This is not Churchill Downs
This is not Hollywood Park
Golden Gate Fields
Rancid’s "GGF (Golden Gate Fields)" is about defiance, perseverance, and guts. Unlike the band’s more overtly political songs, it’s not concerned with any particular social cause or injustice. The song focuses the eye of the microscope a lot closer than that. It’s a note of encouragement scrawled in jagged letters on crumpled notebook paper for everyone and anyone who has ever been counted out, snubbed, or serially underestimated. It’s also a warning to all those who do the counting, snubbing, and serial underestimating: Don’t turn your back on the underdog. You might have knocked him down, but you didn’t knock him out, and he’s exactly that sort of scrapper that keeps getting stronger the longer the fight goes
Boxing, of course, is the easiest analogy for a song like "GGF" (reference my preceding sentence for proof), but Rancid goes instead for the horse-racing track. It’s not a surprising choice, seeing as how Tim Armstrong “grew up across the freeway from” the Golden Gate Fields track, which sits on 140 acres of land straddling the cities of Berkley and Albany, California. Before the area became a horse track, it housed black powder, dynamite, and nitroglycerin manufacturer Giant Powder Company, which has blown up four times between 1879 and 1892 (not relevant to the song at all, but crazy enough that I thought I’d mention it).
Another random, interesting fact about Golden Gate Fields is that it appears in the Eddie Murphy film Metro.
The field makes an appearance in Jack Kerouac’s culture-transforming literary classic On the Road.
Rancid has mentioned the track more than once in interviews and public discussions, and shown images of it on their video for the song “Last One to Die” in which can be seen a shot of a slab of concrete with the letters GGF
Armstrong has spoken numerous times in the past about how growing up in the East Bay area of San Francisco has influenced his songwriting. “Writing about the Bay area always came easy to us. In so many ways you are where you came from, it's engrained in you. It can shape you and define you as well as the experiences you may have throughout your life. As you grow up you rediscover where you came from. So much of our history, family…roots come from the Bay Area.” The autobiographical nature of Armstrong and Rancid’s music in general, and "GGF" in particular, is easy to detect in the authenticity of their sound. It is exactly that authenticity, more than anything else, that has kept the group’s fan base loyal, fervent, and growing for over 20 years. Any soulless diva on the scene can wail about overcoming hardship and standing up for oneself, but when Rancid does it, it’s obvious that they’ve truly been there and that they mean it, and that is what makes all the difference. Their music might be a little too loud, ugly, and full of sneers to hold the limelight for too long, but for those people who have the sort of skull antenna to pick up its frequency, there just isn’t much of anything better.
In a way, the real world often does mirror the race track. The big-money horses usually win and have to have one hell of a pedigree to even get the chance to compete. But the track isn’t the real world, not exactly. It’s an artificial construct that operates according to specific rules designed to be entertaining enough that people will give up their money to see it. Rancid’s "GGF" is a reminder, and a warning, that when the “field’s wide open” and all the manufactured advantages are stripped away, it’s heart and guts, not pedigree and privilege, that win out in the end.
"GGF" is the kind of song you put on before you walk into a fight. It’s the kind of song that you play at the end of a hard, hard day, because it will keep you going and keep you believing. It really is that good, if you’ve got the ears for it. Or maybe it’s just a lot of leather and spikes and howling. That's all right, though. Hell, there's always a place for that, too.
~ Jeff Suwak
Songplaces contributor Jeff Suwak is a writer and editor living in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of the novella "Beyond the Tempest Gate" and various works of short fiction. He also writes for The Prague Revue. He loves being berated on Twitter @JeffSuwak and receiving visitors at jeffsuwak.com.