A few weeks ago a guy commissioned me to do a painting of his relatives’ Beverly bungalow. They were about to put the house up on the market and move out of town and he wanted to give them a picture to remember their home by. I like working from life best, but it would’ve been awkward to set up on the sidewalk outside a stranger’s house, so I rented a car and drove up to the place and snapped a bunch of photos to use as references for the painting. I spent a total of about thirty minutes in that neighborhood, but there was no way to avoid the onslaught of memories. The three years I lived in this neighborhood with my ex-girlfriend were an intense time. It was just a few blocks away from where I sat snapping photos of someone else’s house. I hear from mutual friends that she’s selling her place too and planning to move away. Will this area still have the same associations for me once she’s gone?
I’ve lived a lot of places in this city and each has their own set of memories. They can be triggered by some building, or a restaurant, or a street corner, and you never know if seeing it will prop you up or bring you down. The psychic or emotional overlay over simple geography is fraught and unpredictable.
Friday night I went to the Hungry Brain to listen to Krystle Warren sing. I hadn’t heard of her until that morning when my friend Charles sent out a mass email about the show. I listened to a few songs on YouTube and decided to go. The Hungry Brain is another spot loaded with resonance from the past, though it’s only been recently reopened under different ownership and doesn’t retain much of its former shambling character. Warren’s music is hard to describe but she’s definitely got her own thing going. Listening to her sing and play guitar unamplified in the middle of the room, away from the stage, was a beautiful thing.
Afterwards, out on the back patio, I introduced myself and we chatted a bit. We talked about Chicago, about Kansas City, where she’s from, and about Paris, where she lives now. A couple other musicians were grilling leftover hot dogs from Memorial Day and almost everyone around me was smoking cigarettes. I’d been to this place many times before, but it was completely different that night. Maybe because of making new friends, or because the bar had been transformed and renovated, or perhaps just because I allowed myself to see it in a new way.
—I wrote reviews of Masande Ntshanga’s great debut novel The Reactive, some capsules of films at the Chicago Underground Film Festival, and gabbed for an hour with my pal Nick on the radio at 3am Thursday morning.