In Madison, House Of Pain is the signal for a man-made earthquake

In Madison, House Of Pain is the signal for a man-made earthquake

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in anticipation of the Sochi Olympics, we’re celebrating jock jams—or songs we think should be jock jams.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving during my senior year of college, I took my visiting younger brother on a road trip to Madison, Wisconsin for Northwestern’s final football game of the year. It had been a bittersweet season. Northwestern was headed to another bowl game after beating Iowa during the last home game of my undergraduate career, but star quarterback Dan Persa tore his Achilles tendon literally right after throwing the winning touchdown. Backup Evan Watkins didn’t stand a chance two weeks later against the fifth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.

I honestly don’t remember much of the lopsided Wildcats loss—I was too busy being fascinated by the stadium and the crowd from the vantage point of the visiting fans’ sections in an upper-deck corner. At full capacity of just over 80,000 people on game days, Camp Randall Stadium is the fifth-largest “city” in Wisconsin. And nothing makes that crowd more known to opposing teams than the fourth-quarter tradition of playing House Of Pain’s 1992 hit “Jump Around.” It’s an odd choice for Wisconsin, but once the first horn blare sounds, courtesy of producer DJ Muggs from Cypress Hill, it motivates the whole crowd to obey a call to secular sports worship.

I’m from the Bay Area, and though I’m too young to vividly remember the last major earthquake in 1989, I know what one feels like. Standing in that upper deck seat watching a red sea of Badgers fans jump as high as possible to “Jump Around” is the closest I’ve ever felt to a man-made earthquake. It’s so unsettling that it puts into focus why the university attempted to end the tradition when luxury boxes were built in 2003 due to structural integrity concerns. A concrete superstructure rattling from jumping fans is scary, then funny, then scary to find it funny. Opposing teams sometimes attempt to feed off the energy of the stadium by joining in on the jumping, but there’s no denying the intimidation factor.

No matter how tame and innocently spirited College Gameday makes the tradition look, “Jump Around” isn’t necessarily an organized act of fan participation and stadium intimidation. According to the UW-Madison alumni I know, a lot of students arrive like Wrigley Field patrons in Chicago: late after a lot of pre-gaming, with plans to leave early to get back to more drinking. But people wait around until the song plays, and the pandemonium ensues, with students surging forward in the chaos, rows away from where they started. It’s a tradition with populist and lucky origins that stuck. Many schools imitate—even Northwestern makes a fun, yet appropriately subdued attempt with Danzel’s “Put Your Hands Up In The Air”—but none can replicate the tectonic shifting in Madison.

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