THE BLURT BULLY PULPIT Baby Teeth

“Stagnant pools of
extra testosterone”: Tennis, anyone? Motherfucker!

 

BY ABRAHAM LEVITAN

 

Baby Teeth is hardly a band of jocks. We have the standard
lower-back pains and knee blowouts of most sedentary Americans in their early
thirties. Our pasty complexions (often euphemistically referred to as “studio
tans”) testify to lives spent generally staring at a glowing screen of one kind
or another. A couple of years ago, I got my first hernia, which led me to
believe that social-security checks certainly couldn’t be too far behind. 

 

In truth, a general sense of physical infirmity is nothing
new for me. I was somewhat of a sickly child, and I’ve been dogged by
clumsiness and slowness as long as I can remember. My gym teacher used to taunt
me for being the last one in the locker room after class; somehow, the
transition from gym clothes back to “street clothes” just took much longer for
me. When I was twenty, I did a brief stint as a waiter at a restaurant in Times Square. My manager regularly chastised me for my
slow lope from table to table. When he didn’t feel like I was worth talking to,
he would sometimes just gaze at me across the room and sadly shake his head. He
even went so far as to sit me down one day, stare at me solemnly, and intone,
“You are stupid. But….” (pregnant pause) “… you are also…. very stupid.”

 

Having endured several decades of a life in which balletic
grace was in short supply, I was delighted to find, about two years ago, that I
really, really liked playing tennis. I had always enjoyed dressing like I really liked playing tennis — terrycloth
wristbands and short-sleeved knit shirts have been mainstays in my wardrobe for
many years. But suddenly, I really wanted to play: I craved it. Fortunately, I
had a willing accomplice: Baby Teeth drummer Peter Andreadis. When the two of
us hit the courts, I felt like I had transcended the young man’s realm of
trying to prove physical prowess, embarking instead upon a new life as a
sophisticated gentleman of leisure. (That I was far too broke to be a genuine
gentleman of leisure didn’t really matter.) In this incarnation, physical grace
wasn’t the really the point; rather, it was a casually-noted byproduct of
old-school virtues like hustle, strategy, and good sportsmanship. Peter and I
didn’t have to act like young men in order to get exercise. Walking onto the
court, we might as well be Alan Greenspan and Lloyd Bentsen, septuagenarian
D.C. insiders meeting together for a friendly game and a bit of professional
gossip.

 

That is, until the game starts, at which point each of us
tries mightily to kick the living shit out of the other. While we have
collaborated for years as bandmates with a fair amount of artistic (if not
commercial) success, on the court it’s another matter entirely. Our fondest
wish is to see the other one humiliated by a stinging, just-beyond-reach
crosscourt return. When Peter dupes me in said fashion, I scream “Motherfucker!” and leap up and down
repeatedly. When I return the favor, Peter hurls his helpless racket to the
ground. Then, he picks up the racket, grabs the nearest tennis ball, and hits
his most savage forehand into the fence of the public park. In either case, the
inflictor of the opponent’s frustration has to choke back a smile. After all,
such strategically-imposed torment is the point of the game.

 

Before I realized that tennis could be an outlet for my
stagnant pools of extra testosterone, a lot of that rage and competitiveness
used to go into my songwriting. For some people – Joe Strummer, Ian MacKaye,
Chuck D – writing with a head full of rage can create powerful art. In my case,
it tended to obscure what I could do well as a songwriter – write catchy hooks
and relate little vignettes about life in suburban dystopia. In my early
twenties, I would frequently step all over myself trying to show how hard I
could rock, how loud I could sing, and how comfortable I was screaming, “Motherfucker!” These are now avocations
that I’m able, in most cases, to leave on the tennis court.

 

Is all of this just a lot of mumbo-jumbo about settling into
middle age? Well, maybe. But in my own experience, life and art tend to work a
lot better when you’re able to access some kind of inner peace and stillness
when you need it. Like a lot of people with the XY chromosome combo, I spent a
lot of my twenties in a pissing contest with the rest of the world. In all
likelihood, this tendency was only aggravated by my not really having a sport
that I loved playing. While I tried to work around this by telling the
cleverest possible anecdote at a party, or by writing the most ribald possible
lyrics, these practices ultimately proved neither socially endearing nor
artistically satisfying.

 

So, twenties rocker dudes, listen to your clumsy big brother
with the bad back and the slow, stupid-looking walk. If you’re anything like
me, I would advise you to play more tennis and stop trying to prove yourself so
much. I think your songs will get better.

 

Then again, you didn’t ask for my advice. Maybe I’ve even
made you angry. But please: if you do want to kick my ass, kick my ass in
tennis.

 

***

 

Chicago‘s Baby Teeth – Levitan, Andreadis and
bassist Jim Cooper – has their recent album
Hustle Beach out now on Lujo Records. The band can be
found at their website,
www.babyteethmusic.com.]

 

***

 

Previous installments of BLURT’s The Bully Pulpit:

 

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