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Strummer (Hearted) Springsteen

Apparently Clash frontman and punk icon Joe Strummer had somewhat of an appreciation ("...HIS MUSIC IS GREAT ON A DARK & RAINY MORNING IN ENGLAND, JUST WHEN YOU NEED SOME SPIRIT & SOME PROOF THAT THE BIG WIDE WORLD EXISTS, THE D.J. PUTS ON 'RACING IN THE STREETS' & LIFE SEEMS WORTH LIVING AGAIN...") for Bruce Springsteen. But come on, Joe. Tell us what you really think.

November 30, 2009 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jack Conroy, The Disinherited

Jack Conroy's 1933 proletarian novel The Disinherited is a fine account of working class life in the Midwest during the 1920s and early 30s. The story follows the narrator Larry Donovan from his childhood in a Missouri coal mine camp to nearby jobs in a railroad shop, steel mill and rubber factory, and then on to Detroit and an automobile assembly line, during which time the economy implodes and he makes his way back home to Missouri and whatever life he can piece together there. The trouble is, though, that the book is more of a documentary than a novel. Despite the vividness of the descriptive prose, I feel like I now know far more about the rural Missouri of the 1920s than I do about any of the characters, even including Larry Donovan. In addition to thin characterization, the scenes shift awkwardly from one factory to the next, the text a plot-heavy picaresque which doesn't flow very gracefully. The book's introduction describes how Conroy first wrote the book as a series of autobiographical sketches, later transforming it to a novel only at the request of its original publisher, a revelation which comes as no surprise to the reader. Overall, it was an interesting read, but would have worked much more effectively as a memoir instead of a novel.

November 30, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fight for pride and honor, lift old Cary-Grove on high


All hail the mighty Trojans of Cary-Grove High School (my alma mater) which won its first Illinois state football title yesterday, knocking off Providence 35-17 in the 6A championship game. This is the first football title in the school's 48-year history. In fact, the school hadn't won a state title in any sport until just this year, until  the girls' volleyball team won the 4A title last month. Quite a year for the denizens and former denizens of Cary, Fox River Grove, Oakwood Hills, et al. Hurrah!

November 29, 2009 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Working: Hair Stylists

From Studs Terkel's Working, this priceless bit of (dated) insight from Edward Zimmer, proprietor of a hair salon:
Years ago, a wife wouldn't think of going to a grocery store with blond hair. 'Cause what is she? A show girl? Light hair only went with strippers, prostitutes and society women. In order to silver-blond in those days, you would use a lot of ammonias and bleaches and the woman would have to come back two or three times before it got light enough to be a silver blonde. This cost fifty, sixty dollars a treatment. So the average hausfrau and her husband, he's say "What are you workin' as a cigarette girl or something? You're a mother, you got four kids, you're insulting me in church, you look like a hoozy." But today all girls look like hoozies.
That "strippers, prostitutes and society women" comment made me laugh out loud. Ed sounds like he was a pretty interesting and opinionated guy, one who would have been great to talk to. But I suspect he would have gotten pretty infuriating quite quickly.

November 29, 2009 in Books, Studs Terkel: Working | Permalink | Comments (0)

Happy Thanksgiving


Or, as this image from the inimitable Cake Wrecks says, Happy Tanksgiven. We've all been having a good laugh about this today, reciting it in a Jamaican accent with the oligatory "...mon" at the end. In a few hours we're heading to my mother-in-laws' for dinner, and I intend to greet everyone in this manner. Have a terrific day, and remember all that you have to be thankful for - including not having to hear me attempt an Jamaican accent.

November 26, 2009 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (4)

Algren and Terkel

Nelson Algren and Studs Terkel in 1975, just before Algren's departure from Chicago. Algren is at his wisecracking best (with his new home of Paterson, NJ bearing the brunt of his acerbic humor) while Studs hangs on for the ride. Algren also offhandedly voices the well-worn refrain of Chicago's lack of appreciation for him, as evidenced by the Public Library not having a single copy of one of his books.

(Via The Second Pass.)

November 26, 2009 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wow, I've actually read several of these. I'm shocked.

The Times of London has published their "The 100 Best Books of the Decade" list. Here are the ones I've read, and the ones that were already on my to-read list.

Already Read
42. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (2006)
37. William Trevor: The Collected Stories (2009)
14. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi (2003)
9. Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)
2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2003)
1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

On My List
97. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007)
68. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (2005)
66. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004)
51. Home by Marilynne Robinson (2008)
46. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)
44. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (2005)
40. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight trans Simon Armitage (2007)
24. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
22. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (2000)
3. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama (2004)

+ Trevor is on the "read" list with an asterisk, because while I haven't read that specific volume, I've read several of his other story collections, which I assume partially overlap with The Collected Stories.
+ I liked Bechdel's book, but as far as "graphic memoirs" go, Joe Sacco's Palestine and Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers were both much better.
+ I wouldn't even put Nafisi's book on a list of the hundred best books I've ever read, let alone of the decade.
+ Absolutely no argument here with numbers 9, 2 and 1. Great books all.

November 25, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Schmitz and Gretencort


Nice 1912 postcard here, which advertises the Schmitz and Gretencort department store (click on either image for the full-sized version). Interesting to note that the "holiday sale of questionable relevance" concept ("4th of July Home Coming Sale") is by no means a modern-day development. I've seen ephemera from this store before and had assumed it was a Joliet company, but based on the ordering of the locations listed on the back, it appears to have been an Aurora company with a Joliet branch. This building is still standing, but the interior has been fully modernized and this view is now long gone.

November 25, 2009 in Ephemera, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lord, I've been name-dropped

During the course of answering the question "Does Chicago Need A Literary Hall of Fame?" (quick answer: YES), Donald G. Evans was kind enough to mention this humble blog (albeit with name misspelled) as one of the media sources which is devoted to promoting the cause of local literature. Although there's any number of other outlets that are much more deserving of his mention than this blog, I still greatly appreciate the gesture.

November 24, 2009 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)

"He stood like a statue, one arm extended toward the west."

Love this passage from Jack Conroy's The Disinherited, especially the way Conroy deftly narrows the focus from the epic sweep of Detroit autoworkers exiting the city as the Great Depression accelerates, to the poignant individual scenes involving the Tennessee-bound family and then the solitary hitchhiker.
As the factories closed or cut their forces and hours, the exodus from the city increased in volume. We lived by the Chicago pike, and had nothing better to do than to watch the procession pass. Some in shiny new sedans, but more in asthmatic antiques, creaking under burdens of furniture, bedding, lares and penates, children, and even Kentucky hound dogs, their long ears flying like banners in the breeze. The children peered out brightly, merry over the prospect of the long trip south.

Not all in cars.

In a driving November rain a man passed the house pulling a heavily loaded coaster wagon and followed by a staggering woman, ineffectually striving to shield a blue-lipped baby from the cold and wet. Ben called them in, fed them, and dried their clothing. The husband had been laid off in Detroit and spent his last penny looking for work, and they were trying to make it home to La Follette, Tenn., still many a weary mile ahead.

I saw a middle-aged man seemingly petrified by the side of the highway. He stood like a statue, one arm extended toward the west. His face was set and hopeless like a stone mask. Begging a ride, he did so proudly; no energetic thumbing and appealing. A battered suitcase rested between his legs. Nobody heeded him. The cars whizzed along the grey concrete and the Winter dusk settled down. Trucks rumbled along disdainfully. A lithe speedster festooned with smart baggage purred by, and the boys inside were singing, sentimentally, "Highways are happy ways when they lead the way home."

A gang of youths in a collegiate Ford, its dilapidation camouflaged by many a chalked wisecrack, spied the immobile figure, and brakes howled to a stop fifty feet away.

"Are you tired of walking?" inquired the lad at the wheel.

"Yes!" cried the man eagerly. He picked up the suitcase and ran briskly toward the car, his frayed overcoat whipping between his legs and hindering him.

"Then run a while!" retorted the comedian, quickly throwing the car into gear for a flying start. Laughter drifted back.

A single oath which seemed to plumb the nadir of despair broke from the man's lips. He walked steadily westward, as though drawn by a magnet.
Incidentally, La Follette is in north-central Tennessee - looking at the map, it appears to be in a fairly remote area, and would have been even more remote back in 1930. In other words, a long and arduous journey from Detroit. Which makes the fate of the wagon-towing family even more desperate.

November 24, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Goodnight indeed

Outstanding: Goodnight Keith Moon. The Goodnight parody seems to be slowing developing a life of its own, with excellent results so far.

(Via Coudal.)

November 23, 2009 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Open Books

The opening of a new independent bookstore is always cause for celebration, but even more so with Chicago's Open Books, which combines its store with a great social mission: promoting literacy.
What, exactly, is Open Books? “It’s a social venture,” Ratner says. “We’re nonprofit, so we’re dependent on charitable ways of giving. The second thing is that it’s a public space to make illiteracy an issue. It’s a big, colorful, creative, collaborative space for all levels."
A very welcomed development indeed.

November 20, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Found in Space"

Found in Space
The crew of the orbiter could not believe what they saw. Impossible, but there it was, all of it. A sluggish confetti of bills, the amounts indeterminate in the distance between but whose color and shape marked them, unmistakably, as U.S. currency. Further along, a yawning aluminum briefcase which must have remained closed just long enough to deliver the currency safely into orbit. And then a body, frozen solid, which drifted close enough to the orbiter for the face, so familiar from the wanted posters, to be recognized. D.B. Cooper, who jumped out of that airplane but somehow fell up.

(This is another Boing Boing contest entry, and since there are already more than 900 entries over there and I thus have little chance of winning, I thought I'd save this little piece from oblivion by posting it here.)

November 19, 2009 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Remind me one more time...

...why did we bail out General Motors?
Under this "bailout" plan, GM is remaking itself as a corporate entity that employs fewer Americans, produces fewer cars in the U.S. and sustains fewer communities – effectively undermining the core arguments that were made in the first place for providing bailout funds to the company.

Instead of building itself back up as a great American manufacturer – with new approaches and better ideas for reconfiguring U.S. plants and retraining U.S. workers – GM has used the federal money to offshore its manufacturing operations and downsize its U.S. distribution network by pulling out of inner cities and small towns.

That, and also pay for commercials that tell everyone how Chevy is better than Honda or Ford. Because as we all know, it's not building better cars that's important, but making people believe you're building better cars - even if they're pieces of crap.

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

Silverfross Drive In


Sharp matchbook here from the old Silverfross Drive In, on Lincoln Highway on the east side of Joliet. The restaurant is obviously long gone, but I'll have to drive past that intersection and since if the building is still there. I don't know about you, but even though it's only ten o'clock in the morning a pork tenderloin, fries and root beer sounds pretty damned good right now. 

November 16, 2009 in Ephemera, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (8)

"...black timbers etched against a setting sun..."

From The Disinherited, by Jack Conroy:
A mine tipple is like a gallows, especially if you chance to see its black timbers etched against a setting sun; and the cage dangles from the cathead like a hangman's rope. I have thought whimsically when a miner's head has appeared out of the shaft, apparently supported by the cable only, that his tongue should protrude and his legs kick spasmodically.
Grim foreshadowing indeed, but I also admire how Conroy leavened the imagery somewhat with the narrator's adolescent "whimsy" - though that whimsy, like most of the novel so far, is in itself strikingly morbid.

November 16, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

William Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940

William Leuchtenburg's Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940 is a very fine and highly informative overview of the New Deal - the domestic economic and social programs developed by Roosevelt and his army of reformers in response to the crisis of the Great Depression. Refreshingly, the author resists considerable temptation in not making this a mere hagiography of FDR, but discusses both his successes and his failures, both his personal strengths and shortcomings. The author acknowledges that, for all of its success, the New Deal never solved the problem of widespread unemployment, which was only quelled with the rapid military armament in support of the war in Europe. Still, the New Deal did stabilize our country and bring it back from the bring of collapse, while also establishing much of the social safety net (Social Security, insured bank deposits, unemployment insurance) that we often take for granted today, as well as regulatory bodies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Labor Relations Board which have been critical in curbing the worst abuses of big business.

My one qualm is that, despite the title, this is not exclusively a study of the New Deal, but more of an overview of FDR's first two terms. Leuchtenburg narrates at length about the rise of fascism in the mid 1930s and the start of World War II at the end of the decade, which of course are essential to any discussion of FDR's presidency (especially since the author details FDR's response to each, most notably charting Roosevelt's evolution from isolationist to internationalist) but don't specifically pertain to the New Deal. The book could well have stayed to its New Deal theme, not by ignoring fascism and WWII, but by explaning how each impacted New Deal policies and programs. Still, that qualm is a minor one, and Leuchtenburg's book is a thorough and well-written study of a fascinating era and one of our greatest political leaders, which I highly recommend.

November 13, 2009 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)


Three more great quotes from Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal: 1932-1940 by William Leuchtenburg, which I finished reading yesterday. First, Justice Louis Brandeis, on Scandinavia's "middle way" (emulated by the New Deal) which accomodated both public and private institutions, and also a backhanded refutation of Communism:
"Why should anyone want to go to Russia when one can go to Denmark?"
Next, Harry Hopkins (FDR's WPA director and later Commerce Secretary) on the New Deal's spirit of innovation and non-ideological pragmatism:
"I am for experimenting...in various parts of the country, trying out schemes which are supported by reasonable people and see if they work. If they do not work, the world will not come to an end."
Lastly, Republican Senator Jim Watson of Indiana, expressing, to Wendell Willkie (the GOP presidential nominee) at the 1940 nominating convention, the conservatives' concern over the political ideology of Willkie, who had only recently left the Democratic Party:
"I don't mind the church converting a whore, but I don't want her to lead the choir the first night!"

November 13, 2009 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

"In Flanders Fields"

Despite being a pacifist, I still find myself moved by this verse...
In Flanders Fields
by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Today is Veterans Day, so please give some remembrance to all of the soldiers who have fought for our country. But also recall that this day was originally called Armistice Day ("a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace"), which marked the peaceful end of World War I, and remember that striving for peace means more soldiers come home safely or never go to war in the first place.

November 11, 2009 in Books, Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Albums start to finish

When I'm downloading from my record collection to my iPod, I rarely download albums in their entirety. Even though I've only tapped one-fifth of my iPod's storage capacity so far, I'm hesitant to download entire albums because, quite frankly, few of them are start-to-finish essential. Most of them have at most four or five tunes that I want to listen to regularly. The exceptions -those that are indeed start-to-finish essential and warrant a full download - are what I've come to realize are among my most cherished albums. And here they are:

Dumptruck, Positively
The Feelies, The Good Earth
Glenn Mercer, Wheels in Motion
The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday
Joel R.L. Phelps & the Downer Trio, 3
Joel R.L. Phelps & the Downer Trio, Warm Springs Night
Morphine, Cure For Pain
Morphine, The Night
Mark Sandman, Sandbox (disc one)
Sebadoh, Bakesale
Tom Waits, Orphans (disc two)
Yo La Tengo, Painful

Two anomolies in this list: Glenn Mercer and the Hold Steady, both of which I like but don't absolutely love. I have several other albums that will be downloaded in the entirety once I get around to it, including Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted, Lou Reed's New York, Silkworm's Libertine and R.E.M's Murmur. Also, this list doesn't include albums downloaded from iTunes, in which having the full album is inevitable - of the latter, there are two (the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime and Tommy Stinson's Village Gorilla Head) that I would have downloaded in full from CD had I not gotten them from iTunes instead.

November 10, 2009 in Music | Permalink | Comments (2)


"Why shouldn't the American people take half my money from me? I took it all from them."
- Edward Filene, as quoted in Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal: 1932-1940, by William Leuchtenberg

I didn't know anything about Filene (other than his department store chain) before reading this quote, but he seems to have been an interesting individual. He was a highly successful merchant, of course, but also was instrumental in the creation of both credit unions and workers compensation insurance.

November 9, 2009 in Books, Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

On the Waterfront, reissued

The estimable Chicago publisher Ivan R. Dee is reissuing Budd Schulberg's On The Waterfront, which he wrote after writing the screenplay for the great film of the same name.
“The film’s concentration on a single dominating character, brought close to the camera eye, made it esthetically inconvenient, if not impossible, to set Terry’s story in its social and historical perspective,” Schulberg wrote. “In the novel Terry is a single strand in a rope of intertwining fibers, suggesting the knotted complexities of the world of the waterfront that loops around New York.”
I've already read the book, and it does indeed have much more of an epic sweep than the Terry Malloy-focused film (which is no knock whatsoever on the film - when you have an actor of such magnetism and power as the young Marlon Brando, you'd be crazy not to focus on him). In particular, the novel develops the character of Father Barry much further than the film. And while I don't want to be a spoiler, I will say that the book ends much differently (and realistically) than the thrilling finale of the film. Read it and you'll see what I mean.

November 5, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)

What happened in Hastings?

Nick Hornby passes along an intriguing anecdote:
I am on a train from the south coast back to London. Across the aisle, three elderly passengers, two women and a man, buy coffee from the trolley.

“What you do,” says the elderly man to his friends, “Is, you sip through the hole in the top of the lid.”

The two elderly women give it a go, tentatively at first, and pronounce themselves amazed and delighted at this technological breakthrough.

“I only found that out myself when I went to Hastings,” said the man.

What happened in Hastings? I wish I knew.
"What Happened in Hastings" - sounds like short story gold to me! Writers, hop to it!

November 5, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"These are dead men. They are ghosts that walk the streets by day. They are ghosts sleeping with yesterday's newspapers thrown around them for covers at night."
- Tom Kromer, Waiting for Nothing

November 5, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Here is the difference between Dante, Milton and me. They wrote about hell and never saw the place. I wrote about Chicago after looking the town over for years and years."
- Carl Sandburg

Beautiful...and that reminds me that I really need to delve back into Sandburg's Chicago Poems one of these days.

November 4, 2009 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Great Depression reading

My literary tour of the Great Depression continues. Over the weekend (thanks in part to Internet-connection problems that kept me off my laptop, blissfully as I now realize) I finished Edmund Wilson's The American Jitters: A Year of the Slump, a collection of magazine essays from 1930-31, when the "Great Depression" moniker hadn't been coined yet and the turnaround engineered by FDR (who took office in 1933) was still a few years off. Wilson surveys the national landscape, with particularly memorable pieces on labor strife in the West Virginia coal mines and the construction site of the Hoover Dam, making no effort to hide his Communist sympathies (which were admittedly more socially acceptable in those capitalist-backlash days) and his loyalties to the common laborer. As the book concludes, I was struck by how convinced the otherwise astute Wilson was then that the Communist revolution in America was imminent. Which makes me wonder why, despite conditions being so ripe, that revolution never happened - was it the success of FDR's New Deal? the preoccupation with the rise of Hitler and immersion in WWII? the emerging horrors of the totalitarian Soviet state that revealed that maybe Communism wasn't paradise after all? Interesting question, I think.

Next up is William Leuchtenburg's Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal: 1932-1940, which I'm seventy pages in to. Fresh from his resounding 1932 defeat of Hoover (electoral college margin: 472-59!) FDR has just completed his whirlwind first 100 days in office, during which time he managed to enact a truly mind-boggling mass of legislation designed to stauch the Depression bleeding and prod the country toward recovery. Good reading so far, though a bit heavy on detail.

November 2, 2009 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)