Teach me how to sing

This week, as seems to happen once a month or so, I’ve witnessed a social media discussion critical of , among other things, the Nashville SC anthem, “Never Give Up on You.” Those who don’t like it say the song is too much of a dirge or just too sad to inspire. 

Those who say that are wrong.

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Or could be, with just a little work.

It’s not that I like the song as a song. It’s certainly not something I would have picked up on my own were it just another Judah & the Lion song. Hell, I don’t think I like it enough on its own to be sympathetic toward it if my favorite band had written it. Moreover, I was honestly a little put off with the entire idea of the front office presenting the song to us as the team anthem. 

“That’s not how these things work,” I thought. “We are supposed to make these choices organically.  Shouldn’t this be our choice?”

But I’ve changed my mind for a number of reasons, and I actually believe that we will all look back in several years and wonder how anyone ever complained about the song (I take that back: there will always be someone complaining about something). 

Here’s my thinking:

1. Anthems don’t all have to be forceful, driving, “Let’s go get them” songs.  Heck, if you hear, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in isolation, outside of the context of knowing its association with Liverpool (or other global teams who claim it), you would never think that it was a song associated with any type of sports team. While its meaning is very deeply intertwined with Liverpool’s history, it had to begin somewhere and become more intertwined and more meaningful over time. In short, time and experience are going to make this meaningful.

Moreover—and you’ve all had this experience—when a sound or song or smell or taste is associated with a certain activity often enough, it becomes an intricate part of that experience. I’ll never smell freshly cut grass in the spring without thinking of my years mowing lawns and road banks. I’ll never listen to Fiona Apple’s “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” without thinking of the early days of the pandemic, when I was listening to it over and over.  These are now an essential part of the fabric of my memory and experience.  Go to enough Nashville SC games, and you will sooner or later feel your emotional strings being pulled just with a few notes of “Never Give Up on You” playing. It doesn’t mean you’ll ever love the song solely on its own merits. It means you’ll love everything it signifies for you. The team, the crowd, the nights of being together.

2. The most powerful forms of fanship—the stuff that ties us together as a part of the club and not just as an audience for it—is what we create together to celebrate the team. That’s precisely why I at first didn’t like the idea of the team “giving us an anthem” any more than I like when the Backline utilizes cheers that have become formulaic across soccer nation. 

That said, what a ridiculous standard I’ve set. It’s not like everything is invented without coming from something that already existed. Chants are often based on well-trodden songs, with the lyrics unhinged and recombined. So, we have the song. Now, what do we do with it? What do we do while it’s being sung. Watch the Timbers Army during the singing of the national anthem; they have made it part of Timber world. Over time, “Never Give Up on You” is going to have actions and sounds associated with it that are created by the fan base. We will make it our own.

In general, we shouldn’t get hung up on how much is dictated downward or how much is borrowed from elsewhere. What we should get hung up on is how we make these things our own, or something unique in soccer. When I was appreciating the “wooos” in the crowd at a recent NSC game and fielding text messages from friends across the nation about what that sound was, my colleague Andy pointed out that it was being lifted, like a number of things, from the Predators’ fans notebook. You know, that’s ok. Preds fans (and many of you are that as well) are perhaps the fan group we have the most reason to take pride in here in Nashville. If we can learn a little, copy a little, but make it our own, I’m all for it. If it adds to what makes NSC fans different, a little better, than fans of other MLS clubs, I’m all for it. 

Borrow and transform. Make it ours.

I understand, then, why someone may not like the song, and I understand the impatience of waiting for it to become more impactful for you, as it already is for others. But, hell, we really have only had one game where we’ve been allowed to have a real crowd. The impact and emotions are going to come. 

The more we are together, the more we will define ourselves and this team. We will use what we are given to make it our own.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of Broadway Sports Media as a whole.

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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