I have only the barest interest in the annual spring ritual of gathering college athlete to dribble their way across a bracket in the name of good fun and shoveling money into the coffers of a mildly exploitative national organization. On the other hand, I have a weakness for the cottage industry of copycat brackets. Capitalizing on familiarity with one-on-one matchups that march toward the center of a geometric rendering, fleets of intrepid individuals and collectives create pleasant diversions that assemble all manner of pop culture ephemera into dubiously seeded tournaments and let outcomes be determined by the clicking masses who race along the information superhighway. Especially if the topic is one of the hanks in my giant twine ball of interests, my resistance collapses.
There’s surely few tourneys unfolding right now that are better able to tap into my buzzy nostalgia than March Plaidness. Selecting a few dozen songs from the stretch of the mid-nineties when alternative rock briefly moved to the forefront of the music industry, the bracket is like taking a pogo-dancing jaunt through a playlist from one of my overnight shifts on WMAD-FM (“the new rock alternative”) back in the day. There’s a lot of fool’s gold in that particular stream (but not “Fool’s Gold”; that’s too early), but there are also tracks that capture the Gen X mixed emotions of that moment with such acuity that they are perfect time capsules.
In the manner of high school debate, each song gets an advocate to argue its case, reminding the true believers and explaining to the uninitiated just why this combination or words and music deserves to scissor off the netting at the end of the whole endeavor. Writing about the Everclear cut “Santa Monica,” Melissa Faliveno overachieves. On the cusp of her teenaged years at the time of the song’s release, Faliveno was precisely the right age to have its messages of longing and outsiderness embedded into her very being. A lauded essayist, Faliveno marvelous captures the ways a song can take hold and remain a welcome specter in one’s psyche, and she also admirably makes room in the piece for some pertinent professional and biological detail about Everclear’s frontman, Art Alexakis, to deepen appreciation for the track’s resonance. Because her home base when “Santa Monica” was released was the very same Midwestern swath where I hung my flannel — and where I again reside — Faliveno’s essay has particular resonance for me. I, too, know what it’s like to seek out the trappings of rebellion at West Towne Mall.
Faliveno takes her celebration of “Santa Monica” yet one step further. She convenes bandmates and other compatriots in filtering angst through guitar chords and cymbal smashes, and the crew records a cover of the Everclear song. It is utterly fantastic. They pay proper tribute while still putting their own stamp on the song, modernizing it and roughing it up a bit. Faliveno and her cohorts are out past the breakers and beckoning the rest of us to join them, offering assurance that the water is fine, even better than we remember.