Peyton Manning’s No Huddle Offense Taught Me How to be a Musician

Thursday Simpson 

I’ve been a musician for sixteen years and Peyton Manning is my biggest influence. His no-huddle offense with the Colts is a type of improvisation as deep as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. I don’t like to practice or learn songs. Predictably is boring, practice and learning songs bring a lack of risk that just doesn’t interest me.

Besides being genius theorists, John Coltrane and Miles Davis are extreme risk takers. Peyton Manning, at the line of scrimmage, can see everything he needs to know in a few seconds. He reads the defense, he calls out an intense set of codes to instruct his offense. He watches the defense react, he adjusts his plan. All in less than thirty seconds his mind is improvising and reacting. This is a level of depth and greatness I want to pursue on stage.

Practice is complicated. There are a lot of ways to prepare. Study is too often ignored by musicians. Grinding scales and riffs have a place. You need a vocabulary. You need to know everything. You need to sit and listen to the same album over and over. You need to meditate on perspective and ask yourself why Miles Davis chose to cover pop music from ten years earlier.

The amount of film Peyton Manning watched before he even put on a Colts uniform is probably startling. I wonder how many hours of football Peyton still watches, now that he’s retired?

Musicians should always question their assumptions and throw them away each week, just for the opportunity to learn something new and see and hear things differently. We’re usually so scared of sounding bad, of making mistakes. One thing I’ve learned about being a musician, if you’re scared of sounding bad you’ve already lost.

One of the most tragic scenes I’ve ever seen is when Peyton Manning’s Colts system died. Peyton Manning was playing for the Bronco’s and the Colts were playing them in Denver. Andrew Luck tried to throw a pass to Reggie Wayne and Reggie ended up tearing his ACL going for the ball. Peyton Manning was watching from the sidelines. Marvin Harrison was in the stands, watching. Robert Mathis and other teammates of Peyton’s still on the Colts helped carry Reggie Wayne off the field. Andrew Luck was on his knees, beating the ground, blaming himself for Reggie’s injury. Pure agony.

Miles Davis kicked John Coltrane out of his band because of John’s dependence on heroin. Miles Davis did heroin because Charlie Parker did heroin. Neil Young isn’t lying when he says on his Live at Massey Hall record that many of us have never heard the best musicians who ever lived because heroin ended them before they took off. Every time we hear Miles Davis’ records, we should be thankful because he survived long enough to make them. The same with John Coltrane. Imagine what Charlie Parker could have sounded like in the 1960’s.

You are going to make mistakes. Bad ones, on stage and in the studio. You will be laughed out of venues. Practicing won’t save you from tragedy. The more you play the worse you’ll sound because you’re playing more. Making mistakes is part of life. Ask the best cooks you know how many times they botch recipes. Look at LeBron James’ stats and see how many shots he misses every night. Notice how many people since LeBron James entered in the NBA in 2003 have said how overrated he is, how bad and irrelevant he really is. The more you do something the more you’re going to fail and the more people will talk shit. When you do anything you will make mistakes. And the more you do something the more you will make mistakes. Mistakes hurt like hell and can tear you apart. They’re also your friend, your ally. They will teach you if you’re listening.


Thursday Simpson is from rural Illinois. She has a BA from the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared in Diabolique Magazine, Rhino Poetry, The Breakroom Stories, Fishfood Magazine and Far Off Places.


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