I try to catch the Handsome Family whenever they come back to town so when I booked my trip to the East Coast forgetting that I had a ticket to their show here, I wasn’t happy. The band helped me find a buyer for my ticket but that still meant I’d miss a band I love. Then a couple weeks ago I looked at their website and realized they were playing Milwaukee a couple days after my return to Chicago.
I texted my Sunday doorman from Skylark to see what a day’s car rental for a Tuesday might be—his other job’s at Enterprise—and asked him to book one for me. Then I emailed Rennie from the band that I wouldn’t be missing them after all. She offered to put me on the list but I told her I’d already bought a ticket. The one in Milwaukee cost a fraction of the Chicago one anyway.
I got to Milwaukee with a few hours to kill so I went to the art museum. I’ve still yet to witness the famous Calatrava wings opening or closing but enjoy that place anyway. It’s small enough that your eyes don’t glaze over from sensory overload after a visit. There was a good show of Goya prints, many with an eerie resemblance to the front page of the New York Times on most days in 2018. A couple great little John Marin oil seascapes and a Maurice Utrillo streetscape I kept returning to.
I found Shank Hall after a couple wrong turns, then, with a few hours still left before the show, I sat at a Starbuck’s to write up a review of some movie I now can’t remember. A woman in almost theatrically-exaggerated street urchin garb sat next to me and tried repeatedly to interrupt my work with her yammering. I learned without wanting to that she went by Gypsy out on the streets.
I arrived at the club at 9pm sharp and was the first customer. There was an oblong bar near the street-side window and a stage with some cocktail tables in the back. I took a spot next to a couple tables marked “Reserved” up front, ordered a drink, and opened my book.
As opener Chris Crofton started his set, the “Reserved” tables were taken by some middle-aged couples. Rennie from the Handsome Family came and sat with them for awhile. One of the men kept peering at my sketch of Crofton, then blurted out that he wanted it. I don’t usually give away or sell pages from my sketchbook because I like to keep the books intact, but because the guy was so brazenly forward and was connected with the band I decided to make an exception. I took out my Swiss Army knife, cut the page out, and handed it to the guy. He seemed overjoyed and showed it off to all his friends. Then he left it on the table and walked away to sit somewhere else.
I went back to drawing, trying not to be irritated, but the drawing sitting forgotten on the next table was like a magnet of bad feelings. I waited as long as I could stand, then snatched the drawing up and slipped it back into my sketchbook.
The Handsome Family played a lot of old favorites as they were celebrating the 20th anniversary of their great “Through The Trees” LP. The club wasn’t full and I don’t know how familiar the audience was with the band apart from that theme song from “True Detective” but I was just happy to hear them play a bunch of music I know by heart. I’ll always think “The Woman Downstairs” should be Chicago’s anthem.
Racing back home down a mostly empty interstate, I thought again about that guy asking for my drawing, then forgetting all about it. There have been many people who have paid me money for my work now but this jackass assumed that, not only could he have it for free, but it was perfectly fine to discard it once his attention drifted elsewhere. I thought about the great band I’d just listened to and wondered how much indifference they have to deal with as they go from town to town. My great advantage is that I rarely have to face the callousness head on because what I do isn’t a public performance. It’s lousy though and it makes me feel less of people.
—Here’s the conversation I mentioned recording with Gil Roth in a noisy NYC coffeeshop last week. Also, a review of William Inge’s Bus Stop.
—I made some illustrations for this excerpt from a harrowing story of rape in Ghana.
—Here’s a sketch of God Alone playing their record-release show. You can buy their LP which I painted the cover for here.