Fifteen years ago, Bob Dylan sang out in anger to protest the persecution, trial and conviction of a major sports figure, Rubin (Hurricane) Carter:
All of Rubin's cards were marked in advance The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance The judge made Rubin's witnesses drunkards from the slums To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum . . . . How can the life of such a man Be in the palm of some fool's hand? . . . One time, he coulda been the champion of the world. Fifteen years later, the J Boys sing out in anger to protest the persecution, trial and conviction of another major sports figure, Jerry (The Shark) Tarkanian:
Free Jerry, Free Jerry The N-C-A-A can go straight to heck Free Jerry, Free Jerry Don't chain up America's best Free Jerry, Free Jerry You can't crush Nevada's pride Free Jerry, Free Jerry No more Rebel genocide Who says contemporary pop music has gone to hell in a hand basket?
OK, so the J Boys are not Dylan. Not Bob, not Thomas, not even Rigdon.
They're just another struggling indie band from Santa Barbara trying to make it out of the garage--with one notable difference.
They are seriously addicted to Nevada Las Vegas hoops--the ones Larry Johnson slams basketballs through, not the ones the NCAA is making Tarkanian jump through.
They are Rebel fans with a cause.
So along comes "Free Jerry," the single and the album. According to the press release that accompanies the tape in the mail, "a couple members of the J Boys are big Tarkanian and Runnin' Rebel fans and feel the NCAA has carried on a 20-year witch hunt against Tarkanian and his basketball programs at both UNLV and Long Beach State. They feel that the NCAA's autocratic, authoritarian actions have resulted in the unfair persecution of one of America's finest coaches and finest men."
The J Boys couldn't be truer believers. Another slice of "Free Jerry:"
You played too many black players And that's a mortal sin Plus you helped them and loved them When you should have hated them to win And:
Jerry went to the ghetto All alone and white as a lamb He said first comes education Said, "We'll help your son, ma'am." Reportedly, Jerry is pushing this for the new Nevada state song.
The J Boys have already hit the road for the cause. They performed at one "Free Jerry" rally in Las Vegas before the Buster Douglas-Evander Holyfield fight and at another in Chicago, where the NCAA Committee on Infractions met late last month. They are also putting their money where their mouths are. According to their press release, the J Boys are donating "roughly 20%" of all profits and royalties from the sale of the tape to Tarkanian's legal defense fund.
The J Boys' Carpinteria-based label, Outsiders Records, is doing what it can to stir up interest. Enclosed with every promotional cassette is a collection of blurbs and praise for "Free Jerry"--courtesy various "rock critics" and "studio engineers," apparently extracted without arm-twisting or cigarette burns.
"It's Guns and Roses meets Jimi Hendrix meets a UNLV Runnin' Rebel fast break ending in a slam dunk at the Shark Tank in Vegas with the crowd roaring, the guitars screaming wildly, the snare smashing while the chant goes on and on."
"What a great rock n' roll song! It's 'Welcome To The Jungle' meets Harlem roundball!"
"The band's music reminds me of the Stones!"
"The lead singer sounds just like Mick Jagger."
Having given the single a few spins on the Walkman, time that could have been spent listening to "The USC Marching Band's Greatest Hit," I feel I'm entitled to a blurb of my own:
"The band's music reminds me why I traded in my Ted Nugent albums. If the lead singer 'sounds just like Mick Jagger,' Jerry Tarkanian is Keith Richards!"
If you ever loved "Cat Scratch Fever," you can love it all over again, only this time with lyrics that reach out and speak to Dick Vitale.
Jerry shoulda never ever Made that run at Wooden's Bruins Tark had the champs on the ropes Then out came the Establishment's goons It can be a nasty business, jock rock. Taken straight--the sport alone, the music alone--they are two of the great visceral thrills life has to offer. But turn them into mixers, and you can send out for the stomach pump.
Remember "Philadelphia Freedom," Elton John's treacly ode to . . . a team tennis franchise?
Remember "Mrs. Robinson" and how one stray line by Simon and Garfunkel ("Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?") ruined an entire generation of sportswriters?
Wouldn't you like to forget Hank Williams Jr.'s Monday Night Football theme?
Give "Free Jerry" this much: It plays to the crowd. You have to spend a few hours inside Thomas and Mack Arena to find this crowd--they're the ones dressed like land sharks--but the audience is out there, ready to head-bang away at the drop of guitar line.
Now the Runnin' Rebels Have become Nevada's pride We're telling the N-C-A-A No more Armenian genocide Recently, Tarkanian had a chance to read the lyrics to "Free Jerry." When he came to this final passage of the song, he was moved to a one-word response.
Tark might not be a rock critic, but the man knows what he likes.