1981. The last year of the Wrigley ownership of the Chicago Cubs. The Tribune Company took over, the Cubs finished fifth place, six games behind the Expos in the National League East–as usual. Seventy-three years had passed since they had won a World Series and it was another of those "Wait 'til next year" toasts. 1981. I was driving into Chicago for a New Years Eve gig at the Earl of Old Town with my friends Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong, and the warm-up was Steve Goodman–can you believe it–with Jethro Burns of Homer and Jethro fame; Steve, the ultimate Cub fan.
I was driving a twelve-year-old yellow Datsun pickup with hundreds of thousands of miles on it, with my upright bass in the bed, in a drizzling rain bordering on freezing. I had just come back from mother in Baltimore, with an inch of ice on the radio antenna and no voltage left on the battery, and here I was, taking a chance on Chicago -- desperately needing the money—and besides, come on! It was the Earl on New Year’s Eve. So I'm on the Bishop Ford in a drizzle at 8 PM, all of a sudden the road freezes over. Glass. Cars are losing it, banging into each other and the cement walls to the side, so I let off the gas, dodged and coasted -- any brake or gas and the little truck would start to spin. I nursed it up to the north side to Earl Pionke's Earl of Old Town on North Wells Street, for New Year’s Eve at the Earl. By the time I got there, there were eight inches of sleet on the street, and nobody at the Earl for what should have been a jam-packed night.
Steve was one of the greatest fans of Martin, Bogan and Armstrong–and the greatest fan of the Cubs. Google him and you'll hear his sad and funny songs. I hadn't met them all when they recorded those tunes, but he immediately had some respect for this short white boy who fit in so nicely on bass with them old black dudes. Halfway through Steve's set, we abandoned the format for the night and just came together for the rest of it. He and Jethro knew our songs as well as we did. Somewhere in my cassette collection is a recording of the night. But before we started our session portion, he did "Dying Cub Fan's Last Request."
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?
You get the idea – “what do you expect when you bring up a young boy’s hopes, and then crush ‘em, like so many paper cups?” “So if you have your pencils and score cards ready, I’ll read you my last request.”
Well, Steve got his compensation for all those years of sorrow. I left work at midnight as they were squeezing the rain off the field for inning ten, and my heart was sinking—they’re gonna blow it again—I tore out the back door for home, but instead raced to O’Rourke’s bar to watch the debacle, but when the winning out came down, there was Steve on the house stereo, and the place erupted into pandemonium.
“Go Cubs, go! Hey Chicago, whaddya say? The Cubs are going to win today.” And it was true at last, after 108 years. So I drank a private toast to Steve. Probably no one in the bar knew who he was, but I did. He changed his strings after every set, talking ninety miles an hour. He loved my funky bass playing and my black, vented wing-tip shoes. I loved him. Stand up, Steve; your boys have done it.