Two Cents: Musicians and Athletes Share Common Bond (7/27/05)

(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)

I did something on Sunday that made me feel like Michael Jordan when he came back from retirement the second time to play with the Washington Wizards: Old and busted.

No, I didn’t go to Spring Park and hoop with the youngsters or take batting practice against Lee Martin. I broke out my drum kit for the first time in a year and a half.

See I used to play regularly in Memphis. I was in a band that used to gig in cramped, stuffy clubs with no air, and we routinely practiced in places where the famed Memphis humidity would cause us to hallucinate.

I was in the best shape of my life, until we quit. We stopped because it was hard for me to practice since I lived three hours away, not to mention married life and children were beckoning to most of us.

Instead of my incessant practicing, I stopped playing altogether. Then I hurt my shoulder, making throwing, or shooting a ball impossible, and I stopped doing anything.

But last week came the news that we were going to get back together for two shows in Memphis later this year, leading up to a gig in Chicago next spring. I was so excited I could barely concentrate on anything, until I realized I would have to get back into playing shape.

Which reminded me how much musicians and athletes have in common. Aside from the competitive nature of athletics, athletes and musicians share a number of traits.

(My old band was competitive though. We took the stage at each show like we were going to force other bands to quit when they were faced with the sheer magnitude of the rock we shoved down their throats. We were the Cassius Clay of the Memphis rock scene.)

The first thing that comes to mind is practice. Practice? Yes A.I., practice. To be the best, athletes have to practice almost non-stop. They say that Michael Jordan and Jerry Rice approached practice like championships were on the line, and they were. It’s the same with musicians. The most virtuoso performers I have ever known are the guys that still lock themselves in their rooms for hours until their fingers or ears start bleeding.

Another reason to practice is to build stamina. If basketball players didn’t constantly run long distances, they would never be able to last in a game. And if a musician doesn’t have good endurance, live performances would usually last about one song.

Especially when you play loud, aggressive, up-tempo tunes like we do. I remember playing two songs as hard as I could in the studio once, and practically passing out afterwards. And that was with me being practiced up. If I hadn’t built up what little stamina I did, I would have spontaneously combusted like one of Spinal Tap’s drummers.

Athletes and musicians also have to be coordinated and strong. Ask anybody in band what it’s like lugging a 22-pound tuba, or a bass drum that’s bigger than you are, around a football field for 10 minutes in the hot or cold while wearing an itchy polyester uniform, all the while making sure you play the right notes and hit your cues.

And I challenge non-believers to try this: Play air guitar to ‘Freebird’ for the whole song and watch your forearm swell to thrice its normal size. 

There’s also the fact that elite athletes and musicians often improvise within the framework of the team or band concept. Michael Jordan probably had more in common with Miles Davis than with any of his contemporaries on the court.

To me it’s no surprise that tons of athletes play music in their spare time – Bernie Williams and Wayman Tisdale are world class musicians – and that most musicians think they are ballers. Check out any ‘Rock and Jock’ on MTV to see what I mean.

So, I’m on my way back. My wife Maggie told me the other night that I get to be like Rocky. Like Balboa, I have to pull my once promising talent out of the doldrums of everyday existence to reach the potential I once had.

Seriously, I’m really just trying to get back into playing shape, so I don’t embarrass my band or myself.

So, if you drive by the house and see something weird, don’t fret.

It’s just me chasing chickens around the front yard until I can “eat lightning and crap thunder” again.

Categories: music, sports

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