The Exit Interview: On Modern Baseball and Everything After

“Why are you leaving?”

I knew the answer to this question, but I asked it anyway. I was eighteen and in young, stupid love. I was coached through goodbyes.

“I have to go home.”

We were standing in my parents’ driveway. I had flown in from California two days before, a summer of music industry internship half-digested and quarter-helpful. We both had to sign up for classes that day — hers up the coast, mine in Charlottesville — and we both knew that meant re-opening long distance’s smarting wound. We squeezed in one more day together, and she put her BMW’s top down. It felt special, even ceremonious.

We had heard this song a thousand times that summer, in between trading texts and falling asleep on Skype. It just seemed louder when spilled from car speakers, and so I flinched when the drums kicked in.

“Dude, relax,” she said.

The song was “Re-done.” I never saw her after that day, we broke up days later, and I don’t think I’ve relaxed ever since.

We met and went to my senior homecoming six years — to the day! — before Modern Baseball (aka MoBo) played their last show. It’s a dorky coincidence, but MoBo’s hyperspecificity and hypersensitivity has always sweated the small stuff as passionately as the large. (And as a dude with a memory my mom calls amazing and a hypersensitive case of cerebral palsy I call a semi-walking nightmare, I appreciated that.) Their final three shows, a weekend perhaps attended by everyone who owns a capo in Philadelphia, were a testament to that. The core set list never strayed too far from the expert and the familiar (save for a clutch, front-to-back ode to their perfect debut, Sports), but Union Transfer was pulsing with meaning. An entire city was united over a band that sparked Philly’s next musical wave long enough to dream about that energy transfer. (Just look to the openers each night for hints. Harmony Woods possesses the same emotional integrity, as does the well-woven Shannen Moser.)

Philadelphia was, at one point, just where Boy Meets World was set. In a matter of years, I made it a personal goal to move there. It was so annoying and obvious that college friends thought I already had. Take the Everyman resilience of The Wonder Years, chase it with the molten lava that built Clique’s first album, and you have the cocktail of my smirking anxiety upon which my entire empire is built. MoBo just gave that emotion some more chords and some legs. And I’m sorry for that, but also not really.

I know it’s old hat to say that the misfit nature of emo and its pop punk cousin stood out as relatable. It’s even older hat to say I still don’t feel I belong in the space it’s given me. I wasn’t in Philly when MoBo really exploded, and I’d visit in college and feel like an alien caught in the wrong orbit. The issue was I got so close to my favorite bands that I lost my chill, and instead of reconciling with that prior to now, I just stared at the floor. Getting older has been better for this.

This weekend was therapy, a burial, and a rebirth. I felt threaded to everyone by a thin stream of tears, linked in memory and hope and cautious smiles. And that’s enough.

Because when I was asked why I was leaving D.C., I told them what I’ve learned: I have to go home.

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