By Trent Rentsch
verybody, sing with me now, “… There’s an old abandoned outhouse, called a University! It’s in Vermillion!!!!!!!” Those damned Coyotes! Worst Football/Basketball/Softball/Tiddley Wink team around! And the campus! Rickety old buildings, built of toad poop and tissue paper! There’s just a second-rate feel to the place, junky, trailer-trashy, dung-heapish!!!
I suppose I should explain this outburst of loyalty. I was born and raised in Brookings, South Dakota, home to South Dakota State University and some 120 miles due North of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. There is and has always been a…HEALTHY rivalry between the two schools. I was 10 before I realized that the school wasn’t called “Arch Rival USD,” and by high school, I was convinced that going to school there would be a fate worse than working at McDonalds the rest of my life. My higher education years at SDSU did nothing to improve this stilted perception. Games of any sort between the schools were near rabid events, although most violence that might erupt nearly always started on the Vermillion side (sorry, this is supposed to be the impartial paragraph). I can even remember a friend refusing to date a perfectly lovely young lady, a person who otherwise would have been a match made in heaven for him, simply because she was being schooled at the Evil Empire…and that made perfect sense to us!?
Before a slander suit sets in, let me say that USD and the city of Vermillion are fine places. Thousands of people over the years have received a wonderful education there, and have gone on to live successful and rewarding lives, the same as graduates of my beloved SDSU. Historically, if one was to put all the wins and losses together, the athletic departments of both schools have had similar records of success and failure. And while it’s easy to point fingers and accuse the other guy of starting things, the truth is that the first punch has been thrown from both sides for years. So really, my “deep seated loathing” has nothing to do with the place or its people. Only location of birth and years of anti-Coyote propaganda make one of those little voices inside my head proclaim, “Once a jackrabbit, always a jackrabbit!” (Jeez, we have a wimpy mascot compared to them…)
Act two. Somewhere down the line, I thought I was going to be an actor. I spent quite a few years doing plays, from my starring role as Pooh in grade school, all the way to my less than staring roles as a theatre major at the aforementioned University. I’ve wasted a lot of time wondering what appealed to me about pretending to be someone else, but the bottom line is that I quit—gave it up cold turkey. Not to say that I might not take a stab at playing some goof ball in front of the camera for a TV commercial, or pretend to be a talking mattress or human amusement park for radio from time to time, but my days on the stage are over—life sent me down another road. No regret, no melancholy. Still, I find it hard to sit through a play these days without playing Armchair Thespian, without getting this feeling that I’m sitting on the wrong side of the performance. I might go so far as to say that I cannot enjoy theatre at face value any more, simply because I’m analyzing why an actor said a word this way, or why the director blocked the scene that way. It’s been years since I faced the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd, yet another one of those little voices keeps telling me that, deep inside, I consider myself an actor.
Some experiences in life get a little deeper under the skin. They become more than a piece of a person’s history; they become an indivisible part of that person for life. My ex-Marine friend may not even notice that he stands a little straighter at the sound of the words Semper Fi, but he has to feel the glowing pride that’s so obvious on his face. Her marathon days long since past, another friend confessed recently that she still gets tears in her eyes watching the Boston race on TV. Speaking of tears, what about that complex, usually unspoken bond between father and son that reduces most men to blubbering babies when Kevin Costner “has a catch” with his character’s father at the end of the movie, “Field of Dreams?”
Even the most jaded cynic has something in their past that has touched them profoundly, that has made them feel a part of something important that they will carry with them their entire lives. The right word, the right sound can stir those emotions, making that person smile, laugh, cry… remember.
Who are we talking to, how do they see themselves? Singers, baseball players, cub scouts, older sisters, spelling bee champions? What can we say? What sounds and music can we use to bring back the memories, the feelings? Find the answers to these questions, and you’ll find the key to the hearts of your listeners.
The power of emotional memory is huge, even if you’re “just doing a spot.” It can mean the difference between another invitation to turn the dial and creating something that grabs the listener every time it plays and touches them enough to listen again and again, planting the seed. A six pack of pop for 1.99—big deal, everyone sells it around that price. But, remember that summer day? Hottest day yet, and you’re playing for the championship, bottom of the last inning, bases loaded with 2 out. Sticky Hanson was on the mound and threw one fast and inside that the big red headed kid got a piece of, and that ball was arcing toward you in left field, where you had been sweating, unnoticed for the past 2 hours. Sweat stinging your eyes, you rush to where the ball might land, leaping at the last second, arm outstretched. WHOMP!! It hits the glove like a guided missile. And man, nothing has ever tasted better than that ice cold pop when it hit the back of your throat while your teammates hoisted you up in the air and danced around the park! Relive the sweet taste of victory, now just 1.99 a six pack at…. What would motivate you more, a price point, or a treasured memory?