“Fight Songs” is the sixth chapter in The Gaytheist Gospel Hour‘s seven part series “On Wisconsin.”
Here in the good ol’ USA, we love our college football fight songs. We like the boastful smack-talk of the lyrics, the militaristic marching band music, the purposeful feeling of “us vs. them” that pumps in our veins when we all sing along. It could be argued that no other state in the union loves their college football fight song more than Wisconsin, which actually adapted theirs into the official state song.* “On, Wisconsin” is such an epitome of the fight song genre, it was once praised by none other than John Phillip Sousa himself, king of the marching band battle anthem. It is a pretty rousing tune, if only for the fact it mentions the word “fight” four times in a single line.
But for my money, there’s no better fight song than the one recorded by Pat Benatar in 1979. “Heartbreaker” dispenses with the jingoistic clap trap of the classic fight song and its attendant arms-forces hoo-hah and focuses directly on the “fuck you” core element of the fight at hand. If you just so happen to be the intended recipient of the message contained within Benatar’s “Heartbreaker”, then you have already been informed that you have numerous character deficiencies, all of them odious, and you’d be best advised to stop interfering in Pat Benatar’s affairs. You are, in fact, a heartbreaker, a dream maker, a love taker. Don’t you mess around with Pat Benatar. Nineteen seventy-nine was a long time ago, Mr. Heartbreakerdreammakerlovetaker; I’m sure you’ve moved on since then. The song, flawless rebuke that it is, has undoubtedly served its purpose. But I say: why let a perfectly perfect fight song like “Heartbreaker” go to waste? It still has plenty of piss and vinegar to go around! I know this for a fact because it served me well in battling the surprise onslaughts of suburban conformity and homophobia during my Wisconsin visit. Pat Benatar, you taught us love is a battlefield, but no matter how different we may be, we belong, dammit! Most importantly, you gave us a song to sing while fighting the good fight. I salute you.
Fight Song For A Road Trip Through America’s Dairy Land
There sure are a lot of Holstein cows in Wisconsin. After several miles of green pastures oppressively clotted with these bovines, I developed a case of Holstein fatigue: a sense of being surrounded by a dull-eyed army with orders to stare me to death and grind my carcass into cud. It was a lot like being back in the Chicagoland suburbs. But this particular breed of cattle is clad in black and white; they wear the unmistakable Rorschach of the unquestioning rule follower on the outside, instead of on the inside, barely hidden underneath Cubs shirts. With wall to wall uniformity up and down every road, I somehow found myself sitting in the tweedy enclosure of my cubicle, one of hundreds just like it, and I’m just like everyone else. Except that I’m not. And they all know it, the cattle. I hear them, the killer cows of conformity lowing like funereal pipe organs in their stalls, stalls just like mine, and I know I’m a sitting duck. That clawing sense of my entire identity being unmistakably threatened is something I know well, but I tried to not let it carry me away as I drove the two lane black tops of Wisconsin. In an act of self-defense, I composed the following battle anthem:
Don’t you mess around with me!
Under the sway of this Benatarian incantation, I became myself again: a woman in mismatching clothes, towering above the world on the dual stilts of ridicule and pomposity. And then I ate a hamburger and felt much better.
Fight Song For Summer Camp Cultural Warfare
We were besieged by summer campers on our last day at Devil’s Lake. They rolled in like a gypsy caravan the night before, hauling two-wheeled trailers loaded with supplies, hoisting up long white dining hall-style tents, unleashing wave upon wave of screaming children up and down the strip of black top in front of our site. I don’t know how they managed to commandeer so many private campsites when Devil’s Lake actually has sites designated for large groups, but I do know this: they sure did an awful lot of singing. And that they wanted our gay asses gone.
At first, I didn’t think much of the singing. They had set up stage in the site right across the black top from us, and the spectacle seemed to entertain Mabel, who stood mesmerized by the show as Kate and I packed up camp. It was just harmless summer camp singing: cheery warbling over the strum of an acoustic guitar. I never went to summer camp, so it just sounded like old school lesbian folk songs to me. The summer campers were singing in Spanish, so for all I knew, they could have been singing about being scrappy and aggressive lesbians just as easily as they could marching ants and runaway meatballs. Or maybe they were singing about scrappy lesbian ants in aggressive pursuit of runaway meatballs. I don’t know. But it was an enjoyable sort of cultural pandemonium.
Until they sang in English. “I am a C! I am a C-H! I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N!” Given that it was the one and only song sung in English, sung at a volume noticeably louder than the other songs, and that they sang it several times in an unmistakably prissy tone, it was pretty clear what we were up against: passive-aggressive homophobia.
If homophobia was farm animal shit in the green pasture of social congress, and we were barefoot travelers (I’d like to thank the Holsteins in helping me craft this metaphor), passive-aggressive homophobia would be chicken shit. While the bigger, bolder pies of open hatred are large and odious enough to dodge and deal with on their own terms, the chicken shit of passive aggressive homophobia is tiny and insidious. If you’re not careful, they’ll get lodged between your toes, and you’ll track shit through the house of your life. You’ll know passive-aggressive homophobia by its cheerful smugness, its condescension. It will never openly condemn you. It will simply rub your face in its chipper Christianity, and its underlying conviction that only very special people are going to heaven. Within the cowardly voice of omission, you hear the “good news”: you, the homosexual, are not very special.
I know people who have accumulated so much passive-aggressive homophobia chicken shit in their life journeys that they can barely walk: children who have learned to hate themselves to order to earn the love of their God and parents. These children are my friends. Some have been my lovers. They remain children, dragged down as they are by the chicken shit of passive-aggressive homophobia.
In an act of self-defense, and in the name of these friends, I composed the following battle anthem right on the spot:
I am a G!
I am a G-A!
I am a G-A-Y-T-H-E-I-S-T!
Don’t you mess around with me!
Did these invocations of this, the finest and best battle anthem, ever, frighten my enemies? Probably not, but I don’t care. What we’re talking about here is a kind of psychological warfare, a campaign to erode of “the other” from the inside, out. It’s not a matter of fighting to put a ball in an end zone. It’s a matter of fighting to drown out the voice that says “surrender” whether it’s heard by the ears or from within the heart. I’m not hearing it, I’m not having it.
I don’t care if you’re a cow of conformity or a conformist, Christian cow. You have numerous character faults, all of them odious. You’d best be advised not to interfere in my affairs. To wit: don’t you mess around with me.
*Honorable mention goes to the state and University of Tennessee for a comparable dual-parent musical adoption of “Rockytop”, although “Rockytop” really isn’t much of a fight song. It’s actually a song of celebration more than domination.