A lifelong obsession raises unsettling questions
Posted: Friday September 28, 2007 11:27AM; Updated: Friday October 5, 2007 5:35PM
Singer-songwriter-pianist-guitarist John Ondrasik is otherwise known as Five For Fighting, the creator of such major hits as Superman (It's Not Easy), 100 Years and The Riddle. A native Californian, John writes a monthly hockey column for SI.com.
Why is there such a big connection between music and sports? Is it that both mediums provide a needed escape from man's daily drudgery? Are the songs and games just arenas that inspire and educate about the abilities of the human heart? Is it immaturity that we must find others to vicariously live through to fulfill our competitive and attention-starved nature? Or is it baser than that?
I named my band Five For Fighting after a Marty McSorley - Bob Probert scrap. Entering the recording studio after a Kings home game, I was confronted by the president of EMI records and told that the male singer-songwriter was deceased and to come up with a band name, pronto. This was the day of boy bands, Lilith Fair, and grunge. "John Ondrasik" would not do. After my first suggestion -- Marketing Ploy -- hit the wall, I threw out Five For Fighting. It's been a blessing and a curse. It's hard to pronounce. There is no "band" frankly, and the name does not, up front, reflect the color of my music. Still, the name becomes more appropriate daily. The music business is a straight right to the eye and I spent 12 years in the box before America Town broke through in 2001.
I once wrote a song called Michael Jordan. In the lyric, I describe a laundry list of items that "I would give to be you." The "you" being Jordan. The first verse has me offering my hat, books, remote and a trip to the zoo. The second finds me throwing down my job, cash, car and requisite house on the hill. The tune terminates with the sacrifice of my wife and a first-born or two to become my God, "my Mike."
The recording is a swing at a high fastball, but I still make the point a decade later: The deification of the athlete is a cultural phenomenon that has been building over generations - a communion that crashes down like a Todd Bertuzzi two-hander on our cap-wearing skulls.
On the bright side, sports by nature bring a common bond, an open door and a chunk of home. I've always been somewhat obsessed with sports -- as a passionate fan and student of the social psychology surrounding the games. I played basketball as a toddler through high school. My childhood Golden Bear squad had an equal number of black, white and Latino ballers with a speedy Armenian point guard. I've only realized in the last decade how those friendships defined my attitudes and opinions regarding race, teamwork and competition.
As a junior, I broke my ankle while dunking on an 8-foot rim. My hope to woo Linda Mucitelli as a varsity shooting guard evaporated, so I coached the C-team. A huge Los Angeles Kings fan, I caught Gretzky Fever and decided to teach myself to skate. I joined an adult hockey league in the San Fernando Valley with my friend Bo. I sucked, but scored a goal in my first game: I was checked into the crease and some wiseass shot the puck off my helmet and into the net. I got a point and Bo got into a fight.
I've been fortunate to play on Monday Night Football, SportsCenter, and the SI Sportsman of the Year Awards. I played the 2001 NHL All-Star Game and opened the Daytona 500. My music has been used in World Series, Olympics, and Hall of Fame ceremonies. This is good for my esteem and I usually pretend it's no big deal. Honestly, it makes me giddy. Nothing topped ESPN's John Buccigross saying, "John Ondrasik is to Five For Fighting as Dominik Hasek is to the Detroit Red Wings." It was my first mention on any show I actually watched. I fell off the couch.
But the older I get, the less passion I have for particular teams. Still, I crave the escape that is sports. I'm not as big a Dodgers or Lakers fan as I was, but I yearn for and appreciate each Vin Scully syllable and greatly miss Chick Hearn. I find new joy in taking my children to UCLA football games with their grandfather, the man who carried me on his shoulders to Bruins clashes. At the same time, I'm disgusted and angered by the arrogance and thuggery of many superstars. I don't want my son to grow up to be Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Michael Vick, Pete Rose or Ron Artest. I don't want my daughter to grow up to be Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan or Courtney Love. Sports and music have a lot in common when it comes to false idols and demigods.
Family aside, my life has evolved, revolved, and been consumed by music and sports. Each outlet takes turns keeping me sane. One Yins while the other Yangs. I can't imagine the person I would be without them. I guess you can call that a connection.