Ask a dozen musicians about their recipe for success given the current state of the music industry, and you’re likely to get a dozen different answers: social media; commercial licensing; relentless, DIY touring.
One path you’re not going to hear recommended very often: Write a highly specific, almost alarmingly prescient electro-pop fight song about a sports organization with the longest championship drought in the history of baseball — and then have said team get really, really good. Like, decent chance of them making it to the World Series for the first time in 60 years good. History in the making good.
It might be a risky road to bet on, but for Katie Day — Chicago native, San Francisco resident — it’s working out pretty damn well.
“By the Lakeside,” a song she wrote a year ago about what’s going to happen when the Chicago Cubs finally win the World Series — which hasn’t happened since 1908, for those of you not keeping score — recently landed Day on the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times. As the Cubs sailed into the postseason, she performed live on WGN, as well a handful of local talk radio stations and podcasts. Last week, the founder of the coveted indie studio recordings series Daytrotter got in touch to see if she’d like to do a session: Turns out he’s a lifelong Cubs fan.
The track — an upbeat, hopeful anthem with a zippy, synth-driven hook — would be a perfect backdrop, conveniently, for popping champagne. But a year ago, as she wrote in her bedroom while the news of the Giants’ third World Series victory blared over the radio, Day’s mood was considerably more sour.
“Sports dynasties have been following me since I left home at 18,” Day told me via email when I asked about her inspiration for the tune. (She’s gone back to Chicago for the duration of the postseason, and notes that the Cubs have won 100 percent of the days she’s been home.) She moved to Boston to study at the Berklee College of Music in 2003 — and the Patriots won the Super Bowl. Then the Red Sox won two World Series. She’s lived through three World Series wins in San Francisco, a ’49ers NFC championship, and last year’s Warriors championship.
“My friends have joked for years about me moving to their cities to bring their sports teams luck,” she says. “But it sucks as a Chicago fan. It’s like getting dumped repeatedly and having to celebrate all your friends’ weddings. Always the bridesmaid…”
When she wrote “By the Lakeside” last October, it was a way to document that frustration. But she also had an inkling the next year would be a good one.
“I had a really good feeling about the rookies they were calling up from AAA and the direction the franchise was headed,” she says. “People have been saying, ‘They’ll be ready in 2016 or 2017’ or ‘They need more playoff experience,’ to me all year, but as an artist, I have this ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’ perspective that begs to differ.
“I think a precedent of failure can infiltrate your psyche and create a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is what the city of Chicago has been experiencing for the past century. But these kids don’t have the experience of intense pressure and subsequent heartbreak to operate from. Everything is new to them and it’s working in their favor. You just see them get out there and genuinely enjoy the game like kids on a sandlot and it’s changing the mindset of the entire city.”
The reaction from Cubs fans, as well as local media, has been “incredible.”
“If you had told me when I was 12, ‘You’re going to write a Cubs victory song and you’re going to play it on WGN while they show the Cubs celebrating,’ I would have been like, ‘Yeah, that’s the life for me.’ The fact that my music is playing its own small part in this season is the most incredible confluence of dreams coming true, ” she says. “So many strangers have reached out to me to tell me that this song made them believe again or that it made them cry or gave them chills, and I get emotional every time. Sometimes they’re people who’ve been waiting their whole lives for this.”
And yet: “I’m still totally in love with the Bay,” she promises. She’ll return whenever the Cubs celebrations are over — whenever that may be.
In the meantime: As I write this, the Cubs are leading the Cardinals 4-2 in the third inning of Game 4 of the NLDS. There are quite a few champagne bottles chilling in refrigerators all over the Midwest. But let’s nobody get ahead of themselves.
“As far as the remainder of the games go, I feel eerily calm, like Jake Arrieta’s face,” says Day.
“You never want to say too much because you don’t want to jinx anything. But we’re learning to rid ourselves of superstitions out here.”