Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Golden Years (Andrea Pirlo's One Man War Against Information Overload)

Even before he dished out a supremely understated lesson in how to deconstruct  a vaguely spirited yet laughably ill equipped England side last Sunday night, watching Andrea Pirlo – the concept as much as the man, the spectacle as much as the footballer – was already my personal highlight of Euro 2012 so far.

No one should need to qualify such a statement. This is a man, after all, whose almost foppish physical nonchalance is complemented by what seems like a cybernetically inclined ability to initiate attacks from his own half, the kind of player who imbues the fundamental simplicity of football as form with an aching beauty. Much has been made of England's bizarre inability to quickly close down and pressurize a thirty three year old deep lying playmaker who, despite the renowned majesty of his technique, has never been blessed with the most scintillating pace. Any pace at all, actually. We should have shut him down. We should have pressed higher up the pitch, packed the midfield, marked the potential recipients of those arcing, crystalline passes out of the game. Of course, any or all of these analyses are fundamentally wrongheaded, tacitly peddling, as they do, the flawed logic that Pirlo is a player who exists as a product of contemporaneity.

Lets get this straight: Pirlo looks as if he could rock up to a party in pastel slacks and loafers without socks and not look like a cunt. In my minds eye, he's the footballing equivalent of what those hypnagogic dullards are failing to capture, a manifestation of, simpler, intangible, scarier times in another world that never actually existed. His very presence amongst the dispiriting bipolarity of modern footballing avarice, from the sexless, defeatist realism of Laurent Blanc's cowardly tactical implosion against Spain to the World and European champions oddly dissociated robo-posession-paranoia, Pirlo is a sort of one man reclamation mission, like some dimension hopping spook charged by Calcio's equivalent of John Connor to travel back in time and battle against all the odds to stymie the inexorable rise of the machines.

He's pure fantasy, is Pirlo. He is, essentially, unreal. This might be a generational thing on my part. I'm one of the last of our kind who will remember what life was like before all the digitalized hyperinfo, before the acute consumption anxieties fostered by large scale cultural dematerialization. You have no idea how obsessed with this actuality I am. I'm often crippled by it, rendered anhedonic for hours on end, pressing refresh with the same mixture of perverse relish and apocalyptic fear that grips the adherents of Opus Dei as they flagellate the absolute fuck out of themselves for the big man upstairs. At least those that come after us can bathe in the excusable ignorance of their arbitrary birth dates, while those who came before us were able to live out their wildest years with something approaching an organic sense of temporality. If you thought time flew then, imagine what happens to a persons sense of self when, having had just over a decade to adjust to the then prevalent speed at which culture is produced and disseminated, corporate communication technology smashes every one of those preconceptions to pieces amidst the onset of the cyber-steam age. And you end up so completely free, so utterly unburdened that you come out the other side incalculably panic-stricken, terrified that you will end your days without having been able to consume all this shit, all of which sounds incredible.

You will die.

You won't hear/read/see it all.

So, instead, you patch together curious fictions from the data rubble, junkyard excavations of inner space that eventually arrive at a kind of constantly fragmenting, transitory mode of radical culture, one that encompasses the actually pretty bloody Deluzian maximalism of, say, Rustie as much as it did the self publishing CD-R and cassette boom of the 2000's. Which is paradoxical, really. The hand crafted, individually numbered totems that spewed out of Vermont and Detroit, Glasgow and Newcastle and a million other outposts of that free folk/noise nexus thing were meant to be a bulwark against dematerialization. Most of these groups still despise the download culture. But the fact remains that the majority of their admirers, whether through laziness, economic hardship or opposition to the notion of intellectual property and subcultural product as artefact, did download their stuff. This dichotomy was hardwired into the very ethos of these groups though, folk like Sunburned Hand Of The Man or early Charalambides, to name but two ostensibly pretty divergent examples. In bypassing the traditional clidhes of the clapped out MOJO humping linearity of musical history and repositioning figures from the margins of mainstream culture (John Fahey and Albert Ayler and Harry Smith in particular) as transformative reference points, they had been prefiguring the collapse of conventional material temporality that the advent of web 2.0, like some gauche, steroid loaded nutjob took a blowtorch to. No one escapes this shit. Not really. We are attempting to map entirely unnanvigated virtual terrain and anyone who reckons they know what's really happening is a straight up fucking snake oil salesman. So we create our own fictions, we recalibrate our own backstories and try and grasp at something vaguely profound pre-sleep. 

 Sorry. This is meant to be about Andrea Pirlo. And it honestly still is. 

There he is right now, pootering around somewhere between the empirical psyches and collective unconsciousness of a the pre/post internet generation. Probably in a Ferrari Daytona. And I know how he fits into my particular fictionalized backstory, why watching him spray a football about still seems important to me. The first game that I can actually remember attending is now a veritable historic curiosity in itself. It was the tale end of the 1992/93 season and the first match in which me and Dad were ensconced in the Platt Lane “Family Stand” of Maine Road, as opposed to the womblike, piss encrusted and utterly threatening environs of The Kippax. Manchester City and Wimbledon played out a harrowingly functional, meaningless end of season 1-1 draw, with Rick Holden scuffing one in off his baws' for us at the death. This might have been the inaugural season of the Premier League, but English football for your average bottom to mid table top flight side was still fundamentally agricultural in its execution, a percentage game of risk minimization and based around a defiantly uncontinental predeliction for attrition that was a pretty accurate reflection of the rampant xenophobia that still riddled the old terraces. Maine Road itself was perhaps the most endearing, beautiful shithole that I have ever laid eyes on. A bizarre melange of several architectural failures, somehow pasted together by deluded chairman Peter Swales inbetween televised, proto-Brentian carcrashes, we were knee deep in a Moss Side, engulfed in the immediate aftermath of one of the worst periods of gang warfare Britain has ever seen, my overwhelming memories of my early years as a City supporter tend to manifest themselves nasally: horse shit, flat lager, soggy chips and piss (always piss). 

This was the footballing culture that I had been born into. Everything was falling apart, rackety as fuck. Nothing had been painted for time. Remember that shit about temporality and cassettes and that, that stuff I was banging on about before? Well this is a bit like that. Its hard to explain to anyone born after 1990 quite how intertwined football and class still were – or at least felt – back then. As football supporters, we were still licking our wounds from the last round of top-down class war executed by the state against the post-industrial regions, of which football had formed an integral battleground. English football could barely be described as an industry when Hillsborough struck. Sure, some clubs made money, some made rather a lot of money, but 96 people might have had a chance of coming home that day if football supporter wasn't just another euphemism for how much economic leverage a person had, for whether or not they were to be herded like disposable cattle into plainly unsafe environments and (un)policed to their deaths. We sure as fuck werent “consumers” then. No one went to any great lengths to ensure that our “match day experience” was enhanced. In this light, its perhaps easier to understand why the majority of less glamorous English clubs retreated into the stultifying comfort of the long ball game, the big fat anti-corporate fuck you kick-and-rush reflex still practiced today – albeit with genuine sports science and gluttonous pro-zone analysis - with admirable gumption by the likes of Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce. 

(Sorry. This is definitely about Andrea Pirlo. I promise) 

Into this sporting equivalent of national class based self harm blazed Channel 4's Gazzetta Football Italia in 1992, followed two years later by the first truly post-Fordist World Cup: USA 94. The latter, often derided by the purists, was the first World Cup that I can remember with any vividness. The outrageously bright transatlantic satellite feeds forever rendering the genius of Georghi Hagi and Hristo Stoichkov, the Cracked Actor era Maradonna gurn and the pathalogically pugnacious tight-spot squirm of Romario into scintillating memory bank keepers. But above all I remember Franco Baresi and Roberto Baggio. The all consuming totality of the twin tragedy at the heart of the Azzuri's penalty kicks capitulation to the most functional Brazil side in living memory remains a blight on my youth. Even at such a tender age, and possibly because of my upbringing as a fourth generation football supporter, I was, and remain, obsessed by the concept of masculinity. I'm unhealthily attracted to artistic depictions of men whose presuppositions and hopes are collapsing all around them, from Bigwig in Watership Down to the new Bill Orcutt record. Just one of those things I guess. Baresi's insanely heroic performance in the final and his complete emotional implosion as the ultimate prize gradually slipped away from the finest defender of his generation probably sealed the deal on this lifelong obsession. 

Keith Morris of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks once described his first encounter with punk rock as “like a fucking comet hitting the planet... I had never heard or seen anything like it”, which neatly sums up the insanely exotic allure of one game and one highlights package a week streamed straight into our living rooms from a country that could then quite comfortably claim to have the best league in the world. In 1993 Gazzetta Football Italia seemed like sci-fi. Having been served up the turgid dunderheadedness of a Fitzroy Simpson, Mike Quigley and Andy Dibble for the previous years of my existence, this was an otherworldly addition to my usual Sunday evening itinerary. There was something different about the Italian game, something so much more profound and expressive than what our season ticket treated us to on a weekly basis. At least thats how it seemed back then. Everything feels monumental when you're 8 years old. Even the minor teams, the Padova's, Reggiana's and Chievo's of this world, seemed to have a playmaker. Someone who could make time for himself on the ball. Someone who didn't shirk under pressure. Someone who slowed the game down. Someone patient.

Someone exactly like Andrea Pirlo, then. The possibility of witnessing the birth of a future mythology in real time is one of the few elements of unpredictability in modern football that international tournaments serve to enhance. My aforementioned preoccupations with the inherent tragedy of conventional masculinities often leads me to pay especially close attention to those players who know this might be their last tournament, their final chance to etch a legend. I make no apologies for this romantic filleting. Zidane's magnificently original chest-butt represents the apex of this tradition, for the true legend in the making must be prepared to do things on their own terms, to never sell out or play the game by someone else’s rules. Like Zidane was then, Pirlo is currently possessed of an inescapable air of pathos, a sense that every pass might be his last. The modern day obsession for absurd slo-mo hi definition reaction shots of players has only heightened his existential appeal, the total freedom he attains with every calculated ball into his front men, each beguiling slip down the line to his supporting fullbacks representing a man fundamentally out of sync with modernity. And therein lies his real heroism. I don't buy into the argument that Vicente Del Bosque's all conquering Spanish side have become particularly boring to watch (that fault lies in the adventurousness or otherwise of the opposition they face), but it appears self evident that they are a by-product of information overload, obsessive hoarders of possession like so many MP3's on an external hard drive, terrified to give the ball away, to let go, they are the ultimate multitaskers, resting as they work, working when they rest.

But Pirlo! Pirlo plays Slow Football. Reflective football. Finding time, appreciating space and the moments between actions. Coincidentally, the new LP by Trapist arrived on my door step just days before Italy's first game in the group stages. As its title suggests, The Golden Years shimmers throughout with a luminous sense of unravelling time and space. Its dedication to patience in an age of maximalism is the key entry point to its multiple modes of emotional interrogation – in parts it is truly, glisteningly beautiful. Tentative gestures, notes left hanging in the air pensively. Its magnificently sad in places, moments of up front noise and textured caterwauls are often immediately paired back to a regretful, almost embarrassed minor key supplication. It often retreats into near silence, a powerful expression of introspection in an age of hyperinformation.

I reckon Andrea would probably dig it.


  1. Is it because Pirlo can exist as a concept as well as a man? As an archetypal playmaker as well as a physical one that resonates with a culture of material deconstruction? Dead good this.

  2. Brilliant stuff, although I am not English and not born into speak for my heart. Maybe the love of the 10 is the connection between fottball and philosophy...I guess. I will have to think on what your said. Keep on!

  3. delirious, all over the place, best thing i read all year. (and i am a huge trapist fan)

  4. Excellent! I like it from my heart. Keep up the good work.
    - Vinnie

  5. The only thing missing is a reference to his Alexandre Dumas inspired look, an embodiment of "Porthos, Athos and Aramis" a man who plays the game the way he looks, stylishly, nonchalantly and effortlessly. Like Andrea himself you Sir have a flair.
    Peace and Fucking, believe