Friday, May 14, 2010

One thing I often wrestle with is how much the biography of an artist matters when it comes to appreciating their work. In most cases it doesn't matter at all. The words on the page are what they are and nothing more. In many cases, the story behind the creation of those words is fascinating (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and very much Kerouac).

I saw a very good movie about Joe Strummer a few years ago and one of the new facts I absorbed is that Joe was a bit of a hippy/bohemian before he ended up in the Clash. He had a tight group of friends and everyone was pretty mellow and communal. He ended up taking a very aggressive turn in personality when he got involved in punk , even somewhat shunning former close friends that were still flying that bohemian flag. It's screams scene jumper, though I'm sure a more passionate Strummer fan could explain it away as an personal evolution, a need to finally express what he always felt, or the fire of his politics burning brighter. There may be truth in those arguments, but in the end he seems clearly a scene jumper, and one that made an effort to turn his back on old friends, which is the real rub for me. I have a real hard time with people that refuse to at least acknowledge that all the things they chose and did not choose in life have aggregated to the person they are today. Everyone wants to remember the cool stuff they got into before everyone else knew it was cool, yet they are reluctant to admit that they took some boring turns into mediocrity or pop culture. It's a pet peeve for me.

I still love the Clash and Joe Strummer will always be the man. Some of the optimistic leftist politics on their records are woefully dated, but I still love those records. Adding in the Strummer biography blemishes won't change that conclusion either.

But perhaps this largely rests on how well you know the artist. Maybe if I was a long lost bohemian buddy of Joe's I'd never be able to stomach a Clash record.

I went to Brother Rice High School, a very good school without a doubt, though people beyond the south side of Chicago probably have never heard of it (unless you count John C. Reilly). It and the surrounding neighborhood are not looked at as artistic incubators, which is perfectly fine. Few places are. I honestly don't think any place in Chicago really fits the bill either. Maybe time is too much of a component (ie. Paris in the 1920's, Harlem in the 20's and 30's, New York hardcore in '88, etc.). I do know a bit about the Rice neck of the woods though, so I take any art that emerges from it seriously.

There is a bit of a hot potato writer out there these days that is a year older than me that went to Rice that is weaving a biographical tale of high school punk rock identity and all the exclusion, frustration, and angst that goes along with it. I knew who he was back then and had a class with him, though that is as deep as it went. I was into sxe hardcore, metal, and skateboarded as much as possible (swap out biking for skating and you're pretty close to where I'm at today). This is a precise cross pollination of subcultures. At that time, even one of these subcultures would place you in a minority, so much so that you always had a sense of the other dozen guys in the entire school that shared that interest. There weren't that many of us so you could always smell your own. There is nothing morally superior about these subculture cocktails, but suffice to say he was not in any of these little buckets. I'm assuming he got into punk after high school, which is great. It just drives me up a wall when he spins these stories of outlaw days in Mt Greenwood. Maybe he was a punk rocker in his walkman, but he kept it well hidden in his IOU sweaters and preppy friends. Eh, I digress. Many people find him a very good writer, so perhaps he is. I'm too close to the whole deal, so I will endlessly cry bullshit. I am well aware that the finger here really just needs to turn around to me and I need to write some good books. Fair enough.

So who is the bard of Mt. Greenwood and Brother Rice? I'd vote for John Powers. I had never read any of his books, but I recently barreled through The Last Catholic in America, Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?, and The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice Cream God. They are amazing and charming snapshots of Catholicism and Chicago in the 60's. It's not Hemingway, but it is not trying to be. They were very satisfying and poignant. The Unoriginal Sinner is the gem by far, capturing perfectly the confusion and desire of college life in a blue collar world. Powers was always referenced here and there at Rice as a local boy done good, but I never made the effort to track down the actual texts. Silly of me. I have now and am all the better for it.

Here's to artists proudly standing for their backgrounds, however boring or bland they may seem through lens of our current mind's eye.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I'm always fascinated by all of the little things that make cities and regions the specific and interesting places they are.

Bubblers, Culver's, fried Cheese Curds, shooting prairie dogs, what a hoosier is, a gaper's block, beef sandwiches, publics, etc. It all makes life unique and helps hang some decoration on memories of times and places.


I was at the bank the other day opening a new account which had a $50 minimum deposit.

"Are you going to just deposit the minimum, sir?"

"Yeah, that's fine. I didn't get to the cash station so take it out of my checking account."

She glazed over at 'cash station.' Ah, I forgot that is a Chicago thing.

"Just take the $50 out of my checking."


Lost was starting soon and dinner remained a question mark, so we opted for the quick escape hatch of grilled cheese and soup. I remarked that as a kid we always had Mrs. Grass' chicken soup with our grilled cheese meals. I can't think of another soup we ever paired with it, which might explain why I have no affection for tomato soup and sandwich combos. Becky had never heard of the soup, the company that made it, or anything. I was a bit incredulous and remarked further that my parents still eat it like clockwork today. Is this a Chicago thing? I believe so, though it is available everywhere. I'll be buying some soon.


In some ways, I was spoiled in West Lawn and never knew it. I mentioned to Becky that Dove's was right down the street and she asked if it was the same Dove's name that is plastered across all those lovely chocolates and ice cream bars in the stores across America? Yep, that one. And the original was 3 blocks from our house.

And we went to it about once a year. I'm guessing it was because it would always be there and so would we so we'll go again next week/month. It's the same logic that kept me from ducking my head into the Field Museum or Art Institute more often. Dove's on Pulaski is long gone and we don't live next to Springfield Ave. anymore. But the Dover bars live on.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

It's kind of a bi-weekly present, but with an ebay flavor. You know what is technically coming and you know the quantities, but you don't really know what it will all look like. It's exciting.

Last week was our first delivery from Full Circle Farms in Carnation, WA. We signed up for a small box of fruits and vegetables to be delivered bi-weekly and specified the certain types of produce we wanted to permanently exclude (mushrooms of course!, beets, etc.). You get an email midweek with your list of produce and you then have 4 days to make substitutions before it gets thrown on the plane the following week where it will be stacked in the lobby of the local Powerhouse Gym.

We usually eat fairly well, but this past week we have eaten better than ever -- delicious and extremely healthy. I also like that way it is already stretching our palates. For example, it looks like next week we will be receiving purple potatoes. They will certainly be new to me.

It does reify our living in Alaska, albeit in a small, charming way. We need to arrange to have our produce flown in.


It may be in the 50's during the day, but at 6am on my bike commute it's usually 32-34 degrees. It's bright and clear and I'm pedaling trough the quiet trails snatching a glance at a moose most mornings, so you'll hear no complaints from me.