The Bleader | Blog + Reader, the Chicago Reader's blog

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Who wants to sell out?

Posted By on 06.28.07 at 01:39 PM

My column last week, "In Praise of Selling Out," on the advertising industry's adoption of indie rock, has generated probably the most mail of any piece I've written so far. Unsurprisingly, most of it's been negative. People, and especially people from the glory days of the DIY movement, don't like seeing the bands in their scene show up on a commercial for burgers or something. Also unsurprising—to me at least—is that every positive response I got came from musicians, who are looking at a future where making a living off the former staples of album sales and touring seems impossible. And actually, a couple of them have popped up in articles since then. Last Friday, Little Steven Van Zandt—who's doing more than maybe anyone else right now to promote independent music—dropped a pro-commercials piece in Billboard, arguing with only slight exaggeration that, "If you don't have a song in a TV commercial your career is over." And yesterday AdFreak pointed to a recent interview with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney where he called commercials a way to pay the rent.

While I can understand the opposing viewpoint—I came up in the DIY indie/hardcore scene myself—a typical response like this one over at the Beachwood Reporter (scroll down to "Sell-Out Secrets") offers a lot of outrage, and nothing in the way of real solutions. (Google ads? Really?) I wish small indie bands weren't in a situation where selling their songs to sell burgers wasn't the most attractive career path. But I'm also starting to understand that a lot of people are expecting bands to hold up their end of the DIY contract while bailing out on their own responsibility to support the music. Given the number of indie releases up on OiNK, I'm willing to bet it's more than just a few.

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Zen and the art of newspaper editing

Posted By on 06.28.07 at 01:14 PM

A reader writes: "You may have noticed the recent Sunday Tribune where the first page detailed the alarming increase in motorcycle accidents for riders over 40 and the Tribune Sunday magazine romanticizing motorcycles in a profile on a man who teaches others how to build motorcycles from the ground up. Do the two sections not talk to each other?"

"Lawyers, bankers and auto mechanics have taken the classes," wrote Rick Kogan in the magazine article on June 17. He quoted Robert Pirsig--"A study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself"--and then he quoted the catalog from a Guggenheim exhibit in New York a few years ago: "The motorcycle is an immortal cultural icon that changes with the times. More than speed, it embodies the abstract themes of rebellion, progress, freedom, sex, and danger."

The front-page story by Rick Popely in the same edition said motorcycle fatalities have more than doubled in the past ten years, and "one obvious reason for the spike is that U.S. motorcycle sales more than tripled in the last 10 years, topping 1.1 million last year. That has brought thousands of new riders into the sport and thousands more Baby Boomers back into the saddle, most with little or no training."

To answer the reader’s question, no, they don’t talk much, and why should they? A newspaper like the Sunday Tribune is a big, messy thing, much like the world itself, and the truth hangs in the contradictions.

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Another Side of Paul Giallorenzo

Posted By on 06.28.07 at 12:08 PM


Keyboardist Paul Giallorenzo is probably best known around town as one of the driving forces behind the eclectic performance space Elastic Arts (formerly known as 3030 when it occupied an old Humboldt Park church), but he’s also an active presence on the local free jazz and experimental music scene. Along with saxophonist Dave Rempis, cornetist Josh Berman, bassist Anton Hatwich, and drummer Frank Rosaly, he’s a member of the group Get In to Go Out, which has a forthcoming album due on 482 Music. But it's with his duo, Masul, which recently released its debut, The Arousal City (Creative Sources), that he's captured in a much more abstract light.

A collaboration with Swiss reedist Thomas Mejer (who enjoyed a fruitful Chicago residency a few years back as part of the Sister Cities program with Lucerne) Masul crafts subdued yet colorful electro-acoustic meditations, shuffling cycled melodic snippets, hovering drones, gently rippling noise, and all manner of sibilant breathiness (courtesy of Mejer’s whispery, unpitched columns of air). Giallorenzo is credited with piano, synthesizer, found samples, and computer, and it’s to Masul’s credit that the genesis of any given sound often remains hazy, both musicians managing to forge a rich entwined sound stream where the subtle interactions are clearly audible.

On Monday, June 30, Giallorenzo will collaborate at Elastic with another Swiss musician, sound artist Marie-Cecile Reber, who specializes in capturing the sounds and motion of nature (such as the swaying of flowers in the breeze) and translating them into abstract electronic tones.

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Their beaks hold more than their bellies

Posted By on 06.28.07 at 11:55 AM

It just never gets old! But Pitchfork thinks Pelican has bitten off more than they can chew with their new album, City of Echoes, and that drummer Larry Herweg is the weak link. I disagree; while I have my reservations about the band's new "streamlined" approach (which can eventually lead to worship-my-changes tedium) I don't think they've quite collapsed to 4.4 status yet. Meanwhile, they've announced tour dates, including an all-ages show at the Beat Kitchen on August 24 and a 21+ show at the Empty Bottle on August 25.

By the way. Performing with a full orchestra—dubious when the Scorpions did it, cool when the Decemberists do it? Discuss.

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Jeff Wall talk at the Art Institute tonight

Posted By on 06.28.07 at 11:17 AM


Now that Chicago has big, back-lit bus stop advertising, it's a good time for an exhibit of photographs by Jeff Wall, a Vancouver-based artist whose huge, lightboxed works were inspired by ads he saw while traveling Europe. Wall opens the exhibit with a lecture today at 6 PM; it's free and open to the public, because it's part of the Art Institute's free summer hours (Thursday and Friday evenings from 5 PM-9 PM through August 31). The exhibit opens tomorrow and runs through 9/23. Here's a preview:

Overpass by Jeff Wall

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This weekend and beyond

Posted By on 06.28.07 at 10:30 AM


If you’ve got a great recipe for a traditional Mexican dish, you’d better hurry: the deadline for submissions to the “Recetas de mi tierra” cookbook contest is this Friday. The National Museum of Mexican Art is holding the contest to celebrate its 20th anniversary, and winners will receive a copy of the cookbook, not to mention “their place in history.” Contest guidelines can be found on the museum's Web site. 

Andersonville's In Fine Spirits hosts a tasting from 5:30 to 7:30 PM Friday with winemaker Gregory Graziano; the regular Saturday tasting's the following day from 3-6.

Wines from Provenance Food and Wine’s weekly tasting will be paired Saturday with samples of sweet and savory treats from TipsyCake Bakery in Humboldt Park, personally provided by owner Naomi Stepanek. It’s from 3-6 PM and it's free.

Chicago’s inaugural Pizza Fest kicks off Saturday at noon on the 2300 block of N. Racine and continues until 10 PM –Sunday it starts at the same time but ends at 8 PM. In addition to the requisite pizza for sale, the festival will feature live music, pizza competitions, acrobatic pizza dough tossing (courtesy of the U.S. Pizza Team), wine tasting, and “Cornhole” (better known as beanbag toss) tournaments. Suggested gate donation is $5.
The Botanic Garden’s weekly Garden Chef series, which includes free cooking demonstrations in the open-air kitchen of the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, this week features Heather Terhune from Atwood Cafe on Saturday and Doug D’Avico from Trattoria No. 10 on Sunday. Demonstrations are at 1:30 and 2:30 PM both days.

Fondue restaurant Geja’s Cafe, self-proclaimed to be “Chicago’s most romantic restaurant” (it has supposedly been the site of 123,702 first dates and 15,239 engagements) will celebrate its 42nd anniversary by offering 42% off all food bills from July 1-5.

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Build it if you give me some

Posted By on 06.28.07 at 07:14 AM


Before there were blogs, there was the Community Media Watch's Newstips, which used to arrive in my (physical) mailbox on (physical) bright orange paper. Now they're available to anyone who knows to visit their site, which is a good use of time if you like keeping way ahead of the MSM. This week we learn that the head of the Washington Park Advisory Committee, Cecelia Butler, is supporting its use in the Chicago 2016 Olympics -- provided that there's an ironclad "community benefits agreement" attached. Read the whole thing.

Next week Curtis Black, who does the work on Newstips, will tell about local opposition to the "Prairie Parkway" out in former house speaker Dennis Hastert's territory west and south of Aurora -- you know, the road whose promotion just happened to dramatically increase the value of Hastert's property. What might a community benefits agreement in exurban Kane and Kendall Counties look like?

Here's a thorough 2005 handbook on community benefits agreement (PDF), including some philosophy: it's all about "changing the paradigm of land use planning for large, publicly-subsidized projects or those requiring major land use approvals." 

But already the idea has gone virtual. Chicago blogger Michael Maranda at wrythings is keeping an eye on a kind of internet community benefits agreement reached in Minneapolis as part of that city's digital inclusion campaign: "Among the concepts promoted in Minneapolis was a provision of a “walled garden” … a space of community identified and city content that would be freely accessible to anyone able to receive the wireless signal. Some resources were also to go towards community portals for up to 90 neighborhoods in Minneapolis."

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Repackaging Roger

Posted By on 06.27.07 at 11:55 PM

The Sun-Times plays to its strengths, and one of them is packaging. The paper has turned its Friday movie coverage into a separate broadsheet section and ballyhooed it shamelessly. “Blockbuster New Section Starts Tomorrow” announced the front page June 21, and when the sun rose on the big day itself, the cover shouted, “Brilliant New Movie Section Starts Today.” The good news is that the Sun-Times would never dare boast like that if it couldn’t count on Roger Ebert to do some heavy lifting. Ebert transforms the Sun-Times whenever he’s in it, which due to ill health has been only occasionally in recent weeks and virtually never for months before. I hope Ebert doesn’t try to do too much. If he writes a story or two each week and presides over the section, making the other critics the Sun-Times has rounded up sound smarter by sheer propinquity, he’ll be doing as much as any one writer can to keep the ship afloat.

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The Law of the Letters

Posted By on 06.27.07 at 07:47 PM


Gary Hustwit's British documentary Helvetica, which tracks 50 years of graphic design history through a debate over the familiar Swiss typeface, became the Gene Siskel Film Center's all-time box office champion with its June 15-21 run. The film grossed $18,857, substantially more than its runners-up, In Search of Mozart ($11,255) and Bonhoeffer ($10,561). Helvetica is scheduled for a return engagement at Film Center from September 21 through 27. 

Design, democracy, and dough

Posted By on 06.27.07 at 06:06 PM

The great design magazine I.D. profiles OptionsHouse, a new amateur trading venture from the local options-trading firm Peak6. They're taking an interesting approach to democratizing stock trading by starting with a radical new trading interface designed by Gong Szeto. Now if only the proprietors of my fantasy baseball league would hire him.

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