Articles Modest Proposals Music

Live music vs. Playing sport

Thursday, August 28, 1997

U2 are playing back here in Dublin over the weekend, and the town is buzzing with people desperate to get tickets. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who might be able to get hold of a couple, and expectation hangs in the air like Michael Jordan above the hoop. But I won’t be going.

When you’re ten, choosing a career is easy – there are only a few options. Children want to be astronauts and deep sea divers and sports stars and doctors. Test leads, fulfillment agents or (heaven forbid) Internet content editors don’t figure much.

In the teenage years, some of these ideas fade, and others come to prominence. It’s crucial to be in a band, and being the next Otis, Elvis, Janis or Jimi seems an attainable goal.

When we’re children we think as children. But when we become adults, we put away childish things. We shouldn’t want to be pop stars any more; nor should we dream of winning Wimbledon. And it’s true that quotidian concerns about work and money keep these thoughts at bay most of the time.

However, there are two occasions when we revert to our younger selves.  Seeing a good band play live has always been and remains a troubling experience for me. As much as I enjoy the performance, the community and the time-altering effect of a great set, I can never be wholeheartedly enthusiastic – it should be me up there.

It’s not that I think I’m a great songwriter, or as good a guitarist as The Edge – I know my talents lie (or rather sleep) elsewhere – it’s just that I’ve wanted to be a pop star for so long now that I don’t know how to stop wanting it.

Rationally I know it won’t happen, and that the whole music business is full of egos, greed, suicide, depression and broken dreams. But emotionally, I’ve not got too much further than playing my tennis racquet in time to ABBA records.

The other time we relive our childhood aspirations is when we’re playing sport. My similarity to a top-class footballer (that’s football as in soccer) is pretty limited, both in ability and vocabulary, but when I’m having a kick-around with my mates, that doesn’t bother me. I know I’m not very good, but every now and again I can fool myself. A swift turn, or a volley into the corner of the net, and the commentary starts in my head – ‘Oh yes, he’s done it! Moore has scored!’

There’s no getting around the fact that this is deeply sad behaviour for a grown man, but I’m not alone. Nick Hornby describes this phenomenon frighteningly well in Fever Pitch with sport, and High Fidelity with music, and the success of the books show that it’s a common malady.

Of the two problems – not being a pop star and not being a professional footballer – the first is harder to cope with. My sports craving can be satiated with my amateur sporting endeavour, where the team spirit and element of contest mirrors the real thing whether the venue is the local park or the San Siro. (Nike’s current advertisement with famous stars playing in pub-team matches on Hackney Marshes makes this point.)

But there’s no getting round the pop star thing. Maybe it’s not too late to start. But I’m still not going to see Bono and the lads this weekend.  And it’s not that I can’t get a ticket or anything. Oh no.

(first published as a Modest Proposals newsletter, 28th August 1997)