Russ Ringsak

The Thrill is Gone

February 13, 2008

I'm beginning this work on Super Sunday, January 27, 2008, 2:47 PM, exactly two and a half hours before kickoff. And for the first time since it began 42 years ago I won't be watching the game. Not even a sneak peek at how it's going. My pals refuse to believe this from a lifetime sports fan. Larry who lives in New Rochelle, north of NYC, called me first thing in the morning. He heard about my remark. Woke me up. He said, "Wadderya gonna do, sit in fronna the tv at the freakin rest home widda drool runnin down yer chin watchin old Cary Grant movies? Whatsa matta, you gone wacko er sumpin? You godda watch it. You can't jist not watch the Super Bowl. Nobody does that. That's jist freakin weird. I think you might need to see a docta." But I'm sticking to it. Because I don't care any more and furthermore I don't care that I don't care.

Our best mercenaries leave Minnesota and wash up on the coast, from the inside. The departure of Torii Hunter to L.A. and Johan Santana to New York finally nudged me off the precipice, after both Kevin Garnett and Randy Moss ended up in Boston. I've been to Fenway and believe the Boston fans' reputation for unspeakable boorishness is well earned, even worse than New York's. I don't like seeing either of them get what they want and I especially don't like seeing our superstars help them get it. And we give these guys away. The best outfielder in the game, the best pitcher, the best power forward, the best wide receiver; we get nothing for them. We're hicks out here. Rubes.

Part of our inability to keep talent is that we have a local press that seems forever hellbent on running people out of town, no matter who they are or how flimsy the case. We've chased a couple of governors, a U.S. Senator, one of the world's greatest heart surgeons, a president of the University, a lot of other politicians and an endless rack of athletes, coaches and team owners. A University president wants the shabby old official mansion remodeled and editorials start and the jackal pack jacks itself into full yowl and next thing you know the man is outa here and the U needs a new president. Randy Moss does a playful little imitation of mooning fans in Green Bay, where the fans actually do fully moon the visiting team's bus — whole families at a time — and the sporting press goes absolutely raving frothing nuts at Randy, and he's outa here. I couldn't believe it, but I should have; I'd seen it done so many times. That goofy outrage they put on. That humorless purity.

That isn't the whole problem and I don't want to give those guys too much credit for causing it. But in my 44 years of living in Minnesota there have been two championships, the '87 and '91 Twins (both thanks to Kirby Puckett, a decent and remarkable man upon whom the press later unloaded, armed with no more than hearsay from a fully clothed and mostly drunk woman in an upscale bar. It somehow got him fired from his front office job. Big headlines.)

So out of those 44 years of possible top finishes, from about 160 available titles altogether in the four major sports, we won two. Without Kirby we'd have none. Zero. Having read papers in other cities, I don't believe puffy righteousness is evenly strewn across the big leagues. (I can see my caption now: "Public Radio truckdriver unleashes incoherent barrage at local media. Eschews Super Bowl. Employs novel 'Coot' defense.")

An unrealistic hopeful like myself will sometimes meet reality. Sports optimism itself comes at a price and I find myself no longer in the market. I may learn tomorrow morning it was the greatest Super Bowl ever played, and I'm still not going to care. I'm carefree. Yippee and ha ha ha. Free at last.

I'm not from here anyway. My alma mater, North Dakota State, has won 23 conference titles and 9 national football championships (Nine!) since I moved here. Last fall they came down and whipped the Minnesota Gopher football team, of the bigtime Big Ten. Go back to Fargo, they tell me, if it's so great. Sour grapes, I say, why don't you slugs ever win something.

* * * *

(The above exercise in reckless opinion in no way represents the position of the Prairie Home Companion show or of Minnesota Public Radio or of the American Public Media Group nor any of its contributors or officers. This is just between you and me. And the writer understands that your downloading this piece in no way implies agreement or even a vague acceptance of its outrageous premise Thank you for your patience.)

* * * *

The term mercenary is thrown around a bit loosely lately, as I did up there in the second paragraph. I'm a mercenary trucker and a mercenary writer. If it didn't pay I'd stop doing it. Mercenary is too serious a word to use about one's salary and employment, drawing the demarcation as it does between soldiers who risk everything for their country and those who will fight on either side for money. It's an excellent word but its meaning gets blurred from overuse, as does the word greed. Russ drives from greed and the grade school teacher teaches out of greed; stop the paychecks and see if it isn't true.

With sports it's not the big money that puts me off. It's the endless losing that puts me off. Besides, calling athletes greedy mercenaries is just a slippery way to disguise one's envy of somebody who can do things you can't do and who's making good money doing it. Most of us are greedy, if minor, mercenaries. It's how nature works. The lioness doesn't chase the wildebeest for the purity of the sport. She's thinking about a payday.

* * * *

But like I said, for now I'm turning from sports to music. Spent the last few weeks regrouping the Mudcats and cutting a demo CD to market the band to bars out west. The players all have their own bands and it's hard to ever get them together here, but they'll happily take the trip to Montana.

The session went well. We meant to do six or seven tunes and cull them down to four, but we ended up recording eleven and using ten. So now we have an album we can sell for ten bucks. And this band does truly kick. Two first rate guitarists, Mick and Dan, a most excellent rhythm section and a terrific singer in Mary Rancone. The album makes me grin every time I play it.

It's a cover band, but so are most of the world's symphony orchestras. I've never been taken with the idea that we all have to do originals. If you need to unleash your unique artistic vision upon the world, fine, go for it, but to ignore the immense wealth of truly good stuff already out there is to me silly. It's our culture, for Pete's sake. (And I sometimes wonder who Pete was, too, and why we still try to do good things in his name. Some old prospector, perhaps, or St Peter himself? Another part of the culture, anyway.)

Cover bands keep the good old tunes alive, especially tunes from back when rock and roll had a sense of humor. Now some places are requiring bands to only do originals because of the BMI and ASCAP thing, where you can't use a song unless somebody pays royalties. Nothing wrong with people getting paid for their work, but this seems counterproductive. How can you keep tradition alive if you can't repeat a song to a live audience? You write a great song and then you don't want bar bands to play it? That's strange. Strange things going on in the music world these days. Bean counters taking over.

I also read that Neil Young "has lost all hope that music can change the world." After these many years of angst in the cause of world betterment, he finds in his coothood he could have been having a good time instead. But this doesn't seem to make him happy either. Couldn't change the world and now he's facing up to that, but he's still kinda crabby. Rich and kinda crabby. Maybe he's the one who should be watching the Super Bowl. That's a whole lot of hoopla that's not going to the change the world either, so he could maybe relate.

The Mudcat Master Behavioral Template calls for us only to have fun. It's a one-item plan. That's it. Item two was to see that others also have fun but it was dropped as redundant and downright intrusive. And in the morning after a gig the world at large will be unchanged and there will be no noticeable alteration to human nature. No one will learn anything at all from it. Not a single pixel of gleaming truth shall emerge. And therein lies its sublime and shining purity.

© R.Ringsak 2008

(So what did I think of the thrilling Super Bowl? I did see a replay of the sensational high toss and catch against the helmet, but I hold no envy towards the millions who enjoyed the whole exciting contest from start to finish. I just didn't miss watching it. I figured I wouldn't.)

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