The worst thing about The Decision, eight years on, wasn’t that LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach in 2010. Nor was it that Cleveland fans had to watch him on national television, hiding an upward curl of his lips, justifying why he was leaving the Cavaliers. Or even the welcome party that Miami hosted for him, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, where LBJ says “it feels right” more than once.
No, the least likable thing about the whole affair was that fans of the Cavs sincerely believed that LeBron was and is one of Cleveland’s own. The whole grew-up-in-Akron thing never really stuck. That LeBron James was an Ohioan compounded all of the above, making the blade in the backs of the Cavalier faithful a serrated one.
I’m not entirely sure why a celebrity being from one’s own locale matters to us. Where I live, Montrealers go crazy over Georges St-Pierre (technically from Montérégie, thus problematic) when he’s in the UFC octagon; the city went all out when Leonard Cohen (Westmount, linguistically problematic) passed away; and the Saputo Stadium was filled to the brim when it was hometown captain Patrice Bernier’s (Brossard, also problematic) last match for the Impact. Regardless, geographical proximity allows us to reach out and claim our heroes. In conversations about movie directors or musicians, we tack on the fact that they’re from our town or city or country, not necessarily as a way of showing off one’s trivial knowledge (which would be the case if you were to point out any other person of fame’s place of birth), but more to put the cherry on the cake.
In compiling a playlist of Montreal bands I feel are worth listening to, I asked myself what the significance of it was. Some of these artists I’ve seen in poorly-ventilated, cramped bars; others I’ve caught at music festivals, their legion of fans screaming themselves hoarse after the twenty-feet stacks of amps relay the artists’ “bonsoir, Montréal!” Others I only learned of through posters, wrapped around lampposts or glaring back at me from the boards of construction sites. A minority of them actually introduced by music streaming services, since listening to say, Simon Kingsbury, would return a recommendation of Leif Vollebekk, there being no relation at all apart from the fact that both might shop at the same supermarket in Montreal.
Harder still to explain one’s sense of pride stemming from a hockey player coming up the ranks in your school, an actress being part of the improv class adjacent to your speech training workshop, or an app having been incubated in a startup in your block. Our input in their meteoric flight is probably close to nothing, and yet we chant “one of us.”
Tribalism is a big word nowadays. It boils down right-wing resurgency to the point of almost giving the members of the group an excuse. Dylan Moran wrote a whole show around it. Netizens gave Sebastian Junger’s book, Tribe, 4/5 on Goodreads. And yet the head tribalism is rearing might not be so ugly, if really all we’re talking about is belonging. To belong is sometimes merely to be. In some ways, it’s touching in the vulnerability it reveals. The desire for souped-up, drunk men in matching football jerseys to shout at a screen in buzzing sports pub shares the same root with that of the the quiet couple who wants to go see a local band. Everyone wants to be part of something, if only for a little while. If nationalism can be banal (as Michael Billig calls it), then so can tribalism.
My tribalism sometimes refers to restrained emotions, as I quietly look on from afar, restraining my enthusiasm in seeing a member of Arcade Fire or whatever band we worship, walking into a Vietnamese restaurant, curling barbells in a gym, or chatting up the barista. There they are, doing the same brow movement thing you do when choosing between three different types of croissants, ignoring the homeless man shouting “Vive la vélorution” as they chain up their bikes, and getting their dog to sit before they cross the pot-hole ridden roads of this city.
Tribalism and the word we all try to popularise on Instagram ‘sonder’: the realisation that someone else apart from you has a life of their own. That’s what I feel, following the thread that ties each of these fifty or so musicians together in this playlist, acknowledging that they all have their life stories, and that somewhere in their heads is an old or current life chapter with a title that says “I live in Montreal.” So too, does this chapter exist in the volunteer for the music promoter with the bleached hair, reading Game of Thrones in between acts, in the man doing the sound check, in the cégep students checking in your winter coats for $2 a piece.
The people who program the light show, the security guards who don’t give a damn about the artist, the servers hoisting beers way above the crowd, bills sprouting out between the fingers of their closed fists. Maybe not the people who come from afar, following the band’s every stop, but definitely the person in Centre bell, printing your ticket. Or the bartenders selling overpriced sodas and beers and the roadies tuning the guitars behind the curtains as the underage all-sweat-and-bones kids bounce around the moshpit.
“I live in Montreal”
In the dreadlocked employee at the post office, the sweating dough-kneading chefs of rivaling bagelries, the dimpled-cheek cashier behind the doughnut counter, the Hasidics ambling on Outremont, the cross-armed men falling asleep in the Spanish-speaking chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, the kids in the playgroud mimicking Kylian Mbappe, the bald guy you think plays football like a dick on the opposing team.
You take a deep breath as you step on the plane to leave. And now maybe, just maybe, it’s time to use the past tense for this chapter. Like the PVTist who worked in three different bars and six different restaurants. The man who fell in love with the Algerian woman studying in New York but who came up that one time in the fall and decided to use Tinder. Or the graphic designer who renewed contract after contract because she couldn’t say bye to snowboarding, Igloofests, and marshmallows over fires.
You’re in between stages, in between tenses, but maybe you crack a little mental smile because you, too, have that very same chapter. And that’s why your local band matters to you, even if they are no longer local.