I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I’m a big fan of NBC’s Friday Night Lights
(we Tivo it, in fact). Of course, I spent two years in Lubbock, Texas, as a sportswriter after college, covering high school football, among other things. It was a culture shock, to be sure. But it was an eye-opening experience to see how these one-stoplight towns bow down to the altar of football.
I became pretty engulfed in it, which meant reading H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights was practically mandatory. For the sake of space, I won’t rattle on about the book, a compelling look at the 1988 season of the Odessa Permian Panthers (a powerhouse in those days) and how a high school sport, trivial as it seems, carries a sometimes unhealthy influence on racial, economic and social ties in a small town. With a movie and now the TV show, it’s pretty much become a franchise.
It’s probably fair to say the movie and TV show (and people in Odessa will say the book) take creative license with some story lines. But the TV show represents pretty fairly, in my opinion, the prevailing attitude in some of those towns; that is, high school football is it. It’s what you do on Friday nights.
West Texas is a large, expansive region, all flat and dusty. Worse, it can be lonely and isolating, emotions the TV show mines nicely. (Will Johnny Footballplayer ever escape this crappy town or will he become another in a line of never has-beens who live in the past?)
That’s why when I lived there I clung to the music of Richard Buckner, who I always felt grasped those feelings of loneliness so precisely. (His amazing album Bloomed was produced in Lubbock.) So I was pleasantly surprised to hear his familiar husky voice during a particularly emotional moment in last week’s episode (No. 13: “Little Girl I Want to Marry You”).
The song Figure (from Devotion + Doubt) played as the starting quarterback, a shy, hesitant fella (who is the caretaker for his ill grandmother and also happens to have the hots for the head coach’s daughter … baaaad idea, dude), is seeing off his soldier father, who is returning to Iraq. The relationship between the father and son is strained – the grandmother, his absence at war – but Matt (the son) starts coming around, wanting badly to impress his father (at home and on the field) until he has to say goodbye all over again.
Surely, the song was written in the context of a boyfriend-girlfriend sort of relationship, but it’s placement in this scene made it no less powerful:
“When it’s down to the this /
overturned and at the roof /
and the words are done /
and the silence just smokes on through”
OK, I didn’t cry or anything (no, seriously, I didn’t), but it was cool for such a great artist to get that spot, though you could argue Buckner had bigger play with the song Ariel Ramirez on a Volkswagen commercial a little ways back.
Watch the full episode here (the particular scene is in “part five”).