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Cities and Brands, Again

We have a theme this week:  Cities and their images.  For earlier posts, see this (San Francisco and Los Angeles), and this (Pittsburgh today), and this (Dallas and Austin).

Let’s add Boston.

As a handful of you know, the Boston Bruins ice hockey team has been competing in the National Hockey League playoffs this Spring.  (As I write, Boston and the Vancouver Canucks will meet tonight in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.)  Boston’s team colors, familiar to trademark lawyers who know the Boston Hockey case (Boston Professional Hockey Ass’n v. Dallas Cap & Emblem Mfg., 510 F.2d 1004 (5th Cir. 1975), are black and yellow.  An aspiring rap artist in Boston has come up with a song that has become a fan anthem:  “Black and Yellow.”  Video below, featuring the “playoff” lyrics [Caution:  NSFW]:

Down here in Pittsburgh, however, local partisans of the Black and Gold (that would be the Steelers, primarily, but also the Penguins and the Pirates, all of whom wear black and gold strip because those are the city’s official colors) have noticed that the Boston song is remixed from Wiz Khalifa’s hip hop sensation, titled, naturally, “Black and Yellow.”  And they are not happy.   [There has been a bit of local tongue-wagging over the distinction between Black and Gold and Black and Yellow; does Wiz really get it?  But never mind that.]  Video below; this is definitely NSFW:

Wiz Khalifa is a Pittsburgh native and the most successful Pittsburgh-based popular musician in many decades. Â Let us set aside Girl Talk; Wiz is officially the Next Big Thing in the Burgh.   Black and Yellow is Wiz’s break-out hit, an homage to his hometown, and a song that was unofficially adopted by Steelers Nation early last Spring during that team’s run to the Super Bowl.

Is the resentment justified?  Is there any sense in which Pittsburgh “owns” Black and Yellow?  Boston’s “Flem,” who recorded the Bruins’ version, did what emerging rap and hip hop artists do all the time:  he borrowed and remixed the original without asking for permission.  So if there is a genuine ownership claim to be made, it’s Wiz’s claim to make.

Copyright aside:  Is there any sense in which any city “owns” a song?

Back to Boston, where Red Sox Nation has appropriated Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” as an unofficial anthem; YouTube is filled with fan-recorded videos of Fenway Park singalongs.  That song is so associated with the Red Sox that I was surprised a couple of years ago when I went to a Pittsburgh Panthers (college) football game and heard “Sweet Caroline” played over the PA as a singalong for Pitt students.

And in Pittsburgh, no song is associated with the Steelers themselves as “Renegade” by Styx, which the team plays over the PA (and on the big video board) during the fourth quarter of home games.  “Renegade” is about the Steelers’ defense; it pumps up the crowd and the team.   Styx, a band that was a nationwide phenomenon back in the mid- and late-1970s, is as popular as ever in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  The band has performed recently at Heinz Field and happily twirls Terrible Towels on stage.   A video montage [SFW, unless you don’t like football]:

I haven’t heard of other cities appropriating “Renegade.”  Perhaps the Steel Curtain has something to do with that.

It is not strange at all, however, that “Renegade” is associated with Pittsburgh (or that “Sweet Caroline” seems to be associated with Boston) in ways that songs *about* Pittsburgh have failed to take hold.  I asked the other day about iconic songs about cities.  Pittsburgh doesn’t really have any, though Woody Guthrie wrote a charming song years ago titled “Pittsburgh Town” that was covered recently by a band called the NewLanders, who are based in Pittsburgh (surprise!).   Here’s a version recorded by Pete Seeger:

Ever heard that before?  I didn’t think so.  Odes to the working man like that aren’t part of cities’ modern identities.   Cities are brands today as much as they are places and homes, and as brands they are agglomerations of symbols and collective social meanings as much as collections of neighborhoods, schools, and businesses.  Pittsburgh today likes its working-class image to have a commercial, rock ‘n roll and hip hop gloss; it “owns” “Renegade” in this manner of speaking.  The Wall Street Journal this morning has a story titled “Pittsburgh is Remade as Steal City” (sub required), which talks about the booming Downtown real estate market (low vacancy rate, low rents, lots of deals, and new construction!).  The title is obviously a play on the city’s well-known 20th century label, “The Steel City.”  (The piece itself is an interesting bookend to this years-old NYT piece, “Arts and Science Remake the Steel City.”)  Some of you have heard of Iron City Beer (motto:  Drink Black and Gold).  That name recalls Pittsburgh’s 19th century identity as an iron and glass producer.   Today’s Pittsburgh doesn’t own the Steel City label in any legal sense, but its people do, in a cultural and social one.  We are the Steel City; we are the Black and Gold, for reasons described in the paper that I posted at SSRN the other day. There are other “Steel Cities” around the world and even around the US (hello, Youngstown!) but none, I think, have internalized the brand on the scale that Pittsburgh has.  Boston, for the duration of a playoff run, might adopt black and gold as a theme.  But try that for a longer stretch.  More than a few Western Pennsylvanians will go all James Harrison on you.

3 thoughts on “Cities and Brands, Again”

  1. Surely right, but the song does, nonetheless, capture something specific about the history of the place and how history resonates today. The cover version is a prominent part of a recent documentary film / love letter to Pittsburgh titled My Tale of Two Cities.

  2. I believe that “marks” for a polity (such as a city) should not be protectable because the image, character, “brand” of these entities must be free for all to manipulate — Free Speech on political issues. See Malla Pollack, Politics for Profit and Persuasion, 100 TMK Reptr. 1181 (2010)

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