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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Otis Rush and his searing guitar immortalized the west-side Chicago blues sound

Posted By on 10.09.18 at 07:00 AM


Since 2004 Plastic Crimewave (aka Steve Krakow) has used the Secret History of Chicago Music to shine a light on worthy artists with Chicago ties who've been forgotten, underrated, or never noticed in the first place. Older strips are archived here.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Gone too soon: five films by directors who died young

Posted By on 09.04.18 at 06:00 AM

Jean Vigo's L'Atalante
  • Jean Vigo's L'Atalante
The Music Box Theatre and the Chicago Film Society present the 1930 film City Girl this Saturday at 11:30 AM as part of their monthly silent film series. The film's director, F.W. Murnau, died the year after its release in an automobile accident, cutting short his life and remarkable career. He left behind a substantial body of work, though. The five filmmakers below also died much too young but had only made a handful of movies each, and in one case just a single film. We're spotlighting their work.

L'Atalante
Jean Vigo's only full-length feature (1934), one of the supreme masterpieces of French cinema, was edited and then brutally re-edited while Vigo was dying, so a “definitive” restoration is impossible. (The reassembled version released in France in 1990 is almost certainly the best and most complete we'll ever be able to see—it's wondrous to behold.) The simple love-story plot involves the marriage of a provincial woman (Dita Parlo) to the skipper of a barge (Jean Daste), and the only other characters of consequence are the barge's skeletal crew (Michel Simon and Louis Lefebvre) and a peddler (Gilles Margaritis) who flirts with the wife at a cabaret and describes the wonders of Paris to her. The sensuality of the characters and the settings, indelibly caught in Boris Kaufman's glistening cinematography, are only part of the film's remarkable poetry, the conviction of which goes beyond such categories as realism or surrealism, just as the powerful sexuality in the film ultimately transcends such categories as heterosexuality, homosexuality, and even bisexuality. Shot by shot and moment by moment, the film is so fully alive to the world's possibilities that magic and reality seem to function as opposite sides of the same coin, with neither fully adequate to Vigo's vision. The characters are at once extremely simple and extremely complex (richest of all is Simon's Pere Jules, as beautiful a piece of character acting as one can find anywhere), and while the continuity is choppy in spots—a factor skillfully cloaked by Maurice Jaubert's superb score—the film's aliveness and potency are so constant that this hardly seems to matter. A major inspiration to subsequent generations of filmmakers, yet no one has ever succeeded in matching it. In French with subtitles. 89 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

The House Is Black
Forugh Farrokhzad's black-and-white documentary (1962, 19 min.) about a leper colony in northern Iran is the most powerful Iranian film I've seen. Farrokhzad (1935-'67) is widely regarded as the greatest Persian poet of the 20th century; her only film seamlessly adapts the techniques of poetry to its framing, editing, sound, and narration. At once lyrical and extremely matter-of-fact, devoid of sentimentality or voyeurism yet profoundly humanist, the film offers a view of everyday life in the colony—people eating, various medical treatments, children at school and at play—that's spiritual, unflinching, and beautiful in ways that have no apparent Western counterparts; to my eyes and ears, it registers like a prayer. 19 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

The Conqueror Worm / The Witchfinder General
An unusually restrained Vincent Price stars as Matthew Hopkins, a 17th-century magistrate who took advantage of the English civil war to conduct a massive witch hunt across East Anglia. This sinister 1968 feature was adapted from a historical tome by Ronald Bassett, though director Michael Reeves (whose life was cut short by a drug overdose the next year) seems equally inspired by the stark visuals in Carl Dreyer's Day of Wrath. Tigon Films, a pretender to the Hammer throne in the late 60s and early 70s, released the movie as The Witchfinder General in Britain; American distributor Roger Corman, hoping to capitalize on his earlier Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, retitled it The Conqueror Worm and slapped on some voice-over of Price reading from Poe's poem. 86 min. —J.R. Jones

Wanda
Perhaps the most depressing film ever made, this 1971 feature by director-actress Barbara Loden tells of a young, ignorant, emotionally deadened, and hopelessly dreary woman from the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania whose life is a succession of dead ends. Doomed from the start to a life of ignorance and boredom, she's victimized by her surroundings, by men hardly less dreary than she, and by her sex. A brilliantly atmospheric film with a superb performance by Loden. 105 min. —Don Druker

Savage Nights
Highly controversial and troubling but undeniably powerful and impossible to dismiss, this French feature cowritten (with critic Jacques Fieschi) directed by and starring the late Cyril Collard follows the last reckless days and nights of a 30-year-old cinematographer and musician who discovers he is HIV-positive but continues to have sex with strangers as well as with his two more regular lovers. Based on Collard's autobiographical novel Les nuits fauves, Savage Nights won Cesars for best picture, best first picture, most promising actress (Romane Bohringer), and best editing a few days after the 35-year-old director himself died of AIDS in March 1993. These honors can't simply be written off as sentimental: stylistically and dramatically, this is an accomplished piece of work. If Collard's driven hero often seems far from admirable—unconsciously misogynistic beneath his apparent bisexual "tolerance," and, as his masochistic behavior often implies, full of self-loathing—the film seems admirably unpropagandistic in permitting spectators to make up their own minds about him. It also gives full voice to the agony of unrequited adolescent love (Bohringer's volcanic performance), and, for better and for worse, offers a treatment of AIDS that's the other side of the moon from Philadelphia—politically incorrect with a vengeance. Whether you like this or not, you'll have a hard time shaking it loose. With Carlos Lopez. 126 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

How the 1968 DNC protests in Chicago ‘killed’ protest folk singer Phil Ochs

Posted By on 08.25.18 at 06:00 AM

Phil Ochs during a 1967 Vietnam protest outside the UN building in New York. - MICHAEL OCHS
  • Michael Ochs
  • Phil Ochs during a 1967 Vietnam protest outside the UN building in New York.

It probably seemed like a gloomy joke when Phil Ochs put an image of his own tombstone on the cover of his 1969 album Rehearsal for Retirement with an inscription that read: "Born El Paso, Texas; Died Chicago, IL, 1968."

The grave, which also featured a black-and-white photo of Ochs—rifle slung over shoulder—standing in front of an American flag, was an obvious reference to the radical leftist folk singer's role in the bloody protests outside the Democratic National Convention 50 years ago this week. Specifically, Ochs was in Chicago to help plan and participate in the Youth International Party's (also known as Yippie) "Festival of Life" protest in Lincoln Park. He was among a core group of organizers arrested as they tried to publicize their own candidate for president, a pig.

Ochs witnessed all of the violence and chaos in Chicago while the Democratic establishment, guarded by a small army of Mayor Richard J. Daley's troops, chose pro-Vietnam war candidate Hubert Humphrey. The singer saw it as the "final death of democracy in America."

"It was the total, final takeover of the fascist military state—in one city, at least," Ochs said in an interview in New York shortly after the DNC. "Chicago was just a total, absolute police state. A police state from top to bottom. I mean it was totally controlled and vicious."

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Monday, July 2, 2018

Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy did much more than join the Blues Brothers

Posted By on 07.02.18 at 08:32 PM


Since 2004 Plastic Crimewave (aka Steve Krakow) has used the Secret History of Chicago Music to shine a light on worthy artists with Chicago ties who've been forgotten, underrated, or never noticed in the first place. Older strips are archived here.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

RIP Chicago techno marvel and international cult figure Dan Jugle

Posted By on 06.20.18 at 05:20 PM

Dan Jugle performing with Chandeliers in 2010. - GIANT SYSTEM
  • Giant System
  • Dan Jugle performing with Chandeliers in 2010.

Chicago producer and multi-instrumentalist Dan Jugle got hooked on electronic music in the mid-90s, when he had to find his way to raves without being old enough to drive. Shortly after he turned 16, he started messing around with analog equipment to make his own music. He fell in love with techno, and in recent years he'd earned a reputation for the waterlogged club tracks he made with Juzer (a duo with Beau Wanzer) and the raw, throbbing cuts he recorded with Dar Embarks (a duo with childhood friend Ken Zawacki). Last Thursday, Dar Embarks played Smart Bar, one of the most respected electronic-music venues on the continent. But it was the last time Jugle performed live—he died this past weekend at age 37.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Remembering soundman and musician Patrick Kenneally, who nurtured scenes in Chicago and Portland

Posted By on 06.18.18 at 01:44 PM

Patrick Kenneally - SARAH COOPER
  • Sarah Cooper
  • Patrick Kenneally

If you play any kind of amplified music in Chicago, you've probably dealt with enough live sound engineers to know that you'd be lucky if the one working your gig was Patrick M. Kenneally. "Playing in bands, sound guys are often your first introductions to venues—seeing Pat made you feel a little more at home," says Metro talent buyer and Lasers and Fast and Shit vocalist Joe Carsello. Kenneally, who died at age 43 on Wednesday, June 6, spent the past couple decades doing sound at clubs such as Darkroom, the Empty Bottle, and Lounge Ax. (Recently he worked mostly as a building superintendent, but he still picked up the occasional gig.) He'd ingrained himself in the local scene, becoming a vital piece of the largely invisible infrastructure that keeps it healthy. He wasn't just punching the clock—he cared about the music community and supported it with more than his labor.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Vlogger ZackTV devoted his life to making Chicago’s fractious rap scene into one community

Posted By on 06.04.18 at 07:26 PM

Zack Stoner, aka ZackTV - IMAGE VIA ZACK STONER'S FACEBOOK
  • Image via Zack Stoner's Facebook
  • Zack Stoner, aka ZackTV

Zack Stoner dedicated his life to documenting parts of Chicago that few outsiders with video cameras ever bother to visit. He uploaded his interviews to YouTube as ZackTV, so you could call him a vlogger—his channel, ZackTV1, has more than 175,000 subscribers. You could call him a journalist too, because he did tremendous work capturing local artists in their elements, sometimes before anyone outside Chicago knew who they were—Chief Keef, 600 Breezy, Rico Recklezz, Queen Key, FBG Duck. But neither "journalist" nor "vlogger" adequately describes him. He pursued his work with an activist zeal that bordered on the missionary.

Stoner was about support and healing, not just reportage—he gave voice to Chicagoans who had none, quashed beefs between artists and cliques, and strove to create positive change in resource-deprived communities burdened by a history of systemic racism. It's impossible to count how many people he touched with his work, but after he was shot dead at age 30 on Wednesday morning in the South Loop, it seemed like all of Chicago began grieving. "It's a dark cloud over the city," says rapper and G Herbo manager Mikkey Halsted.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Singular pianist and musical mind Cecil Taylor has died at 89

Posted By on 04.06.18 at 12:34 PM


This morning I woke to the news that pianist Cecil Taylor had died on Thursday in his Brooklyn home at age 89. Sometimes artists of Taylor's stature are so ingrained in your consciousness that they become part of you, whether they're alive or dead. He came out of jazz and belonged to it, but beginning the late 50s he bucked the tradition in every way, blazing a trail all his own. He was an artist in the largest possible sense, and he committed his life to making something unique and personal. He never faltered in that commitment, and like a handful of other uncompromising artists to emerge from jazz at the time—especially Ornette Coleman—he endured years of neglect and ridicule before people eventually caught up with his original vision and recognized it for its genius.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Masterful but overlooked Chicago jazz drummer Robert Barry has died

Posted By on 03.06.18 at 02:24 PM

Robert Barry, left, with Fred Anderson - JIM NEWBERRY
  • Jim Newberry
  • Robert Barry, left, with Fred Anderson

It's always sad when an important artist passes away, but it's sadder when that passing goes unnoticed. Today I learned that great Chicago drummer Robert Barry died on January 8 at age 85, at Chalet Living and Rehab at 7350 N. Sheridan. And as far as I can tell, aside from his obituary nothing has been written about it—the only reason I can imagine for this state of affairs is that the people in a position to publish something just don't know he's gone. Barry was a quiet man in life and music, a lean and subtle drummer with a tightly coiled swing and an adaptable aesthetic—but as powerful as his presence, creativity, and rhythmic drive could be, he never let them distract from the design of whatever band he played in.

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

This guy loved Mark E. Smith more than you ever did because he got a Mark E. Smith tattoo

Posted By on 01.25.18 at 08:19 AM


Mark E. Smith as a tattoo - CLIFF DOERKSEN
  • Cliff Doerksen
  • Mark E. Smith as a tattoo

The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.


There will be many tributes to the Fall's Mark E. Smith, who died yesterday, including a very fine contribution by the Reader's Peter Margasak. But there will be none more heartfelt than the one spotted more than seven years ago by the late, great Cliff Doerksen at the Berwyn YMCA on the upper left arm of a fellow gymgoer: a tattoo of Smith's face.

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Performing Arts
Patience and Sarah Theater Wit
October 12
Music
Kyle, Marc E. Bassy, Tobi Lou Concord Music Hall
October 21

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