Friday, January 6, 2012

Chicago Gets No Love From My Parents

They say you can't go home again, and this Christmas might be the first time I not only knew this to be true, but accepted it. It was my son's second Christmas, but his first as a toddler with his own clear inclinations, and I truly felt that my family was in visiting from out of town rather than the usual feeling I get of being "home." That's not to say that I didn't feel at home, and in fact it was probably the best Christmas since I left Cleveland for college, but I recognized my small family unit, and was recognized, as a separate family this year.

But staying in my parents' house always turns me a little bit into the teenager I used to be, which, lucky for them, was a pretty good one. Everyone rebels against or aims to please their parents to varying degrees, and I went through my rebellious phases. But, as is my nature, I generally tried to make everyone happy (which, incidentally, has created plenty of situations where no one was happy). Of course I can relate this to music: I'll never forget the pure joy and elation I got back in High School when my brothers and I were listening to Soul Coughing's El Oso and my uncle walked through the room, protesting, "You guys actually listen to this stuff and think it's music?" Damn, I was hipster before that word existed.

But typically I try to find musical common ground with my parents. I remember when Cake's Fashion Nugget came out and my mom borrowed my copy for a party she was having. I had to tell my friend to come over and trade me for his Walmart-edited version so my parents didn't catch me with a CD that had cursing on it, but I was happy that I had introduced them to a new band. And most of my classic rock collection on my iPod was ripped from my dad's CDs (the Who, the Doors, Grand Funk Railroad, Creedance featured prominently; Dylan? Never heard of him).

So while I was home this week for the holidays I pulled up the latest 1000 Recordings Podcast to finish listening to it, and heard a plug for my blog at the end (thanks Tony and Mitch!). My parents overheard and asked about it, so I told them about the blog and when I started playing cards with my dad I queued up Chicago soul singer Baby Huey and the Babysitters, which I had mentioned in my email to the podcast. My mom was laying down on the couch, dozing, and after a few songs asked, "What is this?" I told her, and then asked, "You don't like it?" "I don't know..." and then after a brief pause, "no."

I browsed my library for something more worthy of an evening card game. Sufjan Stevens' Illinois, I thought, would be much more appreciated. After about five songs, my mom again asked me to put on something good. I was shocked. My aunt and cousin had shown up at that point, and although my aunt was lukewarm to it, my 18-year old cousin was wholeheartedly on my side. My dad, though, was not impressed either. So, as far as I'm concerned, taste is not genetic, because these two albums absolutely hold a place on the 1000 Recordings You Should Hear Before You Die.

Artist: Baby Huey and the Babysitters
Album: Living Legend: The Baby Huey Story
Recording #125ish
Baby Huey by recordingtherecordings on Grooveshark

Of all the things I learned about my musical tastes from this book, the most shocking was how much I like some good soul music. Generally, R&B meant to me a more grooving version of smooth jazz. This book has shown me that if there's a singer with passion and a band that can rock (Sam Cooke, James Brown, Baby Huey) I am all about it. The first track, "Listen to Me" has a killer bass line and right away Baby Huey's voice, coming from his 400+ pound frame, is booming. I have a particular affinity for the piercing "SAY!" that he throws out there every once in awhile (probably the part my mom was not a fan of). "A Change is Gonna Come" sounds like a thunderstorm on the horizon. And my personal favorite is probably "Hard Times." The horn section is incredible; I want to simultaneously dance and be involved in a '70s era car chase when I hear it. There are a few too many instrumentals for my taste, but that's part of the legacy of this album: Baby Huey died of an overdose during the recording of the album at the incredibly young age of 26, leaving many of the songs without vocals. This one is beautifully introspective and at the same time will get you moving.

Buy the album at Amazon

Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Album: Illinois
Recording #75ish
Sufjan Stevens Illinois by recordingtherecordings on Grooveshark

From the opening piano salvo, quickly joined with fluttering flutes, you know this one is going to be pretty. Sufjan doesn't disappoint on this one if you are looking for orchestral pop music. I heard Sufjan first on, back in the early 2000s, when it was known only by the most pretentious music snobs (I actually found it so snobby I couldn't read it). They gave away tons of free music, and one of them was "Sister" off Sufjan's album Seven Swans. I loved it, and quickly sought out more, and discovered Michigan, which had been released the year earlier. The album was totally dedicated to Stevens' home state, and supposedly the first of 50 such "State Albums." When Illinois came out, my brother gave me a copy; while I had high hopes because I liked Michigan so much, I did not expect that his second state album would actually be BETTER. But it is. Michigan is very soft, dark, and sparse, while Illinois includes not only tons of horns and strings, but a group of backup singers dubbed the "Illinoisemaker Choir." I have a compulsion to rank and list (can you tell? I write a blog about a list) and on my iPod, with over 20,000 songs, I have only 133 "5-star" songs. This album has TWO of them: "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." and "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is out to Get Us!" The first is the most sympathetic song ever written about a serial killer, with Stevens darkly comparing his (and everyone's) own dark secrets with that of a man who killed 27 or more people. This song is worthy of multiple "goosebump" moments- his falsetto "Oh my God" and his final confession to look beneath his floorboards before the haunted ending are two obvious ones. I'm not real sure what I love about "The Predatory Wasp." The structure of the song is actually pretty simple compared to most of the album, but the words paint such a beautiful and confusing picture that I am drawn in. Is the story about a best friend, or a lover? The song invokes the confusing, tumbling emotions of teenage years, further highlighted by longing of the shouts of "We were in love," and "I love him each day." This touching song is followed by the funky bassline and staccato shouts of "They are Night Zombies!! They are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!" The beauty of the album is how Stevens can take these disjointed themes and ideas and make them all fit into one cohesive album.

Buy the album at Amazon
Read Moon's Entry

I highly recommend making each of these a priority to add to your music collection. What are your thoughts on these? Let me know in the comments section.

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to checking them out and comparing my thoughts to yours. And congrats on making the "family unit" leap.