I grew up idolizing Larry Bird. Given the chance, though, I am not sure I would want to meet him.
A couple of nights ago, my brother Matt and I left the Shirley compound to see a band called Stellastarr*. (The asterisk implies no footnoting. The band adds it to their name, and I am not one to question their artistic intentions.) Stellastarr* is really, really good. They have written perhaps the best song I have heard this year, a little ditty called "Sweet Troubled Soul," which to me sounds like a song The Cult would have written if they could put together lyrics with their riffs. Additionally, their debut album, which came out two years ago, would probably crack my Top 50 albums list. The problem with the night was that Stellastarr* opened for The Bloodhound Gang.
It seems like a little thing, but I think the order of operation conceived for that one show exemplifies what is wrong with the culture of our entire society. Stellastarr* is an innovative, interesting band from New York. The Bloodhound Gang, while talented, could hardly be described using either of the adjectives in the preceding sentence. It is not for me to question their musical chops; I could never do what they do. But, in essence, they are a joke band And, although that might be entertaining once every 1,000 songs on one's iPod, it is not really noteworthy.
I wish I knew how this happened. But I don't, so I'll quit worrying about the future of our country and discuss the mundane events of one night and how it relates to my reluctance to ever meet Larry Bird.
The truly disappointing aspect of the evening was that Stellastarr*'s set was marked by audio difficulties. (Perhaps that should have been, "the set played by Stellastarr*." It would seem that asterisks and apostrophes do not cohabitate well.) Because the sound was distorted and generally off-kilter, those in attendance were not given a good impression of the band. Since they do not have access to the same amount of free time as someone like, say, me, the members of the crowd are unlikely to spend much time seeking out new music, so it is unlikely that they will ever give a band like Stellastarr* a second thought. They came for a good time hosted by The Bloodhound Gang and are perfectly happy to lose themselves in some semi-funny rap/rock by some guys from Philadelphia.
After watching the Stellastarr*, my brother and I gave The Bloodhound Gang three songs' worth of time before making a judgment regarding our immediate plans for the evening. The fact that their first tune was perhaps the worst song I have ever seen performed live did not help their case. Their fate was sealed when, between songs, one of the members of the band had the tank top he was wearing torn off by the lead singer in order that we in the paying audience could be treated to a viewing of his naked torso. The now-shirtless troubadour played along, in that staged-funny way, and acted as if he were surprised by the action. He then gathered up his shirt, rubbed it into his already-sweaty armpit and faked a toss into the crowd -- which probably would have been enough to convince my brother and me to leave the scene. But he took it to another level. Seeing the madness in the eyes of the crowd, he jammed the shirt down the front of his pants and pulled it, through his crotch, out the back. And then threw it into the crowd, where people actively clamored to catch it. If I had been in possession of a hand grenade at the time, I would be writing this from prison.
My brother Matt and I left the scene. Although what we had just observed had been plenty, we actually had further impetus to find our way toward the bar that was hosting the event.
Prior to the appearance of Stellastarr*, we had spent some of our waiting time coming up with a new looks-rating scale for the girls we saw milling about. After some discussion, we discovered that a five-point system is, in fact, superior to our previous incarnation, a simple 1-10 method that now seems archaic.
(Yes, we are some real bastards. Fortunately for me, the exact ins and outs of our scale cannot be discussed here. Perhaps I will return to it at a later date.)
Just when we had settled on our criteria and pledged to follow it to the letter, we found a six. Our new scalebreaker is the bassist for Stellastarr*. Matt contended that, given the opportunity, he would propose on the spot. I pretty much agreed. I noted that she was a disclaimer girl, in that she was the type of person for whom one would write a disclaimer in a prenuptial agreement (e.g. "I will be faithful unless given the opportunity to perform certain actions with Rachel McAdams, Jennifer Garner or the bassist for Stellastarr*.").
At any rate, drawn by curiosity and a newfound hatred of The Bloodhound Gang (or, more accurately, a newfound hatred for those enthralled by them), Matt and I set off into the bar with the vague hope that we would perhaps meet our new six.
As we stood in an area between the actual bar and the parking lot where the concert had gone on, we considered our next move. Matt went to the outdoor serving area in order to secure us some liquid refreshment. While I waited, a girl I recognized as being a DJ for the local radio station that was throwing the show (96.5, the only decent station in Kansas City, I might add), sidled up. She asked if my brother and I were interested in joining them in their VIP lounge. The perks included free drinks and food and the requirements were minimal, namly only me saying yes and donning a VIP badge. I felt I could make the sacrifice.
(Note: This was not a case of any sort of recognition by her. I think I was just wearing a flattering shirt.)
The small lounge area was filled with radio types, some well-stocked coolers, a buffet line, and most of Stellastarr*, including the gorgeous bassist. We were set. But then I started to think about the situation. What if we did talk to her? Is there any way she could live up to our expectations? We had just amended our ratings scale on her behalf. It would be nearly impossible for her to be as wonderful as the theoretical version we had created in our minds.
At least, that was my excuse. My brother, on the other hand, had nothing. I was doing a fine job of screening the DJ, waiting for him to make his move, but it never came to be.
And so, we will never know. On one hand, I am glad we did not get to speak to her. I have a strange view of musicians. I don't want to see them as the flawed humans that they are. I prefer to hold on to the idea that they are geniuses who are above the petty concerns the rest of us have.
I feel the same way about Larry Bird. I spent my entire childhood idolizing the man. I watched as many of his basketball games as was humanly possible because I admired so much how he played the game. He seemed to be slightly above it all, as though the rest of the participants were mere mortals with whom he was toying while he navigated his Celtics to win after win. What if he turned out to be a boring jackass? Improbable, to be sure. But it is hard to imagine that his personality could merit the pedestal on which he stands in my mind.
So it goes with musicians. I make no secret of the fact that I have something of an addiction to music in general. I use music as a ticket to relaxation, inspiration, and catharsis. My love of music is caused in no small part by the fact that I have no ability to do, with my voice or an instrument, what some of my favorite artists can do. To me, they are geniuses. I don't want to be convinced otherwise -- it would destroy my illusion of their godlike nature. I have no need to think of them as human.
But then again, a girl in a band? With apologies to someone in particular ... I think I might have to rethink this pedestal issue and make an exception for the bassist of Stellastarr*.
Paul Shirley has played for 11 pro basketball teams, including three NBA teams -- the Chicago Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks and the Phoenix Suns. His journal will appear regularly at ESPN.com. To e-mail Paul, click here.