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Thursday, January 18, 2018

From the archive: Remembering radio storyteller Joe Frank

Posted By on 01.18.18 at 08:57 AM

An ad for Joe Frank's radio show after he moved to California - SANZIBAR
  • sanzibar
  • An ad for Joe Frank's radio show after he moved to California

I don’t remember exactly when it was that I first heard a Joe Frank monologue on the radio, but, like many others, I do remember how it felt: like an antenna, snapping to alert in my head.

"What was that?" was the question it raised.

The voice was distinctive and compelling—as intimate as if he were in the room, leaning in to confess a jarring and deeply personal tale to me alone.

I was hooked.

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Influential pianist, composer, and AACM cofounder Muhal Richard Abrams dies at 87

Posted By on 11.01.17 at 03:30 PM

Muhal Richard Abrams - COURTESTY OF AKAMU
  • courtesty of Akamu
  • Muhal Richard Abrams

In April 1999, I conducted a phone interview with singular pianist, composer, and thinker Muhal Richard Abrams, who died Sunday at his Manhattan home at age 87. I was writing an article about the Chicago native in advance of a special performance at the Cultural Center in his honor—Mayor Richard M. Daley had proclaimed April 9 of that year Muhal Richard Abrams Day in the city.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü dead at 56

Posted By on 09.14.17 at 12:36 PM

Hüsker Dü: Greg Norton, Grant Hart, and Bob Mould - STEVE HENGSTLER
  • Steve Hengstler
  • Hüsker Dü: Greg Norton, Grant Hart, and Bob Mould

In November the Numero Group will release Savage Young Dü, a box set of early music—much of it previously unissued—by the great Minneapolis trio Hüsker Dü, one of the bands that helped redefine the sound of American hardcore in the mid- to late 80s. The promotional campaign for the set is already under way, so I didn't take any special notice at first when I saw an early photo of the band in my Instagram feed this morning—but then I got a lump in my gut when I realized it was there to honor the passing of the band's shaggy drummer, singer, and ebullient songwriter, Grant Hart, who died from kidney cancer last night. He was 56.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

RIP George A. Romero, whose Martin remains a masterpiece of independent filmmaking

Posted By on 07.28.17 at 02:30 PM

John Amplas in Martin
  • John Amplas in Martin
To memorialize the passing of George A. Romero (who died last week at the age of 77), I recently rewatched my favorite film of his, the 1978 vampire story Martin. The movie remains an object lesson in how to make the most of a low budget, but more importantly it's a deeply emotional work, perhaps the most emotional in Romero's career.

Martin showcases the writer-director's talent for cultural observation and his ability to elicit memorable performances from relatively unknown actors. It also provides an affecting document of a particular time and place: working-class Pittsburgh during the 1970s recession. Another thing that makes Martin so special is the way the horror elements intertwine with the social portrait—the theme of vampirism serves to bolster the themes of longing and loss. It confirms that Romero was one of the most sympathetic American filmmakers, in addition to being a great horror maestro.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Phil Cohran shaped the Black Arts Movement with his vision and discipline

Posted By on 07.18.17 at 07:37 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.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Remembering Bill Paxton in Near Dark, one of his finest performances

Posted By on 03.23.17 at 04:48 PM

Bill Paxton in Near Dark
  • Bill Paxton in Near Dark

On Friday and Saturday at midnight the Music Box is showing Near Dark, Kathryn Bigelow's first solo directorial effort, on 35-millimeter. The theater had planned the screenings as a commemoration of the film's 30th anniversary, but now they double as a tribute to the actor Bill Paxton, who delivered a memorable supporting turn in the movie, and who passed away last month from complications following heart surgery. A chronically underrated player in American movies, the versatile Paxton fared well both in comedy (Weird Science, Club Dread) and drama (One False Move, A Simple Plan), bringing a likable earnestness to both genres. Paxton is probably most beloved for his roles in action and adventure movies—Aliens, Predator 2, Tombstone, Apollo 13, True Lies, and Twister—and for good reason: he's the most recognizably human element in these large-scale productions, his modesty as a performer matched by his evident enthusiasm for whatever story he's helping to tell. Even when he overacted, as in Near Dark or Club Dread, his overacting was never self-important or at odds with the material. It felt like exactly what the movie called for.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

RIP Chicago rapper-singer Dinner With John, cofounder of Pivot Gang

Posted By on 02.09.17 at 11:24 AM

Dinner With John - VIA DINNER WITH JOHN'S FACEBOOK PAGE
  • Via Dinner With John's Facebook page
  • Dinner With John

Yesterday Chicago rapper-singer Dinner With John died at age 24. Born Walter Long Jr., he founded west-side rap group Pivot Gang with Saba, Joseph Chilliams, and MFn Melo. According to the Sun-Times Homicide Watch, he was stabbed to death in River North, near the Metra tracks north of Kinzie.

Long had previously recorded as John Walt—that's the name on what's now his last solo mixtape, Get Happy 2.0, which features the irrepressible "Kemo Walk." The track showcases what he did so well—he leans into the somber, twisting synth instrumental, steering his performance in a resiliently joyful direction.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Remembering Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit and his implacable grooves

Posted By on 01.24.17 at 12:00 PM

Jaki Liebezeit in December 2011 - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Jaki Liebezeit in December 2011

On Sunday singular German drummer Jaki Liebezeit died in his sleep at age 78 while suffering a sudden case of pneumonia. He leaves behind a profound musical legacy, the cornerstone of which is his membership in influential art-rock band Can—nearly five decades later, the records he made with that group sound fresher and more original than anything the vast majority of their contemporaries produced. Can were key figures in the Krautrock scene (along with the likes of Kraftwerk, Neu!, Faust, Ash Ra Tempel, and Amon Düül), and their trademark sound relied largely on Liebezeit's loose, massive grooves—a rhythmic armature that gave his bandmates the freedom to shape abstract textures, needling solo lines, and hypnotic chants in constantly shifting combinations.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Angered by homicides, activists leave coffins at Rahm Emanuel’s home

Posted By on 12.22.16 at 12:34 PM

Families of victims of gun violence lay symbolic coffins outside Mayor Emanuel’s house Wednesday evening during a vigil for the more than 700 people killed in Chicago this year. - MAX HERMAN/SUN-TIMES
  • Max Herman/Sun-Times
  • Families of victims of gun violence lay symbolic coffins outside Mayor Emanuel’s house Wednesday evening during a vigil for the more than 700 people killed in Chicago this year.

For a second consecutive year, activists delivered symbols of death to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's doorstep. But unlike November 2015, when protesters circled City Hall with caskets and calls for his resignation, this time they took the message directly to the mayor's Ravenswood home.

On Wednesday evening, group of roughly 50 activists convened at the American Indian Center in Uptown, where a 90-minute teach-in featured speakers sharing their grievances and personal heartbreak about the more than 770 Chicagoans who were killed by gun violence in 2016. While participants, including family members of victims, expressed severe disappointment with elected officials en masse, they remained steadfast in focusing their grievances towards Emanuel before leading a march.

At the teach-in, a large projector in the auditorium cycled through the names of all those who lost their lives. Underneath, three black coffins stood on display, with messages painted in red to symbolize blood. All of the coffins read "R.I.P." along with three practices they hold Emanuel responsible for: refusing to rebuild public housing, thwarting the elected civilian oversight of the police, and closing mental health clinics.

"It's very hard to look at [the names on screen] . . . I am broken," said Camiella Williams, a community activist who has lost 28 relatives and friends to gun violence in the last 12 years—including five this year. "Words cannot describe my pain." During her remarks, Williams told the crowd that she had to walk away crying after seeing the first six names projected. "Our mayor has not done anything," she said.

It's not only gun violence and police killing people, attendees said—it's also city policies. Speakers stressed the need for leaders to follow through on housing policies to help the homeless, including those living in Lawrence Avenue's tent city, located under a viaduct at Lake Shore Drive. Others addressed the struggle to keep a number of mental health clinics open following a wave of closings between 2012 and 2015.

Brian Malone, executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, also expressed concern about a Sun-Times report that several south side public high schools could soon be closed and consolidated into a new high school in Englewood. The potential location not far from the recently opened Whole Foods, he said, raises suspicion that the project is part of an effort to gentrify the area.

"How can you close schools, send children in harm's way, bring in a charter school behind it that does no better than the school that closed, and keep doing it all over again?" Malone asked. "[Emanuel] doesn't want to see improved schools for our children. He doesn't want to see us in this city."

Attendees eventually acted as pallbearers in a street processional. They marched from the teach-in and carried the coffins to their not-so-final resting place. Upon arriving at Emanuel's house, they were greeted by a group of police officers restricting access to the sidewalk. The activists laid the boxes on Emanuel's snow-covered front lawn, and adorned them with candles and flowers. Police officers confiscated the makeshift coffins before the vigil ended.

"This hurts that I've gotta walk holding this [sign] right here," said Arewa Karen Winters, who got choked up while talking about her great-nephew, 16-year-old Pierre Loury, who was killed in April by police officers in Lawndale. "It hurts because he should be here. They should all be here."

Behind the first floor curtains of the mayor's residence, the lights were on. But there was no telling whether he was home, or whether he'd seen the demonstration.

"Rahm Emanuel, I cannot wait until this election comes and your ass is out of there," Winters said, in closing.


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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Remembering Bay Area producer Cherushii, a victim of the Ghost Ship fire

Posted By on 12.07.16 at 12:00 PM

Cherushii - JEREMY DANGER
  • Jeremy Danger
  • Cherushii

The contemporary dance-music scene and the underground arts community have been in mourning since Friday night, when a fire destroyed Oakland underground arts space the Ghost Ship during a show, killing dozens—as I write, the official death toll is 36, though that number is expected to rise. The tragedy has forced a conversation about Oakland's housing crisis into the national press, and it's brought the issue of unlicensed venues to the attention of people who may not have even known they existed. Underground and DIY spaces provide a home to musicians who can't reliably feel welcome in commercial clubs, bars, and venues—whether because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their art and its message, or some combination of the above. Many of these artists make music with no intention (and no hope) of realizing financial gain, and frequently lose money by recording and touring. People who host underground shows often don't recoup their expenses, and do so at personal risk—booking events in a nontraditional space, especially when you live in that space, endangers your stability because you can be fined or evicted.

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