“The Last 5 Percent”

I’m pretty good at math. Especially for a writer. I was doing my older sister’s algebra homework when I was still in fifth grade. When my brother was struggling to even pass his math courses, I was haughtily taking on all challengers. There was a time in my life, before discovering writing, when I thought I would find a career in mathematics.

I say all of this as pretext to this little anecdote.

After work tonight, I sat and had a couple of post-shift drinks with the bartender while we discussed the paths of our life. He talked about some of his regrets having put his musical ambitions on hold while he got a “real” college degree. I told him about the tumultuous period of my project in which I lived with a girlfriend.

Eventually we came upon the inevitable: The end of 10 Cities / 10 Years. August 31st, 2015 will be the official last day of a decade long pursuit. March 1st marked the beginning of the last 6 months.

The bartender poured me another beer and shot of whiskey and casually asked: “What are you going to do with the last 5 percent?”

My first instinct when he said that was to correct them. That’s ridiculous, I thought, it’s not just 5 percent. It’s much more than that. A few seconds of mental calculations later, I realized he was right.

As good as my mental math skills are, I’ll admit that for a brief moment the numbers didn’t add up. It couldn’t possibly be that little, right? Well shit, the math checks out. After 9 and 1/2 years,* I am 19/20ths of the way through a project that has been the raison d’etre of my entire life. 1/20th remains. That is, indeed, 5 percent.

Holy flurking schnit.

I don’t know what to think about that. I don’t know what comes next. I don’t know.

I’m…

I don’t know.

I’m not sure what kind of precedent exists for what I’ve done. I’m not naïve enough to believe that what I’m so close to completing is groundbreaking or even slightly important. It was (and is) a self-indulgent endeavor taken on because I was too lazy or too bored or too selfish to attempt a practical life.

But I did it, all the same. And save for getting hit by a bus or getting knocked off by one of Obama’s Death Panels, it looks like I’m going to pull it off. 10 Cities. 10 Years. 120 Months. 1000 detours.

The last 5 Percent.

Sacrebleu!

This Way Out

*Okay, so technically I spent an extra 3 months in Costa Mesa (the 3rd year) which messes up the percentages, but I’m going to ignore that for the purpose of this post. You have a problem with that, you can go fuck yourself.

A Movie in New York City

One of the great pleasures in life is going to a movie theater alone for some sparsely attended weekday matinee. Yes, it is nice to cuddle with a date at a movie or see a blockbuster with friends on opening night, but a great film experience is by its very nature solitary. If the artists have done their job right, it should always feel like you’re an audience of one.

That’s the special power of seeing a movie in an actual theater. The darkness, the cavernous space, the all encompassing surround sound transport you into the film. At least, that’s how it should be.

In reality, couples natter at each other, idiots check their phones, old people ask their companions what just happened and someone is constantly scrapping their fingernails on the bottom of a carton of popcorn. It’s hard to get lost in the experience.

Some movies are better with a crowd. A hilarious comedy or an Avengers-style action romp or a truly terrifying frightfest are improved by the collective laughter and unexpected jumps of an engaged audience.

Many other movies, though, are best seen alone. (Here’s where I admit I once stopped dating a girl largely because she talked during movies.)

Birdman Poster

This week, I finally got around to seeing Birdman, this year’s Best Picture Oscar Winner, and I was pleased to find a mostly empty East Village Theater when I arrived. All the easier for surreptitiously pouring my flask of whiskey into my half-filled cup of coke.

A group of four Japanese girls came in shortly before the movie began and I was worried that they might be Chatty Cathys but they were graciously silent throughout.

Birdman is bit of a paradox in that it’s a deeply cerebral and artistic film that rewards close viewing, but also a wickedly funny and mesmerizing flick that manages to borrow much of the visual flare from the superhero movies it’s satirizing. I’m happy to have seen the movie essentially by myself so as to not have the intricate details overshadowed by laughter or a rowdy house, but at the same time there were so many impressive scenes – both in terms of acting and directing (I think Michael Keaton should have won Best Actor, but whatever) – that watching the movie with a packed house very well could have heightened the thrills and emotions.

Regardless, I thought Birdman was a fantastic movie. It wasn’t my favorite film of 2014, but it’s certainly one that I will be recommending enthusiastically.

My favorite film of the last year was another movie that I saw in a mostly empty Manhattan theater: Whiplash. I have been recommending this staggering film to almost everyone I’ve met ever since I saw it and I was rooting mightily for J.K. Simmons to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar (he did!). I’ve never seen the exhilarating thrill of live music captured so perfectly on film, even in concert documentaries.

Whiplash PosterThere is no question that this is a film of powerhouse performances with Simmons and Miles Teller filling each and every scene with pathos and sheer emotional rawness. For the first hour and 20 minutes or so of screen time, this is one of those ‘see it in an empty theater’ type films. It’s a powerful character piece that explores the depths of artistic obsession both in a student and a teacher.

Without getting too much into the details, I will say that the last 20 minutes is absolutely a ‘see it with a crowd’ type film. It’s a sustained climax in every sense of that word. Seriously, after the nearly 80 minutes of punishing musical instruction, the final performance is basically the equivalent of a cinematic orgasm.

That’s the singular power of film. It can speak to you as an individual while also uniting you with an audience for one glorious, shared trip.

My New York on Film

It’s fitting that both Whiplash and Birdman were set in New York City (come to think of it, my other favorite movie of the year, Obvious Child, was also set in NYC). It was reading about New York City in novels (and comic books) that first made me want to be here, but it was in movies where I found my first taste of what that life could be like.

Few cities in the world can claim as vast a cinematic language as the 5 Burroughs (perhaps only Paris matches New York for pure visual fantasy). Whether in romantic comedies, hard-boiled noir, action/adventure, crime drama or any other genre, there’s always that cliché: The city is a character, too. And no city has a more schizophrenic range of characters than New York.

Of course, I realize that most movie representations of New York are about as realistic as Friends, but that’s beside the point. I’ve never looked to movies for their documentary depictions of life. Even as a kid, I was simply reaching for cathartic release, an escape from small town Kansas and insular Christianity. A part of me hoped New York life could be as glamorous as it was onscreen, but what really drew me in was simply the size, the gargantuan storehouse of possibilities

Now I’m in New York and, no, to answer so many people’s question: It isn’t everything I imagined it could be. Because my imagined New York City is a movie set, a fantasy. And that’s okay. Reality has never matched up with my imagination. Every city I’ve lived in has failed to live up to the imagined version I held before I moved there.

And, yet, in a truer sense, every city has surpassed my imagination because any mental picture will always be hopelessly limited in comparison to the real thing.

My time in New York City is only just beginning. It has included concerts in Central Park and the Barclay Center, drinking on a rooftop with the Manhattan skyline in the background, late night subway rides with passed out drunks, bookstores and coffee houses and pizza joints and even a short but intoxicating liaison with a beautiful and talented French artist. And I haven’t even been here 6 months yet.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here before the call of the road takes me away, but sitting in that movie theater this week and seeing New York City on screen again, I was reminded why I always wanted to be here in the first place, why I had picked this city to be my 10th and final stop.

So, no, my time in New York City hasn’t been filled with non-stop thrills and raging parties. I haven’t had the definitive New York City experience yet, nor will I ever. But I’m having my own experience, and that’s enough. It’s my movie to make how I see fit.

Only time will tell if I’m making a crowd pleaser or the kind of film best seen on a quiet Wednesday afternoon in an empty theater.

Birdman In Focus

Notes From the Past: Family, Love and Turkey Bowling

It’s not a secret that when I have completed my first year here in Brooklyn – the final year of this project – I plan on immortalizing my experiences and encounters in a book. For the past few months, I have been slowly chipping away at the first couple chapters. I don’t know how much of what I put into these first drafts will appear in the final product, but it’s necessary to at least put words on page.

I’m pulling predominantly from my memories for this book (at least at this stage), and unsurprisingly I’m finding a number of holes. Whether that’s due to time or whiskey, I can’t say. It’s fine either way because one of the themes of the book is the way memory distorts and changes with time. Still, to appreciate how much they have changed I need to have a reference point.

Tonight, I dug out a pile of old journals. These are poetry journals which I’ve been writing since I was in high school. You could follow the ups and downs of my life by reading through the years of my shitty poetry. You shouldn’t do that, but you could.

On rare occasion, I broke with the format to free write about my life at the time. No, I didn’t keep a diary. Okay, I sort of kept a diary. But it was done very irregularly. During the summer before my senior year, while living in Washington D.C., I wrote pages upon pages of angst-riddled notes about the perilous state of my relationship with my girlfriend and my loss of faith. If I was a smarter man, I would set that shit on fire.

And then there was the first year of this project, Charlotte. On Thanksgiving weekend, my brother, Daniel, was getting married and I flew back to Kansas for the first time since I moved. While I sat in Charlotte Douglas International, I began writing out my thoughts about all that I had been through in the past 6 months and all that I was dreading about this return to Lawrence (mostly family).

Long before I had created this website, I was already touching on the many themes that I’d still be writing about years later: Same-sex Marriage (I was always for it), atheism and religion, travel, and politics (or lack there of: “I have no real interest in politics. I don’t see why you need to be of one political party or another to want to cure AIDS.” Oh, honey.)

Going back through these old notes was actually a revealing read. My wanderlust and insecurities are on full display within the pages, though, tellingly, nowhere did I mention 10 Cities / 10 Years as that idea was still nascent in those early months in Charlotte.

Downtown 2

Much of the first few pages is consumed with my thoughts on family drama that was unfolding at the time. There’s always family drama, but reading these pages reminded me just how much drama was going on back then.

It wasn’t all family, though. I also spent a considerable amount of ink scribbling about my love life.

“H– picked me up just after 8:30 and took me to the airport.” H– was a woman I dated briefly before breaking it off who was trying to convince me to get back together. Clearly, I was taking advantage of that situation.

I also spent some paragraphs on the end of my 2-year relationship with my college girlfriend and my belief that I was perhaps not capable of succeeding at romance. I was 22, of course I was nihilistic: “I like flirtation. I like friendship. I enjoy sex. But I don’t want to be responsible for someone else, and I don’t want someone else being responsible to me.”
Could I be anymore cliché?

Alternatively, there’s a running fixation throughout the pages with having a meaningless sexual fling that weekend, either with an old high school crush or a complete stranger. Spoiler alert: Nope.

In fact, there’s a lot of wishful thinking in these words. A lot of forward looking. I had enough self-awareness to undercut my most grandiose prophecies with sarcastic asides and I had a persistent belief that nothing interesting would ever happen to me. But I was consumed with thoughts of my future and change. I wrote about New York City being my “betrothed” city, but I knew I would live other places first.

I certainly didn’t get everything right: “Home. Will Lawrence always be home? In some form or another I suppose…”

Already, I was obsessed with the idea of being removed from Kansas. Even though I had been gone less than 6 months, I referred to this trip with only slight irony as a “prodigal return.” I wanted so very bad for this weekend to feel epic, for my time away to have changed so much, both in who I was and how people thought of me. But a part of me knew it was a lie: “I am well-traveled, just not well-lived.”

After landing in Kansas City, there is an account of an awkward drive to Lawrence with my father and his new wife. At one point, they tell a seemingly off the cuff joke about their wedding which I suspect is actually rehearsed. When they retell the exact same joke a few hours later with identical wording, my suspicions are confirmed. (I also noted their indifference to a new album by Sufjan Stevens that I was telling everyone about at the time.)

In Lawrence, we had leftover Thanksgiving dinner with my brother, Steve’s, wife’s family before the younger generation headed out to the local Lawrence “hick” bar, Coyote’s. (I don’t believe it exists anymore.)

That’s pretty much where that story ends. I didn’t write about the wedding (the siblings all took shots before the service in the rental car), or about my return to Charlotte. Like I said, I’m an inconsistent journaler.

Before I finished, though, I did spend more than a page on what can only be described as the highlight of the trip: Turkey bowling.

It’s exactly what it sounds like (and exactly what you’d expect at a bar called “Coyote’s”). After both my brother and his wife took their unsuccessful turns, I was up. You might think bowling a turkey would be a rather mindless activity, but based on how much I wrote, there was clearly a lot of calculations involved. I really don’t think a summary would do it justice, so:

...the thought of throwing the turkey is not coming [up with] positive results. I imagine being too weak to pick it up, unable to throw it more than a few feet, or worse, losing control of my throw and sending the cold, hard turkey into the face of some spectator, smashing their nose and ending the festivities. I can be fairly certain nothing that interesting will happen, but still, the thought gives me pause...

I am not certain how to hold the turkey. It seems gripping the whole bird with both hands would allow for the best aim, but the awkwardness would make it hard to throw with much power. The strap does not appear to be very strong and aiming the turkey would be harder, but it would likely be easier to gather momentum, and since the prospect of watching the turkey land only two feet in front of me is seeming highly probable, I opt for power over accuracy.

Fully prepared to make an ass of myself (as prepared as one can be) I reel back, bring the turkey around in a parabolic downward arc and release. The strap breaks in mid swing, the turkey flies three feet before hitting the ground and rolling a couple more before stopping anticlimactically halfway between me and the pin. Well, at least no one's nose is broke. I'm ready to move on, back to the bar and away from the festivities when the man in charge of bowling says I get another turn because the strap broke. Lucky me.

This time, new bird in hand, I decide to go the two handed route. At least, if I only get the bird a few feet, there will be no excuse to make me do it again. Pulling the turkey back to my right side like I imagine a shot put coach would recommend (if the shot put was ten times as big, not particularly round and once alive). I then take a few quick steps toward the line, turn my body and use the momentum along with whatever I can muster in my arms to launch the bird. The turkey flies, past the two foot mark, past my previous throw, past the spectators (and their noses) and to the pins. Strike! Hole in One! Home run! Touchdown! All those fucking pins are down, submissive, broken. Do not fuck with me.

I won a Corona pin because the t-shirts were all too big for me.

And that’s basically it. The wedding happened. All of the family members survived the weekend. Nobody’s cat died.

I’m not sure turkey bowling will make it into the final book, but reading back on those old memories, I was pleasantly surprised by what I had forgotten, what I remembered, and what I was thinking back then. I don’t completely want to punch my 22-year-old self in the face, and that’s the biggest surprise of all.

“After a day of flying, drinking, talking and turkey bowling, sleeping sounds wonderful.”

Well said, you dumb sonuvabitch.

Cheers.

cropped-10-cities.jpg

10 Years On: Revisiting Illinois

Sufjan Stevens is a bit of a joker. When he released his album, Michigan, in 2003, it marked the beginning of his 50 State Project. He was supposedly going to write an album for every state in the Union. This audacious venture seemed to be confirmed when he released his follow-up 2 years later, Come On Feel The Illinoise, more commonly known as Illinois.

But it was all a lark. Stevens had no intention of creating an album for all 50 states, despite the fact that the first 2 albums were almost universally hailed as brilliant works. When he released the true follow up to Illinois many years later (not including the B-Sides collection, The Avalanche), he had dropped the banjo and folk trappings for an electronica addled album whose lyrics eschewed clear storytelling for more personal yet more abstruse meandering.

Now, on the verge of a new release, Carrie & Lowell, which promises to be a return to his folkier side, this is the perfect time to dust off an old feature around these parts (read the other 2 entries here and here) and give Illinois the ol’ 10 Year revisit.

It’s a long album with long titles and this will be an appropriately lengthy post, so strap in and get comfortable. Here we go.

Illinois Cover (Sufjan Stevens)

 “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois”

The album begins almost angelically, with a silky piano line and a floating flute while Sufjan introduces us to the two main themes that will weave themselves throughout the album: Christian imagery and arcane historical factoids about Illinois. One of his strengths as a songwriter is his ability to craft lyrics that are packed full of details and yet still feel open to personal interpretation and revelation.

It’s a quick intro, but it sets the mood.

“The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience, but You’re Going to Have to Leave Now, or, ‘I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!'”

And then those rumbling drums and escalating voices change the mood. This instrumental piece is the first of many on this album. It’s interesting that in 2005, when this album was released, buying individual songs online had already caused a major shift in the industry (that’s ongoing today). People were cherry-picking their favorite tracks and skipping whole albums, and here comes Illinois with instrumental tracks and interludes that beg you to listen to the whole thing front to back. This is the first indication that this won’t be your average Indie Rock/Folk/Whatever album.

“Come On! Feel The Illinoise!: The World’s Columbian Exposition/Carl Sandburg Visits Me In A Dream”

This is where the meat of the album truly begins. Broken in to 2 parts celebrating, respectively, the Chicago’s World Fair of 1893 and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carl Sandburg. If you want a breakdown of all the references in this song (and throughout the album) head over to Genius.com. They’ll do a much better job than I could ever hope to do.

The transition in this song is my favorite part. It loops and escalates like a spring until popping free and opening up to the second, melancholy half with the lyrics, “I cried myself to sleep last night /
And the ghost of Carl, he approached my window.” It’s both celebratory and contemplative, a mixture of emotions best summed up by the refrain, “Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water level.”

“John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”

And then, bam! This is the first stunner of the album, and probably the only song in history about a twisted serial killer that still manages to pack a massive emotional gut punch. It helps that Sufjan’s voice is never more pretty and delicate as when he sings:

“Twenty-seven people
Even more, they were boys
With their cars, summer jobs

Oh my God
Are you one of them?

This might be the song that most divides the pro- and anti-Sufjan camps. It’s beautiful but creepy, all the more so when the singer draws a parallel between himself and Gacy in the suggestion that they both have secrets under the floorboards. I think this was the first song that truly caught my attention and made me want to read the lyrics. Love it or hate it, you have to admit it’s a pretty ballsy move to put this song just 10 minutes into an hour and 15 minute album.

“Jacksonville”

The 1-2 punch of “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” and “Jacksonville” right next to each other is the first indication that we’re in for an unparalleled journey here. Stuffed full of Illinois’ history, the song manages to take Andrew Jackson, Helen Keller and a whole host of landmarks and weave together a narrative that’s both a paean to freeing the slaves and a rallying cry that ends up sounding like something a school band would play as its football team runs to victory.

“A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, but for Very Good Reasons”

This is one of those transitions whose title takes longer to read than the song actually takes to play out. It’s just a breather before jumping into the true centerpiece of the album.

“Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!”

Beginning here and running through “Casimir Pulaski Day,” Illinois makes its case for being the best album of 2005 and one of the best of the decade. Look, if you don’t like old timey music, this one probably isn’t going to be for you, but there is no denying that Sufjan is doing some fascinating tricks with his lyrics here.

Essentially a tour through the entire state of Illinois, the song still manages to tell the story of a stepmom trying her best to make her stepchildren happy even as they do “everything to hate her.” Like “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” before it, Sufjan finds a way to imbue an unexpected subject with surprising emotional resonance.

“One Last “Whoo-Hoo!” for the Pullman”

The title says it all.

“Chicago”

If the album has a ‘single’, this is it. Partly because of its prominent placement in the indie darling movie, Little Miss Sunshine, this song is the one track that even your friends who have never heard of a banjo will have on their iPod. I love this song as much as I love the actual Chicago.

It probably helps that the song involves someone taking a road trip to 2 of my favorite cities, the aforementioned Windy City as well as New York City. When I first listened to this album in Charlotte, it was the first year of my project and the thought of exploring the country was still an enticing, terrifying dream. I love to travel by plane or train, but nothing will ever beat a road trip.

“You came to take us
All things go, all things go
To recreate us
All things grow, all things grow”

“Casimir Pulaski Day”

If “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” is an emotional gut punch, this is the emotional body slam of the album. Again, while I was listening to this album in 2005, I was living on my own for the first time in my life and I was just starting to really explore what it meant to live without the obligation of faith. So how odd is it that the most insightful song on the topic was written by a Christian?

Telling the story of a female friend with bone cancer (at least, that’s how I read it), the narrator talks about their intimacy in the face of this horrible disease. There is one line that has always resonated with me:

“Tuesday night at the Bible study
We lift our hands and pray over your body
But nothing ever happens

I know it’s not meant to be a criticism of faith or god. I grew up with the message that “Sometimes God says ‘No’.” Yet, as a freshly minted atheist, those lyrics summed up everything about my religious experiences: “God always says ‘No’.”

It’s also a song about young love (again, in my reading of it), and how strange it can be for it to feel so powerful and yet be so helpless in the face of reality (another parallel to religion).

A tragic tale that ends with the mournful “And He takes, and He takes, and He takes.” It’s a song that simultaneously celebrates and criticizes faith depending on the audience. That’s an impressive line to walk.

“To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament”

I don’t have a lot to say about this other than that it’s my favorite instrumental of the album. And an important one, because it gives a necessary pause after “Casimir Pulaski Day.”

“The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”

That break is especially useful because this song begins with oddly dissonant guitar noodling and pounding drums before giving over to one of the softer tracks on the album. I’m all for dissonance in music (Penderecki is my favorite composer), but I’m always a little put off by that choice for this song.

I suppose it’s meant to mark the midway point of the album. If I was listening to Illinois on a record player, I could see flipping over the vinyl and having that be an effective kick off for the second half. On CD (or, now, on my computer), though, it’s just kind of an awkward jolt.

Still, it’s a lovely song about Superman and childhood summer vacations (and, of course, more). That’s about all I have to say on that.

“Prairie Fire That Wanders About”

Though there are lyrics, this song feels like an instrumental break probably because there is no lead vocal. Most of the tracks on this album use background singers like a Greek Chorus, singing out details to fill in or embellish the main story. Here, the whole track is all Greek Chorus. It’s an interesting transitional song but not likely to be anyone’s favorite.

“A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze”

It’s a conjunction of drones, dummy.

“The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!”

Another beautiful story about youthful love, this time between two friends. There are a lot of question marks here. Is this Sufjan confessing to having fallen in love with a male friend as a child? Is it romantic love or just the love of a friend? Is the narrator meant to be a boy at all? How much of this album are we to assume is autobiographical and how much is just Sufjan being a storyteller?

I choose to not care. I’m less interested in the question of hetero- or homosexual love as I think the more compelling aspect of this song is how frightening and potent young love can be, especially when unrequited. The narrator looks back on a lost love, a friend who ran away, perhaps scared off by emotions that hit like a “terrible sting and terrible storm.” (The wasp metaphor in this song is one of Sufjan’s best.)

Add on top of that the gorgeous interlacing of lead and backing vocals throughout the song and you’ve got one of my favorite tracks on the album.

“They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From the Dead!! Ahhhh!”

There aren’t many opportunities to describe Sufjan as funky, so I won’t pass this one up: That bass line is funky. This is easily the oddest song on the album (which says something considering there’s a track about a serial killer/rapist). Beginning with the shouted spelling of “Illinois” and other words, the first vocals sound like the chanting of undead cheerleaders.

True to form, Sufjan finds the human depths within monsters, using his lyrics to seek sympathy for zombies. It’s a surprisingly affecting trick, especially when he bemoans how they have been “at last forgot.” It’ll make you rethink Dawn of the Dead.

“Let’s Hear That String Part Again, Because I Don’t Think They Heard It All the Way Out in Bushnell”

Another instrumental with a title that tells you all you need to know…

“In This Temple as in the Hearts of Man for Whom He Saved the Earth”

…followed by another instrumental reprieve. Though, I guess, this one isn’t technically an instrumental as it’s just a soft hum of voices. Whatever.

“The Seer’s Tower”

On an album that no one is going to accuse of being “cheery”, this is easily the most morose track. It begins with the narrator looking down from a tower as the earth burns and the apocalypse approaches and it ends with him sleeping in the “deepest grave.” In between there is a terrible mother and a loving father and the all destroying force of Emmanuel. Unnerving in the best way.

Probably not the song to play at your next party.

“The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders: The Great Frontier/Come To Me Only With Playthings Now”

And then there are hand claps and peppy horns. Sufjan knows how to take a left turn. Like track 3, this is broken into 2 parts. There is a lot of intermixing of religious and American symbolism throughout the first part of the song, one of Sufjan’s favorite moves. It seems to be a kind of cry for Americans to rise up and fight. For what, I’m not quite sure.

The song takes a sudden downshift 2/3rds of the way through and like “Prairie Fire That Wanders About” it becomes a showcase for the chorus as they sing about Jane Addams, Benny Goodman and a bunch of other people who I’m sure were all very important to Illinois. It kind of feels like Sufjan had a pile of references he hadn’t found any other songs for so he stuffed them into this one.

If there’s any true flaw on this album, it’s that this, the last song with lyrics, ends on such an anticlimactic note. There’s no story to hold onto, nothing that really draws the listener in. It’s a fine enough song, just kind of a let down after so many emotional highs (for me, of course; someone else may find something meaningful in the repetition of “Oh Great…”).

“Riffs and Variations on a Single Note for Jelly Roll, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, and the King of Swing, to Name a Few”

A riff on a single note that leads to…

“Out of Egypt, Into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I Shake the Dirt From My Sandals as I Run”

The final track is also an instrumental piece. Whether it be “Vito’s Ordination Song” from Michigan or “Impossible Soul” on The Age of Adz (or even “Djohariah” on the All Delighted People EP), Sufjan tends to end his albums with pretty heavy songs, so this is an odd outlier. Perhaps he realized that this was an especially dense album and he wanted to give the listener a calming outro by which to end their listening and get on with their day. If so, it works. It’s not the most memorable finale, but it does effectively draw the curtain to a close.

And that’s it, Illinois 10 Years On. It’s still one of my favorite albums (top 3 on my Last.fm most listened list) and one of the few albums that I still feel compelled to listen to front to back.

It’s 2015 and indie folk is no longer as prevalent or relevant as it was when I began 10 Cities / 10 Years, but a decade of shifting musical landscapes and evolving industry dynamics hasn’t changed one thing: Illinois is a masterpiece.

 

 

            the road is life

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