Archive for August, 2009

28
Aug
09

Hail To The Chief(‘s Biographer)

Millard Fillmore poses for the dust jacket of Millard!

Millard Fillmore poses for the dust jacket of "Millard!"

In today’s Dispatch at the Atlantic, we find Los Angelino writer, humorist and Cub fan (the last is redundant to the second) Ben Schwartz plotting on the sidelines of the red-hot marketplace for Presidential biography.  As it turns out, the genre has all the formalism of the sitcom, but with fewer laughs and a mistier eye toward history than those of the crybabies at the McCain concession speech.

Fans of the sports blog Can’t Stop The Bleeding will no doubt recognize Mr. Schwartz by his amusing bon mots, his  NY Times-sports editor-agitating probes into cheap leaks over alleged steroid usage, his poor taste in baseball teams and his ritual abuse of yours truly in those very pale blue pages.   Yet, hold none of this against him, for he lives in Los Angeles.   Think about it.  You’d lash out too.

25
Aug
09

Make Up Your Mind: He Can’t Be All Four

Nice work, Adam Sacks / Shepherd Fairey / Mannie Garcia / (in a sense) Fox News.

25
Aug
09

Robwatch: Now Blogging On Chicago Foibles At True/Slant

Looking north from the North Michigan Avenue B...

Not pictured: my new office

I’ve been offered a gig blogging on the subject of Chicago-area foibles for True/Slant, also known as the online home of Rolling Stone reporter (and co-founder of the great Buffalo Beast) Matt Taibbi.  Check out the ruckus, assuming there is ruckus.  (Note: there may be more hubbub than ruckus.  In fact, there’s probably going to more tumult than ruckus, hubbub or hurly-burly.

In a while, I’m going to be experimenting with some humorous multimedia content focused on Chicago politics and civics; grab the RSS feed at the True/Slant page to stay on top of developments, or take your chances that I scrupulously update RW370. Ha.  Ha-ha.

And if I may, let me make a statement here about what I thought was obvious (but might not be) about RW370.

This is a personal blog, not a goddamn brand.  I’m not a brand, so neither is this place. I do appear on some places that handle themselves as brands, and that’s fine for them.  But I do not do that here.

That’s bad media policy today, I am fully aware. It’s poor career handling, amateur eyeball wrangling.  And I don’t care.  You don’t want to read this? You don’t want to follow the feed?  You don’t want to pass along a link from here? I can’t even begin to express how okay I am with that.

I’m fine with that because I know that not everything is for everyone.  And by that I mean there’s nothing in the world that guarantees that you are qualified to be here. You might not get it.  Or, you might get it and not like it. These are fair outcomes, and not at all my problem.

My problem begins and ends with three tasks.  I have to:

  • figure out what I think about stuff
  • find out what happened when stuff happens
  • write the above down here and elsewhere

The way I see it, if you need anything past this, you’re in the wrong place.

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22
Aug
09

John E. Carter, Original Flamingo 1934-2009

flamingos59

R&B singer John E. Carter passed away yesterday at the age of 75.  Carter was the last remaining original member of the Chicago doo-wop group The Flamingos, whose chart-topping “I Only Have Eyes For You” is a work of such unrestrained beauty as to leave behind  the surrounding genre.  The hallmarks of doo-wop are there, the streetcorner harmonies, the nonsense syllables, the romantic sentiment, but “Eyes” was given a soul-shaking dose of innovation in the form of an otherworldly arrangement by Terry “Buzzy” Johnson.  From the excellent Sound On Sound article on “Eyes” Johnson mentions how a a Russian folk tune, exhaustion and a dream came together to give the world this timeless song:

Johnson and his colleagues ran through all 33 songs, a dozen of which ended up on their first LP, Flamingo Serenade, and included covers of compositions by George Gershwin, Lorenz Hart and Cole Porter. However, the number that gave the co-producer the hardest time was ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’.
“I had the sheet

John E. Carter

music, and I thought the chord changes made it too plain,” he says. “I also heard Dick Haymes’ recording, and it was just so vanilla, as were the versions by Al Jolson and Peggy Lee. They all used those chord changes, and nobody did the refrain: ‘My love must be a kind of blind love. I can’t see anyone but you.’ So I decided to do something different, and when Nate saw me struggling with it, he said, ‘Why don’t you do something really different with it, Buzzy? Go way out on it! Make it Russian, like ‘Song Of The Volga Boatman’.’

Carter, a native of Harvey, IL who had been drafted by the US Army and didn’t appear on “Eyes” went on to join the Dells, whose “Oh What A Night” brought him to the stage for decades and sold more than a million copies with its 1969 reissue with Carter on falsetto lead vocal.
“Eyes” is a song so powerful, it knows when it wants to be played.  One Sunday morning when I worked at the Chicago Cultural Center, I was assembling a sound system and working with the Center’s setup crew, who had WVON radio on a boom box.  On the air was Herb Kent that Stylish Gent, spinning the dusties.  I announced to the guys that I was going to call up Herb and request “Eyes”, at which point the song began – with no phone call.
The guys looked at me funny after that.
20
Aug
09

Camoflage To Green: Reclaiming The Military Economy

lobbySignOver the coming months I expect to be writing a bit about a green renaissance taking place on the near South Side of Chicago.  On the site of the first planned industrial park in the US, a friend of mine named John Edel is doggedly and brilliantly showing the way for green and sustainable approaches to manufacturing, property management, renovation and economic replenishment.

John and I grew up in the same West Rogers Park neighborhood and I knew John’s bother Chris as classmate at Mather High School and as the bass player in the aggro-surf group 007.  In fact, Chris was the first musician I ever knew who built his own bass.  Gangly geekish genius runs in this family – and I got an eyeful the other day of the latest Edelian example.

John’s first project is his industrial building reclamation project, the Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center at 1048 W. 37th St.  The building was a decrepit hulk in 2002 but today is a shining example for rust belt reclamation methods and for shifting economic priorities away from waste product – a classification that applies in a real sense to the grossly bloated US military expenditure of the past three decades.   John’s project has brought jobs and sustainability and green practice to a chunk of brownfield that only biker gangs cared about.  It’s my plan to help bring attention to his efforts mainly because I believe the country is on a path of slow economic suicide.  John Edel is moving in the other direction.

Never mind all that for the moment – there will be more in this space and others.  In this post, I’ll link to a piece John forwarded to me from ourfuture.org  about how easy it actually is to move from defense jobs to green jobs. Given the overwhelming majority of industrial production in the US is dedicated to weapons and military output — and that this is bankrupting us — such articles are like life preservers for the US.

18
Aug
09

One For Every Star On The Flag: Fifty Top US War Criminals

warcriminals-300x255As has been demonstrated by recent UC Berkeley protests against the employment of torture legal advocate John Yoo, some of the Neocon Decade’s most notorious figures haven’t been able to shake their war criminal reputations even after passing from public “service”.

This is not especially common. Rewarding failure is indeed a reliable hallmark of institutional power.   Usually, the respectable milieu of the academy is a kind of palliative that can let atrocious bygones be bygones. Alternatively, disappearing into the boardrooms of big business has historically done wonders to hide, if not cleanse, bloody hands.

Maybe not this time.

Fifty Top US War Criminals That Need To Be Prosecuted is a high-quality list courtesy of Pubrecord.org of the enablers, co-dependents, toadies, other-way-lookers, war pimps,  defense industry shills, and others responsible for the illegal wars of choice, cash and resource grabs and torture.

Confidential to Attorney General Eric Holder: many home and work addresses of persons on this list are included.

Whenever you’re ready.

13
Aug
09

Les Paul 1915-2009

les paulThe story of electrified music is dotted with figures who have been blessed with broad inventive genius, equally at home in the worlds of hard engineering and musical aesthetics as if such a thing was easy or normal.  It was these people who gave us the tools that defined a century’s most lasting sounds. The biggest of these names was Les Paul, who passed away today at the age of 94.  Any survey of rock music or the modern recording studio would take less time to count the things that Les didn’t innovate, champion, or outright invent rather than what he did.  Overdubbing.  Sound-on-sound.  Delay.  Phasing.  Multi-track recording.  The solid-body electric guitar.  Every power chord played upon one owes him a debt.

When I was Editor of Gearwire.com in 2007, I got a chance to interview Les. Calling him at his New Jersey home, I found him to be every bit a sweetheart as he was an American treasure.  We kind of rambled around for a while, and Gearwire still hosts the audio.  Check it out.

Part 1: Les Paul Talks Guitar Tone (MP3 Audio)

Part 2: Les Talks The End OF Magentic Tape (MP3 Audio)

Part 3: When Les Met Django Reinhardt (MP3 Audio)

So long and thanks for everything, Lester William Polfuss.

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