Thursday, February 26, 2009

No Regrets, No (Re) Morse

Last night was the last night for the Wednesday night jazz series at the Morse Theater in Rogers Park. I've been playing for that since the beginning, which was last December. We had expected to enjoy a long residency there, shaping and forming a weekly event that we had hoped would have caught on as a regular "jazz thing" in Chicago.

If you've not yet been there, you're just about too late.

The organic menu, along with the spectacular boutique wine list, is gone, although the physical bar/pub part of the facility remains. So much for the idea of dinner and a show. Of course, they still have some food service, but only minimal. Just enough to satisfy the liquor license regulations.

There are also, still, a small handful of concerts that are coming up in the next few weeks; events that were booked a while ago. Deposits have been paid, tickets have been sold, etc. Some shows, however, had to be cancelled. No reasons given, although one could speculate if one wanted.

One doesn't.

After those shows are over, that, as they say, will be that. The venue, in it's present form and incarnation, will cease operations. The short story is that the investors don't see eye to eye with the folks running the day to day operations. So the investors are pulling out, taking their proverbial ball, going home, and calling it a partnership. Barring any unforeseen love and affection between the two sides, or a sudden enthusiasm for a long and dragged out lawsuit on management's part, the worst can be expected.

Which means that yet another Chicago music venue is closing it's doors.

Another one.

It's a shame, really. There were lots of big plans in the works for the future. On the Wednesday nights, alone, there were plans for a Freddie Hubbard night, a Fathead Newman/Ray Charles night, and a tribute to Impulse Records, which was to feature a sextet of some of the heaviest of Chicago heavyweights (yours truly would have been included in all of it).

We were drawing an audience, too. Not an easy thing to pull off on a Wednesday, let alone in the winter, in Chicago. Brrrrr.

The ideas and plans that we had were ambitious, innovative, and, most of all, creative. Oddly enough, though, it appears that this particular business venture, which was creative by nature from the beginning (music venue, hello...), is going to be lost for exactly those reasons I just gave.

Creative projects generally instill fear in financiers (we used to call 'em patrons) these days. Better safe than sorry and all that jazz.

No pun intended.

Too much dough was spent on this place. Millions and millions of ducats. So it is doubtful that it will just be shuttered. The Morse is a state of the art place, physically and technologically. So something will live and breathe in that building when all is said and done. Will it be a theater? A dance club? High end restaurant?

All of the above?

None of the above?

Whatever the case, another really cool gig is gone. Eventually, there just won't be any good ones left. Lord knows, clubs are dying slowly and steadily and Live Nation is poised to take over the universe. Eventually we'll all be wedding singers.

So it goes...

Send in the Clowns

Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, gave the republican response to President Obama's address to Congress on Tuesday night.


Like Bozo.

You know, the repubs had it handed to them on a silver platter, complete with all of the garnishes and trimmings, back in November. Rightly so. Republican leadership hasn't been exactly, uh, what's the word?

Oh, right.


So in an attempt to re-establish their relevance in the political landscape, they give you Bobby J. Kind of like Johhny Mac, only less, uh, what's the word?

Seasoned? Mature? Experienced?


Ok, that's not the point (although it could be, I suppose).

What is the point is that this guy went on camera and talked to America like he was Ward Cleaver. Or Mr. Rogers. Maybe both. Either way, it was ridiculous and patronizing, as is usual for right wing banter. So stiff and rigid and void of any personality (he's a ragin' cajun, y'know). Did he really find it funny that his father had to make payments on said Master Jindal's actual delivery?

Do other republicans think it's funny? I'm asking.

Is he your guy, this clown?

So it goes...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Short Burst Series- Band Seeking...Band?

Short bursts of the musicians life...

In these dragging, wintry, days of unemployment from having any kind of "real" day job (which I'm finding quite palatable, by the way), I find myself perusing the mostly useless, but always entertaining, CraigsList. You know, for job postings, musician postings, etc.

None of the dirty stuff. C'mon, now.

There is, of course, the chance that I'll find something good.

Usually, it's just a bunch of crap.

Today, though, there was something I saw that was really weird, and yet, it's something that I have seen before, not only on CL, but also in publications like the Reader and the Illinois Entertainer.

The operative words here are "...seen before...".

We're talking several occasions.


Understand? (It really just makes me wonder, sometimes, just who the hell some of my so called "peers" are.)

I saw an ad saying that an "established" band was seeking "experienced guitarist, bassist, and drummer with gear..."


So it goes...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Won't You Take Me to the Mardi Gras?

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Or as the great (GREAT) B.B. King says: Let the good times roll!

Today is the last day for all of the Mardi Gras celebrations. The literal translation of this French term, coincidentally, is "Fat Tuesday". For those of you who are not familiar with Fat Tuesday, today is the day that you gorge yourself with all of the pleasures of the flesh (food, music, booze, etc) that you've been enjoying all year. But you do it with much more vigor and, perhaps, reckless abandon.

Indulgence. Hedonism. Excess.

I love all these things.

And then you stop. Pow.

Because tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. The first day of Lent. The forty day atonement period Christians tend to indulge in to pay for the sins of the other 325 days of the year.


My question is this: In a city the size of Chicago, with all that is offered in terms of entertainment, where are the actual Mardi Gras celebrations?

You know, with live music, spicy food, and outrageous merriment.

I mean the real ones. I'm not particularly interested in the fact that Seamus McCool O'Gimmeabreak's is turning into the cajun corner for one night only, with overpriced (and underpotent) hurricanes, plastic beads that never actually encourage girls to show us their, um, assets, and gumbo that is as flavorless and slimy as the republican party (you really don't want all of that stimulus cash, Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor?)

There was a time, not so long ago, that Chicago actually had viable options for your own little slice of Carnevale (the Brazilian equivalent of Mardi Gras). Several, actually. Gulf Coast, which was in Lincoln Park, was pretty cool. Another place in Wrigleyville, A Slice of Heaven, was good too. The best bang for your buck, though, was a place downtown called the Red Fish. It was actually a New Orleans-themed place; a rarity in these here northern parts. The menu was (fairly) authentic cajun, definitely tasty, and all around good. It was also a lot of fun. There was live music 5 nights a week, and there was not a cover charge.

Live music with no cover. Righteous. Rare.


All gone.

Fat Tuesday was, essentially, the equivalent of New Year's Eve for that place. Rockin' and rollin'. Definitely a good night to be taking cabs and buses and all. And if I had a gig there (which I did quite a bit, actually), then that was a nice little bonus for yours truly.

My own personal economic stimulus. Hooray.

So, that's it. No ranting and no raving. Just movin' and groovin'. But I'm still asking where the good times are rolling.

So it goes...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Life's Minor Indignities

Tonight, I did, quite possibly, the worst, dullest, most boring gig that I've ever done.

It was in the suburbs (Arlington Heights), at a grammar school (St. James), in a gymnasium. There was a Mardi Gras theme to the event (appropriate since Mardi Gras coming up next Tuesday), and the purpose of this little soiree was to raise funds for the school so that none of the children will be left behind, or something like that.

A noble cause, I'm sure.

Anyways, it was a pretty typical gig, for this type of event. There were about 2 dozen tables set up, with about 10 chairs apiece. Along the sides of the gym, a silent auction/raffle was set up, going from end to end. The stage was at one end, and a cash bar and catering was at the other.

I've done a million of these things, so as I say, pretty typical.

What wasn't typical was that another part of the theme of the evening was "ladies night".

That means there were no men (except for the unlucky 20 or so husbands of these ladies that had the jobs of serving and pouring drinks to all of the said ladies). Almost a dream come true for a motley crew of blues guys, don't you think?


These women were so dull and boring. Nothing was getting them excited or even a little interested in what was going on. And I mean that they were not interested in ANYTHING. Not even when the guitar player played with his teeth like he was doing something unprintable.

Aside from the band, which was smokin', there was also the announcements of winners of various auction items, raffle items, etc. Like I said, lots of things going on.


No pulse. No heartbeat. No interest. Nothing.

Is this thing on?

Look, I understand that being the band at some fundraising event (or wedding, or Christmas party, or whatever) isn't part of my rock and roll fantasy. The band is usually not the focal point at these kind of events. Nobody is coming to see how good I look, basically.

No problem. I'm a pro, and it's nothing I take personally. It's very normal (although it still boggles the mind when the band can be right in front of someone and that person never even looks up and acknowledges the sound and fury before them. Not even once. How is that possible?).

Tonight, though, was one for the ages. The gig was a 3-set night. After the second break, before the third set, the woman who hires us comes up to us and says that she wants us to play overtime. And not only does she WANT us to do it, she felt as if we OWED it to her. Her position was that since the auctions and raffles and all the other things went long, we didn't actually play as much as they had expected. Or paid for?

So, ummm, could you just stay an extra 20 minutes since we took too long to do all that other crap?

You've got to be kidding.

Are you scolding us like your class of school kids?

The band gets a detention?

As I said, at the beginning of this useless diatribe, this was a sleepy audience to be sure. Maybe they couldn't get loose and get down because it was a school thing, and the ladies had to keep their guard up. Wouldn't want an embarrassing, drunken moment at this kind of party? Sure, I get it. Nobody wants to be the one that's talked about on Monday morning ("Can you believe Sally got up on that table with you-know-who and danced til the table broke and you could see right up her dress? I knew those hurricanes were nothing but trouble.") But to complain that we hadn't played enough for them?

And we owed them time?

Like I said, you've got to be kidding.

I hate the minor indignities.

In the end, we actually got a small tip for the overtime, which was a good gesture. If that was taken care of in the first place, like it usually is done, I'd be asleep right now, and you'd have nothing fun to read.

So it goes...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How Can We Follow?

Ahem. Testing 1...2...

I just wanted to insert a quick note to encourage everyone to become a follower of "So it goes...". If you like the things that I write (or if you're simply slightly amused), then by becoming a follower, you'll never miss a word of it.

Plus, there might be prizes, and everyone loves prizes.

Just click on the "Follow this Blog" button on the sidebar over to your right.

Much obliged.

So it (still) goes...

The Drummers

The drummer is the most important person in the band.

Even if the band has Pete Townshend AND Jimmy Page in it.

Over the weekend, we lost one of the last of the great jazz drummers, Louie Bellson. You can read his bio on your own time, if you want, but one of his major "claims to fame" is that he was one of the first to use a double kick (two bass drums, simultaneously, for those of you lacking music jargon in your vocabulary).

The last time I had the good fortune of seeing him play was at the Jazz Showcase, Chicago, when the club was in the Blackstone Hotel. Right upfront, too. I was blown away.

He was awesome, in a word. Smooth, powerful, tasty, and, above all, musical. Duke Ellington once called him the best MUSICIAN in the world, not just a drummer.

Just a drummer. Humph! Never should you say that. At least not when it's a good drummer.

Especially when it's a great drummer.

The drummer makes it all happen: the energy, the timing, the dynamics, and most of all, the attitude. It doesn't matter if you're playing the loudest, most rocking, hard-core, slamming metal, or the sweetest, loveliest, most touching ballad. The attitude is everything. The attitude, like the drummer, defines the band.

If the drummer's great, then chances are that the band is too. If the drummer stinks, then chances are that the band does too. And if you change your drummer, then guess what? You change your band. Period. Even with Pete and Jimmy as band members. The Who has never the same without Moon, and Zep without Bonham is precisely why they've never reunited for anything long-term. I, for one, have no desire to see the Who (or a Zep reunion, which will never happen), and they were the best! All because of Moon.

Louie had it. Buddy Rich had it. Gene Krupa had it. Art Blakey (MY fave) had it.

I have it.

I wish I had it like those guys.

So it goes...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Senator for Suckers

Roland Burris.

The JUNIOR Senator from Illinois.

Some would suggest that, perhaps, he had a SENIOR moment.

Ha, Ha. Very funny. Look at Great Uncle Roland. Such a nice man. Such a shame.

After all of what has transpired in recent days, what is there to say, really?

Everything about his appointment smelled of corruption from the get go. We all knew it. He had that smarmy look on his face. That smirk. I thought he looked guilty of something. I'm not alone on that either, I'm sure.

Let's face it, any professional politician in her/his right mind would never have accepted a Blago appointment in the first place. They should have all gotten together, Burris included, and just said, "No."

For some reason, though, Illinois pols can't do it. Rising above self-interest must not be part of the job description or something. And, yes, I'm talking to you too, Todd Stroger.

I'm not sure about what can be done. I am sure of what should be done. But I don't believe anything will be done. Maybe he'll cave to the pressure and step down, but that's not likely. Sadly. A senate impeachment is not likely either, unless he can get nailed for perjury. But I'm not holding my breath. Maybe a censure, but so what. Big. Deal.

The people are suckers again.


So it goes...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Blue Monday Jam Session

Last night was the Monday night blues jam at Buddy Guy's Legends. It's been going on for years and years.

So have I.

If you're not familiar with the concept of what a blues jam is, then here goes:

First of all, there is a house band that runs the whole show. The house band plays a set of their own, maybe an hour or so, to start off the night. After that, it's an open stage. The musicians in the club sign up on a list to play. The leader for the house band then matches various players with each other, forming a group of, usually, 2 guitars, bass, drums, keys, and harmonica (if there are any harmonica players, that is. they're a dying breed, they are). This group then plays a set, maybe 3 or 4 tunes. It's unrehearsed, and much of the time, the musicians have not ever played with each other. After the set is finished, the house band leader changes the stage with different players and another short set is performed. This goes on and on til closing time. Usually, you'll see 3 or 4 different sets after the house band plays.

Last night, John Kattke, aka Brother John, was host. He's usually got a sextet with 3 horns (2 saxes and a trumpet) and the undeniable rhythm section of Paul Streff on bass and Marty "Boom Boom" Binder on drums. Marqueal Jordan doubles on saxophone and vocals, and trumpeter Doug Corcoran doubles on keys, as does John himself.

These guys are bad to the bone, to say the least. Whether it's a screaming Albert Collins shuffle, a funky B.B. King cut (they did "So Excited" off the "Completely Well" album- nobody does that tune, are you kidding?), or a smooth Otis Redding selection, these guys are one of the best blues/r&b acts in town.

What really makes the Monday's special, though, are the unexpected things. Sometimes you get to see some real magic. There's always the chance that someone big will show up. I've played with guys like Buddy Guy, himself, James Cotton, Eddy Clearwater, Lil Ed, and even Zakk Wylde (from Ozzy Ozbourne's band). You never know who's gonna show.

Sometimes, though, it just stinks. There can be a bunch of what I like to call "no-playin'-mutha-hoo-ha's". It's not their fault. Sometimes there are guys ( girls too) that just can't play. Their shuffles don't shuffle, their slow blues are too fast, and their funk is generally un-funky. In short, they're not pro's. They are not required to be. That's the beauty of the jam. God bless 'em for trying.

God bless 6 dollar pitchers of Goose Island for those audibly trying times, too.

Most often, it's just plain wacky. This is what really makes it special (or at least, ahem, unique, depending on your opinion).

So many of these people are real characters. You couldn't make them up. Last night, Holly "Thee" Maxwell showed up. She's the self-proclaimed "new black blonde bombshell"; kind of like a cross betweenTina Turner and Tina Turner in drag. Seriously. She's about 6 feet tall, very, uh, healthy in the rear, and she wears the blondest wig you've ever seen on a dark woman. Her ensemble is completed with a cowboy hat and fringed/sparkly jacket.


She does a great show. The ultimate, sexy-yet-not-but-you-never-know, blues mama.

Tommy McCracken often shows. He's the black Elvis, with a mix of James Brown, complete with the screams and the yelps and the dancing and the hip shaking and the gyrating and the twirling and splits with the microphone stand, and even the pompadour.

Weird? Nah.

He's pure energy, always moving, working the crowd, working the band, and working up a sweat which usually ends up on most of the guys on stage.

Nasty? Maybe.

A little.

But Tommy always does a great show. He does the same 2 or 3 songs always. For years and years. At this point, most of us that show up know Tommy's bit: the one-eyed woman crying, the sweet little angel, the cues and hits that he gives over and over and over till you can't stand to hit his cues any more. It's always high energy, and Tommy always brings his A-game, whether there's 15 or 150 people in the place.

And he is one of the most entertaining guys you'll ever see.

So many characters.

So many stories.

So many more Mondays to come.

So it goes...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Next year's here. Already?

They say that the greatest four words a baseball fan wants to hear is "pitchers and catchers report".

Yes, spring training is upon us.

I'm a baseball fan. Big time. I'm also a Cubs fan, and that bugs me more and more as the (futile) years go by.

Unless you've been living in a cave, to paraphrase the disgraced A-Rod, and you have any interest in Cubs baseball, then it's likely that you know that the single-game tickets go on sale on February 20. I say, "So what?" We're not gonna fall for this again.

Are we?

I sure hope not. My active love for the team (meaning showing up to Wrigley) has been waning over the last few seasons. I have not gone very much at all, actually. Tickets are hard to come by, first of all. Unless you are able to spend some time, IN FEBRUARY, making all of your baseball plans (summer, right?), good luck getting seats. Sure, you can always "get" seats, but you know that they don't come cheap, and it IS going to cost you.

Just as an aside, the brokers really tick me off, but that's another story altogether; please don't get me started on THAT (Wrigley Premium Ticketing. Ugh, give me a break. Don't even try to tell me that they are a separate entity from the Chicago National League Ball Club).

Secondly, and more importantly, the Cubs are the Cubs. Every year is supposedly THE year. Last year was going to be the ultimate: the 100 year anniversary, AND a World Series win. It was boldly predicted in the team clubhouse last February, ala Ryan Dempster, and the team choked.


In the exact same fashion as the year before.

Three and out.

Dempster is still on the team, by the way. For his sage-like insight, I'm sure.

The whole season comes down to that. Some have said that the idea of "Cubbie culture" and the "lovable loser" moniker are behind Chicago Cubs fans, and that the expectations from the fans are now higher and loftier. The team is supposedly being held accountable, now, for all of the years of faithful futility on our, the fans', part.

I somehow doubt that.

The seats will sell very quickly next week. Maybe sell out the season altogether. It is certainly not a far-fetched notion. The so-called "greatest fans in the world" really are fans of Wrigley Field and all it has to offer. That's the truth. It's not really about love for the team, I don't think.

But so what, I suppose. Wrigley really is the coolest, no doubt. We go there every summer because of that. The sun, the ivy, the 'hood, all of it. We have a blast. Heck, I'm even excited about Billy Joel and Elton John playing a concert there (huh, you are?). I saw the Police two summers ago, which melted my face with it's righteous awesomeness, so I know how cool it is for concerts.

Then the season will be over, with the likely outcome being that the Cubs did not, yet again, win it all, just like last year, and just like next year.

Just wait.

So it goes...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Is Chicago Losing Art and Culture?

Being a musician is not an easy occupation.

Neither is being President of the United States.

("What's your point, Mike?" she says from the peanut gallery.)

Ridiculous career choices? Absolutely.

That is not the point I'm going for, though. Far from it.

One character trait that myself and President Obama share, aside from being left-handed, which technically isn't a character trait, per se, is the importance of the arts in society.

Yesterday, on the anniversary of the birth of Abe Linclon, POTUS XVI, Obama gave a speech at the gala opening of the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C. It had undergone an extensive, multi-million dollar renovation and was now reopening to much fanfare and support.

It is also the site of the Lincoln assassination back in 1865, by the way.

The irony here is that Lincoln, like myself and the current president, was also a fervent supporter of the arts in America.

In today's Chicago Tribune, there is an article by Howard Reich, the jazz critic, reporting on the possible demise of the Morse Theater in Rogers Park. If you are unaware of the theater, then let me be the first to say that it is AWESOME. It seats 299, so the space is very intimate. If I'm not mistaken, there is no place on the main floor that is more than 50 feet from the front of the stage. The sound system is state of the art, and every performance is recorded digitally, whether it be for archiving purposes, broadcasting, or as a live album, ready to hit the streets. The styles of music the Morse hosts is mixed, ranging from jazz to blues to classical to world music. Really, it's simply outstanding.

Anyone who has spent their time paying attention to anything I might have to say should know by now that I am a frequent performer at the Morse. I work there twice a month, every other Wednesday. It may not seem like much, but in the music biz, any kind of steady gig is a welcome one, indeed. They are also becoming more and more difficult to come by.

After only 4 months of being open, it could be gone. Poof. Just like that. Another one bites the dust. It's too bad really. The last time in there, just a couple of days ago, the head count was 75. The attendance was seemingly improving from week to week. Nevertheless, the number of places to play are disappearing like republican support of the infamous stimulus package in Congress (Infamous Stimulus- hmmmm. Perhaps the name of my next band). For this to happen to the Morse would truly be shameful. There was a lot of time, and love, put into the renovation. Obviously, there was a lot of dough involved, too. One can only assume that the dough is the main reason for all of this happening, as is usually the case. I certainly don't know any of the facts, though.

The neighborhood could have really benefited from the Morse anchoring all of the various artsy ventures in that 'hood. It still may be that place, but the details are unknown at this point (at least to people who aren't an insider) as to what the fate of the space will be. It certainly would not hurt anything if the community at large spoke up and offered their support (are you listening Joe Moore and Mayor Daley) of the space.

So please, see a show there. Have dinner. Get a drink. Or a coffee. Whatever you can do.

Either way, the community of artists in Chicago will keep on keeping on, despite the obstacles we've faced and have yet to face. It's who we are and what we do.

So it goes...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Waffles and Unemployment

So, I'm still unemployed. I wasn't expecting that to change in a day. You weren't either, I suppose. Since I was such a crabby little hot-diggity-dog yesterday, I thought I'd give you the other side of the spectrum.


Blueberry waffles, made from scratch, is what I had for brunch today. That's right, it's only Thursday, and I had brunch. And, yes, I DO have a waffle iron. How would you make them, otherwise? Sheesh.

So, blueberry waffles, bacon, squeezed grapefruit juice, coffee, the works. It was delicious. That goes without saying, but I'm saying it anyways.

So what does this have to do with unemployment? It's simple, really. All of a sudden, there's time. Time for things like making waffles in the middle of the day on a Thursday. Time for writing silly blog articles about the things that annoy and amuse me as a citizen of Chicago, and the world. Time for re-evaluation and re-invention and learning a new skill. Time in my practice studio, improving on a very well-known skill.

Time with my niece.

Unemployed is certainly not what you REALLY want to be. At least not for the long haul, anyways. But it's definitely not the worse thing that you could be, either. You'll get your check every couple of weeks. I will too (hopefully, anyways). And things will work themselves out, as they inevitably do. Eventually, I'll have my money maker shaking like it used to be.

So will you.

So it goes...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Who's on Unemployment?

There's a lot of us out there that are broke. It's not exactly the best of times. It's not the worst either.

No yet.

At least not in my world.

But it's getting there. I've recently joined the ranks of the unemployed (yes, yes, a collective gasp can be heard all around, I'm sure). That means that I've had to jump through the bureaucratic hoops for the Illinois Dept. of Employment Security (IDES) that many of you know all too well. It's been almost a month since I was let go, and there is still a bunch of dithering as to whether or not I'm entitled to unemployment compensation. After applying with IDES, I got a letter 10 days later saying I'd be getting a call in another 10 days. That call came today. Now they have to call my old job and then make a ruling.

You guessed it: another 10 days.

I still don't know why they didn't contact the job first, and THEN contact me. It seems backwards. It seems stupid.

It IS typical.

I still haven't gotten any of the dough, which is earned money, by the way.

It seems like government operating at it's optimum efficiency again, and as always. Earlier today, eight of the nation's top bankers went to D.C. to explain how the $700 billion bailout money was used and whether or not they needed more.

More for corporate jets, or executive salaries, or junkets to Vegas? I say humph AND harrumph.

I could use some of it. You could too, I'm sure.

So it goes...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Red Lights and Loose Change

I've never actually received a ticket in the mail.

Not yet, anyways. But I'm expecting it, and probably sooner rather than later. It seems that it's probably a forgone conclusion.

Let me start off by stating the obvious: this ticks me off. I mean, really badly. There are a lot of things that rub me the wrong way, for sure. Those of you who know me intimately can attest to that (Mike's feathers got ruffled? Well, duh.) The red light camera thing really digs under my skin. It's right up there with the smoking ban, but that's another gripe for another day.

Anyone here in Chicago, or wherever else red light cams are used, has seen it all too often now. You come up to the light as it turns yellow, you slow down, stop, and some sucker flies by you trying to make the light. The flashes go off all around, and you know that you've survived, yet again. You probably even smile for a minute.

To quote Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket: "Better him than me."

Running a red light is never a good thing (again, stating the obvious here). Accidents occur. Cars get wrecked. People get hurt. It's against the law. We just shouldn't do it.

Of course, I can't disagree with any of that. The reasons for having the red light cams are good and even legitimate reasons, I suppose. And if they were in place, truly, to deter running red lights and promote public safety, I might even be OK with that. But like most laws that shape and form our ever-growing nanny state, in the end it comes down to revenue.

Cold. Hard. Cash.

One of Chicago's most esteemed Council members, Ed Burke, was quoted in the Tribune on June 22, 2007, as saying that the revenue from the fines “is budgeted in our annual appropriation ordinance”. “That is why all these cameras are being installed. … The reality is that people blow through these intersections and they are going to be caught and they are going to be fined. It has become a big revenue source, absolutely.”

Hubris AND gall.


Good luck trying to fight the ticket, by the way. Again, I'm not yet speaking from experience, but I've heard that the system makes it nearly impossible to be successful disputing the ticket. I've also heard it's not cheap. In June of 2007 it was $90. I don't know what it is now.

I got on this topic today because a friend of mine, who lives in Rome, posted a link to a recent story on the BBC website about red light cams and the scam that was uncovered. Read it if you'd like. If not, the gist of the article is that the lights were rigged and an exorbitant amount of people were fined. It's estimated that the said shenanigans netted $170 million. The yellow lights, it seems, lasted only 3 seconds as opposed to the regulation 5 or 6.

Do you think Chicago, with it's squeaky clean political reputation, is operating on the up and up with this, or any type of, automated revenue generation? Just asking.

Big Brother has gotten bigger and bigger over the years. Next to London, Chicago has more cameras recording the public's movements, red light or otherwise, than any city in the world. London, incidentally, started using cameras because of their, (yes you guessed it), chronic traffic problems. And like Chicago, London developed a brand new revenue stream as a result.

You DO see the pattern, right? Of course you do.

Cameras are on the tollways, freeways, alleyways, and breezeways. The city is asking businesses and private residences to link all of their cameras together with the city's. Soon, we'll all see everything. Won't that be great? I, for one, want everyone to see just exactly who's getting held upside down by their ankles while the loose change clanks to the ground and into the government's abyss.

My friend who posted the BBC article said, "Ah yes, another reason why the class action lawsuit doesn't exist in Italy." That's certainly food for thought that I'm hoping the Chicago City Council won't eat.

So it goes...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Another Grammy Moment

The Grammy Awards were last night. I did not watch. Truth be told, I didn't even know they were on. I knew they were coming up, but that's about it. In general, I'm not a Grammy guy. Much of the current music is not my cup of tea, although "Swagga Like Us" (I watched on YouTube) and the tribute to the Four Tops were pretty cool, I'd have to say. And it was nice to see Robert Plant win a few golden gramophones with Alison Krauss. Zeppelin never won a Grammy while they existed; Alison Krauss has now won 26.

"Grammy Moments", for sure.

Really, though, the biggest moment of the night came shortly after Radiohead's performance, when Neil R. Portnow, the president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, made a direct plea to President Obama to create a cabinet level Secretary of Arts position. This was live, prime time t.v., so it was a big deal. Millions of young and impressionable disciples of Kanye and Jay-Z and the Jonas Brothers saw it. Hopefully a few even followed up on it. There's a lot out there about this subject, to be sure.

"Art Czar" is not a new concept. Most European countries have a Minister of Culture: France, Spain, Italy, Greece, and even Latvia, the cultural powerhouse of the former Eastern bloc. Brazil has one. Canadian provinces have Culture Ministers. The U.S., sadly and typically, does not have anything of the sort. In general, the arts in America has been treated like an unwanted step child. A life in the arts is not really seen as a "legitimate" occupation, and as a result, they are woefully underfunded in schools and communities around the country.

The January 16 issue of Rolling Stone has a very interesting article about Quincy Jones' "decade-long effort to establish a Secretary of Culture post representing arts and the humanities in the Cabinet...". I suggest reading it. Its quick and painless. Quincy had said in a November, 2008, radio interview, "The next conversation I have with President Obama is to beg for a Secretary of Arts." Some folks are clamoring for Quincy, himself, to be named the head of this yet-to-exist position.

As a result, a couple of musicians were inspired by all of this and started a petition taking up this cause. As of this writing, 230,444 people have now signed it. Hopefully, after last night's telecast, that number will increase exponentially.

I have signed it.

Naturally, I encourage YOU to sign the petition too.

So it goes...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Buddy and the Bottle

How are you spending your time this Chicago winter?

Buddy Guy just finished his annual January residency at the South-Loop club that bears his name and likeness. Yours truly saw one of the shows, as always. I've seen many Buddy shows there over the years. Played several, as well, as part of the opening act with several groups. Buddy is a blues legend, for sure. He's one of my musical heroes, right up there with B.B., Muddy, and Brooks.

If you've ever seen a Buddy Guy show, then you know what you're getting into. He plays fast and furiously. He plays soft and gently; beautifully, even. He walks through the crowd while he plays his guitar. He quotes Jimi, and Eric, and Stevie, playing snippets of all their songs, to the crowd's delight. Folks eat it up.

He does his schtick.

Granted, he does it better than just about anyone.

On the particular night I was in the audience, he played a healthy variety of material from his prolific catalog. His new album, "Skin Deep", is some pretty heavy material. Especially for a blues record. And the title track is very poignant, considering that there is now an African-American in the White House. This is where Buddy is now, musically speaking. He's giving the blues a very different vibe, without diminishing the spirit of the blues. This song was the best thing he did all night, although most people missed it's relevance, I fear.

"Play the blues, Buddy," can be heard over and over again as the show progresses. That's what this audience wants. It's what they know, it's what they expect, and there is no desire to hear anything different.

But Buddy does what he wants to do. Why shouldn't that be the case? After all, the man has been doing this for over 50 years, has cut over 60 albums, and he has earned the right to step outside the norm with an album like Skin Deep. Even in his seventies, in whatever musical incarnation, the man can still bring it.

If he wants to, that is.

Meanwhile, on most Friday evenings during happy hour, an unknown, hard-driving, local country outfit called the Hoyle Brothers play at the Empty Bottle, a live music dive in Ukranian Villiage. These guys are awesome and play the real-deal hard core honkey tonk: Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, et al. The guitar player, Stevie Doyle, is one of the best players you'll see in all of Chicago. Lance Helgeson is an excellent drummer (the drummer IS the band, lets face it) and the lead vocalist/acoustic guitar player Trevor McSpadden fronts the group with the ultimate talent and confidence. These guys bring it every week. The show is early (530-730) , it's free, and they play for tips.


Buddy doesn't play for tips (nor should he).

But these guys do, and this is one of the best live acts you'll see in the city. Nobody's got it going on more than the Hoyle's on a Friday evening. The band is solid and rocking, the crowd is dancing and having a good time. These are everyone's expectations and there's nothing more and nothing less. Two hours' worth of the best that they've got.

These guys bring it just because they want to, not because they're expected to. They haven't been in music 50 years. They don't have 60 albums. I think they have 2, but don't quote me. They play because they obviously love it, and they're exceptionally good at what they do.

I wish I could hear Buddy from "Man and the Blues" circa 1967. That's really the Buddy I love. But we're not gonna get that anymore. Buddy Guy is still my hero, and that won't change. We are, however, very lucky to have both him and the Hoyle's in the same town.

So it goes...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Beggars Beware

I sent an email the other day. Last week, actually. At the time, it wasn't that big of a deal, or so I thought. As most of you readers know, I'm a working musician, here in Chicago, and I have been for a long time. I've got two groups that I work steadily with, and the career has been successful so far. Like everyone else, though, I need to fill dates in my calendar. And, like everyone else, I have a large network of professionals in the city that I know, so hustling for gigs just comes with the territory.

Just like everyone else who works in music for a living.

So I send this email, like I said, to all of the musicians on my "list". I had an open Saturday night that I was hoping to fill. One of my colleagues, on my "list" replies to the email with a request to take him/her off my "list". This person then publicly posts a note saying that he/she got hit up for a gig and that "beggars beware", lest they wish to run the risk of taking this person off of their "list".

My initial reaction was disbelief.

I mean, wow.

Why such a strong reaction? Especially in these trying economic times? And then my reaction turned into something along the lines of, "Oh no, what have we become?" Surely, the bitterness and cynicism of being in the biz hasn't consumed us so completely that we've become a bunch of whiny protectionists, has it? We're a very creative and talented community. It's hard enough to make it with the obstacles that are out of our control. Do we really need to start treating EACH OTHER this way? It seems to me that it just creates additional obstacles.

This is something that we don't need.

I know a lot of people looking for gigs all the time. This year on New Year's Eve, the granddaddy of all nights to play, the vast majority of the players I talked to had no gig. I had a gig that was cancelled at the last minute. Which means I had no gig, too. And I'm talking about excellent musicians; some of the best players you'll find in Chicago. These are people that I actually know, as well as people I know by association. Or reputation. They're in the book, so to speak. It's not just an arbitrary "list".

The social networking avenues that we now have available to us online are some of the best tools around for musicians (and other professionals in the arts). Whether it's Facebook, or MySpace, or just your own email list, networking for musicians is so much larger and easier than it used to be. These are avenues and resources that need to be embraced, not rejected. Jeez, I remember the days of coming home to a message on the answering machine that was left 3 hours ago. How many gigs did I miss back then because of that? Hell, how did we survive at all back then?

Being a professional, working, musician is a difficult career choice: possibly insane, but impossible to ignore. The late, great, T-Bone Walker once said, "You can't take it with you...". Everybody's, and I mean EVERYBODY'S, gig comes to an end at some point. Yours will too.

So I say to you, Mr. Beggars Beware, we're all in this together. Please, don't you forget it.

So it goes...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

We're All Wet

As you all know by now, I'm sure, Olympic swimmer and Grand Poobah of all things Olympic, Michael Phelps was caught in the dastardly act of...

...drum roll please...

...Bong Smoking.

Well, well, well. Another fallen hero. How could he do this to us? After all, he went to Greece, and then to China (commies) and showed the world how Americans win gold medals and then he gets all famous and starts to act like, well, Americans.

Especially young, very famous, and wealthy Americans.

We've seen it constantly in the sporting landscape. NFL players, NBA players, golfers, NBA players (oh, right, I said them already, but a lot of them are Olympians too!!!). Lots and lots of athletes are getting as high as a corporate severance plan, and its nothing new. But for Michael Phelps, it is a devastating blow to the "integrity" of sport that America apparently still buys into. He's a role model, they say. He is held to a higher standard, they say. Of course, one could argue that when you are an Olympian, you are in an exclusive corporate fraternity, and must act accordingly. Its not much different than having any job, except that you're rich and famous and get all of the fringe bennies. Sweet.

But you gotta be discreet. Do that at home, with your REAL friends. The ones that won't even take that picture. You've gotten busted before, so you were already on notice.

The Olympics, just like any professional sports organization, is entertainment. Its fun to watch, and root, and cheer, and cry, and all of that. We, as a people, have much bigger fish to fry than to worry about whether or not Michael Phelps is a stoner. Did I mention he was as high as a corporate severance plan? It was a joke, but not really. After all, his sponsorship deals include McDonald's and Frosted Flakes. Perfect for munchies. It could almost be called a tragic irony.

So it goes...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Diva Devastation

The Super bowl was yesterday.

As if you didn't know.

I was going to use my time and energy to write about Bruce Springsteen and the sellout that he's become. I didn't really want to touch this subject, and I was actually feeling bad about writing something like that. I love the Boss. I always have and always will. Just like another hero of mine, Bob Dylan, Springsteen is the epitome of words and music put together. But he sold out. Turns out Dylan did too (the Pepsi commercial with his song "Forever Young", y'all). Come to find out that Faith Hill and Jennifer Hudson are also in this club.

They did? (gasp)

In the Associated Press, it was reported that a producer for the pre-game show, Rickey Minor, had said that the performances were lip-synched to pre-recorded tracks that were submitted to the NFL a week ago. “That’s the right way to do it,” Mr. Minor said, according to The A.P. “There’s too many variables to go live. I would never recommend any artist go live because the slightest glitch would devastate the performance."

But isn't that the point of getting a gig at the Super bowl? You want to perform in front of the largest audience that you can have, essentially. I was going to talk about why these aging rockers do it year after year: the Stones, Prince, Tom Petty. None of them need to do it. Not really, anyways. Let's face it, these acts are going to sell albums no matter what. They have that kind of street cred. But at least they did their show. The "variables" of going live don't matter. The E Street Band was live and very much on top of their game. Plus, there was an entire horn section from the Seeger Sessions band, and a gospel choir. Talk about adding variables to your variables. When Prince did his thing, it was pouring rain. Remember that one? He was smokin' too. And doing it live.

The renditions that Ms. Hill and Ms. Hudson sang of their respective songs were very nice. I can't say they were great. I'm not even sure they were good. Last week they were great, as you heard, but so what? It. Was. Last. Week. I, for one, feel cheated. And I'm not even a fan of these two ladies. But I did want to hear them sing.

So I'm not gonna rail on Bruce. Sure, his set was very cheesy. Talking to the camera, sliding into the camera, making Clarence play cowbell instead of sax, all cheese. The referee throwing a flag for delay of "Boss Time"? Super-stinky cheese.

Really, though, what was I expecting? What were YOU expecting? It wasn't really a Springsteen concert. It wasn't even sort of a Springsteen concert. Wasn't supposed to be. It’s the Super Bowl. The ultimate stage to sell your stuff. He had twelve minutes to deliver the goods that span a career of almost 40 years. All to promote a new album, which he actually played a song from. If it were a commercial, it would have cost him upwards of $36 million. Instead, he GOT paid, and played, and is still the Boss.

So I guess the only thing I expected was Springsteen to perform, which he did. For that, I can't really complain. The divas? They did not perform, and so I say the NFL took us for a fool so as not to "devastate" the performance.

So it goes...