Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Music: Merle Haggard

When singer/songwriter Merle Haggard told his idol, Johnny Cash, that he had seen one of his early concerts at San Quentin, Cash was puzzled. He didn't remember Haggard being among the performers visiting the prison. "I was in the audience," he explained. Haggard was serving a sentence for armed robbery. After his release in 1960, Haggard channeled his outlaw tendencies into a genre of country music named after his hometown of Bakersfield, California. A reaction against the sometimes over-produced Nashville recordings of the 1960s, the Bakersfield sound was relatively lean and unembellished.

I went to Bakersfield a few years ago to visit relatives. We stayed in a motel just down the road from Buck Owen's Crystal Palace. After check-in, I headed out alone to look at the Palace. It was early evening, and the parking lot was radiating heat like a griddle. At an older, seedier motel next to ours, a shirtless man lounged in a plastic lawn chair, drinking straight from a bottle of whiskey. I pretended to not see him. He saw me, however. "HeLLO!" he said. "Excuse me..Miss?...HeLLO!" He stood up and headed unsteadily in my direction. I was about to break into a run when the cowboy appeared. He rode a fine palomino across what was left of the seedy motel's lawn, and clopped into the parking lot. "Howdy!" he said, looking handsome in his cream-colored stetson. He rode across the parking lot and disappeared around the corner of my motel. The creepy guy beat a hasty retreat. I returned to my room--never did get to see the Crystal Palace.

The clip above is Haggard singing "Swinging Doors," from about 1965.

Bakersfield Sound [Link]

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Music: Robyn Hitchcock

Last night, I saw my best concert of the year...or perhaps of the last decade--Robyn Hitchcock, at the Old Town School of Folk Music. He and his band had already done an early show, but they gave us an excellent two-hour long set. He never appeared to tire, pausing after the encore only to enjoy a nice cuppa tea. Afterwards, he sat in the front lobby and signed CDs, conversing most charmingly with fans. I'm kicking myself for never seeing him in concert before this.

The selection this week is "The Yip Song," from the 1998 Jonathan Demme concert film, Storefront Hitchcock.

More excerpts from Storefront Hitchcock [Link]

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dan Lacey, Painter of Pancakes

Hillary Clinton With a Pancake on Her Head

Just think of a political figure. Now think of him or her with a pancake on their head. Doesn't the world feel like a safer place?

Muppet Barack Obama

Dan Lacey, Painter of Pancakes [Link]

Monday, November 10, 2008

CTA stories: Just some stuff

An acquaintance recently asked if I had any new CTA stories. I wish. Riding on the train in the 2000s is just another quotidian event. The Blue Line is packed like a cattle car, and my fellow commuters are mostly dull young professionals. I can tick off the mildly interesting experiences of the last year on one hand and still have some fingers left over.

On a steaming hot Saturday afternoon, I am trapped on a train stalled between Division and Damen. The air conditioning is out. Across the aisle from me are two Hasidic men wearing hats and heavy wool coats. They have luggage with them, and are probably riding all the way to O'Hare. Watching them melt distracts me from my own misery. There are tiny drops of moisture gathering on their beards. Finally, one of them asks, with a surprising Yiddish accent "So, are trains in Chicago usually not air-conditioned?"

I walk into the Logan Square station to commute to work. The ticket agent is standing in the middle of the entry, shouting "No Trains Today!" over and over. Why? I ask. She shrugs and continues her message loop. I go above ground and cross the street to wait for the Milwaukee bus with...oh about 50 other people. One man says that he heard that there's been a fire in the tunnel. (As we later discover, a train derailed and a major evacuation fiasco ensued. On the Chicago Tribune website I see a photo of my friend Annie clambering out of some grungy Capone-era emergency hatch.)

A Milwaukee bus arrives, subtly rocking back and forth with the enormous weight of too many people. For some insane reason, I fight my way on. At each stop, more people irrationally squeeze on to the bus. I can't breath. Someone's armpit is close to knocking my glasses off. I realize that I am going to throw up/faint/scream. I begin the lengthy process of fighting my way off the bus. My fellow commuters are not going down easy. Usually, people step off to allow others to leave. Riders on the Bus of the Damned are glassy-eyed, refusing to budge. "Let me out!" I shout. "I'm gonna be sick!" I am nearly ejected on to the sidewalk.

On the evening of November 4, I enter the subway station, on my way to watch the election results at a friend's house. Four men are clustered together talking excitedly: two Puerto Rican guys wearing athletic jerseys with enormous portraits of Obama printed on the front and lots of bling, an older white guy with a ponytail (they don't call it the People's Republic of Logan Square for nothing), and a young white hipster. The boys are all pumped about Obama's chances. The hipster and I discuss Nate Silver's very encouraging electoral projections on He tells me, "He (Silver) lives right here in Chicago, in Wicker Park." We both marvel at being in Chicago right now, witnesses to History. When I get off at my stop, the guys wave and wish me a good night.

That's all the recent news from Chicago, the Mild, Mild West. Next time I promise to go back 15 years or so.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday Music: Daniel Johnston

I "discovered" Daniel Johnston about fifteen years after everyone else had. It's often that way with me. I have excellent taste, retroactively.

Johnston, a prolific visual artist and songwriter, has struggled with schizophrenia for most of his adult life. Many of his songs touch on the heartbreak of love; or in his case, of not being able to love. In the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, the singer is reunited with a long-lost unrequited love from his youth, a woman who became sort of an imaginary muse. It's one of many very moving scenes in the film. One cannot help but wonder what kind of life he might have had if not for his illness.

The album The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered, Covered is a beautiful introduction to his work. The two-disc set includes ten of his songs, first performed by him and then covered by various artists. I've included "Go" by Sparklehorse and "King Kong" by Tom Waits. The third track is Johnston himself, singing "True Love Will Find You In The End."

This is a promise with a catch
Only if you're looking can it find you

‘Cause true love is searching too,
But how can it recognize you
Unless you step out into the light?

Hi How Are You? The Official Daniel Johnston Site [Link]

Rejected Unknown. The Daniel Johnston Fan Site [Link]

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dear McCain supporters:

I'm proud to be an American, again.

President-elect Obama gave a graceful victory speech, but I don't have to be nearly as sanguine. Conservatives have had eight years to run this country into the ground. God help us and our new President.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


One of my neighbors, talking on her cell phone:


Monday, November 3, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday Music: Le Tigre

Get off the internet, and GOTV. We're making history.