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Yesterday's News


Lovely photograph by Jack Delano from 1940, in Brockton, Massachusetts. Those old Kodachromes can be quite gorgeous - this one almost looks like an Edward Hopper painting.

(Via Shorpy.)

March 30, 2009 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Carl Erickson, the local boy unexpectedly done good

I regularly follow the illustration blog Today's Inspiration but was particularly struck by this quote that appeared there this week:
"There is no reason, of course, why the suave delineator of chic femininity, whose drawings for twenty years have given poignance to America's smartest fashion magazine, should not have been born in Joliet, Illinois."
The quote is about Carl Erickson, who was born in Joliet in 1891 and went on to a celebrated career as illustrator, under the oh-so-chic singular name "Eric", in the fashion industry. I had never heard of him before but now am quite impressed by his work. The blog has been running a series on Eric this week, which I encourage you to check out:

Carl (Eric) Erickson (1891-1958)
Eric: "the suave delineator of chic femininity"
The Extent of Eric's Influence
Carl Erickson: The "Deceptively Simple Line" of the "Lifestyle Illustrator"
The Art of Carl Erickson: "Easy or Impossible"

From everything I've read about Joliet in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - rough and tumble, blue collar, pervaded by heavy industry - I'd say it's indeed remarkable that the "suave delineator of chic femininity" hailed from here. Yesterday I found this bio on his father, Per Erickson, who, quite true to the city's rough image, was the "keeper" (warden? jailer?) at the Joliet Penitentiary.

March 29, 2009 in Art, Ephemera, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Algren at 100

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Algren, my hero and anti-hero, who was born in Detroit on March 28, 1909. Donna Seaman has a concise overview of the great man's career over at Booklist. For the initiate, I'd suggest you pick up his greatest novel, The Man With the Golden Arm, or his prose piece Chicago: City on the Make, which is the one book of his that I keep returning to again and again, and which I'm convinced is the best thing he ever wrote.

Algren would undoubtedly have a bemused chuckle at his centenary passing without a peep of official recognition from his home city, which right now is otherwise preoccupied with hastily filling the countless potholes and otherwise gussying things up for the arrival of Olympic committee muckamucks. The city, desperate as always to overcome its self-perceived secondary status, is throwing itself (and untold billions of dollars) at the world, as obsessed with its self-image as it was in the days when it ostracized Algren for daring to present Chicago as it really was.

Hoist a glass today to Chicago's greatest writer and one of America's most unappreciated literary talents. I'll be hoisting several.

Update: Jeff McMahon has an excellent Algren essay at Newcity. Very well done.

March 28, 2009 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)


"I like all forms of writing, from articles to motion pictures, but of them all I prefer the novel. In a day of increasing taboos, I think it may represent the final redoubt of a truly free enterprise. I like the feeling that it is up to me, that make or break, it is all mine."
-Budd Schulberg

Schulberg turns a sprightly 95 years old today. I thoroughly enjoyed What Makes Sammy Run? (which will definitely make my top ten list for this year) and will probably read The Harder They Fall soon, too.

March 27, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Only in Chicago

Secondhand bookstore...as front for a bookie joint. ("Yeah, sure, buddy, we got yer Chaucer...sixth race at Hialeah.")

March 22, 2009 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Listening: The Bats

The Bats: Afternoon in Bed

This Tall Dwarfs video got me remembering my old appreciation for Kiwi bands (that band, plus both Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate solo, the Clean, etc.) and inevitably lead me to Songza, which unfortunately didn't have any of the Tall Dwarfs tunes I was familiar with. But they did have this gem by the Bats, an offshoot of the Clean. Can't elaborate much on it, other than remembering hearing it a few times on Chicago's late, lamented WCBR (the city's last attempt at eclectic commercial rock radio) during the mid 1990s.

March 22, 2009 in Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

Word of the day: ceilidh

Or, more accurately, the word of yesterday...


Main Entry: cei·lidh (pronunciation)

Variant(s): also cei·li \'kā-lē\ Function: noun Etymology: Irish céilí & Scottish Gaelic cèilidh visit, social evening, party with music and dancing, from Old Irish céilide visit, from céile servant, companion, neighbor; akin to Welsh cilydd companion, Old Breton kiled Date: 1875

Scottish & Irish : a party with music, dancing, and often storytelling

As part of my Irish reading month, right now I'm halfway Patrick McCabe's Winterwood, in which the word ceilidh comes up frequently. I was familiar with the definition (albeit from Local Hero, a Scottish film) but couldn't quite remember the pronunciation. And now I know - KAY-lee.

Can't say I enjoyed any music or dancing last night - Julie's in bed with a nasty case of the flu - but I did have homemade corned beef and cabbage, Guinness bread (bless her heart - despite her weakened state she still cooked all of this) and a pint of Extra Stout, all of which were excellent.

March 18, 2009 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fighting Illini in the Sweet Sixteen!

The Academic Performance Tournament.

Frankly, I'd rather see my alma mater win this "tournament" than the one on the hardwood.

March 16, 2009 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

My eight-year-old daughter...

...the entrepreneur. (Explanation here.) And no lemonade stand or pet-sitting service either, but the bare-knuckled, no-holds-barred brawl of online commerce. Yes, her mom will be handling some of the technical details for now, but other than that this is completely Maddie's gig.

The site went up just yesterday, and this morning she made her first sale (which is why there are no items at her site right now - out of stock) and is already taking success in stride. When she heard the news of her first sale, she let out a brief whoop and then quietly said "I'm going to eat my breakfast now." I doubt that Donald Trump marked the closing of his first deal so calmly.

March 14, 2009 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Mourning What We Thought Was Already Dead"

Carrie Brownstein (of Sleater-Kinney and NPR's Monitor Mix blog) reflects on the demise of BMG Music Service.

Back in the day, in the middle of something like Parade Magazine in your local Sunday paper, there would be an ad for 12 CDs for the price of one. You would pick out your free CDs and then promise, at some point within the next year, to make an actual purchase. But, let's be honest, the whole paying-for-the-music part of it never quite happened for a lot of people.

Therefore, BMG's music service was - for many of us - our first foray into mail fraud, scams and thievery. There were a few options for obtaining the free portion of the deal without ever fulfilling your end of the bargain.

Like Brownstein, I was once in the club but had no idea it was still around. But unlike her, I was never really tempted to scam BMG out of more CDs than I deserved, probably because the selection wasn't particularly extensive and I rarely hankered after more of their offerings than I could afford. But still, plenty of my favorite albums of the 1980s came from BMG, all of which I still listen to today: Lou Reed's New York, Bob Mould's Workbook, the Neville Brothers' Yellow Moon, House of Freaks' Tantilla, Treat Her Right's eponymous debut. True, I did pick up some dreck (gawd, was I ever disappointed in the Replacements' Dont Tell A Soul) but even the dreck earned me cash when I later sold it on eBay, so overall BMG was a good experience for me.

March 13, 2009 in Music | Permalink | Comments (2)

2009 Tournament of Books

One of my favorite literary events, The Tournament of Books at The Morning News, has now started up again. They're now through the first four matches (grouped as "The Susan Sontag Regional"[1]) and there have already been two upsets, with winners of the Booker Prize and PEN/Faulkner falling by the wayside. Though I rarely read any novels until several years after their publication, this year's ToB includes two books I've already read: Mark Sarvas' Harry, Revised (which upset Booker winner The White Tiger) and Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project (my favorite book of 2008). Do check it out - the judges' rationales are all thoughtful and well-reasoned, and the after-match commentary of John Warner and Kevin Guilfoile is always a joy.

[1] Though I have no idea how long ToB has been using this nomenclature for their brackets, I'm struck by its similarity to that of my own 2006 Tournament of Tunes, whose regionals were named after Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Though I admittedly copped the name and concept of my tourney from ToB, I'm wondering if they might not have borrowed from mine in naming their regionals. Guilfoile is a casual friend of mine whom I know followed the Tournament of Tunes back in the day, so it seems somewhat possible. If so, I'm very honored.

March 12, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Sea and Cake Cash In

Chicago indie rock mainstays The Sea and Cake (I still love their second album, Nassau, which is now pushing fifteen years on my shelf) have struck it rich, or struck it semi-rich, or at the very least can now afford a higher quality level of libations, as they've licensed their tune "Jacking the Ball" to Citibank. I hope the band cashed the check quickly, before it had a chance to bounce. Because even given the highly tenuous world of indie rock, they still probably have better long-term viability than the bank: The Sea and Cake will still be around in five years; Citibank, doubtful.

March 10, 2009 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Writer vs. Editor, no gloves, not even a referee

Wow. I would gladly have passed along the following - editor violently lashes back at one of his writers, who had defamed him - strictly on its own caustic merits, but given that the writer is my hero Nelson Algren, doing so is truly a no-brainer. Algren's late-career editor, William Targ, completely unloads on Algren.

I've long admired you as a writer; I won't deny your talents. But even if you were Tolstoy I woud say -- and shall do so publicly henceforth -- that you are a liar, an ingrate, a shithead.
Targ has some particularly pithy things to say about The Last Carousel, though it's not explained how Targ made a book of the "unspeakable mess of manuscript" while also "preserv(ing) everything (Algren) wanted included in the book." Seems to me an editor presented with such a manuscript would have no choice but to hack away huge chunks that the writer wanted included. But still...ouch.

Henry Kisor's comment that follows his original post is a timely reminder of the upcoming centenary of Algren, who was born on March 28, 1909. I'll certainly be hoisting a few strong ones in honor of the "inhuman turd." And I'll inevitably pick up Algren at Sea.

(Via Mark Athitakis.)

March 6, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Turtle Wax, Bastion of Sexism


As a male who is much more likely to clean the house (and did so, in fact, as recently as this past weekend) than wax his car, I am quite offended by the sexism promoted by these Turtle Wax bottles from the 1950s. And in case you're wondering: no, I do not clean house with a frilly apron around my waist and a ribbon in my hair - nor a self-satisfied smile on my face either.

March 4, 2009 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

He's the king of the world!

A hearty congratulations goes out to my online writer friend Dave Schwartz, whose debut novel Superpowers has been shortlisted for the 2009 Nebula novel award. He's right up there with heavyweights like Ursula LeGuin, Terry Pratchett and Cory Doctorow, and I couldn't be happier for him. I also must confess considerable guilt over not having read the book yet (though I did see it at Borders once, and turned it cover-out to boost its sale potential), an oversight which I fully intend to correct very soon.

March 1, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)