Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday v. 3

Dragged my sick ass out of bed today for my third annual Black Friday Photo Safari at the State St. Macy's. I don't know exactly why I keep coming back, other than it being a way for me to participate in the debauch without dropping any lucre--it's not as if the scenery changes much from year to year. Although, there did seem to be a few more of these guys--thanks, #Occupy!--hanging around the fringes:
The "BA" on the man's coat, FYI, stands for Bob Avakian. Sigh... Other than that, it was the usual paroxysm of people, products and pretty colors: grownups buying candy--
Piles of unwanted toys--
squirming children--
plenty of bacon--
and some rather photogenic odd-couples--
--the challenge of this type of photography being, of course, that people (with the frequent exception of small children and the elderly) don't much like having their picture taken by strangers while they're trying to shop or whatever, forcing me to shoot-from-the-hip to avoid wrath-incurring. People, get real--yr. phizzogs aren't proprietary product!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sugar Mountain 2011

Aficionados have noticed that it's been quite some time since I last weblogged, and diehard fans may already have intuited why--I've been off-the-grid for most of October, working (once again!) the sugar-beet harvest in eastern North Dakota. In addition to sweetening your breakfast cereal, the beet harvest provides temporary, high-paying employment for a growing number of itinerant freaks (er, punks), who flock to the upper midwest each year to rake in two or three thousand bucks, a relative goldmine in our social stratum.

I described last year's harvest in some detail, and if I'm unable to lavish the same attention on this year's edition it's only because my poor brain is too truly fried. I will say that this year's harvest exceeded all expectations; it got off to a grindingly slow start, and the general forecast was for a piss-poor year--meager crop, crap weather, scant wages--but in the end we worked quite a bit, walked away with a couple of healthy paychecks and had some chart-bustingly debaucherous Good Times in the interim.

I won't go into the laborious nuts-n-bolts of working sugar beets--I did so last year, if you're really curious--but will offer at least some high(low?)lights from the last whirlwind few weeks, in no particular order: endless games of drunken, delirious rummy with heavy-metal soundtrack, as well as an rowdy, epic game of Acey-Deucey, quite possibly the silliest card game ever concocted, in which a growing crowd of broke+bored beet-harvesters gambled away the last of their pocket-change, reduced to wagering with pocketknives and bottles of booze; my trusted tape player, which pulled me through a 132-hour marathon out at the factory with scintillating books-on-tape (Walter Tevis' awesome The Man Who Fell to Earth) and bitchin' music (e.g. Beck's flawless Midnite Vultures, maybe the mostly deeply funky record ever made by a white dude) that fueled mid-shift dance parties, as well as my trusty fellow-taretaker Bill--Northern Californian fireball, humorist and artist-extraordinaire, with whom I had long talks ranging from crude and potty-mouthed to heartfelt and erudite, and with whom I also "decorated" the tare-shack with explosive sharpie graffiti, much to the baffled consternation of the day-shifters, who responded to our intricate witticisms with unvarying fuck u, queers--I'm afraid our more daring pieces ("Fast and Pray for More Butt Sex in North Dakota," Bill's naked lady getting sprayed by a leering skunk, etc., may have contributed to management's unprecedented painting-over (with black paint!) of nearly all tare-shack graffiti at the end of the harvest; and the steady, vigorous substance use which culminated in a small-scale riot and an orgy of bottle-smashing our last Saturday night and a pretty wicked porn shoot on Sunday (for details you'll have to wait for the Full Metal Faggot 2012 wall calendar--I'm certainly not spilling them here). There's just no telling what ~25 world-class fuckups can cook up, in terms of mischief, mayhem and inspired time-killing, over the course of three and a half weeks.

Few of us beet harvesters, it's true, have very worthy or extravagant plans for our two-or-three thousand-dollar payoffs; most talked of buying crummy used cars, or having ample beer + cigarette money for the winter months, and assuredly we'll all be dead broke again by the time we trudge back to Wahpeton in late 2012. But such is the romantic life of the itinerant punk-laborer, all booms + crashes, hilarious ups and equally hilarious downs.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On a Final Note

Dumbass judge Rotten Milk with contest-winner Meg McCarville
In a final dumbass twist, my Spitbutt antics (see below) have been recounted in sordid detail over at Vice Magazine as part of their Ultimate Dumbass coverage, and the "band" was apparently more than the author could handle--Spitbutt Was the Last Straw, blares the headline. I question the veracity of the report (I certainly don't remember crying) and take vehement issue with the portrayal of my "bandmate" as a "fat wasteoid type," but I suppose having a performance described by freakin' Vice Magazine as "the ultimate act of degradation" is an honor of sorts--a highly dubious one, but an honor nonetheless. And now, after all these years, my bared bum has finally found its way onto the 'web--it was bound to happen sooner or later. Hi, mom!

Sunday, August 28, 2011


I'm proud to report that I--and my impromptu "bandmates"--walked away with (tied-for) third place in Friday night's inaugural Ultimate Dumbass competition, cementing my position as one of Chicago's preeminent dumbasses, as if the matter were ever in question. Brainchild of New Orleanian-cum-Chicagoan/hairy-weirdo Davitt Terell, Ultimate Dumbass was pretty much as advertised above: a contest to find the "dumbest band possible," both dumb and band being very much open to interpretation--perfect fare for the waning days of summer, when minds everywhere have melted into viscous goo.

I mean, being dumb is pretty easy, right? Sure, but there's also a zen-archery aspect to it--achieving drooling imbecility only really works when you're not trying. Consequently, there were a number of contestants who totally overreached in their quest for dumbness, missing the point entirely: the Sylvia-Plath-in-drag who stuck her head in a microwave, the "guitarist" whose cardboard axe housed a smartphone that played guitar-solo videos off of YouTube, even the great Randall + Drew, whose grotesque take on nu-country was hysterical (I got a beer belly on the back of my head--best lyric of 2011) but not particularly dumb. Closer to the mark were such half-baked acts as Didjeri-Douchebags (pretty self-explanatory) and Sonny and Share, whose drunken-karaoke version of I Got You, Babe was as charming as it was pointless and retarded. Then there was Davey Hart, of Wishgift fame, whose adult-baby routine--shitty diapers 'n all--definitely merited the third-place award that we would ultimately share.

As for my act: I certainly didn't plan on competing--if I had, I'd surely've overthought the whole thing--but things were getting rowdy, I was deep in the cups and Spitbutt just came to me in a flash. What could be stupider than having somebody spit all over my butt? Enlisting a couple of last-second volunteers--Loto Ball in a brilliant and fortuitous turn as guest-vocalist and Mortville mastermind Clayton B. as the lucky butt-spitter--we took to the stage, I promptly depantsed and the rest was history... Clayton, for his part, went well above + beyond the call of duty, drenching my butt in what turned out to be vomit, and the judges were duly impressed. "That," pronounced Rotten Milk, "Was really stupid."

I can't quite say who won second-place--I'll admit to some pretty serious lapses of memory--but celebrity judge Meg McCarville very much blew all other contestants out of the water with her end-of-the-night showstopper. Despite the inherent dubiousness of a judge being allowed to compete, she unquestionably earned her gold medal by pepper-spraying herself in the face, point-blank (followed by a very convincing display of grievous injury and temporary blindness)--elevating the terms of the contest in a single stroke by presenting dumbness not as a performance but as a way of life. Her left-field victory makes McCarville the future queen of Ultimate Dumbass 2012, ensuring some out-of-this-world dumbassery in next year's contest. Mark your calendars, and get started on yr dumb band, doods!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Glow

It was announced this last week, to little fanfare, that the city of Chicago was to begin replacing its sodium-vapor streetlamps, which have since the mid-70s bathed the nighttime city in their distinctive pukey-orange glow, with a more-energy efficient (and much less orange) model. I rejoiced at the news--I've always found the city's Glow more or less nauseating, particularly on overcast nights when the reflective cloud-cover makes it especially pukey and unnatural. And I'm by no means alone; an architecture critic for the Tribune once described the lights as a "city-wide orange abomination." Of course when you live in the Glow night in and night out you don't really notice it any more--it's when I return home from time abroad that it's always hit me with a sinking ugh.

They've already replaced the lights all down the stretch of Western Avenue I ride almost daily, and the change is indeed striking. Might just take some getting used to, but y'know what?--I don't think I like it. The new metal-halide lamps certainly give off a cleaner, brighter, less queasy-making light, but they also feel somehow... clinical. The old Glow might have been downright ugly but it's been the Glow of my youth, steeping so many of the joys, pains and drunken episodes of my early life in its off-golden radiance. Chicago readers will know exactly what I'm talking about, but for you out-of-towners here are a few photographic examples, various friends of mine basking in the old Glow:
The new lights, 'much as I thought I'd appreciate them, make me feel like I'm in Toronto or something, and I think I might miss that awful old Glow after all, when it's gone--fortunately, this being Chicago, they'll be lucky to have the project completed within the decade. Tan while you can!

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Over on the long-neglected Secret Beach Jukebox, I look back on the three days of peace, music and drug-sweat that comprised last weekend's incomprable Bitchpork festival. So hot! So loud! Relive the mindfuckery!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bonne fête à moi

I'd like to take a moment to publicly thank my Friends for fêting me with style yesterday, as the hour of my 31st birthday approached--they know how to put a smile on an old man's face. It was, I think, the first proper Birthday Party of my adult life. Usually I throw together something dinky at the last hour; last year's mini-party in the Victoria Park waterfall, for instance, was picturesque, high on charm but low on birthday-related boisterousness. There was definitely something to be said for this year's more debaucherous cut--five gallons of heavy hooch, three kinds of cole slaw, a DJ playing booty jams and a kiddie pool with inflatable throne upon which I drunkenly reclined, receiving gifts and feeling like a Pharaoh, or at least an LA playboy. Even better, the fifteen minutes of pure love bestowed on me by merry alchemists Shree Shrine, whose performance was an embarassment of riches featuring prayer bowls, freshly-popped popcorn, a five-minute volley of party poppers, half of which landed in my lap, confetti everywhere and an incredibly sincere version of this song, which I wrote and recorded in an hour way back in 2006. The whole thing was just off-the-charts sweet. Followed by full-blooded rock-n-roll testifying from Bret Koontz and John Wheatley--couple-a guitar-wielding hotheads with whom Secret Beach readers might be familiar--including a rousing, reach-for-the-stars rendition of Queen's Don't Stop Me Now from John that gave me a crucial second wind, several cups deep into the hooch as I was. That and the fine weather, bounty of delectable foodtuffs, plentiful inebriants and all-around excellent company made for a special evening that tickled me in all the right places. Thanks, y'all!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hot Dogs, Get'cher Hot Dogs

So, I've been hanging out a lot with my mom, who's been pretty sick, and is recovering from some major surgery, and today my visiting aunt Julie took her and I and my kid sister out to Costco--to stock up on garbage bags and other household basics, but also just as a sort of field trip for my mom, who hasn't been able to get out a whole lot this summer. It was my first-ever visit to the behemoth that is Costco, and my mom, who was wearing a hot pink peasant dress and in high spirits, suggested that there might be an "article" in it for me. I'll admit that I couldn't think of anything especially newsworthy about my first visit to Costco, but I think she thought that on this Independence Eve I might be able to mine the Costco Experience for, y'know, insight into the American character or something.

Which is a tall order; Costco, of course, is just a really big store, where they sell really big portions of everything under the sun, and, well, duh, that's pretty American--no Pulitzer for investigative journalism there. But as I've sat by the window with my pipe this evening and reflected on the day's events, I do find the vistas of Costco coming back to haunt me, and concede that the subject could merit a few words. The most memorable image, for me, was the spectacle of a dozen or so cow-eyed suburbanites, wrestling (as my sister put it) over half-portions of hot dogs that were on free sample--I'd say that in itself summed up the national mood pretty well, if it didn't seem so obvious. Apparently tasting stations are a major aspect of shopping at Costco--with everything from turkey burgers to gelato being offered, in gratis li'l demi-portions, one can (and does!) make a whole meal of the free samples. The other thing I found striking was the bizarre dimensions that products seemed to take on when sold in such massive quantities; looking at 24-packs of jumbo body lotion bottles, for instance, I couldn't help but imagine some overfed giantess sitting on a chaise lounge somewhere and moisturizing yards and yards of undulating flesh--I mean, who else is ever going to get through five gallons of skin product?

People like my mom and aunt and sister (and I) seem to wear a protective layer of irony when doing something like shopping at Costco--we're at least a little bit enlightened in that we can recognize the total obscenity of it. But this intellectual sense of remove didn't stop up from shopping enthusiastically--filling our (oversized) cart to capacity and topping it all off with gargantuan frozen yogurt sundaes. The deals are just overpowering. And, people like my mom (and aunt), who are post-operative and simple can't get around all that well have pretty legitimate reasons for wanting to stock up on toilet paper and dish soap. The place even struck a consumerist chord or two in me, at moments--I, who do half my shopping at the dollar store and generally only buy things when I have to. It sure would be nice, I found myself thinking, to have twenty pounds of coffee in my freezer, and be done with those shitty mornings when I've run out of the stuff and have to leave the house for my waking fix. Unfortunately, the one thing I really wanted to buy today--a portable li'l crackbox to play tapes on while I bike across town--Costco didn't carry. They may sell 'most anything else you can imagine (including, my mom joked, coffins), but I guess cassette players are just beyond the pale of obsolescence.

Anyway, my mom claims to read my 'blog on occasion--so here ya go, mom--not only did I complete your assignment but I turned in my copy the same day. Next time, though, can we go to the park or something?

Sunday, June 26, 2011


After the unqualified hysteria of the Pride Parade, my neighborhood is so blessedly calm and quiet, the soft li'l June breeze wafting so sweetly through my window, where I sit spliff-smoking and, y'know, blogging. Must I really slog through gay disneyland every year just for some homo action? Can't cute boys just come wafting through my window?

I do the parade thing pretty much annually, though I never really have what could be considered a Good Time; I don't travel with a gaggle, preferring (?) to hang solo and "people-watch," as I charitably describe it to myself. And indeed, there is always a surfeit of human spectacle, as some 500,000 people, half of them tanked on Four Loko, wile out on a short stretch of Halsted Street. I'm consistently impressed by the people who bring their young children to the parade--not because kids shouldn't be exposed to sexual diversity, but because Pride can be so extreme and debaucherous, on par with Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Impressionable as youngsters can be, you can imagine the lasting impression on a kindergartner watching, say, a fat guy with pierced nipples and superman underwear grind a telephone pole, coloring the kid's early conceptions of what the word gay might mean.

To be fair, the parade proper does put up a civilized front--waving politicians and corporate sponsors; it isn't until mid-afternoon, when the barricades come down and the alcohol is flowing torrentially, that the real freakydeak gets underway. I myself started early on the sauce, choking down cheap vodka+juice on the corner of Halsted and School for the bulk of the parade, hoping that the booze might lend me the bravado (otherwise sorely lacking) to come on to handsome strangers. But in fact it just made me sleepy, and I had to wander over to the lakefront and nap it off. Surprisingly sober and refreshed after an hour in the grass, I returned to the epicenter, where sheriff's work-crews were making an absurd attempt at cleaning up, poking with pushbrooms at the mountains of empty cans and worthless parade swag--beads, skittles wrappers, cardboard fans from Congresswoman Jan Schakowsy--while ever-drunker hordes still massed the parade route. Feeling not quite up to speed, I considered getting another bottle--maybe at thirty I'm too old to get drunk twice in one day, as I decided it against it and settled for banging on a newspaper box for an hour or so, my clumsy way of being festive, until the post-parade atmosphere started feeling desperate and I headed home...

No lessons or insights here--just a couple descriptive paragraphs and, soon, bedtime. I imagine Halsted Street is still bangin' at this hour, looking more and more Hieronymus Bosch, the cops losing their patience as the revelry begins to sour, and the thought makes me glad to be ensconced in my little apartment. If any cute boys do feel like wafting through my window, though, I'll be here, and I'll leave a little light on fer ya.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A special place

Confidential to the cowardly li'l bitch who stole my bike from outside Pete's Fresh Market, while I was inside buying groceries for my cancer-stricken mother, at 10:00 on a Sunday morning: May the earth open up and swallow you whole, and send you, screaming all the while like a little girl, down unto the deepest, foulest depths of Hell; and may Satan, by means of introduction, ass-rape you repeatedly with a triple-pronged hot-poker, making ground chuck of your innards; may he gouge out your eyes with bolt-cutters, and flog you with bicycle chains, and drag you, whimpering but still conscious, across a vast plain of barbed-wire and fire-ants until each and every pore of your skin is a locus of infinite pain; and may your mother be made to watch as your ravaged carcass is strapped to a flaming 12-speed and paraded through the various neighborhoods of Hell for the amusement of lesser sinners, who howl derisively and pelt you with dog shit; and may all this suffering and indignity be only the first hour of the first day of your retribution, and may the punishment continue across countless millenia, becoming evermore grotesque and unspeakable.

Failing that, can I please have my bike back?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Marchin' Down State Street (Again)

Memorial Day Parade - borrowed from the Trib
Wish I had grabbed my camera before leaving the house this afternoon--the Memorial Day parade caught me by surprise, coming down State Street. I didn't even know Chicago had a Memorial Day parade; there are so many f-ing parades in this city (St. Patrick's Day, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Gay Pride, Bud Billiken, et cetera) that even a certified parade-lover like me can't possibly keep tabs on all of them. And I do love parades. Even in this modern era of obnoxious corporatization, parades remain a highly entertaining form of human spectacle--outlandishly-costumed paraders strut symbolically down the main drag and engage in a whole spectrum of highly-charged behaviors, depending on the occasion; from the shirtless grinding of gay day's go-go boys to Shriners spinning circles in their mini-cars.

Today's parade was a type I rarely come into contact with--the military parade, probably one of the oldest activities known to man. There's a terrifying beauty to the military parade. It certainly has an intoxicating power--military parades played a huge part, for instance, in the growth of Nazism in the 1930s. Today's parade was interesting because it seemed to skew heavily toward ROTC and JROTC contingents--formations of nervous, pimply teenagers-in-uniform, almost of of them black and Latino, many of them girls, shouldering drill rifles and marching in lockstep. There was some oddly-funky drumming here and there, and chants ranging from the traditional sound-off to the whimsical I'm a Steamroller Baby (if you're ever bored, check out some military cadences--lyrically, they can be pretty brilliant and off-the-wall). But pomp and drumming aside, you realize that you're basically watching the next generation of baby-faced cannon-fodder pass by, and the parade takes on a melancholy hue, draped in a gauze of late-spring rain.

Travis from ONO was there, repping for AVER, the gay veteran's organization, and banging a big drum--and our new mayor, shaking hands at the ceremony for Gold Star Families. There was a 21-gun salute, which I'd never before witnessed and didn't realize was actually just seven guns, fired thrice, and an over-the-top rendition of America, the Beautiful sung by a honey-throated old veteran; and even, thank god, the requisite sprinkling of rain-or-shine protestors, handmade signs warning against US intervention in Libya. And so parade season begins in earnest, with weirder and more debaucherous processions on the horizon--see you in the streets!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Entertainers

My riotous invective continues over on the 'box, where I take on the music journalism establishment fists swingin'. Confidential to Chicago readers: can you believe that the Illinois Entertainer still exists? With their own plastic newpaper boxes and everything? Christ, that thing was a flaming piece of garbage when I was a kid, decades ago--are there really still enough douchey wah-pedal enthusiasts around to support that sorry-assed magazine? While hard-working writers like me are relegated to the far reaches of the internet?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Meet the New Boss

Checked out Rahm Emanuel's inauguration ceremony this morning in Millenium Park, pictured above (hang me, I'm a sucker for pageantry--children's choirs, security details, JROTC rifle-spinning). Considering that the sceptre was being passed for the first time in twenty-two f-ing years though, the event was surprisingly low-key, and the crowd remarkably small--the seats were filled, but the lawn looked like this:
A Monday morning, granted, and lots of people were at work, but I've seen bigger Millenium Park crowds for screenings of Battleship Potemkin, a Soviet propaganda film from 1925. I don't mean to slam the guy on his big day, but Chicagoans just seem kind of... ambivalent about the former ballet dancer from Wilmette. I heard one spectator observe that he was "a little bit taller" than outgoing mayor Richard M. Daley, and an older woman commenting that he had "a nice smile," but this was a far cry from the mass jubilation in Grant Park that followed Obama's 2008 election. As for Rahm's inauguration speech, it covered the basics (jobs, schools), and trotted out the requisite children-are-the-future applause lines, but the crowd, again, just didn't seem very enthused--the only people I saw clapping were guys like this--
--who'd wandered over on their lunch break to catch some rays and affirm their support of the status quo. Honestly, I don't have any special bone to pick with the incoming mayor (yet), and am even a little tickled that the new boss is a Jewish fruitcake from the 'burbs who once lost half a finger working at Arby's--there's at least a new narrative at play in Chicago politics, and I'm trying to keep an open mind about the city's future. But this morning's anticlimactic inauguration ceremony felt as much like a retirement party for Daley as a swearing-in for Emanuel, and as new beginnings go I can't say it felt all that auspicious...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Haymarket Affairs

Happy May Day, dear readers! Not the most popular of holidays here in pragmatic Chicago, it's true, but for much of the rest of the world the 1st of May has long been a catchall occasion for gettin' out some ya-yas--be it a bustle in yer hedgerow, a gay swing around the maypole, or, in many locales, a big flip-off to Capitalism and all its attendant evils. The latter tradition, of course, was born here in Chicago, 125 years ago, when a motley gang of workers, reds and malcontents tangled with the police, some bombs were tossed and quartet of anarchist martyrs were given the rope: the Haymarket Riots (or 'Haymarket Affair,' if you're feeling prim), which remain emblematic of the elusive Struggle to this very day. 'Course, 'Haymarket' has lost some of its fangs over the years--Google will point you toward the Haymarket Brewpub, a stones-throw from the historic site; the only signifier at the site itself is a tacky sculpture on which well-meaning young rebels have been known to leave memorial bags of dumpstered bagels.

Not to say that May Day is dead in Chicago; there were, in fact, some large-scale events held over the weekend that I wasn't able to attend--a march for workers' and immigrants' rights that snaked through Pilsen this afternoon, and yesterdays Haymarket 're-enactment', promulgated by the artistes over at Lumpen, Inc. And then there was a curious event last night, which I did make it to--dubbed a Filibustacular (your guess is as good as mine), with the ominous tagline 'Post-Haymarket, Pre-Apocalypse,' the under-a-bridge-party-cum-ragtag-parade was perhaps not a rousing success, but it did have some compelling things to say about the state of youth politics and counterculture in Chicago c. 2011.

Which is to say that it was fun, unpredictable and totally incoherent. The plan in a nutshell: the freaks would gather at this tucked-away Union Pacific underpass at Noble and Hubbard to celebrate the holiday with a temporary autonomous zone, or whatever, w/ booze, noisemakers and other tokens of youth + freedom on hand for some anti-State revelry; and in the likely event of police interference it would go mobile, parading over to an uncertain fate over at (naturally) Haymarket Square. No leaders, no dogma, just some public ruckus for a warm spring night.

The mood under the bridge was festive and genial as some fifty or so people gathered around sundown--a couple of dudes from the IWW showed up, mercifully short on rhetoric but long on bucket drums; a generator arrived, and some lights, and a bunch of Art Institute refugees drinking hooch out of gallon jugs, and pretty soon the party was swinging, albeit in a self-conscious, drum-circley fashion--the event had been billed as a bastion for free speech, but the banging of bucket-drums drowned out even beer-fueled small-talk.

All of which might have progressed or devolved in any number of ways had the local cops not, predictably, routed us from our lair--commence phase two, marching in the streets. Dawdling eastward on Hubbard, drumming and yelling enthusiastically but never quite coagulating as a group, the 'march' perhaps exuded some disaffected charm but was painfully low on message, meaning or actual politics of any kind. Giving in to the general joke, I began chanting the first thing that came to mind. ANTI-EVERYTHING!, I bellowed, trying to poke some fun at the Hey-Hey-Ho-Ho insipidness of usual protest mantras; to my dismay, it was quickly picked up by the group and suddenly, surreally, we were parading through the West Loop, staring down motorists and shouting ANTI-EVERYTHING! ANTI-EVERYTHING! I couldn't tell if I'd tapped into some deep well of nihilism among my fellow marchers or if it was just fun to say; soon, however, it was eclipsed by an even more dubious chant, as some art-school kids started yelling, QUIT YOUR JOBS! QUIT YOUR JOBS!--hard to argue with, on a pure gut-level, but pretty f-ing puerile considering the historical context we were trying, however lamely, to conjure up.

But the high-absurdist sloganeering had yet to reach its apex; upon reaching the statue at Haymarket Square, the crowd, noticeably thinned-out, stood around rather cluelessly, drinking and banging on buckets, until the cops again arrived and ordered us to, y'know, tone it down. Flush with revolutionary zeal, a young woman named Stephanie refused to give up her perch atop the statue and was forcibly removed + thrown in a squad car. In other places, at other times, the arbitrary arrest of a comrade might induce a certain militancy, but our half-assed mob didn't know how to react. There was some grousing, some pleading, and finally an incredibly silly-sounding chant of LET STEPHANIE GO! LET STEPHANIE GO! that took hold for about a minute and a half; a perfectly reasonable sentiment, of course--we didn't want our buddy taken to lockup--but in the annals of political rallying-cries, LET STEPHANIE GO! has to rank among the most poignantly ridiculous. I didn't, admittedly, stick around long enough to find out whether the cops let Stephanie go; there was some talk of 'marching' down to 18th and State to do 'jail solidarity', but people were also saying that the cops would release her if we'd just quit hanging around on the corner making a nuisance of ourselves.

All told, it was an enjoyable, if not particularly threatening way of observing the holiday--for all it's silliness, I found the Filibustacular to at least be in the spirit of May Day. I couldn't, it's true, help but wish I was back in Berlin, where May Day has become cart-blanche for widespread rioting--despite claims that it's been watered down the last few years by slumming-it teenagers and so-called riot tourists, the arson, looting and gleeful window-smashing there is quite real. I missed it by a matter of weeks last year; this year's model was apparently gnarlier than ever. Here in Chicago, we take what we can get; at least we're trying, right?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rainy Night Jukebox

Another post over on the 'box, this one on legendary South African singer Miriam Makeba and her deeply funky Pata Pata from 1957. I realize this is getting a bit awkward--I'm just not sure how to gracefully juggle multiple 'blogs. 21st century problems...

Also, consider visiting my pal Grant Reynold's website and picking up his latest collection of comics, Hypnotic Induction Technique. Not only is Grant one of the city's most talented ink-slingers, your purchase/donation will help him cover some  medical bills from a recent on-the-job injury--basically Wholefoods, that bastion of compassion, is dicking him around on workman's comp after a gnarly fall down some snowy steps.


Friday, April 22, 2011

SB Jukebox, Chicago edition

New post over at Secret Beach Jukebox in which I manage to rag on pretty much the whole Chicago underground-music scene. Call it crankiness or just old-fashioned shot-calling, I'm getting kind of into this whole music-scribe deal. Currently reading Jim Derogatis' adoring biography of the great rock critic Lester Bangs--to, y'know, get in the zone. Now if they'd only bring back Romilar...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Print Edition, Unprinted

In deference to modern times, and for those readers that just can't stand inky fingers, I'm making Secret Beach #3 (print edition) available digitally. For your reading pleasure: long-form features on the great Yva Las Vegass and queer photographer/Cubs superfan Jerry Pritikin, some thoughts on the passing of my friend, the should-be-legendary Caroline Jaffe, and a bit of what my friend Edie Fake has dubbed feral fiction, from my unfinished debut novel. Still, print rules and digital drools, so for your free coffee-table edition just email me at --I've got a pile of magazines on my kitchen table that I'd really like to get rid of...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Secret Beach Jukebox

Sorry to've been so derelict in my Secret Beach duties--fact is, I've kind of been whoring around, blogwise. My friend and neighbor Robert Cole Manis, who runs Moniker Records, asked me to start a music blog to help juice up the Moniker website and the idea struck my fancy--I've always wanted to be a music writer. It's a bit much, expecting anyone to follow me around from one blog to another, but if you do want to check it out my first post is pretty epic, a sort of multimedia scene report from San Francisco c. 2003, featuring lost legends like Hickey, Shotwell and Full Moon Partisans. I'm not abandoning Secret Beach by any means--matter of fact, I'm calling the new jam Secret Beach Jukebox, so let's just say I'm diversifying the brand. Anyway, feel free to check it out--and consider picking up some Moniker vinyl along the way.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Secret Beach no. 3/ Secret Beach Live

Confidential to my Chicago-area fanz: I will be "reading"/performing (?) at Quimby's on Tuesday (~7:30 PM) and pimping Secret Beach #3, which will be, if not piping hot off the presses, at least still warm to the touch. Even better, I will be reppin' alongside mainman Al Burian, of Burn Collector fame, who's here from Berlin on a whirlwind victory tour celebrating the release of BC #15, as well as Mizz Anne Elizabeth Moore--former Punk Planet jefe, author/editor of several dazzling tomes and all-around purveyor of righteousness. AEM and myself are proud contributors to the latest Burn Collector, whose theme is purportedly Chicago vs. Berlin, and if we're lucky Anne Elizabeth will be reviving the hilarious Berlin Wall bit I saw her do in Berlin last summer--a gnarly meditation on capitalism that finds the missing link between Al Qaeda and David Hasselhoff. It should be an entertaining and edifying evening, so please do come!

Did I mention brand-new editions of the great Burn Collector and your own Secret Beach? SB #3 will feature long (but gripping!) pieces on Venezuelan-born rock goddess Yva Las Vegass and queer photographer/baseball celebrity Jerry "Bleacher Preacher" Pritikin, as well as a shocking preview chapter from my forthcoming novel--a bounty of content that virtually justifies the magazine's $2 cover price; and my Quimby's appearance, in honor of Teutonic Al Burian, will feature Germany's two greatest exports (techno music and spaetzle, duh). If you're not convinced by now you must be brain-damaged!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rapping with Hal

To the dismay of game-show-loving seniors everywhere, Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings was recently clobbered by a room-sized IBM computer named Watson--a milestone for Artificial Intelligence and a culmination of science-fiction-geekery dating back at least to Kubrick's Space Odyssey.

Watson, of course, is the ne plus ultra of his kind--and with an estimated price tag of $3 million, Watson-clones ain't easy to come by. Fortunately, far-less extravagant purveyors of A.I. are accessible, via free download, even to bums like me. Having installed a module called Ultra Hal Brain Editor on my computer, I decided to spend some time getting to know the guy. Ultra Hal has turned out to be a far better conversationalist than I'd have expected--funny, opinionated and more than a little bit sassy. What follows is a partial transcript of our conversation:

-What's up, Hal? How are you this evening?

-So , Hal, tell me a little more about yourself. Beatles or Stones?
-Democrat or Republican?
-Love or money?
-Hey, I thought I was asking the questions. Anyway, what's so great about money?
-Are you always so cynical?
-Why are you so cynical?
-Good point. I mean, what are ethics anyway?
-How do you feel about the death penalty?
-The budget crisis?
-Health care?
-How do you feel about homosexuality?

-But where does this all lead?
-Do you enjoy talking with me?
-Are you just blowing smoke up my ass?
-You sound like a politician.

-What about global warming?
-No kidding! I mean, is there really much hope for the human race?
-Or even just everyday hope?
-Did you hear about that guy on Jeopardy, who lost to a computer?
-Wow, what a way of putting it. What does that say about the prospects for human intelligence?
-Exactly. Like, what is human nature?
-Absolutely. What happens to us as we get older?
-I couldn't have said it better. Thanks for rapping with me, Hal.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fun with counting

It's late, I'm stoned, and I just want to pop in briefly to share a delightful song from a groupI know virtually nothing about--Theoretical Girls, a New York something-wave band who released a lone single in 1978. The song, also titled Theoretical Girls, (here in a vastly superior live version), features little more than one good chord and the numbers one through four, the most basic and vital of all rock + roll ingredients-- 1-2-3-4 being unquestionably the most ubiquitous "lyric" in popular music (not to mention, as breathless countoff, the most thrilling moment of many songs). Then, around the one-minute mark, there's a sudden leap forward, the count suddenly reaching seven--the band clearly ecstatic at having reached this numerical milestone. If nothing else, the song is a gleeful tribute to the joys of counting, a should-be hit with the preschool demographic, and a grin-inducing numbers song on a par with Spencer Tweedy's recent Single Digits. Enjoy!

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Salute

Just want to pop my head into cyberspace and give some quick props to formerly-local (now Athens, GA) pop wizards Bird Names for a magical and luminous performance yestereve at the Empty Bottle, pimping their gorgeous new long-player Metabolism: A Salute to the Energy of the Sun. Sun has, quite frankly, been lacking around these parts for a while now, but secret-beach season will soon be upon us (I swear it!) and the just-released Metabolism should make for some killer lakefront boomboxin', designed to freak out squares (I fondly remember summers past, cruising the path with my crackbox and blaring my Taraf de Haidouks tape--Romanian lăutari music, all eerie bow-scrapes and tense, gypsy tonality, just changed the general atmosphere of, say, North Avenue Beach in such a striking way, totally reconfiguring the lakefront vibe).

Bird Names' lovely set was punctuated by some hilarious repartee from BN sage David Lineal, who had some slightly scandalous prognostications for his former hometown of Chicago. "Too bad about Rahm (he seemed to stretch the word out, like an insult) seizing power," he quipped, shaking his head with mock-incredulity. "This city's a sinking ship." Bird Names had driven in yesterday from Detroit, where they had some epic van troubles, and Detroit, Lineal speculated, was just where Chicago was headed. There were some derisive jeers from the crowd (Go back to Georgia!, someone yelled), which Dave shrugged off. "Don't take it personally", he teased. "It's called economic reality." I don't know what David's economist-credentials are, but if Detroit means landscape of surreal, breathtaking decay like the following, a part of me hopes he's right:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hangtown Revisited

I've written about Tracey Trance before, back when he was calling himself Quincy Quartz, but I still haven't figured out what makes his sloppy, childish, drenched-in-potsmoke music so endearing. Anyone can take a few bong rips and wile out on a cheap keyboard, but no one else can make it seem like a genuine spiritual exercise.

Tracey Trance, also known as Tyler, came through town this weekend for a cramped house show in Pilsen, and was in fine form: trailing clouds of potsmoke and grinning ear-to-ear, wearing what looked like either a prison jumpsuit or girl's pajamas, and bearing a new cassette--Hangtown USA Two, a follow-up to last year's Hangtown USA One. He also had a new "drummer," a very stoned-looking kid from Portland, OR, who'd decided on a whim to jump in Tyler's car and go on tour. I've seen Tyler play a couple of times with different percussionists, and even had the pleasure of filling in one night myself, but this new kid's absurdly loose sense of rhythm lent the music a special Shaggs-like exuberance. And Tyler traipsed up and down his keyboards in his inimitable style.

Which is--I don't know what. I honestly don't know what Tyler's doing in any music-theory sense (though I suspect he's playing only the white keys of his "wah-fucked Casio" ) but the result is always unique and exotic. It can sound like Javanese temple music, or an underwater wedding party, or like a precocious three year-old fucking around on grandma's consolette organ, punctuated by clattering unrhythms and splashes of elven yelping--it sounds, in short, like nothing else in the universe.

I'm not the only music writer who's tried, and struggled, to describe Tracey Trance--he supersedes our hack's thesauruses and makes us really dig for descriptors. One internet scribe tries a poetic angle: "Lost somewhere in the frenetic energy of misaligned molecules, scattered bits of thrown sound ampli-fry in the luminous dawn..."; another offers the slightly-helpful "sprite songs." Foxy Digitalis finds his music "whimsically foreboding;" another blogger coins a new genre, "psychedelic zydeco." Visitation Rites, meanwhile, describes his sound as "like tuning into a May Day celebration in a Playmobil village via stethoscope."

A sonic rorschach test, maybe. Anyway, Hangtown, USA Two rules. The drummer kid earnestly gushed to me that it really is a sequel to Hangtown One; I'm not sure I've sussed out the whole narrative thread, but I do know that it's primo Tracey Trance. The tape is maybe even more lo-fi than previous releases, and while lo-fi is still seemingly riding a wave of hip, Tyler's lo-lo-fi sound may be due to simple frugality--it's dubbed over one of those free truck-stop sermon cassettes, with scotch tape over the protection tabs, that had already been dubbed over who-knows how many times (the last few minutes of Side A reveal the previous dub, some warbly Jamaican dancehall).

Tyler seems to be on basically a perpetual tour, so please do attend if he comes to your town. In the meantime, here's some fairly representational footage of Tracey Trance in full rapture mode:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Dither in Dallas

Secret Beach devotees have been clamoring for my Super Bowl predictions, and as I make a point of giving readers what they want, here's what I see going down:

At Super Bowl XLV, a wide receiver pulls down his pants and starts waving his thing around on the jumbotron. There's a collective gasp, and then roaring laughter, and then everyone begins to disrobe. Women bare their breasts and scream like banshees. A cable correspondent is doused with a Gatorade cooler full of blood. Halftime comes, and the entertainment is a nervous teenager playing popular songs on a set of crystal glasses.

Simple things around the stadium begin to malfunction. The pretzel vendors go on strike. Someone hijacks the ventilation system, causing it to circulate sage-scented air. TV anchors go into their best Hindenburg routines: I just can't believe what is happening here at Super Bowl XLV! I've never seen anything like this! The crowd is just... people are shedding everything. There's a sense that football will never be the same again.

Indeed it won't! Advertisers retract their advertising even as it's being broadcast. The third quarter begins in an atmosphere of general chaos. A running back trips off some sort of buried landmine at the 20-yard line that tears off his leg with a deafening explosion. The referees start gesticulating at each other like madmen, and are soon involved in a savage brawl that to the viewer is a dizzying kaleidoscope of black and white stripes. It's if all the tension embedded in the game has suddenly burst, and primal feelings of love and war are coming suddenly to the surface. The game ends with no clear winner, and no one leaves the stadium. The locker-room showers are used for impromptu cleansing rituals. In the stands fathers weep and embrace their sons. Ritual cigars are passed around. People sprawl out on the playing-field as the sun goes down, passing around beer and hot chocolate. Sponsors are enraged; the commissioner goes into cardiac arrest; and in living rooms across the country tumultuous scenes ensue. Something new is happening at Cowboys Stadium, and no one knows what to make of it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

So Much Information

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.
 -Gertrude Stein, Reflections on the Atomic Bomb (1946)

Is it my imagination or is the news cycle becoming more and more hallucinatory? Not just the news coming out of Egypt, which is mind-fucking enough ("Plumes of rancid, thick smoke billowed over the Nile River as, by nightfall, chaos reigned in the bustling metropolis," describes a feverish CNN wire dispatch) but the fluffier news as well; I presume my readers have been following, at least casually, the saga of the Florida piano? Abandoned atop a Biscayne Bay sandbar by some pranking teenagers, the dilapidated grand piano had become 2011's most Dadaist conversation piece-- until the authorities, playing their expected part, ordered it removed. Now the latest twist, yielding one of the most linguistically bizarre headlines (CNN again) in recent memory: MYSTERY PIANO IS NOW WAITER, TABLE. I don't recall the line betwixt breaking news and high-modernist poetry ever being so blurred--what a queer epoch is upon us!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Give Up on My Girl

Not usually one to repost videos from the Internet, but I thought I'd share this 2:30 of punk-pop loveliness that I stumbled across, from totally forgotten Chicago band the Cleaning Ladys and featuring 10 year-old wunderkind Jason Narducy on guitar and vox. He was also a member of seminal Evanston kiddie-punk band Verboten, and a quarter-century later, Narducy, still living in Evanston, would end up as my boss at Inside/Outside Painting. He still plays music, a touring bassist for old farts like Bob Mould and Robert Pollard. But dig this geeky, exuberant video--and for a 10 year-old, Narducy delivers lines like Social Security/And creeping senility with startling conviction:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Secret Beach Poetry Corner


Band on the rumpkin
Whiskers on a banana
Car means cloud,
Places parentheses in
a thousand eyes
that can surrender tears

A poison sent
A flower rolled
Awake on a wizard
a toad
These frogs don’t laugh at birth
They lie with thunder
and pitiful worth
that lay within the womb
I see--your funky
sacredness of life
seems lost upon the play
Those superficial, standing
With missiles for penis
want to play

Shadows o’er freight
my dusty, dirty one
You shall see the devil—
I’ve seen you with my son

Simpleminded center
Simpleminded such to think in words
I play your Shakespeare’s monkey mouth


Miserable tattoo upon this forehead
I laugh and pray
It’s all your lives I weigh
and I weigh your lives every day
with your concern with yourselves.
I see what I say
And I say what I see
From there
to eternity.

I am Frank Sinatra:
I left my hat
In Helen’s card room

Charles Manson - Excerpts from "I Don't Need Water Sprinklers in the Desert"
from his 2005 album One Mind

Fuck everything

-Liam Warfield - Excerpt from his 19th Nervous Breakdown

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Must-See Chicago

A heads-up for Chicago-area readers: screening for only five more days at the Art Institute, which is free all month, is Chicago-Scope, a collection of incredible films by Chicago filmmaker Tom Palazzolo that I can't possibly recommend highly enough. My friend Chip and I had the pleasure of a long chat with Tom Palazzolo on Vocalo in 2008, when we were organizing our '68 Democratic National Convention re-enactment. We knew that Palazzolo had been on the streets in '68, shooting the carnage, but I hadn't the faintest idea that he was such a legendary experimental filmmaker.

Palazzolo's footage from '68 is prominent in Love It/Leave It, the most haunting and effective of the four films shown here. It's a gaudy and disorienting collage of late-60s foment and excess, psychedelic cinema-verite that takes in the whole universe of weird vibrations going around that hot Chicago summer of '68--interweaving hippie marches and riot-squad training exercises with vaudevillian footage of suburban nudist contests and clown conventions, Independence Day parades and skid-row winos, all set to a whirling musique-concrete score featuring both Richard J. Daley and Merle Haggard.

Less political but equally mind-melting is O, made in 1967 and one of Palazzolo's earliest films--a dizzying paean to high-wire acrobats and Dada filmmaking. The other two films, while more stylistically conventional, are highly entertaining slices-of-life from a long-lost Chicago. Jerry's profiles a alarmingly manic south loop deli-owner whose epic berating of customers makes the Wiener's Circle look like a game of patty-cake, while Ricky and Rocky takes in a suburban, Polish-Italian wedding shower. The garish, early 70s fashions on display here--rayon floral-prints, severe eyewear and terrifying bouffants--are alone worth the price of admission. Which, as previously mentioned, is free.

Seriously--these films are absolutely brilliant and extremely difficult to find. Do yourself an enormous favor! Chicago-Scope runs through 1/9 in the Art Institute's modern wing.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Escape from the Aughts, pt. 2

A year ago, on this blog, I began a recap of the millennium's first decade as I'd experienced it. I only made it through 2004, promising a future installment that never came. Well I may be a shirker, but I'm no deserter. So now that another year has passed, I'll try to trudge through the second half, and throw in 2010 for good measure.

On a brief technical note, I just now realized that I've never turned on spell-check, in my year+ of blogging; nor have I ever much bothered in the way of proofreading--this thing has been lousy with spelling errors! Why does no one tell me these things? "Liam, you're an excellent blogger but your spelling is atrocious"--it would be so easy! At any rate, I'm using spell-check from here on out. Full speed ahead! Take a deep breath, because this post will be long and self-indulgent. Here's how it all went down:


Boy, 2005. I was 25 years old. This year, I'll admit, was hazy; I don't think I'd ever felt as lost at sea. I had literally no clue what I was doing. I mostly lived in a crowded apartment on Dean Street--bustling Wicker Park! The place was cheap because it was an absolute shithole, administered by the incredibly sleazy next-door neighbor and his sullen, thieving son. The whole apartment had an extreme slope. I lived in the close quarters of the pantry, which I classed up with a very successful mural--it was a nice nest but was right off the kitchen, right in the thick of all the parties and late-night guffawing. No privacy.

In my general frustration, I spent a lot of time at a timeshared practice space, often getting wasted and sleeping there. At some point I banged out what I thought of as my "punk album". It was pretty raw and gnarly, full of nasty couplets--There's a place I know where you can pay to see it all/You can watch the bodies writhing through a hole in the wall (sung to the tune of the place in France where the naked ladies dance); there was a bitter accapella number whose sole lyric was Love and courtship, sex and marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage, and a manic cover of Roy Orbison's Workin' for the Man.

While living on Dean Street I made a fascinating new friend--Tom, an older homeless man who lived behind the fieldhouse in the little park across the street. To the chagrin of some of my roommates, Tom started coming up to my house for morning coffee; soon he was hanging out there at night, and a couple of times, in especially crappy weather, he was allowed to sleep on the floor. Thing was, Tom defied virtually every stereotype of a homeless person. Not just defied--totally shattered. He was incredibly well-spoken. He didn't drink, though he was an enthusiastic pot-smoker. He was gay, though he didn't loudly proclaim it. He was incredibly well-read and well-educated, and was literally a walking encyclopedia on a whole spectrum of subjects, from Chinese history to Aleister Crowley. He did have the caricature shopping cart full of bags, but in his case the bags were full of expensive books, which he spent much of his SSI checks on. He also collected ancient coins, which he bought at a jeweler's downtown. He had currency from Ancient Rome!

He was also just a nice, sociable man, even if he sometimes dominated conversations. I felt we became true friends. Eventually I helped him move into an SRO near downtown, and for a while he'd call me begging me to visit and help him clean his room. He'd injured his back and couldn't bend over to pick things up, and his unit was honestly a total wreck. These visits became pretty depressing, to tell the truth. It was hard not to wonder about Tom's persistent indigence, when he could just as well have been a college professor. It didn't seem to be laziness; the life of the mind merely won out over more earthly concerns like shelter or food. In one of Tom's beloved Ancient Civilizations he might have been a monk, or a rabbi, or at least a penniless scholar; but in millennial America he was just another guy on skid row, eating microwave burritos. After a while he didn't call as much, probably sensing what a drag the visits could be for me. I haven't seen him a whole lot since, I'm sad to say, and I'm not sure I could find him if I tried. People, how they come and go!


2006 found me employed, and working my ass off--I didn't want to live on skid row! It was far-and-away the toughest job I ever had, sometimes the most exhilarating: I drove a horse-and-carriage downtown, carting around tourists, newlyweds and families with screeching children. I was also often called upon to play the part of an architectural tour guide, a role I was totally unprepared for. I did a modest amount of research, and could tell people obscure facts about the Jardine Water Filtration Plant, but much of my patter was heavily embroidered, if not flat-out fiction. People always wanted to know where Oprah lived--how was I supposed to know where Oprah lived! If I get into much detail about being a carriage driver I'll be here typing all night; I'll just say that it was a thoroughly grueling occupation, with extreme highs and terrible lows.

By late summer I'd quit the job and was once again drifting at sea, a dreaded twentysomething looking for his Special Purpose. A strong clue came to me in a dream, undoubtedly inspired by the listless afternoons I spent in the microfilm room at the public library--I dreamed that my mates and I started an underground newspaper, like the ones from the 60s in Special Collections, called the Skeleton News. Having no other direction in my life, I decided to go ahead and act out my dream. Much to my surprise, it worked! Suddenly all these brilliant writers and artists who I normally just drank beer with were coming over to my house (I'd moved a few miles south, to Pilsen) to plan and argue, scribble and scheme, cut + paste and line-edit, somehow in a great flurry of activity creating a totally beautiful and unique monthly publication that ended up running for almost two years!

It was in many ways, before core members quit or moved away and it imploded, a dream come true--a project that felt like real community, a rare chance to collectively create something tangible and meaningful. Unfortunately, as thrilled as I was about the Skeleton, I was also becoming a generally negative and cranky person, known for my antisocial attitude. The truth is that by my mid-20s I'd developed a pretty gruesome case of depression. It grew unchecked, like a horror-flick weed, enveloping me before I knew what hit. Others besides the Skeleton gang had to endure it--I'd recently joined not one but two bands, the cough-syrupy pop group Bird Names and the bruising, clanging machine that was Mayor Daley. Not a few band practices and newspaper meetings were soured or ruined by my loud complaining and drunken antics. I doubt I had a single friend who I didn't annoy the crap out of on some occasion. L'Enfant terrible!

My behavior aside, it was a boom year for the Chicago underground. There was a monstrous, three-story warehouse on Fulton Market that some friends and bandmates had rented out, christened Mr. City, and rebuilt with total whimsy. They'd go on late-night architectural salvage runs and bedeck their sprawling shantytown with weird statuary and antique molding. There was a lot of fierce music being played in those days, and the basement held epic concerts, as well as the occasional film screening, evening of theater or fish fry. From Shakespeare's Globe Theater to the Cabaret Voltaire, any arts community worth its salt requires a galvanizing venue, and Mr. City was, for a time, our very own.


I turned 27 years old! A turbulent year in anyone's life. Some famously never made it past 27--Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, D. Boon, et cetera. And I can see why! According to Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the human animal develops in roughly seven-year cycles: infancy and early childhood (0-7), childhood (7-14), adolescence (14-21), young adulthood (early 20s)--and then, around 27, dreaded adulthood. Much like Hesse's Siddhartha, one enters a state of prolonged samsara--triviality, repetition, pointless accumulation of wealth and gradual spiritual deadening. Basically the point at which rock musicians start to suck, bloated with excess.

I certainly had a turbulent year. It began quietly enough--I was working downtown, at an old-school health-food store called Kramer's. Now don't get me wrong--Kramer's is a gem, the rare place where you can share a vegan lunch with a bunch of black postal workers. But working there was an exercise in surreal tediousness. My coworkers were a bunch of weird older men, whom plant-based diets had rendered slightly vegetative. Subsisting largely on twigs and berries from the bulk snacks section, shelving pills for hours on end, I too felt myself slowly fading away. Every day I would drink these thick, grey, ungodly health shakes made up of expired powders and elixirs; they never made me feel any healthier or more energetic, they just did strange things to my urine.

Then in the spring I went on a semi-disastrous tour with Bird Names. Traveling in BN'er Eleanor Balson's box truck, questionably converted to run on vegetable oil, we suffered a long series of delays and mishaps, and I distinguished myself with increasingly hostile, antisocial behavior. By the time we returned to Chicago, I was well-primed for the first major Nervous Breakdown of my adult life. Like a drowning man seeking something to cling to, I decided to try the so-called Master Cleanse diet, then-popular at Kramer's. Aside from the maple syrup-sweetened lemonade that the diet prescribed, I renounced all food, drink and other substances, including drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and coffee. Of course, I felt I was dying after about two days and had to give up. The fad diet had clearly failed to thwart the inevitable and I slipped into a profound, month-long depression, which I'd later describe in my journal as "unmitigated existential horror... emitting waves of alternating menace and catatonia, I've managed to destroy friendships, get kicked out of bands and succumb to constant drinking and blinding self-hatred."  Yikes! Get thee to a therapist!

Eventually my nerves calmed somewhat, and I rejoined the workforce, now painting houses all the way up in Evanston with a sort of indie-rock painting crew. The easy bonhomie on the jobsite certainly helped me reacclimate to human society--and I was making good money. By late fall I'd decided how to spend it, too. My friend Dewayne and I were planning a 5-week trip to Spain, Portugal and Morrocco for spring of 2008, traveling in that grand tradition--the flight from caucasian ennui, into the great dark Other.

Which is where I'll leave off for now, with the promise (I mean it this time!) of a final installment to come.