Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago
directed by Peter Pardini
starring Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, Danny Seraphine
The Chicago of my formative years never really grabbed my attention. From the mid-’80s to the early ’90s, Chicago was focused on pop ballads, and every song sounded the same. It wasn’t until I was in college and looking backwards that I discovered the early Chicago, the jazz and blues influenced “rock band with horns” that released almost an album a year during the late-60’s and 70’s. Still, while I came to appreciate the band, I was never a super fan. I was interested enough to want to know more about their history, which led me to Now More Than Ever.
The documentary, originally aired on CNN and now available on DVD, attempts to tell the tale of a band that has been going nonstop since 1968 in just over two hours. Interspersing current interviews with archival footage and interviews, we get a rough chronology of the band. As you can imagine, a lot of the story is glossed over. While we learn quickly that the original lineup of musicians from various bands wanted to stop playing cover songs and start playing originals, we never hear about their influences or why creating a rock band with a strong horn section was important to them. We are told of the awesome number of albums produced on a yearly basis, many double-length, but we only get to hear the stories behind a few of the classic songs that were produced. There is a mention of student fan base, but few details about any political activism. We get to hear about the conflict with vocalist/bassist Peter Cetera and his departure from the band at the height of their commercial success, but that is one of the few conflicts that appear in the film. Several people associated with the band declined to be interviewed, most notably Cetera.
Some of these shortcomings have been blamed on the filmmakers. Chicago is listed as a producer in the credits. The director, Peter Pardini, is the nephew of Lou Pardini, a member of the band since 2010. Certainly, this allowed for better access to the band. However, it has opened the film up to criticism that it is nothing more than an infomercial for a group that had just been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was heading out on a new tour.
While there are complaints and concerns, overall the documentary served its purpose for me. It got me interested in Chicago, beyond occasionally listening to “25 or 6 to 4” on the classic rock station. More than anything, it has opened my eyes to the talent of original guitarist Terry Kath. Described by several as the soul of the original lineup, Kath was a songwriter, arranger, and vocalist in addition to being an amazingly underrated guitarist. The tale of his rise and untimely death by self-inflicted gun-shot is the most moving part of the film. Hearing his band mates talk about Kath is enough for me to recommend anyone who is curious about Chicago to check this documentary out. If you are a super fan, most of this will be old news to you. If you do not care about Chicago at all, feel free to skip this disc. Otherwise, give it a look.