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?