Pubs and clubs and opening hours
Was all he knew
One arm bandits and Affiliated Members
– “The Affiliated”, XTC (as the Dukes of Stratosphear)
I always thought XTC’s song The Affiliated perfectly captures – in a poetic, tangential sort of way – the essence of brotherhood, in all its grandeur, peculiarity, silliness and power. I’ve been a member of some pretty intense brotherhoods, most notably in college, when I delved into the “secret” brotherhood of Chi Psi, replete with handshakes, mantras and hidden rooms in an old brick mansion that you couldn’t find even if you had the blueprint.
There is meaningfulness in belonging; it’s not for everybody, but when you allow yourself to discard the usual snark and sarcasm that accompanies the “fraternity” concept and concentrate on this one band of hyper-smart geeks and boisterous intellectuals, our Lodge was not about bagging chicks and being elitist fuckwads, it was about having a band of brothers who would not abandon you.
Had his own tankard
And the evening Standard
And a trophy from darts
That he kept over the bar
He’d nothing to fear,
He had his beer
As with anything other people take seriously, it was jaw-droppingly easy to belittle. The mere act of “rush” pushes these institutions into dealbreaker territory for most sensitive folks, and I would have been fervently anti-frat had it not been for a few chance conversations with some of the most brilliant minds I’d ever met. As it was, I fully understood the act of being in a fraternity – no matter how liberal, color-blind, or gentlemanly we may have been – to be disturbingly elitist and/or twee for a lot of people.
That was fine. I fully supported their viewpoint. Likewise, if someone in the Lodge thought it was stupid, I was all for them getting the fuck out. If you’re going to be involved in something inherently tribal and slightly irrational, you had better be in for a penny and a pound, or else you’re just a pot-stirring dick.
Then came her, through the blur
Then came she, made him see
He saw the light before he’d finished his pint
She saved him from the biggest crime in life
(They hated her.)
I bring this up because I just returned from another brotherhood, the cadre of folks who follow Carolina basketball, a group that has carried a torch for an idea that began in 1910. I flew from Los Angeles to NYC this morning, as it was Lucy’s spring break and we had planned this trip months ago. Yet a brisk tailwind brought us here in less than four hours, and I was in time to see the Elite 8 tournament game in Newark.
We lost just like every other NCAA tournament game I’ve ever attended (Tessa won’t even let me go to the Final Four, after witnessing three defeats in ’98, ’00 and ’08) but I truly love this team, and why? Because they have bought into the idea of brotherhood. They understand that they are custodians of a higher concept, unlike last year, when it was all mean-spirited bullshit and “woe is me, me, me” poison.
This year, we had to jettison one more player who looked upon our merrie bande of brothers with disdain and no sense of rigor. Yes, liking a basketball team – or even believing a college sport represents something bigger than the game – is a discipline considered utterly lame by many of you, and I totally get it. But if you’re in it with us, GET IN IT WITH US, and these boys did.
So thank you to our team, our brother and sisterhood, for letting us feel a part of something again, and coming so close to the promised land after a year of dragging through scrubland desert. I thought I had lost my sense of belonging, but you brought it back as exuberantly and as insanely as ever.
They said you’ll never ever see him again
Got a mortgage ’round his neck
And eight screaming kids
But his seat’s always here
If he wants it.