drawn to speedy sport figures, hence Bure and the Canucks. Coming out of the lockout a few years ago (not this most recent iteration), my interest increased for a number of reasons. I was living on my own and paid for cable, so, quite simply, I was able to watch more games than previously. Along the same lines, I had a great deal more disposable income so also became able to attend more games in person. Two or three years ago I went to about 10 games. Coming from Rochester on several week nights during the season and spending as much as I did on tickets solidified for me just how much a fan I’d become.
I recall going to one game as a very young kid back at the old Aud. It was against the St. Louis Blues and I believe that doosh Brett Hull got the winner in OT. The thing I most remember about that game was that we were in the absolute top row of the Aud, and in that old building it seemed you could fall at any time and tumble forever since the stands pitched forward quite harshly (my youthful memory may have exaggerated just how steep the pitch was). The F’N Center, previously the Hot Sauce Blue Cheese Arena, is where I’ve attended a vast majority of the professional sports games I’ve attended in person. Certainly I’ve attended more Sabres games than those of their crosstown major sports partner, the Buffalo Bills. More so even than the local baseball stadium and hockey arenas here in Rochester. So basically, I really like hockey and the Sabres.
Through it all, the Buffalo Sabres employed a coach named Lindy Ruff. Hired by General Manager Darcy Regier, both following and preceding distinct eras of tumult, Ruff came on board prior to the beginning of the 1997-1998 season. He remained the coach up until Wednesday, alongside close friend and partner (though technically boss) Regier. He had been the coach for nearly as long as I can remember and more than half my life, though I do vaguely recall the issues surrounding the previous coach, a glorious mullet not exactly one of them.
[mp3] Kurt Vile // Wakin On A Pretty Day
Ruff presided over a great many iterations of Buffalo Sabres squads, with the highs and lows one might expect from such a tenure. One of my fondest Sabres memories occurred in Fredonia at my sister’s graduation dinner celebration. We went to dinner with her boyfriend’s (now her husband) family at an upscale restaurant, and towards the end of dinner we kept sneaking glances at the tv in the bar which was carrying a playoff game against the Ottawa Senators. My dad had paid for dinner, so at the tail end of our meals when we snuck out to the bar, my now brother-in-law’s father opened a tab for drinks and we all sat down to catch the game. It was Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Championship, and little did anyone know the game would last go for several more hours in to double overtime. The Sabres scored a game tying goal with six seconds left in the regulation, and emboldened the hope that that team would always overcome the obstacles presented them. Unfortunately a week later they proved that feeling moot and lost the series ending game short of the Stanley Cup Championship. Despite the outcome, cheering on the team with several family members and other local fans and employees of the restaurant remains a fond memory.
Conversely, things have been shit lately. This year’s team had an influx of grit and toughness after being perceived as soft the past few seasons, and came out flying in the first two games of the year. Lately however, the team has been mired in extended stretches of ineffectiveness, punctuated by many ugly losses and boos from the home crowd. Where the responsibility for these failures lie is not any easy question. The team has demonstrated a lack of mental toughness rather than physical, and seemed to have tuned out their coach amidst overwhelming frustration. Some of this surely falls on Ruff, but the efforts by the team in the games since his dismissal surely prove the issues are more endemic. One of the loudest complaints surrounding Ruff’s dismissal is that the Sabres should have parted ways too, with Regier. Would that have happened, I don’t think I’d be having the same emotional response.
As opposed to a GM, a coach is a more visceral face of a franchise. Lindy Ruff was on the television every one of the hundreds of games I’ve watched on tv, and I came to know when he would call a timeout. I had a general sense of when he would whistle and yell for an adjustment, or what sort of reaction shot we should expect to get from him following a notable play. I knew these things without even knowing I did. When a particular coach remains in their position for sixteen years, it only strengthens your awareness of who they are, yet your awareness of that familiarity doesn’t always coincide. Without being aware I knew these things; I didn’t know that I would miss them. The first game post-Lindy was odd, and not entirely comfortable. As if a portion of my love for the team was wrapped up with a guy who doesn’t even play.
I know enough about Darcy Regier because, again, he’s been with the team more than half my life, but I didn’t experience him nearly as much as I did Lindy. There were occasional interviews with him over the years that were broadcast on tv, but mostly he was a detached voice I read articles about. I was saddened by Lindy Ruff’s firing. I don’t think I would have been should Regier have been let go instead. Much like with Buffalo Bills coaches over the past few years, albeit for entirely different logistical if similar ideological reasons, I never forged any sort of attachment. Honestly, I think I prefer it that way. I didn’t realize I cared about Lindy Ruff until he was actually gone. He held a classy exit interview and solidified my almost immediate reaction that, while it was time for a change, I think I would have preferred Darcy Regier going instead.
I realize sports should ultimately fail to be important enough to earn these feelings, but nevertheless I do feel them. Music should not hold a place of such importance for me either, but clearly it does as well. Wishing for someone to go and someone to stay is odd, and I don’t enjoy what it says about myself. Much like when I watch a movie and I’m rooting for one person to be offed, I don’t enjoy what a detached sense of things lends to my thinking in situations in which outcomes have no real bearing on me. But these are real people, and they have real feelings. They also evoke real feelings in a venue which is likely allowed too much leeway. I suppose I’d prefer not to get wrapped up in these things as I do, but that is human nature and sports as well as music are perfect vessels for processes of living vicariously. Personal events get wrapped into favorite seasons or games, songs or albums, and it is very easy to identify with sport and music. As much as I’d like to say I’ll not get so wrapped up in things and take sports and the irrational way in which popular music is quantified so seriously, I’m glad in this case I was wrapped up and saddened that this particular guy was cast away. That probably won’t change, even if I still think Darcy Regier should be fired.
And oh, Kurt Vile is good.