Thursday, September 03, 2009

Nice to Meet You #20 - Blessid Union of Souls

My students asked me on Friday if I was planning on going to the first football game of the season, and I told them no. It had nothing to do with the fact that my high school’s football team has not been particularly successful the last two or six years (honestly, it didn’t), but that I already had plans to attend a free Blessid Union of Souls concert that evening.

“Who?” my students asked.

“Blessid Union of Souls,” I said, and then sang a little sample of “I Believe” and “Hey Leonardo” thinking that would be enough to snap them into understanding. The melodies were entirely unfamiliar to the lot of them. Blank stares across the room, maybe one or two admitting that the second song sounded kinda familiar. I started to get upset, but then remembered that most of my high school sophomores were born in 1994, which was after “I Believe”became a humongous hit.

Sigh.

My buddy Kevin, who was responsible for bringing the band to his venue, had similar issues with his workers, most of whom had never heard the songs, either. They were all born between 1988 and 1991, making it slightly less excusable but infinitely more depressing that they’d be completely ignorant of two mega-hits like those. The one-and-two-hit wonders of my era are falling by the wayside, ladies and gentlemen, and this means that I am officially old. Do you realize how huge “Hey Leonardo” was back in high school? It literally was that song you couldn’t go 30 minutes tuned into a top-40 radio station without hearing it seven times, and there I was in the second row of a free concert by these guys.

I remember working at Dairy Queen and hearing that song all the time, either while I was assembling burgers in the heat of a busy lunch or later on in the evening, when all us employees would be wiping things down and putting foodstuffs back in the cooler. At that age—at any age, really—we envision the bands making hit records for the radio as some untouchable gang of golden gods sitting atop throans of fresh fruit, golden goblets, and nude women somewhere in Hollywood. And if you’re Aerosmith or Green Day that’s probably true. But for all those other groups—not just Blessid Union but Lit, Stroke 9, Papa Roach, and scores upon scores of others—life is probably only like that for a year or two. Three if you’re lucky. Then the hype dies, their new songs get lamer, and the mass public stops caring. When that comes to fruition they’re just guys like you and me.

And that, I think, is part of why I enjoyed the free concert so much. I worked in that venue as a sound guy for two-and-a-half years, so it also sort of felt like home to me. The warm and fuzzy ambiance of that room always appeals to performers, which means that music shows always are excellent. “I Believe” was flawless, folks. Eliot Sloan (the lead singer) hasn’t lost it one bit. He’s lost the dreadlocks to late-30s male-pattern balding, but the voice is still there. Just him and a keyboard and 400 people listening. Very moving.

I learned on this night that he wrote that song at 3 in the morning, still awake and upset because his old gal-pal Lisa had recently dumped him because her father sort of made her. The last verse he sang live—which I hadn’t heard before—implied that it had something to because he was a black guy from the streets. The song itself is so positive, and that’s why it’s easy to get behind these guys as a band. It’s all good stuff. She likes me for me, and so on…

They’ve got a song called “The Light in Your Eyes” that has always been my favorite tune of theirs, which they slowed down a little in a live setting (it was an acoustic set, after all), but I didn’t care. It was a gorgeous version. They closed with “Hey Leonardo,” which Sloan said was written to be a ballad. At first it was intended to be this slow, lovely love song, but the producers had the idea to speed it up and make the beat a little more cathcy. The band—Sloan specifically—fought that idea to the “bitter end,” as he put it, apparently still upset that the song wasn’t what he intended and now he has to close every damn concert he ever does with it, but admitted he had a hard time being too made because the end result was a top ten record that probably accounted for about 40% of the money those guys have ever earned as musicians.

I had previously heard three of the 20 or so songs that Blessid Union performed that night, but it was a really nice and intimate show. Definitely worth my time (especially considering the football time got crushed by four touchdowns), even if only for the music alone. But what would a “Nice to Meet You” piece be without an actual meeting?

After the show Kevin hooked me up with a poster and a silver Sharpie, and all four guys in the band signed autographs for me. I definitely felt like I was twelve hounding some annoyed celebrity for the signature, but whatever. When am I ever going to see those guys again? Took a picture with the gang, too, and the guys were all very nice. Especially the bassist, who if I’m being honest had this creepy raper face all during the show, but he ended up being the most amiable of the bunch.

My little brother, who worked for Kevin too once upon a time, met Blessid Union at a showcase conference once, and he and Craig mentioned to these guys that they were going to do “Hey Leonardo” for a cover band contest. They were really pumped out it and actually checked their tour schedule to see if they’d be in the area around the time of the show. They apparently were considering stopping by to help Kyle and Craig with their performance. I’m pretty sure they won anyway, but I have to think that certainly would’ve solidified it.

And Kevin, who’s worked with Blessid Union on a couple of occasions, relayed to me one cool story from when he accompanied the guys to a bar after one year’s showcase. Sloan, the lead singer, asked the karoake DJ to pop in the instrumental version of “I Believe” and then tore the place up. Because most people have no idea that the lead singer of Blessid Union is a black guy, nobody made the connection that it was actually him. There more than a few comments, though, that went something like, “Boy, that guy sounds just like the real dude!”

So yeah, my students have no idea who these guys are, but does that change the awesomeness that they represent in my own life? I mean, I’ve got absolutely zero appreciation for Prince and The Police from a pop culture standpoint because I was either too young and not alive to have experienced it. I think I know “When Doves Cry,” but I wouldn’t recognize any other Prince song, especially if my English teacher tried singing it for me. You know, if I had an English teacher.

I’m old now. So what? It was going to happen someday. Now I get to look forward to having children of my own that grow up and listen to crap I’ll never understand. Meanwhile I’ll still be bumping Blessid Union and all the other delicious music from the ‘90s that the next generation won’t care two squirts of pee about.

They’ll be like, “Dad, have you heard the new song by the Silver Monkey Weasels?”

And I’ll look back at them blankly and ask, “Who?”

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