Art can take many forms, only one of which I’m even moderately capable of creating, so I’ve long been fascinated by the ability to paint or dance or sing or play the guitar. That’s why I’ll find myself gawking at Daily Challenge acrylic paintings on YouTube or stopping for longer than I intend when my daughter is watching one of those cake competitions on Food Network. I particularly enjoy getting to peak behind the curtain to see what goes into producing various art forms.
Katie Day is a Cubs fan who continually finds ways to blend her love of baseball and the Cubs with the artistry of music, creating songs like “By the Lakeside” (which she performed live on WGN wearing a CI hat) and “We Got the Fire.” Her latest baseball-themed effort, “Just a Game,” flows in that same vein but is pumped by a heart filled with a different set of emotions.
The same hopeful passion is still there, but I heard fear and sadness in this latest piece as well. That’s no surprise because it’s how most of us are feeling at times during this pandemic shutdown, but this is a more nuanced lament that you’ll find on Twitter. You can hear the song for yourself below and then scroll down for a Q&A to learn more about how and why Katie created it. I’m not sure how many of you feel the same way I do about these things, but I love hearing about and being able to share thoughts on the creative process.
If you appreciate this content and would like to support independent music, you can Venmo Katie @katieday or Cash App @katiedaymusic16 and she will donate half your payment to Direct Relief, which provides protective gear and critical care medications to health workers treating the most vulnerable populations. You will received a receipt for the donation if you include your email in the payment.
CI: The song has a wistful, nostalgic tone, but there’s a little bite to it to. Not outright bitterness, but sort of chiding those who choose to call baseball “just a game” without greater meaning. That’s actually a lot like the game of baseball itself, now that I think about it. Where were you at emotionally when you wrote this?
KD: I’m so glad I get to talk about this because I’ve been thinking about it for years. My whole life, I’ve kind of had a foot in two worlds, one being sports and the other music. So I hang out with a lot of people in each of those spaces. In my experience, the sporty folks don’t seem to look down their noses at other people for being into art, music, movies, etc., but for some reason it’s okay for creative types to mock sports as dumb and unnecessary.
The way I think about it, there are only a handful of things that have been a constant since the dawn of civilization and have led us to identify as human. We’ve had some form of art, storytelling, song and dance, and religion, and we’ve had athletic competition. Sports are an essential part of the ethos and always have been. There’s so much humanity in sport, and I am a bit bitter when that’s discounted and mocked. I think maybe people think they’re “punching up” because jocks are depicted at the top of the social hierarchy in 90’s movies about high school? To me, that’s a narrative that needs to die. Not every athlete is Trevor Bauer.
And now we’re in a time when there really are so many pressing things to worry about and to mourn. So maybe it does seem petty, but the absence of sports is loss to a lot of people. We use baseball to measure time and build family relationships, and it offers something for strangers to bond over that transcends political affiliation, class, religion, race, etc. We don’t have a lot of things you can say that about. So I think the message is relevant both in the context of the pandemic and in a broader sense. It’s not a waste of time. It’s not dumb. It’s beautiful.
CI: Are you still in that place or is the music cathartic? Or maybe it’s a little of both?
KD: Well, I’m glad I finally put it out there. Over the years, with all the Cubs stuff, I’ve had friends who generally want nothing to do with sports reach out to me and say they got emotionally invested in this or that game because of me. Maybe this song will reach some people in that way and then I’ll feel like I’m doing something productive, getting people to appreciate humanity in places they were previously overlooking it.
CI: What comes first, music or lyrics?
KD: Typically for me it’s music then lyrics, but with my favorite songs a line of melody and words will come together and I’ll build from there. This time, the first verse kind of popped into my head with the melody and I knew I couldn’t let it stop there.
CI: Some inspiration is like a lightning strike and some is a smoldering ember. How long did this take to come together and did it follow what you would consider your typical process?
KD: This one was more of a lightning strike. I honestly hadn’t even picked up my guitar for years (I usually write on piano), but it was the night John Prine died and I just wanted to hold my guitar and cry. I’d been watching a bunch of baseball movies to fill the time, so that was on my mind, and I happened to read a story Jay Zawaski from 670 The Score tweeted about Steve Goodman dragging Kris Kristofferson to see Prine play to an empty room in Chicago before he blew up. I have such a reverence for Goodman, and it was like all my baseball and folk influences came together and I had to do something about it.
I threw my guitar in an open tuning to change up my mindset and see what I could come up with and it all kind of poured out really fast. Important side note: I learned to play in open tunings because Joni Mitchell contracted polio during an epidemic in Canada in the 50’s and started playing that way to make it easier on her fingers. She’s always been a major influence and by learning her songs, I learned how to totally change up the typical writing process. It was also the full pink moon that night, and with Nick Drake as another open tuning guitar influence, it felt like a particularly auspicious night to write.
I wish I could constantly recreate nights like that. They feel effortless, like something bigger than you is feeding you lines. But they’re rare and special and I feel lucky to have had one.
CI: You’ve written a few baseball-themed songs now. What is it about baseball, and specially your love of the Cubs, that makes it such a muse?
KD: I’ve always found baseball to be a metaphor for so many broader things. In this case, it’s the passage of time. Every year, it’s born in the spring, thrives in the summer, and dies in the cold, like a lot of life. And over the course of the years, legends come and go, underdogs rise up and win, the mighty fall, and all of us including our heroes age, foster new life, and present our kids with these stories that bond us so that they can carry on the tradition. That’s been reliable, regardless of what’s going on in our personal lives or the world.
We’re being confronted with a lot of fear at the moment, and it’s nice to lean into something that has outlived so many other tragedies and will come back thriving, bonding people, and giving folks a sense of purpose after this is over and even after our own individual lifetimes.
On a personal note, I think it’s easy for me to write about baseball because the metaphor of it all is one step removed from me, so I can write more objectively and collectively than if I’m writing about a breakup or something, which often feels melodramatic and self-serving when I attempt it. It also just feels like something I was destined to do. When I was a little kid, I kept a composition notebook full of Sandlot fan fiction, so you could say I’ve been on brand for a while.
CI: Any other projects in the works?
KD: For the past couple years, I’ve been moving on from the artist realm and focusing on composing for ads, TV, films, and movie trailers. I run a music production company in LA called Shortcake Music that creates a lot of bespoke commissioned pieces and that’s been my main thing lately. I had no intention of releasing another song as an artist, but when I wrote “Just A Game,” I felt I owed it to the song to put it out into the world and give it life. So unless that kind of inspiration randomly strikes again, I’ll be back to focusing on writing producing music for my company.
CI: Will we see an MLB season and will there be baseball at Wrigley Field this year?
KD: That’s a tough one. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a half season with no fans. I’m not too keen on the Arizona Plan, though. It feels too much like indentured servitude (albeit with hefty paychecks). I don’t want Kris Bryant or Mike Trout to be quarantined from their newborn babies, and I don’t know how much I’d enjoy watching these guys suffer the oppressive heat in empty stadiums for a season that would always have an asterisk next to it anyway.
In terms of possibly realigning the leagues/divisions so they could play at home to no fans, I could get behind that once every state has widely available testing for the public so we can at least pretend we’re distributing resources fairly. Seems like either of these plans are going to require a helluva lot of work just to be potentially shut down in the fall. I would like to see Mookie as a Dodger though.