Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Blago plays the race card

Posted By on 12.31.08 at 06:24 PM

It's been a great year for white guys playing the race card.

Earlier this year, Mayor Daley played the race card on behalf of the Children's Museum. He also played it in 2006 on behalf of Wal-Mart, so you can say the mayor's been on something of a roll.

And now, of course, we have Governor Blagojevich jumping into the act. By nominating Roland Burris -- who apparently is ready to run for anything under any circumstances -- he's hoping to push house speaker Michael Madigan, state rep Barbara Flynn Currie, and his other impeachment-pushing foes in the General Assembly back on their heels.

For those unfamiliar with this game, the race card is when a politician shrewdly attempts to exploit legitimate racial grievances that go back to the days of slavery -- and lord knows there are many -- for the narrowest of selfish political gains. Traditionally it's played by black politicians to bedevil and embarrass their white colleagues into grudgingly cutting a few blacks a slice or two from the pie.

Don't get me wrong -- I've long admired the true master of this game, an illustrious crew that includes Jesse Jackson, the Shaw brothers, and even John and Todd Stroger. But it's a little disconcerting to see white guys playing the card. I always thought that you actually had to have paid some sort of price, like actually having done something of significance in the fight for civil rights. But, alas, like everything else, old standards are eroding.

Ironically, our main hope to offset Blago's power play are two black politicians: secretary of state Jesse White and president-elect Barack Obama. Both have opposed Burris's appointment and they might give the U.S. Senate the cover to block Burris from taking a seat. In fact, Obama could help to end this fiasco once and for all by forcefully -- and I mean very forcefully -- speaking out. But I guess we'll have to wait just a little longer before he takes on the big boys in his hometown.

I suppose there's something positive to make out of all this. In a weird, twisted way, it means we have transcended race -- or at least turned it upside down. It's sort of like the time not long ago when Eminem ruled the world of rap and Tiger Woods was the world's best golfer.

Anyway, time will tell if this does any good for Blagojevich. For what it's worth, Mick says yes and I say no. We shall see.

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Heads Up

Posted By on 12.31.08 at 06:12 PM



Mitsuwa hosts hourly demonstrations of mochitsuki, or mochi pounding, a traditional Japanese ceremony where glutinous steamed rice is pounded with large mallets in a mortar to make the sticky rice cakes called mochi. There will be samples of fresh mochi with kinako (soybean flour), sweet red bean paste, and oroshi (grated daikon). Noon-3 PM, Mitsuwa Marketplace, 100 E. Algonquin, Arlington Heights, 847-956-6699, free.

To kick off the new year, in January Le Lan is offering a $20.09 menu, with your choice of main course and dessert for $20.09 (excluding tax and tip). Choices for the entree are braised beef short ribs with apple-chile puree, curried trout with black rice and edamame puree, and marinated tofu with wild mushrooms and couscous; for dessert there’s molten chocolate cake with cardamom ice cream or coffee creme brulee with a cinnamon beignet. 749 N. Clark, 312-280-9100.


To celebrate Epiphany, Brasserie Jo is offering a free slice of galette des rois, or three kings’ cake, to all dinner guests. The puff pastry filled with frangipane will be prepared by students from the French Pastry School with the traditional bean inside; whoever finds it is “king for a day.” 4-9 PM, 59 W. Hubbard, 312-595-0800.

In honor of National Spaghetti Day, Angelina Ristorante has three specials: spaghetti with mussels and zucchini, spaghetti with jumbo shrimp and black olives, and baked spaghetti and meatballs ($17-20). Through Thursday, 3561 N. Broadway, 773-935-5933.


The Galway Tribes Irish Pub & Ale House hosts a Bell's Brewery Party with appetizers, music, and samples of Bell's brews including Special Double Cream Stout, Expedition Stout, Kalamazoo Stout, Cherry Stout, Porter, Winter White, TCOA, Best Brown, and Hopslam (your choice of six). 6:30-8:30 PM, 9680 Lincolnway, Frankfort, 815-464-9881, $25.

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1/5-31: Free admission to the Museum of Science and Industry

Posted By on 12.31.08 at 06:04 PM

General admission to the Museum of Science and Industry will be free from Monday through the end of January. That includes entry into Green Revolution, a new interactive exhibit focusing on the contributions of African-Americans--including architects, designers, engineers, plant geneticists, and business entrepreneurs--to the ecology, conservationism, and other green movements; it opens January 15.

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On your radio: me

Posted By on 12.31.08 at 04:54 PM

I'll be back on WBEZ twice this Friday, January 2. In the morning fellow music journalist Althea Legaspi and I will discuss some of our favorite music with Eight Forty-Eight host Alison Cuddy--the show runs from 9 till 10 AM, then repeats at 8 PM--and in the evening I'll be Tony Sarabia's guest on Radio M for the show's two full hours, 9 till 11 PM. We'll both be playing and discussing our favorite international releases of 2008. 

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Roger & me

Posted By on 12.31.08 at 04:16 PM


Apparently it's Roger Ebert week at the Reader, with all manner of appreciation flowing to the erstwhile master of opposable thumb reviews. Unfortunately, all I can add to the mix is a lousy one-and-off tale, of a meeting the two of us had many years ago that I've never spoken of or written about before, at least not publicly. Only it's not really about the meeting, but ... well, time is of the essence, for me if not the critic in question, and if not now, then when?

It all took place 40-some-odd years ago, in the mid-60s, before Ebert became Ebert and I became whatever I am now, at an in-state convention of college and university newspaper editors at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois. Ebert was editor of the prestigious Daily Illini and I was one of his downscale counterparts, from a teeny-tiny school along the bluffs of the Mississippi. One of his faculty handlers introduced us, in a cafeteria serving as a banquet hall, and it soon became apparent that this surly, noncommunicative fireplug individual was held in high esteem by just about everyone else present. But after the formal grunts and niceties, it was eyes to the dinner plates, the beans and potatoes or whatever. I don't think we exchanged words—or even glances—the rest of evening.

What happened the next day is really what sticks in the mind though—ironically, considering our critic's latter-day reputation as a superior extempore raconteur. The convention had scheduled a debate, on the subject of newspaper censorship pro and con, to be conducted by a pair of student speakers before an editorial audience who'd vote on the arguments by sitting on one side of the auditorium or the other. Can't remember who took up the pro side—somebody from the host school, I'd guess—but arguing against was none other than my dinner noncompanion of the previous night.

Well, slam dunk, right? I mean, these are college newspaper editors, they automatically resist manipulation, they demand freedom to publish any damn thing they want. Except for crypto-fascist knuckle draggers like moi, who thought—back then, I should emphasize—that administrations have power of purse, and why should they abet students bent on subverting their own institutional best interests? Just the deadest of dead letters, the arguments from principle, plus they can pull the rug out from under you whenever they want—so go, Pareto, go, and yayyy Carl Schmitt!

But as the debate raged on I noticed that my side of the auditorium was gradually filling in. Because, incredibly, Ebert was losing! His opponent had managed to frame the argument in such a way that all the knee-jerk bromides the anti side could summon were immediately exposed for what they were—generalities that didn't address the specific technical issues being raised. Finally my chief editing assistant, one of the more committed anticensorship people I knew at the time, heaved a sorrowing sigh, shook his head, and slunk across the aisle to where I sat. And all Ebert could do was look dumbfounded, his a priori support trickling and trickling to the other side of the hall—or surging actually, in ever increasing billows. Give the guy a gimme, and he goes out and blows it.

A couple years later when Ebert was named el primo film critic at the Sun-Times—as I recall, Galia (two and a half stars), which opened at the old World Playhouse, was the first thing he ever reviewed—the thought ran through my head "Huh? What does that prima donna know about movies?" Not that I knew much of anything myself, but of course I was playing catch-up, with double-feature doses at the Clark Theater, a revival house that changed programs daily.

Word back then was that Ebert was doing the same. But I never saw him there.

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Songs for a crappy new year

Posted By on 12.31.08 at 03:48 PM

I woke up this morning and saw this headline: Worried world begins welcome of a new year.

I guess. I won't lie to you: 2009's gonna suck, at least here in America. While I agree with Michael Miner in that I think we'll take it easy, but take it, looking down the barrel of bankruptcy has me paranoid and I read enough econ blogs that I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

These days everyone's doing their "best of" lists, which is nice enough but won't prep you for the malaise. Here's a playlist in the spirit of the blues.

1. "Things Done Changed," Notorious B.I.G. Arguably the best song from arguably the best rap album ever made.

2. "Fillmore Jive," Pavement. The "Four Quartets" of indie rock. Good night to the rock and roll era.

3. "The National Anthem," Radiohead. Maybe my favorite song to listen to really loud with headphones, edging out Yo La Tengo's cover of "Little Honda." Honorable mention: "Idiotheque."

4. "Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)," Robert Johnson. My favorite of his songs ("the blues is an achin' old heart disease / like consumption, killin' me by degrees").

5. Couldn't decide here: "Doin' the Cockroach," "Custom Concern," "Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset," "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes," "Out of Gas," Modest Mouse. If pressed I'd go with "Out of Gas," ("opinions are like kittens, we're always givin' them away") but virtually anything off This Is a Long Drive, Lonesome Crowded West, or Moon & Antarctica would work. Modest Mouse will be the soundtrack of the new Depression.

6. "The Seed Song," Mountain Goats. I know you're waiting for the ironic ending. I know you're waiting for the punchline.

7. "Salad Days," Minor Threat. The core is getting soft.

8. "Palmcorder Yajna," Mountain Goats. If anybody comes to see me, tell 'em they just missed me by a minute.

9. "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night," The Hold Steady. We dictate our doxologies and try to get sleeping kids to sit up and listen.

10. "The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn," the Pogues. Listen to it while you're drinking tonight, and note the annotation.

11. "The Day John Henry Died," Drive-By Truckers. An aggregator doesn't think about its daddy / an aggregator doesn't need to write its name

12. "Wanted For Life," David Byrne and Brian Eno. My favorite cut off their secular gospel album.

13. "Cell Therapy," Goodie Mob. Wu-Tang x Tom Waits + conspiracy theory = win.

14. "Thank You For Talking To Me Africa," Sly and the Family Stone. "Muzak with its finger on the trigger" - Greil Marcus.

15. "Foot of Pride," Bob Dylan. Ain't nothin' left here partner / just the dust of a plague that's left this whole town afraid. Dylan's angriest song.

16. "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts," Bob Dylan. The drillin' in the wall kept up, but no one seemed to pay it any mind.

17. "Ten Second News," Son Volt. People tend to forget how great Trace is.

18. "The Gold We're Digging," Parts & Labor. Fantastic live band.

19. "Paper Planes," M.I.A. All I want to do is take your money.

20. "This Year," Mountain Goats. I am going to make it through this year, if it kills me.

Honorable mention: "Fire Up the Batmobile," Liz Phair. You can't get your money back / you can't pretend that isolation is the same as privilege playlist here.

Do believe the hype

Posted By on 12.31.08 at 03:35 PM

You know the old line about "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out?" Well, I went to a publicity stunt and an actual sporting event broke out.

In only its second year, the National Hockey League's Winter Classic has become a highly successful publicity stunt. Last year, the Buffalo Sabres played host to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a New Year's Day game outdoors in a football stadium -- and in a near-blizzard. This year, as every Chicagoan is already well aware, it will be played at Wrigley Field with the Blackhawks taking on the Detroit Red Wings. It's mainly a way for the NHL and NBC to drop the puck on their NHL "Game of the Week" series, and the Hawks likewise have used it as the centerpiece of president John McDonough's aggressive marketing strategy, ballyhooing the arrival of the rink, the arrival of the Zamboni, and every other detail imaginable.

Wednesday's practice session for the two teams suggested it's going to be a festive curiosity. With rock salt spread throughout the stadium, and faux bricks around the rink (and in front of the outfield wall, actually, the better to allow for ads that might have been lost against the real bricks and dead ivy), Wrigley was decked out for hockey. The thwack of puck against glass made a very satisfactory report that echoed off the grandstand, reminding me of the time I heard a similar crash when Dick Butkus and Les Josephsen of the Los Angeles Rams met helmet-to-helmet in a Bears game played at Wrigley, a treasured childhood memory of mine. Although it seemed obvious the nearer seats, lower in the grandstand, would not give a view of the puck behind the boards, and there were only two giant-screen TVs set up in the outfield corners to give those fans a view of the action, it seemed it would still be a grand occasion for all lucky enough to attend.

Yet as the game approached it also turned into an actual grudge match, befitting the longtime rivalry between the Hawks and Wings. The Wings are the defending NHL Stanley Cup champions, and their fans have been lording it over the Hawks for years. Yet the Hawks have revived behind McDonough and new owner Rocky Wirtz, as well as new young stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The Hawks won nine in a row and were chasing down Detroit before the Wings won the 700th meeting between the two teams at old Joe Louis Arena Tuesday night. After the Wings weathered a couple of early penalties, they pretty much dominated the Hawks, and even Kane admitted he and his teammates "maybe got manhandled ," as he got clobbered by former Hawk Dan Cleary and never really got back in the game. "We think we're this great team," he said, "and they beat us pretty good."

"It's been hyped up," Toews admitted of the Winter Classic after Wednesday's practice, but he made it clear it was just another important game to him and the Hawks after "last night we weren't happy about giving one away."

Defenseman Brian Campbell, who played in last year's Classic for the Sabres, said he was expecting more actual hockey and less pageantry this year. "It'll be a hard-hitting game," he said. "It's gonna be like a playoff game, I think. Guys are pretty revved up for it."

That playoff metaphor was echoed by coach Joel Quenneville. "They played with that Game Seven mentality," he said of the Wings, "and that's how we have to approach it."

So the Friendly Confines may not be so friendly tomorrow, and a publicity stunt might actually turn into something genuinely compelling.


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The city's lakefront music festivals will be free in 2009

Posted By on 12.31.08 at 01:11 PM

It's sort of depressing that the Mayor's Office of Special Events even had to make this announcement, but at least the news is mostly good.

Contrary to rumors that've been swirling ever since a bunch of genius assholes on Wall Street flushed the global economy down the toilet (and got showered with a few trillion of our dollars for doing it), the city's lakefront music festivals will not begin charging admission in the upcoming year.

In case you're wondering, the fests in question are the Gospel Music Festival (June 6 and 7), the Chicago Blues Festival (June 12 through 14, shortened one day), the Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival (August 29 and 30), the Chicago Jazz Festival (September 4 through 6), Celtic Fest Chicago (September 12 and 13), and the Country Music Festival (October 3 and 4).

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Village Voice Jazz Poll

Posted By on 12.31.08 at 12:37 PM

The third Village Voice Jazz Poll, put together by critic Francis Davis (not to be confused with their Pazz & Jop Poll, which runs next month), is in the paper's current issue; 79 jazz writers submitted ballots. I participated for the first time this year, and it was a little strange paring down my regular (and discombobulated) year-end list to include only "jazz" titles. Considering how capricious the process sometimes seems, though, I didn't lose any sleep over it--and looking at my choices again, I have no regrets.

Overall the poll's top honors went, unsurprisingly, to Sonny Rollins's Road Shows Vol. 1 (Doxy/Emarcy), a vault dig of shows from the past few decades, but the rest of the results were less predictable.

Here's my list:


1. Atomic Retrograde (Jazzland)
2. Donny McCaslin Recommended Tools (Greenleaf)
3. Mike Reed Proliferation (482 Music)
4. Martial Solal Longitude (CamJazz)
5. Mary Halvorson Dragon's Head (Firehouse 12)
6. Vijay Iyer Tragicomic (Sunnyside)
7. John McNeil & Bill McHenry Rediscovery (Sunnyside)
8. Rudresh Mahanthappa Kinsmen (Pi)
9. Lafayette Gilchrist Soul Progressin' (Hyena)
10. Andrew Hill & Chico Hamilton Dreams Come True (Joyous Shout)


1. Anthony Braxton The Complete Arista Recordings (Mosaic)
2. Chris McGregor Very Urgent (Fledgling)
3. Roscoe Mitchell Nonaah (Nessa)


Cassandra Wilson Loverly (Blue Note)


Ambrose Akinmusire Prelude (Fresh Sound New Talent)


Bebo Valdés & Javier Colina Live at the Village Vanguard (Calle 54/Norté)

Today's playlist:

Sun Ra, Some Blues but Not the Kind That's Blue (Unheard Music Series)
AC/DC, Black Ice (Columbia)
Ideal Bread, The Ideal Bread (KMB Jazz)
Various Artists, Conquer the World: The Lost Soul of Philadelphia International Records (Philadelphia International/Legacy)
Curtis Fuller, The Opener (Blue Note)

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Hope for the new year pt. 2: Sometimes you just might find you get what you need

Posted By on 12.31.08 at 12:35 PM

Since it's self-aggrandizement-in-the-news day here at Chicagoland, I thought I'd note that the GWB presidential portrait has been completed, and it is perfect. The line of sight goes down from the viewer to the president, who looks about 5'5'' in an uncomfortable semi-crouch with a needy expression (compare to Grover Cleveland, who's laid-back yet with an air of genial gravitas). He's also the first president to pose for his official portrait in business casual; JFK at least wore a white shirt.

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