© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Remembering Steve Goodman, The Folk Singer Who Immortalized The Chicago Cubs Anthem


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Go, Cubs, go.


When the Chicago Cubs win home games, the crowd sings this song...


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Go, Cubs, go. Go, Cubs, go. Hey, Chicago...

SIMON: ...Not "My Kind Of Town" or "Sweet Home Chicago" but this song that is - no dishonor to say - not the best work of a celebrated Grammy Award-winning folk singer who also wrote an anthem for losers and maybe the best Train song ever. And then Steve Goodman died of leukemia at the age of 36.

Clay Eals is the author of "Steve Goodman: Facing The Music." He joins us from the studios of KUOW in Seattle. Clay, thanks so much for being with us.

CLAY EALS: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Steve and I, as you know - I think it's in the book - we went to the same house of worship. And I don't recall exchanging a single spiritual word with him, but we did talk about the Cubs. What did the Cubs and baseball mean to Steve Goodman?

EALS: Well, baseball was huge in Goodman's life from when he was a little kid. Right outside his backyard, there was a baseball field, Eugene Field Park. And he was the catcher on the local team, and he had relatives who would get him into games when he was quite young. As he says in his "Dying Cub Fan's" song, he would sneak into the park, forsake his teachers (laughter) cut school sometimes, and he was a Cub fan from the very beginning.

SIMON: Let's listen to some of the signature lines from "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request."


STEVE GOODMAN: (Singing) Do they still play the blues in Chicago when baseball season rolls around? When the snow melts away, do the Cubbies still play in their ivy-covered burial ground?

SIMON: Now, it's a very clever song, but did Steve worry he was sticking the club he loved with a loser's mentality?

EALS: Oh, no. I mean, if anything, that song is a hugely affectionate song. It's a fatalist song (laughter) saying that they never win. But he was such a devoted fan. He always hoped for them to win, and there is no way to listen to that song and not have just a tremendous respect and affection for Steve Goodman and for baseball itself. It has all of these references in it that are very specific that any baseball fan would recognize and also just anybody who is used to running up against failure. And it does it in this baseball metaphor that is just utterly charming.

SIMON: How did he come to write "Go Cubs Go?"

EALS: Well, that's a - "Go Cubs Go" is kind of the alter ego to "Dying Cub Fan."


GOODMAN: (Singing) Baseball season's underway. Well, you better get ready for a brand-new day.

EALS: He was playing "Dying Cub Fan" for several years, and then in Chicago at WGN, he was doing an interview and in between segments one of the staffers came over and said, you know, we can't play "Dying Cub Fan" at Wrigley Field. It's about lovable losers and the doormat of the National League. Can you write us a song that we can play? And he said, sure, and it'll be in an anthem. And in about a week later, he called up and he said I got it. And this is in the spring of 1984 in March just about six, seven months before he died.

SIMON: What does it mean for Steve Goodman fans to hear his song at a World Series?

EALS: Well, you know, I've been getting all kinds of phone calls and emails saying, oh, Steve would love this. And it's true. He would love the fact that the Cubs are in the series. But, you know, I have mixed feelings about this too because I know that the Cubs have a mystique, and I think it's because they don't get to victory. So I'm wondering if they go all the way in the series if they will lose that mystique.

SIMON: Well, we may not have to worry about that. Cleveland could win. And on the other hand, oh, let's try it, Clay, why not?

EALS: (Laughter) Well, you know, there are legions of people who knew Steve who said that he would be just thrilled with what's happening today. And he'd be right there in the front row and, like in his song, with a frosty malt and two sacks of peanuts.

SIMON: Clay Eals - he's the author of "Steve Goodman: Facing The Music." Thanks so much for being with us.

EALS: Thank you, Scott.


GOODMAN: Said but you, the living, you're stuck here with the Cubs. So it's me that feels sorry for you. And he said, oh, play - play that lonesome losers tune. That's the one I like the best. Closed his eyes and slipped away. Well, Scotty (ph), it was the dying Cub fan's last request, so hear it is. (Singing) Do they still play the blues in Chicago?

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!