[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a guest essay written by San Diego treasure Ryan Bradford. Ryan has his own fantastic substack called AwkwardSD featuring essays and thoughts about San Diego. You should go subscribe RIGHT NOW. His work has appeared in CityBeat, The Reader, VICE, and he is the founder of the literary horror journal Black Candies.]
I remember the exact date that I lost interest in professional sports: June 14, 1998.
It was on that day that the Utah Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. For the second year in a row.
Growing up in Utah, you had to be a Jazz fan. It was the law. At least, that’s how I saw it. I remember a kid named Bryce in my seventh grade class once told me, “the Jazz suck,” which might have been the first time I felt true, unbridled hate (to this day, I have yet to be friends with another Bryce).
However, just like every hot-blooded human in existence, I also loved Michael Jordan, and my conflicting loves of both MJ and the Jazz proved to be too much conflict for my stupid, little prepubescent brain. After the Jazz’s loss on June 14, 1998, the sports-liking part of my brain just simply turned off.
After disavowing sports, I turned to punk music. I fell hard for it. I relished the anti-social, anti-establishment, anti-sports aspects of the genre. That’ll teach sports to do me like that, I thought.
However, you can’t ever fully shed your past. Despite my dramatic break-up with sports, I still had a weakness: a love of jock punk.
Now, as far as I can tell, jock punk is not an officially recognized subgenre among music writers. It’s likely that I just made it up right now (credit me here, future music historians) but like porn, I know it when I hear it.
A band can be jock punk if their songs are synonymous with certain sports teams. Japandroids’ “House that Heaven Built,” for example, became the official entrance music for the Vancouver Canucks’ NHL team in 2013. And without looking it up, I’m pretty sure the Dropkick Murphys have written an official anthem for every professional sports team in Boston.
But jock punk can also just apply to bands that sound, well, jock-y. The music is aggressive, but not abrasive. The songs are melodic and anthemic. And if the lyrics are political, they’re superficial at best. Bouncing Souls, Rise Against, Face to Face all fit in this category.
No punk band is more jock-y than Pennywise.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Southern Californian punk stalwarts — why would I want to listen to music that sounds like it’s sung by a dude throwing a house party in Encinitas? — but for whatever reason, I love their song “Bro Hymn.” The song (and its many incarnations) was written as a dedication for the various friends (i.e. bros) who’ve died during Pennywise’s career. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the ultimate ode. Just a big, dumb celebration of life.
Given my general ignorance about sports, I didn’t realize that The Padres have been using “Bro Hymn” as a victory song until recently. But when I found out, I was excited. No, I was stoked. It was the type of revelation that made me feel like a kid again, waiting in the Delta Center to watch Stockton and Malone do battle against Jordan and Pippen.
With its distinct, raging chorus of “WHOAAA, WHOA OH OHHHHS,” the song sounds like it was practically written by a baseball team, and to be performed by a stadium full of fans. It’s a howl that’s big enough to fulfil most human emotions, from the catharsis of remembering a departed friend to the joy of watching The Padres hit a grand slam. Hell, you could even “Bro Hymn”-down after chugging a $15 beer at Petco Park — it’s that versatile of a song.
Pennywise doesn’t write smart music. Their music will never be the soundtrack to a social uprising, but sometimes the easiest way to get a message across is to make it dumb. What “Bro Hymn” lacks in nuance, it makes up for with heart. There’s a purity to jock punk that other subgenres can’t get right. Simply : It makes you feel the joy, camaraderie and purpose that comes from being part of a team. It makes you feel like you belong. I realize now that that’s what I’ve been missing all of these years. And if hearing “Bro Hymn” at Petco is the stepping stone that my brain needs in order to feel affinity for sports again, then I’ll take it.
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