Jessica Hopper - 'The First Collection of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic'

There's been oodles of praise for this book. And not without reason. Hopper is a tremendous writer with a true voice of her own. She has an incredible ability to make connections between various artists that I would never associate with each other. She actually made me care about reading reviews of Pearl Jam and Lana Del Rey and Miley Cyrus and Van Morrison. The collection is short, sweet, and rightfully gives her interview with Jim DeRo re: R.Kelley a needed print copy for posterity. The gilded edges of the pages are a bonus snazzy touch.

There's no reason to review the book because everyone else has already harped so much praise about it. So why does this feel like this is me leading up to writing something negative? Because it is...


Jack Kerouac - 'The Dharma Bums'

I read this book even though I had no intention of doing so. It was sitting at my girlfriend's apartment. I'd just finished reading Italo Calvino's munchkin sized yarn Marcovaldo and needed something new. I started reading and just couldn't stop. The only other book I've read by Kerouac was On The Road, and that one is truly a masterpiece. To cover so much ground, the descriptions of so many settings in one narrative is quite impressive, and even though its primary focus on drugs and woman are certainly more appealing to an adolescent andhertz, they'd probably still resonate with a slightly older / still not fully matured andhertz. So maybe that's why I haven't read anything else by Kerouac, because I knew I would like it even though I didn't want to. Oh well. Pigeonholes be damned. I flew through this thing and found some great segments for Literary Chicago along the way. 

"That's Rhonda, my sister, I grew up with her in the woods in Oregon. She's gonna marry this rich jerk from Chicago, a real square."

"Japhy and I were sitting around in the shack in a drowsy afternoon and suddenly she was in the door, slim and blond and pretty, with her well-dressed Chicago fiance, a very handsome man."


Kathy Acker (Pt 1)

I've never read anything by Kathy Acker before today. I've seen her name all over the place, name-checked by everyone from Kathleen Hannah to Richard Hell to Kate Zambreno. But every time I venture into a book store, new or used, I fail to find any primary texts from the writer herself. While I'm sure I could have read (and probably have read short texts of) her work online, I've never immersed myself in a novel or collection of essays. I finally found a copy of work with her name on the cover, Hannibal Lecter, My Father, a collection of interviews, prose, dramatic work, essays, and more.

The first piece of the collection, and my introduction to her greater themes, was a couple of interviews from 1989-90 with French literary critic Sylvère Lotringer. The two discuss memory, identity, community, plagiarism, censorship, tattoos, and mythology. The part I really liked was about plagiarism and how we use other people's work. Acker recognizes it's impossible to create without experience in reality, and for her, words and text are just as much a staple of reality as material and experiences. She explains: "What I'm doing is simply taking text to be the same as the world, to be equal to non-text, in fact to be more real than non-text, and start representing text." Of course, I'm yet to read any examples of her doing this, but I hope to change that soon.


Wallace Shawn's 'The Fever'

One day last week, I woke up with one thing on my immediate to-do list: read The Fever by Wallace Shawn. So I did it. I bought the book at Open Books during their final weekend at the River North location. It was listed in the theater section (or was it dramatic literature?) but it's not a play in the conventional sense. There is no action, no dialogue, no characters really. Rather, it is a 67-page monologue about celebrating life and the inherent guilt that thrives in the awareness of living a privileged existence. The fever of the title strikes the narrator while traveling in a country in which they do not speak the language and in which they are forced to viscerally confront poverty and suffering, in a way which their cushy life never even thought to contemplate before hand.

I've read some of Shawn's essays in the past and the dramatic work The Designated Mourner is one of my favorite pieces of anything ever. The Fever, in fact, could be considered a precursor to The Designated Mourner, that although features three characters, they still depend on monologues and rarely interact with each other. I found The Designated Mourner to be more compelling and to go deeper than The Fever, though that may be because it came out seven years after, giving Shawn plenty of time to ruminate on identity, anxiety, man's relationship to the exterior world, and other themes that pop up in his work. In fact, I'll probably reread The Designated Mourner (soon) (again) and see if it's still as compelling (it will be).


Tony Fitzpatrick and Spring

Last night I attended part of a Words+Music event at the Empty Bottle. Unexpectedly, the event seemed to had started on time, so I missed readings by JR Nelson and Jim DeRogatis. But I did see Jessica Hopper read her review of Miley Cyrus's Bangerz, and manage to hear the illuminant Tony Fitzpatrick read some recent articles of his that will appear in the forthcoming book Dime Stories that collects his column from New City over the past few years.

I've seen Fitzpatrick read at one of these events before, and have seen him perform elsewhere. He is a Chicago writer through and through: Nelson Algren and Mike Royko have undeniably left their mark on Fitzpatrick. If, as Ernest Hemingway states, "you should not read [Algren] if you cannot take a punch," then know that Algren's protege is an even more formidable wielder of the written word. His vulgar wit and sardonic humor are instantly recognizable, and have little match in the ring of literature.

And yet, Fitzpatrick seemed a little off his game this evening, as if the gloves weren't on as tight as usual. True to form, he was conscious of this unlikely wavering in his reading. He reminded the audience of his heart surgery a few months ago before reading a post-surgery reflection on life (appropriately titled, It's Spring).

The piece he read aloud has been on my mind since I first read it a few weeks back. The main point of it is to not let the little bullshit of life stack up and distract you from what you want to accomplish. This doesn't mean over-worry yourself with work however. For Tony, it means going to more baseball games, spending more time with his family, going for more walks, enjoying every breeze, the flowers, the birds; "put your cell phone in a drawer." It's a transition for Tony, even so late in life, from hanging up the gloves to finding more poetic ways to reassert how necessary it is to stop and smell the cliche roses; a lover yet still a fighter.

For my part, I've been creating a list of new places - restaurants, art galleries, bars, cultural institutions, old buildings - that I want to explore in and around the city, in neighborhoods I'm already familiar with and ones I've never stepped foot in. It's easy to get comfortable going to the same bars, seeing the same bands, biking down the same boulevards and streets, seeing the same people, eating the same things. This easiness leads to routine, and routine will make your life pass by quicker than you intend to. I'm 27 and I already know that. You can't have new thoughts and new feelings if you don't go to new places.

Of course, here's the dilemma. Routine, repetition, schedules - these don't necessarily lead to stagnation of the mind. These can lead to strong community building, whether that community is in a neighborhood, in artistic, or business. But the best way to help strengthen that community is inevitably to get outside of it, to introduce an outside perspective, and perhaps even bond your own community to another one. This is called growth.

So this year, I'm going to new places and new spaces, to get to know this city even more outside of the bubble I've grown familiar in. Yesterday, this included: a visit to Open Books in River North before they move to the West Loop next week; a small tour of the Midwest Buddhist Temple in Old Town, hosted by Jesse; hanging out at Oz Park in Old Town listening to a trombonist practice his scales and dog-watching; buying even more books at Bookworks in Wrigleyville; hanging out on the patio at Sheffield's than catching the first half of Reading Under the Influence; and then not something new but something always enjoyable, the aforementioned Words+Music at the Empty Bottle.

Onward to spring, and to life.

(note: this wasn't my exact route, but changing things on Google can be such a pain in the ass)


Literary Chicago - Gabi Gliechmann, 'The Elixir of Immortality'

Literary Chicago is series where I try to capture the essence of the city by how it is described in fiction, primarily from books that don't take place in Chicago.

"Shortly after the death of my mother I traveled to the United States. While I was changing planes in Chicago I happened to catch sight of an article in the city's leading newspaper, The Morning Star:"

pg 174 The Elixir of Immortality by Gabi Gleichmann (2013)


Random notes from a trip to NYC / DC, February 2015

...except in a legible format. Words are unedited [save for clarity] but I did rearrange the order of things: 

Traveling alone. What a trip. Not literally. From everyone to no one to everyone again. 
I'm lost and not lost.

The parks here advertise wifi. Parks.

Everyone is talking. To each other. On the phone. To themselves. On the phone but looks like talking to themselves.

Seagulls dine on the garbage on 3rd avenue / sparrows dine on a fell pizza slice

Gay ketchup marriage.

I noticed your lipstick. You don't need lipstick.
I do feel less self-conscious here. Is it the city doing that? Is it me being a tourist anywhere? Is it a growing personality trait in general? Sorta sick of being alone and left to my own thoughts. At the same time, sick of talking about myself. I've never asked myself what am I doing here as much as when I'm in NYC.

Has being sarcastic fucked my life over? No, not being sarcastic has fucked other people over.

I'm way too aware of how I look for not caring how I look.

Whatever this state of mind is, I feel the opposite of present. I have to remind myself to exist. To be.


The Rothko Room

My experience at The Rothko Room at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC. You should go to there. 

"No more than eight people at a time. No strollers" a sign commands. A dampness pads the nostrils as you enter the room. You are introduced to four giant canvases on the white walls: red and orange; green, red, and blue; yellow, orange, and red; forest green and orange. Of course, these are not the only colors present. But they have the most presence.

A lattice of wooden floorboards creaks beneath your feet. Have a seat: a creakier bench feels like it may collapse beneath your weight, despite how weightless you feel in this room.

The room. It's quiet. It's calm. Are you calm? It's how Rothko's paintings make me feel. Forget that he's the posterboy for how silly abstract expressionism is represented in the mainstream (maybe behind Pollack). Rothko's paintings outrage many, but they are calming to me. To sit in the Rothko Room, alone, is as close as I've felt to a meditative experience in awhile.

I feel small but I don't feel insignificant. I feel free of desire, but not overwhelmed. I also feel a bit overwhelmed. There is me, four painted canvases, a sliver of a vertical window facing north, and I feel something that not a lot of people have the chance to feel. Does the fact that abstract expressionism creates a serene feeling in me add to my privilege? Should I just lean into my privilege at this point? Stop running away from what I am?

A man walks into the room. He takes one picture. He leaves.

A man walks into the room. He takes four pictures. He stands for a moment. He leaves.

Were these men even in the room?

I sat in this room for five minutes. I spent some time walking around the room, looking at the paintings up close and from afar. I took a selfie with each photo. I left the room. Was I any more present than the previous men? Was I ever even in the room?


Ear Relevant 4.10.15 - 4.17.15

You've probably seen that Chance the Rapper video for Sunday Candy by now but just in case you haven't...the choreography is beautiful.

Baltimore-via-Chicago keys and drums duo Wume announced a new album, Maintain, coming out May 19th on Ehse Records. Their bandcamp has a couple songs to tease ya.

I wrote about Liturgy's new album The Ark Work and why they're the only black metal band I like for Since I Left You. They played at Subterranean last week. Baltimore's Horse Lords opened who are just as worthy of your attention.

Strawberry Jacuzzi released a new song called 'Bitch Jam' on Midwest Action.

White Mystery made a film and it premiers at CIMM Fest on Monday. Check out the trailer below. The movie looks...it's...just watch the trailer.


Ron Currie Jr. - 'God is Dead'

My friend Keith Meatto loaned me this book while I was visiting New York a couple months ago. We swap books as often as two people who live in different cities can. Additionally, Keith was my editor while Frontier Psychiatrist existed, and it's safe to say he has a pretty good idea of what I like to read. Case in point, Ron Currie Jr.'s debut book from 2007 God is Dead.

Spoiler alert, God dies in the beginning. The Almighty takes the body of a woman caught in war-torn Darfur, who is killed, eaten by dogs, and leaves the world wondering what to do now that he doesn't exist. Teens fulfill a suicide pact, ideological wars breakout, children are worshipped, people are accused of theism, kids text too much with people who never respond...all this and more.

Despite what the title may suggest, Nietzsche is never mentioned once throughout. In fact, the book doesn't necessarily aim to be philosophical at all. It doesn't really concern the matters of which religion was "right," or about atheism vs. agnosticism. It instead investigates the sunken corners of Currie's imagination of the world the way it actually would be were it to be found out there was no God. It's a world where people realized "God had created the universe and set it spinning, but it would continue chugging along despite the fact that he was no longer around to keep things tidy." The world doesn't end. CNN and Magic Bullet still exist in a post-God world. Hypocritical wars and angsty teens still exist. People are loathed, people are loved. Not much has really changed. But yet, things are irrevocably, if intangibly, different.