The Ballad of a Mad Fan
From the beginning, he was thinking of how to market his song. Bart Steele—struggling musician, former stockbroker, lifelong Red Sox fan—wanted a universal tune, one that reached well beyond Fenway Park. So, early in that September of 2004, he decided to distinguish his ditty from every other Sox tribute by giving it a Nashville sensibility and thus, he figured, even broader appeal. A few hours into his first recording session, he found his hook: "Get up off your seats/Everybody scream/Man, I really love this team." But Steele’s engineer, an old friend and former Black Crowes soundman named Gypsy, working with him in a moldy Hyannis basement, thought the verses weren’t descriptive enough. That evening Steele drove back to his Chelsea condo, where the handsome, scruffy rocker restlessly scribbled Sox-relevant lyrics. "Word is out on Yawkey Way/Our boys in red have come to play." The next morning he returned to Gypsy, the rallying cry complete. It was silly stuff, but this was no lark. For Steele, who would later that year burn a Yankees hat at his grandfather’s gravesite, "Man, I Really Love This Team" was his way to write a love song for the Sox. That, and with any luck, get himself paid.
On October 8, the date of the American League Division Series closer against the Angels (and also Steele’s 33rd birthday), he and friend Peter Bellomo seized Fenway’s perimeter three hours before the game, guitars in hand. By the ninth inning, their anthem and self-styled spectacle—Steele dressed as a Johnny Damon caricature in a giant foam cowboy hat and strap-on beard, Bellomo playing Pedro Martinez in a wig and sunglasses—had attracted a small crowd. The next week, during the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, Steele and five buddies handed out more than 1,000 "Man, I Really Love This Team" singles, complete with lyric sheets, at the games (see a video sample featuring Bart Steele and his song, here). Bellomo and Steele played the last homestand, drawing a few hundred people every time they launched into the song.
When the Sox headed to St. Louis for the World Series, Channel 7 invited the duo to perform live. DJs at Boston Beer Works and the Cask ‘n Flagon began encouraging regular "Man, I Really Love This Team" sing-alongs. Just after the Sox swept the Cardinals, Steele says, he found a clip on Major League Baseball’s website of two polluted coeds slurring his chorus in the shadow of the Green Monster. Over at FenwayNation.com, where the song was available for free download, traffic had kicked up threefold to 180,000 daily visits. Like his Red Sox, Steele had made history.
But three seasons later, as the Sox muscled past the Angels and Indians to face the Rockies in the 2007 World Series, Steele couldn’t bring himself to watch a single game. Instead, he stewed in his condo, plotting revenge against, of all people, Jon Bon Jovi. Unbelievably, blatantly—cruelly—the pretty rocker from Jersey had taken his song and repackaged it as his own. Steele was sure of it. Now he just had to get the world to see things his way.
Bart Steele was voted "Most Likely to Host All of the Reunion Parties" by his classmates at Noble and Greenough. By his own measure, he holds the Dedham prep school’s record for consecutive weekend flings: a three-month streak he pulled off during his senior year while his mother, Claudia Woods (a former model who’d graced the box of the board game Life), spent time in Vermont. She and Bart’s father, Chum Steele (a U.S. Tennis Association New England Hall of Fame inductee who worked as a stockbroker at Prudential Securities), had divorced when Bart was three. Woods introduced her son to the piano as a child and paid for his drum and guitar lessons through high school—pursuits he says his father, who remarried when Bart was six, tolerated only because he consistently made the honor roll and played varsity soccer, hockey, and lacrosse. But the rock-star dreams had already taken hold, and Bart couldn’t be swayed from them.
"Bart always wanted to be a musician," his mother says. "He used to sit for his baby brother, who is 13 years younger than him. When I would come home, instead of watching TV, Bart would be playing piano with his brother on his lap."
In 1991 Steele enrolled at the University of Vermont, majoring in history and spending most of his time playing guitar in dorm rooms and chasing jam bands like Moe and Phish. After graduating in five years—because "leaving UVM after only four years is like leaving a cool party at 10 p.m.," he says—he was unwilling to go corporate, as his dad had begged. Instead, he embarked on a prolonged globetrot, performing with street musicians on the sidewalks of New Zealand, Australia, China, Russia, Tibet, and India for the next four years.
Sporadically, Steele would come home to bartend and save up money for subsequent voyages. During one of these stays, in 1998, his father enrolled him in a training program at the Prudential office in Hyannis. Thinking he could play music at night, Steele reluctantly agreed, and later moved on to a broker job with Morgan Stanley. He had a place in West Yarmouth, and—from the outside, at least—what was looking like a nice, tidy suburban life. But he deplored the paper-pushing and 80-hour workweeks. His only thrill came from gigging with Cape bands.
After his daughter, Corinthia, was born in 2001, to an ex-girlfriend who lived in Haverhill, Steele reshuffled his priorities. By 2003 he had quit the firm and bought a duplex in Chelsea. Soon after, he sold his house in West Yarmouth for a $170,000 profit. With that and tenants on the top floor of his Chelsea pad, Steele was able to spend days with his daughter and nights playing Boston clubs. At the suggestion of his stepmother, he also earned his real estate license and began selling residential properties for a small Chelsea firm.
He wasn’t very good at it, though, and soon was living largely on his dwindling savings. His lot worsened in January 2004, when his closest friend, Mackey Abernethy, froze to death in Vermont’s Lake Champlain, assumed to have committed suicide. Abernethy, Steele’s eternal concert copilot, had been the only one to unconditionally endorse Steele’s rock fantasies.
In June 2004, Steele drove solo to Mohegan Sun. He played the Wingo sweepstakes and lost on every ticket. On his way to the exit, he dropped his last token into a slot machine, pulled the lever, and started to walk away. That’s when bells rang. He’d won $6,000.
Steele took it as a sign to extend his rock-and-roll grind. He called Gypsy, told him to clear his schedule, and spent the next three months recording in Hyannis. They finished nine songs that summer and early fall, but it took just one to provide Steele’s artistic salvation.
"It rescued me," he says.