Chicago by Sufjan Stevens (Illinois)
Today is Jenny’s first day at her new consulting gig in downtown Chicago, where she will be spending three to four days a week for the rest of the year and possibly beyond.
I know next to nothing about Chicago. I have only been there once, for an evening, and spent it in a depressingly cheesy jazz club. I know they have deep-dish pizza, that the Blues Brothers and Ferris Bueler lived there, that it once burned to the ground long ago, that it was a magnet for the westward migration of Polish and German and Irish and Italian immigrants and a magnet for the northward migration of African-Americans. Martin Luther King, Jr., did poorly there. The buildings downtown were steam-cleaned in the eighties for the filming of The Untouchables. Chicago blues is an electric variety that helped create rock and roll and that has a dangerous tendency to fall into wanky self-parody. Chicago is America’s second city, and the moniker “Windy City” comes from a reference to its politicians, not its weather.
And that’s about it. Trivia, really. None of the living feel of the place. You could drop me in the middle of Jaipur or Seoul without a map and I could find my way, but I’d be hopeless in Chicago.
But like most great cities, Chicago is also a city of the mind, a target of the imagination. In “Baby are Yeng,” Nancy Jacobs and Her Sisters (about whom I could find basically no information) give South African bounce to the very African-American yearning to leave the Jim Crow South behind for better odds in the big city, in what has to be one of the catchiest tunes ever. (Via the inimitable Locust St.) And in “Chicago,” Sufjan Stevens manages to invoke both that city and New York in a story that I don’t understand, but that moves me anyway.
Jenny, I’ll miss you when you’re far away. Have fun!