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Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

Sobering but intriguing trailer for Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, a new work of graphic reportage (I'm resisting the lazy catch-all term "graphic novel") by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, one that I'm greatly looking forward to reading.

(Via Tattered Cover.)

July 31, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ozzy Osbourne, Neanderthal

There's now scientific proof, and Al Burian explains why it makes perfect sense.

The main thing that separates Neanderthals from Homo Sapiens, as with Ozzy and the music journalists, is language. Human beings, alone amongst animals, communicate with discrete units of vocabulary in infinitely recombinable variation, giving them a survival advantage in the long-term evolutionary sense, but not necessarily equipping them to optimally appreciate contemporary music.

Burian (Burn Collector) is my favorite zinester, though I haven't read anything of his since he left Chicago. Might be time to reacquaint.

July 30, 2012 in Chicago Observations, Music | Permalink | Comments (2)

"...the Genius of Thrift blowing fit to kill on a silver trumpet..."

Henry Blake Fuller's novella "Little O'Grady vs. The Grindstone" (published in Under the Skylightssounds like a very entertaining work of satire. The story's basic premise involves two groups of artists who are vying for a commission from a fictional Chicago bank. Here's part of Carl S. Smith's discussion in Chicago and the American Literary Imagination, 1880-1920:

The major source of comedy in the story is that neither the bank directors nor the artists can be taken seriously. The businessmen are boors who want their twelve lunettes simply because they feel obligated to adorn their beloved business with some form of decoration. The artists, desperate for any kind of public commission, cannot wait to prostitute themselves for this minor commission of a third-rate bank. They pander to their prospective patrons by offering ideas for murals illustrating such scenes as the Goddess of Finance "Declaring a Quarterly Dividend." O'Grady's shorthand description of another possible lunette belittles the academic style of the murals in turn-of-the-century American buildings, just as in "Abner Joyce" (another novella in the same book) Fuller scorned the "crudity" aesthetic: "Stock-holders summoned by the Genius of Thrift blowing fit to kill on a silver trumpet. Scene takes place in an autumnal grove of oranges and pomegranates - trees loaded down with golden eagles and half-eagles. Marble pavement strewn with fallen coupons."

I've already downloaded the ebook of Under the Skylights, but I'd love to find it in print, preferably a slightly musty, hundred-year-old hardcover.

July 29, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"I ain't had no happiness, no nothing."

I was struck by this short passage from Native Son, as Bigger Thomas tries to coerce his girlfriend Bessie into joining his ransom scheme.

"Lord, don't let this happen to me! I ain't done nothing for this to come to me! I just work! I ain't had no happiness, no nothing. I just work. I'm black and I work and don't bother nobody..."

"Go on," Bigger said, nodding his head affirmatively; he knew the truth of all she spoke without her telling it. "Go on and see what that gets you."

Bessie wants to just keep living her life, but Bigger sees that life as futile, and thus pushes forward with a scheme that almost certainly will fail. His resignation and hopelessness are quite unsettling, even more so for the fact that he's unaware of being resigned and hopeless. He thinks he's empowering himself, when all he's actually doing is sealing his own doom.

July 27, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bar Car, 1968


Welcome to the Bar Car...Joe the bartender is eagerly waiting to mix your first martini. Metra eliminated the last of its bar cars a few years ago, although those I was familiar with weren't swanky like this one - instead, they consisted of a small service counter jammed into one of the vestibules, and with no comfy dedicated seating. The closest thing to luxury remaining on Metra is the near-silence of the Quiet Car, and we're somehow expected to be wowed by the electrical outlets and flush toilets on the newly rehabbed cars that are being rolled out in the near future. Meh. I doubt that the Jackie Kennedy-esque woman in this photo would have been impressed either.

July 25, 2012 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

Hail and farewell

So long, Weekly Reader. I know that I read this avidly as a kid, though I must admit that my long-term memory can't quite differentiate between Weekly Reader and Highlights. But Bookslut's Jessa Crispin certainly remembers.

July 25, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fitzgerald and Lake Forest

At the Paris Review blog, Jason Diamond writes an interesting piece on F. Scott Fitzgerald's early visits to Lake Forest, Illinois ("the Greenwich of the Midwest") and his first girlfriend Ginevra King, both of which may have been his first inspirations for The Great Gatsby. I read Gatsby for the first time just a few years ago, but was less than impressed, primarily due to the non-believability of its two-dimensional characters. Maybe I should give it another try.

July 23, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Latest find


Since I'm expecting to attend the Newberry Library Book Fair this coming weekend, and already have more books in my house than I could probably read in my lifetime, I really wasn't actively looking for new books this past weekend. But on Saturday we were in Naperville doing some shopping, and saw a bunch of small roadside signs (the kind commonly used for garage sales) that said something like "Book Store." So we turned into the parking lot of a strip mall, and there, between a Sears Outlet and a Disc Replay, was a small store with an overhead sign that just said "Books."

At first glance the store, Bookhunters, looked like a remainder/overstock place (which certainly wasn't encouraging), but once inside we were pleasantly surprised. The building was narrow but deep, with a single aisle flanked by shelf alcoves on each side. The inventory wasn't enormous, but well-selected: as usual I gravitated to the "A" fiction section, looking for Nelson Algren, and was surprised to see at least half a dozen of his works, including several editions I hadn't seen before, including the hardcover of Bettina Drew's Algren biography A Life On the Wild Side (which I already have in paperback) and a pre-Seven Stories Press edition of his posthumously-published novel, The Devil's Stocking. But what really caught my eye is the book in the photo above, the 1963 nonfiction collection Who Lost An American?, in what appears to be a first edition, in very good condition including its original dust jacket under protective plastic. I looked over it for a long time, wanting it while admittedly not needing it. I even put it back on the shelf before taking it down again. But I realized I had never seen this book before in any edition, and that I would kick myself later if I took a pass. So I said what the hell, paid the $12 (a bargain, I think) along with $10 for two other books that Julie and Maddie found. Back home, I placed it on the special Algren shelf of my bedroom bookcase, where it became the tenth Algren book (including the Drew biography) that I own. And I'm very eager to read it, and am bumping it up near the top of my to-read list.

I'm very pleased with this very unexpected find - both the book and store. If you're ever in the Naperville area, definitely hunt down Bookhunters. It's on the southeast corner of Route 59 and Aurora Avenue (548 S. Route 59), right across from Fox Valley Mall.

July 23, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Randolph Street, 1979


I just love this 1979 image of Randolph Street in Chicago, looking west from State Street, on so many levels. Aesthstetically: the riotous mishmash of color, the tacky details (the snow fencing, the wood shingles on the building at the left, the missing signage above the Oriental Theatre marquee, the bus station and the milieu that invokes), the scattered flow of pedestrians. Personally: my dad worked in the office building above the Oriental for about fifteen years, and undoubtedly knew this street scene vividly. Historically: I believe that the only buildings here that are still standing are the Oriental and the Delaware Building (the gray structure with the fire escapes, between the South Pacific Restaurant neon and the light standard with the State Street sign), with everything else falling to the ravages of "progress."

July 22, 2012 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Run, er, walk for the border


I really can't agree with the raves for the customer service at this Taco Bell, unless it's improved dramatically since the mid 1990s. A friend of mine used to live nearby, and after a night of drinking we walked over to Taco Bell, only to find the dining room closed. The drive-through was doing its usual booming late-night business, so we attempted a walk-through, ordering at the menu board and waiting in line between two cars. But when we got up to the window, they refused to serve us, saying we had to be in a car. Fortunately, the driver of the car behind us let us climb into his backseat. He pulled the car up to the window, we paid for and got our food, and then he pulled up a little further and let us out again. Nice guy.

(Via Gapers Block.)

July 18, 2012 in Chicago Observations, Personal | Permalink | Comments (0)

"He is, perhaps, the boy I wanted to be..."


Farewell, Donald J. Sobol.

"Readers constantly ask me if Encyclopedia is a real boy. The answer is no...He is, perhaps, the boy I wanted to be — doing the things I wanted to read about but could not find in any book when I was ten."

I don't think I ever owned any of the Encyclopedia Brown books, but I remember devouring them in the school library.

July 16, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

Exit, Raskolnikov. Enter, Bigger Thomas.

Summer of Classics continues on.

I have finally put Crime and Punishment behind me. The less said about that "classic", the better; suffice to say that it's probably the last 19th Century European novel I'll ever read. I just don't have the patience or interest in such long, meandering, digressive, dialogue-heavy novels that apparently once enraptured readers who had considerably more time on their hands than I do.

Fortunately, I've found genuine relief in moving on to Richard Wright's Native Son (1940), which I'm reading for the first time since high school. Though I've already come to the realization that Wright was certainly not a stylist in the league of his contemporaries Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin, and his expositions seem too obvious and preachy, but still it's quite refreshing to finally return to fiction that moves forward steadily with a minimum of authorial clutter. Whether that means I'll ultimately consider Native Son to be a definitive classic, remains to be seen. But after just a few hours of reading the novel, at least I'm now enjoying myself again.

July 16, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

"...defying the great material fact of human mortality..."

In Chicago and the American Literary Imagination, 1880-1920, Carl S. Smith discusses the “Trilogy of Desire” novels of Theodore Dreiser, which revolve around Frank Cowperwood, finance tycoon, art collector and serial philanderer:

Cowperwood’s commercial success enables him to understand as few men can the limits of this success. He woos his women and collects his paintings against his increasingly firm belief that the urban world he dominates is of little worth, that the basic terms of common experience are the meaninglessness of life and the mystery of death. The ideal of beauty becomes for him a means of defying the great material fact of human mortality. What he wants from women is their youth, freshness and vitality, and what he desires in arts is its timelessness. He rejects most modern art because it is “dated” in its newness in a way Old Masters are not since they have survived the test of time. He is disloyal to all his women - even Berenice - because they cannot stay young in years or in his affections. “Truth to say,” Dreiser explains, “he must always have youth, the illusion of beauty, vanity in womanhood, the novelty of a new untested temperament, quite as he must have pictures, old porcelain, music, a mansion, illuminated missals, power, the applause of the great unthinking world.”

I’m adding, at a minimum, the first book of the trilogy (The Financier) to my reading list. If that goes well, I’ll then read The Titan and maybe - just maybe - complete the troika with The Stoic. But the reading will be very spread out and certainly not back-to-back-to-back. I love Dreiser’s masterpiece, Sister Carrie (enough to have read it twice), but even that was slow, careful reading, and I can’t imagine tackling three long-ish Dreiser novels in a row. I'll be interested to see my reaction to Cowperwood. Smith makes it sound as if Dreiser all but deifies him, but with my guarded and skeptical stance toward the corporate world, I suspect I'll feel much differently.

July 15, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


Good stuff: Billy Bragg on Woody Guthrie.

However, it's not what Woody did in the 1940s that still riles people in these parts. It's what his followers did in the 60s that made Woody a pariah in his home state. For Woody was the original singer-songwriter, the first to use his voice not just to entertain, but to ask why people should remain dirt poor in a country as rich as the US.

It was Woody's words that prompted the young Robert Zimmerman to leave his home in the Iron Range of Minnesota and head for New York. Changing his name to Bob Dylan and singing as if he came from the red dirt of Oklahoma, he inspired a generation of articulate young Americans to unleash a torrent of criticism against the complacency of their unequal society. The fact that Woody was a hero to that generation of long-haired freaks ensured that he and his songs would remain largely unsung in Oklahoma.

On a separate note, Guthrie's long-lost novel House of Earth will be published next year. Belated honors for a great American.

July 12, 2012 in Books, Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

Union Station, 1948 and 2012



The top image is a 1948 view of the main waiting room at Union Station in Chicago, by Esther Bubley. The bottom image was taken yesterday, from roughly the same vantage point. Interestingly, the benches are in almost the identical location in each photo, despite them being removed regularly for various events. Though I would have loved to shoot from the exact vantage point and angle as the original, I didn't want to get right up in that young woman's face - which is one reason I never would have been a good photojournalist. However, had there been a grandfather, mother and two towheaded boys eating popcorn on that bench, I definitely would have overcome my natural reticence.

(1948 photo via Chicago Past.)

July 12, 2012 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

"If you put me in jail, I can’t earn any money, and I can’t pay you back. If you don’t sue me, I’ll pay you back."

If Bernie Madoff ever writes a memoir, it's too bad he won't be able to have Jacques Chambrun as an agent. They would have been perfect for each other.

Chambrun quietly arranged for the books of Grace Metalious (author of "Peyton Place") to be published in Britain, France, Germany, and Italy and used the money from these deals to cover his debts to Jack Schaefer, another client. Chambrun had used the money from Schaefer’s foreign rights to pay back Maugham, and so on and so on, in a kind of literary pyramid scheme.

Chambrun's life was the stuff of literature, both literally and figuratively. I'm surprised that none of his screwed-over clients never wrote a scathing, thinly-disguised novel about him.

July 11, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Uneeda Biscuit




This partially obscured faded ad is for Uneeda Biscuit, located on the back wall of an old office building at 209 W. Jackson Boulevard in Chicago. I've been aware of this ad for several years but never photographed it before, figuring the usual street-level vantage point wouldn't make for a good image. But yesterday while out for a stroll I headed to the parking garage next door and took the elevator to the top levels, where I took several photographs. From photos of other Uneeda ads I've seen, I can decipher the hidden portions of this ad; from top to bottom it reads:



That logo at the lower right is for Nabisco's groundbreaking In-Er Seal packaging, which was first used with Uneeda. The logo eventually evolved into the familiar Nabisco logo of today. Uneeda ads seem to be fairly common (I've photographed at least one other, but haven't put it online yet) and this one is less colorful than most, probably due to its southern exposure and consequent fading from the sun. Looking closely at the lettering, it looks like this one originally had a green and black background. The ad is fairly massive - five stories high, and as wide as it is tall - and I don't even mind the parking garage obstruction nor the windows carved right into the face of the ad. Those are reminders that the city continues to evolve, even as it retains glimpses of its long-ago past.

Here's some interesting background on Uneeda and In-Er Seal at the Nabisco Wikipedia page:

After the consolidation, the president of National Biscuit Company — Adolphus Green of American Biscuit and Manufacturing Company - asked Frank Peters to create a package to distribute fresher products. This paved its way for In-Er Seal package, whose logo is a prototype for the "Nabisco Thing". The In-Er Seal package is a system of inter-folded wax paper and cardboard to "seal in the freshness" of the product. At the beginning of his presidency, Green decided the National Biscuit Company, often shortened to NBC, needed a new idea that grabbed the public’s attention. He got it when his employees created a new cracker that was flakier and lighter than any of their competitors' versions.

The UNEEDA biscuit looked promising, but Green had to make sure it got to customers fresh and tasty, so it was the first to use the In-Er Seal package in 1898. Until then, crackers were sold unbranded and packed loosely in barrels. Mothers would give their sons a paper bag and ask them to run down to the store and get the bag filled with crackers. National Biscuit Company used this as part of Uneeda Biscuit advertising symbol, which depicts a boy carrying a pack of Uneeda Biscuit in the rain. In 2009 (after over 110 years), Nabisco discontinued the Uneeda biscuit out of concern that the product was not as profitable as others.

A very nice ad, and one I'm glad I finally got around to photographing. And I never would have guessed that the product survived until just three years ago.

July 11, 2012 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

Prizeworthy? No.

After reading these excerpts from this year's three Pulitzer fiction nominees...

Past the flannel plains and the blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the a.m. heat: shattercane, lamb's-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscatine, spinecabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all head gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother's soft hand on your cheek.


All his life Robert Grainier would remember vividly the burned valley at sundown, the most dreamlike business he'd ever witnessed waking - the brilliant pastels of the last light overhead, some clouds high and white, catching daylight from beyond the valley, others ribbed and gray and pink, the lowest of them rubbing the peaks of Bussard and Queen mountains; and beneath this wondrous sky the black valley, utter still, the train moving through it making a great noise but unable to wake this dead world.


Nights in the swamp were dark and star-lepered - our island was thirty-odd miles from the mainland - and although your naked eye could easily find the ball of Venus and the sapphire hairs of the Pleiades, our mother's body was just lines, a smudge against the palm trees.

...I would say that not only was the Pulitzer board justified in declining to name a winner, but would also have been justified in slapping the jurors upside the head. Okay, Denis Johnson's excerpt is alright, but both Wallace's and Russell's are horribly pretentious, bloviated writing. If the board was at fault for anything, it was for not asking the jury for a fourth nominee - which clearly was needed.

July 10, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Great Lakes Warriors

Oooh, this sounds good.

In the heart of America, on a deadly inland sea that has claimed as many as 6,000 vessels and 30,000 lives, a way of life exists that few ever witness. Men who breathe diesel fumes and watch every step they take on shifting decks. Men who battle the elements, wrestle with runaway vessels, fight fatigue and sometimes risk all in the struggle to make a living.

They are tugboat men, sailors in constant combat with the deadly storms and hazards of the Great Lakes - men who work against the clock, fighting thick ice forming in every direction under treacherous winter conditions - winds whip so fierce it could knock an entire crew off deck in the blink of an eye.

A new 8-part HISTORY series, GREAT LAKE WARRIORS, premiering Thursday, July 19, 10pm ET/9C, will dive into the lives of the tough crews who call 94,000 square miles of wild blue water home.

Kind of like a short-run, Midwest version of Deadliest Catch. Count me in.

July 10, 2012 in Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Introducing...your 1914 Chicago Federals!


Just love this vintage flyer for the opening day of Weeghman Park, later known as Wrigley Field. The image is one of many accompanying Eric Lutz's interesting piece at Newcity on the Chicago Whales, the city's entry in the short-lived Federal League of 1914-15. The name "Whales" must have been a later development, as it appears nowhere in this flyer. And apparently "Chicago Ball Team Owned by Chicagoans" is some sort of precursor to "Made in America."

July 9, 2012 in Chicago Observations, Ephemera, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Chophouse in the Alley"

The January 1922 edition of the trade journal The Mixer and Server noted the passing of legendary Chicago restaurateur Billy Boyle ("the man who taught Chicago to eat beeksteak and roast beef"), who  opened his chop house in 1878 at Calhoun Place and Dearborn, behind the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper building. Apparently it was a regular hangout of newspapermen, as evidenced by this charming poetic ode:

The Chophouse In The Alley
By Henry M. Hyde
Formerly of the Tribune staff

Talk about old Roman banquets,
Blow about old Grecian feeds,
Where the ancient, paunchy warriors
Toasted their heroic deeds!
They were gustatory classics —
Still a longing I confess
For the chophouse in the alley
When the paper's gone to press.

Peacock's tongues are very dainty,
Served upon a golden plate.
Crowns of roses for the victors,
While the whipped barbarians wait!
Let old Horace sing their praises —
Still a longing I confess
For the chophouse in the alley
When the paper's gone to press.

There we sit for hours together,
Wit and laughter never fail.
Up from cellars dim and dusty
Yellow Henry brings the ale.
There we sit and chaff and banter —
Envy no old heathen's mess,
At the chophouse in the alley,
When the paper's gone to press.

Delve in problems philosophic —
How did Adam lose his rib?
What's the chance of war in Europe?
Has the Herald scooped the Trib?
Let the millionaire grow sadder.
While my credit grows no less
At the chophouse in the alley,
When the paper's gone to press.

Till, untimed by eyes that sparkle.
From the lake the sun leaps up.
And, 'mid many a roaring banter,
Big Steve drinks his stirrup cup!
Those were days we all remember.
Those were nights we all must bless.
At the chophouse in the alley,
When the paper's gone to press.

July 6, 2012 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Oh my god, Def Leppard is totally ripping off...

...um, Def Leppard.

In order to cut the label out of its earnings, the band has gone back to the studio to re-record its most popular tunes, producing what it calls "forgeries" -- note for note reproductions of the original studio cuts.

Fight the power, you multi-platinum-selling colossus!

July 6, 2012 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...it's easier to say what Lakeview isn't..."

At the Chicago Reader, Jerome Ludwig has been running wonderful excerpts from Sweet Home Chicago 2, a 1977 city guidebook which offers very frank opinions on various neighborhoods. Here's Tem Horwitz's take on Lakeview, where my dad grew up (forty years earlier):

Lakeview is...well, it's easier to say what Lakeview isn't. It isn't as upper-crusty as its southern neighbor, Lincoln Park (though parts of it come close), or as shabby as its northern neighbor, Uptown (though parts of it come close). Its residents will tell you indignantly that it isn't "New Town," although most of what is commonly known by that name lies within its borders. What is it, then? It's everything that isn't something else, an area that's continually changing, transforming itself, in the process becoming...becoming what?

A playground for aging frat boys, that's what.

July 6, 2012 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)


Rejection number eleven just arrived for Wheatyard, from top-shelf indie publisher Melville House. I'm not exactly sure why I queried there, other than their open submissions policy and longtime commitment to novellas. In hindsight it now seems like I was aiming impossibly high. Wheatyard is currently with five publishers, but one of those submissions is now pushing nine months and is most likely a "no." On the other hand, two of the publishers are edited by acquaintances who graciously agreed to look at my manuscript, and hopefully will offer a more sympathetic reading than I've been getting with over-the-transom submissions. Onward.

Onward, but...today has actually been kind of rough. Besides Wheatyard, I had a story submission declined elsewhere. And Andy Griffith passed away. Looking forward to the brief respite of the midweek holiday tomorrow.

July 3, 2012 in Fiction, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fleeing the 19th Century

My Summer of Classics reading of Crime and Punishment is going even more sluggishly than expected - it's a great 150-page story buried under 500 more pages of long-winded digression - and so I'll soon be totally shifting gears. The book will take me several more weeks to finish, but after that there's no way I'm reading Gogol's Dead Souls, as I had previously planned. (In fact, after Dostoevsky, Dickens, Stendhal, Flaubert, etc., I might never read another 19th Century European novel.) Instead, I'm going to wrap up the summer with Richard Wright's Native Son. Like many Americans, I first read the book during high school, but I don't think I've ever re-read it since. The copy that I now own is the Harper Perennial/Library of America edition which restores several controversial scenes which were expurgated from the original publication. I'm particularly looking forward to my reaction to Native Son, after having re-read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man several months ago. My impression is that Ellison's is the greater novel, but I'll give Wright every chance to disprove that.

July 3, 2012 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

An Art Deco gem


The Chicago architecture blog designslinger has a nice feature today on the Chicago Daily News Building, where I worked for five years for my previous employer. It's a wonderfully gracious building (and an engineering marvel - built on top of eight working railroad lines), though I'm still waiting for the owner (ahem) to put the renowned ceiling mural back into the concourse, where it belongs.

July 2, 2012 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)