The Bleader | Blog + Reader, the Chicago Reader's blog

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Jonny Polonsky celebrates decades of guitar-pop perfection with a show in his old hometown

Posted By today at 11.24 AM

  • Photo by Aurelien Budynek
  • Jonny Polonsky

In 2018, emerging musicians commonly hashtag artists they admire on Instagram or @ them on Twitter, hoping for a signal boost that might get them new listeners. In the 80s and 90s, though, the analog to this social-media circuit was tape trading (eventually people started using burned CDs, but "CD trading" doesn't have the same ring).

Among the most successful at this organic style of self-promotion was Jonny Polonsky, a Chicago-born, Wilmette-raised singer-songwriter who began hand-distributing his self-produced cassettes at shows around the city when he was still a teenager. By 1994, when he reached legal drinking age, he'd already made fans of the likes of Marc Ribot, Jeff Buckley, and John Zorn. That same year he released a demo produced by Frank Black, which quickly persuaded Rick Rubin to sign him to American Recordings. Polonsky's 1996 debut album, Hi My Name Is Jonny, brims with smart, pristine power pop, and it made him a critical darling; stints on Lollapalooza and other cross-country tours followed.

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Rahm & Rauner help Amazon play New York City and Virginia like a bunch of saps

Posted By today at 06.00 AM

  • Sue Kwong
As a longtime subscriber and avid reader of my beloved Sun-Times, I think it’s okay if I respectfully make two corrections to their recent story about Amazon’s decision to build its second headquarters someplace other than Chicago.

Thank goodness.

“Chicago’s dream of landing Amazon HQ2 and the 50,000 jobs that would come with it—is all but dead," read the lede in a recent story.

Okay, first correction: It’s not 50,000 jobs. Yes, Amazon promised to bring 50,000 jobs to the winning state or city, when they began their headquarters competition 14 months ago.

But they ended up pulling a fast one and splitting the headquarters in two, so that the “lucky” winners (New York City and Arlington, Virginia) only get 25,000 jobs each.

Man, the contest’s barely over and already Amazon’s broke its promise.

As for the second correction—it was never Chicago’s “dream” to land the headquarters.

Oh, hell, no—that was the dream of Mayor Rahm and his faithful sidekick Governor Rauner—both of whom will be leaving office shortly, thank you very much.

Most ordinary Chicagoans I know—and I know a lot of them—were okay with Amazon coming to town, so long as they didn’t have to pick up the bill to get Amazon to come here.

Unfortunately, picking up the bill was always part of this deal.

How much of a bill? We’ll probably never know—unless some enterprising reporter gets a copy of the bid details from City Hall or the state with a Freedom of Information Act request.

Cause Rahm and Rauner never told us—so much for transparency in government.

Actually, Rahm and Rauner were forbidden from telling us any details of their offer—estimated to be at least $2.25 billion—by a non-disclosure agreement they signed with Amazon.

That non-disclosure agreement apparently went so far as to prevent Rahm and Rauner from revealing such mundane matters as which locations Amazon’s site-selection committee visited on its tour of Chicago.

In fact, one of my favorite Amazon moments came when Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman tried to pry that site-selection info out of mayoral aide Robert Rivkin.

“Amazon wants to do this on a very confidential basis,” Rivkin told Spielman. “Everybody is under strict nondisclosure. So, I really can’t talk about it.”

When Spielman pressed further, Rivkin said: “What about, ‘I can’t talk about it’ don’t you understand?”

You know, it's too bad for Rahm the contest didn’t hinge on sarcastic city officials. Otherwise, Chicago would have won hands down.

In the aftermath of Amazon’s decision, Mayor Rahm waxed philosophically. “One of the things I do know about in life: You don’t succeed unless you try,” he said. “Sometimes your biggest lessons in life where you learn the most is if you don’t succeed.”

Meanwhile, ordinary New Yorkers are learning a few hard lessons from having won this contest.

It’s going to cost them at least $2 billion in various handouts to appease the egos of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who felt compelled to enter what is essentially a who’s-got-the-bigger-wang contest.

“Some Queens residents and many elected officials expressed anger that the costs—in crowded subways, rising home prices and state and city tax dollars—could far outweigh the benefits of at least 25,000 new workers, making an average of what the company said would be $150,000,” reads a story in The New York Times. “Local politicians were promising protests, objecting to the incentive package that could far exceed $2 billion, including existing city tax breaks.”

Newly elected New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, summed it up with this tweet: “We’ve been getting calls and outreach from Queens residents all day about this. The community’s response? Outrage.”

You know, for once I gotta say—it's not so bad living in the Second City.

Before all is said and done, just about everyone in New York City—as well as in Arlington—will realize they were played like saps in a con job devised by clever corporate hustlers who masterfully worked one city against another.

Between Arlington and New York City, Amazon will probably receive close to $5 billion in public subsidies—money for which there are undoubtedly far more pressing public needs.

Speaking of which, on the opposite page from the Amazon story, the Sun-Times ran an article about how the Chicago Public Schools still aren’t providing “all special education students with the services they need and are entitled to.”

So Rahm found billions for Jeff Bezos, but only pennies for our most vulnerable, at-risk kids.

Hey, Amazon, how about kicking back a little something for the special education kids that Rahm and Rauner left behind.

It’s the least you can do for using us to squeeze more millions out of those suckers in Virginia and New York City.

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A linchpin of Chicago’s 1980s avant-garde has died in Florida

Posted By today at 06.00 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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Monday, November 19, 2018

Craft beer, corporate beer, and Master Cicerones: drink it all in with Brewmaster

Posted By on 11.19.18 at 01:05 PM


The goal of the documentary Brewmaster, director Douglas Tirola says, "is to tell the story of the craft beer boom." It encompasses more than craft beer, though: it also follows Drew Kostick, a New York lawyer trying to start his own brewery, and Brian Reed, a trade brewer for Tenth and Blake who's studying to become a Master Cicerone. Tenth and Blake is the craft and import division of MillerCoors, and while it includes several craft beer brands—including Pilsner Urquell, which provided funding for the documentary—the company isn't exactly a microbrewery. (Whether craft brands owned by megabreweries still qualify as "craft" is a topic for another day, though the Brewers Association says no.)

So while the documentary includes interviews with craft beer luminaries like Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewing), and Jim Koch (Boston Beer Company), it's really a story of the beer world, not just the craft beer one. It's coming to the Music Box on Tuesday, November 20, for a one-night screening that includes a Q&A with Tirola and Reed, along with local brewer and author Randy Mosher and Ray Daniels, founder and director of the Cicerone Certification Program, who both appear in the film. I talked to Tirola and Daniels (separately) about the film and the Cicerone Certification Program, which, like Daniels, is based in Chicago.

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Talking about God, the air force, and Britney Spears with Chicago rapper KC Ortiz

Posted By on 11.19.18 at 12:23 PM

  • Photo by Julia Hale
  • KC Ortiz

On Friday, November 23, Chicago-based rapper KC Ortiz performs at Subterranean as part of a showcase organized by Chicago label Futurehood, which supports gay and transgender musicians of color. She's no longer actively working with the label, founded in 2015 by rapper Mister Wallace and producer Aceb00mbap, but their parting was amicable—there's a reason the concert is called "Futurehood & Friends." 

Ortiz is originally from Mobile, Alabama, and moved to Chicago in 2006.  She's been writing and recording music for years, but she didn't release any of it until last year, when she put out two albums, Beach Street and Church Tapes. Her rapping is playful and upbeat, with lots of attitude and swagger and a distinct southern flavor—on "Shut Up," a track from Church Tapes, she complains about being underrated in the rap game, but that shouldn't be a problem for long. I had a chance to talk with her about her albums, her dream of writing for Britney Spears, her relationship with God, and what it means to be a trans woman in rap.

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Archive dive: A report from Morton, Illinois, the self-declared pumpkin capital of the world

Posted By on 11.19.18 at 11:00 AM

  • JAMES H.

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

Sure, your aunt may say she made that Thanksgiving pumpkin pie all on her own, but how much does she know about the people who picked and packed the pumpkins before the can of pie filling entered her kitchen? In the 2006 Reader article "Hecho en Illinois," Linda Lutton and Catrin Einhorn explored Morton, Illinois, which at the time produced as much as 90 percent of all canned pumpkin consumed in the United States. And the majority of those who made it possible traveled from a small town in Michoacan, Mexico.

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A dressy fashion sense that's all about seizing the day – whatever day it is

Posted By on 11.19.18 at 06:00 AM

Street View is a fashion series in which Isa Giallorenzo spotlights some of the coolest styles seen in Chicago.
"If I own a beautiful pair of shoes, why shouldn't I wear them to the parent-teacher night?" asks Terri Franklin. - ISA GIALLORENZO
  • Isa Giallorenzo
  • "If I own a beautiful pair of shoes, why shouldn't I wear them to the parent-teacher night?" asks Terri Franklin.

"Why do we need permission to get dressed up?" asks real estate broker and mother of three Terri Franklin. "Sometimes after women hit a certain age they start to melt into this submission of 'I don't need to get dressed up anymore.' Moms who used to feel conscious about their style just seem to play everything down. If I own a beautiful pair of shoes, why shouldn't I wear them to the parent-teacher night? Don't hesitate to wear something you love."

Following her own advice, Franklin put her best heels forward while guiding high school students as a volunteer docent at the Art Institute. In keeping with her aesthetic, which she calls "classic with a twist," she complemented the neutral pieces of her outfit with a pair of statement pleated pants and a confident stride. "For me it's just important to be yourself and be comfortable. I'm all about a natural presence."  v

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

More than 100 people showed up at a public meeting in order to save the Hideout

Posted By on 11.15.18 at 06:00 AM

Alderman Brian Hopkins introduced a zoning ordinance to protect the Hideout from the Lincoln Yards development. - MARISSA DE LA CERDA
  • Marissa De La Cerda
  • Alderman Brian Hopkins introduced a zoning ordinance to protect the Hideout from the Lincoln Yards development.

More than 100 supporters of the Hideout piled into the auditorium of Park Community Church last night for a public meeting held by the city’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) that was rumored to be about the 70-acre Lincoln Yards development, which would engulf and threaten the existence of the beloved music venue.

Tim and Katie Tuten, co-owners of the Hideout, had released a statement on Monday night saying they had asked the city to "delay any decisions on development, construction permits, and TIF’s until after the new mayor and city council are elected." The note was widely shared on social media with musicians, comedians, and lifelong Chicagoans voicing their support of the historic venue located on 1354 W. Wabansia.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Pitchfork’s Midwinter brings Kamasi Washington, Slowdive, Laurie Anderson, and dozens more to the Art Institute

Posted By on 11.14.18 at 10:00 AM

Kamasi Washington - COURTESY OF SACKS & CO.
  • Courtesy of Sacks & Co.
  • Kamasi Washington

Today Pitchfork and the Art Institute of Chicago announce the debut of Midwinter, a three-night event that will fill the museum's galleries with live music from February 15 through 17. Among the acts slated to appear are Kamasi Washington, Slowdive, Laurie Anderson, Panda Bear, Mykki Blanco, and Tortoise, who'll play all of TNT to celebrate the album's 21st anniversary. In its size and diversity, Midwinter's lineup looks like it belongs to an outdoor festival, but many of these acts don't make the kind of music that goes over well with thousands of sun-baked, half-drunk young people who've been on their feet all day. I'd prefer to watch William Basinski perform The Disintegration Loops in a museum, where there's at least a nonzero chance that the atmosphere will be appropriately meditative.

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Nobody’s getting this pearl on the gig poster of the week

Posted By on 11.14.18 at 06:00 AM


ARTIST: Margot Ferrick
SHOW: The Cairo Gang (solo) and Caroline Campbell at the Hideout on Wed 11/14

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