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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Roland's resumé

Posted By on 12.31.08 at 11:58 AM

Putting it on your tomb is like the ultimate file backup. I had mine on a Web site, but then I forgot to renew the domain. I knew I should have sent it to a stonemason, although getting my clips on it would be hell of expensive (h/t skate).

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Advertisement for his former self

Posted By on 12.31.08 at 11:36 AM

Were we to hold monumental (in this case literally) self-regard against politicians, we'd disqualify virtually all of them for service, so I don't think building tributes in one's own name is weirder than, say, putting Annie Liebowitz portraits of your family on Christmas correspondence. It's gauche, but being a politician is gauche. Still, building your own elaborate tomb is a different kind of weird. It just is. Isn't there some kind of provision against sitting senators with tombs?

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The Wrong Burris

Posted By on 12.31.08 at 10:52 AM

When my sister called to tell me Blago had picked Burris to fill Obama's vacant senate seat, I thought she was talking about Henry Burris or Ray Burris.

Sorry, lame joke. But seriously, either of these other Burrises would have fit the bill, since apparently the only relevant qualification is that the new senator be black, at least according to Congressman Bobby Rush.

Look, I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of putting a black man or woman in the seat on the grounds that there should be at least one African-American in the U.S. Senate ... though I'm not sure what any of the leading contenders would do for people around here.

At the moment Mayor Daley is proposing to use the Olympics as sort of a bulldozer to shove a good chunk of poor and working-class black residents out of the south side--taking away their parks while he's at it--and no elected black official is objecting. Not Bobby Rush. Not Jesse Jackson Jr. Not Roland Burris. Not, for that matter, Barack Obama

I say if Governor Blagojevich is going to appoint a black leader of stature it should be Jay Travis or Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization. At least they're fighting to make sure south-siders get something besides the shaft out of this Olympic deal. Fittingly, Mayor Daley won't give them the time of day.

Actually, I think Blagojevich should just leave Obama's old seat empty as a symbol of the vacancy of our political leadership, black as well as white. 

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Meet Senator Burris

Posted By on 12.30.08 at 07:48 PM

“All politicians are a little pathological,” a politician who isn’t visibly pathological said to me this afternoon, explaining that you don’t get into the business if you don’t have a strong sense that you’re on the right side most of the time. “But this guy…”

This guy, of course, would be our governor, who once again managed to bring the circus back to town by deciding, despite seeming promises to the contrary, to appoint a U.S. Senator.

The outraged responses came immediately, before many people had even heard the news that prompted them. Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn decried the action. Secretary of State Jesse White said he wouldn’t sign the paperwork to make the appointment official. A Republican member of the House impeachment panel said he would ask appointee Roland Burris not to go along. U.S. Senate Democrats said they would try to block Burris from being seated. Barack Obama even refrained from refraining to comment on the mess, saying he agreed that his old Senate slot shouldn’t be filled by Blagojevich.

The governor has an obvious gift for helping other politicians look decisive, thoughtful, and bright, even some of those who are currently sitting in jail. But I’m afraid I'm with those who think he won this round of politics.

“I think it was a very smart decision on the part of Rod Blagojevich—it was ingenious,” political consultant Delmarie Cobb said in an interview this afternoon. “Who better than Roland could rise above what’s going on? His integrity is unassailable.... If there’s anybody you could put in who doesn’t draw lightning, it’s him. I think Roland can ride it out.”

To be sure, Burris has been involved with his own business and political dealings, and Cobb, who was one of his top advisers during his 1998 and 2002 runs for governor, clearly remains a fan. But after talking with several other elected officials, I think she’s right: Burris may just make it into the U.S. Senate.

It’s not clear that anyone has the legal means to stop the appointment, despite vows to the contrary. It’s even less clear that they’re going to have the political will. At Blagojevich’s press conference this afternoon, Congressman Bobby Rush essentially dared critics to undo what’s been done. Such a move, he suggested, would be an announcement that an experienced, well-liked statesman of Illinois politics—and an African American one, replacing the Senate’s only other African-American—is somehow not worthy of the job.

Critics of the appointment, including Obama, have gone out of their way to say they’re not talking about Burris personally. But I’m not sure that’s going to matter. Having made his pick, Blagojevich can sneak away to meetings with his lawyers while everybody else debates whether or not the Senate seat should go to Burris. Over the next few days I predict we'll see a whole lot more Burris supporters—many bringing up the matter of black representation in the Senate—and they'll ask aloud who’s a better choice than him. Opponents will have to say, “Somebody who is either elected in a special election that hasn’t been called or who would get picked down the road by the next governor, if there is one … or maybe somebody else.”

It’s not quite as effective an answer.

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Dept. of tragic headlines

Posted By on 12.30.08 at 07:23 PM

As a student and fan of accidental headline poetry, I couldn't help but note

Body found on tracks, several Metra trains delayed

Hope for the new year

Posted By on 12.30.08 at 06:58 PM

Roger Ebert thinks the end is near, or at least the end of the party we call the American century ("Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold"). Michael Miner disagrees ("the larger truth is that people do not 'reel.' They get about their lives").

It is a minor point, but worth adding:

1. Siskel & Ebert At the Movies, which was surprisingly engaging for its necessary brevity, lost Siskel, who was replaced by the inexhaustibly shallow Richard Roeper. Being a pessimist, I thought this was another symptom of the decline of the American empire.

2. As if to mock my self-identification as a pessimist, Ebert and Roeper were replaced by two legacy hires, the serviceable Ben Mankiewicz and the slick, young, horrid Ben Lyons, subject of a remarkably one-sided hit piece in the LA Times and proprietor of the weirdly compelling photo gallery "Ben Lyons Poses [Awkwardly] With Famous  People [Whom You May Have to Google]." (I do hope he continues it; as an accidental art project it might actually be interesting.)

I figured the decline was accelerating.

3. From the LA Times piece: "Ratings for the new 'At the Movies' are at 1.8 million total viewers, down 21% compared with the same period last year, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research. Comparative viewership also dropped by double digits in every key demographic except for males 18 to 34, for whom it's down only 4%." 

4. Management claims that a "revamped" AtM is better and more successful. I am rooting against the show in the hopes that it, among so many other things these days--unemployment, newspapers, etc--has actually reached a natural bottom, and that the show's failure can be shoehorned into some argument that weird-looking people with qualifications who care about things are more saleable than people who want to be on your television so they can make fake gang signs with actors you might have heard of.

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"Call It a Day," unplugged

Posted By on 12.30.08 at 06:23 PM

The Soft Pack, formerly the Muslims, just contributed a little acoustic set to Sterogum's little acoustic feature called Decomposed. One of the songs they performed was "Call It a Day," from their self-titled EP, the one with the sleeves the band had blasted with a shotgun by a retired cop (it's already extremely hard to find copies). "Call It a Day" was one of my favorite rock songs of the whole year, and none of its sneering acidity gets compromised by the instrumentation here--in fact its dis-record elements come through a little stronger when you can hear the vocals this clearly.

They're playing Schubas' Tomorrow Never Knows festival on Wednesday, January 14. Jessica Hopper is writing about the Soft Pack for the List--I'll be making do with this blog post, since I'm one of the DJs spinning upstairs during the show.

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1/3, 20, & 26: Free massage for blood donors

Posted By on 12.30.08 at 05:10 PM

For three days in January, including this Saturday, Chicago Healers will be offering free ten-minute massages to blood donors at the Life Source blood bank in Arlington Heights. The offer is good:

  • Sat 1/3, 11 AM-1 PM
  • Sat 1/20, 1-2 PM
  • Mon 1/26, 11 AM-1 PM

 

To find out if you're eligible to give blood, click here. Call 312-643-2461 for more information.

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Best of 2008, part four

Posted By on 12.30.08 at 04:58 PM

10. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Dig, Lazarus, Dig! (Anti-/Mute)
Last year Nick Cave shook off the dust with the snarling humor and no-nonsense muscle of his Grinderman project, and on his latest with the Bad Seeds he's absolutely on fire, tapping into the wild energy of his Birthday Party days but this time holding it firmly under control. At 51 he's sharper and smarter than ever.

9. Rachel Unthank & the Winterset, The Bairns (Real World)
I doubt this British folk outfit would've landed so high on my list if they hadn't completely wowed me during the World Music Festival. Rachel Unthank and her small but resourceful band use gorgeous vocal harmonies, clever arrangements, and a subtle pop sensibility to bring new life to tunes that have survived centuries--and the easy charm and wit of their live set made their striking inventiveness seem totally nonchalant.

8. Mary Halvorson Trio, Dragon's Head (Firehouse 12)
Probably the most original jazz guitarist to emerge this decade, Mary Halvorson has already distinguished herself in projects with Anthony Braxton, in a folksy, genre-bending duo with violist Jessica Pavone, as a member of Taylor Ho Bynum's sextet, and in the art-rock duo People, among many other contexts--but on Dragon's Head, with bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith, she distills all her vast talents as a composer, improviser, and sound explorer into one compact ensemble.

7. Martial Solal Trio, Longitude (Cam Jazz)
On the one hand, Longitude is just another album by veteran French pianist Martial Solal, who's now 80. But on the other hand, every album he makes reasserts his brilliance in redefining and revitalizing post-Monk piano playing. The rhythm section--twin brothers François and Louis Moutin on bass and drums--does an especially fine job anticipating and accommodating Solal's curious lines and chords.

6. Deerhoof, Offend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars)
With the addition of a new second guitarist (former Flying Luttenbacher Ed Rodriguez), these San Francisco art-pop geniuses have regained their ultrasharp six-string interplay, and the whipped-up rhythms, loping bass lines, and hooky melodies just keep getting better. Deerhoof aren't reinventing the wheel--or rather their somewhat eccentric version of it--but man are they on a roll.

5. Kassin + 2, Futurismo (Luaka Bop)
It's hard to separate Futurismo from the two preceding records by what's come to be known as the "Plus Two"--Alexandre Kassin, Moreno Veloso, and Domenico Lancellotti. Like the others, Kassin's outing is cool, cosmopolitan, and diverse, casually shuffling between Brazilian forms, electro, rock, pop, and just about anything else that strikes his fancy. I prefer to think of it as the last disc of a mind-blowing three-record box set that just happened to be released across eight years.

4. Mike Reed's People, Places & Things, Proliferation (482 Music)
Local drummer Mike Reed transcends homage by reinventing overlooked tunes from Chicago's late-50s postbop heyday. His killer quartet, which also includes reedists Greg Ward and Tim Haldeman and bassist Jason Roebke, updates the songs with fierce multilinear improvisation and free-jazz techniques, allowing them to be heard afresh, but doesn't diminish their soulful core. The best part is the joy and mutual trust these guys radiate onstage--they're my favorite working band in town.

3. Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple (Downtown)
It didn't produce a hit like "Crazy," but Gnarls Barkley's sophomore effort is a much better album on the whole: the 60s vibe crafted by producer and keyboardist Danger Mouse fits perfectly with the raspy gospelized shout of Cee-Lo Green.

2. Donny McCaslin Trio, Recommended Tools (Greenleaf)
Saxophonist Donny McCaslin has been one of the most reliable players in jazz since the mid-80s, and in the past few years he's become one of the most exciting as well. This lean trio session with bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Johnathan Blake is a genuine tour de force: McCaslin pushes his granite-hard tone anywhere he wants it to go, from tender ballads to harmonically adventurous barn burners.

1. Atomic, Retrograde (Jazzland)
On Retrograde this Scandinavian quintet--bassist Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, and pianist Havard Wiik from Norway, trumpeter Magnus Broo and reedist Fredrik Ljungkvist from Sweden--opts for a set of compositions much looser than its usual repertoire. The musicians' intuitive rapport and high-level communication skills allow them to transform even the sketchiest melodic or rhythmic structures into gripping narratives--they nail this new paradigm with all the gusto and daring they brought to their old freebop-based approach.

Today's playlist:

Harris Eisenstadt, Guewel (Clean Feed)
Annbjørg Lien, Waltz With Me (Heilo)
Duke Ellington, Uptown (Columbia/Legacy)
Ximena Sariñana, Mediocre (Warner Music Latina)
ICP Orchestra, Live at the Bimhuis (ICP)

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First breath, second wind

Posted By on 12.30.08 at 04:13 PM

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This week the Gene Siskel Film Center presents two encore screenings of Junko Kajino and Ed M. Koziarski's locally produced indie drama The First Breath of Tengan Rei, with the writer-directors in attendance. The movie, about a Japanese woman who's raped by two U.S. soldiers in Okinawa and tracks them down in Chicago for some payback, premiered in town at the Film Center last November.

Koziarski, a Reader contributor, made his first film as a student at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he studied journalism and creative writing. Kajino, a graduate of the directing program at Columbia College, was in Yellow Springs at the time, working on Ed Radtke's feature The Dream Catcher, and met Koziarski on the set of his film. Now married, the couple have collaborated on numerous local projects, though The First Breath of Tengan Rei is their debut feature as writer-directors.

Part of the movie was shot at Big Works, the Logan Square studio owned by their production designer, David Christopher Krause; the grim riverside sequences were shot at 27th and Ashland. Erika, who plays the vengeful title character, is a Japanese actress best known for Hirokazu Kore-eda's After Life, though the cast also includes local talents Sean Nix, who's appeared in productions at TimeLine Theatre Company and Victory Gardens, and Ric Arthur, a real-life marine in Okinawa who's appeared at Urban Theater Company.

The First Breath of Tengan Rei screens Saturday, January 3, at 8 PM and Wednesday, January 7, at 7:45 PM. The Film Center is located at 164 N. State; for more information call 312-846-2600.

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