Sports and music have always been deeply connected | Smack and Gold | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Sports and music have always been deeply connected

You may find it odd that for the past 17 years I've been working in music -- getting to pick the brains of artists like David Bowie, Snoop Dogg, Radiohead and Rihanna -- yet somehow, for City Paper's annual music issue, I ended up writing a sports column instead of, well, a music column.

To me, though, it makes perfect sense, like foot-stomping to Queen's "We Will Rock You" when the Pirates need a pick-me-up, or woo-hooing to Blur's "Song No. 2" immediately following a Penguins goal. Sports and music go together -- just search YouTube for a live James Brown performance and tell me that isn't one of the greatest athletic feats you've ever witnessed.

Even the frail, cardigan-sweater-wearing geek, who hates everything there is to hate about sports, relies on it. Were he not slammed into his locker daily by members of the high school football team, he may never have been inspired to channel his rage through punk rock. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain had his share of teen-age tormentors, and then experienced the paradoxical phenomenon of seeing his garage band get so popular that high school bullies began attending his shows.

Not every band is formed to spite athletes. Many take inspiration from them, such as The Outfield, 3rd Bass, Fastball, Five For Fighting, Hockey, Smash Mouth, The Starting Line and Gnarls Barkley.

The love of sports even stretches to the basement of underground music. Yo La Tengo's name was inspired by a phrase that the New York Mets' Richie Ashburn would shout to his Spanish-speaking teammate, Elio Chacón, so they wouldn't collide when going after a pop fly. Peter Buck, of R.E.M., loves baseball so much he formed a super-group called The Baseball Project, which writes songs only about baseball.

If former New York Yankees outfielder and classically trained jazz guitarist Bernie Williams decided baseball was going to be his hobby and music his day job, he might get more Grammies than World Series rings.

What if Danish tennis phenom Lars Ulrich hadn't met James Hetfield? He might've traded serves (and curse words) with John McEnroe instead of forming Jaromir Jagr's favorite thrash-metal band, Metallica.

Jay-Z, Usher, Nelly, Bon Jovi and Elton John have used their extra spending cash to dabble in owning professional sports franchises. Justin Timberlake owns a golf course (and plays to a 6-handicap).

Sports and music are littered with personalities torn by which passion to follow. Did you know Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard pitched the first no-hitter in the history of Wright State University? Rod Stewart can't resist kicking a soccer ball into the crowd during live performances. Before Jack Johnson wrote multi-platinum campfire sing-alongs, he was a professional surfer.

A couple years ago, a group of Dallas Cowboys linemen decided to fill their downtime away from the gridiron by forming the hard-rock band Free Reign. In 2005, NBA forward Ron Artest was so overcome by the music bug he asked his employer, the Indiana Pacers, if he could take a one-month sabbatical to record a rap CD. Management did not share his enthusiasm and promptly traded him.

When the Beastie Boys built their own recording studio in the early '90s, they equipped it with a regulation basketball hoop. Their passion was so consuming, not only did subsequent songs namedrop basketball stars Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O'Neal -- another athlete turned rapper -- but they began taking a portable hoop with them on tour.

If you don't think sports and music are connected, then why do fans at Heinz Field beg for Styx's "Renegade" when the Steelers need a dose of adrenaline? Why did Sidney Crosby come out of hiding in February to attend a Lady Gaga concert? And why is it common practice for touring artists to wave Terrible Towels at their concert stops in Pittsburgh?

If Wiz Khalifa can shout out the colors of Pittsburgh's sports teams in the song that launched him into hip-hop stardom, and local mash-up maestro Girl Talk can wear a Pirates cap every time he steps behind his laptop, then a sports column in City Paper's annual music issue feels just right.


Shaler native Jim Shearer is the current host of VH1's Top 20 Video Countdown and a former MTV VJ. He also hosts two Pittsburgh-centric sports webcasts -- Yinz luv 'Da Steelers and Yinz luv 'Da Guins.

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