Teju Cole and Aleksandar Hemon: Bicultural Writers

A couple weeks ago, Teju Cole and Aleksandar Hemon had a conversation posted on Bomb Magazine's website. Cole is possibly my favorite contemporary author, after I was blown away by Open City two years ago. His twitter account is real-time literary insight. The Lazarus Project by Hemon was my only real knowledge of the author until I read last year's memoir, The Book of My Lives, which compiles autobiographical essays written over the past decade.

In the conversation, the two talk about the distinctions between fiction and non-fiction, photography, wandering, urban culture, and more. The two are very illuminating and seem to have a natural sense of humanity they reflect off each other. Says Hemon:
"If we ever find ourselves writing only for the present—which would essentially mean that tweeting is all we can do—I would feel absolutely defeated as a human being and a writer."
And Cole on cities:
"But the other side is that they are simply so congested with material history and the spiritual traces of those histories, including some very dark events. Your contemporary Chicago is haunted by the Chicago of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Chicago of innovation and of systematic exclusions." 
The whole interview is fascinating and more than worth your time. I will never be able to recommend Open City enough (until I read Everyday is for the Thief at least). For the Chicagoans out there, Hemon's The Book of My Lives is a great read as well. It encompasses stories from his childhood in Bosnia, to his immigration to Chicago. His early days in Ukrainian Village and Edgewater are a particular fun read (while still thought-provoking), and the final chapter about his daughter's illness is sobering.

Cole was born in Nigeria but calls NYC home now. Hemon refers to him as one of the foremost "bicultural writers" (for lack of better term). Whatever the term may be, Hemon is up there as well; I'm glad he's decided to call Chicago his adopted home, expanding the literary scope of our city with a unique perspective.


Ear Relevant: 04.05.14 - 04.11.14

Here's what's good for your ears this week. New singles, albums, tributes, and music videos ahead!

Ed Schrader (hey, that dude's album is in the banner to this website!) in his continuous quest to take over the world with his floor-tom-of-destruction released the second single off forthcoming Party Jail. Listen on his soundcloud.

Guitar superpower Ryley Walker has his new album streaming on Self Titled Mag and you can read his brief descriptions about all the songs. Yes, most of them are about drugs.

KSRA (aka Rachel Thomas) looped and wailed her way through a Chicago Singles Club showcase on Monday at the Empty Bottle and I picked up a copy of her album Petra. It's gooooood (listen here).

By now, most people know that Aimee Mann and Ted Leo have teamed up to form the Both. Besides making great music, the duo makes funny music videos (those things still exist?!). Watch below.

John Yingling premiered a new song by Beijing noise-pop trio Hedgehog called "DDDDDDreaMMMMMM"on Impose. Listen here.

And the music world lost another of its finest. Leee Childers, most well known for documenting the CBGB's scene passed away earlier this week. Watch this video from last year where he recounts interactions with David Bowie, Lou Reed, Sid Vicious and more:


Literary Chicago - Bonnie Jo Campbell, "Women and Other Animals"

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.  

via Calumet 412

"Hal always said Chicago didn't have anything that mattered. The Sears Tower is there, Bess had said, and Hal said the Sears Tower was just another tall building."

pg. 44 "Women and Other Animals" short story collection by Bonnie Jo Campbell. (1999)


Simultweet: "Bathrobes"

Tweets happen so constantly, that coincidences are natural to occur. When they happen a tweet or two away in my timeline, I can't help but wonder about the collective Twitter-subconscious. 

These two tweets about bathrobes happened five tweets away in my timeline, and  3,244,122,563 tweets away overall.


Ear Relevant: 03.31.14 - 04.04.14

Here's what's good for your ears this week. Music festivals, singles, albums, tributes, and music videos ahead!

Hozac Records announced the first details for Blackout Fest, May 15-17 at the Empty Bottle. Already announced are the Boys (yes, these Boys), the Dictators (yes, these Dictators), Shocked Minds, A Giant Dog, Rainbow Gun Show, First Base, 999999999, the Man, Counter Intuits, Nones, and Toupee.

Netherfriends released a new single featuring Black Matt called 'Seasons.' It's off the forthcoming Netherfriends Goes West album, featuring songs that sample Kanye West. Check it out on soundcloud here.

My friend John Serafin hosts a radio show on CHIRP Sunday nights / Monday mornings, midnight til 3 am. Here's the full three hours on mixcloud. This week features Warpaint, Herbert, Warm Soda, Martin L Gore, Will Phalen, the New Pornographers, Onra, She Speaks in Tongues, Archers of Loaf, and a billion others.

Massive Ego became just Ego last night with their record release show at the Owl. Besides making great album art, they make great music; check it out on their bandcamp.

Tacocat released an awesome video for their anti-streetcall song, 'Hey Girl.'

Sadly, Frankie Knuckles, "Godfather of House Music," passed away this week from issues related to diabetes. I've never listened to much of his music myself and never saw him spin, but have much respect for what he did. Nicky Siano, friend for forty years, wrote a fitting tribute to him. Here's his remix of 'Blind' by Hercules and the Love Affair which never fails to make a party playlist of mine.


Ono Part II

So even though I posted a huge long thing yesterday about Ono on Frontier Psychiatrist, I have even more scans that they gave me I wanted to share.These are a bit more wordy (reviews / previews of shows), including the Reader article I mentioned, so I didn't want to add them on a piece already as long as it was. These are for the intense fans. Enjoy.

Review of Machines That Kill People in Aeon Magazine

Review by Scott Michaelson in the Chicago Reader, July 1983

...this review is currently not in the Chicago Reader online archives.

Review in Matter Magazine

The following is...well I'm really not quite sure what's going on. The cover of this newspaper says "Pavilion for the Arts, ltd. presents Robert A Fischer's THE JADED DRAGON (A Kah-Boo-Key Event in 5 Acts)." So take that as you will. It happened at the Germania Club on Saturday October 29th, 1983. 

Order form for Kate Cincinnati cassette, with original calligraphy by Travis


The State

The State is one the most important television shows made in the America. It's absurd, it breaks the fourth wall, it's a combination of high-brow and low-brow, culturally- and self-aware, and along with Mr. Show, the closest thing that has ever matched the greatness of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

But perhaps most importantly, the theme song of the show is great, perhaps only second to Shadowy Men On a Shadowy Planet's "Having an Average Weekend" used on Kids in the Hall. The song is by Craig Wedren of Shudder To Think and Eli Janney of Girls Against Boys, based around samples from two Nation of Ulysses songs, an unsung hero of a band that seems all but forgotten.

In a sense Nation of Ulysses were a musical equivalent of the State. The loud, fast, and angry motif was countered by insightful and often humorous lyrics about both politics and relationships, not unexpected from a Dischord band. Likewise, their no-wave influence and philosophy regarding fashion was different from conventional punk ideology, as much of the State contradicted what had been done with humor at that point in time. In a time when both music isn't angry enough and comedy isn't funny enough, both The State and Nation of Ulysses deserve our attention again. 

Embedding is disabled, so click here for a sketch from The State. Listen to the two songs that were sampled from for the theme below and get angry.

Now listen to one of the most important albums of the early 90s.


A Band Called Death

Finally got around to watching this documentary about proto-punkers Death from Detroit. I had never heard of them before, and though they existed in the mid 70s, really no one in the world had heard of them until the late 2000s.

The band was three African-American brothers (Bobby, David, and Dannis Hackney), that made loud, fast, and angry music, before the Ramones, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols popularized the sound. Death was inspired by the Who and Alice Cooper, yet went faster, harder, and with more attitude. After no support in Detroit, the band moved to Vermont, still finding resistance and no audience.

Yet, through a string of bizarrely random circumstances, primarily Robert Manis (of Moniker Records) buying their single for $800 on EBay and plugging them to Drag City to reissue their material, the band has finally found their audience. The documentary is full of great memorabilia from the band and is quite touching. Only two of the brothers are still alive (as well as a fourth brother that wasn't in the band), and they are still so full of life and love, and certainly with a new found appreciation for their new found audience.

The only thing that was missing from the documentary was their thoughts on the punk scene that followed them (and was ignorant of them). Firstly, there's no mention of fellow Detroit noise makers MC5 and the Stooges and if they had an influence on the band at all. Likewise, there's no mention of their opinions of the Ramones and all these NYC and London bands with a similar sound getting record deals. The only meaning I can surmise about this absence is that they just weren't concerned with any of it. Two of the members formed a reggae band in the 90s. They started families, which they said was the most important things in their lives. They were all very religious as well, not a hot seller in the punk scene (one of the few reviews of the band wrote the headline “Rock ‘n’ Roll Please, and Hold the Religion”).

In the documentary, the brothers are super humble, and never bitter. It's amazing that they made such powerful music, visionary as it was, left to the obscurity of a few 45" bins for decades. I had the same thought as Henry Rollins did in the doc: this is why we go to record stores and take chances on things we've never heard of before. I know I've discovered more amazing music by taking chances on obscure records than I have from superflous PR emails that avalanche my email inbox every day. 

Next chance I get, I'm picking up this record. In the meantime, here it is on Youtube:

And look for Rough Francis, a band featuring the three sons of bassist Bobby Hackney, who make original music as well as pay tribute to Death at every show. 


Richard Hell - "I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp"

I was more than excited to finally read Richard Hell's autobiography. If you're not familiar with Hell, hit play on this video first before reading.

Blank Generation has been one of my favorite albums since I first listened to it sophomore year of high school. I thought it was better than anything else his contemporaries were doing at CBGBs, and even better than the Velvets and Stooges before him. It combined a feral physical nature with intellectual wit and humor, in the lyrics and in the compositions. It's the perfect album for a hormone-addled teenager: music about sex and art made by drug addicts.

Somehow, the Glenview Public Library had a copy of Go Now, a novel Hell wrote in 1996, briefly mentioned in his autobiography. I remember being underwhelmed, and feeling like it was an On the Road ripoff (though I also devoured it). Unfortunately, I feel the same way here. Looking at reviews on Goodreads, a lot of people feel the same. He spends too much time on describing apartments he lived in only briefly, that it was a 3.5 star book, that moments of brilliance are overshadowed by half-baked prose, unnessecary tangents, and not expanding on stuff that he could have shed more insight on.

In high school, I read Please Kill Me three times. It remains one of my favorite books, and is an amazing oral history of the punk scene. So it was sorta disappointing to read a lot of the same stuff again and even some things that are almost line-for-line the same. I had hoped for more of Hell's post punk rock life when he was writing more, but he addresses his reasons for not doing this as the life of a writer isn't that interesting, difficutly in describing present day situations frankly blah blah blah. We want to read you, Hell, because we know you are fearless! Give that to us again.

And yet, I can't hate this book entirely. There are in fact some great anecdotes from the CBGBs days, and he has great descriptions of people like Lester Bangs, Dee Dee Ramone, Anya Phillips, and more, and when his poetry sticks out, it sticks out ("Everything that happened to her was weather," describing a girlfriend), but too often it feels like Hell is cashing in; the book is double spaced with blank pages between chapters, like he was just trying to get to a specified length and then call it a day.

It's not all bad. If nothing else, it's got me excited about that scene again, and what's come out of it. I'm rediscovering some LPs, like Robert Quine (Hell's guitarist) and Fred Maher's album Basic. Quine was a great and underrated guitarist, as angry as they come and with a unique style all his own. Check out 'Summer Storm' from that album:

For those interested in CBGBs scene, I'd recommend going with Please Kill Me. For those that want more of a personal account, read Patti Smith's Just Kids. For those that can't get enough (like me), go for I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp.


Song of the Day: Plastic Crimewave Sound - "End of Cloud"

About a month ago, I stumbled across a split between Oneida and Plastic Crimewave Sound at Reckless. Because I suck, I've only today listened to it for the first time. PCS's side consists of one 19 minute track of propulsive drums, chanting, feedback, and overall psychedelic mind-melting (and I say that fully aware of the hyperbole). It's good and it's on youtube. Turn it up loud: