#6: what exactly is home(town)?

I’m currently listening to Eddie Vedder’s Ukelele Songs. This is strange because I don’t like Pearl Jam, but I felt compelled to listen by the notion of Eddie writing an entire album on a ukelele. Here’s what I think: I might go back and start listening to some Pearl Jam albums to see if there’s something I missed that didn’t involve their singles. Random note of no importance: Yesterday I located a number of videos on YouTube’s of songs I highly enjoy, and G. said about The Breeders’ “Cannonball”: ‘I think I could listen to this song all day,’ which I kind of agree with, and I was like, ‘So, this is the MSG of songs?’ It’s a step above ear worm or something.

It is strange to think of ‘going back’ to listen to Pearl Jam albums as if they are a destination, not just a collection of songs that I have long ignored because I’ve never enjoyed anything I’ve heard from them on the radio and / or MTV. Even in present day, when access to almost any band or song is available, I have felt no desire. It’s probably even stranger considering that the band I most dislike out of modern day music or however one wishes to describe bands / musicians originating sometime in the late 80s / early 90s (what is with all the goddamn ‘/’ things?)–essentially, how I want to describe bands that came about when I began to start exploring my own taste in music–is Radiohead and yet I own almost their entire catalog. This has to do with a previous need to find a way to like them so that I could feel better about my musical taste, a desire to understand just what the fuck people think is so brilliant, as well as, I don’t know, a loss of self-worth when I continue to think to myself, ‘Man, this is shit. Fuck you, Thom Yorke.’ I really feel like I’m wrong and should have better music ears or something, but that’s what I think. Anyway, somehow Pearl Jam has actually fielded a place lower than Radiohead and the only thing now that I have with any relation to said band is this ukelele album, with which I’m completely fascinated .

Oh, right, stay on topic: albums = destination. Well, whatever.

If you think about anything for a long enough time, it becomes fucking weird. Consider the sport of [American] football: there’s this strange shaped ball that gets handed, tossed, or passed to players who then attempt to move it forward inside specific zones while other people try to prevent that movement from happening. The field is 100 yards long. There are four downs. You can ‘reset’ the downs by moving the ball at least 10 yards. You can score 1, 2, 3, or 6 points, depending on the play. It’s weird. Not as strange as Australian Rules Football, but that is its own special category of awesome. In football, you have various levels of fandom, almost always determined by one’s location or by one’s parents who elected to be a fan by way of their previous locale or something. There are always random fans, but much of sport is based entirely on a devotion to a place, not so much a team. When it comes to college football, I chose my team randomly, apparently, and, yet, my pick of Michigan over the family’s Penn State was  made possible by the fact that we lived within the Michigan televising area so I was able to watch games and determine that their helmets were the coolest ever. My point is, often when I’m asked where I’m from, I respond with ‘Pittsburgh,’ partly because I lived there for a few years when I was a little kid, but mostly because I cheer for the Steelers, the Penguins, and the Pirates (as sad as that may be). In my head, being a fan of those teams, as well as having lived there briefly, makes Pittsburgh my home town, yet I didn’t, in any substantial way, grow up there. We moved away when I was five; I liked sports, but I don’t remember having favorites. However, my dad rooted for the Steelers, so I did. He could have just as easily been a Buffalo Bills fan, since that was the closest team to where he grew up, but he wasn’t; if he had been, though, would my entire perspective on where I’m from be different? I’d be a Bills and Sabres fan, with baseball and basketball being wildcards. Would I associate myself with Buffalo or are my hometown leanings derived both from sports and from having lived in the city of Pittsburgh?

There are a number of complexities to this, though: I currently reside in Northeast Ohio, the home of Browns and Ohio State Buckeyes fans. In such a place, it is easy for me to begin to dig trenches around my teams and, thus, my ‘place.’ Pittsburgh and Ann Arbor become  places of ‘other’ in which my notion of self and history and home starts to materialize, despite the fact that I have lived most of my years in northwest Pennsylvania and the second longest tenure of area is right here in NEO. Second, I have had no NBA home team. The Cavaliers morphed into my ‘home’ team, simply because they were, in fact, the home team. I rooted for them, for LeBron, yelled about Mike Brown’s playoff coaching, despaired when LeBron threw in the towel during the Boston series, sat dumbfounded when he left, and cheer vehemently against the Heat. Third, I got married, and she loves the Indians, so I have been watching many Indians games, going to games, cheering for them, finding happiness in their stellar start to this season, even buying two hats and a t-shirt. I have justified this turn of events by saying that she has to cheer for the Pirates, but it’s kind of empty simply because the Pirates aren’t on television around here. The idea of cheering is far more abstract when it is just looking up the score. I mean, she does cheer for them to win when checking those scores, but it is still more of an abstract way of going about it. These are strange things to consider for me because there are two clearly developing sides: Pittsburgh and Cleveland, although, “Pittsburgh” also includes “Ann Arbor,” as it were.

Most importantly, though, in all of this, is the fact that I don’t ever seem to consider the small town in Pennsylvania that I lived in for most of my life as my home town. I consider the house my parents live in to be ‘home,’ but not the town itself. I feel that it should receive more credit than it does, yet my thoughts as a teenager were always about how much I disliked it–the smallness, the small-mindedness, etc., etc., etc., the typical dismays displayed by a hormonal and bored teenager who thinks the world is so much better ‘out there.’ I have much stronger connection, in terms of memories and growth and history and everything, than I do with Pittsburgh, but the desire to escape it overshadows my own history within it. And, here, now, I’m confronted with something similar as G. and I are looking to escape Ohio to head down to SEC / ACC country where the seasons are warmer, and I wonder how much of NEO I will take with me, how much Pittsburgh, how much small town, how much adaptation will begin, how much the new place will be home.

I’m not sure it is possible, or if there is a need, to reconcile these things. I honestly think the idea of home would be much easier if I didn’t like sports, or if I hadn’t long ago defined history in part by the teams I cheered for–but, really, that’s not even possible, because no matter who you root for, it becomes part of your history; I mean, in a brief and generic psychoanalysis of LeBron, it is easy to actually see why he chose to go to Miami to play with Wade and Bosh: his favorite sports teams were the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, and the Chicago Bulls. His NEO roots were not set in the sport franchises; they were set by his family and friends. Without such sports fandom, then, it should be no surprise that what he chose was not a city but his friends. His home isn’t Cleveland, OH; it is, generically, Akron, OH, and more importantly, his family and friends–and those he either brought with him or met up with in Miami. My guess is, if he had grown up a Cleveland sports fan, he would have better understood the impact of his leaving, but because he chose to root for teams because of their success or star power or some combination, the history of Cleveland sports was something he knew but not something he could feel. The things he felt about sports were based in the celebrity of those teams. It is easy to criticize him for being a bandwagon fan or something along those lines, but what did he, as a youth, owe Cleveland sports teams? The Cavs either lost to the Bulls or were terrible; the Indians were up and down; and the Browns, well, they were the Browns. What do I owe the Pirates? They’re terrible and have been for more than half of my life. If it wasn’t for the idea of loyalty to the city of Pittsburgh, created out of this strange confluence of living there, having a parent who rooted for the city’s sports teams, and a desire to maintain a ‘true’ fan status, there would be no reason to cheer for them. What has happened is that we, as sports fans, associate a sports team to a home town to a sense of loyalty to a sense of moral character. If I were to suddenly say, I give up on the Pirates and I will root for the Red Sox, I would be a turncoat, a poor fan, a man without a backbone, a person without morals who sells out for the cheap win, and the only reason that occurs is because we identify person and hometown as this interconnected being determined by nothing more than chance.

Which, obviously, brings me to Eddie Vedder. What I respect, for no apparent reason, is his decision to take a risk and write a bunch of ukelele songs. It seems, in my vague and generic picture of the dude, to run counter to who he is or was. But now I’m wondering if I have been wrong all along, or if, maybe, Eddie is just more comfortable with who he is than I am, and that me asking these questions about hometown has to do with questioning who I was, who I am, and who I am becoming. It seems pretty strange to think of myself as someone who wears an Indians hat and roars with happiness when I get to see, in person, Carlos Santana hit a walk-off grand slam, just as I’m sure it had to be weird, in some part of Eddie’s head, to pick up a ukelele and start writing songs. But I bet it also felt kind of natural.

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