October 24, 2017

Song Profiles: Christian Pulisic, “Comfort Eagle”

Sometimes, a footballer and her/his times are captured ever so neatly by a song. Sometimes, we will find it worth writing about such fortunate confluences. Sometimes, these confluences will result in some damn serious analysis; other times they will result in lulz; other times they will result in sad emoji faces; other times they will result in Levi-Straussian structuralist analysis of society’s vast layers. But mostly they will result in a bit of everything. Especially hysteria.

Our inaugural subject is 18 year old Christian Pulisic.

You know him.

Hershey, PA (shout out to Milk Chocolate City!). Soccer pro parents. German high school pupil. Prom attendee. Swaggin‘. Crew cut. Killer smile. Baby-like face, still. American (most important fact!). Professional Footballer for one Borussia Dortmund — hence Bundesliga combatant, DFB Pokal slogger, and UEFA Champions League schlepper. He gets around. Der Wunderteen. Best U.S. men’s national team player, probably. Colin Cowherd interviewee. And hyped soccer-savior of My Country Tis of Thee Star-Spangled America The Beautiful. Otherwise known as “#PuliGod.”

Let’s call him “Comfort Eagle.” During the 2016-17 Rückrunde, this nickname for Der Wunderteen popped into my head as the Pulisic phenomenon kicked into high gear. Of course, the nickname comes from the Cake song of the same name (from the album of the same name). I took the nickname and ran with it. Only later did I notice just how snugly it fit. There is a reason my silly mind linked this song with the player. You’ll see. But the song itself is one of those classic Cake puzzlers with cryptic phrases and striking imagery. The song is, well, silly, but also political. You’ll see.

So let’s all play along: Christian “Comfort Eagle” Pulisic. I’ll explain with liner note-like commentary running between song lyrics. This could be the worst thing I’ve ever written. I’m taking a risk by opening the emotionally associative part of my football-watching mind (not that my other pieces don’t also do this!). So please read in good faith. Open your emotional-associative portal and see what happens. I will regret writing this.

But first, listen to the song:

“Comfort Eagle” by Cake (2001)

“We are building a religion
We are building it bigger
We are widening the corridors
And adding more lanes.”
Let’s roll with the Cake logic. American soccer fans are not born into a world of preexisting footballing glory, histories, and heroes. (St. Landon, forgive me.) Nope. We Americans are all born into a never-ending building project. A project of belief and faith in the “sport of the future.” The never-ending future, since, like 1969. But it’s a massive project, this soccer thing, like building an f-ing superhighway system. However, until recently, it’s a been a single lane sad and lonely highway to nowhere, next to the capital beltways of the NFL and NBA, for example.
.
Then along comes Pulisic. Now we’re talking. Time to build that damn super part of the highway. Lanes, corridors. It’s all being added. In Pulisic, American soccer has something new: a kid starring in European football on of the world’s top 10-15 clubs. Soccer lives! America’s Christ(ian Pulisic) is here! Superhero for the superhighway. We are building a religion. Because soccer is this big, naturally.
.
And that deliciously driving guitar chord. Mmmmmm.
.
“We are building a religion
A limited edition
We are now accepting callers
For these pendant key chains.”
.
Cake somehow knows its Yankee football history, which, in recent decades, is a narrative of looping hype “flashinthepanism.” I mean, doesn’t American soccer have a charlatanism about it? Snakeoil promises? We sell hype, then buy our own hype. Without the established real thing, we look  for the next real thing. Freddy Adu (OG!). Jozy Altidore, Brek Shea. Edson Buddle. Juan Agudelo. The “America’s great soccer hope” meme is our pendant key chains. A permanent fixture of the American soccer imagination. Cake subtly warns us of our past transgressions. Christian Pulisic could just as well be the next incarnation of American flashinthepanism.
.
But lemme me whisper you a secret: it’s all true. It’s all true. About this Pulisic kid. True. He’s that good. Yes, we are building a limited edition religion. Can you dig it?
.
“To resist it is useless
It is useless to resist it
His cigarette is burning
But he never seems to ash.”
.
He is grooming his poodle
He is living comfort eagle
You can meet at his location
But you’d better come with cash.”
.
And here we come to the heart of the song, really.
.
The “he” here is a funny one: let’s call him the “royal he.” We are all he. You, me, America. American soccer has arrived! Poodle and all. Christian Pulisic has arrived! Poodle and all. I, American soccer fan, have arrived. Poodle and all. We/I are living comfort eagle! At least this particular line was the first thing I thought of when watching Pulisic play in an utterly professional manner for Dortmund. It’s comfort eagle, man.
.
Pulisic simply is comfort eagle. He’s the kind of “high on the hog” footballer with consummate skills and confidence that us Americans just aren’t used to having represent us. I always imagine Germans, the French, the English (heh), especially Spaniards, Argentinians, and Brazilians, etc. relaxing a bit when their star players are on the ball. You can rely on these players. They are the stars. They are also comfort eagle. Finally, I’d argue, us Americans have us some comfort eagle. That is, Pulisic is something like a luxury. He’s a lavishly cultured footballer. He’s affluent football viewing. He’s comfort eagle.
.
If you remember nothing else about this song or article, I’ll state its main point: Christian Pulisic is comfort eagle luxury. Lucky us.
.
Got it? Good. Let’s move on.
.
“Now his hat is on backwards
He can show you his tattoos
He is in the music business
He is calling you “DUDE!”
.
Let’s hope this verse doesn’t describe the future Pulisic. We are on standby for this one. Keep an eye on his Instagram account for these signs of conspicuous consumption, d-baggery, a-holeness, moral decay, and soul rottenness. We’re watching, Christian, always watching. Dude.
.
Or maybe …
.
Maybe this verse is about us — or me —  American football and Dortmund fans, now luxuriating in the light of Pulisic. Of course, I exaggerate.
.
“Now today is tomorrow
And tomorrow today
And yesterday is weaving in and out.
.
And the fluffy white lines
That the airplane leaves behind
Are drifting right in front
Of the waning of the moon.”
.
Huh? (You can fill in the blank: _____________)
.
Here, I’ll try: footballing time is a bit ecstatic, weaving in and out of the routines and yesterday, today, tomorrow. Translated: we are f-ing excited about Pulisic, man. But is anything waning?
.
“He is handling the money
He is serving the food
He knows about your party
He is calling you “DUDE!”
.
Now do you believe
In the one big sign
The double wide shine
On the boot heels of your prime.”
.
It’s the cryptic Dude verse again. Yeah, this time it’s me who’s serving up the food for you in the form of this article: I am praising Christian Pulisic. Call it hype, call it sincere. But it’s all the same — praise.
.
So yes, I do believe in the “one big sign” (Pulisic!). Do you?
.
But Cake won’t let us off the hook: the possibility, nay the even strong possibility, of hype haunts the song and begs me to color Pulisic’s tale with this lens. I mean, “double wide shine”? Super big shiny stuff. Or “boot heels of your prime”? This verse is something like the flashy over-confident correlative to the “comfort eagle” verse we saw earlier. In other words, we are living shiny comfortable eagle now.
 .
“Doesn’t matter if you’re skinny
Doesn’t matter if you’re fat
You can dress up like a sultan
In your onion head hat.”
.
It’s time to revel in these days of Pulisic. Put on the whole hype get up — “dress up like a sultan,” join the sultans of German, Spanish, French, Agrentinian, Brazilian, and Mexican football. Onion head hat definitely has the taint of charlatan about it, however. Again, Cake won’t let us forget about hype itself, lurking under the entire song. But Pulisic is beyond hype, I counter. And so do you. He’s hype fulfilled, right? Right?
.
“We are building a religion
We are making a brand
We’re the only ones to turn to
When your castles turn to sand.
.
Take a bite of this apple
Mr. Corporate events
Take a walk through the jungle
Of cardboard shanties and tents.”
.
The church of Pulisic. Pulisic™.
.
Sandcastles = the rest of the USMNT roster. You know it’s true. This also goes for former USMNT rosters. I’m looking at you, Mr. Adu. Pulisic offers something different, given his status within Dortmund’s squad and within the context of European football. So far, Pulisic has held his own against Europe’s best, and excelled. I’m stuck here. I’m stuck between satirizing hype and genuinely praising Pulisic, then existentially reassuring American football fans that the hype is true: this kid is great. That is, America finally hit the soccer lottery in Pulisic. Given his own personality, upbringing, education, skills, and opportunities, Pulisic is venturing into unknown territory for an American footballers. I don’t think he’ll be the male player to do this, however, since there’s an impressive crop of Americans at Schalke 04, for example. However, Pulisic is the only American player right now, who is on the cusp of elite footballing status. Don’t underestimate this, readers.
.
Clearly, I’ve bitten “this apple.”
.
“Some people drink Pepsi
Some people drink Coke
The wacky morning DJ
Says democracy’s a joke.
.
Forget about our disgustingly divisive and fractured electoral politics in America in the age of Trump. Just become an American Outlaw.
.
He says now do you believe
In the one big song
He’s now accepting callers
Who would like to sing along.”
.
Not only is Pulisic our “big sign,” but he’s our “big song.” So sing along with me. I’m accepting callers. Sing, sing, sing!
.
Irony aside, I’m genuinely trying to praise Pulisic in this piece. But it’s hard: directly praising something is difficult (look, I’m not Pindar). I could write a rhetorically “persuasive” piece about Pulisic’s numbers with accompanying GIFs. I could talk about ExGs. I could talk about Key Passes, etc. But we’ve already had many of these about Pulisic. Hence talking about Pulisic in the form a mostly forgotten Cake song. This song slowly started working on me while I watched Pulisic in the Dortmund Startelf, or subbing on. For example, the song gave words to a little jolt I got whenever Pulisic subbed in, seemingly change the match dynamics instantly. And as is the way of poetry, the the song speaks “in slant,” that is, indirectly — in a way that is more conducive to articulating emotions, like excitement. To me, “Comfort Eagle” articulates what Pulisic means when I’m watching Americans play football. Yes, the song is mostly a somewhat dark warning about hyped-up projects — a warm that necessarily follows the development of any young American soccer star — but the song just slightly leaves open the possibility that it all might be true, this hype business. And it’s precisely this opening that I’m seizing hold of. And widening.
.
So I’m saying you should believe. He is the “comfort eagle” of American soccer.
.
“He says, do you believe
In the one true edge
By fastening your safety belts
And stepping towards the ledge.
.
Get your safety belt on. Buckle up, American Outlaws. Do you believe?
.
We are building a religion. A limited edition. Recall.
.
In footballing terms, Pulisic is something like a security blanket, or translated into the terms of this song, a “safety belt” when a football match teeters on the edge. That is, he’s the kind of player on the USMNT team who you will be able to count on, thanks to his confidence and skills, when a match hangs in the balance, or on the “edge”/”ledge.” Currently, you can see this trait in Pulisic when he receives the ball in Dortmund’s final 3rd. First, his technique (e.g. touch, dribbling, passing) is supreme in these situations. Second, he seems to play in a state of almost automated confidence, shifting toward goal in the most menacing way possible. Lately, more often than not, defenders simply resort to fouling him when he’s on the ball. It’s staggering that, at 18, he’s already the kind of player many defenders must simply “hack down” in the final 3rd to limit the damage.
.
“He is handling the money
He is serving the food
He is now accepting callers
He is calling me “DUDE!”
.
He says now do you believe
In the one big sign
The double wide shine
On the boot heels of your prime.”
.
Familiar song territory. Any questions?
.
If you’re still struggling, try this: simply respond to Pulisic’s play (go watch some YouTube clips), emotionally. How does it make you feel? Who is he? Now return to these two verses. Can’t you see him handling the money? Serving the food? Even calling you “DUDE”?
.
That’s right.
.
“There’s no need to ask directions
If you ever lose your mind
We’re behind you
We’re behind you
And let us please remind you
We can send a car to find you
If you ever lose your way.”
.
In football, we like to talk about our clubs and mangers having “roadmaps,” language that’s related to the song’s talk of “directions.” In American football, the discussion of what stylistically constitutes “American Soccer” is as old as the national team itself (e.g. see the discussion in issue 1 of Howler magazine). Of course, Pulisic himself isn’t a roadmap or set of directions. And I’m not even sure that Pulisic’s developmental narrative provides a template for future American kids, given all the variables in the story that are unique to Pulisic himself. Yet the real connection here is something like the idea that Pulisic doesn’t get lost on the pitch — there’s no losing your way with him. I mean this in all sincerity. Again, it’s that confidence thing that Pulisic has, which I take to be something like an index of his “footballing IQ” (whatever that means). He’s been trained and programmed into a worldclass player. He knows it. But not in an assuming and ostentatious way; rather, in the same way that a pride of lions knows how to hunt or a machine on the factory floor stamps a sheet of metal.
.
“We are building a religion
We are building it bigger.
.
We are building a religion
a limited edition.
.
We are now accepting callers
For these beautiful
Pendant key chains.”
.
The curious thing about Pulisic is that he’s a teenager, which is the primary reason why I find it so difficult to write about him. (Perhaps he reminds me too much of many young college students I have.) That is, I find it strange talking about football on the stardom and national level in relation to an 18 year old kid. This difficulty, I think, helps me understand why I linked Pulisic to this Cake song. On one level, the song describes an out of control hype machine that just might be true. On another level, the song blows up the whole by casting hype projects in the sinister light of Hucksters, snake oil, salesmanship, consumption, and faux-religion. In many ways, these levels is exactly what contemporary football is all about in its mad hope/hype and cynical business. And within this two-layered system, we find Christian Pulisic — an 18 year old American teenager from Hershey, PA.
.
It’s all so gloriously absurd, right?
.
America, we finally have some soccer-styled comfort eagle.
The following two tabs change content below.
Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. He writes for Howler magazine's website. Born and groomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis is a college English instructor in Pittsburgh. Coffee, books, and coaching the U8s are his passions. His writing has also appeared in Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, and his former blog, Sportisourstory.tumblr.com, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!

Leave a Reply