Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fall Back in Fall #2

Did you notice the sky and the light after sunset on Tuesday? The side of a delivery van, a pile of construction rubble, an empty storefront; they all glowed like coals.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Music: Fall Back in Fall

It's Indian summer--that bittersweet junction between seasons, when the Sun rides low in the sky, and 7 o'clock shadows arrive at 4. After a cold and rainy June, July and (most of) August, our garden bears fruit with an air of desperation. Tomatoes appear and abruptly fall off the vine, barely pink. Sunflowers grow several inches each day, collapsing under the weight of their seed heads. Our giant, weak plants are now securely anchored with green garden twine.

September also brings the Hideout Block Party, although this year it was actually the 15th anniversary party for Bloodshot Records, Chicago's venerated alt-country label. I have a personal connection to Bloodshot, since co-founder Nan Warshaw DJ'd at our wedding.

As outdoor festivals go, this one was light on the tchotchke booths. In truth, who needs to see another array of cheap sunglasses and light sticks? Mexican wrestling masks though--perfect!

Moonshine Willy (above) was the first band to sign a single with Bloodshot, back in the alt-country heyday of the mid 1990s. Looking at the audience, most of whom seemed to be in their late 30's and early 40's, one had to wonder whether American music has another country fusion in it. Recently, the influential music blog Aquarium Drunkard declared that the alt-country resurgence from the 1990's was coasting. Certainly alt-country's best talents, like Jeff Tweedy (formerly of Uncle Tupelo), broke away from the genre and went rock at first opportunity.

I have one degree of separation from the hillbilly roots that inspired alt-country. My father grew up in rural Ohio, a place that in the 1930's might as well been Arkansas. He had memories of the first radio in the county, and the momentous year President Roosevelt brought electricity to their little farm. With that improvement, his family could join the thousands of others who listened, each week, to The Grand Ole Opry radio show. Country music had become the soul music of poor, white America.

One wonders whether it is possible to revive roots country with an eye toward progression of the genre. Perhaps the biggest problem facing alt-country is it's audience. They just don't make white people like they used to--people who farmed a few hard-scrabble acres, made white lightening and died of TB (my great-grandparents) or black lung before they reached old age.

There's a dark and a troubled side of life
There's a bright, there's a sunny side, too
Tho' we meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view

[From "Keep on the Sunny Side of Life" by the Carter Family]

The true inheritors of my grandparent's lives, poor rural whites, are a shrinking minority in America, and they are more likely to listen to death metal or hip-hop than to alt-country. So, perhaps it is a genre that will both never grow and never die, subject to periodic rediscovery by a people longing for roots.

I'll close with my favorite from the entire day's lineup, The Waco Brothers. Leave it to a Brit, the irrepressible Jon Langford (who I just saw with the Mekons), to recapture the true grit of rockabilly.

Grieving Angel (or, What Happened to alt.Country) at Aquarium Drunkard

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CTA Stories: So Close

I got on a mid-day Red Line train, and took the nearest available seat, one of the side-ways ones next to the door. My companion in the next seat was a 40-ish east Asian man. I could feel his eyes boring into me. "Haiiii," he said loudly. "Hi," I replied and started digging around in my bag for a power bar. He intently watched as I unwrapped the bar and took a bite. "A snneck...snack?" he asked. I nodded and kept on chewing. "What is...the writing?" and he reached for the wrapper in my left hand. He read it out loud "Soooy Joy. Soy Joy." I offered him my second bar, which he declined. "Thought it was CHOEcolate."

We pulled into the Monroe station, and a young couple and a girl in a short, baby-doll dress got on. The latter, who had most of her long tanned legs exposed, stood directly across from us. My friend looked her up and down. His gaze was without any heat. It seemed more like that of scientist who had just encountered a new species. Glued to her iPhone, the girl never appeared to notice him. She got off a couple of stops later.

Just across from us, the young couple were canoodling. The boy was tall and whippet-thin, and wore a chain as thick as my little finger. On it dangled a sparkly egg-sized pendant, meant to represent a money bag. While he giggled and exchanged meaningful looks with his sweetie, he toyed with her hoop earring. They drew ever nearer, until body contact was absolute.

"So CLOSE!" my friend exclaimed, pointing at them. "You never see in a Adjun (Asian) country!" "Well, they're in love," I explained. A man seated near us began to laugh. The boy and girl, looking a little embarrassed, scampered back into the hobo corner at the end of the car. As I found out later, my fellow passenger was visiting from Korea. We chatted briefly about Korean television--last year, I developed an addiction to Dae Jang Geum--and then it was time for me to leave. He said goodbye with an air of distraction, already looking around for another example of bizarre Chicago behavior.