Monday, December 31, 2007

If Wishes Were Horses, Then Dreamers Would Ride

When this year started, I declared it to be the "Year of the Squeaky Wheel." I tried to stay intentionally vague on that subject. Whether or not we care to admit, we're all a little superstitious. And for this year, I made one major resolution.

I was going to take charge of my life. As 2K6 drew to a close, I saw friends around me get laid off from a job where we'd built a close, almost familial bond. Even though we didn't state so out loud, those of us who remained knew that it was only a matter of time before it was our turn. Keeping an ear close to the ground for a better job became part of the mantra.

As a writer I was satisfied with what I was doing at Chicagoist, but I wanted to do more and wanted to improve all around in that area. I read what's in the dailies, the weeklies and the local magazines and I thought to myself that I could do at least just as well. So developing something of a freelance career was on the "take charge" agenda.

We're also vain to varying extents, and I was already working on changing my eating habits by cutting out high fructose corn syrup. If I could eat better, it would also help me not only health-wise, but from a writing perspective, since I'm a food writer. That made the list. Then I called it the "Year of the Squeaky Wheel", kept the resolution close to my vest, and set out to act.

Those tentative first steps reinforced something I read once: "A man without hope is a man without fear." And in those early weeks of this year, I was nothing if not scared. But it forced me to focus on what I wanted to achieve. I'm impatient by nature, and I had to learn to take things slow and keep working for those goals. It started slowly: some assignments for Centerstage, hours browsing job boards, sending out resumes, and drinking water when I normally would have eaten. But I stuck with it.

By the time May rolled around and we knew that time was wasting at HotHouse, I had managed to get my first assignments with Time Out Chicago and the Sun-Times. Again, baby steps. Where others at HotHouse were taken with shock at the news it was closing, I at least had some semblance of a backup plan. And freelance work was able to keep me afloat until I landed my current job, just in time to take stock at what I wrote in January.

Looking back I can state unequivocally that this has been one of the best years of my life. It's been fulfilling and rewarding, in the shadow of uncertainty. There are times I hear something playing on Winamp that reminds me of HotHouse, which was such a long chapter in my life, and I miss it. But I can't afford to look back now. 2K8 is upon us, and I have another set of resolutions to knock out. Again, I'll be vague about what they are, and let you know what they are when I see them in sight.

Happy New Year, everyone!!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Again, If I Was a Music Critic

Nectar of the Gods
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

These would be my favorite records of the year:

  • Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: Raising Sand Easily my favorite of the year. Plant doesn't get the recognition that Peter Gabriel or David Byrne do as far as world musicology is concerned, and on this record his encyclopedic knowledge of American roots music comes to full bore. Krauss, who's become more boring and safe as she's become more blonde and slender, is inspired here. Producer T-Bone Burnett brings it all together.

  • Grinderman: Grinderman. Easily the sleaziest record I listened to all year. Nick Cave steps away from the piano, straps on a guitar, and lets the fuzz fly.

  • Pink Martini: Hey Eugene!. These symphonic popsters released their most accessible record to date, and their March date at the Chicago Theatre is one of my most eagerly anticipated concerts of early 2K8. this record ends with a tender duet between vocalist China Forbes and the legendary Jimmy Scott on "Tea for Two".

  • Talib Kweli: Right About Now (The Official Sucka Free Mix CD). Jay Z says it best - "If skills sold/ Truth be told/ I'd probably be/ Lyrically/ Talib Kweli."

  • Little Big Town: A Place to Land If you're a fan of the California sound of the 70's and creative four-part harmony, then pick this up this record.

  • Kurt Elling: Night Moves. The local jazz singer's latest and best record is also his most consistent to date. Elling finally tones down his cheesier tendencies and delivers on his enormous potential.

  • Manu Chao: La Radionlina. The future of international pop. This is years ahead of everything else he's done before.

  • Pacha Massive: All Good Things. Grooves that to me bring back memories of muggy August afternoons holding down the basketball courts at Hermosa Park.

  • Orgone: The Killion Floor. This was a great year for old school soul music. This west coast band wound up being the answer for my next selection from Staten Island.

  • The Budos Band: The Budos Band II. Daptone Records strikes again. The Budos' sophomore release is light years ahead of their debut.

  • Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: 100 Days, 100 Nights. The new "Queen of Soul" cemented her claim to the title with this hot lo-fi mix of sweet soul.

  • The Betty Davis Re-issues: Lost for over thirty years, Light in the Attic Records re-issued Betty Davis and They Say I'm Different in May. How these records were lost while other slick funk bands found success in the 70's, I haven't a clue. This is some fierce, unrepentant, sexual music a solid fifteen years ahead of Madonna and seven years ahead of Prince.

  • The Duhks: Migrations. Now that Nickel Creek is on "indefinite hiatus", this Winnipeg-based "jamgrass" band is poised to lay claim to a lot of Nickel Creek's fans, and they have the chops for both bluegrass purists and the patchouli set. The Duhks also lost their soulful charismatic lead singer, Jessee Havey, but replaced her with the even more soulful Sarah Dugas.

  • Bettye Lavette: The Scene of the Crime A tour de force collaboration with the Drive-By Truckers. Recorded at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which was the setting of the "Great Lady of Soul's" biggest professional disappointment. In 1972, she recorded an album for Atlantic Records that was, by all accounts, a masterpiece (if I can find it in my collection, I'll share some tracks). Then Atlantic decided to shelve the record on the eve of her tour to support it. This record reunites Ms. Lavette with David Hood, who played on that Atlantic record and also happens to be the father of lead Trucker Patterson Hood, who produced "Scene."

Saturday, December 29, 2007

If I Were Still a Music Critic...

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' Raising Sand would hands down be my album of the year. Thanks, Olivia, for IM'ing me and asking me about this the other day.

For the rest of you, here's some of what you're missing. Krauss, in particular, sounds genuinely inspired by the pairing:

Carl Segvich Mad Libs

I slipped on four or five of these glossy card-sized political leaflets trampling up the stairs last night and almost broke my damn neck. Rather than head to Carl Segvich's home and give him a piece of my mind, I picked up one and the first thing that popped in my head while reading it and seeing all the underlined and capitalized words was Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in "Ed Wood", where he has the freakout over being called Karloff's "sidekick."

Then I decided to have a little bit of fun. Be creative, I want to see what you've got.

The Pre-Game

"In Case You Forget..."
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

So all the fun I had at the B News Neighborhood pub quiz Sunday followed a pretty tense hour at Bernice's. To give you an understanding of what I'm talking about, I suggest reading this first, for some back story.

Anyway, I belly to the bar at Bernice's, order a beer, take a seat at one of the high tables and wait for Kevin and his girlfriend to arrive. There are a few of the old Puffer's regulars in the bar, but, like then, I mainly kept to myself, nodded when they acknowledged my presence, drank my beer and ate my tacos from Erendira (al pastor is the way to go there).

That's when one of the former bartenders came up to me and said that she read what I wrote about the sale. "It was really good," she said. I thanked her then returned to my beer. Over the following minutes she kept coming back up to me, showing me a Led Zeppelin skullcap she received for Christmas, and we enjoyed some back-and-forth. Nothing more.

It all went downhill when she introduced me to her husband. "This is the guy who gave you all the information," she said. I assured her that he wasn't, and he started to give me the stink-eye, not because of the article, but because I was talking to his wife.

Not even ten minutes later I notice them arguing at the bar. Well, not so much arguing as him getting worked up and her trying to calm him down. Listening in, which wasn't hard to do, I realized they're arguing over me.

"Who is he?" he asked.

"He's a writer, I knew him from Puffer's," she'd say.

"I don't know him."

"Yeah you do."

"You say I do, but I don't."

"He's a funny guy."

That set him off further. Motioning in my direction, I heard him say, "How about if I rip his head off and shit down his throat? I'd think that would be funny." At that point I started draining back my beer, in case I needed the bottle to keep that from happening, and thanking the fates I ordered a large Lithuanian lager. I've been in sticky situations on on five continents, but I haven't been in an actual fight in ages. I'm sure if he wished to escalate things and try to make good on his wish to shit down my throat, I could hold my own in preventing it. But no one wants to get into a fight.

"He's a good writer," she tried to assure him, unknowingly giving him an invitation to whip my ass by letting him know I was a writer. I don't know what happened after that, but Kevin walked in shortly after and I caught him up on everything.

"You really know how to make friends and influence people, don't you, Chuckles," he said.

I sure do.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Gift to You All

Bernice's Sleigh
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Here's a couple hours of Christmas cheer. Have your preferred media player at the ready.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas to All

Santa's Seen Better Days
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

And Happy Holidays for our non-Christian brethren, as well.

And to the folks at B News and Jimm Dispensa at Aldertrack: thanks for a wonderful time with last night's neighborhood quiz. The quiz itself mitigated a tense and interesting few moments before which I'll go into detail later.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Week in Review

Laundry Wonderland
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

First, something I shared with Tankboy and Our Man in Chicago this week that any comic book fan in the 90's can appreciate: The 40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings.

Three weeks into the glamorous world of property tax appeals and I've finally acclimated myself to the change in schedule, from going to bed at 5 a.m. to waking up at 5 a.m. the commute to Evanston and back has forced me to focus on how I utilize my time and energy, especially prudent since I'm not giving up looking for freelance work. So the hours before I head for the train are used for Chicagoist responsibilities, lunch is used for interviewing folks for outstanding jobs, and the time after dinner is used for both. I'm essentially putting in a 14-16 hour day of work. But it's good, it instills discipline.

Speaking of, I've long held a Vox account that I never had any use for until I started interviewing for a editor position for another site that's soon to launch in a few months (I didn't get the job). They wanted to see how I would guide the editorial content of their site, and so asked that I put together what amounts to a day's worth of posts so they could gauge my style.

Anyway, I liked enough of the content I came up with - and the experience of writing in a punchy style that I normally wouldn't write in - that I decided to keep it solely for the purpose of restaurant, bar and other food/drink-related things I find interesting. It'll also be a place where you'll be able to find rough draft versions of much of what I plan on posting to Chicagoist and other places in the near future. Want to take a look at it, click here.

Finally, Chicagoist political beat writer Kevin Robinson has been developing his own Blogger-based site that I think you might find interesting (he also gave me the idea to write about the sordid past of "Northside Chuck" in the immediate future; you won't be disappointed). He asked for an editorial critique of it a while back, but I was just busy with other stuff. So, Kev, in a nutshell: It's ready for its close-up.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Good Week

Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Today we play a game called "Bridgeport or Suburbia?" I took this shot a few weeks back (and I'm not a fan of my wide angle lens, as an aside; the macros fuzz up the corners), and you get to guess whether I took it in Bridgeport or the suburbs.

As a freelancer I'm used to having to rob from Peter to pay Paul, but everyone I've done work for has fallen behind in invoicing lately. I've become accustomed to it with Time Out Chicago (particulary if it's a food or drink-related story), but the usually reliable Sun-Times has now fallen behind. As Laura said the other day, "I'm trying to be zen about it." Unfortunately zen doesn't pay the bills. But after frantic e-mails I've been assured that the invoices have been routed, so I'll either wait for one of the checks to roll in or my first paycheck from the law firm on Wednesday. Until now I'll just have to make do with the growler of 312 I have in my fridge

Neighborhood readers unite: the folks at B News are prepping for their 2nd Annual neighborhood pub quiz next Sunday. It's tentatively scheduled to be at Bernice's , depending on response. But it is a firm 7 p.m. start.. IF any of you are like me and want some idea of the neighborhood history, or just want to meet your neighbors, come out.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Video Find

So I've been sitting in front of this damn screen most of the day and was checking out the sites I usually read before I headed to bed when I cam across this via Crooks and Liars.

As far as I'm concerned Emmylou Harris can do no wrong. Wrecking Ball is, in a word, one of the greatest records of the past fifteen years, combining the ethereal sound of early U2 (courtesy of Daniel Lanois, who was instrumental to that sound) with Emmy's timeless voice. It also sparked a career renaissance that saw her become a songwriter in her fifties. This song, from the follow Up Red Dirt Girl, shows off her vocal chops and the lean playing of her backing band Spyboy.

Bonus: she makes gray hair sexy. Is there any wonder I named my dog after her?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Surfacing, Finally

Jimmy Ethyl 1
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Once I get some money rolling in I'm totally buying a Metra pass. The "L" ride to Evanston has been loooooonnngg, to say the least. With the way to really fly, I can wake up at 6, as opposed to 5, eat, walk the dog, shower, get to the train before it pulls out of downtown at 8:35, and into Evanston before I have to punch in.

The work has been dry - I'm at a law firm that specializes in property tax appeals - but with two north suburban townships closing their filing periods yesterday there was work to do. Everything I set out to do last weekend freelance wise I did, only when I sat down to start writing copy for my Sun-Times pieces this morning I double checked my deadlines and remembered they aren't due until the 19th. But the majority of the research has been completed, and I don't have to stress as much next week when I finish.

That turn of events turned out to be fortuitous, as the folks for the job I interviewed for two months ago finally got back to me last week for a second interview. At the very least, I'll have a job. It's just in a couple weeks I'll find out which job that will be. The dreamer in me says I could do both, still freelance on the side, really pad the bank accounts, put everything into storage for a year, buy a car and drive around the country with the dog. That's why the dreamer's a dreamer, not a realist.

I caught Mom up on all this this morning in my belated birthday phone call. When I finished, she asked, "How are you going to find the time for all this?" Don't know, Ma. Don't know.