I don’t remember the first time. I remember things surrounding the first time but not the thing itself. I remember welcoming the torrential rain left over from Hurricane Ike on my sunburned arms. I remember a crowd full of people enthusiastically booing Dani Pedrosa on the grid and cheering Nicky Hayden’s crutches on the podium. I remember Valentino Rossi. I remember Nico Terol.
I don’t remember much of the second time, either. A brief mental snippet from Saturday morning as bikes stream past – two seconds, maybe three. Enough to know that it was real and that I did not just imagine it or Nicky Hayden’s flat-track demo laps or Jay Leno chilling trackside in denim or a crowd full of people politely clapping Dani Pedrosa on the grid and cheering Ben Spies on the podium. I remember Toni Elias. I remember Nico Terol.
The third time I saw Marc Marquez race in person was different. He was riding a MotoGP bike for one. He was on pole gunning to remain undefeated through the first ten races of 2014 for another. He was in his moment as the best motorcycle road racer on the planet.
Spoiler alert: This is another sermon on greatness. Greatness is a quality reliant on perception, I know, and everyone’s got a different view from where they sit. For last Sunday’s seventh annual Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, mine happened to be trackside. This is what I think about on vacation.
The alarm went off.
You woke up. Maybe you were fully awake with the adrenaline of anticipation by the time it started; maybe you were still half-asleep and in a daze of obligation. Friends congregated around a television – you could have been one of them – or you just kept your phone charged to ensure you got the texts as they rolled in. You had cereal, or you started in on the drinking. Grease was standing by as a coping mechanism. You were decked out in the attire of a country you’ve never visited and don’t know anyone from, or just your pajamas. Your Twitter feed was open. All the quips from strangers you’ll never know rolled in. And you remember where you were when David Luiz scored after 18 minutes. The knockout rounds had truly begun. The day was just beginning.
For you, anyway. Somewhere else, I was already in the process of interviewing the first of four candidates for a position at my radio station. I had already traveled an hour north from my apartment by the time of Luiz’s goal. My cereal was long gone. I wasn’t watching. I had been up since 4am. I had already seen genius again.
Everyone has seen The Old Guitarist. It’s one of those paintings, like The Mona Lisa or Starry Night or The Persistence of Memory, that has survived time and trends and somehow made it into the Western cultural subconscious – people who don’t like or know anything about art still vaguely recognize it. If you’d like to see The Old Guitarist in person (and you should, even if security tells you not to), the painting hangs among the walls of the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s something else.
The subject matter is simple: an old, blind beggar playing a guitar in rags on a Barcelona street. But what’s noticeable is how the color palette plays to the subject matter, a gradient of blues that sets the tone of the painting. It’s not the only one: Between 1901 and 1904, Pablo Picasso painted several works with a similar eye that are still being examined today – in fact, just this week, it was revealed that infrared technology had uncovered another layer in 1901’s The Blue Room.
Contemporary critics and the public, however, did not receive these paintings warmly. The beggars and prostitutes of his art soured crowds that had been showing a great interest in his work just a year before. We know it now as Picasso’s Blue Period, a dark layover in the artist’s life.
So you’ve got one of the great artists of his time making challenging works – some inarguably among his best – in a state of desperation and nobody’s noticing. This is a post about art, sure, but it’s also about sports. And no one is painting a more desperate picture in the art of motorcycle racing right now than Jorge Lorenzo.
Five wins on the trot, three of them from pole. Slashed and burned history books. A locked contract until the end of 2016. Cheerful oppression and the dawn of a new age. The buzz of the world’s media and fans frothing at the mouth for more. It’s all happening right now, right as you read this. And you already know what it means.
But the world keeps turning even while you move out of your dorm room. Things happen even while man sets foot on the moon. Life goes on elsewhere even when Columbus lands in America. There are plenty of people aiming for a big splash into adult life. There are countless thousands dreaming of the stars. There are plenty of explorers who aren’t there yet and never will be. But that won’t stop them from trying to move up.
It’s like having three feet: One foot firmly planted in the future, one stubbornly rooted in the present, and one ghost foot from your past as bonus ballast. It’s easy to stand by idle. But the world keeps turning, even when you’re stuck. Victories still happen elsewhere. Contracts still get locked. It still moves. But that won’t stop Jonathan Rea from trying to move to MotoGP.
…I’m more than enough all alone to keep on ruling until the comet comes by again, and not just once but ten times, because the way I am I don’t intend to die again, God damn it, let other people die, he said, talking without any pauses to think, as if he were reciting by heart, because he had known ever since the war that thinking aloud was driving off the fear of the dynamite charges that were shaking the building, making plans for tomorrow in the morning and for the coming century at dusk until the last coup de grace rang out in the street…
Colin Edwards announced his retirement from MotoGP on Friday at the Motorcycle Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin, Texas. It was unexpected in the way that inevitable ends always are – this was a long time in coming, but it’s hard to be fully prepared for the moment of hearing the speech and reading the words. Even Edwards acknowledged as much – he started the announcement tentatively: “I don’t even know how to say it, I rehearsed it so many times…”
“…It is come to pass, that, as one saith in a brave kind of expression, the sun never sets in the Spanish dominions, but ever shines upon one part or other of them: which, to say truly, is a beam of glory…” –Francis Bacon
One by one, they fell. Jorge Lorenzo was the first to go, tucking the front on the first lap after getting a drive out of the corner that surprised him. Five laps later, Stefan Bradl went in a similar fashion. There was a surprising Andrea Iannone. There was the assertive Bradley Smith. There was, toward the end, Alvaro Bautista. When Valentino Rossi’s spirited strikes failed and the opening round of the 2014 MotoGP World Championship had finally settled in the Qatari night, they had all fallen, even if they’d stayed upright. They were not alone.