Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hello! My Name Is.....

Confession time. I have a deep rooted prejudice against a particular group of people. No, no, it's not against any specific race or nationality or anything like that... er, maybe it is, but I'm certainly not stupid enough to post such revelations on my blog. No, it's against people whose names don't follow the rules of spelling and phonetics.

What the hell?

Yes. Allow me to explain. Andrew Jones is the star center fielder for the Atlanta Braves. He is clutch. He leads the National League in home runs, plays a more than decent outfield, and is probably on the top of most MVP ballots this year...assuming, of course, that they can find his name on it. You see, it's not actually spelled Andrew with an 'e.' No - it's Andruw with a 'u.' Makes perfect sense, right? Wrong. Someone should tell him that Andruw is pronounced "An-druh-wuh", and that Andrew is pronounced "An-droo." Someone slip up on the birth certificate? I'm amazed he didn't manage to spell his last name "Gouwnze." (Note: you may detect a particularly vitriolic vibe from me at the moment. It's only because I find him one of the more irritating baseball players in the game. He leads off on all the telecasts and is universally adored to the point where it's as if he's the only player in the game - the only exception to this being Barree Bawns. Now THERE'S a guy who's worthy of a general disdain. Anyway - enough ragging on poor Andruw. He's actually a pretty nice guy from what I hear, and really, it's not his fault his parents can't spell.)

Want some more? Let's stick with the sports theme - It's easy enough. Take the name Antoine, or wait.. I'm sorry, I meant Antone. Er, actually Antowain, I'm sorry. Hmmm.. hold on a sec, is it actually Antwan? Nooooo... maybe it's Antowane. Yeah, Antoine - that's it. See what I mean? These are all actual first names of players in the NBA and NFL. All of them are spelled differently, yet they all are pronounced the same way - "An - twann."

Now, I realize many of you are saying, "Jeez, you've got some nerve. It's their NAME, for Yahweh's sake. They should be able to spell/pronounce it however they see fit." Fine. This is MY next sentence. Tfegreukbv hdsbch bcbkk appdhfmlcg fdiidcgcbsm hdsgvg htd d. What do you mean you can't understand it? I thought it was perfectly clear. Would a phonetic spelling help? Here: "Pleez yooz spell chek."

Why do we insist on having rules for words in a written language, but not for proper names within a language? How could I be hypocritical enough to belittle people for the way they spell their name while writing a blog post full of grammatical errors? Why the hell am I dwelling on all of this?

Because last Thursday I went to see Sufjan Stevens at the Somerville Theatre. For the longest time, I was pronouncing his first name exactly as it's spelled - "Suf-jan." It was only after a few weeks of doing this that I was rather snobbily corrected by a member of Boston's artistic elite (a college radio DJ) who informed me that it was pronounced "Soof - yawn" (like "Poof! Gone!", I was told.) Ohhhhhhhhhh, well excuse me, Mr. Hoity-Toity musician. Next time I'll be sure to get it right. Maybe you could do us a favor and change your name to Bob for the next album. But - if it disturbs you too much artistically, please don't bother.

You see, the concert was phe-NOM-uh-null. Say what you will about the gentleman's name (in fact, I already did) but he and his accompanying band (the Illinoisemakers) provided one of the best concert experiences I've seen in the past few years.

I knew I was in for something special when I heard his new album, "Come On Feel The Illinoise." (Mr. Stevens has plans to release an album for every state in the Union - an absurdly daunting task but one I wouldn't be surprised to see him finish, oh, forty years from now.) On first listen, I got the impression that this was nice fuzzy Sunday morning breakfast music which I would normally listen to... well, during Sunday morning breakfast. I'm not a big fan of the folk genre (Peter, Paul & Cadbury...er, Mary, ruined me forever) which is what I would have pegged this album as if I hadn't given it a chance. But I did. I listened a second and third time and was slowly blown away by what I was listening to and the sheer musicianship of the entire thing. This was certainly more than some yahoo with a guitar singing protest songs and whining about the pain. In fact, it was goofy, happy, melancholy, and fun all at once. Better yet, it was just damn good, and when a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless for reasons you will see in a moment) offered me a ticket to an upcoming show I wasted little time accepting.

The show itself was a little surreal. Before it even began my friend (we'll call him Antoine) pointed to a guy in the crowd near the stage and said, "Hey, you see that guy in the brown shirt with the beard? I almost got into a drunken tousle with him at T.T. the Bears Place a couple years back. We were fighting over floor space to get a good view of the band." Ooooooh-kay. A couple minutes passed by and all of a sudden I nudge Antoine and say,

"Hey. Your man there, with the beard. He's on stage tuning up a trombone."

"So he is", Antoine replied, "he must be a roadie or something."

"He's got an odd look about him", I said. "You know those illustrated bibles you used to see in Sunday School? He looks like one of the disciples in those."

It was at this point that we started referring to him as Simon Peter, for obvious reasons, and we kept wondering what his role was on stage. Then, a few more minutes passed, the stage emptied, the lights dimmed, and the band (dressed in Illinois cheerleader outfits) came out and began to play. Not ten seconds passed before I again nudged Antoine and said, "Holy shit, dude! Simon Peter is a musician in Sufjan Stevens' band! You almost got into a fight with the friggin' trombone player. You could've ruined the album!" (As it turns out, Stevens corrected us later when he introduced the band members and informed us that the trombone players name was John. Antoine, however, rather astutely noticed that all was not lost, as John was also the name of one of the disciples, and our initial observations still proved true. We even went so far as to refer to him as "John, James' brother" as is often done in scripture (ex. "Man! James' brother, John can really play a mean trombone!" or "Look! John, James' brother switched instruments! He's playing the xylophone now.") Yes, we're dorks. No question. By the way - here's a link to a picture of the band on stage that I was lucky enough to find on a Google search. James' brother, John is the third from the right - brown shirt and beard. Sufjan is on the center mic. The photo was taken during the encore after they had changed out of their cheerleading outfits.)

The concert was exceptionally well played, and although they primarily stuck to stuff from the Illinois album, they did mix it up a little and play a tune or two off of Michigan (the release prior to Illinois.) The musicians were at the top of their game and they showed their skills by not only doing a virtual round robin with the instruments (the drummer would play the xylophone, the pianist would play trumpet, etc...) depending on the song, but improvising with those instruments as well. But above all, the music was just astoundingly full of harmony and melody that it was simply a pleasure to take it all in, poorly spelled name notwithstanding.

For those interested, I put a link to the album on the right hand sidebar. I've also included two tracks for download. The first track, Casimir Pulaski Day, is my favorite track on the album and one I've had up for several days already. I've also just put up a bonus track, Chicago, which seems to be the favorite track (or at least the most well known) of my friends who are familiar with the album. For those of you who haven't heard the album yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. Well worth a listen. Even Andruw Jones would approve.


Blogger Tim said...

Shouldn't you be more upset with these people's parents? Or are they responsible for their own misspellings once they reach age 18?

1:37 AM  

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