#899: The Battle ‘Ere Borne (Or, “How I Spent 16 Weeks in a Media Bowling League Listening to Len’s ‘Steal My Sunshine’ on Repeat in a Failed Effort to Win a Sword Named Swords Terkel”)

March 9th, 2018

Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses,” 1842

I was lying on the bench slide
In the park across the street
L-A-T-E-R that week.
My sticky paws were into making straws
Out of big, fat Slurpee treats.
An incredible, eight-foot heap.

— Len, “Steal My Sunshine,” 1999

The battle is done. We fought, we clamored, we howled with joy or pain and that one time I got a turkey. But the Chicago Media Bowling League season is done and I never have to listen to Canadian alt-rock duo Len again.

For those who follow me on this blog, Twitter, Facebook, know me or have occasionally just stood on the train next to a bearded man growling to the air about “damned hipsters,” “jukebox bullies” and “just frickin’ play some Queen, man,” I have been involved for the past several months with the Chicago Media Bowling League. For 16 weeks of bowling and some time off for the holidays, it was a chance to fraternize with my coworkers, network with my peers, see old friends, make new ones and feel really old when I mentioned to one of said coworkers that Fireside Bowl used to hold punk shows and he looked at me, blinked twice and said “How?”

And at the end of the path, a prize above all others — a replica fantasy broadsword called “Swords Terkel,” perfect for mantlepiece, office or battling orcs in Mordor. (Editor’s note: The softball league prize is called the Kup Cup — these are some quality Chicago journalism puns here, people.)

Every career path is plagued by a desire to define itself — doctors are like this, lawyers are like that – and I don’t want to fall into that trap. Journalists, reporters, editors, photographers, designers and the other tattered hangers-on to a once vibrant industry aren’t any particular way or another. But people with the time, ability and willingness to spend October-March in a wonderfully old-school North Side bowling alley downing Schlitz tall boys and glancing for the door awaiting the Christ-like second, third, eighty-fifth coming of Tamale Guy (“And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.”), they tend to be of a breed.

They’re fun-loving, beer-loving, some are top-notch competitive bowlistas/os, others are there for a lark, and they/we tend to be a bit snotty about the tunes.

Last season, the musical situation was annoying, but predictable. The Onion, AV Club, Chicago Reader or any other Chicago media outlet team clad entirely in band T-shirts would show up early, load up the jukebox with cash and own the air for the night. If you wanted to play a song, it would either come up on the rotation approximately two hours after you left for the night or you could pay twice as much and the machine would play your song next. People who didn’t like critically acclaimed pop music of the early 2000s might be put out a tad, but the incentives were lined toward good songs.

This season, to steer our shoal of journalists to a more noble pursuit, the organizers instituted a Skip Jar policy. If a song you didn’t like came up, you could run to the counter where the mustache guy took shoe sizes, toss two bucks in a bucket and mustache man would yell “GOOOOOOD-bye” into the loudspeaker and immediately stop the song. Your song didn’t come up next, you just got the joy of having a man with a mustache scream at industry colleagues that their musical taste was so bad you were willing to pay good money to end the pain.

At the end of the night, the money was donated to charity. A different one each week and there were some fantastic groups in there. I’m not downplaying that.

But over the weeks, as the pins fell in the alley and the Schlitz cans toppled at the bar, the creeping realization of new incentives came. Like invasive species entering a new biome, like water finding and widening a hole to make new rivulets, like a bunch of bored journalists who suck at bowling realizing hearing mustache man yell “GOOOOOOD-bye” was actually pretty fun, slowly the crowd turned toward a new source of life, sustenance and joy.

Why play music you like when you can play music everyone hates?

And the jukebox warfare began.

There was the night when someone loaded up the jukebox with Kidz Bop versions of Platinum-selling pop tunes of the early 2000s. A coworker of mine struck back with the album Guster put out in 2003 where they replaced all their lyrics with meow sounds to screw with Napster downloaders. Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba” (sample lyrics: Bawitdaba da bang da bang diggy diggy diggy. Shake the boogie said up jump the boogie.) became a mainstay.

And Len. So much Len.

Len on repeat. Four, five Lens in a row. An entire bowling alley of Fourth Estaters groaning amid the clatter of pins and cans as the canny synthpop tempo — as relentless as the breaking of waves on a rocky shore and as inexorable as death’s sweet sorrow — would crash and crescendo into the song of summer 1999 and boppy Canadians dancing on the beach.

“I was lying on the grass on Sunday morning of last week, indulging in my self defeats. My mind was thugged, all laced and bugged, all twisted round and beat, uncomfortable three feet deep.” (Followed by the scamper of little journo-feet across the alley and the mustache man rebel yell of “GOOOOOOD-bye.”)

Then crescendo, clash and clatter, “I was lying on the grass,” scamper of feet, “GOOOOOOD-bye,” crescendo, synth, “I was lying on the grass,” scamper, “GOOOOOOD-bye,” “GOOOOOOD-bye,” “I was lying on the grass” “GOOOOOOD-bye,” scamper, crescendo, synth.

Those were the last five months of my life.

But now the season is done. Swords Terkel is in the grasp of its rightful claimant, 2018 season champ the Chicago Reader. Our team has nestled into its comfortable 14th out of 16 seat. All is right and proper.

The Lenning of League Night raised money for charity. I can’t deny that. But the same dollars would have happened if you had put a bucket by the bar to catch journalists when they’re drunk, happy and just got a bunch of singles in change. It’s possible to have charity without the pain of a pop song I once like played over and over as punishment by people who get a giggle out of spending more money on being annoying than you’re willing to spend on music that’s actually enjoyed.

I might be too busy next year to spend every Tuesday bowling — life’s happening on the Dailing end. So I know it’s up for me. I’m making sure I’m not in too deep. I’m keeping versed and on my feet. I know it’s done for me — not something hard to see. Keeping dumb and built to beat.

If you steal my sunshine.

You know you want to listen to it now

An ode to Tamale Guy

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You are currently reading #899: The Battle ‘Ere Borne (Or, “How I Spent 16 Weeks in a Media Bowling League Listening to Len’s ‘Steal My Sunshine’ on Repeat in a Failed Effort to Win a Sword Named Swords Terkel”) by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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