Thursday, August 22, 2013

My Kinda Town?

It has now been twenty years since I moved to the north side of Chicago.  I made the move to go to school, where I did a poor job pretending to be a student.  Not many were fooled.  I lived for a brief two quarters of a trimester— wrongly labeled as such— in a dormitory before officially joining a group of bohemian idiots in a ramshackle apartment.  I was underemployed at that time and, within a year, unemployed.  It’s not fun to be unemployed in Chicago, but I still managed to smoke and drink and eat in diners.  I was young and foolish.  And now I am old and happier than I was then, but I can’t help but feel that the city is just not the same. 

I spent much of 1993 in awe of Chicago.  I loved the used bookstores on Lincoln Avenue, four within a short walk from each other, only one still standing.  I loved Wax Trax Records, which disappeared right as I arrived, and Lounge Ax, which closed a few years later.  And I loved the Red Lion Pub, which closed not long ago and has reopened elsewhere to relative glory.  I loved walking around Lincoln Park and Lakeview and, when I got a bit bolder, Uptown.  I would take the train to the Loop after hours and stare at the glass and steel.  I sat in cafés drinking refill after refill, trying my best to understand Dostoyevsky. 

I was so young!

Everything was exciting.  I was a kid from the suburbs.  I had grown up with the idea that the city (not the southwest part where I spent a lot of my time, but the north side) was this thing that existed very close to me yet was still foreign.  I wanted very much to be a part of it, to live a cultured life, to make my way in this urban setting that seemed so romantic. 

And twenty years have passed.  I’m older and, I like to think, wiser.  Today, Chicago looks ugly and cruel.  Sometimes obnoxious.  I hate the kids in my neighborhood who are merely doing what I once did: acting like college kids, reveling in their freedom, drinking and laughing and sharing the books and music and movies they think are important.  I hate them when they jaywalk.  I accelerate and honk my horn, hoping to scare them, demanding that they respect the rules of the road.  I hate their naïveté.  I hate that they respond to the city with the joy I used to know.

I hate that the last mayor fucked the city over with a parking meter deal so absurd Beckett could not have imagined it.  

I hate the crime.  Twenty years ago the city was more dangerous, but the crime now feels so intense.  It must be because I'm older and more aware of my mortality, but I react to each terrible news item with a sadness that I never felt in my twenties.  When I wrongly romanticized Chicago, I understood that crime was just part of the package.  Now I see it is as depressing, hideous, desperate.  I hate the reactions that the rest of the country has, the fucking stories everyone outside the city reads, the ones that make them think the city is a warzone.  I hate the way people characterize Chicago as a wasteland of political corruption and gangland horror.  I hate that they aren’t 100% wrong. 

I hate how much the city has changed. 

I know two things:

1.     I have changed as I’ve aged, so it is logical that I won’t feel the same as I did twenty years ago;
2.     No city ever stays frozen in time (maybe Havana), so it’s logical that my favorite bars, bookstores, and record shops will have closed.

I accept these truths but I don’t like them. 

Not long ago, I walked down Clark Street near Fullerton, a corner I used to visit regularly.  I don’t get around there much for various reasons, but in the time since I last went by I noticed that my old diner, The Golden Cup, was gone, replaced by yet another Thai restaurant.  Now, I love Thai food, but Chicago is hardly lacking in Pad Kee Mao.  But The Golden Cup, while just another in a long series of Greek owned diners, cannot be replaced.  What made it special?  Nothing, really.  It served predicable food (though the Monte Cristo was the best I’ve ever had).  But it was my diner, the one I went to with my pal Xtop, where we ate damn near nightly, where we met for Old Man Breakfast after I moved out of his studio apartment, where I would go after my shift at the Aspidistra, where I hung so many memories of the last good days of my 20s.  So yeah, it’s personal. 

And speaking of the Aspidistra… well, I’ve said it many times before but here goes another: nothing’s been the same since it closed.  It was the best bookshop in Chicago.  I felt that way before I started working there and my love of the place only grew once I became an employee. And when it closed, a big part of my life was gone.  Yeah, I only worked there for a few years, but it was still a sign that things were changing in ways I didn’t care for.

I tried to leave Chicago.  Failed.

I came back and started working for lawyers.  I made more money than I ever had.  I met my wife.  I finished school, this time acing all of my classes.  I began working as a teacher.  I started publishing a few poems and stories in the far corners of the Internet.  I began to take things a bit more seriously. 

And it’s twenty years later.  And I am happier than I have been in years.  My life is good.  No big complaints.  But since it has been twenty years, a good amount for reflection, I feel compelled to question whether or not I want to stay in this beautiful, rotten town.  

Of course I’m staying.  The town has its hooks in me.  I can imagine living elsewhere, but these dreams are always centered on the superficial aspects of cities I have visited.  It would only be a matter of time before the stores and cafés and personal landmarks would close.  And I’d be right back to feeling uncertain and daydreaming of better things somewhere else. 

But these landmarks are supposed to be transient.  Unless you are keen on being a vagabond, you have to put down roots even when everything else gets uprooted. 

There comes a time when you have to admit that it’s you.  Not the city.  Not the world.  Not the culture.  Not the technology.  Not the fashions.  Not the attitudes.  Not the kids.  Not the politics.  Not the times.  You’ve changed. 

And there’s nothing wrong with that.  God, imagine me still the twenty-two year old twat, dressing like a bum, holes in my shoes, chain smoking, spouting the dumb shit of my youth.  Depressing.  If I ran into my twenty-two year old self, I’d likely want to slap the fucker.  Self-centered, lazy prick.

So a lot has changed in twenty years since I’ve moved up here.  I’m not so dazzled by the city lights.  But I’m hoping that in twenty years I’ll be happy still to be in this ugly, glorious, loud, fucked up town.  If I am as conflicted, so be it.  One should be conflicted about Chicago.  It’s earned the ambivalence.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cities I wish to see before I die:

St. Petersburg
Buenos Aires
Paris (again, for a bit longer than last time)
Chicago as it was in 1993

Monday, August 05, 2013

Limp Cock Blocking: The Luke Warm Chili Peppers and the Biggest Piece of Shit Ever Recorded

Every time I hear the song “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I have to stop and listen.  I only hear it because WXRT seems quite fond of the song, evidence of how low they have fallen.  And I only stop and listen because I am in awe of what a piece of shit it is.  Not only it is a piece of shit song, it is the biggest piece of shit song ever recorded.  Easily.  Name another?  Nope—“The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” is worse.

So why the awe?  And why do I torture myself?  Why when I know the fucking song will be in my head for days?  Because I like the pain?  Maybe.  Who hasn’t put their tongue against the sore spot of a bad tooth?  And this is the most rotten of rotten teeth.  Hillbilly teeth mixed with British teeth.  Blackened teeth from years of tobacco chew and neglect. 

Why is it such a piece of fucking shit?  Well, give it a listen.  Or not.  Do yourself a favor and ignore it.  But if you're like me and just have to know how big a piece of shit it is, well, then I suspect you’ve given it a listen by now.  Okay, so now we can talk about it:

The music itself is generic, uninspiring, and lazy.  This is a band that has been phoning it in for many years.  Hell, anything post Mother’s Milk is really a waste of time, but even the bloated, uneven Blood Sugar Sex Magik (with a fucking K!) has a few good songs.  But that’s where the trouble started.  The unlikeliest band to ever have a hit managed to get themselves all over adult contemporary stations with a flaccid little ditty called “Under the Bridge”.  Oh, how I remember 1991!  That song was fucking everywhere.  That and the heart breakingly disappointing R.E.M. record Out of Time (what a bad year for your humble narrator). And I, who had loved the Chili Peppers so much, who had their first four records in constant rotation, who annoyed friends at parties by hijacking the radio and playing Freaky Styley, I did my best to convince myself that I liked “Under the Bridge”.  But it was a quiet, forgettable song (or it would’ve been were it not for the wall-to-wall radio play) that I skipped on my way to something with power chords and slap bass.  But the masses seemed to really like it.  (Ballads get you airplay, you see.  And money.) And the masses get what the masses want.

Newfound fame and money now taking the place of heroin, the Chili Peppers became not-so red hot.  Gone was the funk, the punk, the locker room grossness, and the stupid, party spirit.  Ballad after ballad after lame ballad followed.  They may have tried to rekindle the hard rockin’, but even that felt tired and sad.  Yep, the party was over.

What makes good party music?  Deep meditations on existence?  Explorations of contemporary ennui?  Political consciousness?  Nah… cocks in socks is all you need.  This is the band that never aspired to deep, intellectual fare.  They were clowns— goofy, sometimes funny, more often not, but their shtick was genuine enough.  Meaning I believed them.  I knew they were brainless goofballs appropriating funk and mixing it with watered downed punk rock, but that was fine.  Still, every party ends and we all grow up eventually.  Even the Chili Peppers grew up.  But sadly they didn’t get smarter.  Just lazier.  Now we have a band that has not had the good sense to break up.  Still feeling the need to make records but lacking new ideas or any shred of the spark they once, briefly had, the band now relies on the least offensive, least interesting brand of three chord rock to prop up its singer’s horrendous lyrics. 

So let’s get to the lyrics.

Not only does Anthony (the biggest douchebag in music) Kiedis actually sing (if you can call it that) “Tick tock I want to rock you like the 80s” he actually follows it up with “cock blocking isn’t allowed.”  Thank god he told me!  I was about to cock block him!  Okay, as I stated before, this is not a band that ever wrote anything akin to poetry, but in the past Kiedis sang/rapped his shit-strung words so fast that groaners like this sailed by quickly, followed by something better or, at the very least, a cool little bass fill.  Now they simply precede “Hey now.  We’ve got to make it rain somehow.”  Whatever that means.  Yeah, this is the typical Kiedis lyrical wizardry: stale sex rhymes and a pointless, filler of a chorus.  He may as well mumble some syllables.  Why not? I suspect no one's really listening.  

And when the hell did Kiedis decide he can sing?  He has no range and less tone.  Someone ought to mention it to him.  Or, better yet, kick him out of the band.  If sentimental reasons prohibit shit canning this boob, then they ought to split up.  End it!  I mean, Flea can always find work on his own.  Why bother backing up this lousy a front man?  Friendship is one thing, but sometimes you just have to look at the bigger picture.  In this case, Kiedis, with his marginal talent and asshole behavior, is making an already tarnished band look even worse.  Oh Flea, who would have ever thought that you, a guy who wore pants made out of stuffed animals, would be the mature one? 

But I digress...

This winning combination of soft rocking and callow lyrics would be forgivable if this were a high school band barely done working its way through “Smoke on the Water” but this is a seasoned outfit, one of the most popular bands of the late 90s (for some reason), a group that has toured the world and made more money than I can conceive of.  They ought to know better than to try and pass this crap off.  I mean, most bands don’t make 9 records before shitting out something this bad, but these guys decided to save the worst for (hopefully) last. 

So why do I care?  Well, for starters: I don’t really give a shit about the Red Hot Silly Putty, but this song is so bad, worse than anything else they've ever written, that I have to publicly object.  Their fans will surely defend this piece of stinking crap, and others will tell me that there are worse, infinitely more offensive songs.  “Achy Breaky Heart”,  “Mambo Number 5”,  “What’s Up?”, or “Bad Romance”.  All bad, sure, but those songs are bad in obvious ways.  “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” is insidiously bad.  It slithers through the swamp of adult contemporary radio planting a sack of reptilian eggs in the brain.  It is too easy to miss, thus very dangerous.  This is why I care.  When something this shitty is allowed to exist, it lessens all of human experience.  It makes us have to endure a sadder culture, one that willingly tolerates crap with a blithe dismissal of "Oh, its not so bad.  And you have to admit it's catchy!"  Yes, and so it AIDS but I don't want that shit either.  So listener: beware.  Here there be shit you can’t wash off.  And it will stain all of us forever.