Fight songs have been a part of my vocabulary since I was learning to talk. That is, at least one fight song has been. Long before I joined our family of Golden Bears, I was the daughter of two Oregon Ducks, and my dad ensured all of his children received instruction in this most important subject by the time we were in preschool. Thus, I’ve known the words and melody of “Mighty Oregon” for as long as I can remember, and my various ventures to Autzen Stadium over the years proved to me the peppy and inspiring power of the college football anthem. My limited understanding of the intricacies of the game did not prevent me from being caught up in the rush of exuberance that followed each Oregon touchdown — I would high-five my beaming father, my siblings and strangers alike, and then we would sing and clap along to the band’s triumphant playing.
With this valuable experience, I arrived at UC Berkeley four years ago feeling sufficiently prepared by my father to become an active participant in the Cal football fan base. Eventually, I learned our fight song, and though I’m still partial to my Pacific Northwest roots, I will sing “Fight for California” over “Mighty Oregon” at a Ducks-Bears matchup every time — I am a Golden Bear through and through. In anticipation of the 2018 homecoming game, I decided to examine the second fight song that has captured my heart, exploring some of its victories and shortcomings.
The lyrics start on a decidedly ethereal note: “Our sturdy Golden Bear is watching from the skies, looks down upon our colors fair and guards us from his lair.” Apparently, our predecessors did not shy away from deification of our mascot. This brings school spirit to a whole new level — let no one accuse the UC Berkeley community of a lackluster commitment to its symbolic representative. And even if assigning mystical attributes to a mascot isn’t your thing, be grateful that we have an appealing and lovable animal to call our own — not some abstract entity like a shade of red or a tree that doesn’t even have official mascot status.
There is the assumption of maleness indicated by the pronoun “his,” which presents a missed opportunity in two ways. First, it fails to defy the stereotypical association of maleness with the figure of a powerful protector, and second, a nice assonance could have been conceived in the correspondence of “sturdy,” “colors” and “her.” Then again, the song was written by a man in 1909 — this blip of masculinity doesn’t compare to the male-centric lyrics of the little-sung second verse, which we will leave unanalyzed today as a product of its time that bears revision.
Overall, these first four lines paint an emboldening portrait of an omnipotent guardian ready to rush to our aid at any moment — not a bad figure to have on your side.
The next part of the song is more generic, evoking the school colors and leading seamlessly into the concluding two-line refrain: “Our banner Gold and Blue, the symbol on it, too, means ‘Fight! For California, for California through and through!’ ” What they lack in complexity of rhyme and variation in vocabulary these lines make up for in rousing enthusiasm. At first glance, they might seem redundant, but the doubled repetition of “for California” and “through” in the last phrase heartily drives home the sermon on unfaltering loyalty to our alma mater.
For someone raised with fairly high expectations for collegiate fight songs, “Fight for California” holds up in its majestic commitment to our Golden Bear. Next time the band strikes up this historic tune after Cal scores, remember the invigorating implications of our school’s anthem and cheer on our players with a little more faith.