Life makes more sense with pop music.
Life makes more sense with pop music. That’s why I’ve gone back, year by year, and chronicled the song that meant the most to me then. This song may not have been released that year, it may not have been big that year, but it was relevant to me in a personal way that defines that period of my life.
Also, I didn’t do too much research to make sure I got these years right. This is my life, after all, and if I confuse 1998 with 1999, well, that’s my right.
2000: “The Giant of Illinois” by The Handsome Family
I’ve met some interesting characters in my days playing in clubs with bands. That’s one of the most fun parts of being in a band and traveling around. Whether you share a bill with a fantastic band (Lucero, say), or a terrible one (The Diarrhea of Anne Frank), you’ll have the chance to talk to other musicians and share stories.
One such band was the Handsome Family, who my band played a few shows with in the spring of 2000. The Handsome Family is made up of Rennie and Brett Sparks, a husband-and-wife duo that writes quirky, hilarious songs about, among other things, death, addiction, and anorexia. We thought they were just another band driving around the country trying to get their music heard.
I didn’t realize that they were touring on their fifth independent record, In The Air, had just returned from another tour of Europe, and had been written about in publications around the globe. (They’re currently promoting their ninth album, Honey Moon, and may be visiting a city near you soon.) I didn’t realize this because they never told me. They didn’t make it a point to brag about their exploits—they were just some people you wanted to chat with after a show.
“The Giant of Illinois” is more than just a pleasant pop song, more than four chords that fit together nicely. It’s a Sophoclean masterpiece about regret, faith and atonement. There’s a violated swan dead in the weeds, and a giant who succumbs to a blister on his toe, and an image of death that is the most beautiful and comforting that you are likely to hear in indie music. And, if that were not enough, it has Jeff Tweedy singing harmony vocals.
In 2000, gave up all my ambitions to make it as a musician. I hung it up, moved back to Memphis, and started teaching. I’ll leave the business of music to artists like the Handsome Famliy. We were just some kids trying to have a good time.