Through Gritted Teeth #45: Garry Cook

by Danny Fitzgerald

A promising striker from a small German club, a combative midfielder plucked from a city whose last flirtation with kitsch came more than 30 years ago; a troublesome sub notable heretofore only for the contempt in which he was held by his team-mates; a mad-fringed full-back masquerading as a centre-half; a Barca player, but the last one on anyone’s lips; the second best player on the third, fourth or at times even fifth best team in Spain; and another shit-stirring substitute whose starring role at his team’s treble winning exploits was conspicuous for how little he had to do with their success and the real sensation that the myth is no bigger than the man, a man, moreover, who was ousted by — oh jesus — Dimitar Berbatov!

Since their initial fascination with the man of the moment, Kaká, City’s signings over the last few years have looked more and more like the playlist of a middle class hipster, (a little tautology never did anyone any harm). A laptop warrior Joyceanly unfettered by the nets of creed or culture, genre or gender, he (there are, of course, no women on the internet) scoffs at Time and shifts effortlessly from street jazz to Shatnerian spoken-word operas, from intricate Caged plinks and plonks to soaring stadium rock; wont he is to dabble and splash in the clear-running rivulets of the barroco before loosening his belt, donning a bib and coolly kicking it for half an hour in the company of rap’s most delightfully obnoxious supervillains.

The boardroom, Eastlands

Most important, however, building on all this culture, this considerable pirate booty he has amassed, is his painstaking selection of material for his extensive playlist collection. Oh my, what a lot of work, the hours, the dedication, the attention to the subtleties in the mood changes, now soft, now loud, now gently whispering through the ether like glaciers through your speakers chugging down your spinal cord; the very lights adjust themselves automatically according to the sound levels. It’s not just about eclecticism, however, it’s about finding lost jewels.

This is a cultured man; he understands these materials; he is a detective righting the wrongs of a criminal world. Any artist with a plaque marking the place of his birth is to be scorned. Likewise the exalted DJ, whose insouciant jamming he regards as a frivolous affront to the much more profound possibilities of the medium. No, the compilations must be storyboarded, symbols rise and fall, themes explored, emotions plumbed then cut off abruptly as the case may be but always with a knowing intelligence, far from the abhorred excrescence that is the Random button. There’s not enough scorn in a piss-drenched thornbush in Cornwall to express how he feels about ‘best of’ albums. He loathes these sickly, studio-picked singles lists that lack the loving, knowing touch of the artisan’s hand. ‘Tis a gaudy galáctico policy. Yea, he spurns the anthologists’ work, instead panhandling his way through the hours of ill-conceived and/or poorly-executed tracks, jams and random ditties to rescue nuggets of gold from the silty waters.

Yet gold is too vulgar. Gold is the mark of decadence, gold is colonialism, cheapness, the trashy haul of sweaty soldiers smashing through the walls of ancient tombs. Gold is avarice; gold is mere glittery filth. Gold are the gaudy statues on the bridges in the streets of Paris and London thronged by the phantoms of their bloodthirsty pillaging, their resplendent domes cackling their depravity to the heavens. Gold are the egregious baubles of a corrupted faith glaring in the gloom of monstrous cathedrals built ostensibly to honour a carpenter.

Garry Cook, c. 2009

Or so Manchester City’s former chairman, Garry Cook, liked to say. It is a sadly underreported fact that Cook was a courageous visionary. Fed up with trying to reach the pinnacle of success through signing world-class players at the peak of their game, fed up with the clear, friendly megabucks jingles of This is the Grammys 2011, the Cookster ditched his iPod, put on his beanie and set off to Camden market to rummage for some crackly vinyl white labels. One afternoon with hillbillies by the canal spent betting rollies on how many takes it took Gil Scott-Heron to record his obscure Christmas ’78 duet with Jackie Onassis, and the road was clear: people like to feel smart but they also like shiny things and money; ergo, we spend €32,000,000 on Edin Džeko. He saw that the media now revolved around twitter: its moods were determined by the peculiar brand of humour common to men with one too many screens in their bedrooms. The (non-European) opposition didn’t matter too much: they too were susceptible to the meeja’s murmurings and would duly fall by the wayside in craven deference to money’s destiny.

The genius of Cook’s achievement is that he managed to convince us all that Manchester City were abhorrently mainstream. Using all the tools in the hipster’s satchel he created a marketing monster that convinced even its own protagonists they were Big Time instead of piss-pots on pedestals anointed by the artist’s wad of meaningless petro-dollars. More than anyone else, arguably, he ushered in the current era of hipster-ball — Bielsa at Bilbao, Juve’s tiny stadium, an unashamedly retro Chelsea, Newcastle turning St James’s Park into CBGB’s, Uruguay third in the world rankings, the Libertadores trumping the Champion’s League for skill, drama and excitement, Guardiola benching stars for children in the semi-finals before riding off to spending his days gardening and penning alexandrines extolling the Catalan nation like a bald Percy Bysshe (stay away from Naples, Pep). This hipster era is that of the volitional error, the one that ravages. Hence the email to rare b-side Nedem Onuoha’s mam. His legacy has been to open our eyes to our reality. So next time you hear his name being run-down, pipe up and defend the man who subtly defended nerdish obsession. For the Cookster it was who opened a new portal of discovery, with a song.

Danny writes about Argentinean football on Pegamequemegusta, and can found on Twitter here.

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