Forget for a moment about whether the Chicago Cubs can break the 71-year-old Curse of the Billy Goat by winning its World Series bid against the Cleveland Indians.
The team’s very presence in the World Series is already a victory of sorts for the late Steve Goodman, the Windy City singer-songwriter who helped immortalize in music his beloved team’s annual plight with “Go, Cubs, Go” and “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.”
Goodman is most widely known as the composer of “City of New Orleans,” the joyous song about the train line bearing that name. It was a hit first for Arlo Guthrie in 1972 and again in 1984 with Willie Nelson’s country version.
He also wrote “Banana Republics,” which was popularized by Jimmy Buffett (who also recorded Goodman’s whimsical “Cheeseburger in Paradise” under the pseudonym Freddie & the Fishsticks) and “You Never Even Call Me by My Name,” written with John Prine, which became a 1975 country hit for outlaw David Allan Coe.
But as a dyed-in-the-blue-and-white-wool Cubs fan his whole life, Goodman also saluted his team in song.
Goodman channeled the unflagging optimism for a Cubs victory in “Go, Cubs, Go,” which contained just a slight wink of Randy Newman-esque irony in its proclamation, “Go, Cubs, go/go, Cubs, go, hey, Chicago, what do you say/The Cubs are gonna win today.”
That chorus has become a fixture at games in losing season after losing season in the 32 years since Goodman wrote it.
A year earlier, he’d introduced another song he’d written out of his and others’ undying affection for the team, “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.” (This video of Goodman performing “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” was shot on one of the rooftops at Wrigley Field.)
The humor-laced song combined Goodman’s love of the national pastime with his real-life battle with leukemia, which at the time he’d been fighting for more than a decade, and outlined a scenario to be played out upon his death:
Make six bullpen pitchers, carry my coffin
And six ground keepers clear my path
Have the umpires bark me out at every base
In all their holy wrath
It’s a beautiful day for a funeral, Hey Ernie let’s play two!
Somebody go get Jack Brickhouse to come back,
And conduct just one more interview
Then he added this witty kicker to his talking-blues-like narrative:
He said, “I’ve got season tickets to watch the Angels now
So it’s just what I’m going to do”
He said, “But you the living, you’re stuck here with the Cubs,
So it’s me that feels sorry for you!”
In the final years of his life, Goodman and his wife, Nancy, moved to Huntington Beach, and he played often in Southland clubs, often accompanied by the great bluegrass mandolinist Jethro Burns, of Homer & Jethro fame.
After Goodman’s death in 1984, friends organized an all-star tribute concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa that featured Jackson Browne, Steve Martin, George Carlin, John Prine, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Randy Newman, Rosanne Cash, Jethro Burns, J.D. Souther, Martin Mull and dozens of others.
As emcee Mull put it that night, “All you have to do is put $2- or $3-million worth of talent on a stage and people respond to it.”