Grid Positions: A 2019 MotoGP Season Preview

You have options. Before the start of every new sporting season, dedicated fans take a step back to join casual onlookers just catching up in assessing offseason developments, visualizing the year ahead, prognosticating to pass the time. There are bland press releases to read, rehearsed transcripts to read into, social media posts to pick apart. Media sources both official and otherwise get paid to distill this pile of corporate-backed bollocks into coherent season previews with scripted narratives to follow for your benefit so you can regurgitate it to uninterested parties as the smartest, least likable person in the room when the topic of conversation finally comes around. I know what these previews will say. So do you. This is the ritual.

But there are alternatives. That’s why you’re here.

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Valentino Rossi: Now there’s something I want to show you.

A man gracefully swan-dives off Ponte Mazzini into the Tiber as streetlights flicker out to herald dawn’s arrival. A quartet of nuns scampers through the lush interior of the Angelicum. Tyrrhenian waves glisten in ideal sunlight. Perfect attire studying seafoam beneath the ship’s bridge. A vast, empty body of water and the sky above. As above, so below, this is it. This is all there is in the beginning – and in the end.

Paolo Sorrentino gently draws you into the coup de grâce of The Great Beauty, a gorgeous, messy, unapologetically indulgent two-hour-plus love letter to Rome. The film is a rumination on the city, aristocratic self-absorption and emptiness seen through the jaded but reflective eyes of gossip columnist Jep Gambardella (played with savvy by Toni Servillo) amid the orgiastic excess of these high society soirees. It’s a world you can easily lose your chronological footing in, and not just because the characters have, either – though not to the same degree as Tarkovsky’s foggy infinitudes, it’s enough to know you’re aging. It’s profoundly Italian. It’s suitably titled. I felt years pass when I watched it.

Not many days later, I left straight from work to attend the inaugural Pitchfork Midwinter Festival at the Art Institute of Chicago. In one respect, I was going for lots of answers – despite galling ticket prices, no one I talked to knew exactly how it was going to work, the nuts and bolts of it, the logistics of the thing, so how could I know if what I’d paid was a fraction of its face value? How were they going to ferry sold-out crowds in and out for separate performances? Who would be the first to drunkenly wreck an indelible work of art? Was this price structure the future of festival admission? Did I pay for a highbrow Fyre Fest of the North? Where on the Grand Staircase was Mary Lattimore supposed to play? But in another respect, I was only going for one. That is, the Chicago Philharmonic was performing William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops live.

It’s old hat for you to hear this from me, but I’ll probably die mansplaining how The Disintegration Loops is the most important work of 21st century capital-A Art. I understand it’s deeply unfashionable to say so considering he’s a white guy from New York and only barely tethered to the most critical social changes of our age, but much of the work’s appeal to me is that its mooring is as necessary as you require. You could be listening to an anonymous ambient loop or a change of pace from your YouTube lo-fi beats playlists or a thing with which you can distract yourself from deafening silence … or you could be listening to the music at the root of our (mis)understanding of the world we’ve created, the chorale in the cockpit of American Airlines Flight 11, the exploding fragmented inevitable from there, the hyperpaced content stream we can’t really escape, the louder voices and the impossible personalities and the madness and the anxiety and uncoded racism and sexual assault and late capitalism and immigration (what I’ve seen smartly argued as our most important question) and identity (the roots you discover when you pull at immigration) and the hunger and the chaos and what truth and the fear. Basinski gives you the space to consider that it’s all there if you listen. And if it could get me thinking about all that recorded, I no longer had to imagine what might happen live.

It wasn’t lost on me before I had even entered Rubloff Auditorium how fortunate I was. Last summer, I’d visited the MOMA with the express intent of seeing my favorite painting, Kazimir Malevich’s “White on White.” I’d visited once years before and somehow missed it; another time I was in New York, the painting was on loan in Paris. But there I was on a free summer Friday – basically the worst time to absorb any intricacies and contemplate humanity and feel something like the deeper emotions that a good art experience should encompass, I realize – studying the very makings of a revolution near a staircase surrounded by noisy kids and errant tourists 13 years after I’d first stumbled upon it in a London library. I don’t know how long I stood staring; maybe this site’s proprietor can tell you, I think he had to ask if I was ready to leave, I can’t remember. But I know for sure that I laughed. I might’ve been the only one who saw or heard or felt it, but I know I laughed. The absurd gesture, the canvas stretched taut as the hope of a new way of living rested jagged upon, its simplicity, the beauty of its weathered infinite promise – it was all there. Of course I laughed. Who wouldn’t?

I thought about that as the first loop came to life, a sped-up rendition of “dlp 3.” It wasn’t the one I’d been hoping for and I was distracted by the pace, but I knew that if I gave it a few minutes and got past these basic qualms with the presentation, past the exorbitant $96 or whatever it was I’d paid for this, past the guy in front of me who kept looking for the friend who was supposed to fill the vacant seat he’d saved, past appreciating the ensemble’s movements, past the stand light of the fourth-chair violin player, my mind would find the right place, the place it always went when this music came on. And sure enough, about 20 minutes in, I did, I finally found it.

Which means I got lost. I got lost thinking about how The Disintegration Loops is not a communal experience, that I have never listened to any of them “with” other people, that I couldn’t imagine doing so, that I could tell you all about it and still not translate its significance right. I thought about how I saw “White on White” on a sun-blessed summer day and The Disintegration Loops on a bitterly cold winter night. I thought about how I miss New York, even Long Island, and I wondered again how I might have turned out had my family never moved. I thought about my family, and about my mother’s older brother who’d passed away earlier that week, and about my father’s older brother who’d passed away mere weeks before that, and about funeral arrangements and how we’d sort it all out, and about the will work I have ahead of me this summer, and about lawyers and securing futures and beginning to manage my parents toward death even though I can’t even manage myself. I thought about a new apartment in a new neighborhood, but where would I even want to go? I thought about how much a cello must cost to maintain as a member of the Chicago Philharmonic, and of the sheer number of hours these people must have put into playing just to get here to play basically the same couple of notes for an hour in front of an audience that they’d otherwise probably never engage with. I thought about the people I knew who did band in high school, then the handful of people I knew who stuck with it in college. I thought about the relationships in my life: all the branches of my family and what remains of them, my friends in the city, how one of my best friends told me recently he felt like he didn’t know me and what do you say to that after 12 years? My friends in faraway states, my –

The first loop ended and the audience erupted in applause and the conductor bowed and I was found again. My eyes weren’t dry, but it could’ve been allergies. I forgot what I was thinking about. Then the orchestra thinned out, maybe half the players got up and walked off, I centered on the fourth-chair violinist’s light again because Jesus that thing was bright, and everything went still in anticipation. It didn’t take more than a quick, haphazard tuning of the instruments for me to realize that this was the one. As with “dlp 3” and given the nature of the 50-minute slot they were allotted, I couldn’t fault the Chicago Philharmonic entirely for again erring on the swift side with “dlp 1.1” – it was like listening to the Venice Biennale ’08 or Met ’11 performances on a record player at the wrong speed. But it didn’t stop me from getting lost once more. I thought about space and time and the planets and the origin scene in Tree of Life. I thought about all the books I had to read. I thought about all the work I had neglected to do. I thought about how capitalism is a broken system but still has made more people wealthier and healthier than any other form of economics in human history. I thought of “White on White” again. And Paris.

Then I thought of The Seymour Projects. I got to wondering if this was anything like that, if maybe this was the musical equivalent. Which of course got me thinking about the person who told me about The Seymour Space in Paris they’d visited. And how a few weeks before my father’s older brother died, this friend – or, no, that’s presumptuous, I don’t know what they’d say, maybe estranged not-lover or acquaintance or something more ethereal, a spiritual missed connection, waiting, defined exclusively by what isn’t rather than what is or could be – helped write this homespun production where you got two short plays in a half-hour. I wanted to see them all, but of course that wasn’t the idea; you paid for a show time and the twofer was drawn for you (theoretically, anyway) at random. My set comprised a marble-spitting mystery story and a 10-minute blindfolded meditation where “you get what you can take away yourself,” but I was encouraged to stick around and see what I could of the performances for the person after mine. This stranger after me had a World War II-themed radio operation in the first play, but in the second, from what I could ascertain behind a drawn partition, you sat at a table with this person I know looking back at you and in the middle is an egg that “absorbs and contains all of your black energy.” You’re shown a blank tarot card and there’s a hammer and some other props lying around on a bed. At the end, the egg is cracked and the energy is released. Maybe it’s a metaphor, maybe not; either way, you help clean it up.

I lingered on that, the black energy, and wondered why I can’t seem to shed mine, about why I’ve made the decisions I have over the last four years, about why I took so seriously something I shouldn’t have. I thought about why I’ve always insisted on believing all people are born Good, that we are not blank slates, white on whites, that we are born blessed and it is up to us to make Good on the promise of life we are given. I thought about what God is for, why I still insist on believing in something better, greater rather, about what happens when you feel like you’re just Bad now and you don’t know if it matters. I thought maybe I was strong enough for all of this, malleable enough to make it through the sieve of middle age’s slowly incoming creep. Then I thought, well, why should I be? What am I even doing here? I’ve seen oceans, climbed the Rockies. Drank Guinness from the Gravity Bar, known other hemispheres, took pictures of the world’s largest flag. Eaten burgers with extraordinary cheese and the finest bacon on them, drank beer no teetotaling God would ever allow to be conceived, tasted Vermont maple syrup. Made friends who wound up across the country, in other countries, doing amazing things, raising wonderful families, fostering an environment of understanding and acceptance for future generations. Literally worked my way into a career as the thing I went to school for, the function I thought I was put on this earth to execute despite its futility in the grand scheme of things. Loved (and continued to love) and been loved by more than one person I did not deserve. Been in The Wall Street Journal. Seen “White on White.” Heard The Disintegration Loops – live, even. Not to get too Doug Stanhope-on-Louis with it, but I was thinking: I’m 33 years old, Jesus, and the reason I feel empty is because I want for nothing anymore. I’ve done most everything I set out to do that’s reasonably within my grasp. I don’t give a fuck about private space travel. I don’t give a fuck about the sun exploding. I don’t give a fuck about myself. I don’t need to be here anymore, I just don’t. I’m taking up space for someone who wants it. I could withdraw a few grand a week for a few months and then, one day, just up and go away. Disappear. Burn off my fingerprints, ticket to Paris, crash in the desert aboard an unsafe plane on the transfer to N’Djamena or die of thirst on the shores of Lake Chad as my final tweet resonantly reads, “Let them wonder.” We are all of us mysteries to ourselves most of all. Yes, I was tired, I was crying, the loop was ending and I must’ve looked like a fucking wreck in the darkness because I was, yes, I was an embarrassment and I knew before it ever broke what lies beneath the shell of the egg. I knew what every color amounts to. I was sure of it then, yes, listen: I still believed in God because I no longer wanted to be bound by the borders of life.

Everything ends in the same way. Immigration and transmigration. Wavering love and loops disintegrated. Swan dives and scampering nuns. Silence and feelings. Excitement and fear. The spare, unsteady splashes of beauty. There she is, standing on the rocks, opening herself, the lighthouse of your life. Yes. An elderly saint with roots as her secret crawling toward Christ. Yes. John Tavener’s “The Lamb.” The smoke of your ribcage, the afterburn of a certain eye color, the curious weight affixed to your insides. Blah blah blah. Yes, the same way: with death.

But first, there was life.

Maverick Viñales: I know, I know, I hear you. How seriously can you take a guy whose legal name comes from the fucking nickname of a character in Top Gun? But then: After finishing the logic-defying 2016 season in fourth place overall, Maverick Viñales jumped ship from Suzuki and began his Yamaha career in Jorge Lorenzo’s place with three wins in the first five races of 2017. He was a genuine concern for Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi both. And then? Well, he faded – slowly, imperceptibly at first, to the point that no one had noticed until late in the ’17 season, when he finished third. In 2018, anyone not paying attention would have mistaken Yamaha’s situation for an evident crisis; the head engineer even came out and apologized to the team for the bike’s lack of performance at one point. Yet you take one look at the tables to find that at the end of the year, Viñales was fourth behind Rossi in the overall classification. Do the math and you’ll find both riders in the 91st percentile.

Like the 2003 M1 before Rossi took it over, Yamaha has cleverly framed the ’18 season as a resounding failure when, really, it was just a downbeat year where Honda had a better rider and Ducati had a better bike. They’ll be fine; if Phillip Island last year was any indication, Maverick’s going to be fine, too. And if they get it sorted the way they’ve been threatening throughout the preseason, 2017 won’t seem like such a long time ago.

Alex Rins: The thing I return to with Alex Rins is Valencia 2013. I can see the radiant sunshine, the packed grandstands, feel the electric thrill of the season finale from my retina-burning laptop screen in the middle of the night. While Marc Marquez would make history at the end of the day, it was the afternoon’s Moto3 opener that provided the greatest finish to a motorcycling season I’ve ever seen in real time and possibly my favorite finish to a championship since, gosh, Super Bowl XLII? Nicky Hayden at Valencia? Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez? The mind reels. It’s easy to remember the winner: Maverick Viñales, who took the race and the championship in a last-corner lunge after thousands of miles of racing to come from behind, leapfrogging two other guys in the standings at the final gasp. Luis Salom – since departed in more permanent ways – was the biggest loser, falling early amid a scrap for the lead after entering the race with the championship lead. Alex Rins, second going into the race, was the man Viñales pushed aside to snicker the title away. He finished third that day – Jonas Folger, a whole other story, snuck through to second – and seemed unnaturally composed coming off the podium in the interview I watched. Part of it was Rins’ remarkable maturity in the face of such an extraordinary disappointment – especially next to Viñales, an obvious talent who had also literally quit on his team just a year before when things weren’t going his way.

But part of it was also seeing how the killer instinct racers need manifested itself in both of these kids. Alex has taken it as steady since as he did then – he finished third in 2014, then moved up to Moto2 and finished second and third overall in 2015 and ’16 before graduating to the factory Suzuki team in 2017. Injuries hampered his first year in MotoGP, so we can call that one a throwaway, but he was clearly coming into his own throughout 2018 despite the presence of the mercurial Andrea Iannone haunting Suzuki’s other stall. When Hamamatsu let the latter go at the end of the year and brought in Joan Mir for 2019, the message was clear: This was Alex’s team now.

He may be just the man to lead development of this bike. He may be one of the most reliable finishers on the grid. He may be among the very fastest riders at the end of a race on worn tires and spent fuel. He may be a very smart one, too. He may be a younger Andrea Dovizioso, a professor awaiting the opportunity for tenure. Is that going to be enough? The mind reels.

Joan Mir: It’s like Antoine Doinel’s four-minute jog – or, wait, it’s more like Rusty James heeding the advice of his brother, grabbing his Kawasaki 440 LTD after hearing him get shot to death and taking off for California to find the water his brother longed to see but never quite reached. Rusty James does, though, escapes a desolate Tulsa and makes the Pacific, and the last we see of him is a silhouette pulling up to the edge of the boardwalk and parking. In both cases, anyway, the characters get where they want to go. They make it. The Motorcycle Boy Reigns. Joan Mir is The Motorcycle Boy’s Brother.

Okay, big fucking deal: You made it to the sea. You have seen the water. But you, I’ll tell you, it wasn’t anything. Take a good look around – Suzuki has maybe the fourth best bike on the grid. They’re perennially underfunded. They’re only ever going to edge closer. They’re a stop on the way up (Viñales) or down (Andrea Iannone).

So, which will it be for Joan Mir? Rumble, fish. (The mind reels.)

Andrea Iannone: You’re the climax of a Verdi opera. You are a nightblooming cereus. You’re the unraveling of a Hundred Families robe. You’re a flamboyance of flamingos. You’re the exact moment the fuel runs out in the perfect arc of a V-2. You are blue velvet. You are all the bubbles atop an elegant bath. You’re the way candlewax drips intentionally on a Victorian stand. You are Adonis, Lothario, Vitruvian, Oscar Wilde, Warren Beatty, Kanye West. You’re Atlanta as Sherman trots out. You’re Le Corbusier’s Radiant City vision of Stockholm. You’re the latest hot brunch spot, the latest cocktail everyone’s drinking, the latest Edison bulb rendition all the “events space” industry goons you know are buying. You’re a Degas or a Monet. You’re the stars that are millions of years old. You’re the dreams you project onto your children. You’re elegant ductwork exposed in a startup’s office. You are a Young Widows song.

Around this time four years ago, I scribbled a note to myself that Andrea Iannone was Marco Simoncelli’s volatile promise continued, an erratic, occasionally reckless, wonderfully unpredictable rider who could threaten to steal races away even from the most elite – and, if he ever got it fully together with some devotion to the tedious minutiae of perfecting a package, possibly even threaten for a championship. That’s over now. He faded on the factory Ducati in his second year; he faded on the factory Suzuki in his second year. He’s already settled into the provincial, self-involved attitude that pervades at Aprilia, by far the least dedicated of the factories. There are rumors he missed Sepang due to a botched plastic surgery, though Aprilia management were keen to emphasize there were no issues at Qatar. His contract runs through 2020, but I don’t know who will care when it comes time to put pen back to paper. Andrea’s fast – he was always fast, anyone can see that when he bothers to show it – but his misguided devotion makes you wonder what ugliness hides beneath that sublime skin. Because it is, it’s there somewhere, and it’s ruining him right before our very eyes.

Aleix Espargaro: Remember in the final fight of Lion Heart when Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Lyon Gaultier is lying on the floor after taking beating after beating from this hulk Attila and Joshua is begging him to stay down because Cynthia put all the money on Attila, and Lyon just kind of gives him a death stare and says, “Wrong bet”? I think Aleix Espargaro’s a lot like that, except he loses. He’s a fighter and he’s all emotion and he can’t help himself, he can’t help who he is even when the deck is stacked entirely against him; I mean, I can’t imagine any conversation with Marc Marquez about his riding technique being half as interesting as Aleix’s explanation to Mat Oxley in early February. The guy is all heart and doesn’t know how to hide it.

That doesn’t mean the Aprilia is good, or that it will get demonstrably better, even when it looked that way in Sepang and Qatar. It just means you know someone with a scrutable interior life is riding one.

Pol Espargaro: It’s easy to forget now, but there was a time when Pol Espargaro was the only viable threat to Marc Marquez. That was 2012. Like the rest of us, Pol Espargaro is now 700 years older, though his years have gone harder on him and his body. He’s like a slightly more reliable blue moon than his brother, which makes him only slightly less bright on the rare occasion he deigns to shine.

Johann Zarco: Given my position along the normal human lifespan, I’m the last guy to be emphasizing the utility of moving to an ever younger mindset – hell knows age and wisdom aren’t mutually inclusive – but Johann Zarco’s going to be 29 in July and he’s elected to spend this year developing a bike that has a lot of potential and money behind it but no useful results yet. I honestly couldn’t tell you what KTM’s best race result is without looking, and while I don’t think he’s gambled on the wrong decision for his career, that exciting moment in Qatar two years ago when he was slowly drawing away from the field before he crashed will probably remain, a fluke win on good strategy or a late-career surprise podium in the rain aside, the highlight of his time in MotoGP. Some windows are so clean, you think they’re open when they’re really closed.

Miguel Oliveira: I have no idea if Miguel Oliveira is a good person. I don’t know if he’s ever drank port. I don’t know if he’s read Fernando Pessoa or eats much fish on holiday. I don’t know how much he cares about Cristiano Ronaldo when it comes right down to it. I don’t know if he’s ever considered gambling in Macau or visiting Angola. I don’t know if he’s heard even a single song from the Príncipe label (though I seriously doubt it – and let’s be real, you probably haven’t, either). I don’t really know anything about the guy other than that he is very mild-mannered and, like Rins, very fast on a light fuel load at the end of a race when the bike starts to come to him. It’d be nice if he wasn’t an awful person. I’d be appreciative if he was as polite and considerate as he seems; it makes things easier in some ways. I get the impression that while he may not have the outright raw speed of a few others, he’s always, quietly, working on it. Everyone was blown away by Pecco Pegnaia’s one-lap pace at Sepang… ah, but Miguel might gently proffer here that it’s better to say less. You’ll see.

Hafizh Syahrin: 32 million people, 127,000 square miles, 56 years, 13 states, three federal territories, two regions, one king (or there was, anyway – did you know Sultan Muhammad V became the first Malaysian king to abdicate in early January when he stepped down two years early?). Three in every five people is Muslim. The UN says it’s #57 in the Human Development Index. The World Bank says it’s an “emerging economy.” Mount Kinabalu is the highest point in the entire archipelago. The disabled, senior citizens and public school students are entitled to free healthcare. MH370 is still missing; they called off the search last May. Tamil and Malayali ethnics celebrate Thaipusam on the full moon with a trip to the Batu Caves. Political parties own the newspapers. There’s a thing with Indonesians. Ten tarik is a hot milk beverage; nasi lemak is a rice dish cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves, but you can find a lot of crossbreeding with Filipino and Chinese grub. The Petronas Twin Towers are the tallest twin buildings in the world. There are just so many types of drums. Jawi is the traditional script, but you’re going to find a lot of familiar Latin characters when you go. The Economist seems to think Kuala Lumpur is the 31st safest city on earth to live in, which must be comforting for the 1.8 million people who manage it day in, day out. And whether it’s Selangor or Sandakan, there’s no doubting these people love sports. We might see a World Cup there in 2034. Badminton and field hockey are big. So, increasingly, are motorcycles.

Official stats say Hafizh Syahrin, Malaysia’s first representative in the promised land of MotoGP’s top class, is 24 years old, 5’11” and 145 pounds. One wonders how much heavier it all must feel inside that helmet, inside that head, every time the lights go out.

Taka Nakagami: Marc Marquez was dealing with a shoulder. Cal Crutchlow was dealing with an ankle. Jorge Lorenzo wasn’t even there. That meant Honda testing at Sepang was limited to World Superbike regular Stefan Bradl trying out new bits on the 2019 machine and Takaaki Nakagami, fourth of four in the brand’s MotoGP pecking order, saddling an outdated 2018 bike. They were all still injured and Bradl was gone when he was fastest Honda on the first day at Doha, too. Then came the next two days and race simulations.

It’s an open secret that Honda executives have long wanted a Japanese rider to claim a world championship aboard one of their bikes. But at some point, it stops being about what you want when it has proven it doesn’t work or worse. So the longing goes on. (RIP Shoya Tomazawa, who probably wouldn’t have done any better, if we’re being honest.)

Cal Crutchlow: I’m obviously not going to tell you where because I’m no snitch, but after I solve the ultimate Escape Room that is my bed and fire up the laptop in time to watch races live at unholy hours of the morning, I visit this one site to find a list of illegally streamed English-language broadcasts. In recent years, this has meant two options: the official MotoGP feed or BT Sport. The former is Dorna’s in-house commentary team, which for years was anchored by the increasingly senile, Valentino Rossi-worshipping Nick Harris and a rotating cast of second lieutenants to do all the hard work of actually informing you what the fuck was happening onscreen; the latter is a posh UK independent that took over broadcasting rights from the BBC but really picked up where Eurosport had left off, especially because they brought in seen-it-all pairing Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder, who’d done WSBK races together in the ‘90s during Carl Fogarty’s salad days.

This was my preferred pairing. Huewen’s an ex-rider who jadedly drizzles in timeless rider psychology atop a (mostly) reliable narration of the action; Ryder’s a veteran journalist who balanced Huewen’s occasional duff-ups with deeper wells of arcane trivia to color in the margins Huewen allows for when he remembers to stop himself. (When Ryder was at Eurosport, he was partnered with Toby Moody, a higher-pitched, more excitable version of the same mode of commentator – two wonks one-upping each other in the booth, though that never really bothered me.)

Julian took his easy wit and superlative knowledge with him into retirement at the end of 2017. In his place, BT Sport found approachable ex-World Supers champ and MotoGP also-ran Neil Hodgson to helm the booth’s other seat. They had some spells where Neil deferred to Keith more than he should have, but in general, I think this is a solid move in the right direction toward the next eventual step of replacing Keith when he decides to go (or is voluntold, whichever comes first).

Here’s what has always bothered me about all of these guys: They can’t help themselves. They can’t help being homers for Brits. You’d probably only notice many races deep into a season – and maybe not even then. Maybe it’d take you years. Some of them try harder than others. But it is always, always there.

Look, I get it. We’re talking about television here. People want something to identify with. They watch sports because it’s the version of themselves they wished they could be. There’s something to all of us in that, aspirations, desires, whatever. And heaven knows I’m not BT Sport’s target audience – a young British male with a cable package that includes BT Sport, presumably. But when you’re watching a fraught Moto3 race and there are nine guys jostling for the lead and they’re all Spanish or Italian and you know that one of these guys, someday, maybe in five or six years, is going to be the one to set them all alight, does anybody watching give a fuck that John McPhee is making up for a bad qualifying or lost time in the first corner or a bad tire choice on heavy fuel and he’s deep in the second group around 16th (again)?

It’s the same thing, year in, year out. Read these names: Bradley Smith. Danny Kent. Michael Laverty. Sam Lowes. Scott Redding. All of these guys could’ve done more and didn’t. And you know what’s funny? The one Brit worth talking about – the one fucking guy who really made it, who’s #3 at Honda but actually led the championship at one point last year – didn’t even ride in Moto2 or Moto3. He came through World Supersport and World Superbike. No one in this paddock was paying that much attention then.

But now that they are, allow Keith and Neil to tell you all about Lucy and the babies back home.

Franco Morbidelli: Mostly I spend my time thinking about how exciting Franco Morbidelli was just two years ago in Moto2, how relaxed and “cool” journalists portrayed him even when he should’ve been walking all over Thomas Lüthi and wasn’t, how he was going to come to MotoGP and show off that half-Brazilian samba side of his mother’s … and how, when he finally did show up, he looked defiantly average. I want more for someone with such evident personality because it’s good for the sport, but there’s a glass ceiling here; the trouble is discerning whether it’s the bike or the rider.

Fabio Quartararo: In the beginning, there was Orchid. This was before Ritual Mess and Pig Destroyer’s lauded brutality and meeting Transistor Transistor fans abroad and propping mattresses against walls to soundproof against Ampere and Bucket Full of Teeth on Level Plane and my personal favorite, Panthers (Let’s not talk about it / We never did, so why start now? / Let’s just go back to your place and not talk about it there). Years ago, probably late at night and not entirely sober, I happened upon a full video recording of Orchid’s last show at some place called The Advocate in Harvard Square. Most of the set is exactly what you’d expect: blasted beats, blood-curdling yelps about boning to Baudrillard, the usual fin d’époque type stuff. But there’s about half a minute at the beginning where the band has finished soundchecking, their instruments are under control, and you can hear Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” from a beat-up boombox. A cheeky move by a band too smart for its own good.

The cassette plays normally for several seconds, then warbles, then steadies itself before mutating grotesquely as it runs parallel to a line of piercing feedback. Jayson Green raises his fist. The crowd duly follows suit in solidarity. You’ve seen this action hundreds of times before. But until you’ve seen this set, you can’t know exactly how it will go. No one can. That’s why there’s a crowd. That’s why we watch.

Karel Abraham: My senior year of high school, my parents told me to expect weight gain once I got to college, probably because of meal plans. Then it was drinking. Then it was age. But here I am, older than ever, and my weight is actually less than it was more than a decade and a half back. I know because my watch slides all around my wrist and I haven’t taken any links out since I got it 11 years ago. I’ve basically stopped eating lunch. I don’t really bother with breakfast anymore, either. I don’t know where the trash comes from. I have a vacuum but stopped using it. I cook pasta occasionally. Shelving sits unused, books in no real order, plates and dishes piling up in the sink, the bed basically unwashed and full of God knows what kinds of filth I can’t see even in good light. My pillows are flat, my sheets ill-fitted. I’m dysfunctional, I’m borderline starving, my apartment is in worse shape than a Bukowski first draft.

But let me tell you about my Tissot, boy, this motherfucker is real Swiss. And all my Polo quarter-zips, you don’t even know the thread count. And that Audi S5 you saw on Instagram? You don’t need to hear how work let me borrow it. Look: I’ve got it together as well as anyone else you know. Look closer: I’m hopeless. But I’m still trying, for some reason, to no clear end, because I think I enjoyed all of this once.

Tito Rabat: Who will lead Ducati in 2019? Who will show the way in development? Who will show the way in soul? Who will come out of the gates at Qatar with all the momentum? Who will give Marc Marquez or Jorge Lorenzo or Maverick Viñales or Valentino Rossi something to think about? Who will be the brightest Spanish star in motorcycling this year? Who will surprise and delight us the most? Who will we remember as being the revelation? Who will make it look easy? Who will give us the year of our spectating lives?

The answer to all of these questions, never, is Tito Rabat. Some are born blessed enough to be fast and cursed enough to be fragile. Most of us are born forgettable.

Jack Miller: Me: More like the bottom of the Ducati Pecco’ing order now, amirite

You: Nice
Koalas: Noice
Taipans: Noice
Box jellyfish: Noice
Funnel web spiders: Noice
Paradise surfers: Noice
Oppressed Aboriginees: Noice
Migrants from Malaysia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea: Noice
Adult Corey Worthington: Noice
Defaced Blue Ensign: Noice
The uncreatively named Australian Alps: Noice
Sydney Opera House: Noice
Ghost of Gerald Munane: Noice
Uluru: Noice
This BuzzFeed list, which doesn’t appear to have been created by a teen in Michigan for free: Noice
Extras from the film Gallipoli: Noice
A whole other rulebook for “football”: Noice
Toilets flushing in the opposite direction: Noice
Didgeridoos: Nooooiiiiiiiiiiiiiooooooooooioiiioooooooooooooiioioiiooooooooiiiiiiiiiiiiiii
Jack Miller fans: Not noice
My youngest brother, in a Gchat at 7:20am: Pecco Bag-nice-a blaze it
My middle brother, in a text at 7:21am: Huh?
My dad: What’s the weather down under, anyway?
Jack Miller: Wanker.

Pecco Bagnaia: Part of me thinks I’m going to be sick of hearing Pecco Bagnaia’s name by this time next week, nevermind this time next year. His ascendancy is the least interesting – Sky VR46 management handled him right up into a satellite ride aboard the best bike on the grid. But while he dazzled over one lap in Sepang tests, I question what he can do over a race. Too much feels too forced for comfort here. Something’s going to go wrong.

Danilo Petrucci: Danilo Petrucci is what happens when saying yes to something just to get your foot in the door pans out almost exactly the way you dreamed. In 2011, he was bumming around on a World Superstock bike – that’s the class below World Supersport, which is a class below World Superbike, which is basically second class to MotoGP on every level. A year later, he’s bumming around a bike no one wants at the back of the MotoGP grid on a Hail Mary from a short-lived (but self-aware – they did call themselves “Came IodaRacing Project,” at least) Italian team. After three years of basically meaningless results, he falls upward into the Ducati satellite team for 2015 and scores an improbable, feel-good podium in the British rain. The next few years are peppered by injury and occasional podiums. Now he’s at the factory Ducati team. When the Sepang testing dust had settled, four Dukes whitewashed the top of the timesheets – and there, leading them all, was Petrucci. It was the same during long race simulations at Qatar, where he was once again fastest of the Italian bikes.

Through it all, he’s kept his common sense, his balanced perspective, his good humor. You get the impression that he can hardly believe what’s happening, that he was once a police cadet or a World Superstock runner-up. I’m not sure I can, either. All the more reason to root for him when the time comes.

Andrea Dovizioso: I didn’t grow up surrounded by academics, but I keep finding myself among them as I get older. It’s never been intentional, things just kind of shake out that way – people I respect or appreciate or share a similar worldview with who took one interest or another to its logical endpoint, accruing stupid amounts of debt to ensure a place in the ivory tower. Most of these people are settled and have families now, but it’s funny to think back on when they were younger and didn’t know how it was going to go just yet. The embryonic period where we can feel the drift and know we have to do something, but don’t know quite what lies between A and B.

A favorite story from this bucket of humans in my life has been told in wildly varying states of climate, sobriety and exhaustion over the years, but the details are still crystalline: I’d gone alone to a house party in Lakeview to meet some friends and acquaintances from the radio station I volunteered at that wasn’t yet a radio station. It was, in virtually every sense, a typical house party: There was cheap beer jammed into the fridge. There were questionably aged dips. People gravitated either to the kitchen and porch in the rear of the apartment or to the diminutive living room up front.

I found myself in both places, alternating back and forth to gain a foothold somewhere as the party’s momentum shifted. But midway through the evening after a few times to and fro, I noticed that one friend of mine – he has a PhD in ethnomusicology and teaches in Boston now – had stuck to the couch in the living room and, despite being on the opposite end of the apartment from the fridge, was never without a drink. At this point, the energy was in the living room. I noticed someone leaving – but there, right before they walked out, came a request amid the clamor: “Hey, can you get me a beer? Thanks.” It occurred to me that this was not the first time I’d heard such a request that night.

Much later, I returned to the room. There he was, on the couch, beer in hand, talking with a smaller group – the energy had migrated back to the porch. I asked how he’d been, decided to stay, decided to watch how it transpired. Someone made for the back.

“While you’re up, can you grab a beer? Cool.” He turned to me. “Pretty good, been playing a ton of videogames lately, just nerding out about it,” he said, cutting the ends of matches with a cheap pair of scissors. “I recently got my Nintendo 64 back and I’ve been playing a lot of [a couple of games I don’t remember], but mostly just a lot of Mario Kart. I fucking loved Mario Kart and – no, dude, seriously, I had that game memorized. I mean, I could beat anybody.”

I nodded in agreement, waiting. “You know, I think everybody who had a 64 says that. ‘Man, I ruled at Mario Kart.’ But somebody has to be lying. Somebody had to be a loser.” I felt I had to justify myself. “I didn’t have a 64, but I love racing games, so Mario Kart came naturally to me.”

“You were born with it,” he returned.

“It’s a dominant genetic trait,” I said. “Can’t help it. And sure, I acknowledge that it’s possible for all of my friends and neighbors to have just been awful at the game. I get it. But there’s no way everybody else I talk to was that awesome.”

“I think we should invite people over and go head-to-head to see who’s actually as good as they say they are,” he suggested. “We should definitely have a tournament. Oh, thanks.” Someone was back dropping a beer off. This had been effortless. He put down the scissors and popped the can.

“We could cycle through each character so everybody has to be Donkey Kong once.”

Here he got more animated. “Yeah, and I fucking hate Donkey Kong. You could play him and finish eighth or seventh, sixth if you’re lucky, but when you’re not playing him, it’s like he’s constantly on your ass.”

“I think it was the steroids. It was a different time. Maybe someone can write the memoir.” This was my solution to everything, even in jokes, right after college.

From there, we talked about bootlegging games, holograms, decomposing posters. Music, probably. Toward the end of the night, those who were left had found their way to the living room again. One guy mentioned the fridge was almost empty. “You know, I think 1,000 Liquors is still open,” my friend offered helpfully. It was right across the street. There was slow nodding, a substantial pause. “What a city,” the guy replied. I’d waited all night for this.

The takeaway was subtle, instructive. The takeaway was that if you’re diligent and patient enough, the party will come to you. But you have to be diligent and patient enough.

Jorge Lorenzo: The origin of the idiom “entering the lions’ den” dates to a Book of Daniel story (we’re talking Hebrew Bible here, so you can put away your King James Version). Basically, Babylonian ruler Darius the Mede – possibly not a real guy, but why let that get in the way of a good story – held court in which Daniel was heir apparent. A few jealous haters that the good Book generously limits to “administrators and satraps” – Hellenistic callout culture not being what it is today – decided to “trick” Darius into decreeing that prayers should only be addressed toward him on penalty of death for a weirdly specific monthlong timeframe. (The trick was flattery, by the way: All they did was go to Darius as a group and say, “The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers, and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next 30 days except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.”)

Daniel, busy praying to Yahweh, is naturally a prime candidate for testing this edict; Darius, busy not understanding how a kingdom works, bows to his own decree and sends his favored successor to the cats. The next day, Darius heads down to said pit to see how Daniel’s doing – you know, just checking in on the guy you reluctantly threw into a fucking pit of hungry lions, seems pretty normal and not at all spineless or morbid – and lo, the boy’s alive: Yahweh sent an angel for protection. Sufficient proof provided, Darius promptly switches teams like the Fairweather Johnson he is, brings in his court and has the haters (and their families!) murdered. Two millennia later, we use this story to describe giving a hastily prepared PowerPoint presentation to lethargic business association executives at an airport-adjacent Holiday Inn.

Jorge Lorenzo had a choice. He could have taken the first offer when his stock was low early last year and climbed aboard a lesser ride to lead development at Suzuki. He could have taken another early offer that had him fronting the Petronas Yamaha b-team. He could have taken 2019 off, let his Aragon foot injury heal and waited out contract disputes to return to the factory Yamaha squad. He could have fucked off to Mallorca forever, leaving us a magnificent, vexing legacy to decipher. But he knew his worth, and what he elected to do instead was join Repsol Honda as Dani Pedrosa’s replacement, Marc Marquez’s teammate. The point with Lorenzo isn’t whether his story ends the same way Daniel’s does; the point is that he dared to tread where others wouldn’t. Now we get the two best riders in the world on the same bike for the first time since 1990.

Jorge says it’ll be four races or so before he’s fully fit, but lions don’t wait if they’re hungry. There are no angels from here.

Marc Marquez: In the wake of seeing Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui’s magnificently composed documentary on Alexander McQueen last year, I found myself combing through old footage and contemporary critiques of McQueen’s more divisive collections. You might know the “Voss” Spring/Summer 2001 collection best, which featured models mimicking mental madness in a glass box before the moth-laden recreation of Joel-Peter Witkin’s Sanitarium with fetish writer Michelle Olley as its centerpiece drew the show to a close; if you don’t, needless to say, you owe it to yourself. But there were others, of course: the Jack the Ripper show and Joan of Arc’s burning ring of fire and the preposterously indulgent “Plato’s Atlantis” livestream. The documentary does a better job contextualizing this than I ever could.

The show I’m left contemplating most is what McQueen did with Shalom Harlow for the Spring/Summer ’99 collection “No. 13.” There’s a real magic to this show that’s inherent in its rhythm. Watch the whole thing more than once and you start to realize it, feel yourself zone in and out on all the beautiful lace, the endlessly gorgeous threads, the (comparatively) conservative futurism of the collection, the two giant industrial spray painters nicked from car plants that sit toward the end of the stage … at least until Harlow walks out for the grand finale in an immaculate white trapeze dress and puts her ballerina skills to use as she dances with the two robots before they start spraying her with paint. Later, Harlow would say “my relationship with them shifted at that moment because I started to lose control over my own experience and they were taking over.” When the robots finish, she’s a mess – completely covered in paint, the dress disgraced.

Originally, the direction I had in mind for this was unifying McQueen’s willful destruction of something beautiful with the ravaged left shoulder Marc Marquez has been trying to nurse back to health this offseason. The defending world champion claims he dislocated it on multiple occasions throughout 2018 – imagine that, dislocating your shoulder over and over again, and still being the most feared rider on the grid – but that the December operation he had was routine, passably ordinary. “They put like a limit in the shoulder because is something that when it goes out many times, the bone gets smaller and smaller and then it is easier for it to go out,” he explained in October. “They just try to increase this bone by a blade or a bolt, I don’t know, and then will be better.” After the operation, he was put on a six-week rehab program that involved at least five hours of physio a day to get back to maximum fitness. He ended Qatar preseason testing fourth fastest but questionable on longer race simulations. His team will keep at him to heal faster, train more, work harder. And he will. And it’ll be a long season for everyone else (again), and where this original direction was going to end was in saying that the only ageless beauty I know is a Stars song and no one is immune from the decay of time and what if this is the year that it finally catches up with him? What if we finally stop calling this 26-year-old sorcerer on a motorcycle a “kid”? Because we can’t feel it yet – Fabio Quartararo was 13 when Marc took a MotoGP grid slot for the first time, so he had his heroes by then – but soon the field is going to be made up of riders who learned from Marc, even if they’re not as good as him. It was going to end on lamenting the innate fragility of the body, of life, and how machines are slowly eating away at us, our sanity, and how we may as well already be nostalgic for what little delight we can extract from what’s happening right now, right in front of us, as Marquez’s body slowly falls apart in spite of our collective efforts to keep his boy king spirit burning.

But the thought didn’t satisfy me. And that, I guess, is what lies at the root of all this: I’m not satisfied with any of it. I could write endlessly, even about stuff I ostensibly enjoy, pretty much in place of a therapy session, and never feel better about it. What I can’t escape is that I know there’s a better way to articulate it, but I don’t think I have it in me.

Does this make you tired? It should. There are whole industries dedicated to thriving on the unhappiness of people who complain about it on the Internet. And isn’t that tiring, too? Isn’t it tiring to be told there’s a solution for everything, that you can be happy if only you’d stop being unhappy for one fucking minute and apply yourself, put in a little work and find what you love and let it kill you? What are you waiting for, someone to tell you you’re allowed to be happy? Hey, are you interested in this art show? Here are 17 more on the same day within a mile from you. Looking at jewelry? Check out this Instagram of homemade collections (or this one, or this one, or this one – all boutique, all local). Bought a vibrator off Amazon to help you forget about the troubles of the world for a little while? Here are ads for divorce attorneys and expensive chocolates. Curious to see the cost of a speedboat once four years ago? Some dock space opened up at the marina near you. It never fucking ends. You are the product. You are being sold to people you will never meet in places you don’t want to be for profits you’ll never see. But you feel better, right? Don’t you? No? Well, here: Here’s 52 places to go in 2019. Maybe you’ll feel better there. Right? Won’t you?

Caught between the endless workism of making your work life your life’s work and the endless content stream of your best friends and beautiful strangers never seeming to work a day in their lives, we each have to decide what we can handle. There’s no need to take a look around and see how bad the world is; I just learned today that global warming will cause heat-trapping carbon dioxide to eliminate stratocumulus clouds and accelerate global warming by a catastrophic eight degrees, which leads to reefs disappearing and rising sea levels and God knows what else because we sure as hell don’t understand the consequences of our actions very well. And that’s pretty fucking bad, sure, but where do we prioritize it next to Boko Haram rapes or Venezuelan poverty or weekly mass shootings? At some point, it all goes in the same pile of humanity’s ugliness and cruelty.

I feel bad telling you this. You already know. You know it better than I do, even. But the resultant feeling is the same – this idea that capitalism has simultaneously allowed more people to be wealthier and healthier than ever before and also that it is destroying us mentally, emotionally. I don’t know what to do. I feel totally lost. I don’t know what self-care means, though it probably doesn’t feel like a hangover. I don’t know where to turn. I try to keep it to myself, write this stuff out in journals you can’t see, read books and watch movies or plays to recognize myself in them, but those options are easy to exhaust.

That’s when I look to racing. Before there was weeping to The Disintegration Loops live and before I’d seen The 400 Blows or Rumble Fish or Gallipoli or The Great Beauty and before any of my uncles had died and before I’d break hearts and have my heart broken and before I’d been to Paris and before I knew what a nightblooming cereus did and before I learned about Malaysia and Boko Haram and Orchid and Le Corbusier and before I understood global warming and before I knew who Alexander McQueen was and before I knew what every color amounts to, there was racing. Anyone can watch it; unlike most other sports, racing is self-explanatory – you just go faster than the others. The thrill of speed is elemental, the thrill of victory the same. It’s easy and, when it’s done right, beautiful.

Bees thriving at the conservatory. Flowers blooming in the snow. Seagulls hovering midair, casually riding out the gusts. Broken ice on the river. An elephant’s affection. Maybe I don’t know how to live or love or feel. Maybe my history is all wrong. And pragmatically, sure, what I love kills me – the high-octane racing fuel, the needless emissions, the violent splendor, the spent bodies in service of a trophy that has nothing to do with me. But for now, I’d rather believe that this keeps me alive. I’ll never get tired of watching even if I get tired of being. There are so many other things I could have written about in the time it took me to write all of this. There are so many other more important, more pressing topics to discuss. This just doesn’t matter. Or, to paraphrase McQueen: At the end of the day, they’re only roads.

Yes. And we are but witnesses to the limbs riding down them. Lives in the loosest sense. Yes, this is the ritual. We don’t have options. This is how it has to go. Yes. Everything ends in the same way.

But first, there’s something we want to be shown. There she turns:

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