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Uptown Writer's Space

I had heard about similar places in Manhattan, and was wondering when the first one would finally open here.

Located above the famous Green Mill Jazz Club in Chicago's colorful and historic Uptown neighborhood. THE UPTOWN WRITER'S SPACE offers 1,200 square feet of light-filled space with panoramic views of vintage Chicago buildings.

The main writing room features eighteen handcrafted wooden cubicles, that provide privacy within the open loft-like environment, as well as library tables and lounge seating made especially for the space by Chicago furniture designer John Lindsay.

With wireless high speed internet access and a laser printer available to members, there is a break room/coffee bar where writers can hang out, unwind and share ideas over lunch or a cup of joe, providing the kind of interaction that usually eludes those who pursue the solitary business of facing a blank page.

Though it's very far out of the way to meet my own writing needs (I work in the Loop and live in the suburbs) it's still a very welcome addition to the city.

(Via Ginny.)

October 31, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Micro Monday: "Peddler"


She looked down with disdain, not even bending to examine the wares spread across the striped blankets, glittering in the brilliant Sonoran sun.

"I like this one."

"Careful," she said. "Could be plastic. Or gum -- my neighbor bought a ring here that ended up being a painted hunk of Doublemint."

"Please, Aunt Jean, he can probably understand you."

She said nothing, in a rare moment of reserve.

"I wonder how much."

"Twenty," the huddled, sombreroed figure muttered, confirming my suspicion.

"Haggle him down to ten," she warned, unable to resist.

I’d listen. It was a long drive back to Scottsdale.

October 30, 2006 in Fiction, Micro | Permalink | Comments (0)

NaNoWriMo Looms Just Ahead...

This will be the fifth year I've attempted NaNoWriMo. Here's my track record so far:

2002: Eden - roughly 14,000 words
2003: Eden - 31,136 words
2004: "Gulag", "Ectoplasm", "Immortality", "Mister Carter" - roughly 10,000 words
2005: The Wheatyard Chronicles - 32,068 words

Clearly, I have yet to come anywhere near the 50,000 word goal. Which is fine with me -- I'd much rather finish November with some worthwhile prose, and with my sanity and domestic tranquility intact, than attain some arbitrary word count. I've found NaNoWriMo to be a useful exercise in writerly motivation, but I haven't allowed it to become an all-consuming obsession like many of the participants. This year's novel bears the working title "Forever." More details to follow as they develop.

Sometime next week, Donavan Hall (publisher of The Angler, where I'm associate editor) will be podcasting an interview he conducted with me last night, in which I relate some of my NaNoWriMo history as well as the (now refuted) reasons I considered not participating this year.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, NaNoWriMo neophyte James Tata pens two thoughtful pieces (1, 2) that express very well the excitement and fear facing anyone looking to try this for the first time.

October 26, 2006 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Another Cultural Artifact Lost

A major fire in the South Loop appears to have claimed yet another relic of a bygone era. The Wirt Dexter Building at 630 S. Wabash was the long-time home of George Diamond's Steakhouse, and also an early commission of legendary architects Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler.

The Dexter Building once housed George Diamond's Steakhouse, a classic celebrity-watching site in the great age of Chicago nightlife in the 1950s and 1960s. Outliving that era, its trademark red carpeting was threadbare when the restaurant closed a few years ago. Fire officials said the building was not occupied at the time.

The Dexter Building was a less celebrated design of Sullivan and his partner, Dankmar Adler. A six-story commercial structure, it was built in 1887 as a furniture factory and showroom. But the Commission on Chicago Landmarks has called it "an irreplaceable link in the chain of work of one of the nation's most important architectural partnerships."

Quite sad. (Full Tribune story here. Photos above were borrowed from the Tribune.)

Update: Lynn Becker has further commentary and photos here.

October 25, 2006 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Kid on the Block -- Impetus Press

Since this here underpublished author feels there are never enough indie presses, I'm passing along this release:

I’m writing to invite you to a reading on October 29th at the Sunday Salon Chicago reading series featuring Impetus Press authors Kate Hunter (Brooklyn, NY), author of THE DREAM SEQUENCE, and Jennifer Banash (Iowa City, IA), author of HOLLYWOODLAND: AN AMERICAN FAIRY TALE. These two titles are the first releases from Impetus Press, a new independent publishing house located in Iowa City, IA that is dedicated to publishing works of serious literary fiction with a pop or urban edge that fall in-between the genres of experimental and commercial fiction.

The reading will be held at The Charleston Bar, 2076 N. Hoyne in Bucktown, starting at 7:30 pm on Sunday, the 29th of October. Books will be for sale at a nicely discounted price and both authors will be more than happy to sign a copy for you. We hope to see you there and be sure to invite a friend[s].

If you run an events calendar, I would greatly appreciate if you would post our event.

For more information about Impetus Press, please refer to our website or our recent interview on popmatters.com: http://www.popmatters.com/books/features/060907-impetuspress.shtml

I hope to see you there,
Willy Blackmore

Impetus Press
PO Box 10025
Iowa City, IA 52240


The timing of the arrival of this press release is particularly fortuitous, given the fact that for the past few weeks I've been preparing the manuscript of my short story collection for entry in a contest held by Minnesota indie publisher, only to discover just this morning that the contest is limited to residents of Minnesota and New York City. (Because, you know, NYC writers have so few outlets for their work.) So rather than let this manuscript gather dust, the good folks at Impetus may very well be getting a query/proposal from me shortly.

October 24, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Six-Word Stories, Part Deux

My old blog post "Six-Word Stories", from way back in July 2005, has had remarkable staying power, with readers continuing to post their own efforts. I direct you to the backblog for all of the entries, but here are some of my favorites:

Tried online casino. Homeless, hungry. Change? (Al)

A man, a plan... ... F*ck this. (tim)

"'Sup man?" "Nuthin'" "Are you sure?" (C.F. Davis Bell)

Two newlyweds. No money. Merry Christmas. (Furb)

She has a mistress. He knows. (speedwell)

"Can you see?" "No." BRIDGE OUT. (Whit Stevens)

Perfect diamonds never see the world. (aaron)

Jesus, my hitch-hiker, pointed, "Watch out...!" (Gordon)

Falling snow erases more than footprints. (Amy)

Thanks to everyone who has contributed! And keep them coming!

October 24, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Farewell, FC2 and Dalkey

The "Small Press Points" column in the new issue of Poets & Writers highlights two small presses departing from Illinois -- Fiction Collective Two (moving from Evanston to Tuscaloosa, Alabama) and longtime Golden Rule Jones fave Dalkey Archive Press (moving from Normal to Rochester, New York). Best wishes to both -- just don't forget where you're from, ya hear?

October 24, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Micro Monday: "Single Dim Thought"

Single Dim Thought

You should drink, his father said. Covers up all of life's woes.

He never drank, unlike his father’s prodigious binges. Never had any interest, never saw the need, never wanted to be like his father. Yet his father pressed on, going so far as giving him an engraved silver flask for his eighteenth birthday.

For James, upon becoming a man.

Four years later, his father gone, he found himself in a bar—or actually behind it, bleeding in piercing pain. Thinking about the flask, empty and safe at home in his dresser drawer, safe as he should have been.

October 23, 2006 in Fiction, Micro | Permalink | Comments (0)

Third Coast, Spring 2006

A few months back I read the Spring 2006 issue of Third Coast, which I've been remiss in not mentioning until now. Two short stories really stood out, and fortunately both are available online.

The first, Roger Hart's "Fireflies" (the first chapter of a novel-in progress, and the winner of the 2006 Third Coast Fiction Award) is a fine nostalgia piece about a teenaged boy dealing with grief, trying to make a romantic connection and accidentally befriending a very unlikely companion. If my summation makes the story sound like yet another coming-of-age tale, rest assured that it's far better than that.

The second story, Jean Hanson's "The Caribe Club" is a touching story about a dying mother and her young son. Hanson expertly explores the dilemma that a terminally ill parent faces between being fully involved in a young child's life, in order to savor what little time the two have left together, and keeping a distance to ease the child's ultimate hurt. The protagonist Caitlin chooses the latter, and passes away firm in her belief that the outside life she directed young Jig toward is one she would have approved of. Sadly, because of the distance she imposed and their ensuing lack of communication, his outside life is much different than what she believed it to be. Gushing out her feelings for him in a letter meant to be read after her death, rather than having a heart-to-heart talk, also fails to have the effect she desired.

In nonfiction, Chad Hanson's essay "Working Class Glass" (not online) is a fond tribute to the fiberglass fly-fishing rod, that redheaded stepchild of the sport that is shunned by both the old-fashioned traditionalists who use bamboo rods and the modern, macho types who use graphite rods.

Let's face it, old glass rods are the Volkswagen vans of the fly fishing world. They're not Ferraris or Land Rovers. They're not fast or responsive, but in upscale cars and trucks, the vehicle is the focus of the drive. You pay more attention to the car than you pay to the world outside. In a Volkswagen van, it's the scenery that matters. Likewise, with a fiberglass rod in hand it's all about the water, the fish, your friends, and the sun sinking under the horizon, casting memorable shadows on the day.

Hanson realizes that the best thing about fishing isn't catching fish, but enjoying the overall experience. Nice lesson.

October 21, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

James Meek, The People's Act of Love

I must mention my great admiration for James Meek’s The People’s Act of Love, which I read recently. (Excerpts here and here.) The novel is a stunning achievement, one with an epic sweep which still manages to convey the small details of people’s everyday lives. The story is set in a small backwater town in Eastern Siberia in 1919, in the earliest days of the Soviet Union, and involves a Czech regiment still stranded after WWI, a small community of religious fanatics, a lonely woman and her young son, and a dangerous criminal who infiltrates all of their lives. It’s a story of love, suspense and war which asks some very big philosophical questions which, in intriguingly ambiguous fashion, are only partially answered. I won’t be doing a full review of the novel, since I could never adequately convey my thoughts on the subject, so I’ll simply say that this is a great book which gets my highest recommendation.

October 19, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Your Personal Penguin"

Quite possibly the song of the year: "Your Personal Penguin", sung by Davy Jones of the Monkees and written by Sandra Boynton (a truly wonderful author, and one of my daughter's early favorites) based on her book of the same name.

(Via Chekhov's Mistress.)

October 18, 2006 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (14)

Remembering Lounge Ax

At The Beachwood Reporter, Don Jacobson takes the moment of the sad passing of New York's venerable CBGB to reflect on the earlier (and no less sad) passing of Chicago's great Lounge Ax. Jacobson's absolutely right in saying that while Lounge Ax was a priceless cultural institution, it's not the kind of culture that Mayor Daley and City Hall want to have around. Better to have an yet another overpriced martini bar in that space than one of the epicenters of the city's music community.

I saw quite a few great shows at Lounge Ax back in the day, which were memorable as much for the personal connections that an intimate club like Lounge Ax makes possible as for the music itself. Cases in point:

+ Peter Case playing solo acoustic, vainly trying to be heard over the mindless chatter of the socialites at the back of the bar.

+ The wonderful Scruffy the Cat undeservedly relegated to being an opening act (I left after their set, having absolutely no interest in the headliner). I bought their final single, "Love Song #9" (actually a split single with Young Fresh Fellows) from Charlie Chesterman himself at the bar after their set, when I bought him a beer and listened to his record label tales of woe. (The band broke up shortly thereafter.)

+ A very young Uncle Tupelo, who preceeded their set by drinking heavily in the bar right in the midst of the waiting audience.

+ A slightly older Uncle Tupelo, playing a jaw-droppingly loud cover of Creedence's "Effigy." My friend Mark had never heard the song (which had just been released on the No Alternative compilation), and after it ended and the ear-splitting echoes of distortion slowly dissipated, he turned to me and simply mouthed the word "Wow."

+ The marvelously raucous Evan Johns and the H-Bombs ("Saving Grace" is still one of my all-time favorite songs), with Johns autographing a cheesy Miller Genuine Draft promo poster of the band, which I still own. He misheard me when I asked that he add "Long live Texas", instead writing "It's a long way to Texas". This disappointed me a little until I got home and realized it was one of his own lyrics, from "My Baby, She Left Me ('Cause I Wouldn't Lay My Guitar Down)", which was infinitely better than the generic phrease I suggested.

Damn, I still miss Lounge Ax. What a great place.

October 17, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (2)

Micro Monday: "Madness With the Bliss"

Madness With the Bliss

She lowered the cup from her lips, disappointed, the coffee already gone cold. She pushed the cup away, noisily scraping the table’s rough surface.

She shouldn’t have kissed him, never let it start. But with that first kiss her brain just clicked off and she was swept away, again. He was gentle, attentive, saying all the right things, though she knew he’d change soon -- distant, aloof, distracted. But she was hooked, absorbed in madness she recognized but couldn’t escape.

Across the room the waitress waved with a hot coffee pot but she failed to see, the spell unbroken for now.

October 16, 2006 in Fiction, Micro | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Man With the Golden Arm

Marshall Zeringue at The Campaign for the American Reader was kind enough to solicit and publish my essay on one of my favorite novels, Nelson Algren's The Man With the Golden Arm. The essay focuses on page 69 of the novel, using "The Page 69 Test" (explained here) of initially assessing a new book to help decide whether one wants to read further.

I'm sure the test isn't infallible, but as my essay mentions it works quite well for this book. I've already used the test to reject several potential bookstore purchases, so it's already saved me a few bucks.

October 13, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Indie Record Stores, Alive and Kicking

With the recent official demise of Tower Records, it could easily be assumed that record stores are doomed. But Newcity Chicago offers a quite impressive rebuttal to that belief, publishing their Indie Record Store Guide, profiling over forty stores throughout the city. Plenty of familiar names there from my city days, most notably Reckless Records, Record Emporium and Second Hand Tunes. I really miss those old places.

Newcity also reports that another of my old haunts, Record Breakers in Hoffman Estates, is relocating to the city, and adding a live music venue next door. I bought a ton of stuff at the old place during the mid 1990s, and it's truly a great store. The Northwest suburbs' loss is the South Side's gain.

With Paul Westerberg selling his soul to WalMart, my discovering a great trove of old Twin/Tone videos, the Tournament of Tunes finally drawing to a close, and now the Newcity record store coverage, it's definitely been a week of music for me.

October 13, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ted Leo Virtual Tchotchkes

In honor of Ted Leo's hard-fought victory in the Tournament of Tunes, I'm passing along a few electronic odds and ends. The wonderful photo above was taken at the 25th anniversary party for Touch and Go Records (photo courtesy of Pitchfork).

Next, here's the video (Windows Media) for "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?" (Ted's loving tribute to ska pioneers the Specials) from the terrific album Hearts of Oak. Listen closely, and you'll hear him name-check Terry Hall, Jerry Dammers and Lynval Golding.

Lastly, here's an animated video (Flash) of Ted covering "Maps" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, created by Scott Bateman. Charming indeed.

October 12, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes Final:
Ted Leo vs. Camper Van Beethoven

The final round of the Tournament of Tunes has finally arrived. Without further ado...

Ted Leo - Loyal to My Sorrowful Country [mp3]
Camper Van Beethoven - Sweethearts [RealAudio]

These are two excellent artists who have enough in common that I could easily see them sharing a stage. Not together, that is—their musical approaches are quite different. Out of respect and deference, I’d imagine it would be Ted Leo and his band the Pharmacists as the opening act for Camper Van Beethoven, but not one of those 15-minute opening sets; Leo & Co. would be allowed to hold the stage for as long as they liked. And I can easily envision the two bands joining for an inspired encore, probably covering some old hardcore punk tunes.

Each has eclectic tastes—Leo’s great album Hearts of Oak sounds like a pastiche of 80s punk and new wave, while Camper Van Beethoven was an 80s band for the most part, with their earliest work coming across in a dizzying array of musical styles. Leo’s inspirations come largely from punk, even if his music is more punk in spirit than in execution, while CvB draws from much further back, to the psychedelia of the 60s (its epic cover of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive” being merely the most obvious example). But even their seemingly disparate influences are misleading—CvB famously covered Black Flag’s “Wasted” on their debut, and I’m pretty sure that Leo listened to his fair share of Black Flag during his youth.

What the two unquestionably share is an undeniable passion for music, an insistence on doing things completely on their own terms. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Ted Leo and Camper Van Beethoven. So, on to the songs.

“Sweethearts” is an undeniably terrific song, for reasons that I’ve already elaborated on previously. Yet just this morning, while listening to the rest of Key Lime Pie to put the song into context, it occurred to me that if it was either “When I Win the Lottery” or “All Her Favorite Fruit” going up against Ted Leo, it would be no contest—CvB would be the winner. In other words, “Sweethearts”, as good as it is, isn’t even the best song on that album; in fact, it’s probably no better than my fifth-favorite CvB song (my top five would include those two above, plus “Take the Skinheads Bowling”, “The Ambiguity Song” and “Peace and Love”). I now realize that my one reservation about “Sweethearts” is the slightly ironic narrative distance of its third-person perspective—the narrator is dryly commenting on the simplistic and hypocritical patriotism of political conservatives, from afar—and this distance dilutes ever so slightly the emotional impact of the song. It creates just enough of a disconnect with the listener to prevent the song from achieving true greatness.

And that’s the song’s biggest difference with “Loyal to My Sorrowful Country.” Ted Leo’s song is simple and direct, with its first person perspective driving home the point that Leo is quietly pissed about the present state of our political climate, that he clearly sees the current administration infringing on our personal liberties and preventing us from being the people we’re destined to be, and that he’s going to do whatever he can to change the situation for the better and for the common good. Simply put, Leo says: here’s what’s wrong with our country, and I’m not going to sit still and placidly acquiesce. It’s a quietly defiant call to arms, with Leo’s plain and non-allusive language and passionate delivery making the listener realize that this is exactly what he feels. The song completely connects with the listener, which is the ultimate achievement of a musician or any other artist.

These are two great songs, but one is just a bit greater.

The winner of the 2006 Tournament of Tunes is “Loyal to My Sorrowful Country” by Ted Leo. Download the mp3—I’m absolutely certain you won’t be disappointed.

Winner: Ted Leo - Loyal to My Sorrowful Country

October 12, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Billy Bragg, Author

If you like Billy Bragg's politics and worldview but aren't fond of his, shall we say, informal vocal delivery, this should be worth checking out:

The Progressive Patriot: A Search For Belonging

Part autobiography, part polemic, in this his first book, Billy delves into his own family history and childhood in Barking, and the influences of such luminaries as George Orwell, Rudyard Kipling, Simon & Garfunkel, Dylan, and The Clash, to reflect on how this shaped his own sense of Englishness. He also considers the historical impact of the Magna Carta, the People's Charter, the Civil War, the Second World War, and the Miners Strike on the formation of the national consciousness.

In a world in which British citizens can lay bombs to kill their countrymen, where religious fundamentalism is on the increase, and where the BNP are somehow part of the democratic process, what does patriotism actually mean?

Or you could just drop $70 on his new nine-disc boxed set (covering just the latter half of his career!) from Yep Roc Records. Your call.

October 12, 2006 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - The Final

I'll be publishing the championship of the Tournament of Tunes later today. I promise. Yes, I admit that this has dragged on too damned long.

October 12, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

What Liberals Believe

Like Skimble, I'm publishing this excellent list here, verbatim, because it's far too important to be kept hidden behind the Tribune's registration wall. Per University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey R. Stone:

1. Liberals believe individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others. This is at the very heart of liberalism. Liberals understand, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed, that "time has upset many fighting faiths." Liberals are skeptical of censorship and celebrate free and open debate.

2. Liberals believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support the civil rights movement, affirmative action, the Equal Rights Amendment and the rights of gays and lesbians. (Note that a conflict between propositions 1 and 2 leads to divisions among liberals on issues like pornography and hate speech.)

3. Liberals believe individuals have a right and a responsibility to participate in public debate. It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion expansion of the franchise; the elimination of obstacles to voting; "one person, one vote;" limits on partisan gerrymandering; campaign-finance reform; and a more vibrant freedom of speech. They believe, with Justice Louis Brandeis, that "the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people."
4. Liberals believe "we the people" are the governors and not the subjects of government, and that government must treat each person with that in mind. It is liberals who have defended and continue to defend the freedom of the press to investigate and challenge the government, the protection of individual privacy from overbearing government monitoring, and the right of individuals to reproductive freedom. (Note that libertarians, often thought of as "conservatives," share this value with liberals.)

5. Liberals believe government must respect and affirmatively safeguard the liberty, equality and dignity of each individual. It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion the rights of racial, religious and ethnic minorities, political dissidents, persons accused of crime and the outcasts of society. It is liberals who have insisted on the right to counsel, a broad application of the right to due process of law and the principle of equal protection for all people.

6. Liberals believe government has a fundamental responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support government programs to improve health care, education, social security, job training and welfare for the neediest members of society. It is liberals who maintain that a national community is like a family and that government exists in part to "promote the general welfare."

7. Liberals believe government should never act on the basis of sectarian faith. It is liberals who have opposed and continue to oppose school prayer and the teaching of creationism in public schools and who support government funding for stem-cell research, the rights of gays and lesbians and the freedom of choice for women.

8. Liberals believe courts have a special responsibility to protect individual liberties. It is principally liberal judges and justices who have preserved and continue to preserve freedom of expression, individual privacy, freedom of religion and due process of law. (Conservative judges and justices more often wield judicial authority to protect property rights and the interests of corporations, commercial advertisers and the wealthy.)

9. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, for without such protection liberalism is impossible. This, of course, is less a tenet of liberalism than a reply to those who attack liberalism. The accusation that liberals are unwilling to protect the nation from internal and external dangers is false. Because liberals respect competing values, such as procedural fairness and individual dignity, they weigh more carefully particular exercises of government power (such as the use of secret evidence, hearsay and torture), but they are no less willing to use government authority in other forms (such as expanded police forces and international diplomacy) to protect the nation and its citizens.

10. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, without unnecessarily sacrificing constitutional values. It is liberals who have demanded and continue to demand legal protections to avoid the conviction of innocent people in the criminal justice system, reasonable restraints on government surveillance of American citizens, and fair procedures to ensure that alleged enemy combatants are in fact enemy combatants. Liberals adhere to the view expressed by Brandeis some 80 years ago: "Those who won our independence ... did not exalt order at the cost of liberty."

You might as well just go ahead and fit me for a scarlet letter "L", because I believe strongly in everything on Stone's list.

October 11, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)

Mekons Rock Memphis

Again, dubious production values. Again, puzzling cultural references, this time to Egypt. But the Mekons really raved up on this one: "Memphis Egypt". The Mekons Rock 'N' Roll is one album that I'll absolutely, positively never tire of.

If you've got an hour to spare, check out the rest of the video archives at the Twin/Tone site--of particular note is fine stuff by the Replacements (an entire 1981 show!), the Jayhawks, the Poster Children and many others.

October 10, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Another San Fran observation...

Just this morning I came across a note that I jotted down during my recent trip to San Francisco. While there, I noticed that between Market Street and Mission Street, there's a small street named after Ambrose Bierce, the writer best known for "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and The Devil's Dictionary.

Yet another reason to love that city--they officially honor unjustly-neglected authors, unlike here in Chicago where, for the most part, we only officially honor justly-neglected political hacks.

October 10, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Westerberg Jumps the Shark

Uh, Paul, just forget about getting the Replacements back together, as all of us fans have been longing for since 1991. Suddenly we're no longer anxious to hear what kind of music you might create together, no matter how much of a good influence Tommy might be on you. And besides, it's obvious you've got other priorities these days.

Boston-based six-string manufacturer First Act -- whose $159 instruments caught Westerberg's eye in a Wal-Mart a couple years ago -- recently recruited the former Replacements frontman to design his own guitar for retail.

Featuring a slim body and "punk-rock plaid" pattern on its pick guard, the PW580 is already on sale at Amazon.com and will soon be available in Wal-Mart stores. Retail price: $159.

Priorities which, conveniently for you, require absolutely no integrity whatsoever.

(Via Largehearted Boy.)

October 9, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

Local Heroes

In Newcity Chicago, Tom Lynch profiles Bayo Ojikutu, focusing on his sophomore novel, Free Burning. Ojikutu takes issue with the idea that his characters are "hopeless", preferring instead the term "desperate":

"I like the interpretation of 'desperation.' I don't like when people say that they are hopeless. Tommie is not hopeless. We live in a society that's shaped in the fashion where entrapment and desperation are functions of our commercial, political and social relations, particularly at the bottom of the social structure."

I paged through Free Burning at the bookstore last night, and it looks rather intriguing. (Here's an excerpt, published recently in Otium.) Yet another one for The List. Ojikutu had a strong contribution to last year's Chicago Noir compilation, a story called "The Gospel of Moral Ends" which added rather nicely to the "morally corrupt preacher" canon that dates back at least as far as Elmer Gantry.

Meanwhile, at The Elegant Variation, guest reviewer Jim Ruland raves about both Todd Dills' Sons of the Rapture ("a gloriously ambitious achievement") and Joe Meno's The Boy Detective Fails ("This isn’t a loss-of-innocence novel; it’s a novel about how to deal when your innocence has been smashed to smithereens"), and also offers up short interviews with each author. Dills and Meno were paired up for a Vermin On The Mount performance in L.A. over the weekend, and seem to be doing quite a few readings together lately. Of particular note is their upcoming reading at Chicago's Book Cellar on October 19th, as part of the Chicago Book Festival.

October 9, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Micro Monday: "Distant Heart"

Distant Heart

He’ll get what he can while he’s still young, so for enough cash you can do whatever you want. The pile of singles he takes home from dancing at the Cabana every night won’t cover rent and payments on the Harmon-Kardon and some food, or dreams of the flatscreen he’ll probably never own.

No, he needs the fifty or hundred you give him for slipping into a shadowed alcove or more daringly the back alley, abandoning whatever pride and self-respect he still has. Ten indulgent minutes keeps him alive even while hastening his death. Hardening him, distant while seemingly intimate.

October 9, 2006 in Fiction, Micro | Permalink | Comments (0)


I'm pleased to announce that the Word Fugitives column in the October issue of The Atlantic ran my query, which I've reproduced in the photo above. In case you're not familiar with the column, readers send in queries for new words to be created which describe highly esoteric situations, like mine about that one guy who's resented by every other guy he knows. If you'd like to send in your creation, you can do so via the website (subscription only) or by mail to:

Word Fugitives
The Atlantic Monthly
PO Box 67375
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

The prize for having my query selected was three books by Atlantic writers, two of which I'll never read (a doorstop-sized history on the Iran hostage crisis, and the latest masterpiece from the deplorable Caitlin Flanagan) but one I'll definitely enjoy: the Word Fugitives compilation, by Barbara Wallraff. I was already pleased to receive this book, even before discovering that it included my earlier submission in response to the query "How about a word for that dicey moment when you should introduce two people but can't remember one of their names?. My attempt, nomstruck, was a runner-up to the winner, introducking.

I may never get paid for my short stories, but at least I'm leaving my mark via dubious contributions to the English language.

October 8, 2006 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Rock the Casbah

Big budget, it ain't. Visually artistic, it ain't. Culturally provocative, undoubtedly. A shameless lunge for the top of the charts, undeniably. But what a great groove.

October 5, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Touch and Go Records

On Sound Opinions, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis offer up a loving tribute to Corey Rusk and Touch and Go Records, the great Chicago independent label that celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. I encourage you to listen to the entire broadcast (MP3 stream or 28MB MP3 download) but in case you're pressed for time, the highlights are listed below. The Touch and Go portion of the broadcast runs from approximately 4:30 through 39:00.

14:00 - Interview with Corey Rusk
20:00 - Insights from Scott McCloud (Girls Against Boys), Steve Albini (Big Black, Shellac), Janet Weiss (Quasi), Ted Leo, and David Yow (Jesus Lizard, Scratch Acid).
25:00 - "Stage 2000" by Seam (introduced by Kot) and "Kerosene" by Big Black (introduced by DeRogatis)

October 4, 2006 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)