Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What a Fitting Day to Clinch

Category: Sports/Music Tribute

On Saturday, September 20, the Chicago Cubs clinched the National League Central Division for the second consecutive year with a 5-4 victory at Wrigley Field. They could not have scripted a better day to clinch. September 20th was also the 24th anniversary of the death of Steve Goodman.

Most knowledgeable music fans know the connection: Goodman's 1984 song, "Go Cubs Go," blares over the Wrigley Field PA system after every victory.

Steve Goodman was born in Chicago and spent most of his career based there. He made friends with another Chicago folk singer, John Prine, and the two became best friends. They wrote one of Goodman's signature songs, "You Never Even Call Me By My Name," although Prine never accepted royalties for the tune that became popular thanks to David Allan Coe's recording.

As a Chicago resident, Goodman was a Cubs fan. He lamented the bad days of the Cubs in "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request." Cubs officials weren't very impressed with Goodman's hilarious but true (at the time) observation that the North Siders were "the doormat of the National League" and the dying man was going to "see the Angels play, but you the living, you're stuck with the Cubs, so it's me that feels sorry for you!" As the Cubs improved, in 1984 Goodman penned the far more optimistic "Go Cubs Go," originally pegged as the opening for WGN radio's broadcasts. The Cubs won their first division since 1945 in 1984.

Sadly, Goodman didn't live to see the clinching game. Four days before the Cubs made their first post-War post-season, Goodman died. Diagnosed with leukemia at age 20, Goodman lived for 15 years in remission. When things took a turn for the worse, a bone marrow transplant was performed. Post-operative complications set in, and Goodman's kidneys failed, claiming his life at the age of 36 on September 20, 1984.

Goodman's legacy lives on, however. He was awarded two posthumous Grammy Awards, the first in 1985 as songwriter of the "Best Country Song" because of Willie Nelson's woefully inferior recording of "City of New Orleans" (first a hit by Arlo Guthrie). His fans keep his memory alive, most notably John Prine (who included "Souvenirs," the duet version with Goodman, on the Rhino Great Days anthology) and Jimmy Buffett, who has recorded such Goodman gems as "Door Number Three," "This Hotel Room," and "California Promises."

Now, thanks to the people at Wrigley Field, Goodman now has his biggest hit: "Go Cubs Go." Hopefully, sometime during this playoff season, one of the networks covering the games will do a tribute to the man behind the song.

I also hope that, when the dust at home plate clears, they no longer "still sing the blues in Chicago" but sing "Go Cubs Go" throughout the World Series championship celebration.

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