On the architecture and urban forums, Prentice is all the rage. If you are from Chicago, you do not even have to be a fan of architecture to know to what I am referring. Northwestern and the mayor have endorsed tearing down the masterpiece by Bertrand Goldberg that saw the births of thousands of children.
With economic malaise and an overbuilt environment, Chicago is rarely changing character these days even if there is new construction along the Drive. And though I am no fan of the design, I hardly see any reason to tear down a whimsical Seuss like building, which gives this far too angular city some of its character. (For those who have heard my feelings on the matter….yes I have changed my mind.)
Melissa Pierson could lament what planners and architects consider a lesser loss, a hamburger stand in Akron Ohio where her world began. At a place called Garner’s a young woman said yes to a young man’s question and sometime later, Pierson was born in the equivalent of her Prentice. Her lament was not so much about the built environment, but the story to which it is attached, which lost a visual marker.
This brings me to Untitled, a song by Chicago’s The Damn Choir. In Gordon Robertson’s mature love lost lyrics, the landmarks remain, but the story changes. It is a lamenting song for anyone who knows a place can be a beautiful and sad geography. The subject of the song boards the el and looks out the window. Inside, he must be thinking they could tear down the likes of Prentice and the entire town as far he is concerned as much as thinking that he would want to just wake up one morning to a day a year back with the city frozen in time and in the presence of love. In the absence of this, though all we get is the ennui of a place “that is not right.” It is not a song for a depressing day, unless despair is what you are after or if you feel it is “a good day for bad weather.” (The song makes even more of Chicago’s increasing cold as an analogy for lost love than as it does for a geography losing and changing meaning.)
It is getting cold, though this week Chicago gets a reprieve and it is suppose to be in the fifties and mostly sunny through Thanksgiving. Tonight the city turns the lights to Michigan Avenue on and driving up Clark yesterday I saw merchants decorating the Andersonville tree, evergreens twisted around the lamp posts and the Holy Family taking their place at Gethsemane. If the witch of November has to claim the lake and the white witch seek to rule the city, then why not have as much Christmas as one can.
Then there was the holiday music on the radio. It seemed too early and I am not inclined to listen to these until December, but I do make a couple of exceptions. I will listen to Handel and “Jesus Christ is the Apple Tree” all year and I will do the same for a contemporary piece by the Pretenders that is infinitely more affirming than “Untitled.”
“2000 Miles” is a song meant for James Honeymoon-Scott, but for most who listen to it, it is the anthem of lovers who drive or fly those vast distances through the snow and cold to see one another at Christmas. I make no apologies for loving this song, but I do admit one more wistful lyric and it would go “over the top.”
For me the song evokes only 300 miles of geography, but one that has often been travelled during the holidays gripping the wheel alone in the late night watching for patches of ice while thinking of the Christmas tree in my parent’s living room or the luminaries lining the walk to Emanuel parish.
In both “Untitled” and “2000 Miles” there is the cold and the unspoken desire for days of wine and roses, though one song laments the loss of the thing and the other builds toward its expectation.
It is growing colder. Soon the “snow will be general.” And though I will listen to depressing music on occasion and not turn on Christmas music for a couple of more weeks, I can see the white witch has failed to take the city. And a whimsical hospital that saw thousands of days that became holy to families may come down and soon the manger become a parking lot, but the season is approaching and the white witch has not won. There are evergreens in Andersonville, there are trees in Hyde Park decorated for the healing of the nations. They are a reminder that the despair of “Untitled” is not what is most real about life and a reminder that there is a love story even greater than “2000 Miles”…. a love story followed by a Passion that dims all the great passions of this vast great earth.
It is colder and there is still much despair, but very soon there will be lights on trees and music to say despair cannot have the day. Very soon, the universal story must have its particulars. We will drive our 2000 miles and hang up wreaths or better still place them on tables ringed by candles. We will do what we can to lessen the despair of those dispossessed of joy, say prayers, and be with one another until that day when all will be one with another, the reflection of which is cast in the soon to be season.
Image: Chicago’s Women’s Prentice Hospital, Creative Commons license by Uncommon Fritillary