“Calling for a Chicago Hard Rock Chronicle”

High Fidelity was one of those movies I was forced to go see. I’m not sure if this changed my opinion of it or not at the time, but the more life experience you gain, the less likely you are to be in the mood for sitting and watching some dude mope about relationships, mixtapes and concerts for two hours.

When I saw it at age 17, though, I considered it a harbinger of cool, a realm where music took full life and reigned sovereign. Starkly contrasted with Detroit, also, though more akin to Cleveland, the galvanizing brand of music was hard rock. Those kids even had great personalities too, responding to John Cusack’s character’s remark that “It’s really good” with “I know, I wrote it.”
So the myth comes to life, but the myth does have some tentacles of authenticity, at least so I hope. This is, after all, the city that brought us Rapeman and The Jesus Lizard, as well as Touch and Go Records, which would harvest this sort of sound on a larger level.
It’s arguable that no city’s more segregated than Chicago, even now. And the south side, for how predominantly black it is, is starkly lacking in nationally thriving hip-hop, though some local acts are known to put on a good live show, such as The Highest Low. The urban music that makes it big from the south side tends to have gospel tinges, a la BJ the Chicago Kid and even Common and Kanye. Clearly, then, it’s not a “chic” brand of music emanating from that side of town, but one of necessity, one that serves a purpose.
Insofar as the city of Chicago is a walking, talking crisis, as even some New Yorkers attest, rock music on the north side should reflect this in some way. Enter The Jesus Lizard’s “Slave Ship,” which to me plays nicely as a paean, rather than any excessive white boy presumption. David Yow sells it with emotionally splayed vocals, and this leaving-it-all-on-stage swagger is sort of a prerequisite of Chicago hard rock. It’s not as COMPOSED as west coast punk, even, but it’s more “rock” than the angular, “funky” pop music of New York like Blondie, the Talking Heads on down through St. Vincent and Battles.
So am I barking up the wrong tree here, should I be focusing on Cleveland, as even the Chicago Reader recently implied? Maybe, but remember that Chicago became a hub of NATIONAL music criticism around the turn of the millennium, which would theoretically leave room for some negligence of the local scene, at least by basic logistics. Furthermore, the city’s tastemakers have long been notorious for browbeating local acts who seem to have to potential for emerging, as is detailed in the Exile in Guyville DVD by the guy from Urge Overkill, wherein he explains instances of fans yelling “rock star” at the Smashing Pumpkins, for no other reason than that they seemed like they had the chance to make it big.
Along these lines, if simple sociological self-consciousness prevented an adequate number of seminal, talented bands from forming popularity and cult followings, this is a separate issue worth addressing. For instance, why the lack of prominent industrial music, when the city is lodged right smack between Nine Inch Nails’ Cleveland and Ministry’s Boulder, Colorado? It seems the daunting size of the Windy City would only lend itself to music that is more rhythmic, or electronic, along with being sublimating of anger. Chicago is the birthplace of house.
Either way, the city just seems cursed, it seems incapable of harvesting a healthy, reliable local music scene. You could talk about it like it’s the Cubs’ “curse,” or you could say it’s “cursed” with essentially being a sports town, but what it is, at its heart, is a tourist town, and with this, incredibly self-conscious and concerned with image. And with being a sports town, it is homophobic, a condition which, if effective, probably knocks out at least half of young men (if not necessarily women too) who would otherwise be inclined to vividly express themselves on a performance stage.
Kanye has spoken out against homophobia on the south side, and Chicago does have the well notarized gay pride parade in late June every year, but as Camille Paglia might say, to a certain extent this is “forcing identity on homosexuals” — what if they just want to fit in, what if they just want to rock with the rest of us, how do we stop the prejudice, double standards and exclusion so that we can form a cultural storm that brews in all local voices? Camille Paglia also believed that homosexuals provide the primary cultural voice for societies, possibly for the very reason of being ostracized by them. The Jesus Lizard were outsiders, too, hailing from Texas, which possibly to a certain extent justifies the well-hewn sentiments in “Slave Ship.”
Anyhow, one thing I see in Chicago is a lot more anger than outlets for it, and if the music for this feeling exists, then it needs to be more widely publicized and accepted for all its quirks, and if it doesn’t exist, then the topic of cultural amputation needs to be explored likewise. But Division St., the Cubby Bear, the Double Door and the Metro, these places have the NATIONAL spotlight on them… this is where the Pacific Northwest’s New Pornographers come to do their high-profile New Years’ Show (’05-’06), this is where Wild Flag comes, to a great turnout, and the source of anger for a lot of these kids might simply be that they can’t afford tickets, or that they’re too young. And maybe they’re just not as stupid as Wayne and Garth, Christ sue ‘em.

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