By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
[UPDATE, 04-01-06: The link to the song in question has now been added to the end of the article.]
At first glance, Dirk Nowitzki's iPod doesn't seem particularly special in an age when everybody owns one. It's the newest Nano version, 4 GB of memory, in a leather case. Stock earbuds. But it holds an untitled song, tucked away in a folder labeled "Personal," that has gotten some attention the NBA All-Star may never have expected.
In February, sports columnist Richie Whitt's story ("Dork Nowitzki," Feb. 23) revealed that the Dallas Mavericks' star forward loves classic rock and "dabbles" on the guitar. Nothing too wild, but the Dallas Observer's music section decided to follow up on his musical interests after getting an indirect hint from Whitt.
At one point during the interview, Whitt asked to see the "Most Played" list on Nowitzki's iPod. They listened to the top 10 through a pair of portable speakers as the Dunking Deutschman explained himself.
No. 1 was AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long."
"That one gets me pumped up," Nowitzki explained. "I listen to it in the gym, especially, and sometimes before a game. AC/DC just has this raw energy that I try to tap into."
Next in line was Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter."
"This is probably my favorite Zeppelin song," Nowitzki said. "I love the way Robert Plant sings on the soft part. But when that lead comes in--Duh nuh nunna nunna, duh nuh nunna nunna--man, that's the best. If I get stressed during road trips, I'll lay in bed with my eyes closed, listening to that, and it just kind of clears my head."
The No. 3 spot was held down by "Hair," from the original cast recording of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. Uhh, Dirk?
"Oh, that," Nowitzki laughed. "Stevie [Nash, former Dallas Maverick who now plays for the Phoenix Suns] used to always make a big deal about my hair, especially when I cut it. I played that to make fun of him since he was always a pretty boy himself, and I opened that song again when I saw him in that silly GQ article the other week."
Up next was an untitled track. Whitt didn't recognize it and asked who it was.
"Oh, that's nothing," Nowitzki said. "I saved it by mistake. Let's go to the next one."
After the interview, Whitt pestered him about the song, hoping for some scoop about an emotional, nostalgic tune. To his surprise, Nowitzki owned up to an entirely different notion: He was recording some songs on a four-track Steve Nash had given him a few years ago and saved one on his iPod to play for Nash before the Mavs' next game against the Phoenix Suns. Whitt wheedled him into handing over a copy of the work-in-progress, a CD demo tucked into his workout bag, which he later dropped off at the Observer offices with neither a label nor a recommendation. We eventually stumbled upon it.
The simple label--"The Dirk Nowitzki Trans-Contintental Express" written in Sharpie--seemed like a bad band name by some teenagers in Plano, so the Observer staff put the CD in the changer for a quick laugh. But the deep, unmistakable German accent that opened the first song, "Devil's in Dallas," proved this CD was either an elaborate hoax...or a huge deal.
After a slowly strummed acoustic guitar intro, a full-scale rock attack came out of the speakers. We could hear some obvious influences--the Who, Slayer, Creedence--but nothing in the swirl of guitars, keyboards and passionate cries could be classified as a direct lift. It was both immediately amazing and frustrating--once we heard Dirk's voice, we figured this would be another terrible music project by an athlete (as if Terrell Owens hasn't made that prejudice clear in his recent move to Dallas), but try as we might, we couldn't convince ourselves that the song was half-baked. Someone with such a deadly three-point shot can't have time outside the gym to develop guitar skills that would put everyone else in Dallas to shame, can they?
Apparently, Dirk can. Whitt took the humble hoopster at his word when hewrote that Nowitzki simply "dabbles" on the instrument, but the guy is flat-out awesome. After making a few phone calls to former teammates who were willing to talk about the secret musical project, (well, honestly, just Popeye Jones), we learned that the multi-talented 7-footer plays all his backing tracks himself. With the exception of a few guest musicians, he multi-tracks drums, bass and the occasional keyboard flourish or sample all by himself, like some pale behemoth version of John Dufilho or Will Johnson.
And Dirk runs and jumps up and down the court, genre-wise. There's a lot of grimy hard rock and some bluesy old riffs he somehow makes sound new; then there's a folk song with Dirk solo on acoustic guitar, along with a pogoing punk rave-up that cuts off halfway--an error on the CD we wish wasn't there, based on the intensity of the song, titled "The Little General."
The only thing more stirring than the instrumentation is the heart and soul Nowitzki pours into the lyrics. "Courtside" details how pointless and dreary he seems to think his career is, hollow and full of frauds and sycophants. It's a furious '70s hard rock anthem with a chorus straight from the blog of NBA 12th man Paul Shirley at his most depressed: "Come watch me play a child's game/Come cheer your millionaires on/Watch for hours that you'll never get back/Admire our skills and our brawn." The next verse goes on to describe what happens off the court: "Randy Galloway's lazy questions/Asks me 'How will you keep up the intensity?'/And the gold-digging fans with their bleached seductions/Paternity suits in every city."
He also teams with buddy Nash on one song, "Screw the Pick and Roll, Gimme Rock 'n' Roll." Nash, who mentions his love of Radiohead in just about every interview, channels Jonny Greenwood's jack-of-all-trades instrumental creativity. The musical partnership could have turned out to be a boring Radiohead clone (who needs another Kid B like Elbow?), but Nash transcends that band's influence to create some really unique keyboard and guitar noise as his one-time teammate sings about how true friendship and the love of music are stronger than distance, time and Western Conference rivalry.
Strangely, the rock-loving Dirk even dabbles in hip-hop. The song, "Reppin' My Mavs for Real (Get in My Grill and I'll Fadeaway Jump)," would have been his entry to the team's playoff theme song contest had the rules not barred current Mavericks employees from entering. It easily puts Owens' MC skills to shame and even bumps Shaquille "Shaq Diesel" O'Neal down to the No. 2 spot on the list of "Most Talented 7-foot NBA Rappers." The strong track is probably the reason why Mavs point guard Jason Terry recently announced the signing of D-Now to his Atlanta-based Reason Records label.
Rumor has it 2929 Entertainment, the media company owned by Mavs owner Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner, has been filming Dirk behind the scenes for a documentary that will be released in theaters and on DVD simultaneously, a plan that has sparked ire in both the MPAA and NBA Players Association.
And in a move that will make them--and Dirk--even angrier, the Observer's Web site, dallasobserver.com, will be the exclusive host to one of the songs on Saturday, April 1, 2006. Log in on that very special day to listen to history.