Pittsburgh Pirates passion plays out in songs

| Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

Every time a Pittsburgh team reaches the playoffs, expect an avalanche of team fight songs to start assaulting local airwaves, Facebook feeds and email in-boxes.

With long-suffering Pirates fans, though, there's a slightly different attitude. There's a little less bravado in their songs, some relief, perhaps, and maybe even a bit of philosophical soul-searching about the passage of time and the nature of loyalty.

Ben Valasek & The Growlers' “We've Been Waiting 20 Years” is a rousing, accordion-driven acoustic number, with a sea chantey-like chorus — completely appropriate for a team called the Pirates.

It begins: “McCutchen probably had short hair the last time that we won.”

The obvious pride and excitement are muted by a little bit of bitter humor:

“And now we finally have a team that makes us proud.

“We don't need family buck night anymore to draw a crowd.”

“I didn't want to write a song about all the Pirates,” Valasek says. “I wanted to write a song about the fans. That's where I think this song maybe hit home with people. I wanted to imagine everyone in the stadium singing the song as I wrote it. Not an anthem, not a ‘We're the best in the world' song, but a song about us — we've been here (for a long time), and darn it, we're going to celebrate a good team.”

Pirates fans can take a joke, it seems, even at their own expense:

“Who would have thought a single from some hitter no one knew,

“Would have caused a losing streak since 1992?”

Johnny Angel and the Halos' “Raise the Jolly Roger” takes Pirates announcer Greg Brown's catchphrase and runs with it. This isn't hard, since it's already caught on in a big way — emblazoned on T-shirts and flags throughout the city. Not coincidentally, some of the great slogans of past pennant runs have been attached to songs.

“There was the ‘Beat 'em Bucs' song in the '60s. And in the '70s, it was ‘We Are Family.' We wanted something like that,” Angel says. “We wanted something that will really wrap up the season. Between the Zoltan and the Raise the Jolly Roger, I think that epitomized what the Pirates are about this season. We're hoping it catches on.”

Some already have a template to work with. Benny Benack Jr.'s “Beat 'em Bucs — Again” rewrites his dad's anthem from the '60s for the present, without sacrificing its classic Dixieland jazz stylings.

Gene the Werewolf updates and rewrites the classic “We Are Family” — even leaving some disco flavor intact — with lyrics about Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.

Of course, the team changes every year, so songs referencing specific players need to be updated every year or discarded.

Michael Lindner of the band 28 North — currently based in Los Angeles, where members just signed a record deal with Sony/Red River — grew up loving the Steelers' “Here We Go” song.

“I loved that you could interchange the lyrics every year,” Lindner says.

He's hoping for a similar durability for his song “Bucco Fever.” It's a way to feel connected with the band's hometown fans.

“It was definitely strategic, to get the hometown love while we're out here in the Wild West,” Lindner says. “We can't be there now, but it's a great way to keep ourselves relevant in our hometown.”

The mood out there in Dodger country is quite different, he says, but not entirely antagonistic. “They all think that they're going to take it,” says Lindner of the World Series. “I don't see it. Everyone I meet is excited to see the Pirates do well. The Pirates are such a classic team. The rest of the guys in my band are from Cleveland, though. ... But they're not the biggest sports fans.”

The Bucs themselves might have a different idea of what they want in a theme song, though.

“Ironically, the Pirates got ahold of me right away, and said they liked it,” Valasek says of his song “We've Been Waiting 20 Years.” “It wasn't something they were going to play in the stadium. They wanted something about today, more rah-rah-rah. They sort of wanted to forget about the last 20 years. Well, that's my take on it — they didn't actually say that. But you can't just wipe away that history.”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

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