More on the rocking snowboarding at the Olympics.
Okay, I’m not really at the Olympics. (But I have been watching the Canadian broadcast on CBC, so I’ve got a much better idea of what’s going on out there than those of you forced to suffer through the NBC version.) Regardless, I see something happening in Utah that’s cool and applicable here: As you may have noticed yesterday, a U.S. snowboarding posse swept the medals in men’s halfpipe. (A day earlier, an American bagged the gold in the women’s event.) This was the first time our country had swept an event since 1956; then it was men’s figure skating. That’s a pretty long time between sweeps—and a lot of cultural distance between the events.
Think of figure skating as it existed in 1950s. You can’t? Neither can I, but I can’t imagine that this Olympic pillar of conservatism and propriety has really changed so much. Then or now, it’s a far cry from snowboarding and its upstart rebellion. Rock, both its fashion and the music itself, largely fuel the snowboarding image. From Social Distortion to Outkast to Cyndi Lauper, we heard it all the past two days, blaring over loudspeakers as mohawked and headphoned riders rocked the pipe in their baggy pants. That snowboarding has taken to the Olympics could be viewed as yet another case of a corporation (is there anything more corporate than the IOC?) co-opting cool, marketing the counterculture.
But I didn’t get that impression. No, the snowboarders did their thing without compromising the tone, peacefully coexisting with the rest of the Olympics. And the figure skaters maintained tradition, a Russian team winning the pairs competition due to a judging decision right out of the Cold War era. If anything, I saw the triumph of the stokified in Salt Lake as a poignant comment on how lucky we Americans are to live in these coolest of times.
Consider it yet another triumph of rock and roll, in the unlikeliest of venues.
Super Bowl XXXVI Makes Al-Qaida Run For The Hills —
“No more Terry Bradshaw!” they scream.
Each year, the concentric rings of florescent gluttony emanating from the Super Bowl reach further and further out, before they eventually dissolve, say, around the time pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in late February. But this year, on top of the reams of ad money and endless sports media backslapping that have become traditions, Fox’s coverage of the Super Bowl was spun as an “America RULES!’ boondoggle on par with James Brown’s “Livin’ In America” spectacle preceding Apollo Creed’s bout with Ivan Drago.
And I still don’t know what an Mlife is.
The event played out on a series of levels. In the center was the game itself, which was treated as a non-event til midway through the second quarter, when it became clear that the AFC’s New England Patriots were not the Washington Generals to the NFC’s St Louis Rams’ Globetrotting “Greatest Show on Turf” act. Revolving around the game was the usual Sunday slumber – which on Fox is dominated by JB, Terry, Cris and Howie’s towel-slapping antics and barely tenable game analysis. But because of September 11, and in anticipation of the patriotic daisycutter that will detonate over Salt Lake City next week, Super Bowl XXXVI was almost forgotten amidst the Up With America! fervor lancing through every aspect of the event.
Mariah Carey sobered up long enough to competently lip-synch our national anthem. A full-figured gal, Carey’s pinup girl good looks nicely complimented Fox’s troops-in-Kandahar breakins. Here’s what you’re fighting for, boys. Get home safe, you hear? And when you do, visit Mariah at the group home, where she’s gearing up for a tour of America’s roadhouses and supper clubs, selling her new release from the trunk of her 1986 Nissan Sentra. Vanity license plate: CRAZY4U.
“Sir” Paul McCartney, looking spry in his casual tracksuit, performed “Freedom,” his wretched song penned in the wake of 9/11. The sentiment is to be applauded. But like Neil Young’s “Let’s Roll” before it, the song just sucks. A better Macca moment came during halftime, when he harmonized with Terry Bradshaw in a version of “Hard Day’s Night” straight out of the decaying brain matter knocking around inside Bradshaw’s skull. The erstwhile Steeler QB played too many games without his helmet on, and it shows. For his part, McCartney took it all in with good-natured charm, not even flinching when the decidedly un-funky James Brown suggested that McCartney’s old band changed the world “with their moptop haircuts.”
U2 made the most of their 12- minute halftime gig, even if the heart-shaped stage and “Beautiful Day” don’t have the same freshness they did over a year ago when we first saw and heard them. Bono’s entrance through the crowd was a nice touch, as was the brief coda of “MLK” before the Edge’s sparkling intro to “Streets Have No Name.” Instead of his usual sermon on peace and love, Bono chose to let an enormous projection of 9/11’s victims speak for itself.
It’s been suggested that an American band should have performed at halftime. Who, Grand Funk Railroad? U2 is no longer just an Irish band. While Bono’s proselytizing is at times overwrought, he and his band have truly become a band for the world. Their message is clear, but their music supports it with appropriate amounts of rocking and songcraft. They were the perfect choice for this year’s halftime show, reinforcing the patriotic flair of the show with their trademark grace and sound.
By the end of the fourth quarter, a slush fund of ad dollars had amounted to a memorable Broadway chimp, a few funny Budweiser ads (“I’m doin’ fine. My brother just picked me up from the airport and…”), and the fact that Britney would have been hotter in the 1950s. Because of the Patriots’ late game heroics, Fox had to push its tribute to departing broadcast icon Pat Summerall into the post-game. But when it finally came, the video montage was accompanied by some extremely awkward on-camera banter between the ancient Summerall and his booth partner for 21 years, the monolithic John Madden. It only got worse when each member of Fox’ broadcast crew delivered a soliloquy about what Summerall meant to them (or at least what he meant to their fledgling careers as moronic broadcasters). It may have been time for the 71-year old Summerall to hang it up, but Fox’ treatment of his farewell was concurrent with the network’s bludgeoning, substance-less brand projection. Even drunk, senile, and old, Pat Summerall has more class than goose-necked desk warbler Cris Collinsworth.
Given the Fox network’s penchant for brazen cross-promotion, Super Bowl XXXVI’s patriotic bent could have been so heavy-handed as to make the terrorists hate us more. The cast of “That 80s Show” reciting the Gettysburg Address in Valley Girl accents, perhaps? Instead, the event combined reverent patriotism, exciting football, and a hint of that “don’t fuck with us” cold war chest-thumping that defined Rocky IV and America in the 1980s.
And in the end, a red, white, and blue team of upstarts and never weres, led by a spunky kid QB with corn-fed good looks and an “aw, shucks” smile, knocked the cool kids’ block off, and made the Vince Lombardi trophy their own. If that doesn’t sound like a script written for America in 2002, I’ll submit to a Quizno’s product testing seminar.
America loves its football game pep music
It’s Sunday. Week 11.
Fat men in Braveheart facepaint shout oaths and threaten bodily harm at other groups of fat men clad in Braveheart facepaint of a different color and stripe. The roller rink stench of nachos and frankfurters, tacos and churros swirls in the air, drugging the nostrils into convincing the brain that the artery-busting foodstuffs are a good idea. A homemade placard is continually thrust into the air, representing the sickening hope of its maker that his particular message of positive thinking will not only inspire the home team and its fans, but also give the desperate signmaker a hilariously brief moment of fame, an instance in which his charmingly stupid sign and its questionable graphic design will be critiqued and ridiculed, and he and his pear-shaped friends will be viciously laughed at by a nationwide viewing audience of over 2 million households. And then, during the TV time out, Jay-Z’s “H.O.V.A.” busts through the PA, and the rival schools of fat men are suddenly united in overweight booty-shaking glory. Beer foam sloshes, facepaint smears, and long unused muscles shout obscenities at his brain as the Grabowski in section 106, seat 16 does a modified twist to the shuffling beat of “H.O.V.A.,” a song by a rap artist which he might never have heard in his life – let alone danced to it on the Diamondvision of his local stadium for everyone to point and chuckle – if he hadn’t dropped $40 to see his Chicago Bears meet the Detroit Lions on Sunday, week 11.
Are you ready for some football?
In the old days, before professional leagues, college football was king. During delays in play, Gatsby hatted spectators joined with the men’s chorus in singing their alma mater’s fight song, and children in short pants ate hot peanuts and mimicked the vicious flying wedges of the archaic on-field action. Then came Yalie Walter Camp, and official rules that, over time, transformed the game from an organized ass-kicking into the wealth-driven, uber-athletic enterprise of the 21st century NFL. Today, in Autumn, pro football engulfs America for 20 weeks or so and has made the average dope into Trapper John, MD. On any given Monday, on lunchbreaks from Maine to Malibu, terms like medial collateral and anterior cruciated ligament are tossed around like so much common knowledge. One thing that hasn’t changed since the era of the leather helmet? A simple fact: people get bored when the game isn’t happening. And whether they paid a dime or 2 bills, you need to keep the audience happy. Odds are the candyasses in that 1900’s men’s chorus would be given astro-wedgies in the nearest urinal if they showed their faces in today’s stadiums. So a more sophisticated method of gang entertainment is required.
Enter the pause-in-game DJ.
70,000 bleacher-seated refs may want the play reviewed, but no one wants to wait for the actual, onfield official to look into his special camera and figure it out. Fear not! The pause-in-game DJ has the answer. He starts out with that laugher of a “Jeopardy!” theme song, easing the emotions of the yetis screaming obscenities at the opposing team. But “Jeopardy!” is only 40 seconds long, and the official is really taking his time. Hey, it ain’t no thing. P-I-G DJ simply drops J. Geils Band’s “Freeze Frame,” momentarily entertaining the crowd with its delightful double entendre of good timin’ organ and lyrics appropriate to a funny shirted man watching a replay on a screen to discern whether or not Plaxico Burress caught the pass in bounds. Never thought the right song would exist for such a unique situation, eh? Well, that’s why you’re not the pause-in-game DJ.
A recent Visa ad has fun with sporting event pep music. “Are you ready to cheer on your Pittsburgh Steelers?” screams the PA announcer, and the faithful throng roars its approval, only to be rendered silent by the high-pitched strains of Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You.” Flash to a snarky record store clerk, who scolds a team employee for trying to by a copy of “Who Let The Dogs Out?” with a check. No I.D., no Baja Men, and so Minnie Riperton is played in its place. The spot (by BBDO/New York) gets it right, suggesting that the Steeler faithful can make the distinction between two similarly unfortunate moments in pop music history. The pudgy man holding an enormous ‘D’ in one paw and a representation of a picket fence in the other has no problem kicking it to the Baja Men’s amped up calypso jive. But Minnie Riperton? Hell no, man. That shit’s fruity. In an interesting twist that suggests the mind control inherent in advertising, many P-I-G DJs have turned the tables on the Visa ad’s bit. At a recent meeting of the Bears and the Lions, “Lovin’ You” was played over the PA to roars of laughter and general arm-punching, “ha ha ha I get this joke” joshing. Another victory for the pause-in-game DJ, forever searching for the perfect 15 seconds of song, keeping the crowd sated and willing to buy more bobble-head dolls to commemorate all the fun they had that day at Soldier Field.
Since entertainment is one of the main goals, the P-I-G DJ will turn often to the latest volume of “Now That’s What I Call Music!” for tunes, usually before the kickoff, after the punt, or during the boredom of halftime bathroom breaks and stadium announcements. After all, who doesn’t want to wait in an impossibly long line to the beat of “I’m Real” by Jennifer Lopez and Ja Rule? Does it matter that many of the game-going throng sucking down bratwursts and Old Style would never consider anything about J.Lo other than her prodigious posterior, and wouldn’t know quite what to think of Ja Rule’s gruff delivery if confronted with it in their teenager’s bedroom? Do 99% of the spectators at an average football game care that the honking riff and “Woo Hoo” they hear at each achievement of a first down is performed not by Aerosmith, Van Halen or P.O.D., but by a bunch of British pantywaists called Blur who normally sing off-kilter dirges about love and loss? No, they don’t care. And the pause-in-game man knows it. What matters is that what he plays will keep everyone happy for the prescribed amount of time, until the game is occurring again and their attention is turned to it. Soon, it will be time again for him to step up and perform. Perhaps a fight will break out on the field, prompting a Mills Lane “Let’s get it on!” soundbite. Maybe the home team is losing by a touchdown and it’s 1st and goal with 20 seconds left. No problem. Europe was happy enough to write “Final Countdown,” an anthemic rocker that compliments perfectly the stress felt by 80,000 fans who are too emotionally involved with the situation on the field.
And on Monday morning, week 12, a pudgy man’ll climb into his car and head to his mattress sales job out on the turnpike. A bit of blue facepaint he missed in the shower clings to his left earlobe. Muscles he didn’t know he had are sore from something he doesn’t remember doing. And he’s wondering what Ron thinks about Burress’ knee injury, and whether it’s only an MCL, or the dreaded ACL tear. He turns the ignition, and his headache is assaulted by the hysterical voice of a Morning Zoo DJ, hyping that night’s concert bash blowout fest-orama. And out of the speakers blasts Jay-Z’s “H.O.V.A.,” prompting the man to stab at the presets and find the sports talk station. He makes a mental note to remind his teenage daughter not to leave the radio on her station when she uses the car at night.
He really can’t stand all of that loud rap music.
My response to Hunter S. Thompson’s column on Dale Earnhardt…
Dale Earnhardt’s death has really bothered me a lot. It has affected me personally in a way that seems at first rather trite, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it is totally apropos. The last time I recall feeling this shocked by someone dying, it was Eric Wright. Don’t laugh, but the similarities are there: I was a big fan of both of them and had expected to be enjoying their entertainment for a lot longer. Granted, probably no one else in the world would ever put Eazy E and Big E into the same hero-pool, but I’m an eclectic guy. And it hurts just the same to look at my autographed picture of Dale or hear Eazy bust one of his wack-ass rhymes. But with Earnhardt, it’s much worse. He died with honor, doing something heroic.
That said, what can we take from Earnhardt’s death? What can we learn? Well, most importantly, racing is fucking dangerous. But unlike a lot of dangerous things, it doesn’t become less dangerous the more you do it, but actually more dangerous. Novice racers aren’t allowed in the biggest, fastest cars. Novice racers just physically can’t get the car to perform at its most dangerous level, what is referred to as 10/10ths. But Dale Earnhardt wasn’t just a 10/10ths driver, he drove at a Spinal Tap 11. The guy was the hardest-charging, most talented and driven driver out there. He would do anything to win. That’s why he was my favorite. That’s why meeting him and having lunch with him in November was one of the coolest things I have done in my life. That’s why I am so upset about his death.
But I’m also upset because the guy was a classic horse’s ass who raced in the classic horse’s ass series. He wore an open-faced helmet. He refused to wear a HANS device (neck and head support). Yeah, they were restrictive. Yeah, they would change his field of vision. Yeah, they weren’t part of the “good old days.” But neither are the cars, the restrictor plates, the aero package, or the entire show. The sport has changed and some of this new stuff might have saved Earnhardt’s life, just as some of this new stuff is probably what contributed to killing him. We’ll never know if an unrestricted engine with full horsepower would have allowed him to get the traction or miss the bump and not crash. We’ll never know if his head injuries could have been prevented by the safety equipment he wasn’t wearing. It really doesn’t matter anyway; he’s still dead.
People die racing. They always have and they always will. But this time, it feels different because it is. To understand, you have to understand NASCAR in a way that the mainstream media will not report. NASCAR is a redneck organization. These guys are not terribly smart, they are not business people, they are not professionals, they are not even city people. The motherfuckers at FOX are. So are all the others that form the financial interests in this sport—they’re also cold-hearted business people and they’re also motherfuckers. The people that run NASCAR do it because they love racing—you would too if you had the chance to drive a car at over 150 mph. (It’s the most exciting thing in the world to race cars, even to watch them in person. Go to a race and see for yourself.) Thing is, racing cars isn’t cheap so you need money to pay for it. That’s where the motherfuckers come in and they’re slowly but surely ruining the sport—shifting the focus away from what made it great, the racing. They want more, always more—more greed, more control, more stupid fascination with numbers and quantitative bullshit at any cost, even the cost of sport, fun, and life. They’re doing the same thing to the NFL, the NBA, etc., but that’s another story entirely.
Sure, despite the redneck nature of NASCAR, there are a lot of smart people within it, mostly talent and genius on the race teams. The smart people, like Dale Earnhardt was, say things like “Restrictor plate racing ain’t racing” and speak out about the fact that 40+ races per year are too many. Smart people like Roush driver Jeff Burton push for mandatory use of the HANS device and the same high-tech seats that they use in open-wheel cars. But these guys are not the people who make and enforce the rules. These guys aren’t the ones that ink the deals with the motherfuckers. These guys aren’t the ones that see their job as protecting the financial interests so that there is a NASCAR. These guys are just the people who are dependent on NASCAR for everything in their lives. It’s like working for a boss that treats you bad, but there’s no other job in town. NASCAR drivers can’t just go somewhere else to race—there’s no other stock car series with any money to support a guy.
So what do I think about Thompson’s column? Well, he’s right on. The WWF crap, the Street Fighter mentality, is certainly to blame, but as you can see from what I’ve written, it goes a lot deeper than that. There’s a lot of factors that make Dale Earnhardt’s death tragic. Whether the motherfuckers are directly to blame, no, I don’t think they are. But Earnhardt’s death is a symptom of a bad scene that’s brewing. Where safety, driver consideration, fan consideration, the honesty of the sport, and the rules are all being held up to the wrong God. It’s not NASCAR’s history or the feeling of riding the high bank at 180 mph that’s going into the decisions. It’s how many times can they say DuPont in an interview and how much it’s going to cost the network that’s driving things. It’s crap like Fox’s digital erasure of sponsorship on the cars in the broadcast of the Twin 125’s that’s giving everybody headaches, instead of suspension setups. It’s the inability of an organization of people just plain out of their league to deal with the bloodsuckers and vampires. Because this scum will pounce on anything good and new and honest and real and make it packaged for the masses, selling this now-unreal reality to people who don’t even know what real is because they’ve grown up with nothing but TV fakery all their lives. It’s sad too, because if anyone needs something to believe in, it’s NASCAR fans. And it’s being ripped away from them by the motherfuckers.
So what will/should happen now? I don’t know. But I really believe that people know—even the WWF fans know—that life is precious. That life and death aren’t something that you fuck with, that you sponsor, that you market, that you sell. NASCAR fans may be rather uneducated. NASCAR fans may be unpolished. But they aren’t sickos. They’re hurt and a lot of them are going to walk away. A lot of them are going to say that this has gone too far. A lot of them are going to want the motherfuckers to back the fuck off and let the sport be what it is, not continue to try and twist it into Survivor in Cars.
One of the biggest reasons why NASCAR is so popular is that it hadn’t become a made for TV crap-spectacle in the same fashion as other pro sports leagues. Not as bad anyway. It was still somewhat honest, in that the people who participated in it were real. The owners were real. The cars were real. It wasn’t the WWF, the XFL, the NBA, or something created to make people rich. It had pure motivations—a love of thrills, speed, danger. So when you hear people explain Dale’s death away with that famous phrase of his, “That’s just racin’,” ask yourself if that’s really true. Is NASCAR just racin’, or is it a bunch of motherfuckers lining their pockets with whatever they can get their hands on?