When The Rolling Stones played halftime at the Super Bowl Mick Jagger joked while introducing “Satisfaction” that they could have played that song at Super Bowl I. Yes, the Stones and the Super Bowl are the same age. Makes you realize the range of very disparate energies that were birthed in the 60’s. But as they’ve come together 40 years later, it also makes me think of the not-usually thought-of comparisons between the generally corporate, Republican-leaning, violent, conformist tendencies of the NFL and the generally progressive, leftist, peace-first leanings of rock and roll.
(For an interesting in-depth analysis of the dehumanizing side of the NFL check out former St. Louis Cardinal Dave Meggyesy’s memoir “Out of Their League”).
Still, I’m from Pittsburgh and my coming-of-age coincided with the Steelers’ coming-of-age and their miraculous “Immaculate Reception” by which they won their first-ever playoff game in the final seconds and mystically launched themselves into the dynasty of the 70’s.
There’s something about teamwork, the zen of making a play, rising against the odds, and the elements of fate and chance that puts sports into the realm of Right Action, just like music.
As the football season closes this year with the big prize for my hometown team, I’d like to reprint here part of the Famous Last Words gig announcement I wrote for a benefit show we played last month for Code Pink, in which sports, social action, and Wills Shakespeare and Burkart combine to lay down some serious philosophy. (For the record, at the show I put on my Hines Ward jersey for our last song, a cover of “Folsom Prison Blues”.)
Here goes, sports fans, music lovers, and socially-conscious human beings:
FLW Friends and Fans:
We're playing a full-band electric show this Thursday 1/19 at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. The show will be "3 bands throwing down a socially conscious vibe" and benefit the very cool Code Pink campaign (More on them later in this email). The other bands are Robert Temple and his Soul Folk Ensemble, and Dynamic. "Americana, Soulfolk, and Neosoul-hip hop" as the press release says,
We're on first so show up at 9:00!
In a week that begins with Martin Luther King Day, how can you not follow the alignment of the stars to show up and do your part to make the world a better place?
As we all know, the world is crazy:
Witness the insanity, sports fans, of the Steelers' up and down, topsy-turvy, heart-stopping victory over the formerly charmed/suddenly cursed Indianapolis Colts yesterday.
It was a game with mythic implications both on-field and off, too many to go into here except to say:
Inexplicable rulings from the powers-that-be referees, once-in-a-blue-moon occurrences in ironies that rival the ancient Greek dramatist Sophocles, and through it all the puny humans making greater-than-life efforts to snag that weirdly-shaped bizarrely bouncing bean of a ball, and each other.
"The agony and the ecstasy" observed my friend Steff Moody from his perch in Seattle, "which is ultimately meaningless"
I paused for a moment as that sunk in with more weight than I expected.
"It IS sports" I replied, "that you're referring to....?"
But MacBeth's famous lines from Shakespeare wouldn't leave my head:
"Life is but a walking shadow...
It is a tale told by an idiot,
Full of sound and fury,
Although they echoed nasally, like they were recited by Howard Cosell, they resonated with the existential despair the Bard intended.
I felt the creeping void and thought back to the game. In the closing minutes, our drummer Jeremy (who also came of age in the glory days of the Steel(er) City) and I had been on our feet, swearing at the TV and literally yelling "this reality is not happening!" as sure-handed Hall of Fame halfback Jerome Bettis in his final glorious season fumbled on a simple goalline plunge which the Colts scooped up, racing the other way all the way down the field, and impossible defeat was snatched from the sure jaws of victory - until quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made a backwards, falling, one-handed shoestring tackle that saved the game, the season, and at the time it seemed, life itself, at least for the moment.
He probably wasn't thinking of MacBeth. Maybe it was Gandhi in his head:
"Everything we do is futile, but we must do it anyway."
We live to fight - not necessarily with violence but hope. As Angel draws his sword and aims for the dragon in the overwhelming Apocalypse of his series finale, and as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid make their 2-person suicidal stand against the Bolivian army.
Like Code Pink - a small group of Bay Area women on a peace mission to Afghanistan and Iraq, their name a symbol of hope against the color-coded "terror alert" system instituted by Bush/Cheney's hard-hearted Machiavellian reality.
Is it too obscure if I mention the Myth of Sisyphus saving Albert Camus (at least for a year or so) from existential despair? Sorry - I think sometimes I write to save myself - the same way I play. (But when I hear that whistle blowin'...)
And regardless, as Will Burkart enthused, "that was the greatest game I ever saw!"
Words to live by. And die. In fact, might it not be right action – if we could let THAT be our epitaph…
(Instead of confusion, as King Crimson feared in a beautiful song on their first record…)
And whether you leave this earthly Bowl with a win or a loss – it’s a much better final statement than “I’m going to Disney World”…