For baseball there’s “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and, of course, “Centefield.” It’s Loudon Wainwright III’s “The Back Nine” for golf, and being from Milwaukee I think of “On Wisconsin” when it comes to football.
And for hockey, there’s Jane Siberry’s “Hockey,” as great a sports song as there ever was, though it’s about more than just sports—and newsworthy now in light of the death Tuesday night of Jean Béliveau, the legendary Montreal Canadiens captain who helped lead the team to an unprecedented five straight Stanley Cups during the 1950s and ‘60s, and 10 total in his career.
“Like millions of hockey fans who followed the life and the career of Jean Béliveau, the Canadiens today mourn the passing of a man whose contribution to the development of our sport and our society was unmeasurable,”team owner Geoff Molson said in a statement. “Jean Béliveau was a great leader, a gentleman and arguably the greatest ambassador our game has ever known.”
Indeed, Béliveau was so beloved that he almost became Canada’s Governor General in 1994.
But he’s immortalized in “Hockey,” in one of popular music’s truly great lyrics: “This stick was signed by Jean Béliveau/So don’t fucking tell me where to fucking go.”
The voice is that of a young kid playing hockey on a frozen river in Canada (“You skate as fast as you can ’til you hit the snowbank/That’s how you stop/And you get your sweater from the catalog/You use your rubber boots for goal posts”).
Also invoked is Béliveau’s teammate Maurice “Rocket” Richard: “They rioted in the streets of Montreal when they benched Rocket Richard.”
Richard was suspended in 1955 following a violent altercation, touching off the Richard Riot in Montreal resulting in some $100,000 in property damage, 37 injuries, and 100 arrests. But the pro hockey references, indeed, even hockey itself, aren’t so much the heart of “Hockey” as Siberry’s magical conjuring of childhood (“Someone’s dog just took the puck/He buried it, it’s in the snowbank…Someone else just got called for dinner”) and its inevitable end.
The sun is fading on the frozen river
The wind is dying down
Don’t let those Sunday afternoons
Get away get away get away get away.