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Midwestern Defensiveness

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Covering the rust belt for readers who don't like to think they're part of it

Posted By on 10.28.14 at 01:00 PM

Would the rust belt benefit from a journal of its own—a medium chronicling its resurrection or continued decay?

For the past year, it's had one in Belt, a website by Anne Trubek of Cleveland. Its focus, says the site, is "longform journalism, op-eds and first person essays of interest to the Rust Belt and beyond." Trubek says Belt serves "a massively underserved population of readers" and she's compared it to the New Yorker. At first Trubek couldn't look far beyond her corner of Ohio, but she's added staff, including senior editor Martha Bayne based in Chicago. Bayne used to occupy the office next to mine, and she tells me in an e-mail that Belt reminds her of the Reader she worked for in the 90s, the "fat old Reader of the 8,000 word feature on Chicago bricks, etc—meticulously worked feature writing that was published with little to no regard for a) word count and b) news hook."

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Empire! Empire! front man Keith Latinen talks about his band's forthcoming album, emo, and graphic novels

Posted By on 07.25.14 at 01:30 PM

Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) members Keith and Cathy Latinen with their dog
  • Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) members Keith and Cathy Latinen with their dog
A slew of fourth-wave emo bands are descending upon Chicago this weekend to perform—some call Chicago home, others are from Missouri or Florida, and most have a connection to a small Michigan town about an hour outside of Detroit called Fenton. It's the headquarters of Count Your Lucky Stars, a small label run by Keith and Cathy Latinen, the husband-and-wife duo behind gorgeously melancholic outfit Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate). Count Your Lucky Stars's catalog has ballooned since its start in 2007—in the process the label played a major role in establishing the emo scene's current position as a creative source of indie rock that can chart on the Billboard 200. And, yes, many great musicians in the scene that have worked with the Latinens are performing in town this weekend, including Foxing, who are at Beat Kitchen tonight and Wicker Park Fest tomorrow; Dikembe, who play at Township tomorrow; and Pet Symmetry, whose members have released tunes from other projects through CYLS and who will appear at Beat Kitchen tonight and Wicker Park Fest tomorrow.

Empire! Empire! will be here too—the Latinens are doing an acoustic tour supporting the Early November, and they're playing Subterranean tomorrow night. The Empire! Empire! tour coincides with the release of their second album, You Will Eventually Be Forgotten, which comes out next month on CYLS and Boston's Topshelf Records. It's been five years since they released their debut (though they've dropped plenty of EPs and seven-inches in the interim), and they've put a lot of work into the lovely new album—they recruited Mineral's Chris Simpson and Braid's Bob Nanna to sing guest vocals, and they're pairing the album with a graphic novel called Ribbon. The book shares its name with the LP's first track, which focuses on a car accident Cathy was in the day she married Keith. The band posted the lyrics to "Ribbon" on their Facebook page near the end of June, and they've been publishing the lyrics to each subsequent song—they're doing it twice a week, every week until they finish You Will Eventually Be Forgotten.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The People Issue: The B Side

Posted By on 12.12.13 at 03:30 PM

The Reader's People Issue can be seen, in a certain generous light, as an act of resistance against the tyranny of celebrity. The rise of social media was supposed to wreak spectacular democratic havoc on popular culture, but by and large the people we talk about are still people whose most interesting feature is that they're famous, and can thus function as a common reference point in almost any conversation. If we're lucky, we get an outlier who, like Kanye West or Miley Cyrus, responds to the pressure of our attention by doing or saying provocative, confounding, and occasionally brilliant things. But in no case is this any way to run a civilization.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wrestling With My Father: The best four and a half minutes you'll spend at the movies this weekend

Posted By on 08.29.13 at 01:23 PM

The title character
  • The title character
I laughed more during Charles Fairbanks's four-and-a-half-minute video Wrestling With My Father (screening this Saturday at the Nightingale as part of a program of Fairbanks's work) than I did during the entire 110 minutes of We're the Millers—and I cared a lot more about its characters too, even though all they do is watch high school wrestling matches. I make this comparison not as a slight at mainstream comedy on the whole (I don't find Wrestling funnier than The World's End, for instance), but to highlight the crucial role that humor plays in Fairbanks's videos. Many spectators reject experimental film and video out of the false impression that it's all theoretical and humorless, though a wide range of U.S. experimental filmmakers have employed humor as part of their cinematic experiments—Joseph Cornell, Andy Warhol, Owen Land, Robert Nelson, and Lewis Klahr being the first five names that come to mind.

Even the title of Wrestling With My Father is something of a joke. It suggests the sort of self-important psychodrama that viewers antipathetic to experimental video would dread. But no, Fairbanks means it literally. The movie opens with a static shot of his father, sitting on the aluminum bleachers of a high school gym, his eyes glued to a wrestling match happening offscreen. Fairbanks blacks out all but the center third of the frame, so that there's little space beyond his father's beefy physique. There's little breathing room in the shot, but Fairbanks's dad manages to fill that too, as he gets so wrapped up in the bout that he moves his legs, and ultimately his entire body, from side to side. It's funny to see such an imposing man dart in his seat like a little boy—and the claustrophobic frame heightens the sense of contradiction.

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Friday, June 7, 2013

In The Middlesteins, Jami Attenberg shows you can go home again

Posted By on 06.07.13 at 10:32 AM

  • hachettebookgroup.com
It's always exciting when you come across your own home turf in a book. Yeah, yeah, literature is supposed to be about broadening your horizons and bringing you out of yourself and introducing you to new worlds, but that happens all the time. Seeing someplace you know well through someone else's eyes—now, that's something rare and worth getting excited about.

Jami Attenberg's latest novel, The Middlesteins, just out in paperback, happens to be set in an unnamed northwest suburb that is clearly, at least to those of us who grew up there, Buffalo Grove. There's one geographical clue: the family matriarch, Edie Middlestein, works as a lawyer "for corporations developing shopping plazas all along Dundee Road, from I-94 to Route 53." The rest, well, it's there. Except for the one thing I most wish existed. But I'll get to that in a second.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

More prose gems from Chicago by Day and Night

Posted By on 05.29.13 at 04:54 PM

Previously we only briefly touched on the writing in Chicago by Day and Night: The Pleasure Seeker's Guide to the Paris of America (Northwestern University Press), a guidebook published for the benefit of visitors to the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, but it would be a shame not to use the infinite space here on the Bleader to post a sampling of the fascinating passages therein. As editors Paul Durica and Bill Savage note in their introduction, "The writer or writers brag about Chicago's legitimate cultural attractions beyond the Fair with that superlative overconfidence that secretly insecure Chicagoans specialize in." This guidebook would make an 1892 Rachel Shteir's head explode.

On the city's theaters: "The Chicago Opera House is situated on the South side of Washington Street, between Clark and La Salle Streets, and is invariably thronged throughout the hot weather. Mr. Henderson [director of the Opera House David Henderson] manages to group upon his stage as choice a galaxy of feminine loveliness as is to be found in any climate, and the costuming (or rather the lack of it) is doubtless as gratifying to the performance as it is to the spectators, being constructed on the hot weather plan; light and airy. It is no uncommon sight to see a party of honest country folks appearing, grip sacks in hand at the doors of the Chicago Opera House, having come straight from the train to the theater to witness the show, the fame of which had penetrated to their homes in the country; and which, after their return, they would rather die than let their families and the church folks know they had seen."

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thomas Dyja talks about The Third Coast and Chicago's glory years

Posted By on 04.17.13 at 06:48 AM

  • penguin.com
Thomas Dyja grew up in Belmont-Cragin, went to Gordon Tech, still says "Chi-caw-go" like a good native son. But ask him where he lives now and he gets a little sheepish.

"When it came time for college, I had to decide between the University of Chicago and Columbia," he says. "It was the 1980s. Without question, I wouldn't be able to get into either one now. For Columbia, I represented diversity: I was a Polish kid from the northwest side. I came to New York. And I stayed. I wanted to work in publishing. There's a book community in Chicago, but the book industry is here. And then I married someone from New York, and suddenly I had a whole history in the city. But I still feel like I carry two passports."

OK, OK, so Dyja may seem to be protesting too much. However, he has just written a book about Chicago, The Third Coast, which argues that America as we know it actually formed in midcentury Chicago, between the end of World War II and the rise of the first Mayor Daley. During those years, Chicago gave the world modernist architecture, improvisational comedy, McDonald's, Great Books, and the blues. In short, "1948 rocked!"

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Road Tip: Free admission to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Posted on 03.30.13 at 12:00 PM

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
  • Jason Pratt
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Spring is coming (supposedly) and that means it's tour season. One (of many) reason(s) why midwesterners are badasses is because we have to endure driving through some of the most boring terrain on the planet just to get out of here. If you're headed to the east coast, you'll most likely roll through the not-that-exciting landscape of Ohio, but the state does in fact have some cool things to do. If you're a band on tour, you can get into Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum for free. You have to prove you're a touring band, though. You can enter by flashing a tour laminate, but if you don't have that, they'll settle for a piece of merch. And if you don't have merch, just be annoying. Reader associate editor Kevin Warwick claims that his band got in by disarming the gatekeepers with a silver tongue. "We pretty much just wore them down," he says.

While you're there, check out this permanent exhibit that includes fellow midwestern musicians Bob Seger, Prince, and the Coug.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Southwest Airlines and Branson, Missourah, want YOU!

Posted By on 03.12.13 at 04:06 PM

At the Branson airport, staffers greet or bid farewell to planes with the Branson Wave.
  • PRWeb.com
  • At the Branson airport, staffers greet or bid farewell to planes with the Branson Wave.
Southwest Airlines started nonstop service last weekend between Midway Airport and Branson, Missouri. This development is poised to change the lives of both Bransonians and Chicagoans.

"There's no place like Branson," claims Lynn Berry, director of public relations for the Branson Chamber of Commerce. "It's a friendly, family atmosphere. There's nothing offensive. Four generations of a family could come here. There's no gambling. It's great family fun."

Or, as Homer Simpson once put it, "It's like Vegas if it were run by Ned Flanders."

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A president shall be forged in the loins of the nation's breadbasket

Posted By on 11.06.12 at 10:40 AM

In Ohio, a town square
  • Kevin Long
  • In Ohio, a "town square"
In the last presidential election, Sarah Palin provided the strongest suggestion of local "color." John McCain had his backstory (Vietnam) and Barack Obama had his (Muslim); Joe Biden was your east-coast everyman, and Palin took it upon herself to rep a different kind of backwoods style than Washington generally sees, at least at the level of executive power. The southern accent is a standard political dialect; here was someone out of Fargo, not so much hiding her ignorance as boasting it, and justifying the whole Alaskan-hillbilly act as a gesture of cultural difference—a way in which she, Sarah Palin, could transcend all the elitism and speak a certain kind of truth to politics.

That Palin was ever taken seriously points up the ways that rural America is fetishized, to just about everybody's detriment, by electoral politics and by the media that report on it. So it was heartening earlier this week to see Walter Kirn's salvo about Ohio on the New Republic website; Kirn's been covering the campaign for TNR, and an earlier filing, a memoir of the author's time as a Mormon, is still one of the loveliest and most thoughtful things I've read about (at least tangentially related to) the presidential race this year. In that essay Kirn was nostalgic for Mormonism; this week he is not nostalgic for Ohio, where he's from. Why is it Ohioans who decide the presidency? Kirn wonders, with just a touch of forgivable hyperbole.

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