Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays will always be able to revisit the magic of last season’s playoff push thanks to Adam Jesin. The Toronto-based musician’s parody song “First Place” became an instant hit last year, and a year later it has lost none of its luster
The Toronto Blue Jays’ drive to October last season was aided by the key acquisitions of David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, but it was also fueled by a tremendous outpouring of fan enthusiasm and support. Blue Jays fever was contagious – it was everywhere – and you couldn’t avoid contracting it. In fact, you wanted to contract it.
Toronto-based musician Adam Jesin did his part in spreading the fever. His parody song “First Place” quickly became a bona fide baseball anthem, perfectly capturing all of the excitement and drama that went behind the Blue Jays’ improbable run to the playoffs. The 21-year curse was over, and it was time to celebrate.
If I’m being honest, the song has become a kind of obsession of mine. I play it before every big Blue Jays game to the point where it has started to drive my wife nuts (“It’s a good song, but do you really have to play it so many times?”). Now, with the Blue Jays struggling to recreate some of last season’s magic, the song has taken on another meaning: it’s a reminder of last season’s success, but it’s also a call to remain optimistic about this season. This is a good baseball team.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Adam, who released a new EP of original work earlier this month. We talked about baseball, music and, of course, everyone’s favourite Blue Jays song.
Here’s the interview:
I still find it hard to describe, but there was an almost surreal level of excitement, and something like a this-is-meant-to-happen sense of purpose, behind the Jays last season as they made their second-half push to eventually claim the divisional crown and earn their first playoff appearance in 22 years. We saw this every day in the growing sizes of the crowds, their frenzied cheers visibly shaking the television cameras. We saw this in the team, too, which morphed into an unbeatable machine almost over night. We saw this in the explosion of new fans, the memes on Twitter, the rash of new blog posts and sites, and we saw it in what I still consider the best encapsulation of all this emotion: your song, “First Place.” The song was a viral hit, quickly topping one million views on YouTube (1.7 million views as of today), and it served as a kind of mid-season anthem and rallying cry for many fans, including me. It’s really a great song.
Q1. What were your initial thoughts on the song and expectations for it, and when did you realize something special was happening, that this wasn’t an ordinary song?
My expectations for the song were limited to be sure. Honestly, I wasn’t planning on doing another Jays song at all – I didn’t think I could top “All About Those Jays,” (see below) and most of my friends and collaborators agreed. But, when the Tulo and Price acquisitions happened and the Jays started to transform into the formidable juggernaut we all remember, I felt like I just had to do another one. I felt the same sense of excitement as the rest of the nation, and I guess I just tried to the best of my ability to channel that excitement into “First Place.” I was totally shocked by how popular it became – I released it on a Thursday at around 6 p.m., went to sleep a few hours later, and when I woke up the next morning the song was on Sportsnet Connected. Later that day it was retweeted by David Price. I couldn’t believe it.
The biggest shock for me was how the song seemed to resonate on an emotional level with so many Jays fans across the nation. I thought, okay, hopefully people will like the Pillar Superman line or laugh when Donaldson hits a taco out of the park (Jesse Glowinsky is a brilliant video editor/producer by the way and deserves much of the credit for transforming my wacky ideas into a wacky reality). But I had no idea that it would connect with people in such an emotional way. I kept getting comments like “This song made me tear up” in the YouTube comments section. I did not expect that at all, but looking back, that kind of emotion is exactly what I felt when watching the Jays win game after game during that historic run, and I guess that feeling seeped into my lyrics, whether I knew it or not. It was that – the emotional response – that convinced me that perhaps I had something special. I was and remain overwhelmed and completely humbled that the song was able to resonate with so many people in such a significant way, and I feel extremely fortunate to have had the chance to share my Blue Jays experience with so many people.
Q2. What is the lasting impact of the song on you commercially, artistically, as a Jays fan? What type of impact is it still having on you?
I still get comments pretty much daily in the YouTube comments section of “First Place.” The comments often have nothing to do with the song itself – much of the time it’s just Jays fans posting excitedly about the latest scores, updates, trades – the comments section has become a de facto forum for Jays fans to discuss Jays topics. It’s awesome. In terms of the impact it’s had for me as an artist, the impact has been significant. It’s helped me connect with my audience in a way that I was not able to in the past. It’s also helped get exposure and recognition for my original music, which is great! Probably the coolest thing to happen as a result of the parodies happened last year – I was given the honour of throwing out the first pitch at a Jays game in May 2015. They spelled my name wrong (Jesmin instead of Jesin) on my jersey, but the experience was once in a lifetime anyway. And, many of my friends still call me Jesmin as a result, so I’ve gotten a new nickname out of it.
Q3. I want to revisit something I said earlier, which I think is true about the song and helps to explain its innate appeal. The song, from Chris Colabello “touching green for days” to “why not Tulowitzki and David Price?” almost seems to “live” the history of the Jays from last season, or exudes it in a tangible way, if that makes more sense. I’ll put it another way: you could listen to the song once and walk away pretty much understanding, and more importantly feeling, everything magical that happened last season. Now, my question is this: what is the writing process like? What inspires you, what leads you to include a particular narrative or story? How do you capture all this history, cramming so much into in one song?
The first thing I do is try to think of the most significant or impactful things that happen throughout the season. This can be challenging – in a season that spans 162 games over a period of six months, how do you know which moments are the most significant? How can you capture the key narratives with any degree of certainty? Luckily, the Jays’ 2015 season unfolded sort of like a fairytale. Donaldson’s MVP campaign, Martin’s Canadian homecoming, Colabello’s transition from perennial minor league journeyman to absolute stud, Stroman’s miraculous recovery, Edwin’s hat trick, and of course the trades for Tulo and Price. When you have a script like that to work with, telling the full story becomes a much simpler undertaking. The toughest part is taking the story and making it work rhythmically and musically in the context of a song. And of course, making it rhyme.
Q4. Let’s speak to your love of the team in a more general way now. As a fan, what’s your defining moment, or favourite moment, from the team’s rich history? Who’s your favourite player? What does the team me to you?
Favourite player of all time is a tough one – Joe Carter, The Doc, Bautista all come to mind, but I have to go with Robbie Alomar. I really think he’s the greatest second baseman that ever lived. The things he could do on the field were just mind-blowing. But, Donaldson is slowly overtaking him as my favourite Jay ever. He’s just such a competitor, so much fun to watch. In terms of favourite moments, I was only eight when Carter hit the walk off World Series-winning home run, so while I remember it, it will have to rank number two to the bat flip. I was at game five of the ALDS last year, and I honestly can’t remember being a part of a crazier atmosphere in my entire life. The entire seventh inning was the most ludicrous 53 minutes I’ve ever seen on a baseball field, but that Bautista home run, forever immortalized by that beautiful bat flip – that takes the cake.
Q5. What are your expectations for this season, and next season as well? Do you think we’re at the tail end of something special, or is it only going to get better from here on out?
I think we’re in pretty good shape this season – as of today, we still have a Wild Card spot, and I think we’re going to push for another division title. I believe we have what it takes to win it all this year, but even if we don’t, the future looks bright. Even if we lose Bautista, Encarnacion, and Saunders to free agency next year (worst case scenario), we still have Donaldson, Tulo, Martin, Pillar, Travis, Stroman, Sanchez, Osuna, Happ, Estrada, all for at least one more year. That looks like a pretty good lineup to me.
Q6. Returning to the musical side of things, you have two other Jays songs: “Throw Me a Pitch” and “All about Those Jays.” All three songs, I want to stress, serve as perfect little histories of the Jays based on when they were written. What are your thoughts on these two other songs, what was the response to them, and how do they compare to “First Place” in terms of everything that has since unfolded? “Throw Me a Pitch” was a follow-up of sorts to “First Place,” and while both are excellent songs – I really mean that – you didn’t get the same type of reaction with “Throw Me a Pitch” (100,000 views as of today). What do you attribute this to? The song itself, the disappointing start to the season for the Jays, the inevitable waning of an ephemeral moment like last season?
When I wrote “All About Those Jays,” it was during a period when I was playing a bunch of cover gigs, which isn’t something I do very often. I had written parody songs before, but not for quite some time, and I had definitely never recorded one – when it came to writing and recording, I was and remain focused mostly on my original music. But, I happened to be reading up on the Jays during the off-season while taking a break from practicing “All About That Bass,” and it sort of just hit me: “All About Those Jays!” When I first started writing the lyrics, I didn’t think anything would realistically come of it. I figured best case scenario it would make my friends laugh. But once the lyrics were finished, a buddy of mine convinced me to record it, and I called a good friend and long-time collaborator, David Henriques, to help with the recording and audio production. Once the recording was finished, other friends insisted, demanded really, that I make a video. I had never made a video before so I enlisted the help of another good friend and collaborator, Jesse Glowinsky, and the two of us got to work.
As mentioned, I had no idea that it would get the response that it did – media coverage, recognition from the Jays organization, etc., so the fact that “First Place” eclipsed it in terms of popularity and recognition was even more of a shock. A wonderful shock, but a shock none the less! I think part of the reason “Throw Me A Pitch” wasn’t as popular as the other two has to do with song selection – it’s a parody of Nathaniel Rateliff’s brilliant song “S.O.B.,” and while the song is popular in its own right, it doesn’t compare to the popularity of “Blank Space” or “All About That Bass.” Having said that, the response I’ve gotten from “Throw Me A Pitch” has been extremely positive.
Q7. Will you be treating us to another late-season Jays song this year? May be an updated version of “Okay Blue Jays”? Or do you have something else in mind?
That’s an awesome idea, “Okay Blue Jays 2.0!” I wasn’t planning on doing another parody this year as I’ve been primarily focusing on a new record I’ve been working on for the last several months. Having said that, I wasn’t planning on doing a follow-up to “First Place,” but on a fateful day back in March, I happened to be listening to “S.O.B.” on the radio when inspiration struck. Three weeks later “Throw Me A Pitch” was released. So, you never know – inspiration could strike at any moment!
Q8. By the way, what does it mean to you, knowing that “First Place” holds a special place for some Jays fans along the same lines as “Okay Blue Jays”? I mentioned this to you before, but I begin every big Jays game with two songs: “Okay Blue Jays” and “First Place.” What does it mean to know that, for this Jays fan at least, you’ve had a lasting impact on the way he celebrates the Jays, on his love for the team?
Honestly, it’s totally overwhelming and humbling. I never imagined that a little song I created would have this kind of lasting impact on so many people. It’s still completely surreal. I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to share this song with so many, and will continue to develop new material for as long as I can!
Q9. Finally, do you want to say a little bit about your other music projects? How can people find out more about you and your work?
Absolutely. As mentioned earlier, my main focus when it comes to songwriting and recording is my original material. In 2012, I released my first record, it’s called The Waiting Room and can be found on my website: http://www.adamjesin.com. It’s also available on iTunes, Spotify, and pretty much anywhere else music can be consumed digitally. I’ll be releasing an EP in the next few weeks called Long Is The Way [out now]. This is a record I’ve been working on for the last year, and one that I am particularly proud of. It was produced by acclaimed Canadian producer Arnold Lanni, who has become a friend and collaborator in the last couple of years. Once the record is released, I’ll resume playing live shows in Toronto and elsewhere, so be sure to check out the website for show dates and new releases!
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, and hopefully the Jays will give you plenty of more material to write about this year!
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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