Chi Lives: the psychedelic sounds (and drawings, and writings) of Steve Krakow 

Steve Krakow doesn't cook much at home--his collection of 100 stuffed felt autograph dogs occupies most of the counter space in his kitchen. The rest of his Ukrainian Village apartment is filled with his other collections of pop culture detritus, accumulated over the last ten years or so: more than 7,000 LPs and thousands more singles, 20,000-odd comic books, hundreds of rock and film posters, vintage Mr. T paraphernalia, old board games, lunch boxes, action figures, and 70s polyester print shirts. Krakow's personal museum isn't open to the public, but since 1996 he's been imparting its essence through Galactic Zoo Dossier, a sporadically published handwritten and hand-drawn zine devoted to his pet obsession: mind-bendingly strange psychedelic music.

Drag City just published an anthology of the zine's first four issues, but Krakow's been promoting acid folk and psych rock in Chicago since the late 90s. He's organized shows and booked tours for wiggy Japanese acts like Mainliner and Acid Mothers Temple. His label, Galactic Zoo Disk, has put out records like last year's debut album by the local band Spires That in the Sunset Rise. He's designed countless flyers and a few record sleeves for local bands. And, of course, he's in three bands himself, most notably Plastic Crimewave Sound, an unhinged quintet that includes fashion designer Cat Chow, noise artist Andy Ortmann, and country crooner Lawrence Peters and whose music ranges from wah-wah-drenched freakouts to mystical incantations.

But Krakow insists he's not unique. "There's one of me in every town," he says. "I think the consciousness of this stuff is rising. People are bored with indie rock and they want to hear some other stuff, and the past is a good place to do it. I'd like to think psychedelia isn't such a dirty word anymore."

Raised in Hoffman Estates, Krakow started drawing comics as a teenager. "I was gearing myself for a straight comics career," he says. "I was always shitty with buildings and backgrounds, but I could always draw people." Then, as a painting student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he discovered psychedelia. After that he couldn't see himself spending his life drawing superheroes.

He started Galactic Zoo Dossier shortly after he moved to Chicago in 1995. The five issues he's published so far feature his original comics--a weird intersection of mainstream superhero parody and 60s underground themes--and feverish endorsements and succinct histories of a staggering range of music. Krakow's reach includes American garage rock, Krautrock, flower power pop, psychedelic soul, contemporary stoner rock, and other permutations of expansive musical thinking. The first four issues--all produced by October of '97--were xeroxed editions of about 300, packaged with a cassette of music discussed in the issue. But for number five Krakow started to think big.

In addition to stepping up from cassettes to a CD, he designed a set of "Damaged Guitar Gods" trading cards--hand-drawn cards showcasing 50 of his heroes, from free jazz mavens Sonny Sharrock and Derek Bailey to protopunks James Williamson and Wayne Kramer to oddballs Jandek and Sandy Bull--as an insert for the middle of the zine. But producing the cards proved too expensive, and a printer he'd hooked up with through a friend of a friend sat on the artwork for six months before Krakow managed to get the material back. He was casting around for a new plan when another friend, Plush front man Liam Hayes, suggested he get in touch with Drag City founder Dan Koretzky, who'd been a fan of the zine ever since Plastic Crimewave bassist Mark Lux sent an issue to the label as part of a demo package.

Drag City stepped up to the plate and financed the offset printing of the fifth GZD, which came out in 2001 complete with the cards and a CD featuring contributions from former Can guitarist Michael Karoli and Philadelphia drone merchants Bardo Pond, as well as obscurities spanning four decades. Despite the hefty $16 price tag, about 1,500 copies of the 2,000 produced have sold. Buoyed by this success, the label decided to compile the early issues of the zine, plus Krakow's flyers and several of his contributions to other publications, as a bound book with a bonus CD.

Until recently a clerk at Reckless Records, Krakow's currently unemployed. He hopes to get GZD number six--with pieces on Vanilla Fudge, Pentangle guitarist John Renbourn, and AMM's Keith Rowe--out by the end of the year. Last year Plastic Crimewave Sound released its first album, Flashing Open, on the Arizona label Eclipse, and this summer Krakow's curating a three-day GZD festival at the Empty Bottle. "I'm not raking it in now but it seems like I could make a living doing this at some point," he says. "But I'd do it no matter what."

At 7 PM on Saturday, February 28, there'll be a release party for the Drag City book, Galactic Zoo Dossier Compendium, in conjunction with the opening of "Cake White Palace," a show of art by Krakow and eight other artists at Texas Ballroom, 3012 S. Archer on the third floor. Krakow and others will DJ; Sparrowhawk Family, Entrance, and Bardo Pond guitarist Michael Gibbons (aka 500 mg) will perform. It's free from 7 to 9; after 9 it's $5. Call 773-459-7277 for more information. Plastic Crimewave Sound performs Wednesday, March 3, at 8 at the Fireside Bowl, 2646 W. Fullerton. Call 773-486-2700.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jim Newberry.

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