Hockey and Jazz and Wine (“Oh My”)

10 Jun

wineI’m pretty smart, or at least I like to think I’m pretty smart. I’m the guy who, when he gets on just about any topic, has an opinion that will not be relinquished without undue force. Arguing an idea is like a medieval battle, with two foes going after one another until both are bloody pulps. There are few winners in barroom arguments. It’s just pissing contests. It’s always better to ask another’s opinion than to proffer one’s own unsolicited. But we smartypantses rarely care what others have to say, for they are almost always wrong, especially when they’re right.

I can talk books and movies and baseball, politics and bullshit philosophy all night long. I grew up reading and watching movies and baseball games. When you’re a little kid watching dozens of baseball broadcasts, you learn a thing or two. Later I mostly figured out football and somewhat got basketball. I knew how these games worked, who the players were, the history of my teams, and the history of the game itself. But I never got hockey. In Chicago every baseball, basketball, and football game was readily available on network TV. Hockey you could only watch on cable. This was back in the 1980s when cable was not a necessity to catch quality television; it was a rarer place to discover a sporting event. But Chicago Blackhawks hockey was on cable, and we didn’t have cable, and hence I never got into hockey.

Recently, I’ve begun watching the game more. The playoff games, at least, and many of those I miss too. I root for my home team because that is what I’m supposed to do, but my heart is not in it like it would be with the other three teams from Chicago (no, the White Sox do not count). If the Hawks lose the finals I won’t be as disappointed as I would be if the Bears lost the Super Bowl, the Bulls lost the NBA finals, or the Cubs…well, you know…

I just don’t have it. That magical ingredient that takes a guy who wishes a team well and makes him into a real fan. I have friends who are real fans, crazy fans, nonsensically over-the-top Blackhawks fans. There is a lifeblood to their fandom. Not only do I not have it, I never will. I’m too old. I don’t have the history of watching them when I was younger. I can’t recite the lineup from 1991. I get the rules of hockey but I don’t understand the strategy. I probably never will. Part of me – some of the me that wishes to know everything, but mostly the me who wants to be part of the In Crowd of true fans – regrets this fact, wishes that he could go back in time and be able to infuse himself with whatever everyone else got.

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The first CD I ever owned was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It’s the cliché first album for a kid who really liked oldies and classic rock. I love the Beatles, and for one who does not understand music at all, I feel like I’ve always understood the Beatles. I can’t deconstruct their songs into time signatures, can’t name that strange instrument buried in some deep track, can’t even hum a Ringo song properly.

Still, I know the Beatles, and generally understand rock music, or at least the rock music I like. What I don’t understand, at all, is jazz. I love jazz, it’s fantastic, but I can’t even define what jazz is. I can’t tell if a tune is Miles or Coltrane. I know Take Five and Rhapsody in Blue and recognize Louie Armstrong’s voice, but otherwise I am clueless as to what jazz is, how it’s made, or even who makes it. Yet I love jazz, adore it. I listen to it all the time – though generally the same few albums because I don’t know much. When I listen to people talk about jazz – or music in general, honestly – their expertise makes me feel like a high school dropout in the company of a nuclear physicist. I can say “Wow that sounds great,” or “Yeah, I totally dig that, man,” but I don’t know why it sounds great or why I dig it, man. I cannot deconstruct Kind of Blue like I can 2001: A Space Odyssey. And I never will. It’s too late for me to really figure out music, to understand it like an expert. Like learning languages, it’s best done when younger, not when one is nearing forty. I hate not knowing.

kenny g

Okay, this guy I know I should hate, right?

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And because I hate it, I have a drink. Usually it’s beer or whiskey, but occasionally I’ll have a glass (bottle) of wine. If it’s white, a Sauvignon Blanc, if red a Shiraz. Something not too sweet. But with some fruitiness. Maybe a Viognier in the summer. Or a Pinot Noir accompanying my red snapper fillet. Something with a good tannin. Or a bad tannin. Or legs. Full bodied. Well, maybe not too full bodied. A hint of pomegranates. Or leather? Tobacco?

Yeah, I’m the asshole without the beard. I love wine. I love wine with food. And generally I know what kind of wine I like. But like with jazz, I don’t know why I like it. “It tastes good, babe.”

When I go out to dinner with someone who is really smart about wines, and he discusses the Russian River Valley with the sommelier for a half hour, I usually go to the bar for a double bourbon. (I also don’t understand bourbon, except that it’s from Kentucky and makes me forget things like where my apartment is and that I’m too old to be drinking bourbon on a Tuesday night.)

If I’m out just getting a glass, I can point very easily to something priced mid-range from the Pacific Northwest and feel comfortable in my choosing. If I’m at Chez Hoity Toity, I ask the waiter/sommelier for a bottle of something that pairs well with what we’re eating but that will be cheap enough that he will laugh at me with his waiter/sommelier buddies later.

I wish I could be the guy who snatches the War & Peace sized wine list and thumb through it looking for that one perfect bottle. I wish I could go to tastings and spit the wine out, knowing that it’s all in the taste, and not how it goes down. I wish I could know the difference between Burgundy a Bordeaux. I wish I understood why Merlots suck.

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There are so many things I wish I could do. Play an instrument (I own a harmonica, LOL), read music, learn a foreign language, do a few magic tricks (nerd alert, I know), do some basic computer coding, draw, play shortstop, be able to fix a leaky faucet, sing/not embarrass myself at Karaoke, run a mile without cursing all the gods in every religion, drive a car (I know, I know, I know, so shut up), ski, dance without breaking toes, bowl without getting a strike in someone else’s lane, play poker and not be all tell and no bluff, cook or bake without a recipe, light a scene, understand the stock market, be good at chess. Knowing any of these things will not change my life in a significant way. They are hobbies, distractions to life. Knowing and being part of a hockey tradition would make me enjoy hockey more. Understanding how music works would allow me to appreciate jazz more fully. Knowing wine in that deep down, snobby level, would enhance my enjoyment of it.

But would they? Isn’t it possible that I can have fun watching a bad hockey game because I don’t know it’s bad? Or like a piece of music without having to deconstruct every last bit of it?  Or enjoy a bottle even though Snooty Wine Douchebag Magazine doesn’t think it’s a particularly good vintage?

When I rant on and on and on about how the Marvel Cinematic Universe drives me insane, people say, “Jake, why can’t you just enjoy these movies for what they are and not analyze them to death like you’re the head film critic for Film School Flunkie Daily? Last year when I was down with the flu and finally read The Hunger Games books and found them lacking, could this not be a condition of me being an “expert” at literature (or at least science fiction), and not appreciating them in the way millions of others have?

Isn’t it sometimes better to be blissfully unaware of how things work? I can watch the Blackhawks, and if they win, I can rejoice, and if they lose my disappointment won’t be too extreme? I know what music I don’t like, does it really matter knowing why I don’t like it? I can say no to Rieslings and Merlots and Chardonnays knowing full well that I probably won’t care much for them.

Maybe I’ve simply gotten over trying to be the smartest guy in the room. No, that’s not it. I simply accept that there are things I don’t get and will never get, and that’s okay. In the end, my lack of expertise on a subject can be balanced out by my enjoyment of it, maybe even enhanced by it.

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