Welcome to Open Court, the newsletter and platform space where we explore the things we need to talk about in sports and life. I'm Joanne C. Gerstner, a sports writer, author, decent tennis player, and lover of blooming magnolias. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
I have been listening to a lot of music - mostly in the car while I drive for appointments or while I work out these days - and have been pondering a really good comment/question from an Open Court subscriber:
“You seem to like music a lot, are you only into BTS - or what are you into?”
Thank you Mark S.!
His query sent me down a two-week rabbit hole of thinking about what I am playing. I rarely listen to live radio anymore, sometimes dipping into SiriusXM in the car for a news update, check in on a game, or to hit up LL Cool J’s old school hip hop station (host/OG rapper Roxane Shanté is a daily joy). But I mostly listen to my Spotify mixes and their personalized compilations of new/old stuff.
My taste is…quirky...to say the least. I read a funny Tweet a few weeks ago that said Gen X is the last generation to have diverse listening patterns, because we still grew up on FM radio and didn’t have iPods/iPhones/Spotify to narrow our genres. There was more variety in radio, and the fact we were raised by parents and grandparents that had a tradition of listening to the radio for music, sports and news made us exposed to different things. I really think that is true, at least for my proof of life.
Metro Detroit, where I grew up, was a complete petri dish of amazing things in the 1980s. The EDM movement, hip-hop, the old heads of punk like Iggy Pop, and of course the plethora of never-say-die Motown sounds, Aretha Franklin and even kid/adult Michael Jackson all could be traced back to the #313. The purple one himself, Prince, adopted Detroit as his second hometown, and popped on the radio with the immortal Electrifying Mojo for some good radio. I was small when Prince was doing that, but I’ve gone back and listened to the interviews, and they are gems. Mojo commanded respect.
Throw in my mom loving the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett, Harry Belafonte and some classic music from the 1960s that had a groove, and my musical tastes started to be all over the place.
My connection to music deepened as an athlete, because your warm-up music, your hype music, your walk-up tunes, the post-game celebration dance all mean something to the experience. You have rituals, certain stuff that gets you hyped up and in the mindspace to do things on adrenaline. I mean, to this day, Guns n’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” or LL's “Mama Said Knock You Out” plays at football games to set the tone for some crushing on the field.
In high school, the right music mattered in our sports. Hip-hop, like the Beastie Boys or LL Cool J or Salt n' Pepa or TLC, were perfectly cool jams for a bunch of Catholic school girls to bump with terrible bass in our small gym before we played volleyball. Unfortunately, the sport I was best at, tennis, is not exactly a pump-up-the-jams thing. Silence please. The library rules are in effect the court. SHHHHHHHH.
In my one-year college tennis career, music was the savior for tougher workouts. More things crept into the playlist, like Daft Punk and Simply Red, and I enjoyed the expansion.
I then fully flipped to the other side, from being the athlete to now the sports writer. And guess what…not much changed. I still heard a ton of music at work, covering countless basketball games and volleyball matches in undergrad and then interning covering high school games.
My professional life has been the continuation of music at work. From seeing the Super Bowl halftime shows live (oh, Janet Jackson, I am a witness to how we all did you wrong…) to the Olympics opening/closing ceremonies to the jams to DJ’s in NBA arenas.
I rarely am in a silent workplace. It’s loud, the low end is cranked, and yeah, my ears have been blasted probably a time too many. And yes, you the fans are screaming too. A lot of noise.
I cannot count how many times I have heard the Macarena, the National Anthem, Chicken Dance, YMCA, and Celebration at work. Like thousands. Like to the point if I hear it outside of a sports setting, I get physical pains. (Obvs exception for National Anthem.) YES, friends and family, your wedding playlist likely made me die a little on the inside. Seriously, the YMCA/Chicken Dance/Macarena must be deleted from all DJ lists. MENTAL. PAIN.
So that takes us back to the original question: my relationship to music and what I listen to. I love the rhythm of EDM/Pop, the groove of funk/R&B/trap/reggaeton, and the flow of hip-hop. A good tune, from lyrics to flow to arrangement, can change my day. Seriously. My mindset while working out can be better organized with the right music. It can get me to do things that I may think are not possible or I feel too tired to execute. I shared last fall how my newish gadget to listen to music while swimming has brought me so much joy.
I listened to the Hamilton soundtrack non-stop (I KNOW, forgive the track allusion) while I was writing my 2016 book on concussions. When I am writing longer pieces, or need to do something that requires “concentration”, the music helps put my brain in a better space. Silence, which is needed by some to be in optimal writing mode, would simply make me batty.
When I am at sporting events, from a practice to a game, I am surrounded by music. I love my music in the car, and I listen to my tunes at home. It brings me comfort and space to be me.
The playlist today reflects all of those realities. I hear great new stuff from in-arena DJ’s, or from the players' iPhones' playing in their lockers. Some of my deepest discussions about lyrics and hip-hop have happened while chatting with athletes about their preferences. Yeah, I think some are shocked I care, or maybe that I am too female to get the deal. But I do. And yes, I don’t like the rap that has violence against women. Not my deal.
I checked out what is in my rotation today across a couple of playlists, and here is a small slice of the heavy rotation: Ava Max, Duran Duran, LL Cool J, Eminem, BTS, Jimmy Buffett, Big Sean, Spice Girls, Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Van Halen, Pet Shop Boys, Megan Thee Stallion, Latto, Doja Cat, JBalvin, Agust D, Weezer, Glass Animals, Bob Marley, Elton John, Dua Lipa, Beyonce, and Prince.
I admit what is missing: country, Americana, metal, jazz, classical, etc. All things I probably never heard while being an athlete or covering sports. Not an excuse, or a lack of exposure…I don’t like them very much. I can veer toward classical and jazz if I am in the mood, but I am sorry to say the country and Americana stuff just don’t work for me. More for you, if that is your jam.
I guess you’ll never take the sports out of me, nor the music. They’re tied together in many ways, to the point where my life operates better with them.
I’m curious, what music has gotten into your soul that way? What’s your go to?
And if you are into sports and music - what are your combos?
Let me know in the comments. Would love to hear from you.
See you Friday.
Open Court publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays, bringing you the stuff we need to talk about with author and sports journalist Joanne C. Gerstner.
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