In One Wind
Land of Leland
Names of War
Pony of Good Tidings
The Swooshy Businessman by The Building
| The Swooshy Business Man
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1. ...Twenty Years
2. For The Millionth Time
3. Feel My Love
4. Heard The News
5. Heard The News II
6. Ethel Merman
7. More Like My Old Man
8. This Is Not About You And It Never Was
9. Did I Tell You
10. Patrick's Flame
11. About To Go
12. There Was A Time
13. Believe In Us Now
14. We Had It All
16. Twenty Years...
“In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it…”
-C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
In trying to write something descriptive about the music and presentation of The Building, everything past the above excerpt seems superfluous. The passage in bold is so significant that it is included in the album artwork, seemingly summing up the entire album’s message in a couple of phrases. So, why write any further? Why bother with the details? We could leave it with this powerful and historic introduction and let the music and listener explain the rest, but this album’s details and narrative were not meant to be an interpretation. They are declarations, convictions, social and geographical examinations of the importance of experience and memory and their influences. Not only would it be foolish to put the weight of explaining all that into someone else’s indirect quote (although a man from Belfast, where the Titanic was built/and industry raised and lost, isn’t a bad stand-in) it would be lazy. The goal here is to provide a complete context for experiencing this album from the same point of view from which it was created.
My brother Angelo and I are from the former steel manufacturing city of Youngstown, Ohio. Being born in the 80’s we never had first hand experience of the city’s glorious history and pride, but instead through family and an economically depressed downtown, saw what a decade of bad leadership can do. We’ve been making music together since we were young, under various names, most recently as The Building. The name comes from searching for a word or phrase that could convey the idea of something which had been previously prosperous but fallen into decay and is now at a moment where it can either stay the same or be revived or fixed. This image is central to almost every aspect of the work we make. It describes our hometown, our father, our relationships, and reminds us of this reoccurring theme and what a difficult decision it is to make the changes necessary to rebuild these things. Sometimes people ignore this decision and pretend that nothing is wrong. Angelo and I call the personification of this state, or this way of living The Swooshy Businessman.
When most people hear the album title, they laugh. Which is fair enough. It is a funny pairing of words that have a funny origin. We came up with it to describe an outfit our dad would wear to work which was assembled of nylon athletic pants (“swooshy pants” as we call them), one of those ribbed t-shirts guys wore in the late 90’s, and a suit coat. The ensemble is pulled together by a fresh pair of Asics. But the outfit is more than just a funny brotherly joke, rather a signifier of what was happening in our dad’s life at that point and why he was dressed that way. He’s had MS for many years and been very fortunate to have it progress very slowly, maintaining a significant amount of mobility and independence until recently. He ran a computer consulting business, so he wore a suit to work. But as MS limited his fine motor skills, pieces of the suit fell away. It got hard to tie a tie, button the top button of his shirt, or fasten his pants. So he trades out suit pants for swooshy pants, and while seated at his desk, looks dressy enough, if not even hip-ly casual.
It was a cover up. It wasn’t done with a tone of, “I’m struggling, but this works for me.”, but as a way to say that nothing was wrong. He was still driving at this point, in his light blue ’89 Volvo 240GL. I was in the car with him when he got pulled over for having a taillight out and learned that evening that he hadn’t had a valid driver’s license for 11 years, never renewing in an impressive attempt to avoid the inevitable eye exam that would surely prevent him from ever getting a license. MS was affecting his vision as well as his cane-assisted walking, which had slowed to a glacial balancing act. We let him try to get a new license, but he never passed and we helped him realize his driving days were over.
Angelo started driving the Volvo, the cane got replaced by a walker, and the building our dad had owned and run his business out of got bought by the bank. While it seems like a tragic series of events, maybe they are better described as forced improvements. Our dad was disabled, despite not letting himself believe it, and in no place to own a car or a business. None of this is to be said in a way that paints him as a bad man. He just was making bad decisions, or ignoring simple ones.
The Swooshy Businessman is more than just a fashion choice, it is a mythology, used the same way Richard Brautigan uses the phrase Trout Fishing In America. As we got older and began experiencing adulthood as men with relationships we became acutely aware of our father’s actions and history. We began recognizing a similar pattern in men in our lives, both family and friends. The world was full of Swooshy Businessmen! Youngstown had become the motherland of Swooshy Business once the steel industry left in the 70’s. That era of the city had become the town’s identity and sense of pride and self worth, and when it left, people either lost those two vital things or they just waited for them to reappear. The city was clinging to a past which had little chance of ever returning; preventing it from moving forward, and the gap left from the loss of the steel industry was never filled. It was the only identity the population there had known. The same way that the car and the business and his health had been our father’s identity. It takes a very strong man to not place his self worth on these fleeting things.
There’s a song on the record called “Patrick’s Flame”. It’s about me and Angelo trying to be that strong and good man, and most of the time failing. The song explains the importance of change and self-transformation; how waiting for the right time to improve or change or perform will result in nothing, just wasted time. That’s pretty much what all the songs are about. The unemployed in “Leavittsburg”, the divorce in “Feel My Love”, the divorce in “Heard The News”, the young man in “More Like My Old Man”, the twenty years in “Twenty Years”. They are all there to tell us, “THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU AND IT NEVER WAS!”
This is why we include the secondary title to the album, The Swooshy Businessman – The Wilderness Period. This is our time figuring it out for ourselves, making those same mistakes, ignoring advice. That’s why we ordered the songs on the album in this cyclical way, trying to have it repeat forever, because these things always repeat. Cities and industries will rise and fall. Bodies will decay. You will think you know what’s best for yourself. You will likely put yourself at the center of your world. But you will be wrong, and hopefully you will realize it.