Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Guess Who, "These Eyes"

In August of 2000 I moved from Chicago to Champaign-Urbana to start my doctoral program. While that was in this century, it feels like a million years ago. Back then radio still mattered, but it was in the midst of being strangled to death by ClearChannel in the wake of 1996 Telecommunications Act. The local radio in Champaign included a fine NPR station, but it was all talk (literally). At that time the college radio station was a godawful imitation of the "alternative" station in Chicago, complete with Limp Bizkit and shock jocks. (Thankfully that would change in a couple of years.) I ended up really digging the local oldies station, since their playlist still seemed formed by local whims, rather than a megacomputer in the Texas desert sending songs via satellite.

One song they played a lot was "These Eyes" by The Guess Who. This was a band I'd usually associated with their later, harder rocking incarnation with barn burners like "American Woman." I really took a shine to this song, which was also on the CD jukebox (remember those?) of my local bar, The Embassy. I had a friend who loved the song too, and every Friday happy hour our gang would get together at The Embassy and drink $6 pitchers of Leinenkugel and eat tasty sandwiches, my favorite being the grilled tuna steak.

The Embassy was a strange combination of bar types. There was occasional live music, but no stage. Undergrads never set foot in there, which was a big part of the attraction, but the beer selection was extremely basic. The walls had tasteful exposed brick, and it was a clean place while still maintaining a dive bar's soul. It did not countenance rowdiness; a friend of mine got cut off once after drunkenly knocking over his half-finished beer bottle. The aforementioned jukebox was heavy on good soul music and cheap to boot. Between my friend and I, "These Eyes" got a lot of spins.

I'm still not quite sure what attracts me to this song. I do have a kind of inexplicable love for the baroque pop of the late 1960s, which also explains my love of the Bee Gees' music of the era. I'm also a sucker for melancholy pop songs, and there's not enough good ones nowadays. All pop music seems to be about partying and self-affirmation. The whole Top 40 sounds like Reagan-era propaganda these days, no matter if the music itself is more daring than it was twenty years ago. "These Eyes" is also helped by Burton Cummings' -aka the Canadian Jim Morrison- passionate vocals. Sure, it's schmaltzy as all get out, he makes me believe it just enough to get lost in the song.

Nowadays I mostly listen to it for the memories of beer, food, friends and fun, and of a comfy little bar that is sadly no more.

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