[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
A few Sundays back, in a room full of celebratory people, I watched Alicia Keys sing the national anthem before the start of the Super Bowl. As she began, the room quickly went quiet out of respect and because of how well she performed. She was incredible.
As she sang and played piano so beautifully, I could not help but juxtapose this massive event, attended by more than 75,000 people and watched by millions more, with the quiet, sad work being done in preparation for the funerals of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield. Both Navy SEALs were allegedly shot and killed by an ex-Marine at a shooting range in Texas days before the game.
It is sometimes difficult being an American. We often are tasked with having to take the very good with the very bad in equal measure and still keep going. Somehow we do it.
The game is about to start. There will be a lot of very strong men colliding repeatedly, stunning feats of physical prowess, expensive and humorous advertisements that you will actually want to watch and a halftime show that will be talked about for weeks afterwards. All of this is going to happen while the deaths of two men are grieved.
This is what I was thinking about as I watched wide shots of the thousands in New Orleans standing as Ms. Keys played. The cameras briefly cut away to a group of soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan, the image making “The Star-Spangled Banner” all the more poignant.
In this single instance, you see the history of America. There is Alicia Keys, the daughter of a biracial couple, singing the lyrics of Francis Scott Key, a slavery advocate, in easily one of the highest-profile appearances any performer will ever make. We have come a long way, and there is a long way to go. Change and progress are not easy to establish or promote.
In a recent interview, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would not acknowledge a link between the brain injuries some players suffer and the playing of football. He danced around the issue, and it's easy to understand why. Literally thousands of lawsuits have been filed against the NFL by retired players, many of whom say that information on brain injury in football was withheld from them.
It is instilled in thousands of American males from an early age that one of their requirements is to be able to both dish out and take a lot of pain. They are taught the rules of this road in gyms, rings, backyards and fields all over America.
This is part of our collective identity. If it were not, the Super Bowl would not be as popular as it is. This single event encapsulates and crystallizes the America of America. You have it all. Men in peak physical condition, highly trained, with a single objective; beautiful women to cheer them on; and an audience of millions that take all of this in with an incredible amount of seriousness. An audience that literally roars with approval when a man is hit so hard his helmet flies off. Men will limp off the field at either the zenith or nadir of their lives up to that point. Adults who have no relation to any of the players will actually cry if they don't get the result they wanted.
“It's just a game” is what you tell children to prepare them for loss and to promote good sportsmanship. I would not suggest expressing this point of view to a man wearing face paint in the colors of his favorite team. Many adults are far too immature to handle the information.
And could such adults be the ones who are holding up the arrival of the future?! Why, could it be that there are those so deeply invested in the past that the mere mention of a different way of going about things sends them into fits? Well, now, we could be onto something. We've already discussed Commissioner Goodell, who can't handle causality, but to strengthen the case we'll need more examples. So little time; so spoiled for choice.
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre was OK with background checks at gun shows in 1999. Not so much anymore, however. You can check his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on crime from May of that year. It's a quick read — go for it. Then you can check his new opinion on the same topic in his horn-lock with Sen. Patrick Leahy last month. Guns for everybody! No tyranny on his watch. Hey, all you pistol-packin' mamas and papas, don't get any blood on your new threads!
At the same hearing, AR-15 pin-up hot thang Gayle Trotter, a mother of six (Good grief, woman! Do you and your husband ever just talk?), testified as to the need for all mothers to have some kick-ass firepower:
“An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon. And the peace of mind she has, knowing she has a scary-looking gun, gives her more courage when she's fighting hardened violent criminals.”
She said scary-looking.
Perhaps one of the sadder examples of not wanting to move on would be Sen. John McCain. You might remember him from his old group, the Keating Five. Anyway, there are a few things that Mr. M can't handle. He ran for president and was outshone by his running mate, who was a laugh riot and a dolt. Ouch. He was beaten by a man, many years his junior, who will be talked about centuries from now.
Oh, and Mr. McCain was dead wrong about the success of the troop surge in Iraq. When he recently (and petulantly) tried to corner Chuck Hagel into a yes or no answer regarding the surge's success, Mr. McCain only came off as a bitter old man at the end of the line. He won't be secretary of defense either. You'll have to wrench the validity of the invasion of Iraq and the push to flatten Iran out of his cold, dead hands.
I watched the Super Bowl all the way to the end.