Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Earlier today, I watched something that a lot of people are calling the continuing work of divine intervention. Even Bob Costas is sort of calling it the same thing. It's hard not to. It's this Tim Tebow guy, the quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Against our home state favorites - and possibly the same Monsters of the Midway that the members of the Smoking Popes root for on Sunday afternoons - the Chicago Bears were defeated in overtime by a mostly ineffective slinger and a team that they shouldn't have lost to, in overtime, on two ridiculously long field goals. Tebow is this big, block of a dude. He's left-handed, looks like he should be a linebacker or a boxer and is horrible for most of every game he's played in this year, but something happens in the fourth quarter of every game and he starts taking over, picking teams apart. It's always in stunning fashion and against all - and I mean ALL odds - that he leads these improbably come-from-behind victories. He's out-spoken about his religious beliefs, feeling that his fate is directly leading him and his team to victories, immediately thanking his lord and savior at the outset of every postgame interview. It's remarkable television and something that it's easy to think about tonight, digesting both the sick feeling in the stomach from the loss, a feeling of strange wonder about the possibility of this divine intervention stuff being real (I mean, come on, it's been seven games in-a-row now where the same junk's happened!) and thinking about the Smoking Popes.
See, the Popes came into a lot of our lives when we were all praying for miracles, whether we prayed or we didn't pray, whether we thought much of a man upstairs or thought it was all a bunch of hogwash that we had to sit through on Sunday mornings, before we got to go home to watch football. The ones us scrawny, but smart, decent looking, but not anything great, noticeable, but not popular Midwestern boys were hoping for all had to do with getting those cute girls that we knew would like us if they'd just give us a chance. When you're a teenage boy, it's all you hope for and there are certain days when a folded note gets passed your way in class, or slipped into the slit of your hall locker and you feel like things just got rosy - even if it was going to be short-lived.
The Smoking Popes, with their ringing and clean guitars and especially Josh Caterer's good guy/fellow wisher, prayer, hopeful singing voice, brought us to these wonderful places - in our bedrooms and in our serviceable cars - where we were understood and there was a sense that we weren't going to be striking out for long. Even the band's biggest hit - "Need You Around" - was featured on the soundtrack to the movie "Clueless," a film where the average guy, the one who was just trying to be cool and good in his own ways, biding his time being the nice guy, ends up getting the pretty girl at the end. The Smoking Popes were and still are about those dreams that could almost come true, if just for a little extra kick in the pants, or some touch of God, if we were to go that far. Sometimes, at that age, it's all you can do in your desperate state, but to ask for the help of an unseen power to just hear you out and to cut all the crap cause it's hard enough as it is. Those pretty girls would like us. We'd be great boyfriends. Come on. The Smoking Popes made us believe that we were gonna be alright, that we just needed to be patient for a while longer.