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Coolest Song Standing

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

I’m a sailor peg
And I lost my leg
I climbed up the topsails
I lost my leg
I’m shipping up to boston
(whoa oh oh)


The Dropkick Murpheys, Shipping Up To Boston

The great thing about Internet Society is that one can pursue a peripatetic lifestyle and not really have to have left home. Well, at least figuratively. Sure, maybe for simple things, like locating “Almond Joy” candy bars, you actually have to get up and out—go to a specific place—but for many of the most important things in life, nowadays, no matter where you hang your flight bag for a few hours, you can arrange it so that it appears as if you haven’t really escaped the coop. Perhaps some of you are tempted to wonder: “but doesn’t this defeat the whole purpose?” To which I can only utter two words: NBA playoffs. Two words sufficient to conclude any arguments with any locally-sympathetic argumenteurs. For others, it might be major cultural productions such as World Cup soccer or even the latest installment of American Idol. Productions, we once used to believe were confined to one particular geographic place (probably because we once actually experienced them as such—and probably only yesterday), but now no longer are. Because of our increasing spread-out-edness, the need for more of “what is over there”, away from where I currently am, now exists. And, thanks to the web (and a network of enterprising wonks who share similar passions) there is a solution: many geo-specific mediated productions are now part of the simultaneous global cultural stream. For peripatetics, our globally-organized cultural stream. Which explains why, although I am currently beyond US borders, I can still watch my very own Lakers on their inexorable path toward the finals (woo-hoo) in real time. Every trey in transition, double-team splitting pick and roll, and flyswat out of bounds. Every Kobe Bryant pirouette, Pau Gasol jersey pop, Phil Jackson scowl, and Lamar Odom left-handed jam. The reason I can perform this metaphysical magic is due to a website which apparently originates in Spain called “Zapateirodot-com; thanks to links they have posted in their “televisiones gratis en directo” page (and thank goodness for two years of high school espanol!), I can log in from—wherever in the world I might be—and catch Stateside hoops mysteriously lifted from feeds to American viewers via TNT, ESPN and ABC. I’m sure that this isn’t precisely how the three and four-letter acronyms above wish their universes to be, but I am enough of an addict to admit that, when it comes to getting my roundball fix, I don’t really care. If you are still reading, then perhaps you are the same way.
  

One problem is timing. It is all well and good to have on-line access, but what becomes quickly apparent about the “global game, shared access” thing is that that is something different than “local feed, shared time”. Worlds different. For instance, to witness Game Seven of the Boston-Cleveland series today, which had a 3:30 p.m. start time in Beantown, I had to meet a 4 a.m. wake-up call. Yeah, ouch. Early a.m. games here on the other side of the world sort of throws a crimp into the rest of the day—but, hey, it’s like eating chocolate cake: you scarf the whole thing—icing and filling and fluffy batter—and then worry about consequences later. Imagine me sated.

During the broadcast, one thing that caught the attention of my musically-attuned brain was that all lead-ins into commercial break were punctuated by songs featuring Boston (the band) or Boston (the place). The Dropkick Murpheys, spotlighted at the outset of this entry, being one of them. And I guess there is a relatively large number to choose from that could keep it interesting: the network could have gone with Augustana or Dave Loggins, for variety. That got me to thinking (which—I know—can be a dicey proposition; but, here it is anyway) . . . In the match-up between towns, which has the coolest songs? I mean, in terms of basketball, Cleveland and Boston proved to be about a push, but in terms of music? What does Cleveland have that could possibly match up with Boston? Even if we are only talking the one band by that name? The guitar pyrotechnics in More Than A Feeling, alone, would certainly be enough to make the banks of Lake Erie burble and churn into overflow. Game over, right? After all, that song is listed on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame‘s top 500 songs of all time, and the band ranks 43rd on the National Association of Recording Merchandisers “Definitive 200”. There isn’t any Cleveland-related entity on either list. On the other hand, speaking of the Hall (and how about that for coincidental confluence?): it is located in Cleveland, of all places. Raising the question: “could any song and/or band inducted there be invoked by the fair folk of Cleveland in their own defense? Could they, say, repel Boston’s Boston with a band housed in their very own museum? Would that be fair, say, to claim The Beatles, The Stones, or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, as Cleveland’s own? Well, surely, if they did, then any of those outfits would blow Boston away; any day, just about any song, any time. And face it: that would be about Cleveland’s only possible play. I mean, outside of the bands filling the Hall, what else does the city have to offer (well, musically, at least)? I can recall a song by The Band (”Look Out Cleveland”) and a theme song from the Drew Carey Show (Cleveland Rocks). And, that’s about it. All things considered, Cleveland fans better go for the Hall; appeal to the refs, see if they’ll put in the fix, throw ‘em a bone. Then perhaps the Ohioans would have a fighting chance.

Same deal with Detroit, one of the NBA’s Eastern Conference semi-finalists. According to this list of songs that mention Detroit—who would have guessed there were so many?—it might more than hold its own against Boston . . . but against the Rock and Roll Hall? Gonna have to throw Motown in there to be on anything close to equal footing.

When you look at it, working through all the remaining cities, we find that each has their own back-patting musical patter. The Lakers like to play Randy Newman’s “I Love LA” before their games and we know that San Antonio has its very own San Antonio Rose; but, when you get down to it, it’s a lot like a lot of things in the NBA (and life): size matters. Some cities have their own signature songs that—like Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson—have taken on a life of their own (“I Love Paris”, “New York, New York”); but for the most part, cities depend on the totality to deliver strength: either the sheer number of songs devoted to a place or else the musical industries and institutions supporting that locale. Not unlike a lot of basketball games, it is proportion that is going to determine a winner in this sort of contest. Sorry Boston. And San Antonio: that leaves you out, too. Meaning (and unlike the NBA’s final four), when you look at music-city’s final pairings, you’re gonna end up with Cleveland going against Detroit in the East, and Los Angeles against Nawlans in the West (no matter what happens against the Spurs tonight). And just like in the NBA, aren’t these final pairings a little imbalanced—a tad unfair to the forces locked in combat in the Western bracket?.

Well, unlike the NBA, maybe we ought to leave it there. For sports fans, not a very satisfying resolution, perhaps; but for aesthetes, probably the only reasonable conclusion. For, when it comes to music cities in the U.S.A. it is simply beyond too close to call. Institutionally, you have the home of (and contemporary engine for) an enormous part of the commercial music industry against the seat of America’s most indigenous of musical forms. And how could anyone say that rock or pop is superior (or not) to jazz or blues? I mean, objectively. And in terms of themes, well, who could possibly decide on a winner? How can one compare “Proud Mary” to “California Dreaming”? How to choose between “The City of New Orleans” and “Ventura Highway”? Is there a way of siding with “Lady Marmalade” over “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”? Could one really say that “House of the Rising Sun” is better than “Valley Girl” . . . by what measure would you possibly choose? It’s art (well, maybe except for “Valley Girl”), not a competition. It’s life, not a game.

So, at that point it’s kind of like traveling in some foreign country and clicking on a link that delivers some hoops to your desktop. Even if it isn’t your home town team, you don’t surf elsewhere. Instead, you mouth words of thanks that any match is on, and you sit back and savor it. Like most things in this complicated, difficult life of ours: you are thankful for any of it. Even if it turns out not to be a masterpiece; even if doesn’t result in a perfect pairing . . . you are grateful for small favors. Who cares if it is (or isn’t) the coolest song standing? Be appreciative, instead, that, for that moment, you are in the presence of the coolest thing streaming.

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