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All The Love His Heart Could Bring

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 20, 2006 7:44PM

2006_06_ellison.jpgIt was ten years ago today that Jim Ellison, lead singer/songwriter of the great Chicago power pop band Material Issue, committed suicide at the age of 31, ending one of the most influential and heartfelt careers of any Chicago musician.

In a previous post, we said “not since the Undertones’ “More Songs About Chocolate and Girls” had a band ever released such a concise sonic mission statement as MI’s International Pop Overthrow album.” Three chords never sounded so powerful, while the lyrics contain more universal truths than a hundred holy books. Though a tough act to follow, the criminally-out-of-print Destination Universe carried that torch further with songs like “What Girls Want,” “Girl From Out of This World” and “Next Big Thing.” The group’s Freak City Soundtrack and Telecommando Americano both contain little-heard gems.

In a brilliant post on his Pop Machine blog, the Tribune’s Mark Caro states that Material Issue doesn’t get the airplay or notoriety afforded some of Chicago’s other well-known 90s rock acts. But ask Chicago rock fans of a certain age—they’ll be slightly older now than Ellison was when he died—about Material Issue and watch a knowing smile of recognition creep across their faces. They’ll start to chatter excitedly about their favorite song or a show they saw. Simply put, this was not a band that people “enjoyed” or “listened to.” This was a band that people loved. And Ellison was its Romantic heart.

The band’s influence is still felt today whenever the International Pop Overthrow fest hits town or a few local kids pick up guitars and start singing about girls. For Chicagoist, the death of Jim Ellison still makes us sad and wistful.

Until we listen to “Diane,” that is. Then we get this knowing smile across our faces.