False Opposition

Our world is full of false opposition. It’s most obvious in politics today, but it’s been with us forever.

In school you were supposed to be into sports or music. I never got that. I love pop music. Love, love, love it. When I was a teenager I also loved baseball, soccer, football, tennis, downhill skiing and got genuinely excited when it was time for the olympics. Sunday afternoons were, to me, for The Wide World of Sports. I flippin’ loved that show.

I had two magazine subscriptions running in parallel for years. My stepfather paid for both of them, annually and they both started as birthday presents when I was about 10 – Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated. I got both, continuously until I was about 24, when both magazines took a slide into unreadable stupidity (although Rolling Stone was dismal by the time I was 17 or 18 and just kept getting worse – I was just hopeful that it would improve, so I hung in there way too long).

Hanging around and playing in punk/alternative bands (and I well and truly hate the term “alternative” but it is what it is) the false oppositional thing between liking music or liking sports was even heavier. I played in bands with people who laughed at me for being a baseball fan. It was like a purity test thing if you were a musician who was so ignorant of sports you didn’t know the difference between baseball and football. The fact that I not only was a fan, but played soccer made me some kind of horror to many of the folks I played music with, even more so to the people I knew who wrote for music mags and zines.

The stereotypical heavy duty music fan, or aspiring rock guy was pasty, spindly, uncoordinated and physically inept. I blame Pete Townsend for creating that template. Another common one was the effeminate diva who’d never play a sport for fear of mussing his hair. For that I blame Robert Plant. The third template was created by Keith Richards – drug addict, holed up in his room writing songs until he passes out.

Thing is, I never aspired to be any of those things.

I strove to be able to do stuff with my body. I always wanted to be stronger and faster, not weaker and more incapable. I certainly loved my hair (when I had it) but if it was time to run around that shit was getting put into a pony and out of my damned way (or mercifully chopped off – thank you punk rock, thank you – and a non-issue). As for drugs, no thanks. Not opposed to them, just not particularly interested.

Gradually though I learned that this false opposition was a sham. Jeff Beck liked working on cars and drag racing them more than playing the guitar (and once actually said something to the effect that he would make a record and tour every few years to get some scratch to spend on cars). Rod Stewart would end his concerts by kicking dozens of soccer balls (pretty authoritatively) into the audience and was a well-known footie fan. Johnny Ramone was a die-hard New York Yankees fan, who even played in a beer league.

Best of all, John Lydon (Johnny Rotten!) is a lifelong Arsenal supporter, who wrote this wonderful observation on the wonder that is beings a sportsfan:

I don’t care how overpaid or underpaid they are, it all comes down to the same thing. You can over-strategize, or you can purchase all the best players, but still that might not work. It’s something about the personality blend, and the confidence the manager can instill in a team that makes a team successful and thus exciting to watch.

That’s from a chapter early in his book, Anger Is An Energy, in which he goes on to say brilliant stuff about the nature of sport and fandom, and here’s the thing – it’s all equally true of music. Great bands are not made from grabbing all the best musicians and making them play together. It’s the chemistry between them, both on stage and off, that makes magic (or doesn’t).

Technical skill is a great thing to have. So is a great work ethic. But neither one makes a champion team or a million selling band. It’s equally possible to overthink sport and music.

From a purely strategic and business standpoint, U2 giving away their last album on iTunes made perfect sense, but it felt shitty, so it bombed. Millions of people have that record and have never listened to it. The Dodgers (much as I hate to say this) buying a stunning pack of talent hasn’t produced a championship, and probably won’t this year either.

My point is that we put stuff into boxes. We categorize, segment and define the boundaries of the world and just deny the utter, relentless sameness of everything that involves humans.

Our politicians have conned us into wearing their team colors (or perhaps conned us into thinking they wear our colors) for the same reason the marketers at the big record labels decided to encourage record stores to file the records in discrete sections – rock, r&b, jazz, soul, disco, metal, alternative – when all that ever mattered to the people buying the records was some help sorting between the good and not good – because neatly sorted records are easier to market and sell.

Telling you to vote for me because I’m on the red team is easier work than getting your vote by telling you about what I’m going to do to make the world better, and why.

It’s easier for me to sell you a record if I con you into believing that Black Sabbath is heavy metal, so you’ll like this other record here which is also filed in the heavy metal section of the store that it is for me to explain to you what merits this record has, or features that might interest you.

But I like both sports and music equally. I’d like to have a beer with John Lydon AND Rod Stewart, while sitting in a pub watching Arsenal. Now that would be a day to remember.

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