My publishers have been riding my ass for months now, trying to get me back on the horse. But the horse keeps falling asleep on the job, now that I'm not allowed to feed it any more HGH (Horse Growth Hormone). It's a pity. Big Doll has been nothing but a stallion for me since we first embarked on this stretch of life, but without her medicine, it's impossible to get her up and out of bed.
So we mixed some different cocktails last night and I'm pleased to announce that words are taking shape from out of the whirlwind dust cloud that formed first when Big Doll collapsed into a heap back in June. These words are a deep black with beautiful serifs and a pulsating attraction to them. You just cant keep your eyes off the page when the words come in like this.
So it was with this new strength that I turned on the television last night to resume the great American pastime. It was opening night for the NFL. Good Christ, what a fucking mess of things the NFL has made. The reason the league has burgeoned into the undeniable leader of the pack of American professional sports is because it was simply: football. We had five minutes or so of pregame before we got down to business. Except if it was the Super Bowl, but, even with the Super Bowl, any rank amateur fan of the National Football League can tell you that the game, after the endless pregame concerts, promotions, ego-strokes, music videos and graying heroes in sharp suits running routes inside the studio, starts promptly at 6:21 pm. Or thereabouts. Do you know when the first pitch will be thrown for this year's World Series? Of course not, and it's that kind of sad unpredictability which has all but sunk Major League Baseball.
It seems that Roger Goodell, the new NFL commish, is intent on turning America's new pastime into America's old pastime. This is intensely disappointing to true-blue football fans. I was nearly in tears with the extended pregame last night, well before the national anthem was sung with a delayed ending that would have made Celine Dion stop for breath. Perfect cliche classic pandering for applause. We had to watch Faith Hill sing on a ridiculously enormous stage in downtown Indianapolis, and we had to watch John Mellencamp's voice struggle with the modest note changes of a 20-year-old song, and then we were stuck with what seemed like hours of the new John Mellencamp song, patriotic as ever, but with less demanding chord changes for this aging and chain-smoking grassroots heartland hero.
The stage was set, but the corporate intrusion was hardly finished. The game seemed more like the Super Bowl. There were even new, full-length commercials by major brands. Commentator John Madden had obviously been scripted to repeat that the game was going to be an offensive shootout, something to keep the kids up through your local news and into late-night ratings boosts for the Leno program. At 10-7 late in the second quarter, Al Michaels called the game "quickly paced." What nonsense. It was a standard first game, with standard first game jitters for rookies and new starters. No matter what NBC or the NFL had inserted into the programming in order to really pull in the ratings, the game was still a football game, and I fear that any new fans lured by sexy singers and talking animals didnt find much new to entice them into watching games more often on Sundays and Mondays. Despite the artificial hype, it was just what we're used to seeing. Even the real NFL promotion — winning a day with your favorite NFL player — was stuck running last year's winner again in its commercials. Apparently the most recent winner was a toe-tapping Congressman or something. Unmarketable, at any rate.
The game was still an important one. Suffering through the opening ceremony, during which the Colts unfurled their shiny new Super Bowl Champion banner, at least we got to see how Jim Irsay is doing. No stranger to performance-enhancing drugs, the once young owner (along with his dad) of the Indianapolis franchise seemed more than pleased to introduce his peerless team to the masses — season ticket holders and confused "My Name is Earl" fans alike. In fact, he seemed nearly contorted. My wife reminded me: "That guy's so jacked up on vicodin that he doesnt know where he is." I confirmed this with my realization that he, along with Mellencamp, who introduced Irsay, was reading a scripted announcement. His eyes kept drifting downwards. Even that emotion was faked.
So it wasnt just the 50 fans within the ropes for Mellencamp's set who were, via camera angles, made to look like a few hundred, who were fakes, and it wasnt just Faith Hill's introductory ditty that was more contrived than a Digg controversy, and it wasnt just the supersized promotions that the players and coaches were reading for the camera to help transition between quarters. It was everything. It was so bad that almost everything Madden predicted, even seconds later, proved to be true.
Six years ago next week, all the NFL games were cancelled by then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue, for an extraordinarily tangible reason. The nation was in a state of immobile shock following the events of 9/11. For the last time, the nation pulled together and rooted for itself and everything it stood for. Two years ago last week, the city of New Orleans was under water and the fragile and already threatened franchise in that city was compelled to play its games in foreign cities like San Antonio which, until the aftermath of Katrina's emotional path, was looking like it was going to soon become the new official home of what was going to be the former Saints team. The NFL couldnt be more real.
Then, of course, real got bad. The Cincinnati Bengals operation began its previously hidden agenda of supporting Ohio's court system. Steroids caught on. Brady Quinn fell from grace and, finally, Michael Vick showed everyone the kind of man he really was. Perhaps it was these very recent problems that convinced the NFL and NBC to, for the first time, turn opening night into such a dismal spectacle. The league has been nothing but brilliant the past several years, taking over the television coverage from even baseball. But something didnt seem right. It seemed rushed, not quite done. Not quite thought out.
Rich Eisen could barely keep a straight face as he introduced corny delay after corny delay. But it was the halftime show that really made me concerned. Because if the NFL and NBC had really thought this out, they would have come up with enough script to get Bob Costas, Keith Olbermann et al through their studio time without becoming a clone of your favorite 5:00 am local news program. When Bob Costas runs out of words, you know something is terribly wrong.
Football itself threatened to overwhelm the hype, though, on the very first play from scrimmage, as Joseph Addai went down with what looked like a serious injury — something that would have surely compromised the Colts' chances to go to the playoffs, much less win its division. But, a couple of drives later, Addai was back in the game, part of Manning's mad offensive genius. And once the jitters were over, the better team ran away with the victory. You were better off switching to the Daily Show after halftime.
Irsay, then, is off to another great year, it seems. And it's not just on the football field. He's the one who owns the Kerouac scroll, which is currently wrapping up a long stay in Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac's hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, before heading to New York City for another public viewing. I've been pretty silent on the 50th anniversary of Kerouac's second novel, On the Road. Some of you who dont know me might not realize how conspicuous that silence really is. But, just like with sports writing, if the motivation has been diluted, the words dont come. But, it's worth noting that, yes, this is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Kerouac's milestone achievement.
What can I say about that book and its lasting impact? What can I say about the hype it generated and the world of literary genius that it sort of kept down? Not the book itself, but the hype surrounding the book was so narrow-minded and singularly focused on Kerouac and hitchhiking and jazz that many of the works of the Beats, including the balance of Kerouac's brilliant canon, spent years, decades, rather hidden from popular culture. In fact, the 2nd-most successful poet from the post World War II era is H. Charles Bukowski, who would never consider himself part of any group, much less the Beats. What kept him away from crap like that? What killed Kerouac in the end?
The hype, man — the fucking hype. Kerouac was, first, a football player at Columbia (following a standout career at Horace Mann prep). And, with Tiki Barber in the halftime booth last night, I couldnt help comparing his recent comments about how the Giants' head coach, Tom Coughlin, had made football so unbelievably unfun for Barber that it forced his early retirement. Kerouac retreated from Columbia's football team with a leg injury, but his notes from the time reveal a young man disenfranchised with the politics of big-time football.
And so Kerouac will always be remembered as a writer.
And the Indianapolis Colts will always have their Super Bowl banner.
And Chevy trucks will always be patriotic.
And athletes will always be human, with their flaws and fuckups.
And the money-making machines will always expand their brands, their presence, and their influence, for as long as they can, until whatever well they draw from runs dry, until their favorite horse is beaten dead and deader and deadest all over again.
I'm just glad that my own personal human nature tends to hide when it's not doing well, to protect my horse, to protect my sanity. And, still, with all its faults, nothing does more to improve my sanity than another season of professional football. And thank God or Lombardi that the refs have HDTV at their service for reviewing plays. If there is one thing we can all agree on, from Irsay's prescription drug mess-ups, to Saints' coach Sean Payton's stupid call to attempt a 52-yard field goal in the first quarter, to whoever decided a permanent tan was the way to go for my man Mellencamp, to the bad halftime writing, it's that mistakes, while they can be overcome, are better if they are avoided entirely.
So the most sane decision in the realm of this conversation was, surprisingly, Kerouac's choice to write several drafts of On the Road before even bringing it to his publisher, and his subsequent decisions to continue editing the novel which would, for generations, represent spontaneous prose. Because spontaneous prose is a valuable concept for creative writing, and, even if the surface had to be polished a bit, the message was worth the myth.
And until the message of the NFL become a myth, which even a 5-minute version of the last line, "and the home of the brave" cant corrupt, I'll be there, front and center, getting my kicks, whatever road I'm on, watching the great game of football.