A Funeral For Geese

A Funeral For Geese Brian September 23rd, 2019 at 12:48 PM
[Bryan Fuller]

9/21/2019 – Michigan 14, Wisconsin 35 – 2-1, 0-1 Big Ten

The End of the Tour, a movie about Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky glomming on to David Foster Wallace at the end of his Infinite Jest book tour, is immediately good. The first sensory experience the movie gives you is the ultra-deep cut instrumental from REM's Automatic For the People:

This is a song with no oboes in it that sounds like nothing but oboes. It is weird, lilting, and mournful, a funeral for geese. The opening scene of the movie is Lipsky getting a call from someone trying to confirm a rumor that Wallace has committed suicide, because Lipsky once spent a few days on the road with him.

Wallace has. Lipsky goes through his tapes.

[After THE JUMP: marshmallows!]

The rest of the movie is a flashback to those few days on the road. Two highbrow white guys talk to each other about stuff. Mostly about how they are precarious and alone, the guy with the critic-melting novel and the other guy with a novel who also writes for Rolling Stone. Sometimes they bluff. The introduction of a woman, any woman, is cause for a tiff. Jason Segel, the guy who's inserted by default as Affable Stoner in every Judd Apatow movie, plays DFW.

I know, okay? I know. It sat in our Netflix queue for months, looming, more a threat than a promise. But you watch it for a bit and questions surface. Questions like:

  • How did this get made?
  • How is it good?
  • When will my wife stop watching it?

At press time answers were not available for any of these questions, and only the third has even the distant prospect of resolution. I played two seconds of "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1" to confirm it was indeed the song used and she popped her head out of the office. "Ooh," I project she thought.

But anyway because of your living situation this thing has been on a lot. And when you're a guy who writes about Michigan the aftermath-of-spirit-crushing defeat mine has been well and truly depleted. Do you want chipper ha-ha that was weird? Done. Talking people off the ledge? Done. Outright nihilism? Done. Columns about buying a mattress? Done.

So when it's time to write something about a game that Michigan spiritually lost 35-0 after being favored by a touchdown preseason the goose funeral music follows you around. It is my theory that I can get it to stop following me around by loosing it on you, the reader.


In the aftermath of Wallace's demise there are two great unfortunate things. The first is the relegation of Infinite Jest into the category of intellectual bro-novel that sites like The Toast use as a stand-in for a particular sort of bearded quasi-intellectual who is the seething insecurity the End of the Tour protagonists are enduring minus any offsets like having a face-melting novel or writing for Rolling Stone.

I dunno, I wasn't a woman on a train in Brooklyn in 2013. I'm sure if I'd been subject to hordes of slavering women trying to butter me up with copies of Beloved I'd be pretty negative about Beloved. But this would not make Beloved any less of a banger, as the kids say. IJ's status is increasingly as a punchline in an unfunny joke about the patriarchy of hipster dudebros, and that sucks.

This is painful to me for many reasons. Foremost amongst them is that it says a bunch of things I think everyone should take to heart about entertaining themselves to death. The title is literal: the book weaves back and forth in time and ends abruptly, seemingly unfinished. It was only after I'd gone back to the beginning to try to piece together some plot points that I realized I was re-reading the thing. It was a loop, a literally infinite jest.

The second unfortunate thing is the Hallmark-ization of Wallace's commencement speech to Kenyon College. Titled "This Is Water," it became a minor sensation and became the kind of small book you give to someone at a juncture when they are getting all the small books. The way the thing is discussed is the opposite of ASMR. Your skin crawls backwards into the primordial ooze:

This is Water by David Foster Wallace (Full Transcript and Audio)

David Foster Wallace‘s 2005 commencement speech to the graduating class at Kenyon College, is a timeless trove of wisdom — right up there with Hunter Thompson on finding your purpose and living a meaningful life.

I feel like I shouldn't have to explain this? But I have to anyway? Holy hopping death, following up "a timeless trove of wisdom" with a link to "Hunter Thompson," no S, on finding your purpose: both of these people murdered themselves and now I know why. It's you, FS dot blog. You did it. Give Thompson his S back.

Despite this, the Kenyon college speech is also good. Its key passage is Wallace envisioning a dreary trip to a mausoleum of a supermarket as part of another routinely long day. There are traffic and lines. This doesn't resonate with my personal experience of shopping, in which I take DRC to Busch's and people there recognize us and he attempts to push the cart at supersonic velocities while cleaning the place out of marshmallows. There one specific domain, however, in which the mental state he describes does apply:

… the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

I can't tell you I'm any good at shaping my attention in this regard. Offseason projects to walk more and drink less have been drilled between the eyes just three games in. But if there is a way out it's probably through that door.



[Patrick Barron]

The nice thing about a game like Saturday's is that you blaze through the Kubler-Ross stages in a half and are left at acceptance. (Maybe you're still in depression.) This is probably it for the foreseeable future. It's not what we hoped for when Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh and his astonishing track record.

Instead: this. Michigan's SP+ rankings under Harbaugh: 10, 6, 13, 10. Michigan's currently 26 and sinking like a brick. Prior to this year that's remarkably consistent in the face of some difficulties like not having any quarterbacks. It's not what it needs to be for Michigan to be a consistent challenger to Ohio State. It's good enough to make the idea of trying to hire someone else absurd. OSU just hired a short-term coordinator with no head coaching experience; all coach hires except Urban Meyer are crapshoots.

So this is it: pretty good, sabotaged by an instability inherent in the head coach. It is not Infinite Jest's Entertainment, so appealing as to be lethal. Maybe at some point we'll turn a game on and it'll be a nice time. If it's not, oh well. It's time to adapt to the temperature of the water.


is cancelled this week; UFR will address the actual game parts. To be perfectly frank I wasn't paying the usual level of attention.

matty blue

September 23rd, 2019 at 1:45 PM ^

yes, let's talk about it some more.  let's solve it right now, but because of the urgency, we need to boil it down.  fire harbaugh.  or don't.  because reasons.

most importantly, we need to tell the team what we, in our wisdom out here in the intertubes, think they should do to fix it.  and god help them if they don't listen.

talk.  talk some more.  then talk again.

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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:19 PM ^

After we got the ball to start the second half and did nothing, I proceeded to pull my Switch out of it's dock and start playing Link's Awakening while vaguely paying attention to the football game.

It made my Saturday much more enjoyable.

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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:29 PM ^

How is Link's Awakening? I played the original years ago. I'm on the fence buying it again.

I mowed the lawn in record time, played Octopath Traveler and then went out with my wife (about an hour earlier than we originally planned). It turned into a nice Saturday afternoon.

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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:44 PM ^

It is very much the same game, which is a good thing. The game is stunning and the visuals make it look like you're playing in a diorama. They've made a lot of good quality of life improvements to the game (the sword, shield, and pegasus boots have dedicated buttons and then your two items slots so you aren't having to constantly pause to swap items), but the core game and story is the same. It's shocking how much I'm remembering as I play, like I walked into the Bottle Grotto and had a strong sense of nostalgia.

Worth the price if you ask me.

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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:22 PM ^

Eh. As the column sort-of-acknowledges, not everything is about you.

Team not so good this year. It happens.


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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:33 PM ^

On the one hand, none of us are paying for this blog (other than those of us that do the beveled guilt thing, which I have over the years), so we can't complaint.

On the other hand, if this blog is to be considered the premier Michigan sports blog on the interwebs, not writing about one of the worst, most humiliating losses of the Harbaugh era (coming shortly on the heals of perhaps the worst loss to OSU in recent history, the most humiliating bowl loss in recent history, and significant struggles over the prior two games) just seems wrong.  

There is a ton to say on this topic, and having no real analysis from this blog invites the constant snowflake-like threads that have been appearing all week.

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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:42 PM ^

I mean -- it kind of *is* about Brian?  The point of coming to MGoBlog and reading a game column is to see what this particular guy made of this particular game-type substance.  Ideally, he draws your attention to meta-type things you might not have noticed or thought of.  If you're just looking for a blow-by-blow of what happened in the game, this isn't your go-to source.

The UFRs, on the other hand, are supposed to be objective measures of what happened in the game.  I think that there are things that can be learned from that sort of study of the Wisconsin game -- e.g., the OL seemed not-so-great in real time, but does that prove true in closer analysis and, if so, why did Michigan's seemingly-good OL perform poorly in this game?  Here's hoping Brian can fight through the malaise, roll up his sleeves, and dig into the game film.  I don't envy him that task, but I sure hope he does it anyway.

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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:26 PM ^

Came for the explanation of how an experience and talent-laden offensive line, senior qb, 5-star RB, and NFL wide receivers managed to score 0 points and not even really threaten outside of one play in the first half. Stayed for the meandering musings on cinema and literature.  Five stars, would read again.

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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:27 PM ^

My youngest son had a cross country meet so I recorded the game and didnt sit down to watch it until about 4ish.  I had purposively not looked at my phone during the meet but I noticed that both my oldest sons had sent me multiple texts between about 1:30 - 2:15 real time.

Before the game even started for me I told my wife "we're going to get killed.  Chris & Evan never text with good news in-game, only bad."  Didnt take long for me to realize just HOW bad.

So i drank a couple of beers and went outside to make a bonfire.  I didnt give a shit about the game once it hit 28-0 nor did i care about any other college game that day.

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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:32 PM ^

Your last point there is actually what is becoming the most bothersome for me right now.  I used to like college football, generally.  Now my ability to watch and enjoy college football is intrinsically related to what is happening with Michigan.  I wanted to watch Notre Dame v. Georgia on Saturday before the Michigan game.  I did not care about it by 2:00 PM and didn't watch another down of football the entire day.

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The Fugitive

September 23rd, 2019 at 1:28 PM ^

I shut the game off to go golfing knowing full well it was going to pour on us. It did and that was infinitely better than sitting inside and watching Wisconsin bash their brains in.

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Trader Jack

September 23rd, 2019 at 1:32 PM ^

You're a great writer, Brian. Thanks for spending so much of your time, effort, and creativity covering a program that, frankly, doesn't deserve what you've given it.

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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:32 PM ^

I swear, if Michigan turns it around this column will both extremely prescient and chortle worthy.

EDIT:. I'm so confident I posted it twice.  Come at me!

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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:33 PM ^

Hard to swallow but this is it - lots of 9-3 +/- 1 win. A couple of 11-1 sprinkled in if we're lucky along with some CCGs. A 7-5 when things go sideways. Back to Lloyd and if we're being honest, back to Michigan.

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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:34 PM ^

I'm confused regarding Brain's opinion of the DFW movie. He didn't like it? But why?

I went through a period were I was equally irritated and fascinated with all things DFW. Probably because I find a lot of writing to be fantastic but a lot of the man to be less fantastic. When the man bleeds too much in the writing--I don't know what to think. And he's dead and we all know how that happened. So it feels bad to have uncharitable views of his personality.

The movie is kind of the same--irritating but interesting.

My biggest problem with the movie is that it propagates the absurd lie that DFW told about going to church dances when he was really going to rehab and AA meetings because he denied being an addict--even though his addiction is plan to see in much of his writing. I only started reading his stuff after he was dead so I have no idea if those lies were plausible when he was telling them. I don't know how anyone could read Infinite Jest and not immediately realize it was written by an addict.

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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:46 PM ^

I think he’s saying it was a good book with an important point to make but...DFW committed suicide so does that prove the point or completely undermine it?

Even if DFW was an addict aren’t we all sort of addicted to Michigan football? There’s no ‘there there’ so...time to stop expecting a new/different/better experience and turn it off. Maybe it’ll be different some day but probably not. This is real life so Onward!

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September 23rd, 2019 at 1:38 PM ^

I’m so glad I spent the day at a birthday party for my daughter’s best friend instead of watching the game. My wife said I could check my phone but when I saw it was 14-0 and then 28-0 the next time (plus all the text from friends about how everything sucked) I was done looking. My daughters and wife had a great time Saturday afternoon. And I’m happy I was there instead of in front of the TV. 

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Maximinus Thrax

September 23rd, 2019 at 1:41 PM ^

This is pretty much how I feel.  I was in A2 for the weekend and reluctantly watched the first half at the Haymaker with friends while really wanting to do other things.  The first half performance was kind of a relief.  It didn't take much convincing to get my crew to leave after that.  We took a sweaty long walk in the Arb and I think I decided to cancel my free three-week subscription to YouTube TV when it runs out Thursday.  I feel I just might be able to quit sports for a while and be just fine.  I never even considered doing this during the Rich Rod years and I am at peace with it.  Maybe I'll tune in for the Sparty game.   

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Blue Mind and Heart

September 23rd, 2019 at 1:41 PM ^

Was looking forward to this recap today after a day of self-imposed isolation from Michigan football.  I needed to revisit the scene.  To try to make sense of what is going wrong. Instead I get many, many words about why I wouldn’t understand the many, many words in Infinite Jest. 

At least the OSU “WHATEVER” column didn’t waste my time   


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