Image via Norman Einstein's Kickstarter page.
Image via Norman Einstein's Kickstarter page.
To say that The Classical shares a bloodline with Norman Einstein's Sports and Rocket Science Monthly is true, but also so obvious that it barely bears noting. Between 2009 and 2011, Cian O'Day's online sports magazine was one of the best things on the internet, especially for fans looking for longer-playing, thinkier sportswriting than was otherwise readily available. To say that it was a touchstone for us in starting this site is... well, again, it's obvious. The long list of writers who contributed there and currently contribute here—Classical founding members Eric Nusbaum and Fredorrarci, for starters—attests to that.
Norman went dormant in 2011, but founder Cian O'Day recently endeavored to pull together an anthology of the best work from the site. The result is Norman Einstein's Normanthology, which will mark the magazine's long-overdue debut in print form. The Normanthology's Kickstarter campaign is first and foremost a way to pre-order the book, with posters, prints and assorted and sundry other swag available at the higher levels. For us, first and foremost, it's good news: a world with Norman Einstein in it is a better one. I talked to O'Day and regular contributor (and Classical bud) Graydon Gordian about Einstein's afterlife, the best moments of its two-year run, and the importance of getting into print while it's hot.
I imagine that many Classical readers know what Norman Einstein's was, if only because so many people who have written for us here also wrote for Norm's. But for those who may not know: how would you describe Norman Einstein's, and the inspiration behind it?
Cian: The simplest way I can describe Norman Einstein's place in the vast universe of internet writing on aesthetics and phenomenology in sports is to say our magazine was a garishly-dressed slattern tarting it out on a Monday morning while everyone else was headed for work.
Graydon: I was going to say something about how the intention of Norman Einstein's was to re-calibrate the way we tell stories about sports, opening up the discussion of sports to cultural, aesthetic, ethical and literary concerns that are by no means new, but are still addressed only intermittently. I was going to say that its charm was that, while high-minded, I believe our earnestness and enthusiasm staved off the kind of pretension that can infect projects of this type. But now that Cian points it out, I think it's probably easiest to just say we were a bunch of hookers.
Cian: If the hooker metaphor doesn't make it crystal clear, though I can't imagine why it wouldn't, try this: Norman Einstein's was a loose collective of a bunch of talented people told to go crazy with their ideas on sports who then worked really hard on telling the most compelling story they could tell.
I was inspired to start Einstein's because so many of my favorite sports bloggers—The Mighty MJD, Bethlehem Shoals, Spencer Hall, Holly Anderson, the Football Outsiders guys, Large from No Mas, etc., etc.—were being snapped up by fancy corporate sites, some of which aren't around any more, in and around 2009. It was awesome to see truly creative approaches to sports writing start to get some mainstream cred, but I worried that there was something being lost in that transition. Also, there were a bunch of people like myself inspired by that first wave of bloggers, but those really daring voices were scattered about the internet superhighway. So I just started begging everyone talented I could find who wasn't making any money at it. I was just lucky that some really great writers followed me down the rabbit hole.
What do you think were the high points of The Norman Einstein Experience? That is, what were the moments that made you think, "this is clearly a good choice, working for free in my spare time on a brainy sports journal?"
Cian: High points. For our readers? Probably when I stopped writing so much for the magazine.
Graydon: Obviously any issue to which I contributed was a literary crescendo. Aside from when re-reading my stellar contributions, the times I thought to myself, "the countless hours I've spent reporting, researching, reflecting upon and writing these pieces for free ninety nine was totally worth it," was when I read issue 21, our final issue; Issue 19, a Heisman-trophy themed issue; and Fredorrarci's essay on the penalty shootout in soccer.
Cian: Graydon jokes, but his work is some of my favorite, issue to issue, that we published. I rarely had to say a thing to him once a piece came in. Of course, I once requested a big re-work of one of his essays while he was at a wedding. I think he was pricing hit men around the NYC-area. I'm sure I was only spared by a cost-benefit analysis.
Maybe it's because the magazine was my life for nearly two years, but I feel like every issue has something unique to offer, something that hits a high note. I will say that I knew the magazine really was on the right path by issue 3 and that had everything to do with Stephanie Lim's photo essay on boxing, "Rumble on the River."
Steph's eye for what matters, the emotions that run through the piece, the fact that it was something you wouldn't find on the big sites yet there's still a high-level of quality to it... all that made me feel like I wasn't crazy in starting Einstein's.
The magazine was really cooking from the middle of 2010 until the last issue in February 2011. Issue 16 is a personal favorite. Issue 20 is probably the deepest, article to article. And issue 21 was a great way to send it off.
Graydon: The re-work he's referring to is the piece I wrote on Patrick Peterson in Issue 19. It was neither the first nor the last contribution I worked on while attempting to cure a severe hangover by drinking heavily.
Why now for the Normanthology? Many of these articles are a few years old, and began as topical pieces. What did you look for in picking the ones that made the final cut?
Cian: The reason for the Normanthology now is quite simply that I was staying on a friend's couch in L.A. for a few weeks in spring, unable to sleep one night, and, for whatever reason, started re-reading almost everything we published at Einstein's. It started as a nostalgia trip. Then I realized that the best work was just as relevant a year to three out. The ideas and the conclusions were just as fresh as when they first hit the World Wide Web. I felt a responsibility to all the great pieces by all these talented people who worked their asses off for nothing simply because they bought into an idea I had. That responsibility is not something to be taken lightly. So here we are, making a book.
Making the final cut was killer on me. A few of my favorite pieces just don't work with this print project: Joey Litman's Long Player from issue 1; Fredorrarci's contemplation of Hans van der Meer's soccer photography from issue 5; Jason Clinkscales dissection of Tiger Woods, the marketing phenomenon, through his Nike commercials from issue 12. And, unlike the online magazine, we've got a strict word count to deal with in print.
I won't deny a phone call or two to an ex-girlfriend who's an editor, a good friend, and much more level-headed than I am. In the end, I just had to pick the pieces with the best combination of ideas, execution, and prose/style. We got eleven essays and a smattering of Steph's photos in the Normanthology. I wish the book could be twice the size.
Graydon, are we stupid for doing this book right now?
Graydon: Sure, probably.
Cian: Readers, feel confident that we here at Norman Einstein's are still committed to untimely, drastic decisions with minimal payoff for us.
Provided you reach your Kickstarter limit—and you're doing well so far —what's the next step, beyond printing up the editions and sending out the rewards? Is there an afterlife in mind for Mr. Einstein?
Cian: Well, before Terrell Owens got signed by the Seahawks, I figured we'd take the Texas-oilman fortune we are clearly going to make from selling a limited-run book of a radical sports writing website's best long-form essays and donate the profits to T.O.'s bankruptcy proceedings... but now I guess it's a tuxedo for every penguin in Antarctica. Unless you have a better idea, Graydon?
Graydon: I was going to take whatever profits I make and either invest in Facebook stock or fund an especially dark and debauched boys weekend in Japan. As for whether or not Cian has the audacity to ask the rest of us to spend our time and energy on further issues of an obscure online sports magazine, you'll have to ask him.
Cian: Nope, I've got a better bad idea. Norman Einstein's will live on. The Normanthology is just a start. We will be publishing books of original content based around different themes. We thought, this is such a hot time for print, let's get in while the getting's good.