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Music critic Peter Margasak says farewell and thanks to the Reader and to Chicago

Peter Margasak Sep 5, 2018 13:16 PM

James Ihejirika/Chuks Spotting

I have a handful of concert previews already written for the next two issues of the Reader, but now I'm sitting in a friend's apartment, with almost everything I own in storage, on the eve of leaving the city I've called home for 34 years—this post will be the last thing I write for the paper for the foreseeable future, and it's definitely my farewell as a staff member.

The Reader has been my professional home since 1993, when writer Bill Wyman, managing editor Alison True, and editor in chief Michael Lenehan decided it would be a good idea to bring some of the cocky snark of my old zine Butt Rag into the pages of the paper. When I started a freelance Reader column called Spot Check (later taken over by Monica Kendrick), I had no idea that I'd be hired as a staffer in 1995—much less that I'd still be writing for a paper I loved dearly 25 years later. That run ends today. I'll be spending the next year in Italy, at the American Academy in Rome, where I've been accepted into the institution's Visiting Artists & Scholars Program. I plan to work on a book about the collision of free jazz, experimental music, and underground rock in Chicago covering roughly the years 1992 through 2002.

It's been an immense pleasure and honor writing about music in Chicago. The music community here—with its depth, generosity, and openness—has constantly inspired me and given my ears and brain plenty to absorb. This city allows its musicians to work out ideas over time, rather than pressuring them to break out or give up, and it's been a treat to witness that development in so many talented folks. But I owe a debt of gratitude not just to Chicago's musicians (and to the people behind the scenes who are devoted to releasing their work or presenting their concerts) but also to my close colleagues at the Reader, who've made this a great place to work over the years and helped me grow as a writer and journalist.

I can never repay Wyman, True, and Lenehan for taking that initial chance on me. But no single person did more for me as a nascent journalist than former music editor Kiki Yablon, who came aboard in '96 and essentially taught me how to do my job. I'm also incredibly thankful to current music editor Philip Montoro, who's been in that position since 2004—he's provided patience I didn't deserve and crucial guidance for many years. His passion and curiosity for interesting sounds afforded me great freedom to follow my obsessions unhindered, and his sharp editing made everything I wrote much better.

I will miss Chicago greatly, though I fear that the municipal government's coddling of corporate money will continue to allow well-connected power brokers to crowd out the things that have made the city not just livable but special. In the name of private profit, our alleged representatives have enabled forces profoundly destructive to grassroots music culture—the corrosive presence of Lollapalooza, for instance, or the approaching apocalypse of the Lincoln Yards development, which threatens much more than the Hideout. I hope the citizens of Chicago will fight back like I know they can.

I've written so much for the Reader over the past quarter century that I probably wouldn't have tried to come up with a list of favorites, except that Montoro—an editor to the end—kept asking me to make the effort. I've linked to four pieces below. My picks come mostly from my first few years on the job, in part because there's nothing like the passage of time to confirm the significance of an artist or a story in my mind.

In 1997 I had the first of several unforgettable conversations with guitarist Pete Cosey, who worked on sessions at Chess Records and later played in the early-70s bands of Miles Davis. His storytelling was on par with his playing.

Five years ago I got a better understanding of the creative mind of cellist Katinka Kleijn, who plays in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and also pursues fascinating experiments, both as a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble and on her own.

In 1997 I got down to it with bassist Fred Hopkins, to whom I'd listened extensively as I became a jazz devotee. The Chicago native had recently returned home from several decades in New York, where he was a trusted colleague of Henry Threadgill.

My lasting appreciation for art-rock band Cheer-Accident blossomed when I wrote this story about their longtime guitarist, Phil Bonnet, who died from a brain aneurysm in 1999. Bonnet was also a beloved recording engineer, and writing the piece let me see in a new way how a single person could be a crucial force in a broad musical community.

Today's playlist:

Dizzy Reece, Progress Report (Jasmine)
Andreas Haefliger, Sofia Gubaidulina: Solo Piano Works/Introitus: Concerto for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (Sony Classical)
Eric Cordier & Jean-Luc Guionnet, De Proche en Proche (Monotype)
Oliver Lake, Christian Weber, and Dieter Ulrich, For a Little Dancin' (Intakt)
L'Orchestre National "A" de la République du Mali, L'Orchestre National "A" de la République du Mali (Mississippi/Mali Music)

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