It’s difficult to imagine anyone left on the face of the planet (already familiar with the man’s work, that is) who isn’t aware that singer/songwriter John Wesley Harding and critically acclaimed novelist Wesley Stace are one and the same. Henceforth, he has announced that he will record under the name Wesley Stace, and hopefully never again be asked why he assumed the name of a 1967 Bob Dylan album, misspelling and all. “It’s like what happens at the end of a Spider-Man or a Batman movie,” says Stace. “When the superhero reveals his true identity to his girlfriend.” “Girlfriend” may be the operative word on Stace’s new album, Self-Titled (Yep Roc), in which a 47-year-old man, now comfortably married and living in Philadelphia, reflects back over the loves of his younger life. Stace will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new feature on him.
Stace: Chicago have been making me really happy all summer. I never heard much of their music in England when I was growing up, except “If You Leave Me Now,” which was ubiquitous and, in all fairness, seemed enough to turn anyone off (though now I find it to be one of the most beautifully arranged pieces of pop: the guitar solo alone. Anyway … )
So imagine my surprise to find myself in a car a year or so ago with a friend who is trying to “interest” me in Chicago, by highlighting their progressive tendencies. In a remarkable piece of timing, this incident came hot on the heels of an all-night hang in San Francisco where another friend played me some endlessly fascinating guitar dueling on an album, whose name (or, more pertinently, number) I couldn’t remember, but whose enormous accompanying poster I could not forget. Back to the car: I was digging Terry Kath’s guitar solo, when the driver said, with admiration: “You wait! He’s about to put the wah-wah pedal on!” And he did; and, lo, it really was great. That’s on “25 Or 6 To 4,” a title that didn’t baffle me for a second: Can it really be the cause of debate? If you think of the time as being either 3.34 (or 3.35) a.m., there’s no mystery. So what if the lyric is “Getting up to splash my face” and it’s the worst line of all time? We just have to move beyond that.
My first solo Chicago foray was the debut, Chicago Transit Authority, which really is weird by the way, almost avant garde—one track of guitar wanking, another which just seems to be 10 minutes of percussion—but full of great singles. Then it blossomed from there, until now, when you can hear “Feelin’ Stronger Everyday,” “Questions 67 And 68” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” all for the same quarter on my jukebox.
I know you’re probably bored of these songs, because you heard them way too much on the radio and then you got into different music anyway, but I’ve had such pleasure as a complete newcomer. It’s great when the music’s there just waiting for you. Two thoughts: Avoid Chicago IV (Live At Carnegie Hall)—the sound is gruesome, though the posters and other inserts are amazing (as is the fact that the first two and a half minutes of side one are just … nothing but audience noise and the odd apologetic announcement). Instead get Live In Japan, which is crystal clear and extremely wonderful. Also, whatever they say about the guitars—which are great—it’s Pankow’s horn arrangements that kill me. Perhaps that’s obvious to everyone: I’ve never read a single word about Chicago and don’t know who’s singing what.
Also, listen to the intro of “Questions 67 And 68”: Obviously it’s very long, too long, to the point of being humorous (it’s edited on almost all singles), and totally awesome, but just try coming in with the singing at the right point (unless you know it inside out; then it’s easy.) Even when it’s finally time for the singer to make his grand entrance, the band throws an odd extra beat in there to put him off a little.
Video after the jump.