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Folk hero and Cubs fan remembered
07/14/2008 12:37 PM ET
If the Chicago Cubs win the World Series this year, it won't only be a once-every-hundred-years miracle on the North Side of the Windy City.

It will also be the perfect storyline for a never-written Steve Goodman song.

Goodman, the late folk music hero who penned the classics "City of New Orleans," "Banana Republics," "You Never Even Call Me by My Name," the still-played Wrigley anthem "Go, Cubs, Go," and what many consider the best baseball song ever written, "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request," was a huge hardball fan born and raised in Chicago.

He died of leukemia in September 1984 at the age of 36, days before his beloved Cubs clinched their division. His life was far too short, but his humorous, sardonic, always smart and often poignant music remains, and his life has been immortalized in an impressive and meticulously researched biography, "Steve Goodman: Facing the Music" by Clay Eals (ECW Press, 778 pages).

"Goodman used to say that if you grew up on the North Side of Chicago, you'd save $25,000 in psychiatrist bills because you'd learn to live with failure," says Eals, a veteran Seattle-based journalist and author.

"What he would say this year is that it's inevitable that the Cubs will collapse. I don't think he'd believe they won until he saw them holding the World Series trophy."

Eals, who is currently on a book tour (www.clayeals.com) that will take him to various reading events in California this month, spent eight years writing this epic biography, which weighs four pounds and contains 400,000 words, 575 photos, quotes from 1,087 interviews, and an 18-track CD of songs written and performed by others in tribute to Goodman.

The first 5,000 copies of the first printing of the book sold out in eight months, and the book, which won a silver medal for biography in the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards, is now in its second printing.

Everything from Goodman's life is spelled out in almost up-to-the-minute detail, including his high school days alongside a young Hillary Rodham, who obviously later went to marry Bill Clinton and become the First Lady and a presidential candidate, and his short-but-stunning music career, which took him to the height of the folk scene and endeared him to countless fans and admiring peers, many of whom were legends in their own right.

Among the big names Eals spoke to for the book are best-selling author and radio host Studs Terkel, who wrote the book's preface, and Arlo Guthrie, who popularized "City of New Orleans" in 1972 and penned the book's foreword.

Baseball Bookshelf

Also among the interviewees was a veritable entertainment All-Star team: Steve Martin, Jimmy Buffett, Kris Kristofferson, Gordon Lightfoot, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Randy Newman, Paul Anka, John Prine, David Allan Coe, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, John Sebastian, Leo Kottke, Lily Tomlin, Martin Mull, David Geffen and Loudon Wainwright III.

"Steve Goodman really touched people with his music and who he was," Eals says. "And to fully appreciate him, you had to see him. In many ways, he was the best songwriter, singer and guitarist around, but what he tried to do was put those three things together and be the best entertainer possible. The best Goodman was live Goodman.

"Talk to anybody who saw him live and their eyes just turn to pies. His songs ran the musical gamut. He could write the funniest songs, just laugh-out-loud stuff, but also with biting social commentary. I wooed my wife with his songs. I sent her tapes. And it must have worked. It's been 26 years since we've been married."

One of Goodman's most lasting songs is "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request," which was written from the perspective of an old man with not much time to live but had to have been autobiographical considering Goodman's declining health.

The multi-faceted "Request" in the song ends with the lines, "Build a big fire on home plate out of your Louisville Slugger baseball bats and toss my coffin in/Let my ashes blow in a beautiful snow from the prevailing 30 mile-an-hour southwest wind/When my last remains go flying over the left-field wall we'll bid the bleacher bums adieu/And I will come to my final resting place out on Waveland Avenue."

Goodman, as detailed in the book, got to play that song on television from one of the building rooftops that overlook Wrigley, and some of his ashes were indeed sprinkled by that ivy-infested left-field wall so they could drift onto Waveland Avenue.

"People say baseball is the game most like life because of all the metaphors, and that song gets that because it's all about failure and we all have failure in our lives," Eals says. "Goodman overcame the ultimate failure, the failure to live, by being able to laugh at it.

"So the song is affectionate about baseball, but it's also saying, 'We can't take all of this too seriously, folks. We have to see the fun in life and to see the virtue in losing.'"

But Goodman wanted to see the Cubs win, too, and that sentiment led him to pen "Go, Cubs, Go," a rockabilly-inspired rally number that is still played in Wrigley before nearly every game and on the team's radio station, WGN-AM.

Other Goodman baseball moments in the book include references to his improvisational, live Cubs-inspired versions of "Take Me Out To the Ballgame," "When the Saints Go Marching In," and Buffett's tribute to Goodman before Game 1 of the 1984 National League Championship Series 12 days after the singer's death.

As for the Cubs and their chances of winning it all in 2008, and, of course, how Steve Goodman would feel if they did manage to bring home the hardware after a full century of disappointment, Eals just laughs and points to something Goodman said many times.

"Steve said, 'I don't know if I could survive if the Cubs won,'" Eals says.

"'It'd be a coronary event, I tell ya.'"

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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