Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sufjan Stevens - Opie's Funeral Song (live at Judson College)

Sufjan Stevens - "Opie's Funeral Song" (live at Judson College)

Judson College: no, not the Alabama women's college. Or actually, yes, that would be the one and only Judson College today, now that the Elgin, Illinois school has rechristened itself as Judson University. It'll always be Judson College to me, having spent three years there and more of my parents' money than I feel comfortable thinking about. Founded in 1963, it's spent the past 45 years trying to establish itself as a reputable institution within the greater Midwest clusterfuck of Christian colleges. I can't speak for it now, but as of the turn of the century, I'm not really sure that it should even have been accredited.

Not that this backwater school doesn't serve its purposes. It's the only Christian college in the country to offer a master's degree in architecture. Interested students should appreciate Judson's devotion to the architecture program over the past decade. After all, they've been more than willing to get pretty much every other department at the school to make sacrifices for it. The philosophy and theater majors weren't so lucky, as their programs were simply scrapped. Maybe billionaire Carl Lindner -- former owner/CEO of Chiquita, and Judson's biggest benefactor -- was saving his cash for RNC donations and 527 committee contributions instead? He'd have more of it to share if his company hadn't been paying millions to terrorist groups in Columbia to squash unionization and worker dissent in the fields. Not that Judson could be bothered by such petty charges.

Judson's also great for any students who couldn't get into Wheaton and don't mind settling for a third-tier safety school. Guys who dream of finding a nice Christian wife who'll help them host a twentysomethings couples Bible study after graduation. Teetotaler frat boys. Girls trapped in an eternal church youth group lock-in of the mind, mentally stunted at 9th grade. Respectable young women looking to earn their MRS degree. Anyone who thinks Catholism and Christianity are different religions. Anyone with no interest in any social issues beyond stopping abortion. Hardly anyone was really "political" while I was there but I shudder to imagine what it's like today.

It should go without saying, no drinking, no smoking, no dancing. At least there was no real dress code, but when you've got people walking around campus in their pajamas all day, maybe it's time to institute one. Nothing to do on campus, just a cramped student center with a large-screen TV and a broken foosball table. Intramural sports, no real clubs or activities to speak of. The radio station literally broke down a year or two before I arrived and was never revived, despite the promises of faculty. The student newspaper was shut down during my senior year. I shouldn't even get started about that.

Only a handful of concerts held at Judson were big enough to be held in the gymnasium. Caedmon's Call, Plumb, and the sonic holocaust of FFH were the biggest shows I remember. Smaller concerts were held in the chapel. The attendance at the Justin McRoberts show I saw was so small, I was embarassed for the man, but drawing these small shows was never the aim of the school or the powerless concert committee. Cheesy Christian rock drew the youth groups in by the vanload and helped recruit potential students. Whitebread CCM brought aging alumni back onto campus, and helped remind them that their donations were always appreciated. It wasn't until a few months after I left the school for my internship that the concert committee was motivated enough to bring a decent band onto campus. Duvall played their last show of 2002 there in late November. Surprisingly, they drew a good crowd.

It wasn't until this year that I found out about another show I'd missed after graduating that December, one which took place a year later. Denison Witmer headlined in the chapel: an unlikley enough booking in itself as Witmer has never been a card-carrying member of the rank-and-file Christian rock society. Maybe he played at Cornerstone or something, but radio and retail have never paid him any attention. But opening for Witmer... Sufjan Stevens! Or as people probably recounted after the show, "That guy with the banjo, John Stephens?"

Somehow, this appearance was recorded and uploaded somewhere on the Internet, and seems to be one of Stevens' most-shared pre-Illinois sets. And we all know what happened after that album. His appearance should go down in history as the most notable event at Judson since Michael Medved's chapel appearance, Gary Bauer's graduation speech, or the performance of local band Your Mom in the Ohio Hall basement.

No comments: