Songwriters write about the things they know, which can cause some difficulties when the song is heard by people of different cultures. I was one of many people who had to learn what “vegemite” was when Men at Work’s “Down Under” became popular in the United States. (In a similar fashion, when Midnight Oil sang about “45 degrees” in “Beds Are Burning,” it took me a while to realize that the band was talking about very hot temperatures.)
But what of the effect of time on song lyric interpretation?
In the early 1970s, Joe Walsh composed and recorded a song called “Rocky Mountain Way.” His European fans were presumably puzzled by some of the lyrics:
Bases are loaded and Casey’s at bat
Playin’ it play by play
Time to change the batter
Even those Americans who were not familiar with the 1888 poem “Casey at the Bat” still knew what sport Walsh was discussing. And although there was no major league baseball team in Colorado at the time – the Rockies would not come until much later – the Triple A Denver Bears were playing in the state in 1973, the year the record was released.
Since 1973, there has of course been one famous song that referenced baseball – John Fogerty’s “Centerfield.”
But what about today’s music? How often does the beloved national pastime crop up in 21st century songs?
I thought of this when listening to a Los Angeles Sparks commercial on the radio. The Sparks, of course, are a team in the Women’s National Basketball Association, and unlike the men, they play on a summer schedule. So when advertising on Los Angeles sports radio, and bearing in mind that the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers had been eliminated from the NBA playoffs, and the Los Angeles Kings had been eliminated from the NHL playoffs, the Sparks chose to advertise that they are now “the only game in town.”
And for many in Los Angeles, the Sparks truly are the only game in town. The Los Angeles Dodgers, and Rita Moreno of Arte’s baseball team down the freeway, have no meaning in their lives.
Don’t believe me? Look at the statistics. Brad Wells wrote the following in October – yes, October – 2010.
Last night, a boring Monday Night Football contest between two back-up quarterbacks in the city of Jacksonville drew a better TV rating (7.2 percent) than the American League Championship Series (ALCS) playoff game between the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers. That game drew a terrible 6.5.
And according to a 2003 report from Gallup, baseball has long since disappeared from the national consciousness:
For many years, Gallup has asked Americans which sport is their “favorite sport to watch.” Baseball, long known as the national pastime, easily topped the list from 1937-1960, with slightly more than one in three Americans naming it as their favorite sport. But a 1972 Gallup Poll showed football overtaking baseball as Americans’ favorite sport, a distinction it continues to hold today. Meanwhile, the percentage claiming baseball as their favorite sport has continued to decline, while basketball and auto racing are increasing their popularity. Gallup’s most recent data, from December 2002, show 37% of Americans saying football is their favorite sport, followed by basketball at 13% and baseball at 12%.
And considering the steriod issues that plagued baseball after 2003 – things to which Wells alluded in his article – I suspect that baseball’s popularity has not reversed its course.
So if you want to speak cryptically among today’s youth, sprinkle phrases such as “bats four hundred” and “three and two” into your conversation. They’ll have no idea what you’re talking about.