Local H frontman Scott Lucas | Photo by Wade Hawk
Updated: October 19, 2012 6:11AM
Our new record, “Hallelujah! I’m A Bum,” has the Chicago Blue Line all over it. Literally. Before the first note of the first song, the very first sound you hear is the glorious rumble of the elevated Blue train — well, that and the sound of a few stray (not literally) dogs barking. What you’re hearing is the first sound I’ve heard every day for the last 15 years, provided I was waking up in my own bed.
Ever since I moved to Chicago, I’ve almost always had a bedroom window next to an elevated train. First it was the Red Line at Wrigley Field — stumbling distance from Smart Bar. At first I wasn’t sure if I could co-exist with the behemoth of the CTA (much less the Cubs). How would I sleep? Wouldn’t I be awakened at steadily shrinking intervals, culminating in the cacophony of commuters that is rush hour? I would soon learn that the opposite was true. I told myself to think of the sound of the L as the sound of waves crashing on the beach. Maybe it was just some form of self-hypnosis, but I began to find the racket very calming. In fact, before long I didn’t have much of a chance of catching any ZZZZs without it. It was as if the train had become my own personal, city-tax funded white-noise machine.
But once the “Wap. Wap. Ohhhh!!!!” sound of neighborhood bozos playing bags (or cornhole, if you prefer) had started to permanently mingle with the wash of train-track tidal waves, I decided that I couldn’t hack it and had to abandon the Red Line. I flew to the relative safety of Wicker Park and the Blue Line with its chorus of crazies roaming the alleys and trash Dumpsters (well, at least they didn’t wear khakis and behave like frat boys). So, I figured I’d stay. I pretended to the Realtor that the train next to the building was “kind of a problem” and never let on about my public transit habit. A couple thousand may have been knocked off the asking price, and I was thrown to the briar patch, where I remain to this day.
For the new record, I didn’t just want to have a song ABOUT mass transit and commuters (although there IS that; a tune called “Blue Line,” naturally) — I wanted to have the actual sounds integrated into the record. That massive trembling roar above your head when you walk under the tracks. The barely discernible sound of a standing train being broken by that clanging “BING! BONG!” followed by a booming pre-recorded voice informing you of the “NEXT STOP.” Even the small animal-like screeching of steel on steel that morphs into a claustrophobic tornado that is the bane of every Chicagoan just trying to get! home! after a long day downtown (the dark side of the commute, if you will).
I wanted a real tangibility to this record. And frankly, I’m not talented enough to relay the experience in lyrics. The only way to really capture it was to have you listen to what I’ve been listening to all these years. Sounds that I’ll continue to listen to, and which may always be a part of my life. Sounds that, like musician John Cale’s “planing lakes,” always seem to calm me down.
Scott Lucas donated his fee for writing this column to the National Association for Down Syndrome (NADS). Local H is performing at the Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, tonight at 8 p.m.