I Was Dressed For Success (But Success It Never Comes)
By James Young, writing from Belo Horizonte
Editor’s Note: Before you start reading, put this on.
There’s not much corn in Belo Horizonte. But there are a lot of bars. More bars per head, in fact, than anywhere else in Brazil, so they say. So with apologies to Kevin Costner, I heard the voice, not above the wind whispering through the wheat, but over the slightly less bucolic sound of clinking bottles and boozy blether.
If you build it, they will come.
A little background information:
Stephen Malkmus (born Santa Monica, 1966) is a rock Debussy, the former front man, songwriter, and arch musical stylist of 1990s alternative guitar heroes Pavement. Cynical about the fripperies of success and music business chicanery, a disillusioned and unhappy Malkmus killed off Pavement in 1999. Revitalized, he is now doing his own peerless thing with the shy, retiring, and quite marvelous Jicks. The band played in Belo Horizonte this April just past.
Ronaldinho Gáucho (born Porto Alegre, 1980) is a World Cup winner and two time FIFA World Player of The Year, considered one of the most talented footballers of his generation. Following his glory days at Barcelona, Ronaldinho’s career seemed to be on a downward spiral, and he spent 2011 in a dazed and confused state at Flamengo. Things reached a nadir when video footage showed the star playing creaky floorboards at a training camp hotel, in search of the pleasures of the night. Since then, Mr. Gáucho has been miraculously reborn with Atlético Mineiro, a club famous for (a) its hordes of fanatical fans and (b) not winning much. Atlético is currently rampaging its way through the Libertadores, transformed, with the help of Ronaldinho, from rank outsiders to hot favorites to lift South America’s biggest trophy.
Clearly, brothers from different mothers, as they say in Brazil. And what’s this, lurking amongst Malkmus’s interview clippings? “I support Hull City, actually. It’s Hull City or die!” And this? “Like Mark E. Smith, I know City is the team to support in Manchester.”
Malkmus likes football!
If you build it, they will come.
In the weeks leading up to the show, the vision, suffused with a soft, dreamy light, comes back to meagain and again. I will take Malkmus and The Jicks to see Ronaldinho and Atlético play at the Independência! Malkmus will leap from his seat to scream obscenities at the referee! Joanna Jick will punch the air as Ronaldinho performs his dizzying footballing pyrotechnics! Afterwards, the band will meet Ronaldinho for photos, and Malkmus will juggle (badly) with the ball! A guitar will appear, and Ronaldinho will ape the guitar solo from “The Hexx” (my favorite Pavement song)! At the show, later that night, Malkmus will tell the audience about his day at Galo! He will mention his new friend (me)! The Jicks will break into the Atlético anthem! Vencer, vencer, vencer, este é o nosso ideal…
If you build it, they will definitely, 100%, come.
I email George at The Howler magazine. I tell George I have an idea. That it’s ridiculous. That it will never work. But that I can’t stop thinking about it.
“It is ridiculous. And it will never work. But I love it,” says George. “Let’s try!”
I decide that I love George at The Howler, just a little.
I email Nils at Matador Records, Malkmus’s label. I tell Nils I have an idea. That it’s ridiculous. That it will never work. But that I can’t stop thinking about it, and neither can George at The Howler.
“I love it,” says Nils, “and I know Stephen and the band will too! Awesome idea!”
I can’t decide who I love more, George at The Howler, or Nils at Matador.
Next: Galo and Ronaldinho. I call Domenico in the Atlético press office. I explain who Stephen Malkmus is. There is a long silence. American alternative rock heroes are not always well known in Brazil. Finally, the answer comes. “Ronaldinho will be tricky. But let me think about it.”
Let me think about it! It’s going to happen! Kevin Costner was right! If you build it, they really will come!
But I’m forgetting something. This is football. And while we remember the trophies thrust skywards, the ragged laps of honor, only a few are so lucky. The vast majority of football stories are about defeat and disappointment. I’ve stood witness to eight relegation campaigns in my short life (including the anti-heroes of this story, Atlético Mineiro, in 2005). As the song goes, “tristeza não tem fim, felicidade sim.” Sadness has no end, but happiness sure as hell does.
The day Malkmus and The Jicks are in town will be the first leg of the semi-final of the local Campeonato Mineiro. Atlético and Ronaldinho have already qualified. But the opposition and venue are still to be decided. If the stars’ tennis balls fall the right way, the first leg will be in Belo Horizonte. If they don’t, Atlético will play far from the city, deep in the interior of Minas Gerais.
The tennis balls fall where they usually fall. In entirely the wrong place. On the weekend of the show, Atlético plays in Tombos, 370km from Belo Horizonte. With more important Libertadores games coming up, Ronaldinho is rested.
You can try and build it all you want, but they still bloody won’t come.
Sadly, I tell George at The Howler and Nils. Both express their condolences, though George at The Howler no longer return my calls (he does, actually. Just shooting for a little (melo)dramatic effect).
Which is where our story ends. Except that just as football inevitably brings great cartloads of disappointment, it also has a remarkable knack of sustaining hope. Next time, I know, it’ll be different.
Next time, they really will come.
James Young is a writer based in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. His work has been featured in the Independent, the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and more. Follow him on Twitter at @seeadarkness. Comments below please.
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