May 19, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
As I grow older, my love for soccer increases every year while the appeal of other sports wanes (both as spectator and participant). The World Cup is my favorite sporting event, combining the international aspect of the Olympics with the fervent passion of soccer fans.
David Henry Sterry has co-written The Glorious World Cup: A Fanatic's Guide, a wildly entertaining book on the event, its players, and its history. Whether describing historical rivalries, infamous events, or the great players of the game, Sterry and his co-author Alan Black deliver a thoughtful yet always entertaining commentary.
As a bonus, the guest essays (by Irvine Welsh, Po Bronson, and others) are among the best soccer writing I have read.
If, like me, you are looking forward to the World Cup, I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.
I am genetically predisposed to kick balls with my feet and butt them with my head. My grandfather on my mother's side was a professional soccer player in England, back when a professional soccer player had to have a day job to feed his family. At the age of 16 my father, who grew up in a tiny mining village outside Newcastle, had a choice: become an apprentice professional soccer player, or go to college. He had a coal mining dad later died a miserable death when black lung disease planted its flag into his respiratory system. So my father chose college, the first in his family to attend school past the age of 16. He immigrated to the United States just before I was born. When my parents became citizens, five years to the day after they arrived at Ellis Island, we had a huge party, sparklers twinkling atop a red white and blue sugar lard icing cake. When I was little, soccer was something played by dark swarthy men with too much body hair who spoke strange grunting languages. And it was certainly never seen on TV. But as I reached high school, the greatest players of their generation were brought to America to ply their trade as the bright light of their careers faded. Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff. That's when I really first fell in love with the game. I was lucky because the North American Soccer League sent there players out to coach high school kids. So I was trained by the center half of the Dallas Tornadoes, a man named John Best. He and my father taught me what it was to be a soccer player. The speed and the skill but most especially the cool under fire take no prisoners passion that characterizes the best soccer players.
After college I went and trained back in the mother country. Yes, I was taking coals to Newcastle. I played in the top amateur league in the northeast of England, and we were paid the equivalent of $50 a game, $100 bonus if you scored a goal. One of my teammates had been noticed by Newcastle United. At that point in history, being an American playing in England, I was such an anomaly that they wrote article about me in the local paper. So when my pal brought me along to the training ground of Newcastle United, one of the great teams in Europe (present circumstances notwithstanding) I was allowed to train with the under-21 squad. It's kind of like a peasant from Outer Bumfuck Slovakia getting to practice with the New York Yankees.
There I learned the craft of being a Hardman. How to lurk in the shadows and deliver punishment without looking like you're doing it. How to get inside the prima dona diva goalscorer's head. To drive him crazy and take him out of his game and make him look over his shoulder every time the ball’s coming towards him, wondering if you're going to chop the knees right out from under him, or plant the sharp bone of your elbow into his rib cage. Happy days.
It was there I also learned about the religious ecstatic tribal grandeur of soccer. It is truly a game of the people. Completely democratic, in part because you don't have to be a genetic freak. So anyone can become great if they pay their dues to the Goddess of Soccer. And all you need to play is a ball. In fact if you don't have a ball he can tape up a few old socks. Or, like Pelé did when he was a child, you can play with a grapefruit if you have to. I used to go to Newcastle United games and chills would electrify my spine while the roars would rattle my bones. And they’d break into these old ancient chants and songs spontaneously. No scoreboard telling a bunch of sheep when to cheer. It was organic, hewn out of the very earth from which my hearty, sentimental, sarcastic, hard yet generous working class people sprang. Anyone who ever tells you that soccer is boring has never been to a packed stadium full of Geordies in full throated roar as their beloved warriors try to bring home the glory.
When I got back to the good ol’ US of A, I was shocked to see fields of blonde haired blue-eyed children playing soccer. There was even a new idiomatic phrase that had slipped into the vernacular of America: Soccer Mom. I was offered a professional contract by the Vancouver Whitecaps, whose general manager was none other than John Best, the man who trained me so well. The day after I got the letter inviting me to Vancouver, I tore my left knee to shreds training. Shattered kneecap. Shattered dreams. I was in a cast for six months. In truth, I've never really recovered fully, physically, spiritually or emotionally.
Some Americans still don’t understand that the World Cup is like the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NCAA basketball championship, the NBA finals and Stanley Cup all rolled into one. If every nation in the world were invited to play. It is a pilgrimage, an odyssey, a journey to the center of what makes it a joy to be alive.
And this year, the mother of all sporting events will be landing for the first time on the mother of all contents: Africa. Yes, I love watching the greatest players in the world beating each other to a bloody pulp for a month. Yes, I believe in my heart that this is the year the United States could actually make it to the final (remember, they should’ve beaten Brazil in the finals of the Confederations Cup in South Africa last summer). But I think what I enjoy most about the World Cup is that it brings together and makes the strangest bedfellows out of humans from literally every corner of this great and crazy planet. I love that.
When Bay Area legend Alan Black, the transplanted Scotsman who made the Edinburgh Castle an epicenter of literary excellence in San Francisco, asked if I wanted to put together a guide for the upcoming World Cup, without even thinking I said yes. We really wanted to capture the grandeur, passion, madness, ecstasy, agony, misery and glory that is the World Cup.
Music has always been a big part of soccer. One of the pleasures of this brave new world in is it there are approximately 800 squazillion soccer videos floating around the World Wide Web, where people take music and put it over soccer greatest-hits highlights. So here's some of the stuff I was listening to, and watching, as we put together this guide to World Cup South Africa 2010.
"Ole Ole Ole"
The classic crowd chant. There are so many different versions of this song it kind of boggles the mind. But unless you've ever been in a stadium with 100,000 people chanting it while blowing whistles and beating drums, and as will be the case in South Africa, playing the vuvuzela, the local insane fan trumpet, you have not truly lived.
"We Are the Champions"
God bless Freddy Mercury. The world was truly a sadder, less exciting, more fucked up place when he left us. There's something about his over-the-top yet totally sincere bravado to that matches the Olympian scale of the World Cup, when literally the whole planet sits on the edge of its seat holding its breath to see what happens next. And this song, of course, has been sung all over the world by rabid fanatics celebrating their team's triumph.
"Lust for Life"
Nothing quite says lust for life like the World Cup. And I just love those drums and that yowling howling Iggy Pop. Here's a very cool video with that song in it and how it figured in the movie Trainspotting, which was written by Irvine Welsh, who just happens to be a contributor to our book. It's the story of the most famous goal in the history of Scotland and how it relates to pornography and tartan folklore. By the way, the goal that Scotsman Archie Gemmill scores became the basis for a modern dance piece.
By the terribly missed Miriam Makeba. So sad she's not gonna be able to sing for the globe when it comes calling for the World Cup. A beautiful artist who really captures the rhythms and the spirit of Africa.
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
I know it's the most overplayed song in the world, but I still love it and I wanted to put some images of Africa in here.
When I was performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I was on a radio show with an American comedian named Greg Proops. He's a very funny fellow. I knew him from my stand in San Francisco in the 80s. The musical guest that day was the Soweto Gospel choir and they completely tore for the roof off the joint. Just blew the whole place up. I make a point of trying to see them whenever I possibly can.
And here, the best England World Cup song ever.
I don't necessarily like the music in the links below, but the soccer action is amazing.
Thanks again, Largehearted Boy, and enjoy the Greatest Show on Earth, as the Glorious World Cup crash lands in South Africa this summer.
David Henry Sterry and The Glorious World Cup: A Fanatic's Guide links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly highlights of comics & graphic novels)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly highlights of new books)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from this week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists
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