Friday, July 28, 2006

Good Times Never Seemed So Good

Milwaukee lost one of its most fortunate sons this week, Lightning of Milwaukee's--well, "America's"--Singing Sweethearts, Lightning and Thunder (check out this website, it's a fussy, antiquated delight. Like divnity fudge).

Lightning was a singer who entertained countless thousands of Wisconsin State Fair munchers and, back in The Day, hundreds of hipster (for Milwaukee) types like myself who'd heard about their jaw-droppingly cheesy and footstomping sets at Alioto's on Jackson downtown. Lightning, in fact, married his partner, Thunder, in a widely-recounted and fondly-remembered ceremony during a set break in front of their fans at the 1994 State Fair. I think I knew someone who knew someone who was there. Hell, everybody did.

Thunder sings the best of Patsy Cline with a sweet, clear treble, and expanded her repetoire to ABBA and some Blondie as more and more chain-smoking, Leinie's-chugging kids showed up to their Saturday (or was it Friday?) Alioto's gigs.

But it was Lightning, short and sequined, voice graveled just so by Pall Malls or Newports (I may be taking bloggers license because my memory is shoddy, but--someone back me up, dude smoked, didn't he?), inhabiting Neil Diamond and his sonorous repetoire so thoroughly that you'd be on your feet, jumping in the air, spilling your vodka-cranberry and shouting TODAY! TODAY! Toooooo-DAAAAAAAAAY! when he'd end the set with "America," stomping his Beatle boots on top of Alioto's formica bar. Lightning always had an endless supply of Bartz's Party Store costume scarves to hand out to all the pretty girls and drunk guys (cause Robert has at least one).

Oh sure, they opened for Urge Overkill at the Metro (which we called "Cabaret Metro" back then) in 1993--and, hey, simmer down, that's no small feat since that was the peak of Saturation's saturation, that "UO" rising like a nefarious spaceship not only over a perfunctory skyline on the album cover, but everywhere--and sang "Forever In Bluejeans" with Eddie Vedder at the Marcus Ampitheatre Pearl Jam show in '95, and--this just in--played to the real hipster kids at Danny's in Bucktown in Chicago. And the Sun-Times paid tribute to the man known on his South-side Milwaukee streets and his Vietnam vet buddies as Mike Sardina. But Lightning and Thunder were, way back then, and, because I felt such a surprising gasp and gloom at the news of Lightning's passing to that great America in the sky, always, ours.

God, next thing you know, the Pepperoni/Cannoli Guy's gonna go.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

There Are Different Names For The Same Thing

When You're Back in Your Old Neighborhood

Wilco played at Summerfest two weeks ago, on a Wednesday night. The show was as buoyant as Milwaukee by the lake that night--the air held none of the typically humid secrets of July. Bell-clear and true.

I think some of my weakened heartseams (or, perhaps, there's a "god-shaped hole" there) were cauterized during that show. You know how that coming-full-circle thing works.

And maybe that's because it was as satisfying as the gentle summer collision of two of my favorite things--which is what I heard from the soon-to-be-jazzless WBEZ as I glided up my street at 2am that night after the show, Coltrane's "My Favorite Things"--could possibly be.

The way-past past was verged at that show, too.

In 1991, my first Summerfest (and first summer living on my own), John and Mike and I puttered down Lincoln Memorial Drive to the Fest in Mike's Festiva, a ladybug-sized four-speed that had made the trip from the Minneapple with nary a burble, but probably four tanks of gas (and in which, later that summer, we squeezed seven people--I know, I was in the hatchback with my roommate, God help us--and dragged rusty ass down 94 to Chicago). On that, my first Summerfest Fourth of July, though, XTC's "Earn Enough For Us" thumped from the speakers that probably cost as much as that Ford. I felt shimmeringly happy at that moment, I remember, the lake air coming in the windows, and a twelve-string guitar rolling out, sandwiched with my two best guy friends.

Which is yet another Favorite Thing.

Fifteen (!) years later, reunited with the Smiley-Face Fest under the Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee. And even though that's widely cherished (and ripped) as a bridge to Nowhere, a straight shot that carries traffic aloft over the Lakefront and Port of Milwaukee, and then dumps you into a flicker's nest of off- and on-ramps and dunes by Bayview, I realized that now it formed a circle for me -- still "loving rock n roll," the night, and guy friends.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful Boy

Oh my God. Look at the cute baby Beluga whale!

He was born just yesterday at the Shedd Aquarium.

If only we all came into the world with--and kept--big, shy smiles like that.

And a teeny-tiny waterspout to toot when you're especially happy that the sun is warm.

You want to sing like John Lennon to him,

"Life is what happens to you
While you're busy making other plans."

...or busy looking at this cute photo. I can't seem to Step. Away. From. The. Photo.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Hotter Than A Match Head

It's one of the hottest days of the year. I feel slow and beachy, because that's what the weather is. No one should be around this much concrete when it's hot. Sand, salt spray, and shiny lizards--not huffing BMW X5s and waddling tourists sweating in their Crocs. I need a Bahama Mama and a floaty noodle and the Gulf. Pronto.

Instead, here's a photo taken on Virginia Beach from December--New Year's Eve. It was about 60 that evening.

Today's the kind of day you curse the Great Chicago Fire of 1871: brick, true to form, holds heat, as in all day long, resulting in an excruciating night on sweaty sheets. I miss the fake-brick, stapled-on siding and clapboard charm of Milwaukee, where there wasn't a conflagration that decimated some 2,000 acres and 18,000 buildings and attendant paranoia that resulted in a city top-full of brick buildings.

Speaking of paranoia--well, let me first just say that I understand there's a need and we've a right to be concerned when excessive heat invades our typical tundra. I lived just 80 miles cooler than the Great Chicago Heat Wave of 1995, in Milwaukee, so I remember the brutality of the heat/humidity combo those early days in July (and how there wasn't a room in any motel, even flophouses, all the way out to Kenosha and Lake Mills) and how overwhelmingly underprepared the Upper Midwest was for this attack. Author Eric Klinenberg writes that

The heat wave was a particle accelerator for the city: It sped up and made visible the hazardous social conditions that are always present but difficult to perceive.
Huh. That statement could be applicable to events of last year, if you replace the words "heat wave" with "hurricane."

Anyway, the "never again" mentality is of course justified.

But millions of Southerners endure worse heat over more days and months.

So I wear a small smile when I hear local forecasters intone doomsday-ingly about "heat indexes" and "cooling centers," remembering 12-hour days spent outside, playing--biking, trampoline, kick the can, roller skating, swinging, sloshing in the wading pool and ruining a circular patch of backyard grass-- in what were "heat indexes" that would make Tom Skillethead's head explode.

Current temps, July 17, 3:15 pm: Tom Skillethead: 93; 93 ("feels like 103"); Weather Underground: 96.3; Sun-Times: 94 ("RealFeel Temp 104"); NOAA (National Weather Service): 95 (heat index 108).


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Blowing Through the Jasmine In My Mind

I just spent the last fifteen minutes ducking and cursing a giant-ass wasp that flew into my office. Of course it took almost all of that time for the dipshit vespid to locate the fresh breeze and fly out the window I threw open.

Oh, wait.

Not this wasp

This one

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

But I Always Thought That I'd See You Again

"I’ve been walking my mind to an easy time... "

Funny how a person is there, and then they are not. Forming days as much as the movement of the sun, the inexorability of the lower-right computer clock, or the distant, serial roar of the El. Someone who's an indelible tincture--a Sharpie that leaked in a pants pocket. The petal-hue of a dried flower on the bookcase.

Then something happens. And maybe another thing, or four--one worse, one slightly better, one perplexing.

Then they're gone. Alto relievo, then bas-relief, matrix...concavity...trace... invisibility.

And the sun keeps moving, 1:46 PM changes to 5:02 PM to a week from next Wednesday, train cars glide and roar. One day one of those cars bucks a bit, a filly spooked by a crow, and people cry. Cups of coffee are drunk, Starbucks or Dunkin, rainclouds squinted at, hands held, puddles skirted, shotglasses clinked, snow tasted, oceansurf kicked, all-nighters pulled, chords remembered, chicken stir-fried, knots worried, eight-balls pocketed, uppercuts punched, mistakes made anyway, flowers pruned, cars rented, cigarettes stubbed, hard drives control-alt-deleted, resolve mustered, jukebox buttons pushed, lashes curled, dryers de-linted, brides dressed, ceilings stared at, scenes initiated, Franzes Ferdinanded, texts messaged, chips gambled all-in, thighs caressed, noodles slurped, five-minute calls called, street bumps biked over, caskets closed. New songs--digital kudzu--graft over old playlists, and there's a springy night when drive-thru fries in the car taste better than they ever have, ever.

I've seen these things, and more. And though there's a dry, smooth beach at dawn where feelings used to beat, I always thought I'd see...

I did.

Going Off the Rails On a Crazy Train...

My friend Sarah and I have always thought it would be sorta neat if there was a problem with our Blue Line commute, and we had to exit the train into the subway tunnel and escape. Edge along the tunnel wall, maybe see a rat and get totally skeeving freaked out, and then exit some stairs into fresh air around Kinzie and Milwaukee Avenues, ready to tell the tale of near-terror over beers for the next 37 months.

Ummm, I don't think that sounds so cool after all.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

And Take You To Your Special Island

I love "Captain Jack."

I know it's about using smack, but it makes me feel like I'm in a smoky, dark wood-paneled bar with ornate brass fixtures somewhere below 14th Street. Except it will no longer be smoky, and I probably can't afford a place just below 14th Street. That's why this has to happen in 1973, when the song appeared on Piano Man.

I wonder if the line

"I did go from wanting to be someone
Now I'm drunk and wearing flip-flops on Fifth Avenue"

from Rufus Wainwright's "Poses"

is an homage to Billy's

"So you stand on the corner in your New English clothes
and you look so polished from your hair down to your toes
Ah but still your fingers gonna pick your nose"

...if only for the dawning thought in both, found on the most street cornery of cities, that what you want can ultimately, insiduously, consume what it is you want.

I wish I was going to New York this summer. It's time to find that mythic place in the Village and stare dreamily out a cab window at 4 am thinking "I'm in a New York State of Mind."

Spirit of 76

A campaign to save an iconic sign is in full swing.

Has anyone seen any 76 Balls around Chicago? I did see them in Los Angeles when I was there.

I guess I'd have felt the same way if the Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket signs were all pulled down in one fell swoop.

They're only signs -- but also landmarks of youth. The fried chicken bucket--summer Sunday night dinners at my grandparents, riding in the front seat of my aunt's royal blue VW Bug, probably around 1976, chirping up the street to pick up a chicken Bucket and a Barrel at the Kentucky Fried that's now a homegrown bar-food restaurant, an Applebee's pedigreed for the Chevy Chase set (who probably never appreciated the proximity but rather deplored the presence of a fast-food restaurant in their backyards).

I saw a bucket-KFC a couple months ago, also in Los Angeles. For a modern city obsessed with appearance, our ugliest but most cherished consumerist past is preserved a lot longer out there.

What I'd really like, though, is to find that Bucket font and use it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Girls Don't Seem To Care What's On, As Long As It Plays Til Dawn

I just discovered this Yacht Rock thing today: a Behind the Music exposing the behind of a heretofore unclassified musical genre popular between 1976-1984, "really smooth" rock music purveyed by hitmakers like Christopher Cross, Michael McDonald, Toto, and Yacht Rock-the-show's primary progenitors, Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina.

The show, clever, esoteric five or so-minute shorts in which the famed musicians are distinguished from each other by really bad wigs, ran on the Channel101 website through, well, a couple of weeks ago. I just discovered it thanks to Chicagoist (which I read with teeth on edge because it oh-so-wobbily walks the line of annoying and edifying ).

Ironically, Channel101's creators are Rob Schrab and Dan Harmon, they of the Scud The Disposable Assassin comic, begun during the glory days of The Dead Alewives sketch troupe back in Milwaukee. I always thought what those guys did was cool, but the problem was just that--they were all guys. Maybe that's when the seed of my ambition to be a sketch-comic chick germinated.

Anyway, ironically-even-more, I actually like a lot of these artists. I mean, you must realize by now that I do enjoy some music that is universally regarded as craptacular [This phrase is hereby fully credited to J. Maravegias --Ed.]. I mean, I can get into some "99" by Toto. That piano breakdown at the end is pretty jive.

Profane, belligerent and giant-mustachioed John Oates (who calls his smooth-rock nemeses "California Vagina Sailors") had me howling during the early Yacht Rocks, but the final episode, "FM", which details the genesis of the singular Steely Dan contribution to the soundtrack for the 1978 film of the same name, as well as their feud with the Eagles, made me run to my shut my office door so I could expel a worthy cackle. Although Glenn Frey and Don Henley probably didn't noogie Walter Becker and Donald Fagen on a playground, there indeed was a lyrical fracas between the two AOR heavyweights--if you believe that "they stab it with their steely knives" is a response, slipped into "Hotel California," to the Dan's exhortation on "Everything You Did" to "turn up The Eagles the neighbors are listening." Yeah maybe the "steely knives" line is only about the "beast" (drugs? music industry?), but look at these two pairs of guys. They're all a-holes, in their own way. This was the best musical warfare since Skynyrd got cranked on Jack and wrote "Sweet Home Alabama" to flip off Neil Young.

I love that Donald Fagen speaks his own language. Except when he says "eat bat, prick."

Hmm, I've actually never looked at the soundtrack for FM, which all in all is pretty damn good.

At least to a craptacle-loving music fan like me.

Friday, July 07, 2006