Sunday, July 1, 2012

National Celebrations: Saturday in the Park

Chicago: Saturday in the Park

This week’s theme gives me a chance to write a little about my wife. She loves music and has a beautiful voice. When we first met, our shared love of music was one of the things that we bonded over. One of our earliest dates, in fact, was to see Bring on the Night, the documentary about the creation of Sting’s first solo album. Of course, no two people have exactly the same musical taste. Mine tend to skew harder and gruffer than hers, which are more folky and mellow. However, there is a significant enough overlap that we can coexist. (Aside—there is a station on Sirius XM called “The Bridge” which plays soft rock and which I call the Roach Motel of radio—once we start listening, I can’t get out, because my wife pretty much loves every song they play, leaving me with no chance to change stations and hear a different genre.)

When we had been dating for a little while, I was living in Manhattan working as a lawyer at a big Wall Street firm, and my (future) wife lived in Queens and had a job in Manhattan. She often stayed at my apartment, but only because it was convenient. Really. On Election Day, I worked and she didn’t, and when I came home, I discovered that she had moved in. One might think that this showed a certain level of commitment, and I guess it did. But we always said that we knew that we were bound to stay together when we integrated our record collections. Hundreds of vinyl albums, alphabetized together, would be very difficult, if not impossible, to separate, so we were stuck with each other.

She didn’t have any Sex Pistols, or Clash, or Genesis, and I didn’t have any James Taylor or Carly Simon, but there was overlap, and we both had pretty large Chicago collections.

Chicago was one of my first favorite bands. I saw my first concert when I convinced my parents to take me to see them at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where I also smelled marijuana for the first time. (And where, a few weeks ago, I returned to see my son graduate from college. Cue “Twilight Zone” music.) I still love early Chicago, when they played complex music, often with social or political messages, and even when they played love songs. In general, I think that a horn section makes any song better. Of course, in the late-1970’s (after original guitarist Terry Kath died), their music became increasingly schlocky and generally awful and unlistenable, to the point where most “serious” music fans wouldn’t admit their early greatness.

“Saturday in the Park,” from Chicago V is one of their most well-known songs, and one of their best. Supposedly written by Robert Lamm after a July 4 walk through Central Park where he saw the varied musicians and entertainers that were performing, it is a snapshot of the holiday activities. Not everyone uses their national celebration to make obvious, patriotic statements. Lamm’s song about the way that people, in the middle of New York (during one of the city’s worst periods), could enjoy themselves, hear Italian songs, laugh, dance and eat ice cream, is maybe a more convincing statement about the greatness of America than something that shoves the sentiment down your throat.

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