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Thursday, August 28, 2008

A preview of Marilynne Robinson's new novel, in its way

Posted By on 08.28.08 at 02:15 PM

It's a valediction from someone who has spent the few years of his adult life launching from the Trojan plains, only to arrive at another temporary island that feels like home just before the next departure, and will never feel like home again.

My Lutheran pastor friend checks in with another installment in his moving "Chicago Diarist" series. Just the promise of a new Marilynne Robinson novel (Home, another angle on the Gilead story) can get a fan reflecting like this. I'm feeling less restless since I started Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man, which is basically theology for Web editors.


Skin alive

Posted By on 08.28.08 at 01:12 PM


I know LA's Lucky Dragons only through some of their recordings, an ecumenical bricolage of laptop fuckery, sing-songy pop, broken-down folk, and plenty of unidentifiable noise and clutter. The band, which currently consists of founder Luke Fischbeck, Sarah Rara, and a large, revolving cast of collaborators, has created a cottage industry of small-run releases--check out their discography and you'll see that most of their catalog is out of print. But after listening to three CDs I'm not sure that the records are really the point. Though Fischbeck can certainly write some catchy tunes, Lucky Dragons are more about process and communalism.

Live performances seem to be the heart and soul of the project. According to the band's Web site, "Lucky Dragons shows are about the birthing of new and temporary creatures--creating equal-power situations in which audience members cooperate amongst themselves, to build a fragile network of digital signals connected by touching on the skin."

The bit about the skin isn't a metaphor. Fischbeck encourages listeners to crowd around his jerry-rigged setup and hands some of them an electronic contraption of his own devising that's connected to his laptop; it makes sounds when the person holding it creates an electrical circuit by touching the skin of another person. I don't know exactly what kinds of sounds it makes or how Fischbeck manipulates them, but the group's recordings are so good that not even cynical me can dismiss this technique as art-school cyber-hippie nonsense.

Here's a wonderfully odd music video that goes a long way in explaining the sound and aesthetic of the group:


Lucky Dragons, making their first trip to Chicago, play several times this weekend. On Friday at 10 PM they're joined by Hecuba and Pit Er Pat (sure to preview material from their forthcoming Thrill Jockey album High Time) at High Concept Laboratories, 1401 W. Wabansia. On Saturday they'll play with Hecuba at AV-aerie. They'll show off their visual-art side with their project Sumi Ink Club at Golden Age in Pilsen at 12:30 PM on Sunday (see Bert Stabler's Critic's Choice), and that night at 7 PM they'll play again with Hecuba (as well as Nick Butcher and Younger) at Berry United Methodist Church (4754 N. Leavitt). The band's site also says something about a show at North Park University on Monday, but I can't track down the details online.

Today's playlist:

John Zorn, Filmworks XIX—The Rain Horse (Tzadik)
Nine Horses, Money for All (Samadhi Sound)
Ersatz Musika, Voice Letter (Asphalt Tango)
Brenton Wood, Brenton Wood's 18 Best (Original Sound)
Enrico Rava & Stefano Bollani, The Third Man (ECM)

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Jay Mariotti Disease

Posted By on 08.28.08 at 12:41 PM

To be fair to the Sun-Times, it's not the only local journalism institution keeping on Names after their sell-by dates. Ladies and gentlemen, Steve Dahl: "Lots of women sport tattoos today too. I think it started with hippie girls and butterfly ankle tattoos." And, lest you think I'm cherry-picking, &c.

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New folk that isn't frustratingly freakish

Posted By on 08.28.08 at 11:49 AM

I mentioned Nico Muhly a couple days ago, the young Philip Glass protege who's headlining Lakeshore Theater tonight (Andrew Patner's interview with him is here). But equally interesting, at least to a folk mark like me, is collaborator/opener Sam Amidon, the scion of an northern Appalachian music family who's doing interesting 21st-century things with his native music.

Below is a video for "Saro," (his version of "Pretty Saro," first recorded in the Asheville, NC, area, where I was born; you can hear Roger McGuinn's version here) but there's quite a bit more on his Web site; there are a couple mp3s from his debut, which proves him to be a fine traditional fiddler, but there's also an entire free album of lo-fi improv and other tinkering, Home Alone Inside My Head. "Will Adams" and "Apple Tree Blossom" are awfully good.

In other folkish music news, the new Bowerbirds album is the best thing I've heard in a long, long time. You can sample it at their Web site.

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Hot Dogma

Posted By on 08.28.08 at 11:41 AM

This week in Omnivorous I profiled Vienna Beef VP Bob Schwartz, whose new book Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog is a warm and fuzzy history of classic Chicago hot dog stands. Schwartz is a gregarious and funny guy--that's his license plate in the photo--and despite his book's provocative title (provocative to outsiders anyway) it is fairly good natured when it comes to the raging controversies that flare up from time to time when debating hot dogma. If you don't know what I'm talking about check out the minor shitstorm that broke when contributor David Hammond dared to slag Jimmy's Red Hots. Hey, you guys are friends! (But for the record, I wondered what Hammond was smoking too.)

I bring this up because that distinguished Investigator of South Side Culinary Oddities Peter Engler referred me to a few old newspaper clips during my research that challenge some of the conventional wisdom passed down through the ages about the origins of the "Depression sandwich." For one thing the legend of Fluky's founder Abe Drexler pioneering what we know today as the Chicago hot dog "dragged through the garden" seems somewhat flawed given this passage by Charles Leroux from the Tribune of May 17, 1975:

There are a half-dozen or so hot dog stands that have grown into shrines to the Chicago-style pup—steamed poppy-seed bun; big slices of tomato, pickle, etc. One of these is Fluky's, 6749 N. Western Av. There, under a three-story revolving hot dog sign, you can sit in the spacious parking lot and have a dog (50 cents, 89 cents for a double) with the works (mustard, catsup, relish, onion, pickle, hot peppers, tomato slices).  

That's right--"the works" at Fluky's at one time included "catsup."

I come from a land where it is perfectly acceptable to dress franks with ketchup, but I really don't have a dog in this fight. I only point it out--with apologies to Schwartz--to suggest that the wiener police ought to take a deep breath and concentrate on their own condiments.

We have 20 other hot dog joints in the listings, orthodox and reformed.

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Posted By on 08.28.08 at 11:38 AM


What just happened at the Sun-Times? Did Stalin finally die, or something?

The plucky tabloid put on quite a show of speaking truth to power Thursday, once power had left the building. The only thing missing from its bye-bye Mariotti package is a picture of the pistol Jay Mariotti must have held to the head of the publisher two months ago, the last time the paper sweetened his contract. 

Headline: "The self-proclaimed tough-guy columnist never faced his targets, and that's the main reason he was considered a coward in clubhouses." 

Headline: "Welcome Back, Pete! Sports fan Pete Gaines had enough of Jay Mariotti and quit the reading the paper. When he heard Mariotti was gone, he quickly came back. You can, too."

Jocks despised him. Readers despised him. His colleagues despised him. But whenever he said "Pay me more or I quit" the paper whipped out its wallet. Go figure.

The way to say good riddance is with a shrug. The Sun-Times's celebration makes it look silly.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The right profile

Posted By on 08.27.08 at 09:10 PM

Now that I'm catching up to the exciting listings rollout that I dodged was unfortunately on vacation during (NB: your comments are being processed and addressed), I'm finally getting to play with our new system.

The best part: I can now bypass my colleagues and the editing process altogether and create my own damn Recommends list. (And by "recommends" I mean "things that I would put at a 50% chance of being worthwhile.") Awesome. If you click through, you can see one of my two cats.

Also, I am now participating in the law of diminishing returns. We'll see.

The Rainbo: Dueling Improv-Dude Bar?

Posted By on 08.27.08 at 08:02 PM

So I wasn't even aware that LeRoy Bach, who plays with Baby Alright when he's not sitting in with like every single band in town, has been bringing live music to the Rainbo on the regular for a little while. His Duels and Duets series matches him up with guests with impressive chops--Emmett Kelly, Tim Kinsella, and Jason Adasiewicz have all taken part in the past few months--for some happy-hour improv. He tells me it's going to be happening weekly, for free, every Thursday from 6 till 8 PM. Tomorrow's a rematch with Kinsella, and next Thursday Bach will be playing with Sam Wagster.

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You Shoot: Flash Dance

Posted By on 08.27.08 at 07:50 PM

Probably no DNC liveblogging tonight but we'll see how I feel when I get home. Here's a lovely end-of-summer pic from Chris Diers. Oh, and you should read our Web-exclusive excerpt from The Barn House: Confessions of an Urban Rehabber by Ed Zotti, longtime editor of The Straight Dope.

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Life Without Jay Mariotti

Posted By on 08.27.08 at 07:13 PM

A story circulated today that Jay Mariotti quit the Sun-Times Tuesday because he didn't get to a write a certain column. But it rings true.

The column Mariotti wanted to write was written instead by his arch rival Rick Telander for Wednesday's paper. It's about Barack Obama dissing Cubs fans. ''The Cubs . . . they're nice. You go to Wrigley Field, you have a beer . . . there are beautiful people out there, people aren't watching the game." On the other hand, said Obama, ''White Sox, that's baseball . . . south side.''

Mariotti, I hear, originally wanted to do his Obama column for the Tuesday paper, but then he decided to put it off a day and wrote about the Bears instead. One problem: there's an understanding in Sun-Times sports that Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are Telander's days. Mariotti can write on those days if he wants to, but Telander gets first choice of subject. Telander says he called sports editor Stu Courtney Tuesday morning to let him know he'd be writing about Obama. Courtney sounded uncomfortable, suggested another topic, and Telander figured it out. Mariotti wants to do it, doesn't he? Telander asked. Well, said Courtney, he will if you won't.

But Telander would and did, so Mariotti didn't. Instead, I hear, he stormed and raved at Courtney, then e-mailed editor in chief Michael Cooke a two-word message, "I quit."

Did he actually quit just because someone said no to him about one column? Actually Mariotti has a history of threatening to quit and really quitting over trivial slights. Time and again the Sun-Times played the part of enabler -- backing down, making up, adding perks, renegotiating salaries. But as said below, this time, the paper was facing a financial crisis and it reacted differently.

"Finally, hopefully forever, they called this person's bluff," said Telander. "You can only hold your breath and lie on the floor and pound your fist and kick your feet so many times. Why it took the paper so many years to do this is really just a tragedy." The antipathy between Telander and Mariotti was mutual, but other sportswriters around town didn't like Mariotti either. "I've got a lot of reporters jealous of me. To hell with them," Mariotti told me a couple of years ago, when Ozzie Guillen called him a "fucking fag" and the press corps didn't exactly rally round.

A tragedy? I asked Telander.

"Because the damage a 'humorless loner,' as you described him [I did], can do to an overstressed sports department is incalculable." He said the sports department lost its cohesion and  became "sinister and secretive and fuck your buddy. It was the worst possible teamwork conditions."

Telander wondered, "Why, if you have somebody like this, do you wait for him to quit? Why don't you just cut him? I will never know. The good thing is that this is a chance for rebirth. This is joy. A whole shitload of guys called me last night joyous! Ding dong, the witch is dead! I want to get everybody together. I want to have a team meeting. I want to give a fiery pregame prep talk and I want us to come charging out of the locker room with our guns blazing, not slinking out like a  bunch of dirty little rodents." He said, "Even on a sinking ship, if we're going down let's go down standing up and not on our knees."

Is Stu Courtney the man to lead you? I asked.

"He's been so undermined that I think this is his moment to shine too. He sounded like a new man today. He did, he sounded like a new man. He's been made to eat shit for years because of this guy.

"I don't even know to feel," Telander went on. "I just don't know. But if he's gone forever, praise the lord."

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