Tale Of Two Cities XI: Charlie Be Quiet
I've been listening to a lot of Charlie Puth.
You read that right. Me, Mr. Uppity Classical Music Guy, listening to pop sensation eyebrow guy. Or maybe I should say me, Mr. College Football Lunkhead Guy, listening to pop sensation eyebrow guy. Here's the story.
A lot of sites/apps are trying to get us adults to do what the kids do on TikTok: scroll through quick videos one after another. That's how your nephew uses his phone, and that's how they want me to use my phone.
It worked. I was watching a YouTube video (some comedy video - I think it was Mark Normand) and I see more Mark Normand content further down the screen under "YouTube Shorts." I click on that clip, which immediately feeds into another clip, and suddenly I'm 40 clips deep into whatever the algorithm is feeding me. Some comedy, some music, some college football, some aviation, some disc golf. The YouTube algorithm thinks I'm a funny, disc-golfing pilot.
One day last week - I think it was Wednesday morning - I woke up pretty early. Maybe 5:45 or so. As soon as Lucy notices I'm awake, she's ready to get fed and head outside to hit the bathroom. She'll stand right next to the bed staring at me until I get out of bed. (Important information: Lucy is my dog, not my wife.)
I let her outside and sat on the couch, fairly groggy. I open the YouTube app to finish watching a video from the night before. Soon thereafter, I'm 35 videos deep in YouTube Shorts.
And for whatever reason, YouTube is feeding me Charlie Puth videos. I believe they're TikToks which are put on YouTube to widen the audience. I watch one of the videos three times, and I think that tells the YouTube algorithm that I really dig these Charlie Puth videos so it starts feeding me more.
They're videos of him re-creating his artistic process. I say "re-creating" because they're made to look like real time but are obviously pieced together afterwards. I'm not mad about that. I'm not saying it feels "staged" or something. TikTok is its own medium and I allow for that level of "re-create authenticity."
Here's one of the videos. It's for a song on his latest album. Warning to olds: this goes beyond music you used to call "teeny-bopper" and borders on "what is all this electronic NOISE??".
I'm all in. I just wrote about this when talking about the country song Record Year (who the hell AM I anymore?) but when I see your creative process, I'm in. Believe it or not, I actually downloaded Charlie Puth's entire album. On the train on the way up - again, all of this is 100% true - I listened to the full album at least four times. I'm the suckeriest sucker when it comes to the creative process.
The song that has stuck with me (probably because of everything I just wrote above) is Charlie Be Quiet. I started out at "that's fascinating how he took a song with 'quiet' in the title and bounced back and forth between very quiet and crazy loud" and then moved to "I really enjoy the concept behind these lyrics."
Here's the full song. It's only two minutes long (something something damn kids and their attention spans). You don't have to listen, but... it's what the rest of this article will be about.
That was college me. OK, that was post-college me as well. This was absolutely my internal dialogue in my 20's. A constant, never-ending "slow down, don't say that, stay quiet - if you show too much enthusiasm, you'll scare her off." I was the product of parents who met on a Sunday and got engaged on Friday (true story), so I was That Guy who let his emotions get the best of him early in any relationship.
(Side story: I did this with my wife as well. Knew she was the one immediately but didn't want to tell anyone because I needed to keep every ounce of that hidden for as long as I could. So I decided there was only one person I would tell. I drove to the cemetery and "told" my dad that I had met my wife. It's True Story Day, and that's another one.)
As a full grown man in his 40's (for another month at least), I'm still that way-too-emotional guy (have you heard?). It's not centered around relationships anymore, but I still have "Robert be quiet" conversations with myself. All the time, in fact.
Robert be quiet, don't make a sound
You've got to lower the noise a little bit now
If they know where you stand, they're gonna run, run away-ay-ay-ay
It's the same concept, really. I write words on the internet. You're used to what words on the internet look like. If I stray too far out of bounds, or if I "too much, too soon" some topic, you're not going to like my internet words. And I need people to like my internet words if I want to make money.
So there's this constant struggle in my head to tone everything down. To not write what I really want to write. If I had called-it-like-I-see-it with my first college girlfriend, she would have broken up with me in the first week. And if I call-it-like-I-see-it with yesterday's game, a lot of you will want to break up with me.
Let's break up.
I had another one of my "try to find the press conference" adventures yesterday. I don't need to give you all the details - just know that I didn't get there. I was given good directions, and I thought I was well on my way to making it there, but I paused to double-check at one door to see if I was headed to the right place and just so happened to ask the wrong person. I got bad information. I even double-checked with that person: "I'm looking for the Illinois press conference, not the Michigan press conference" and they gave me a "yes, I understand, go here". They sent me to the Michigan press conference.
So by the time I found my way to the Illinois press conference, it was over. Probably a good thing. Watching video of it now (and given what I wrote last night), I would have matched Bret Bielema's anger with questions like "you were on the other sideline at one time - do you believe there's been a grand conspiracy against Illinois for 40+ years?" (or something similarly dumb of a reporter to ask a coach). So it's a good thing I wasn't there.
After seeing I missed the presser, I went back into observation mode. I stood for maybe 25 minutes watching the Illini players leave the locker room and head to the bus. And the whole time I had to put myself in "Robert be quiet" mode because I wanted to console every player I saw. Hug. I wanted to hug everyone.
Listen to me. I'm the only human who observed all of this so listen to me now. This was as painful a moment as I've experienced covering this team. Their expressions ranged from broken to completely devastated. I greeted a few players, and I observed a few player-parent interactions, and I shared a few words with a few coaches. Here is my takeaway. I was not told any of this, but this is my overall observation of the scene:
This team, deep down, wanted to win this one for Marilyn Bielema. They believe in this coach, they saw his pain, and they wanted to give him a gift. They got nearly all the way there and came up short.
The task was impossible. Are you listening to me? Impossible. It would have been a top-5 win in the history of the program. We have exactly one win over a top-3 team in my 49.9 years on earth, so next to Ohio State 2007, this would have been the second-best win of my lifetime. Michigan might lose next week at Ohio State and still make the playoff. They could end up this season as the national champions. And we were one fourth down flag away. One fourth down flag away from changing the national playoff picture. One fourth down flag away from these players giving their coach a game ball and telling him they did it for his mom.
THAT'S what was taken away. It's why the last four calls (or non-calls) the officials made hurt so much. Yes, they were afraid to be the officials who kept Michigan out of the playoff, but they also took away that game ball. It hurts me so much just to type those words, thinking of their goal and how they almost got there.
So when I tweet I'm so damn proud of my team and you respond with this?
...I cannot process your approach to college athletics. A 7-3 Illini football team is playing the #3 team in the country on the road and loses on a field goal with 10 seconds left, moving us to 1-16-1 against top-3 teams in the last 40 years. An Illini team with a preseason over/under in Vegas of 4.5 wins does THAT, and those coaches are "embarrassing" and "didn't give the kids a chance"? What else could you possibly want?
Just picture my exact experience. I'm standing by the tunnel where the players are heading for the bus. I see the expressions on their faces and I'm broken. They got 99% of the way to the biggest Illini win in 15 years but fell ten seconds short with four calls (the holding, the non-call on fourth down, the PI call on Spoon, and the third down "catch") going the other way in the final three minutes. They wanted to hand that ball to their coach and they couldn't do it. Warriors, all.
And then the Illini band is marching up the tunnel and out of the stadium. So I have to move over to the brick wall there to let the band through. I flip through my phone, and I see:
Robert be quiet, don't make a sound
You've got to lower the noise a little bit now
To everyone who has asked me "what's with this crusade against the 'uniquely negative' side of our fanbase?", this is my answer. I'm simply reporting on my experience. I look up and see broken players and I look down and see "losers".
And no, that screencap right there is not just an isolated tweet from a random nobody. It's my entire experience the last dozen years. I could literally give you thousands of examples. No, it's not something that happens everywhere - not to this degree. Go back and read my dozens of articles on this very topic. I've studied it since October of 2011.
These players are the biggest warriors I've covered in 13 years of doing this. They've lost by three on a touchdown with 23 seconds left, by 8 when the final drive stalled 27 yards from the endzone, by 7 after a failed onside kick, and by 2 on a field goal with nine seconds left. That's Illinois football doing that. 22 losing seasons the last 27 years Illinois football. We've begged for "just a competitive team" for two and a half decades and have been gifted something better than that. And now we're finding out that everyone was lying about just wanting a competitive team.
Yesterday, after their coach lost his mom, they upped the "warrior" thing to a level I didn't think was possible. Chase Brown - the guy who limped past me in a walking boot - nearly carried us to an upset of #3 Michigan. This team, meaning every player on the field yesterday, gave the best effort of any team I've covered. This staff, meaning every coach on the field yesterday, developed the roster they inherited to maximize our chances of knocking off a top-5 opponent better than any staff I've covered. Every coaching staff all the way back to Tepper, even my beloved Lovie Smith, would have lost this game by 20+. Lose by two and it's on the staff?
I get back to the hotel and check my own Slack Channel. "Has this defense gotten a stop all year when they needed one?" (actual quote). I write about the officials and the first comment shrugs it off. It's a national story today, and our coach is going to get fined for his comments/tweets about it, but me writing about it isn't "convincing" - this loss was apparently on the playcalling on the final drive? (A drive where the officials called us for holding forcing third and 18.)
At a certain point, I just get "same old sorry Illinois"-d to death. I went to sleep bludgeoned and woke up like that. The only thing that helped - watching videos of my granddaughter over and over (yet another true story). I'm a feeler - a "sensy", as someone aptly called me today - and the disconnect between those devastated faces coming out of the locker room and "Illini football are losers" was too much for me to take.
I wish I could end this with "I'm better now", but I'm not. I wish "who cares what others think?" was available to me, but it's not. I wish "just don't read your mentions tab" was possible, but I've found I cannot write without it.
So all I can do is be loud. I've chosen "Robert be quiet" in the past and I've gotten stuck. So this fall, I've chosen volume.
These players are warriors. This staff has done phenomenal things in less than two years. The four questionable calls all going Michigan's way in the final three minutes is a national story because even non-Illini fans felt like the officials were scared to stand in the way of Michigan winning. This is our best season in 15 years and I'm going to keep yelling about it.
I'm damn proud of my team, and it's time to turn up the volume.