Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Chris Thile probably doesn't want to talk about it right now. End of subject. Just let it go gloaters and haters and everyone else in the middle - anyone who enjoys prodding the sufferers. He's likely been speechless for the past month, slumped into an ugly pile of disappointment and heart-brokenness all because of a silly ball team that has historically been more harm than it's worth to those devoted worshippers. Thile is the former mandolin prodigy whose first two solo albums, before he was even a teenager, bore baseball related themes (Leading Off and Stealing Second) and featured the young and well-groomed wizard proudly sporting a Chicago Cubs hat.
He fell under the spell early and has been cursed with years and years of misery and suffering. The three-game sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite owning the best record in the National League, might have destroyed this man of nimble fingers and tender voice. It's what the Cubbies will do to any man who probably considers few places as idyllic as Wrigley Field on a clear June afternoon with some supreme nachos, a couple dogs and two-fisting lukewarm Old Styles. It's the man he raised himself to become and it's what makes the demise of this once promising baseball season - on the 100-year anniversary of the last time the team had won the World Series - so paralyzing.
He's a wreck of a man, unshaven and mumbling something foul about Kosuke Fukudome and a punchless Alfonzo Soriano talking about being built for a marathon, not a sprint. It's this subject that has Thile, one of the three founding members of the genre-crossing/mostly bluegrass group Nickel Creek, tongue-tied and dejected. Don't expect it to turn into the kind of luxurious and sprawling suite of songs that he organized for his new band's latest record, Punch, an ambitious foray into dimensions of bluegrass and country that have no business being called either and that essentially is what makes the record so ambitious. For that lengthy piece of music, chopped into four movements, totaling up to nearly 43 minutes in whole, he tapped into something that was much more intimate and saddening, but ultimately something that needed to be worked out verbally and artistically.
When it comes to getting one's hopes up over a five or seven-game series during the fall nights and days when most fans have no one left to cheer for in comparison with the permanent end of a sacred promise to another person, there's really nothing to compare. Baseball is of very little importance in relationship to two people learning the hard way that they can't or shouldn't live together anymore. It's even more that they shouldn't even live near each other or accept the other's phone calls anymore. It must be like entering a void. Where Thile takes the coming to terms aspect of his failing marriage is into a leading a horse to water analogy involving two blind people, which means that there's no way that the horse will ever quench its thirst. Or the two blind people for that matter. It's a wild goose chase involving Thile's expert mandolin playing, violin, and upright bass that feels playful at times as it takes on a travel song sort of expressiveness and then when it rolls back into the desolation booth where the feathers have flown, the calls screened, the texts sneakily scanned out of jealousy and now it's just a scene of unwilling serenity. Thile and his crew settle in to this understanding all the while adding to the mood a backdraft that is more of a heated blast than a bone-chilling emptiness. It's an interesting way to deal with a divorce, but there are worse ways.
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