Longform

Rock 'n' Goal Music

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"Charge!," which is substituted with a "Howl!" for Coyote purposes, is just one of a dozen such impromptu selections designed to goose the fans. Songs passed down from the ages that everyone knows by heart yet nobody seems to know by name. Even a glance at the set list taped to her electric keyboard can still leave you mystified.

"We kind of named these things ourselves," Ruiz says as she breaks into a spontaneous rendition of a little something called "Steps." It consists of four notes, a high G plus the three notes in the scale leading up to it. She plays it repeatedly, quickening the pace each time it jumps a key. DUM-da-da-da DUM! DUM-da-da-da DUM! Trust me. You know this.

Where do prompts such as "Steps" and this little bit of tango business Ruiz likes to call "Kalinka" come from, anyway?

"I have no idea," Ruiz says, shrugging. "The guy that was here before taught them to me."

Until there's a 10-part series on PBS where Ken Burns definitively traces the lineage of "Charge!" to Custer's last stand, we might never know.

Running down the hits for all you classical music kids, Ruiz has got "The Lone Ranger Theme," which will not ride on this night, since Clayton Moore's still-recent death might turn the Purple Palace blue. Just below it, she notices the "Green Acres Theme," which is almost never used.

"That would be just for filler. Sometimes we have a really rough game where they blow the whistle over and over and we're running dry and we don't want to use everything we brought in," she explains.

Next up are the international items that galvanize people of all races into spontaneous clapping. "The Mexican Hat Dance." "Zorba the Greek." "Hava Nagila." Not officially on the set list taped to her electric piano but always in the air is the ubiquitous "Nya Nya Nya-Nya Nya" song.

After briskly playing the five-note ditty with one finger, she turns a surprised look.

"You know what? We haven't used that this season. We used it last season, when the other team had to go into the penalty box. We try not to be nasty. We wait 'til there's a legitimate penalty."

Ditto for the rock classics she and Iralson select for every game. Once they decide to add a newly released song, they go directly to the record label to get the sanitized radio-edits versions.

"It's the only way we can play a lot of stuff, when there's profanity," Ruiz says. "Like I said, we strive to not offend. We're a family sport. Lots of kids."

This attention to questionable language for impressionable people is rather endearing, since colorful jargon flows freely from the fans.

"You suck," and all its immediate rhyming variations, spring to mind. Television cameras actually zoom in on cussing players and give many a youth their first lip-reading lesson. No matter. Even if radio stations don't catch every "motherfucker" embedded in Rage Against the Machine recordings but sometimes bleep out a real weenie of a word like "dick," rest assured none of those action words will pass through the Coyotes' careful screening process.

Player-injury music is a sensitive matter. Someone sprawled out on the ice might not appreciate a song like "I Wanna Be Sedated" with its nods to wheelchairs and damaged nerve endings. Not to mention "D.O.A."

Iralson says the job's only discernible downside: "It ruins you on listening to music, really. Because we're always listening to songs for some reference to hockey."

Considering the substantial crowd reaction that rock music generates at sporting events, it's puzzling why record companies don't court sport franchises in the same way they kowtow to radio. Perhaps the overriding logic is that the songs that get played at sporting events are already proven hits. "Untrue!" as Howard Cosell used to blurt. Ruiz has spun such local bands as Jesus Chrysler Supercar in regular rotation, and when her husband worked for Universal Music, he was providing Coyotes fans with lots of new, untested music.

"Everything that was on their labels he was pitching to me," she says. "Record companies haven't tapped into the sports market. They probably should."

To make the final cut, a song must have a rousing intro, since it won't generally play beyond 30 seconds, anyway. Despite the limited listening time, people pay close attention to what music is played, which necessitates changing the set list every game to keep things fresh.

"People definitely remember the songs you play. Even if you played it three games ago, it's like it was last game," says Iralson.

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic