I first time came across Church after stumbling out of Stark’s Happy Hour with a couple of friends. Down the street they came, skipping past Western Farm Center and hanging a right into Railroad Square. It was a motley crew, held together by a few lopsided grins, an accordion (played by Kalei Yamanhoha from the Crux), clarinet, a couple of saxophones, snare drums, trombones and a big, ole’ sousaphone. They looked like a bunch of wily mutineers, the Goonies of marching bands, and as we grinned and walked towards the railroad tracks, with Church behind us on the street, we claimed them for a moment as our own personal soundtrack. As they rounded the corner onto Sixth street and headed up into the West End neighborhood, I texted my husband and said, “Look out the window, a marching band is about to pass by!” For a second, everything felt shiny and good in the world.
The next time, I literally ran (or biked) into Church while navigating through dumb Santa Rosa Plaza to get into downtown. As I approached Macy’s, the glass entrance doors burst open, and Kalei the accordionist, came barreling out, still playing his accordion, followed by a tumult of ragtag marching band hooligans, all laughing and breathless—and probably being chased by an humorless department store security guard who didn’t appreciate the charm of being serenaded in the shoe department with off-kilter Russian folk songs. The best part… Church played the theme from “Cops” on the way out the doors.
That’s the great thing about Church: you never know when they’ll perform. The last time I saw them, they were playing guerilla-style at the Tour of California “Lifestyle Festival.” They were making bank in tips, I’m sure without a permit, and I thought, “Ah, now this is a lifestyle I can get behind.” Hopefully, next time I see Church they’ll be playing the shit out of a Ratatat song on the top of Hugh Codding’s tribute arch until the damn thing rumbles down…
Here’s what they say about themselves on their Facebook page: “One rainy night the idea was formed to create a marching band of friends. Why not? Everyone we know plays music, so why not get everyone together for it? We practice hard, perform harder, and create a redonc party everywhere we go.”
And here’s the official 12 -piece line up: Jesse Shantor (Sousaphone), Gaven Hayden-Town (Baritone Saxophone), Ben Weiner (Drums), Ricky Lomeli (Drums), Zak Garn (Drums), Joey Lynch (Drums), Travis Hendrix (Clarinet), Annie Cilley (Alto Saxophone), Adam Lessnau (Trombone), Jeremy Lessnau (Melophone/Trumpet), Josh Jackson (Trumpet), Kalei Yamanoha (Accordion)
While spontaneous, surprise Church sightings are the most fun, you can see them in a more “official” capacity when they play the Arlene Francis Center on Friday, May 25. The show is a benefit to send the West County-based marching band Hubbub Club, along with Church, to this year’s HONK! festwest.
He’s one of the great singer-storytellers, and yet I’d never heard John Prine’s personal explanation of “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)” until coming across this clip from 1980, below. Watch as he drives around his old hometown, describing his job at a church, telling the story of the morning when one of the altar boys was hit by a train and pointing out all of the song’s landmarks:
“Like a long ago Sunday when I walked through… this alley, over here. On a cold winter’s morning.. to that churchhouse. Just to shovel some snow… off that sidewalk. An’ I heard sirens on that train track, over there.”
(The clip is from John Prine Live on Soundstage 1980, from Shout Factory.)
I’ve just spent the last 45 minutes on Google Maps trying to find this very church referenced above, with no luck. Prine grew up in Maywood, Ill., and the main train tracks in town run along S. 25th Ave, with some others along Main Street. Prine calls them the “Northwestern tracks.” Those are the clues. Let’s consider it one of those Andrew Sullivan “View From Your Window” contests—if you can find the church (here’s a starter), let me know.
(UPDATE: CSI pal Jake Bayless has found it! It’s the New Beginnings Christian Church at 205 S. Fifth Ave., in Maywood, about a block away from the tracks. See a Google Street View here. Thanks, Jake!)
Picking a favorite John Prine song is impossible, but when I met John Prine, once, about ten years ago, I was awkward and nervous as I explained to him that “Bruised Orange” had helped me through some very tumultuous times. I think I even quoted some lyrics back to him: “A heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.” Like he needed to hear them. But he was kind, and told me he was glad to have lent a hand.
Naturally, I’m not the only one touched by the song and its story. While writing this post, I’ve discovered that Bon Iver has recorded a version of “Bruised Orange.” It’s reverent and soaring, of course. Hear it here.