Friday, October 31, 2008

Week 23: "The Sporting Life" by The Decemberists

Ah, the sporting life! Even though I’ve lived outside of Massachusetts for nearly the past six years I still do maintain a rooting interest in Boston’s professional sports teams. For those of us who root for the Sox, Pats, and Celts we might invoke the title of an old 10,000 Maniacs song and declare, “These are days.”

Since 2001, the Red Sox have won two World Series, made it to the seventh game of the American League Championship Series an additional two times, and can boast of one American League East title among their 5 playoff berths. The Patriots, not to be outdone, have won the AFC East title every year except for one since 2001. In addition, they can celebrate winning three Super Bowls, a 16-0 regular season record in 2007, and a record of 15-3 in the playoffs. Even the Celtics joined the party by winning an NBA championship in the 07-08 season. (The Bruins are a disgrace. Don’t ask me about the Bruins.)

In my dreams, I envisioned spending the last few days of October basking in the Sox’s third championship of the decade, rooting for the Patriots to extend their record regular season winning streak, and celebrating the Celtics beginning their title defense by hosting their 17th banner. Dreams don’t always come true. The upstart Tampa Bay Rays knocked the Sox out of the playoffs with a gritty win in game 7 of the ALCS. Tom Brady’s disastrous knee injury has meant that the Patriots have had to settle for a 5-2 record and a share of the division lead in the AFC East. The Celtics did get off to a good start by opening their season and title defense with a comeback victory against the talented Cleveland Cavaliers.

However, I have to confess that my interest in sports is overwhelmingly vicarious. Not a jock, I can identify a bit with the protagonist of the song “The Sporting Life” by the Decemberists. Consider the lyrics:
I fell on the playing field
the work of an errant heel
the din of the crowd and the loud commotion
went deafening silence and stopped emotion
the season was almost done
we managed it 12 to 1
so far I had known no humiliation
in front of my friends and close relations

There's my father looking on
and there's my girlfriend arm in arm
with the captain of the other team
and all of this is clear to me
they condescend and fix on me a frown
how they love the sporting life

And father had had such hopes
for a son who would take the ropes
and fulfill all his old athletic aspirations
but apparently now there's some complications
but while I am lying here
trying to fight the tears
I'll prove to the crowd that I come out stronger
though I think I might lie here a little longer

There's my coach he's looking down
the disappointment in his knitted brow
I should've known
he thinks again
I never should have put him in
he turns and loads the lemonade away
and breathes in deep
the sporting life
This song is not autobiographical. I’ve never had a girlfriend leave with the captain of the other team and my parents never foisted athletic ambitions upon me. I’m just saying that I can empathize with the protagonist.

Besides Colin Meloy’s fun lyrics (“errant heel,” “din of the crowd,” “knitted brow,” etc.) “The Sporting Life” is set to an inspiring beat that is eerily similar to the rhythm line from Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.”

I wrote about The Decemberists back in week 12. If you have never had the chance to listen to them, do yourself a favor. They are one of the most fun bands around. Here is a list of my 20 favorite Decemberists songs. Some contain links to their lyrics when these are particularly noteworthy.

1) “The Gymnast, High Above the Ground” (Her Majesty) lyrics
2) “The Crane Wife 1&2” (The Crane Wife)
3) “California One / Youth & Beauty Parade” (Castaways and Cutouts)
4) “The Sporting Life” (Picaresque) video
5) “July, July!” (Castaways and Cutouts) lyrics
6) “Angel Won’t You Call Me?” (5 Songs EP)
7) “The Crane Wife 3” (The Crane Wife)
8) “Sixteen Military Wives” (Picaresque) video
9) “O Valencia!” (The Crane Wife)
10) “Song for Myla Goldberg” (Her Majesty)
11) “Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect” (Castaways and Cutouts) lyrics
12) “Apology Song” (5 Songs EP)
13) “Sons & Daughters” (The Crane Wife)
14) “Of Angels and Angles” (Picaresque)
15) “Oceanside” (5 Songs EP)
16) “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” (Picaresque) lyrics!!!
17) “The Legionnaire’s Lament” (Castaways & Cutouts) lyrics!!!
18) “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” (Her Majesty)
19) “My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist” (5 Songs EP) lyrics!!!
20) “Red Right Ankle” (Her Majesty)