So it looks like the San Francisco Giants are going into the playoffs with “Gangnam Style” as their rally song. I had never heard of Korean K-pop star Psy or his You Tube dance hit until the night the Giants were on the verge of clinching the National League West Division Championship; between the eighth and ninth innings, AT&T Park erupted with 42,000 fans on their feet riding imaginary horses as the video played on the screen in center field. Even Giants radio announcers Jon Miller and Dave Flemming were caught in the act. After the game, TV cameras inside the Giants’ celebratory clubhouse caught several players doing the “Gangnam Style” dance amid sprays of Champagne as the song blared. Well, there are far worse rally songs a team and its fans can adopt as a good luck charm. “Who Let the Dogs Out,” for instance. Or “Sweet Caroline.”
Oh, settle down Red Sox fans! Neil Diamond served you well as a talisman. But, seriously, “Sweet Caroline”? That’s as bad as “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey, which was the theme song of the 2010 World Series Champion Giants team (and a million teams before it), and is still played at AT&T during the eighth inning of games in which the Giants are tied or behind. And we all sing along with the lyrics on the scoreboard, even though lines like “Streetlight people living just to find emotion” read like a bad Babelfish translation.
In case you were wondering which song is played in the eighth inning when the Giants are ahead, it’s “Lights,” also by Journey. What can I say? They’re from the Bay Area. As someone who had actively scorned Journey, I was unaware of “Lights” until I moved to San Francisco and attended my first Giants game at old Candlestick Park. There was a beautiful full moon that night, and the sound of a stadium (half-) full of (frozen, wind-battered, miserable) fans singing, “I want to get back to my Ci-ty by the Bay” penetrated years of carefully honed rock-critic Journey-hate. This is what devotion to a team does to a person. It turns cynics and music snobs into rally-flag-waving softies. And it’s a slippery slope. First you’re singing along to Journey, then you’re high-fiving strangers, then you’re putting “Gangnam Style” on your iPod.
I love that sports can do this to a person. I think I’ve become more forgiving of other people’s musical tastes since I’ve been following the Giants, but that’s probably because I’ve come under the spell of Zen Master Bruce Bochy, our equanimous manager, whose response to every situation, good or bad, seems to be a variation of, “Well, I’ll tell you what, it’s a long season …”. Someone should put Bochy’s post-game press conferences on a loop and market it as a meditation aid, stress reliever and cure for insomnia. His folksy, drawling monotone is like a bathtub of warm milk, the calm, positive energy lapping at the edges of your consciousness until it …
Oh! Sorry! I must have drifted off there.
Sports and music. The two have been intertwined ever since someone first figured out how to amplify the organist in a stadium. Of course, in-game musical cues have become a lot more complicated. It’s no longer simply “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the Hammond. Now it’s a snippet of “Start Me Up” here, “Thriller” there, the dramatic prelude to Wolfmother’s “Joker and the Thief” everywhere. Stadium music sets the mood. It gets the crowd into the game. And, for some of us, it sells a few downloads. Oh, the surprises you would find if you could peruse my iTunes library! Look, here’s “Jump Around” by House of Pain. Do I normally listen to House of Pain? No, but it’s closer Brian Wilson’s signature song for when he’s charging out of the bullpen in the ninth and I was caught up in the moment. Unfortunately, my iPod is the only place I’ve been hearing “Jump Around” this season, what with Wilson shelved for Tommy John surgery and beard maintenance. Oh, but here’s “Song 2” by Blur, which brings happy associations because it kicks up at the final out of every Giants home win. Woo-hoo! And, of course, we have the aforementioned “Gangnam Style,” which is actually a clever satire on a particular type of male Seoul hipster (I read that on an NPR blog), and once you start listening to it, you can’t stop. I’m not kidding. Can. Not. Stop.
I love going to a ballpark and having my musical horizons expanded. If it had not been used as the walk-up song for Pablo Sandoval and Andres Torres last season, I would never have had the pleasure of dancing around my kitchen to Puerto Rican reggaeton singer Cosculluela’s “Prrrum”. But the opposite can happen, too, when a song you like becomes tainted by unpleasant sports-related association. The Fratellis’ “Chelsea Dagger” is dead to me ever since the Chicago Black Hawks swept the San Jose Sharks in the 2010 playoffs. I can’t hear that song without flashbacks to Hawks fans chanting that stupid do-do-do, do-do-do riff after every goal, and then that makes me think about how impenetrable Hawks then-goalie Antti Niemi was during that series, and how unspectacular Niemi was for the Sharks last season, and it just makes me want to go kick something. Dammit, where’s my relaxation tape? Bochy, take me away!
Speaking of the Sharks, if there is ever a 2012-13 NHL season, it might be a good time to retire the creaky “Rock and Roll, Part 2” as the fist-pumping celebration song after Sharks’ goals. And I say this as someone who has pumped her fist and yelled “Hey!” One more season of this and we’re going to be pumping our fists and yawning. There has to be a fresher celebration song. I’d be open to anything, anything at all. Except “Sweet Caroline”.
I’d like to hear from other sports/music fans. What are the songs that mean team pride for you?
© Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape, 2012