Friday, November 19, 2010

Champaign, Illinois

I'll start this post by confessing something sordid about my past: From 1991-1994 I was a marching band geek. For four football seasons I played French Horn/Mellophone, Baritone/Euphonium, and Tuba/Sousaphone for the Northwestern University Marching Band. I also played for the basketball pep band and a number of non-music major concert bands. Unlike some of you musicians, I can read music. In treble and bass clefs. Key of D flat major? Bring it on!

All of my best friends are from that period of my life. For the last five years we have been doing an annual reunion which has centered around a Northwestern football game and/or one of our friend's weddings. These reunions have taken place from Las Vegas, NV, to Durham, NC, and this weekend, our third trip to Chicago. These reunions quickly degenerate into a group very successful doctors, lawyers, journalists, and business people, reliving their college days by staying up until 4 a.m. playing drinking games. At one point a few years ago I counted 55 years of higher education sitting around a table, pounding High Life and doing Absolut shots.

We have a great deal with a fabulous rental house near Wrigley field for this year's Wrigelyville Classic, a "home" football game for Northwestern verses the instate rival the University of Illinois. Even College Gameday will be there. We did a little stroll about Wrigley Field today, and everything looks so cool! I can't wait for this game!!!

So what the hell does this have to do with my music blog? Other than bragging about the fact that I can read music? On October 12 the Old 97's released their eighth (?) studio album entitled The Grand Theatre Volume One. I've been super busy this fall, so I haven't been able to fully digest this ablum yet, but overall it is another quality album, along the same lines as 2008's Blame It On Gravity. Murry Hammond's song "You Were Born to Be in Battle" is especially strong. Is it me, or is Hammond becoming an even better song writer with age?

The 97's appeared on Leno on Nov. 10, which caused them to postpone their Toronto gig. They preformed the song "Champaign, Illinois," and sounded fan-freaking-tastic. I wanted to post the video, but those jerks from NBC already yanked it off of youtube. 97's singer/songwriter Rhett Miller explained the meaning of the song on twitter through a serious of tweets which I compiled below.

In the early days of the 97's, there was a great (short-lived) radio station in Champaign that played us a lot and hired us to come play. We had so much fun in this kooky little college town. Champaign is the ultimate college town. Late nights, sleeping on people's floors... One late night, I was driving the van through Illinois as my band mates slept and to keep myself awake, I wrote this lyric about Champaign. To me, college seemed like some sort of holding pattern... Waiting for life to start. So Champaign became purgatory in the song. Not hell. I could have used Austin [TX], Madison [WI] or New Paltz, NY. But their names aren't homonyms for sparkling wine. I love you, Champaign, Illinois.

Of course, my friends and I think that picking on Champaign, Illinois, the home of the Fighting Illini, is a brilliant choice. Especially for this week's football game.

Champaign, Illinois.mp3
Buy: The Grand Theatre Volume One (2010)

"Champaign, Illinois" has co-writing to credits given to Bob Dylan. Listen to the melody and you can clearly hear Dylan's "Desolation Row." And, this is the second "Champaign, Illinois" song where Dylan shares co-writing credits. Check out this really interesting article from Smile Politely, an on-line magazine from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Despite the fact that the Smile Politely author clearly dislikes the Old 97's version, I think it's an incredibly catchy tune!

If any of you happen to be at Wrigley this weekend, I'll be in section 421, wearing a purple NU toque and purple sunglasses. Go Cats!


Anonymous said...

You can see the video on NBC's website here:

Jeb said...

Old 97's rule....and so do the Cubbies!

JC Shepard said...

Go Illini, you mean. :)

I was at UIUC 86-90, the same time Allison Krauss was in town. I, of course, was wrapped up in electric guitars at the time. Sins of our youth.