Living history: U. of U. fight song endures with its burlesque roots
Despite a disappointing football season, in one respect Utah beats the rest of the Pac-12. We have the coolest fight song, hands down.
I am a Utah man, sir, and I live across the green.
Our gang, it is the jolliest that you have ever seen.
Our coeds are the fairest and each one's a shining star.
Our yell, you hear it ringing through the mountains near and far.
Who am I, sir? A Utah man am I, A Utah man, sir, and will be till I die; Ki!Yi!
We're up to snuff; we never bluff,
We're game for any fuss,
No other gang of college men
dare meet us in the muss.
So fill your lungs and sing it out and
shout it to the sky,
We'll fight for dear old Crimson,
for a Utah man am I.
My parents, who were both U. alums, would launch into a rousing rendition of "Utah Man" when driving by the university. This didn't happen often, as we were living in California. The first time was on a visit to relatives in Salt Lake; it startled us kids. Neither mom nor dad was particularly musical and rarely sang. But that is the genius of "Utah Man" you don't need talent to join in.
My alma mater's fight song, on the other hand, requires a degree of musicality to pull off. BYU's "Rise and Shout" is a worthy fight song, but someone like myself, who inherited my parents' musical talents, struggles with it. I have no such problem with "Utah Man," which begs to be shouted in a pub by soccer hooligans.
Some made a fuss about the song's sexist lyrics, and in 1984 a U. vice president tried changing the lyrics "Who am I, sir? A Utah man am I" to "Who am I, friend? A Utah Fan am I."
In 2000 there was an effort to repeal and replace "Utah Man" with a song called "The Utah Fight Song," written by Tabernacle organist Robert Cundick. " 'Utah Man' is not a true fight song, and the lyrics are extremely dated," Cundick said in a 2006 Daily Utah Chronicle article. His song, he continued, "is written in the pattern of traditional fight songs and focuses on the action."
The lyrics change never caught on and, after a cursory search through YouTube, "The Utah Fight Song" always turns out to be someone belting out "Utah Man."
"Utah Man" was stolen in 1904 by Utah coach Harvey Holmes from a popular burlesque song called "Solomon Levi," which itself has issues of political correctness in its caricature of a Jewish haberdasher.
According to some tellings, Holmes and the football team composed the Utah lyrics while drinking.
Beer soaked or not, the original "Utah Man" lyrics still bring cheer, even in a losing season.
Pat Bagley is the editorial cartoonist for The Salt Lake Tribune.
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