Words by Sean Moller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
There's a farmhouse somewhere out amongst the harvested, chewed up and spit out corn and soybean stalks and stems just an hour north of here, near the tri-state area of northwestern Illinois, where Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin meet, with Andrew Bird's name on it. It's a place better left to the imagination. It sits, as far as anyone knows, in the general vicinity of Galena, a tiny little burg with a small river running through it and a once upon a time preponderance of Civil War generals calling it home. By the end of the war, nine of them lived in the city - including Ulysses S. Grant - and dinner guests and visitors such as Susan B. Anthony would pull into town in carriages, spending time in the valley, surrounded by massive, old trees.
Herman Melville lived there, a place where you can become - still to this day - invisible next to the handmade treats of the confectionaries, the wineries, the nonchalance, the bed and breakfasts, the Moleskine notebooks and the rural spacing. It's the place where Bird, the whistler, the philosopher, the magician, the man of mystery, should stake out a residency.
It should be where he buys his milk, hard boils his eggs, wiles his days and conceptualizes these songs of otherworldly opulence. It should be where he receives his mail. He should be sharing pithy comments with that mailman, on a sun-drenched porch, as he hands over the super saver coupons, energy bill and that week's New Yorker or something just as high brow, maybe our favorite, The Believer.
The homestead, as we believe it to be, has a detached garage, a pump house, a wide open lawn that would take an hour to push mow, some grandly hanging maple trees, a garden rife with caterpillars and rabbits, and a half mile to the next house. It should be on a gravel road, tucked so comfortably into the countryside, but it doesn't have to be. The house itself is probably warm, smells like burnt wood and feels as if you could be happy forever inside of it, never leaving, just reading the hardbound books on its shelves.
Bird and his music lend themselves to a myriad of postulations and elaborate ideas about where his music is first cradled and babied, where it's nursed and doctored. From all that can be determined through it, Bird belongs to no known stratum, but a subtext that isn't prone to easy answers. He does sneaky things with a violin and guitar. He can make his mouth and voice do impressive contortions, and all the while listening to him, you will find yourself not blinking or breathing much, just enough to get by until the next break in song.
He writes something funny below when he talks about the rural Midwest being a sleeper. He's kind of a sleeper himself, this one Andrew Bird. He makes songs that positively have wings on them - huge Big Bird wings - with massive wind-grabbing feathers that allow the songs to rise and rise and rise and then just glide down on the pockets of blue wind, just as the beady-eyed hawks do out along the road ditches near his home, looking to poach some slithery field mice below.
His latest album, Armchair Apocrypha, is all rubies and diamonds, pleasing in its cuts and refractions. It continues with his mission to make the smartest, most dressed up mists of shrewd lightning bolts - they strike you right in the temple and turn you all yellow on the inside, while leaving your outer sides the same as they always were. It's a better experience than the one that usually happens with a song, where the outside is all that's affected.