Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Stumbling Into Good Things

A few weeks back I reviewed the new Half Acre Lager on Chicagoist, which promoted the usual mix of sincere commentary and bullshit flame bait that accompanies the articles these days. I've got an article in today's Sun-Times which was the result of an interview I conducted with Half Acre point man Gabriel Magliaro. We discussed his decisions to start a beer company and brew the beer on contract at a Wisconsin brewery, while Magliaro went into detail behind his fascination, love of craft brewing and his hopes for the company. But the proof's in the pudding, and Half Acre is a damn tasty beer. It's a dark lager, with lots of Munich malt and Saaz hops. It tastes like an India Pale ale, but doesn't have an ale's weight

Half Acre so far has been limited to Wicker Park, but Magliaro's working hard with the distributor (Chicago Beverage Systems) to find as many placements for the beer as possible. Lucky for us in Bridgeport that CBS distributes down here; the beer territories in the city are even more gerrymandered than ward or congressional district maps. So if you're a regular at Mitchell's, Catcher's, Skylark or Bernice's, start lobbying for them to carry Half Acre.

This month is also Illinois Wine Month, and I've compiled an extensive listing of events tied in with it at Centerstage. The event I definitely plan on attending is the Lynfred Winery Oktoberfest, barring service cuts and fare hikes on Metra.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The View From the New Cockpit

I don't believe in feng shui. Here's all I need: port and starboard lava lamps, La Parka, Santo, and a luchadore animatronic James Brown looking over me. Emmy's pillow is right behind the new man chair, and the four-foot distance between my eyes and the computer screen make a world of difference for my astigmatism.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Dust Bowl at 30th and Halsted

The Jewel grocery store by my apartment closed down Thursday, and to the final minute they never discounted the Kingsford char-wood. Had they discounted it, Chuqueaux would have spent a lot of blistering cold January days grilling in the snow drifts in my backyard.

With the Jewel closed the closest grocery store in the neighborhood within walking distance is this Certi-Saver on Halsted, by 34th Street. I get nauseous walking in there, and it takes a lot for me to blow chunks. It's kind of what you expect a Certi-Saver, or Butera, or A&P (if those are still around) to look and smell like: faded linoleum floors, a smell of pine sol and absorbent sawdust in the air, cashiers who really don't want to be bothered with ringing you up, and the slight feeling of dread that there's a rodent problem that gets cleared up just in time for a surprise health inspection. Which is a shame, because it looks like they have some decent produce and meats in there. I just get sick walking in from the smell. It reminds me of this Butera that used to be at Wilson and Clark when I lived on the north side. Same smell, same floors that saw better days, same cashiers. I actually saw a cockroach skitter across a shelf there once.

Anyway, I was shopping at this Butera once, I think it was late '95, right after Halloween. Yeah, it was because that was the year Peg and I dressed as the Hulk and She-Hulk for Halloween and my nipples froze till they cracked while hopping from party to party in Wicker Park. Another story for another time, I suppose. Back to Butera. On this particular visit there were two cashiers at one register admiring each other's lacquered hair, brown lipstick, and neck tattoos (nothing is classier than a tattoo inked in Olde English script on someones neck). The girl actually working the register was methodically scanning my groceries across the reader while rubbing her visibly pregnant belly. The second one asked in between gum snaps, "Girl, what are you, five months now?"

First one said, "Yeah. And Mousey better do right by me, too." The second girl was twirling her gum around her finger when it broke and she asked, "What about Mousey?"

Pregnant cashier said, "I said Mousey better take care of his kid when he's born." The second girl started to think, which might have been a foreign occurrence for her, and asked, "Are you going out with someone named Mousey, too." That's when all three of us got that look on our faces that said, "uh-oh."

Second girl decided that right then would be the ideal time to keep it real. "Oh, hell no. Tell me you ain't been sleeping with my boyfriend." The pregnant cas
hier snapped back, "If that's your boyfriend, he wasn't the night he knocked my ass up."

"You fucking ho!" screamed the second girl. Suddenly they were in each other's faces, screaming and pointing with their fake nails. I thought some corneas were gonna get scratched. The manager ran up to the checkout line and asked me if there was a problem. I assured him that the problem was most likely Mousey's. He somehow managed to separate the two cashiers, ring up my groceries, and get me off on my way. Had I shopped on a regular basis at the Jewel on North Lincoln, I probably would never have had this story to tell.

With this Jewel closing it means that sometime in the upcoming weeks I'm going to head to Kozys and start pricing grocery panniers for my Schwinn, as the next closest grocery stores that don't trigger my gag reflex when I enter are a Dominick's on Archer and Ashland and a Pete's Fresh Market on 22nd, west of Western. I was at the latter with Sue the other night - she was loading up on stuff while I was picking and choosing what to replenish. I think I walked out with a load of frozen juice, fruit, and sliced lunch meat for under $30. I've always loved Pete's Fresh Market. the stores are clean, the food is fresh, they may actually have a basic understanding of "free range" and organic there, if not actually try to carry some, and their cashiers never seem to be involved in any baby daddy drama.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Mad Doctor

Fiesta Del Sol in Black-and-white
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

I'm testing out a grilled pizza recipe this afternoon in preparation for the annual movie night and barbecue I'm throwing in a couple weeks. If I like the results, I'll post them here first.

In the meantime I have to rave about the new Soulive record, incidentally the first new release on the re-launched Stax Records label. Soulive is one of those bands that just burns in concert, but their records left a lot to be desired. The energy and fierceness of their live show never translated. They've added this vocalist named Toussaint, which forced the Evans Brothers and Eric Krasno to structure their songs into more concise pieces for vocals. In other words, they dropped recording all the jam band noodling that turned me off from their records. It almost sounds like a completely different band, but better.

This new record, "No Place Like Soul", simply sounds fierce. Check it out.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Be Thankful For...

  • Chicken fresh off the grill, sliced thin for club sandwiches, and seasoned with West Town Tavern's proprietary barbecue rub
  • Checks for invoices that come in when you absolutely need them
  • Running unexpectedly into friends at the most unlikely of places, shopping for ties while you look for a KitchenAid mixer
  • A dog that never begs too much for table scraps
  • Fresh tomatoes and basil
  • Football season
  • A mother who understands, even when you know she's lying
  • The seventeen-ounce margaritas at this place Sue and I found the other night on Blue Island after grocery shopping
  • Bridgeport Coffee House's "Stockyard Blend"
  • Starting to get the hang of pitching story idea to editors
  • Running into friends on Myspace you never thought you'd see again
  • The free contraband delicacy at a restaurant I'll be reviewing on Chicagoist later this month
  • Homemade grilled sweet corn and mango salsa
  • Chilaquiles al Gualjilo.
  • Stupid lists. I'd never get anything done without them.

Friday, September 07, 2007

How Chicagoan Am I?

Like there was ever a doubt.

You are 100% Chicagoan!

Congratulations -- enjoy a slice of pizza. You are so Chicago you vote early and often! Butt head! Say RAAAH!

How Chicago are you?
Take More Quizzes

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Late to the Party, But I DID Show Up

The Bar is Open
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

My 20th anniversary high school reunion is Saturday. The last time Harry and I were together he said he wouldn't go unless I went. And I'd go only if we could get his wife to attend. And I knew that wasn't going to happen. So I'll be doing something else Saturday. But I'll be doing it while wondering how some folks have turned out in the ten years I last saw them.

We went to our 10th anniversary reunion, along with our friend Missy. My most vivid memory from that was how quickly we all reverted back to our little cliques from high school. There was this ongoing sense of "can you top this" and "here is a list of the great things I've done" in the air. In hindsight it was fairly petty. We were on the expressway to adulthood, but some of us were stuck in traffic, others were speeding in the carpool lane, and still more of us were engaging in some form of gapers block, looking back at the friends and classmates who didn't make it. Then the mask of who we were when we'd go to Hero's, Mickey D's Hot Dogs, or Wendy's for lunch started to fade, probably with the help of the open bar, and we began to look at each other as people in their late twenties just starting to gain the knowledge that will carry us through life, along with falling in love and thinking of having kids; stumbling into careers; and leaning how to cope with the things our parents shielded us from: like debt, taxes, the uncertain news from that check-up; worrying about the end-of-year bonus and where we're gonna find that video game Billy wants on Christmas Eve. In other words, we were just beginning to become our parents. Only our parents didn't have to worry about the iPod touch.

I'll be the first to admit that I took the scenic route to where I am today. I can remember holding up a copy of the Sun-Times (only .25¢ in 1986-1987) in speech/debate class my senior year and saying that my dream was to have my own byline in a newspaper. Four months after that a Navy recruiter's lying through his teeth at me as I'm enlisting for six years to study nuclear engineering, saying "Sure you can study journalism if this doesn't work out." But he also told these hilarious stories about how he contracted the venereal warts he loved to brag about and said I could tell similar stories, but without the warts, if only I signed on the dotted line.

It could be said that what I'm doing now is a story in perseverance, and I guess that's true to an extent. But I also look back at all those years where I just did nothing because where I was in my life at any particular moment was comfortable, and I didn't want to shake that up to shoot for what I wanted to really do. All I've ever really wanted to do was write, and I've never actually stopped. It's just now I'm at a place where I take it more seriously than I've ever done. It's amazing what happens when you place stock in something you love.

Maybe I'll pick up a guitar again.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I'm Gonna Make You Shine

Greek Salad, two ways
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

I was browsing through the job boards at mediabistro this afternoon when I came across a posting that could be used as an example for the definition of "irony." Fox News is looking to hire a "fact writer."

I hear Karl Rove is available.

In one of the instances where I found myself fucking off instead of working yesterday, I spent hours on Myspace looking for people. I should probably put something on my profile that keeps away the mediocre white rappers, jam bands, and barely legal webcam girls from wanting to add me as their friend. Something along the lines of "Don't come to me, I'll come to you." But I fear it might just increase the amount of requests I receive.

It goes without saying that Myspace is used as a marketing tool for bands (and other artists) to varying degrees of success. My "friends list" is not without a load of bands. If I got rid of all the bands listed in my network, I'd probably be down to under thirty actual contacts.

But I was browsing the bands and I started thinking that I could fill a pretty damn good jukebox with what their music. Like when Tuman's was TUMAN'S, Holly would put the space-age bachelor pad music of Esquivel next to Diamanda Galas' "Masque of the Red Death". Or Screaming Jay Hawkins' "Constipation Blues" would be a few clicks away from some Pantera's "Cowboys From Hell."

So, in the interest of having a virtual jukebox in a virtual bar with a virtual Holly and me serving virtual hard drinks for virtual people who want to get virtually drunk fast, I've listed some of the bands in my Myspace network and their corresponding Myspace pages for you to check out for yourselves. You know you'd want to drop twenty in the slot and pick songs if this were real. Don' t lie to yourself.

  • Motörhead: They play rock and roll and are fronted by a speedfreak bass player named Lemmy. Need I say more?

  • Bantam: Classic down-tuned, power-trio rock fronted by Gina Volpe of Lunachicks fame. Avril Lavigne wishes she could sound this hard.

  • Baby Teeth: A single degree of separation in the corporeal world with this band. Drummer Peter Andreadis is a HotHouse alumni. He was the chief sound engineer when I hired on. This is baby making music for the retro crowd.

  • Spanking Charlene: Here it's vocalist Charlene McPherson doing the spanking. This is one of my favorite new eMusic downloads, courtesy of some great songwriting and the production of Eric "Roscoe" Ambel. "Field Trip" is a look at "scared straight" programs from the point-of-view of juvenile delinquent.

  • Patty Griffin: The heir apparent to Emmylou Harris and one of the best songwriters in America, period. If you can't shed a tear listening to "Impossible Dream" then you're a heartless bastard.

  • Motep: another genius, another HotHouse connection. Motep draws his influences directly from the well: Richie Havens, Bob Marley, Nina Simone, A Tribe Called Quest, Gil Scott-Heron. Full of flava. If you're reading, Tankboy, we should so snag him for one of the Chicagoist Ctrl-Alt-Rocks.

  • e.s.t.: Every jukebox needs some killer jazz for when a devil's rain passes through. Ensbjörn Svensson Trio fits the bill, and I've written about them before. Another HotHouse connection.

  • Antibalas: Probably the best value on the jukebox, next to Fela (once I add his tribute page). Throw a buck in, play five Antibalas tracks, and sit back for an hour. You'll leave a Marxist, to boot

  • The Blacks: 'Cause you never know when Gina or Nora might walk in.

  • The Brand New Heavies: When acid jazz is done right, it's excellent. Even today, listening to "Heavy Rhyme Experience" takes me back to memories of late nights shooting pool and drinking Amstel Light with Early Times chasers at Magnolia's Steak House in Norfolk, Virginia, hustling co-eds from Old Dominion University in ways other than the pool table. The Heavies got wise and realized that the only way folks really want to hear them is with N'dea Davenport on vocals. They're at the House of Blues tomorrow with Macy Gray opening.

  • galapagos 4: For years one of the hardest working hip-hop collectives in the city. Ryan Fernandez (a.k.a. "Offwhyte") was HotHouse's IT coordinator.

  • Cibelle: Every jukebox needs some chill tunes for the dope smokers, and Cibelle's mashup of Brazilian, folk, and emo fits the bill perfectly. Did I mention that my jukebox is a Dave Matthews-free zone?

  • Catfish Haven: Sweaty, blue-eyed white boy soul music for the last call hookups. My friends Tina Howell and Avery R. Young sang backup on their record "Tell Me."

  • Cassandra Wilson: Back when my friends and I were Wicker Park royalty, Cassandra Wilson's "New Moon Daughter" record was what I put on the stereo when I was really digging the moment or the woman I was with. She's aged with time like wine since "Belly of the Sun." Check out her live version of the classic Robert Johnson blues number "Come into My Kitchen," which is the perfect blend of Delta blues and hard Brooklyn funk.

  • The Mighty Hannibal: If you don't know the Mighty Hannibal, you better learn about him quick. The lone song offered on his Myspace page is the cherry high that most junkies wax poetic about.

  • Betty Davis: A funk trailblazer who was too much for Miles Davis to handle. 'Nuff said.

  • Allison Moorer: My perfect woman is a redhead from Alabama. Too bad this one is married to one of my idols. She's just starting to come into her own as a singer and a songwriter; I recommend her albums "The Hardest Part" and "the Duel."

  • My Damn Butterfly: If you haven't figured it out by now, the HotHouse staff was one talented bunch of folks. the all-female a capella group My Damn Butterfly has among their ranks the previously mentioned Holly Stevens as well as Courtney Glascoe, two of the best people I've ever held down a bar with.

  • Marah: "Kids in Philly" and "20,000 Streets Under the Sky" are enough to overcome "Float Away with the Friday Night Godz." IMHO, "Kids in Philly" is a desert island disc for me.

  • The Bottle Rockets: Deserve inclusion for "Radar Gun" alone. "Song of Sahm" just puts it over for me. The Bottle Rockets would be my soundtrack if I had to fight my way out of a bar.

  • Mary Lee's Corvette: The backstory - it was Halloween 2K2 in New York City and I was on vacation there, largely to work out some post-9/11 issues about whether or not I wanted to strike out there or stay in Chicago. Mary Lee's Corvette was the featured band onstage that evening at the Lakeside Lounge on Avenue B and 10th (Mary Lee Kortes' husband, Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, also produced the Spanking Charlene record, is Steve Earle's guitarist, and owns the Lakeside). She came onstage and did a track-by-track recreation of Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" that had to be seen to be believed - you can preview her cover of "Buckets of Rain" on her Myspace page - it was so polished. Turns out it wasn't the first time she did this. I own the proof of her first time re-creating "Blood on the Tracks" at Arlene's Grocery in Manhattan, which she released as a full-length album. Incidentally, Dylan praised Mary Lee's version.

  • Corey Wilkes: Watching Corey come into his own as a musician and a man have been two things I've been blessed to witness. If I had to choose something for the jukebox, I'd go with some bootleg Art Ensemble of Chicago performance, to catch Corey fully giving in to the moment (you know they're floating around, Wilkes).

  • Binky Griptite: Earns inclusion for being the guitarist and emcee for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings shows (another inclusion once the request is accepted) and for having to put up with Amy Winehouse's cracked-out bullshit.

  • The Head Cat: What do you get when you put Lemmy, Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats, and Danny B. Harvey of Lonesome Spurs together? A novelty, sure. But a novelty with surprisingly strong legs and faithful adaptations of classic rock 'n roll and rockabilly. Remember, Lemmy has a soft side; he wrote the lyrics to "Mama I'm Coming Home" for Ozzy Osbourne.

  • Solaris Earth Pipeline: Raven Mack used to write this DIY zine called "The Confederate Mack" where the words and stories were so vivid they flew off the page. He's also a fan of old school hip hop. If you want to know what it sounds like, read his "sounds like" passage on his page. You'll get a feel for both the music and his writing.

  • Manishevitz: One night a few years back Manishevitz opened for Wilco at the Auditorium Theatre. They came by HotHouse afterward to continue the party, and Adam Busch got so belligerent praising Television's "Marquee Moon" that I thought I'd have to knock his ass out in order to shut him up. "If you don't have 'Marquee Moon' in your record collection, Chuck, you're a fucking poseur," were his exact words. Yeah, I'm glad it didn't have to come down to that, because I love Adam like a brother. And I'm not exactly close with my brother.

  • The New Outlaws: A new addition to my network, but worthy at such a short stage. There could be countless bands calling themselves "The New Outlaws" out there, but if I saw these folks onstage at, say, Robert's Western World or Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville, or Carol's Pub here in town, I'd pay a cover to see them, and possibly pass around the pickle jar around for tips, depending on how many bottles of PBR I had in my system. Now, for a personal connection that is NOT HotHouse related, one many people probably don't know. Years ago, when my mother first remarried, we left Chicago and lived in Tennessee for a few years. I actually went to middle school and my first year of high school with the keyboard player in the New Outlaws, Mendy Bob Casabella (née Waddell). I don't think anyone ever had a bad word to say about her, to her face or behind her back. Now that's something.

There are a few more I could list, but I need to save them for later, as a surprise.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Going on a Field Trip

Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Something of a busman's holiday today, as I'm finding myself waiting for invoices to be processed. The thing I'm having a hard time reconciling about freelancing is the feeling that I'm accomplishing nothing, even when I know I'm not. I'll sit here, pitching, working the phones, researching pieces and filing notes, but until a check comes in, it's like hedging a bet.

I'm getting better at pitching stories, in that so far I've only had one idea shot down that I thought was a slam dunk idea from numerous perspectives. But it's a hustle, one that I have no idea how some of my friends have done for years.

So that's why I only answered one e-mail yesterday and spent most of the day in the back yard, pruning, mowing the lawn, and grilling. The Jewel by my house is closing on Thursday, so I loaded up on basics for twenty bucks, like eggs, milk, and chicken. I'm waiting to see if they cut the price of char-wood, then I'll load up for the 15th and that little get-together I'm planning.