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Spokane Empire

John Blanchette: Let the cowbells come home

Sun., April 12, 2009

“Guess what? I’ve got a fever – and the only prescription is …”

– Famed producer Bruce Dickinson

No cowbell?

For the love of Gene Frenkle, maybe it’s time to fear the reaper after all.

You can never tell what will turn the sports minion into a militant. Just recently, Tony Bennett was mutated from Washington State’s favorite Coach Dreamy into The Tonynator for the heinous crime of taking a better job. Gonzaga’s pious army goes all rogue at the sight of red jerseys on their heroes.

But this week, Spokane’s most passionate converts to the Church of Indoor Football – the Shockwave, the Shockaholics, whatever they call themselves – endured the ultimate insult.

They had their cowbells confiscated.

Will there ever be an end to the indignities piled upon the common fan?

It seems that too much indiscriminate cowbell clanging and compressed airhorn blowing at the 2009 Spokane Shock opener last week had the tumultphobics in the crowd steaming up to management demanding refunds, or at least to be moved to seating in a more serene area. Having sold out the Spokane Arena, the club couldn’t make it happen. The Shock may want to consider buying some tickets to Eastern Washington athletic events to ease these kind of cacophonic emergencies in the future.

But for the time being, all Shock management could think of was to issue a blanket ban on assorted noisemakers – not just cowbells and airhorns, but sirens, whistles, drums and cymbals.

Cymbals? Apparently, they couldn’t chance someone breaking into a rendition of “The William Tell Overture” on fourth down.

In something of an upset, metal garbage can lids, bullhorns, playing cards in bicycle spokes, chuckwagon triangles and Dick Vitale were not included on the list of artificial noisemakers, though the Shock did reserve the right to add other contraband to the list.

Naturally – or artificially – the cowbell ringers immediately got their clappers in a clinch.

And here’s a surprise: They’re loud.

One outraged booster even suggested in a letter to Brady Nelson, the Shock’s CEO – that’s Cowbell Expropriation Officer – that the ban was not in keeping with the spirit of the af2’s “Fans’ Bill of Rights,” although constitutional scholars are still trying to ferret out the codicil wherein it states that a fan is owed the opportunity to make the head of the guy sitting next to him explode.

Luckily, they all came to an uneasy truce Saturday when the Shock were home again.

The cowbell herd stowed their hard feelings and showed up anyway – another sellout was announced – and everyone generated enough natural din to make life hard on the hapless Tri-Cities Fever in a 62-32 Shock stampede.

One diehard female fan did hold up a sign that read “MORE COWBELL” at nearly every opportunity, which couldn’t have thrilled some folks in the line of sight behind her – but probably was considered better than the alternative.

“More cowbell,” of course, has become cultural touchstone since its utterance in the famed “Saturday Night Live” sketch mocking Blue Oyster Cult’s recording of “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” in which Will Ferrell made an indelible impression as the fictional bell-banger Frenkle, and Christopher Walken – as the equally fictional producer – sagely predicted:

“I’m telling you, fellas – you’re gonna want that cowbell.”

If the Shock host the ArenaCup again, he may be right.

All in all, this has been a pretty comic dustup, pitting a group of fans who seem to have hitched their identity to cheap percussion against operators trying to be sensitive to all constituencies in an amusement built on WWE production sensibilities.

Making it impossible to pick a side from among:

•The cowbell yahoos, who rallied around this issue faster than the National Rifle Association would if President Obama wanted to ban grenade launchers from backyard use.

•The ticket buyers who may have thought they were purchasing loge seats at the opera.

•The Shock management, which several times a season hands out those bloody Cheerstix which are every bit the irritation and headache-inducer that cowbells are – and has put Paul Sorensen on the radio, to boot.

Still, there’s no point in sniping without proposing a solution. The cowbell culture needs to come up with an alternative to generate noise that will break the opponent’s concentration without piercing their neighbors’ eardrums. And we’re here with a suggestion:

Armpit farts.

They’re natural. They’re easy to do. They’re in keeping with the general decorum of the production. They require no bulky or expensive equipment.

OK, no expensive equipment, anyway.

Sure, for optimum effect, they would require taking your shirt off, but after a few beers inhibitions are shed as easily as Raul Vijil sheds a defensive back. Also, you may have to resist putting body paint there as it could impact the volume and tone.

And there’s another upside.

After one game of that, Shock management would be begging for “more cowbell.”

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