Friday, September 05, 2008

Musical Chairs: Girl Talk and the 2006-07 Golden State Warriors

[This is the first in what I hope to be regular comparison series of sports teams and musical artists.]

I wrote briefly about the Warriors when they toppled the heavily favored Dallas Mavericks in last year's NBA playoffs. To me and many others, they were the most exciting team in the playoffs and one of the most entertaining teams to watch in a long while. They (and, to a lesser degree, the Suns) breathed life into a boring league, reinvigorated a great NBA city and were simply a great sports story.

I've also written about one Gregg Gillis (Girl Talk) at length. His album, Night Ripper, remains one of my most heavily played records - with play counts for a majority of the tracks nearing the 30s in less than a year. With his new offering, Feed The Animals dropping yesterday online and proving itself to be a worthy successor, I thought "what sports team resembles Girl Talk?" and, as you can tell from the opener, I believe it is the Warriors.

The History

It is difficult for many to call what Girl Talk does as music - at least in the traditional sense of the word. Sure, he arranges sounds in a pleasing way, but the way he does it - sewing together bits and pieces of hip-hop, pop and anything other music he sees fit - leads many to say "what's the big deal? I could do that."

Over four full-lengths and six-ish years, Girl Talk has managed to get to the top of the mashup DJ mountain. His albums are intricate, deep and far-reaching. His records feature hundreds of samples that go as soon as they come - half the fun of a Girl Talk records can be playing "guess the sample."

The 2006-07 Warriors offense (and team philosophy overall) can be described as free-wheeling, high-octane, run-and-gun and a myriad of other sports buzz phrases. They were one of the highest scoring teams in the league at nearly 107 points per game. They needed a do-or-die winning streak to sneak into the playoffs on the last day of the season at 42-40. They were matched up against one of the best regular season teams ever - the 67 win Dallas Mavericks, armed with MVP Dirk Nowitzki.

The deck was stacked against the Warriors to win - they were too small, too soft, too flawed to beat the Mavs. But something happened - the Mavs bowed to the Warriors style. After all, this Warrior team had beaten them twice in the regular season and had former Mavs coach Don Nelson at the helm. By going with a smaller lineup and trying to out gun the Warriors, the Mavs were doomed from the start. Six games later, the Warriors bested the Mavs and advanced to the West semifinals, only to fall to the Jazz in five games.

The parallels

There is something beautiful about something which is fatally flawed and succeeding. It's the underdog story with a twist: you just know, deep down, that it's going to fail. You are just waiting to see when and how. Girl Talk and the Warriors share this trait.

As wonderful as it was to watch the Warriors play basketball - jacking up deep threes four seconds into the shot clock, swarming a player in an attempt to get a steal and an easy lay-up on the other end and racking up pinball-like scores - you just knew they couldn't win forever that way. Someone was going to stop them - probably themselves.

Girl Talk operates on the same principal. His music is only as relevant as the source material. Sure, that bass line from "Cannonball" is awesome, but what about that Purple Ribbon All-Stars rhyme? The criticism always lobbed at Gillis is that his records are "fun" - not necessarily "good" and won't stand the test of time.

The reason these two are so great is also the reason why they're so bad. The Warriors had no chance at the NBA title because of the style they played. But they also only beat the number one seed because of that same style. Similarly, Gillis has garnered a huge cult (and more and more mainstream) following because of his straight-up fun and clever dance music. Will he sell a million records or get the number one Billboard single? No way in hell. Will he even make enough money to keep doing this, as what he does is maybe-sorta illegal? I don't know. His music is based on unlicensed (illegal) samples and thus, if he ever achieved gigantic success, the original artists lawyer's could come calling.

Both got where they were/are because of a particular style. The thing is, that style has a ceiling.

Going deeper

A basketball phrase that can be attributed to the Warriors is "the only bad shot is the one that doesn't go in." Shoot with 20 seconds left on the shot clock? Sure, as long as you make it. Take 100 shots a game? Why not, as long as 50 go in. Fade away three with someone in your face? If you can make it, do it. They go against every fundamental players are taught in rec basketball.

This is the diabolical genius of the Warriors. Nelson saw what he had - a ton of scorers and quick slashers who all had range at nearly every position and little size/rebounding - and said "Screw it, I'm playing my way." Centers shooting threes, triple teaming opposing guards to get a steal and causing absolute chaos on the court. I just imagine opposing coaches going to bed that night after losing to the Warriors 120-110 screaming in a cold sweat, seeing three after three drop in his dreams.

Listening to a Girl Talk album for the first time can be a similar experience. There's a flurry of familiar sounds flying at you from all angles. "'Jesse's Girl?!' 'Tiny Dancer!' The Cure? Biggy? 'Soulja Boy?!' What is this?!" It can be a dizzying, insane ride. Feed The Animals has over 300 samples crammed into it's less than an hour runtime. Sounds like a record coach Nelson could be proud of.

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