I visited my older son at college for Parents’ Weekend this past weekend. The trip felt strongly of shiny things, new things and unfamiliar things, as dealings with college-age kids always seem to do.
I came across one improbable detail, though, that made me think the kids at Northeastern University don’t inhabit an entirely different world from mine.
At the student union, I picked up a copy of a glossy student-run music mag called Tastemakers. It’s apparently been around a while — this was issue no. 52 — and it was full of one- to two-page essays about everything from “mumble rap” to the history of fangirl culture. Donald Glover, in his Gambino posture, was on the cover.
(How was it? The more ambitious stuff was interesting, but needed more space or research to be really good. And of course there was the inevitable clinker interview with a local singer-songwriter who didn’t seem interested in verbally presenting himself. The music speaks for him, maaaaaaaan.)
Anyway, some undergrad submitted a one-pager about horns in pop music — singing their praises as a musical element, and listing a few artists who use them. (I didn’t really think the use of horns needed an argument, but apparently samplers and/or guitars have so firmly seized center stage that horns need support.)
The writer gave four examples of groups that use horns. Three of ’em were names I recognized as being fairly hip and current.
The fourth? Chicago.
I was gobsmacked. Sure, Chicago is pretty much the example of a pop group that uses horns, but I never would have guessed anybody 20 years old knew they existed. I didn’t even think most of my fellow fortysomethings listened to them any more.
Their best work is more than 40 years behind them, and even their late-career purple patch of Diane Warren tunes is 25 years past. But here they were, being held up alongside Sufjan Stevens in by-collegians-for-collegians rockcrit.
The author even mentioned “Free,” which for my money is the great semi-forgotten Chicago single, and a song whose sharp edges just might make a first-time listener’s ears perk up a little bit.
In a world full of sounds, movies, images, ideas, listicles, podcasts, videos and sheer unending entertainment options, I doubt one long paragraph in one article in one music magazine at one college actually inspired anybody to go discover Chicago.
Still, just seeing them there, and thinking that they haven’t been completely covered over by the sands of time, was good enough for a 45-year-old raised on Robert Lamm.