We are entertaining a foreign guest, specifically a 14-year-old French girl, at the moment and given how entertainment-challenged Morehead is, we've been racking our brains to find appropriate activities for our youthful ward. Friday night, it fell to me to acquaint her with the "savage ballet" that is American football in the form of a local grudge match between Rowan and Morgan County High Schools. This was the first high school football game I have been to in nearly two decades, basically since my own days as a marching band geek, and it was an unsettling experience.
For one thing, it was the closest I have ever gotten to Big Time High School Athletics. Kentucky is, I presume, nothing compared to places like Texas in this regard, but compared to what I experienced in New Jersey—where football was a Saturday, noon-ish affair witnessed by modest collections of direct relatives of the competing players—this was a major event. There was unmistakable evidence that people had been tailgating in the high school parking lot before the game.
Given my previous band experience, I was especially interested in what the half-time show would look like. Well, it was elaborate. It wasn't the uniforms (which were a simple white T-shirt and tan shorts ensemble, a merciful choice given the 100+° temperatures we've been enjoying lately). It wasn't the marching itself (which was, nevertheless, miles ahead of the form-a-box-and-cross-the-field marching we did in high school). What had me gawking was the instrumentation: they had timpani, multiple vibraphones, and a Chinese-freaking-gong, all carted onto the field in a trailer pulled by a miniature back-hoe. Getting this equipment on and off the field took approximately 5 times as long as the single musical selection they actually performed.
One thing that was strange by virtue of its familiarity was the music played over the PA system (during the second half, which the band apparently had of), virtually all of which could have been heard during my high school days. There was the obligatory "We Will Rock You," the second-tier working-class rockers like Bob Seger and George Thorogood, the pre-fab sports anthem "Eye of the Tiger," and so on. I wonder if these songs sound as fossilized to current teenagers as a selection Bill Haley and Jerry Lee Lewis hits would have sounded to me in 1986. (There were two selections that were notable for different reasons: the unfortunate coincidence of the Eagles' "Heartache Tonight"—with the opening lines "somebody's gonna hurt someone, before the night is through"—beginning just as a paramedic team was working its way over to the visitors' side of the stands to deal with some unknown emergency; and the not-so-sportsmanlike choice of playing "Happy Trails" midway in the fourth quarter when the score stood at about 44-0 in favor of the home team.)
I guess the evening fulfilled its purpose of giving our guest an authentically American experience, but it left me thinking about a line of from Greil Marcus's Ranters and Crowd Pleasers: "One is exiled in one's own country, not when one does cannot understand the language, but when one cannot bring oneself to speak it."