A few weeks ago on a Wednesday night at the Honky Tonk in Pilsen three of my friends played a set of loose, meandering tunes. I’ve never heard them all play together but I’ve heard (and sketched) Azita, Sam, and Bill play dozens of times around Chicago over the last 20 years. We’re spoiled with amazing music in this town.
Though I flaked out on my friends at the Pitchfork Music Festival, I did go to one of the after-show gigs at Schuba’s. Bully and Protomartyr played. Protomartyr’s probably one of my favorite newer bands so I was pretty happy to be there. Both bands had played outside in the park in the daytime but I have no doubt that the couple hundred of us squeezed into Schuba’s saw the better show. For me music should be played in small dark rooms rather than public parks with strollers and concession stands. I’ve been sketching people playing music for a long time and in the last few years—since I’ve had a smartphone—it’s been my custom to take a quick photo of my drawing and immediately post it to Twitter, then after quitting Twitter, to Instagram. A couple hours before this Schuba’s show I had decided to quit Instagram, thus paring down my online presence to my website and this newsletter. There are many reasons I did this which I’m still processing in my mind but that night, as an immediate consequence, I was faced for the first time in awhile with no instant outlet for sharing my work. I was in a room of total strangers without the familiar comfort of social media. It felt like the beginning of a new chapter.
A few days later I flew to Boston to visit my parents. Looking up listings for music in town I noticed a week’s worth of shows at T.T. the Bear’s in Cambridge marking the club’s closing. T.T.’s has been operating since the 70s and I’ve been going there since sometime in the 80s. In ’88 I saw Jane’s Addiction pack the place just before they really hit it big. I remember Perry Farrell trying to hop around the small stage with his broken leg in a cast. This last Tuesday my friend Chris was on the bill to play a couple songs with his old bandmate Thalia. I saw their old band, Come, many times at T.T.’s in the mid-90s on breaks from my cab shifts. They were one of the bands that helped me survive the many hours behind the wheel.
Evan Dando banged out some covers and old favorites on an acoustic to an adoring crowd. Sometime in about ’94 or so I was driving a businessman in my cab past The Rat in Kenmore Square and he told me his son’s band had played there. I asked what they were called and he answered The Lemonheads. Without a second thought I blurted out that all their records after Hate Your Friends sucked. He agreed just to be polite to his asshole 20something cabbie, who thought he knew everything and felt the need to share it.
Thalia’s band ripped through a bunch of their tunes, punctuating it with Chris on guitar for a blistering take on Come’s “Hurricane”. I walked out of the place a few minutes later. With no place to put the thoughts about the old club closing and the passage of time I had to keep ruminating on it until this morning when I sat down to write this week’s newsletter. The day after I landed in Boston I traded in my iPhone for a basic flip phone. The guys in the Verizon store thought I’d lost my mind. Besides saving a significant amount every month, loosening the the deathgrip of the internet a bit will allow me to formulate and distill my thoughts better, I believe. The world will just have to keep turning without my quick takes on whatever movie I just saw or whatever’s pissing me off that moment. I may run back begging social media to take me back but I highly doubt it. I’m about to hit 45 and it’s past time to shed some bad habits. If you’re in Chicago this Wednesday, come down to 57th Street Books to hear me talk with Layne Mosler to talk about her new book. It’s about how she asked cabbies all over the world their favorite places to eat. Oughta be a good talk.