The first bit of cold tickling the tip of your nose. The smell of firewood burning in a not-too-distant chimney. The crunch of orange leaves under foot. Pumpkins turned to jack-o-lanterns starting to rot and turning to something actually grotesque. The New York Red Bulls bombing out of the Major League Soccer playoffs.
Fall is here.
With a 1-0 win away to Toronto, the New York Red Bulls lost the Eastern Conference semifinals on road goals and bowed out of another MLS campaign. Twenty two years up, twenty two chances down, zero MLS Cups.
It’s all too familiar. The players change, the coaches change, the arena has changed, the name of the team has changed. What hasn’t changed is the occupancy of the trophy cabinet. What hasn’t changed is the lack of December parade plans. What hasn’t changed is an unimaginable buzz for the holidays. What hasn’t changed is looking forward to a star on next year’s jersey.
You begin to wonder what it would take to change the record, but every answer you come up with is just a track that’s already been played on this particular jukebox. A mix of hard-nosed veterans with a bunch of promising upstart academy kids? That’s an old standard by now. Aging European stars coming in for one last run to play savior swearing up and down that they aren’t just here for the paycheck and the vacation and the anonymity? That’s sold a bunch of units. A new manager blowing up the team to institute a new style, a new mantra, doing things his way and sweeping out the ghosts of old? Played at every party from Long Island to Long Branch. But it’s still just so much more of the same old song and dance.
After years atop the East, with home field advantage, with the road to the final coming through Red Bull Arena and still the team unable to get even there, you might have been forgiven for thinking that this year, sneaking into the playoffs as the bottom seed might have flipped the script. After years of a captain who covered more of the Red Bull Arena field than the midday sun, you might have thought that trading him would have somehow knocked the feng shui into alignment. After teams that relied on no-name Scandinavians and no-name South Americans, perhaps you thought this team of no-name half the worlds might have done the trick because, well, some team of no-name something or others has to eventually, don’t they?
At the end of the album, however, no matter how many times it is played, no matter how many times we sing the songs and remember how it felt the first time we heard it, no matter the good feelings and memories and friends we associate with it, at the end, right before the big closing number, the record always skips.
It’s a broken record.
The problem with a broken record – should you be of such an age that you only know them from only the axiom and not the actual – is that a broken record, unlike a broken nose or a broken vase or even a broken heart, can’t be fixed. There is no glue for it, and time won’t heal it. The cool kids may hear it skip and call it jazz and call you square for not appreciating the notes that aren’t being played, but you know that it’s really rock n roll and there’s no killer guitar solo coming, no big Roger Daltrey scream. Better to just throw it to the curb and be done with it.
But we can’t. It’s not that simple. We can’t just throw this away. These songs, this album, it is a part of us, it is in us. It is our life, retroactively written in musical form. These are the songs that we got our first kiss to, or more. These are the tunes we had our first beer to, or worse. These are the tracks we put on come Saturday night when we feel like celebrating, or mourning, or just mellowing out. It feels like home because it is home.
The grooves of this particular album are well worn, and with good reason, because we’ve worn them well. As much as we can mark the moments of our lives by the songs, we can mark the songs by the moments of our lives. It’s like how when you watch a film on the Vietnam war you expect to hear Hendrix and Creedence. It is what is done and what is right. And if, for some, hearing “All Along the Watchtower” gives them vivid flashbacks of horrible images, well, that doesn’t make it good, but it makes it right, because it is true.
What does it say about us that the soundtrack of our lives is so inexorably screwed up, scratched, flawed, and ruined? It says that we, too, are imperfect for loving this far from perfect team, but we knew that already. Maybe it says that we’re just a bunch of gullible marks for continuing to tap our toes to a broken record, and that’s fair. Perhaps we’re insane, because there’s that old definition about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, and yet there we were in the spring, dropping the needle into side one track one and here we are now in the fall listening to the broken record skip, skip, skip again.
Or maybe we’re the hopeful, maybe we’re the rock n roll heroes who see the dream come true. Maybe one day everything changes and we finally get to hear the melodic chords and understand what this whole thing was all about. Maybe.
Unfortunately, the only way we’ll find out is to keep listening to this broken record week after week, year after year, over, and over, and over.