Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bye-bye, Sports Guy

One of my inspirations for starting this blog has to do with my choice of Lenten discipline for this year. In past years, I've generally tried to give up whatever variety of bad food held me mostly tightly in its grasp. I remember during my grad school years that I had found myself eating at a certain convenient Burger King about 1-2 times per day and it's possible that I'm only here today because of giving up BK for Lent that year. Anyway, although I still have generally poor eating habits, I decided this year to go after junkfood of the mind. For me, it had become clear that sports was the whopper with cheese value meal that had become more daily sustenance than treat.

Now I wish I could say that the problem was actual participation in sports (which might help offset my poor eating habits), but the two big addictions for me were reading about sports on the Internet and listening to sports talk radio. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with either of these pastimes, but I knew things had gotten out of proportion for me and I was also realizing more and more how little free time I spend thinking about and listening to music. Of course I spend a lot of work time doing those things, but I had let myself buy into the notion that I didn't want to be bothered with music in my free time. Now, as I find myself encouraging students to attend as many concerts as possible and to do lots of listening, I realize I've been robbing myself of the very thing that made me want to be a musician in the first place. Growing up in south Arkansas, I can't say I got to attend a lot of live performances but I listened to records all the time. Interestingly, I have the same sort of off-kilter exposure to sports; growing up I saw very few live sporting events but I watched them on TV all the time, to the extent that I still in many ways prefer watching the Red Sox on TV to going to all the trouble of seeing them at Fenway Park without the benefit of replays, commentary, good sightlines, etc. I do much prefer live musical performance to the canned variety, but I used to learn so much by listening. I remember once driving halfway across the country and back for Christmas break with a big suitcase filled with CDs in the back seat. I still have very specific aural memories of driving through the South listening to Bizet's Symphony in C, lots of Poulenc chamber music, etc.

So, I've come to realize how silly it is that I teach music but don't listen to it on a regular basis, especially since I spend over an hour on the road most days. It reminds me of that great character (Tom Townsend) from Whit Stillman's Metropolitan who reads literary criticism but doesn't bother with the actual literature. So, it's not that I think there's anything wrong with reading about sports and I'll definitely go back to it, but I was just giving too much time to that brain candy. For example, not only did I read ESPN's The Sports Guy unfailingly, but I had gotten to where I'd fill the days between new SG columns by reading really bad messageboards where readers critiqued those very columns. I'd do the same thing with Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column - ironically, I'd grown not to like it but, rather than simply not take the time to read it, I'd read it religiously (it's always notoriously long) and then head over to footballoutsiders.com to enjoy reading all the comments slamming the column. I'd do the same thing with Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback column on SI.com, and I never really like his work. Hmmm. Of course, I won't be missing any Tuesday Morning Quarterback at this time of year since it's his offseason. However, missing out on the Sports Guy will be sad. He's a truly gifted and unique writer, but he's popular enough that he can do without me for few weeks. I'll put him in my links just to be a good sport (how many blogs link to the Sports Guy and the Lied & Art Song Texts Page?), and it will probably do me good to read less about gambling and other unhealthy SG obsessions.

I'm not sure I'm missing out on anything of value by giving up sports talk radio, but I may be putting myself (and others) in more danger by replacing WEEI with music. The advantage of listening to sports talk radio is that it only requires about 1.72% of brainpower to enjoy, leaving the rest of the brain available for little matters such as driving. Now that I'm actually trying actively to engage what I'm listening to, there's no telling where the car might end up. The Prokofiev 3rd Piano Concerto is definitely dangerous listening. As for other radio options, I have to say that after about a week of this, I'm still not sure I can convert to NPR. I try listening but the pretentiousness level is a little high for me (says the guy who brags about listening to Prokofiev in the car). So, I'll be relying on a steady diet of CD's. For now, I'm finding it fun to work my way through the warhorse piano concerto repertoire. Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was probably the first piece that really drew me into wanting to be a musician and, although now I'm sophisticated enough to know how to pretend that showy piano concerti are kind of lowbrow, it's fun to return to that for recreational listening. I got through four straight commutes listening to the Ravel Concerto in G over and over.

Definitely, the big sports sacrifice will be to give up March Madness, but my 14 years of living in Boston have pretty much converted me to the typical Bostonian nonchalance about college sports - and besides, nothing will ever top 1994 when Scotty Thurman's rainbow 3-pointer brought my beloved Arkansas Razorbacks their first title. The fact is I don't keep up with college basketball much during the regular season so, although I could easily get myself up to speed enough to take in 10-20 tournament games, it will be an interesting experiment to just let that all go by without me. I'm always amazed how once you put a little distance between yourself and something that seems indispensable, it suddenly becomes dispensable.

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