About Today

My favorite band is The National. It was announced today they will be playing Lollapalooza. They have become my oldest’s favorite too and he has even branched out and gotten into similarly genre’d bands like Bon Iver because of it. I took him recently to the Civic Opera House, on consecutive school nights, to see both shows on the first tour supporting their current album, Sleep Well Beast. His mom and I actually took him when he was much younger to see them open up for Arcade Fire but back then what we call “The Hren Stomach” still bothered him for such events and most of the time while our future current heroes were on stage I sat with him in the bathroom. Arcade Fire was awesome though.

My eldest attended several shows by various artists in utero. It was like we knew the world was going to change after that nine months. The first show he went to as an actual, standalone (well not standing yet) human was when I snuck him out while his mom had a night out and took him, at about 8 months old, to see Dylan and the Dead. He stayed strapped to my back or rolling around on a blanket, and we didn’t get too close to the fun mayhem and left early, but I figured it would be a solid first show he could brag about forever. After that a couple buddies and I took him to see my first musical love, The Smashing Pumpkins, in Iowa no less, when he was 3 or 4. By now he has been to tons of shows, including Lollapalooza with both of his siblings a couple years ago for Radiohead.

I will probably miss some here but in some form or fashion my kids/family have seen the following artists live: Wilco, Widespread Panic, Grateful Dead, Keller Williams, Arcade Fire, Florence + the Machine, Radiohead (twice), Smashing Pumpkins (at least 4 times), Phish, Weezer, and of course The National. My oldest took me to Phish and Weezer but I was the driving force between taking them to other shows. I’ve seen Bowie, McCartney, and Dylan! Twice each! I want them to be able to brag about stuff like that someday. But I am also starting to try and get them to see their bands now that they’re forming their own opinions. Bon Iver is playing this summer. I’ve also promised 21 Pilots to the little guys next time they come around.

But back to my guys, The National, where the story actually starts at Lollapalooza. I have this friend I see just every once and again who is as much a music guy as I am. While I was always mostly stuck in 90’s era grunge/alternative – he usually had the indie new stuff. He was preaching The National forever before I listened. One year at Lollapalooza we were getting our spots at the huge stage (there are 6-8 smaller stages along the sides of monstrous Grant Park where Lolla is held) and watching the side stage band warming up the headliner. I don’t even remember who the headliner was that night (I can easily look it up but we went every year for a while there and I’m lazy) but I remember catching the last song of the side stage band wearing suits as dusk enveloped us and acting like they were the biggest, baddest, and best rock stars in the world. The guy was absolutely out of his mind screaming about spiders and oceans. The closing song, I now know, was Terrible Love, and I have a decent sized tattoo inspired by it on my arm. (I have 2 Smashing Pumpkins tats, too, don’t judge)

The National, very much like The Pumpkins, are known for the sadness in their songs. Titles like Sorrow, Afraid of Everyone, Humiliation, and of course the aforementioned Terrible Love are surface-proof of their ability to be vulnerable. Those are just titles though. It gets deeper. So much deeper. But beyond my obvious obsession with sad art that goes way beyond that fateful Lolla, the band is just really good.

The National have a bunch of albums and have been around for a long time. The first time I gave in to my erstwhile buddy’s urgings to listen, I will always remember, was about a month after I finally put their, then most current, album Trouble Will Find Me on my iPod Classic. It had snowed, lots, and I’d be out there at least 3 hours shoveling. I also did the elderly couple’s drive whenever I was out there so it doubled my snow clearing time. I placed my earbuds under my hat and must have listened to that whole album on repeat 3 or 4 times which turned into 3 or 4 hundred more times without listening to literally anything else for months. It is so sad but so good and unknowingly came at the best/worst time in my life for such art to emerge. Eventually I branched out to the rest of the band’s catalogue and therein was the soundtrack to my lifetime’s darkest hours.

The National doesn’t just tug at the heartstrings, they rip out your aorta and show it to your mom before dissecting it with a plastic spork in front of everyone you hope sees you as strong and brave. They can be deft and intricate like a classically trained hummingbird on violin or they can Mack Truck your face using a mixture of insecurities you thought you buried in concrete years ago and all the sonic fury of a jungle full of wild animals being strangled and that sound being amplified through distortion tubes created by Nasa to scare Martians from afar – oftentimes all in the same song. In their early albums you can almost feel the more complex sound they’d achieve along with major festival headlining gigs later in their career. But it’s in their live performances where they have always jumped off the recording spool and into technicolor blackness with bursts of explosive, usually angry, almost always drunken bombastic color.

I love so many songs from this band. Over the last 5 years the amount I have listened to them compared to anyone else is the equivalent of the cases of bottles of red wine I’ve drunk compared to the glass or two of white I’ve choked down. The very soul of their music now lives in my bones and has permanently tainted my blood like very few artists have ever done. And I totally get the duality that comes with liking them. They headline huge music festivals these days and even have one of their own starting this year so they’re big and have lots of passionate fans. They’re not like some hidden indie darling I discovered. I got in early on them, but not ground floor early. Just like with the Pumpkins. I got on board for both bands before their meteoric rise but after being able to spend 3 bucks and see them at their humble beginnings. Despite this level of fame I will say about them now what I said about the Pumpkins for years: I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea but they are my favorite band there is. I also don’t even think they’re the best band in the world or even the most important. Early on I used to think my faves were the Pumpkins but the best was U2. Now I think the same about The National but I think the best band on the planet is, and has been for years, Radiohead. I love them. I love U2, too, in my own way. But I identify with The National. They are mine.

My first actual show at Chicago Theater was very special, then I saw them from the front row of the VIP section at Red Rocks in Colorado, then 2 shows with my son. I believe for all those shows I cried and know that the memory of all those shows can probably easily wet my cheeks as well. And now back to Lolla where I can remember that first day and, this time, watch a whole set of music I now love. This time after the sun goes down with Lake Michigan on one side and the skyline of our amazing city on the other. Strains of MY songs will ring through the cavernous chasms between buildings as they tend to during Lolla. Not totally sure we’ll be there, but I have a feeling the kids and I at least will try real hard. And as always, I’ll have with me a ghost or two. I need summer. The Lolla announcement today just made its coming even more pressing. Below is a super meaningful specific performance. It’s not a loud and crazy one. It’s beautiful and sweet-seeming indeed. But it has that slow burn of emotions like only those boys can deliver. Sadness can be beautiful too. 

 

4 thoughts on “About Today

  1. Okay, so this is the first post of yours that I read. It solidified that we are like minded as music aficionados are their own tribe of people. Each favorite band is a tell in a personality type or age range too, I think. My favorite cousin, die-hard Pumpkins fan. My younger brother’s fav band is The National. They are 16 years apart in age, yet both can talk about anything under the sun when it comes to music, art, experiences, opinions on the world, politics, people around them… all subjects with passion and barely a pause to be had. Aside from that, I’m a Black Keys girl myself and I love seeing the same strangers at the same shows, even away from the Keys and all their side projects. I miss them being our band in clubs – The Vic, The Metro, The Riv. Now they do arenas when they do go one tour. Just not the same. And that you saw your fav band the first time at the Chicago Theater – that ruins like every other joint for life. I’ve cried there at concerts. The acoustics are just unreal. Also, I love that you’ve taken your kids to sooooo many shows too. We’ve yet to really take ours. We’re selfish. That’s our big date nights and vacations 🙂 SORRY my comments are so long. There’s just a lot to respond to in your writing and I guess I can’t edit either after reading them. I’ll try harder next time 🙂

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  2. No, i dig it. When i was married shows were our thing and took the kids every once in a while. I just like continuing that. Also, my first Black Keys show was at the Metro and they opened for another of my favorites – Sleater Kinney. Brilliant show.

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