CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL SCORE: (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 168, (7) Tracy Chapman 159 .......... FINAL FOUR FINAL SCORES: (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 154, (1) Joy Division 90 ..... (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 137, (1) The Cure 89 .......... ELITE EIGHT FINAL SCORES: (1) JOY DIVISION 74, (14) Low 60 ..... (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 85, (1) Elliott Smith 69 ..... THE CURE 65, (2) Radiohead 58 ..... (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 74, (1) Neutral Milk Hotel 44 ..... FINAL SWEET SIXTEEN SCORES: (1) JOY DIVISION 75, (5) PJ Harvey & Nick Cave 24 ..... (14) LOW 73, (2) Concrete Blonde (64) ..... (1) ELLIOTT SMITH 78, (4) Gary Jules 44 ..... (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 74, (6) Kate Bush 53 ..... (1) NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL 54, (13) The Church 49 ..... (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 73, (3) Sinead O’Connor 35 ..... (1) THE CURE 109, (3) Tori Amos 86 ..... (2) RADIOHEAD 76, (6) This Mortal Coil 50 ..... (1) JOY DIVISION 96, (9) Mazzy Star 91 ..... (2) CONCRETE BLONDE 76, (7) Bob Mould 28 ..... (14) LOW 60, (6) Crowded House 51 ..... (5) PJ HARVEY & NICK CAVE 65, (4) Alphaville 38 ..... (1) ELLIOTT SMITH 113, (8) Replacements 88 ..... (6) KATE BUSH 87, (3) Nirvana 64 ..... (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 99, (2) The Eels 62 ..... (3) GARY JULES 103, (12) Morrissey 63 ..... (6) Kate Bush 72, (3) Nirvana 53 ..... (3) SINEAD O'CONNOR 66, (11) Ride 27 ..... (13) THE CHURCH 106, (5) James 44 ..... (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 95, (10) Smashing Pumpkins 40 ..... (1) NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL 80, (9) New Order 56 ..... (2) RADIOHEAD 102, (7) Nine Inch Nails 99 ..... (6) THIS MORTAL COIL 61, (3) Indigo Girls 60 ..... (4) TORI AMOS 89, (5) Swans 40 ..... (1) CURE 82, (8) Tom Waits 68 ............... FINAL 1ST ROUND SCORES: (5) PJ HARVEY & NICK CAVE 93, (12) Midnight Oil 38 ..... (7) BOB MOULD 63, (10) Peter Murphy 47 ..... (1) JOY DIVISION 117, (16) Erasure 19 ..... (6) CROWDED HOUSE 98, (11) Leonard Cohen 54 ..... (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 199, (10) The Smiths 162 ..... (5) MORRISSEY 115, (12) Morphine 83 ..... (3) NIRVANA 137, (14) Slowdive 102 ..... (8) THE REPLACEMENTS 128, (9) Dream Academy 82 ..... (13) THE CHURCH 262, (4) Magnetic Fields 193 ..... (10) SMASHING PUMPKINS 165, (7) Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds 155 ..... (9) NEW ORDER 160, (8) Sarah McLachlan 78 ..... (1) JEFF BUCKLEY 204, (16) Bjork 92 ..... (4) TORI AMOS 78, (13) Echo & the Bunnymen 22 ..... (8) TOM WAITS 72, (9) The Pretenders 22 ..... (6) THIS MORTAL COIL 51, (11) Yaz 31 ..... (3) INDIGO GIRLS 71, (14) Pavement 26 ..... (9) MAZZY STAR 132, (8) REM 46 ..... (2) CONCRETE BLONDE 88, (15) Psychedelic Furs 34 ..... (4) ALPHAVILLE 71, (13) Dead Can Dance 36 ..... (14) LOW 120, (3) U2 65 ..... (1) ELLIOTT SMITH 63, (16) 10,000 Maniacs 24 ..... (2) EELS 50, (15) Counting Crows 46 ..... (4) GARY JULES 62, (13) Depeche Mode 19 ..... (6) KATE BUSH 59, (11) Sisters of Mercy 20 ..... (1) NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL 42, (16) Violent Femmes 12 ..... (11) RIDE 25 (6) Peter Gabriel 24 ..... (3) SINEAD O'CONNOR 37, (14) Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark 17, ..... (5) JAMES 24, (12) Red House Painters 23 ..... (7) NINE INCH NAILS 46, (10) Wilco 31, (5) SWANS 31, (12) Pet Shop Boys 18 ..... (1) THE CURE 50, (16) Gear Daddies 10 ..... (2) RADIOHEAD 40, (15) Liz Phair 35


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Last Act of March Sadness 2016 & March Fadness 2017

Dear March Sadnessers: The Committee brings you our last act for March Sadness in 2016: our end-of-year Xmas mixtape, which you can find here in spotify, or, better, download here, since Spotify is missing like five songs.

Here's to the end of a real sad year.

More importantly, tune in to March Fadness, our next tournament, in 2017. Play-in games will begin in January, at which point the bracket will also be released.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Details on the 2017 Edition will be forthcoming shortly

& so, March Sadness peeps: we are doing it again in 2017 with a slightly different angle.

The Committee has deliberated & expects to release the 2017 bracket in November 2016.

For more details on the 2017 edition, March Fadness, check back with this space for a link to the new tournament or follow us @ Twitter. (You can also follow @angermonsoon.)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

As March Ends, We Thank You

Thanks to all of you who helped play out, root for, and publicize these games. Particular thanks to our Final Four analysts, Pam Houston and Rick Moody, and to the writers who helped to essay the Sweet Sixteen and Second Round, whom we'll iterate here along with the band/musician they wrote essays on, to as to provide a lasting index of some excellent writing:
And of course, thanks to you, our voters and commenters and tweeters and facebookers.

So the tournament this year is over, with Buckley standing atop a weeping field. It doesn't mean, however, that you can't play it yourself—or with someone you love—all over again, and this time you can make it come out how you want. What news stays news? This bracket. It is, after all, a self-diagnostic tool.

Watch this space for the next installment in 2017: March Fadness. Want to contribute a writeup or analysis? Drop us a line.

—Your Official March Sadness Selection Committee

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


is JEFF BUCKLEY's "Hallelujah!

FINAL SCORE: (2) Jeff Buckley 168, (7) Tracy Chapman 159

This was a beast of a game, with Chapman taking control from the tip-off and playing exactly the kind of game she wanted to: no-frills, no-pretense, no self-pity, slick technical basketball. You could watch it happening but be at a a loss as to how to stop it. She went into halftime with a 25-point lead, but in the second half Buckley came out just on fucking fire, hitting every shot he took for a moment, and cut the lead to 10, then to 4, and then he was on top. Hard to describe it as anything but dude was touched by something then, carrying something spectral even, maybe the ghost of Elliott Smith (who had intervened in a previous game, we think, and stuffed The Replacements' last-minute shot—we couldn't see anything but the ball in the air, time run out, and it must have hit something and deflected, but we could see nothing at all, and the ball fell harmlessly out of bounds and the game was over then).

Before we knew it, Buckley's "Hallelujah" was up by a dozen, riding votes largely from overseas (Italy, Poland, and Australia all came in and tilted Buckley when the Americans were asleep). Could it continue? It couldn't. Chapman got a stop, slipped a screen and nailed an open three, forced another turnover, another open three, and one more to get it back within a one possession game...

With time winding down, Buckley started showing signs of tiring—or losing his edge anyway. He missed an easy layup, and missed three straight free throws. Though both musicians are known for only one or two songs, Buckley has the deeper following, while Chapman is more widely known, largely for this very song. Buckley, conveniently no longer around to sully his reputation with release of new music (though we note he has an album dropping soon: we keep seeing the promos for it since the great data mind has datamined the fact that we keep listening to Jeff Buckley and sold our desires to third parties who conspire to know us and to sell us things even now), seemed keen on showing that he is no one-hit wonder. And he did, taking home the championship in the end by only nine points.

We could repeat some sports clichés here: how Chapman dug deep, how Buckley was in the zone, but that’s sad, isn’t it. We were frankly astonished by how deeply people felt about these two songs to get them here, to this moment, the crowning of the winner. What did it mean that these were the two songs that emerged from the whole bracket to play for the championship? Do we really prefer our sadnesses to be solo, having voted down two (1) seeds—both bands, both British, both heavy hitters—in the final four: Joy Division and The Cure? It’s hard not to lament some of those with tough matchups in the first few rounds: how deep could (9) Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train” have gone if it hadn’t met “Pictures of You” in the second round? How did (12) Red House Painters’ “Katy Song” lose to James in their first matchup? What if The Replacements had beaten Elliott Smith in the second round? Or poor (10) The Smiths’s “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” paired up in a first-round match against our finalist “Fast Car”? And for a while, Mazzy Star looked like the band with the hot hand, after taking down a way-underseeded REM in a surprising first-round matchup, they took Joy Division to the buzzer, when Hope Sandoval’s desperation three rattled out. And what about tournament overachievers (14) Low (“Words”)? After knocking down U2, Crowded House, and PJ Harvey, they ran into what we thought was a sure winner, “Atmosphere,” in the Elite Eight, and there their fandom split a bit, we think: easier to pick Low over Crowded House, and even they knew that Joy Division was going to prove a stouter foe.

They did, but were no match for Chapman’s game. At least two of our expert panelists picked Chapman from the start, though neither got to advocate for her on the game pages. So what did we miss about Chapman to have given her such a low seed? Her song—her one song (though she had another hit much later, let’s be real, for most of us it’s “Fast Car” or nothing: even the geeky types who form the committee hadn’t listened to her past that other hit)—was so ubiquitous the year that it came out that we stopped listening to it. We stopped even hearing it: we just heard the phenomenon of it: yeah, yeah, Fast Car, My name is Luka, I live on the second floor (how easily we conflate phenomena!) and let’s get back to our Cure tapes and our Depeche Mode that let us really feel how we want to feel.

We hadn’t realized, as one commenter mentioned later in a hallway conversation, how “Fast Car” can be read as a direct response (in both content musically—how there’s a riff in “Fast Car” that seems to call it back) to John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” (a sad-ass song, if not one that qualifies as “college rock”) and thinking about it more, we were reminded how Mellencamp discovered Chapman, auditioning acts for Farm Aid, and ran across an unheralded Tracy Chapman, and put her onstage there, and the rest is history.

Or, well, “Fast Car” is history, and then a gap—not for her but for us, for most of us, this, let’s admit it, probably pretty white crowd (as an early commenter said, as a joke, we think, #MarchSadnessSoWhite: indeed! but on reflection all the bands that we listened to then who even loosely fell under the aegis of “college rock” were white: like we wonder—and other, smarter people have probably written about this: direct us there if you have suggested reading?—if college rock (which became, kind of, alternative as the 80s bled into the 90s) served as a counter to mainstream Top 40 radio in the same way that hip hop did?). Well, we don’t know what happened then. And we forgot about Chapman, consumed as we were with our own obsessions with the synths and with the Brits and with our excavation of all the alternatives to the hits—until “Give Me Just One Reason” reminded us of what her voice can do.

I realize I’m not writing about Buckley here, or not much. That’s because I’m a little tired of “Hallelujah,” by now, if I’m being honest, even as he’s gone on to win the thing.

It’s true that Buckley and Chapman aren’t exactly in the center of the college rock genre. As someone said on Twitter, these finals could have been played in a Starbucks in Overland Park, Kansas instead of here, in the Doc Martens March Sadness Basketball Arena in Tucson, Arizona. While that’s true, we take that to mean that Starbucks has better taste in music than you think, or that it’s eaten us, that the center of the culture has consumed the fringe, as it does. We’re reminded of that moment a couple years ago when we realized that we knew all the songs at Starbucks while we were sipping on our hard-earned lattes, that two in the last half hour alone appeared on our last motherfucking mix tape.

I freaked out a bit, I should admit. Wait, I said, does that mean we’ve lost our cool? Megan said: oh honey, I thought you knew. God damn, I said. God damn the sun.

Well, I am certain I will never hear Swans at Starbucks, but I did hear “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as I shopped at the grocery store in Michigan—in a Muzak version, no less. I knew then that something was over. Maybe the counterculture, whatever it was and how it helped us define ourselves then, lost, or did it just serve its purpose and recede? Or was it always just a pose? I don’t know. Even what I complain about, calling derisively Top 40 Mainstream culture in the 80s was never that monolithic, I don’t think. If you’re, say, five years older than me, or just a bit smarter than me, you probably already realized that. Sure, there were their share of crappy bands churned out on the major labels, but there were weird spikes too, one of them being Chapman’s “Fast Car,” which is a pretty god damn sad song when you really listen to it, if you can. And her story’s sad. It’s not as sad as the young accidental death of a dude whose dad killed himself, but it’s bigger, and it’s better, and it’s less susceptible to easy mythologization because she’s still alive, because she went on after she had that one huge hit, and she made herself a career, and she seems to have exerted some force on her legacy (that there’s no online streaming of the video for “Fast Car” seems to me like it must be her doing somehow, like her exerting some control over her life, or maybe I’m ascribing intention to what’s just an accident of rights), and whatever, Tracy, you wrote a fucking good sad-ass song and we thank you for that and for the fact that you’re still out there singing. So say we all.

Happy March’s end to you and yours. Thanks for coming along for the ride. One more post to come later on.

In the meantime, we leave you with a poem:

"My Sad Captains"
Thom Gunn

One by one they appear in
the darkness: a few friends, and
a few with historical
names. How late they start to shine!
but before they fade they stand
perfectly embodied, all

the past lapping them like a
cloak of chaos. They were men
who, I thought, lived only to
renew the wasteful force they
spent with each hot convulsion.
They remind me, distant now.

True, they are not at rest yet,
but now that they are indeed
apart, winnowed from failures,
they withdraw to an orbit
and turn with disinterested
hard energy, like the stars.

[listen to him read it live at the University of Arizona Poetry Center in 1972]

THE SAD CHAMPIONSHIP: vote by 3/31 9am





Here we are under the big lights, with one game left in March Sadness 2016. Bittersweet? You bet. In lieu of more writing, we've made a video (next) to helpfully recap our monthlong road. After that, the songs in question, followed by one last trip to the expert analysts' panel of getting-it-wrong and coulda been. Vote by tomorrow morning at 9am, at which point we'll announce the champion.





(2) Jeff Buckley, "Hallelujah"


(7) Tracy Chapman, "Fast Car"


KC: *This Mortal Coil's “Song to the Siren” will be somehow etched into my gravestone.

RC: *Should win: Buckley. That recording is for the ages. Chapman's song never hung together for me—too slick. *Will win: Probably Chapman. The perfection that rubs me the wrong way about her song makes it extremely accessible, and it's had global impact, and very positive. *Shoulda been: New Order, Regret. I like a sad song that makes me dance. Also regret itself is a very uncommon sentiment to find so well expressed in art.

DCD: *My pick to sweep the whole thing from the very beginning was Chapman. It's the damned saddest song for so many reasons beyond my own personal experience, but I have a deep connection to that particular song on top of it being a heartbreaker.

PH: *Pam thinks Via Chicago and Ashes of American Flags are sadder, but she loves the way Jeff Tweedy sings/writes.

LL: *Since the Syracuse upset, #4 seeds have become more attractive to me. Also, between the original and cover, you've got just about the whole span in question (1983-2001)—maybe overemphasizing the "college years" over the sadness. Also, still think NMH has got what it takes.

MM: *Should win: Chapman, because it acknowledges the power of a big one-hit wonder to define an artist and then opens the mystery of why we enthusiastically respond to that artist's first endeavor, only to go so cold on the rest of their output. (Yes, I know she had that other song years later, but please...). Also, I think Buckley was up for the wrong song. I would have gone with "Lover, You Should've Come Over," but I think anything is genius if it features someone looking out of a window or a door. *Will win: Buckley, because those who know of his tragic circumstances also know that his dad died early too. If people want deep sadness, there it is. It's like Bruce and Brandon Lee. *Shoulda been: as a dutiful follower of the brackets, I listened to each song against its competitor and tried to judge fairly on those first merits rather than on reputation or what I remembered of the song. Sinead's song was the only one that knocked me on my ass and I could not get it out of my head for the rest of the day—the barely contained heights of emotion in her delivery were real surprises, exactly the kind of song that best represents "heard it, but don't really remember it." Wrenching, honest, and punished unfairly for not being "Nothing Compares 2 U." Bonus points for perhaps not being the third or even fourth song that a casual listener might list if asked to name her best work. Quoth Pam of Archer fame, "Holy shit snacks..." 

LCJO: *Should win: I love the love Chapman's been getting—a surprise surge. I think in part because of the quality of the write-ups she's been getting, but also on the strength of the song. It's cool that something that's more quietly regretful as opposed to flash-y sad has come so far. But I still think that both in quality of song, transcendence of cover, and sheer range of evocative sadness, it's Buckley. *Will win: I would be SHOCKED if he doesn't win. *Shoulda been: My write-in candidate, The Magnetic Fields, All the Umbrellas in London, and of the real picks, The Cure, Pictures of You (which did go far!). There's something arguably peaceful and reflective about Hallelujah while as Kathleen Rooney brilliantly put it, Pictures of You is pure melodrama; in the best possible sense, it's fabulously, wonderfully self-indulgently sad. Should have taken it. 

EP: *(But if it was a winner, would it still be a Replacements song? Discuss.)

KR: *(I think "Fast Car" is sadder because of its fearless evocation of the soul-destroying drudgery of privation and economic coercion by invisible / systemic forces, but I don't know if people will be able to separate the narrative of Jeff Buckley's short, not-especially-buoyant life from what's actually intrinsic to the song and the performance (although he also deserves points for making a not-super-sad song sadder than it is).

AS: *Because I once saw a drag queen perform that song while just sitting on a folding chair and just singing it and people were coming up out of the crowd and stuffing dollar bills in her overalls, weeping. So sad.

MV: *Should win: because no song used on The O.C. twice should qualify for this award. *Will win: Buckley because the The O.C. made lots of otherwise good people cry more than twice. *Shoulda because "if you're hurtin', so am I."


Good luck to both of the final songs. Let's have a clean game. That means you, Buckley.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

An Interlude: Fenton Johnson on Pop

Well, this could take up several hours that right now I need to be spending on correcting dangling participles . . . . What comes first to mind is the particularity of pop music, which is its distinguishing characteristic—as Stephen Dunn writes in “Loves”:
I love how pop songs seem profound
when we're in love,
though they wound us too sweetly,
never seriously enough.
Each generation loves its songs because, speaking of sadness, those songs imprinted themselves at a critical moment. For folks now in their late 40s and 50s, one or several of the songs of the March Sadness bracket was playing somewhere near at hand at the moment of discovery of mortality, suffering, death.

But I’m in my 60s, and my people—I mean gay men—we didn’t listen much to pop music. I vividly recall expressions of incredulity among my friends when I revealed that I had played Bruce Springsteen when having sex—later that day someone slipped a Pet Shop Boys recording under my office door. We had our own music—disco—and we were proud that it was the object of disdain among the liberal college set. Disco belonged to Queens and queens, and the more derision heaped on it by the sophisticates and the straights, the more that proved it was ours. Sometime around 5 a.m. we shifted from the gold and silver lamé fans and flags to Maria Callas and Krista Ludwig, and it was a simple fact and expectation that every disco DJ signaled dawn and closing time with a bow to our roots via a seamless segue from Donna Summer’s Last Dance (OK, OK, I know) to Callas singing Vissi d’Arte or Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Winterreise. Callas is not everyone’s cup of tea—that’s a different essay—but Patti Smith played Vissi d’Arte on hearing the news of Robert Mapplethorpe’s death, and that tells you something.

I liked all the March Sadness songs in greater or lesser degree, though none affects me as deeply or sounds so sad as Springsteen’s Downbound Train, not because Leonard Cohen’s / Jeff Buckley’s "Hallelujah" isn’t as great (or greater) but because I first heard Downbound Train when AIDS was emptying the discos and I was not much past 30 and Sylvester was dead, one of the first to go, and though Jimmy Somerville’s ethereal countertenor (hello—Smalltown Boy [The Committee regrets this oversight. —Ed] ought to be on the March Sadness list) was a good stand-in, Sylvester and his Two Tons of Fun were landmarks, creating funk culture from a mix of gospel and soul and rock ‘n’ roll, and anyone who doesn’t understand Sylvester as a phenomenally talented artist and gender-bender who chose to come out with his people rather than play straight hasn’t listened to his music.

So I say, bring back the disco, and play all four March Sadness finalists—no, maybe three; I’d cut The Cure for the reasons Pam Houston sets forthbut then, but then after Joy Division and Tracy Chapman and Jeff Buckley, segue to Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma with its incomparable, defying-death final note. Indeed no one shall sleep, and the great thing about YouTube is that we get to see that for Pavarotti, sex and God and singing are all of a piece. I liked all these March Sadness songs, but none sent chills up my spine like Pavarotti, even after I’ve listened to his recording of it dozens, hundreds of time. And his eyebrows are real.

The recipient of many literary awards, Fenton Johnson is the author of  a new novel, The Man Who Loved Birds, as well as a Harper’s Magazine cover essay ("Going It Alone: The Dignity and Challenge of Solitude"). He was recently featured on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air.

Final Four Scores, Analysis, Preview of Wednesday's Championship

Both the (1) seeds are gone, defeated soundly in their Final Four games. This clears the way for a matchup maybe no one (except Pam Houston in her analysis of the Final Four games) saw coming: (7) Tracy Chapman, a huge underdog in the Sadness tournament, will face off against "dead guy legacy" (according to Rick Moody) Jeff Buckley in the championship on Wednesday. Wow.

As it turned out, neither game was even particularly close. Both Chapman and Buckley led from the first shot (a Chapman layup and a Buckley deep three coming off a screen) to the last, and neither The Cure nor Joy Division ever even got close from that point on. We don't know if the wider voting spoke to the more limited (or generational?) appeal of the two UK bands. Your votes for the Final Four came from mostly America, but also: the UK, France, Germany, South Korea, Italy, and Poland. It appears that with The Church eliminated, the Aussies felt less strongly about these pairings.

While it's tricky to generalize from only two games, it would appear that we prefer our sadnesses—at this point anyhow—solo and American.

The Final Scores:

(7) TRACY CHAPMAN 154, (1) Joy Division 90

(2) JEFF BUCKLEY 137, (1) The Cure 89

So the final will be a (7) seed versus a (2) seed, an original versus a cover, one living artist and one dead one, each with big reputations, but each being known best for only one or two songs. Each have blown up brackets in their march to the tournament final, and you'll get to decide which one cuts down the nets and takes home the trophy tomorrow morning, Wednesday, 3/30/16, right here. See you there. (We also have a brief interlude post coming your way shortly to tide you over until then.)

& here's your updated bracket: