By: Derek Spencer
Geoffrey Glenn, singer & guitarist of Chicago-based folk rock group Simpleton & Cityfolk, leans forward against a metal railing, looking out over the flat rural Illinois landscape. We find ourselves atop the only hill in the area, a location Glenn selected for this rendezvous. He’s wearing dark denim, a loose-fitting flannel, and work boots but still somehow manages to look like he dressed up for the occasion. His focus on the distance is only disrupted by my own fumbling as I light a cigarette against the autumn, downstate wind. His disgust at my habit is evident, yet unspoken, and in this moment I begin to consider his band’s name, not as a dichotomy, but as a pair of synonyms: I am clearly the Cityfolk, but perhaps I am also the Simpleton.
Glenn’s toned forearms flex as he pushes himself away from the railing. His band members can be heard shouting below as they play in the field, but he pays them no mind and lends them no smile. He looks me in the eye; I suspect he’s waiting for the chance to defend himself against another predatory hipster music journalist. I laugh, doing my best to diffuse the tension, and yet Glenn’s strong brow holds the terse energy firmly in place.
We have the same haircut, but he wears it better than I do. The shaved sides of my head indicate a styled goal, a certain boyish aspiration, whereas Glenn’s angular and meticulous cut seem to present him as both a man of practicality and of well-earned maturity. In this moment, I imagine him as my father, and then I don’t anymore.
The first words we exchange are of little consequence; I ask him about the band, their musical inspirations, the progress they’ve made in the Chicago rock scene, and what he sees down the road for his musical career. He answers each question with a McCarthian precision: complete with short, poignant remarks and winding passages of poetic insight.
As he’s halfway through a story concerning Simpleton & Cityfolk’s most recent tour down the eastern seaboard, I finally work up the courage to confront him. “Geoff,” I say “why do you hate me?”
Glenn spits and then glares up at me. “I hate any man,” he growls “that doesn’t understand the world he’s living in. Doesn’t dig his hands into the soil each morning just to check that the earth is still there. Can’t tune his guitar by ear or utilize the acoustic properties of an abandoned barn. I hate men who are used to concrete slabs beneath their feet and accept neon to be a part of our natural color-pallet. And, with this hill as my witness, I cannot bear to answer the delicate questions of a man so far removed from his origin, from the grass and the flora and the expansive sky, from his own mother earth.” At that, he turns to leave.
“And yet here you are,” I say, not missing a beat, dropping my cigarette into the earth and smothering it dead with my foot. My words spin his body around: “talking to me anyways. I didn’t hunt you down Geoff. You sought me out. You can stand on your hill spouting your Americana dogma, but you asked for this review. Dammit, the world is changing– fuck that– the world has changed. It changed and left you and your band behind in the dust. The concrete jungle was erected over a century ago; there’s no one left out here in country except baboons picking at each other’s asses.”
I’ve hurt him. He doesn’t show it in his face, but the silence trickling from his mouth tells the whole story. I quickly pull out some notes from my back pocket, eager to capitalize on this new found vulnerability.
“In a song off of your latest EP, you wrote the line: take us to the days where there was nothing to hold us back but the roads. What’s that supposed to mean?” He breaks eye contact and looks down. No response.
“No? Well how about: we get lost inside our heads, we get so lost, we are who we want to be, we’re lonely and free, we run on our way out, so lets all go downtown.”
“I wrote that song,” he finally replies, softer than before, “when I was having a tough time with some anxiety issues. It’s about letting go of your hang-ups and over-analyzing thoughts and just having a good time.” Gregg is shaking. We are finally getting somewhere.
“And this one?” I ask. “The line: breaking bottles on the floor, cause I’m a ghost. we’re just ghouls and ghost, with no remorse, we’re just ghouls and ghosts, and you’re home alone.”
“Stop!” he unexpectedly shrieks. “This interview is over. It’s too personal. I’m done here.” There’s a tear in his eye as he turns around to leave for the second time. I smile a bit as I untuck my shirt, revealing the tattoo ghost on my stomach. He turns back to me and we lock eyes briefly before he stares down at the spooky image. We embrace and weep, but then quickly begin to remove all of our clothes. His hair starts to turn green. I remove my last article and we wordlessly take off, sprinting down the hill. The setting sun re-rises to illuminate our paths. His band members can be heard making animal noises, can be seen taking flight over our heads. The wind is behind us and the sun illuminates every crevice of our bodies. I look down at my hands, which are moving so fast they are becoming translucent. Everything is green. A child’s face appears in the sun, which grows larger with every step we take. Worms are clinging to our feet and everything is green. We are lit up like fireflies, like Christmas trees, like the full moon. We reach the sun, grasp it, and fade into space. A woman’s voice yells jubilantly, “Wild Hearts Cannot Be Broken” as we disappear entirely. Everything is green.