There have been very few things that have meant more to me, and had as big as an impact in my life, as music and sports.
So when Jerod asked me last week which one I would get rid of if I had to choose, it was a question that I couldn’t answer without it being personal.
The answer I gave him is one I think many will be able to relate with.
Sports and music were both introduced to me at an early age. But the way they have affected my life have been completely different.
By the age of three I could name all the MLB and NFL team names thanks to watching daily games with my dad. I played and excelled at baseball, soccer, and basketball during my childhood, only to realize during middle school that I enjoyed tennis and hockey more. By my senior year of high school I made the varsity tennis team all four years, serving as the team captain my junior and senior year.
The memories I cherish from playing organized sports have nothing to do with winning or any personal achievements though. In fact, I don’t even know where any of the awards and accolades I received are in my house. The letterman jacket my parents bought for me collected dust because I refused to wear it.
The memories I do cherish from playing organized sports are the friendships I made, most of them I still have today, and the feeling of accomplishment and personal growth from becoming a better athlete and, hopefully, a better person.
But I can’t hold that as more important than what music has done for me.
Music becoming a vital part of my life has actually been a fairly recent event. It’s always been there though.
Starting from nearly the same age he introduced me to sports, my dad made it a habit to introduce me to music. We had an entertainment center downstairs with plenty of CDs and records from The Talking Heads (I’ve watched their Stop Making Sense concert dvd countless times) to David Bowie to The Grateful Dead, etc.
I listened to my dad’s favorite music religiously, reading and digesting every lyric. But at that time music was more like watching TV to me. I did it every day, but it just remained another form of entertainment, holding no real special value.
It would take the loss of my childhood innocence and hardship for music to become a vital part of my life.
When I was eight, my parents filed for divorce.
I don’t know if you remember being eight, but family is really all you have at that age. You don’t have real friendships or really anything else important in your life, so it’s a huge deal when the one and only stable and meaningful aspect in your life crumbles and you’re old enough to understand so.
I remember one night just bawling my eyes out over the situation while laying in my bed, and then Pearl Jam’s “Black” came on the radio. That song’s power, and the emotion emitting from Eddie Vedder’s voice, was so consoling. The pain in his voice struck a chord with me.
That was the first time in my life music served as a way to cope with negative events and feelings in life. This would be an ongoing occurrence when it came to Pearl Jam songs, mixing anger, sadness, and hope in their songs (perfect example being “Love Boat Captain” and “Present Tense“).
I needed that because things only got worse.
My mom was forced to go to school to get a degree after the divorce so she could start her own career. She did this while working any side job she could find, often two or more at a time. She tried to salvage any dignity she had left while having to rely on food stamps to feed her kids and living with the social stigma of being poor in the U.S.
I remember every day constantly worrying. We were on the financial edge, and without health insurance any accident or injury would completely run us to into the ground, taking everything we had with it.
This was the state of mind and affairs all throughout my middle school and high school years, so when you lack the outward stability you look for that stability inwards.
Music did just that for me.
Music became that gateway towards mental stability and a better understanding of what it mean to deal with and cope with problems. But most importantly, it became something that showed and taught me what it means to be human without all the materialistic aspects of life.
In all honesty, music saved my sanity and provided me with a kind of reassurance while there was barely any real reassurance in reality. And it continues to do that to this day.
For me, that’s something sports or any other form of entertainment can’t do, and I am very thankful for it.
How about you?