JTA — You’ve likely never heard of Steve Goodman. The late Jewish singer, who released at least 10 albums of folk music in his short lifespan, wrote the seminal song “City of New Orleans” — but the tune was made popular in a version sung by fellow Jewish folk artist Arlo Guthrie (it has since been covered by several other artists, from Judy Collins to Israeli singer Yehoram Gaon).
However, if you’re a true fan of the Chicago Cubs, you’ve doubtlessly heard Goodman’s voice. He wrote the two most famous Cubs songs of all time: “Go Cubs Go,” the team’s unofficial victory song, and “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” a mordant six-minute lament for the team’s now century-plus of World Series woes.
The latter song, which debuted in 1981, begins by describing a fictional character on his deathbed by the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago, dreaming of a “doubleheader funeral in Wrigley Field.” But the tragic irony is that Goodman himself was slowly dying at the time from leukemia, with which he was first diagnosed at age 18. He succumbed to the disease in 1984, at the age of 36.
Goodman has received some renewed attention this past week as the Cubs play in their first World Series since 1945 (the franchise has not won a championship since 1908). As of Monday, they are down three games to two in the best-of-seven set against the Cleveland Indians.
Scott Simon, host of NPR’s Weekend Edition, noted in a segment on Saturday that he and Goodman used to attend the same house of worship (ironically enough, a Quaker meeting house, not a synagogue). Growing up Goodman attended the Reform Temple Beth Israel when it was still in the Albany Park neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side; it has since moved to the suburb of Skokie. Goodman was active in the Hebrew school and the choir, and would perform as a soloist on the High Holidays.
“I don’t recall exchanging a single spiritual word with him, but we did talk about the Cubs,” Simon said.
Goodman’s two Cubs songs were closely linked to each other. Dallas Green, who became the team’s general manager in the early 1980s, was said to have hated “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” with a passion. It was rumored that Goodman made “Go Cubs Go,” which was commissioned by the local radio station WGN, as saccharine as possible as a light jab at Green. The song’s simple chorus caught on, and the tune is now played at Wrigley Field after every Cubs win there.
Goodman might have never achieved mainstream name recognition, but he did end up writing songs for the likes of John Prine and Jimmy Buffett. However, he never got to see his team win it all on the baseball diamond. If the Cubs manage to bring home a championship, let’s hope Goodman hears about it in the “Heavenly Hall of Fame.”