Monday, March 27, 2006

Positively Western Avenue

Western Avenue in Chicago is reported to be the longest continuous street in the world, at nearly 24 miles. The interesting thing for me is that I grew up a few blocks from the south end, and now 40 years later work a few blocks from the north end. In between is a whole world of urban culture to explore. As time permits, I plan to photo-document how it looks, as the avenue slowly succumbs to the faceless, generic commercial architecture we've all come to know only too well. I'm a big fan of roadside architecture and graphics, and you don't have to cruise the remains of Route 66 to find it. This thread will likely morph into a separate blog (for all I know someone is already doing this) but for now, here's a taste:

Bill's Drive-In is technically a little beyond the north end of Western Avenue, on Asbury Street near the Chicago/Evanston border. It's Western Avenue to me. Plugging away since 1949 and now in the shadows of the big fast food franchises, Bill's has it's share of loyal customers. Bill's has been featured in a national PBS documentary on hot dogs, and it's a great place to get an authentic Chicago Style dog (no ketchup!)

Listen: Hot Dog(Watch Me Eat) by the Detroit Cobras


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Baker's Dozen

I just hit 2,500 songs on my ipod. That represents only 1/3 of it's capacity, but it's a hell of a lot of songs. The feature I like best about the ipod is the 'shuffle all songs' feature, seamlessly combining tracks from the full range of my collection. I would never have dreamed of making a mix tape with the kind of combinations that my ipod cooks up. I have an active imagination, but I could swear that sometimes it's more than just coincidence and chaos. I hit shuffle for my Monday morning commute, and here are the first 13 songs, in order. My ipod must have thought I dropped some acid for breakfast....

1. Relay - the Who. A nice way to begin, with some BBC radio commentary preceding this track, which comes from the BBC sessions CD. An overlooked Who number that was happily revived by the band on their 2002 tour. Released as a single in November, 1972.

2. Itchycoo Park - the Small Faces. Ok, we're off to swinging London getting stoned in the park with Steve Marriott and the gang. This is a great track that evokes images of paisley and purple.

3. Candy And A Currant Bun - Pink Floyd. I am quickly rousted from the park and find myself enjoying ice cream in the afternoon with Syd. This song was the B-side of the Floyd's first single, Arnold Layne, released March 10, 1967. The track comes from a nice import CD of their first three singles.

4. Journey to the Center of the Mind - Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes. Three in a row. A classic psychedelic rocker from 1968.

5. Girls, Girls, Girls - Motley Crue. Now I must be hallucinating. A guilty pleasure.

6. Over the Hills and Far Away - Led Zeppelin. If you grew up in the 70's and noodled on the guitar, you learned the beginning of this song. I can still play it.

7. The Denial Twist - White Stripes - A fun segue, as I hear a lot of Zep in Jack White. I'd love to hear them do a version of Bron-Y-Aur Stomp.

8. Ghost - Phish. A nice fat groove.

9. Backwoods - Red Hot Chili Peppers. The ipod strikes again. This sounded great after Ghost. Who needs coffee in the morning when you've got Peppers?

10. Pidgeon English - Elvis Costello. From my favorite Costello album, Imperial Bedroom. Elusive melodies and hyperactive lyrics. "Neurotic erotica."

11. I Don't Believe You(She Acts Like We Never Have Met) - Bob Dylan This track was recorded on NYE 1975 during the Rolling Thunder Revue. Bob was in peak form, and he turned out some great solo acoustic renditions.

12. SWLABR - Cream. Zounds! We're back in swinging London. So many fantastic colors...

13. Son of 'Cha!" - Local H. A great two man rock band from Zion, IL.

Some guys read the newspaper on their way to work, or listen to NPR. I prefer to time travel.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

South Michigan Avenue Blues

I'm back, faithful readers (or reader, as the case may be). For the first time, life has derailed my blog. Not to worry, though, as plenty of thoughts are racing through my head.

First off, thanks to Chris at localvertical, my new top referring link. Check it out.

A few weeks ago I pondered the transition of Millennium Park in Chicago from industrial railyard to urban oasis. The swift development of residential property in the Loop is a positive by-product. This trend towards downtown living does not end at Adams Street however. South Michigan Avenue is quickly becoming a canyon of newly constructed modern condominiums and loft conversions, and the impact on the urban fabric is significant. An infusion of residents into a blighted area is a good thing, but the number of smaller scale older buildings yielding to contemporary high-rises is alarming. If you haven't seen South Michigan Avenue in a while, you may not recognize it.

From the north, the parade of new condos is evident, as the streetscape is dotted with construction cranes and newly cleared lots. From the south, the massive expansion of McCormick Place is surely to spawn additional development. The result is a number of low-rise vintage buildings uncomfortably sandwiched by their new neighbors. The condos require off-street parking, resulting in several floors of bland parking garage architecture flanking the more pedestrian friendly low-rise commercial structures. How long these old buildings will survive is anyone's guess.

Stuck in the middle of this crush from north and south is the Chess Records Office and Studio, 2120 S. Michigan Avenue. This modest structure is of monumental significance in the history of music. The building served as a landing for the great African-American blues singers and a launching pad for a few scruffy English rockers in the mid 1960's. The building just may be at the crossroads of rock music as we know it. The building is landmarked and is probably protected from demolition (I say probably only because anything can happen in the Windy City). The context however, is in danger of irreversible change.

Change is good, but let's not cast a shadow over our past.

Listen: Hidden Charms by Howlin' Wolf, written by Willie Dixon

Buy it: Howlin' Wolf: His Best

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Forgotten Records #2 - Tommy Keene

You may have noticed from some of my previous posts that I’m a bit of a Who fan. Today’s post is Who related, and also could just as easily be called The Unknown Artist #1. Unknown to me anyway, until very recently. I picked up the February issue of MOJO because of the great cover stories on the Who. A nice bonus was a CD of Who covers by the likes of the Jam, Flaming Lips and Richard Thompson. By far my favorite track on the disc is a cover of Tattoo, by a guy named Tommy Keene. The track features impeccable guitar playing and great pop vocals. Who is this guy?

Tommy Keene apparently peaked commercially in the 80’s as a guitar based pop singer/songwriter. Somehow he managed to fly under just about everyone’s radar, as far as I can tell. His story seems to be one of those cases where critical accolades and sheer talent don’t translate to record sales, for reasons that no one can explain (think Marshall Crenshaw, Greg Kihn and Matthew Sweet). My All Music Guide to Rock is nothing but four-star ratings and praise, but is also quick to point out that most of his recordings are out of print.

From Bethesda, Maryland, Keene enjoyed strong local support in the 80’s and after a few stints in local bands, signed with the Dolphin label in North Carolina. His 1984 release Back Again (Try) was produced by T-Bone Burnett and Don Dixon, and received heavy college radio airplay (not in Champaign, that I recall) Keene eventually signed with Geffen, who dropped him after two albums. In the 90’s, Keene signed with Matador and recorded several more well crafted pop records. 1993’s The Real Underground is a retrospective of his early career, and is probably the place to begin, if you can find it anywhere. It's where you'll find Tattoo.

For more recent activity, I turned to his website, which reveals that Keene is still recording and touring. His website features three free downloads.

Tattoo is one of Pete Townshend’s most brilliant pop songs and Keene nails it. This performance alone is reason to look a little further into this guy’s catalog.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Happy Birthday Roger Daltrey

Monday’s post celebrated the lives of three actors and their recent passing. Today, I’ll celebrate those still with us. Sixty-two years ago today, one of rock music’s greatest and most recognizable vocalists was born, during a London bombing raid. I always wonder about fate, and how the planets must have been aligned the day Roger Daltrey came to know Pete Townshend, in the same way lighting struck when Mick and Keith hooked up, or John and Paul for that matter. Suffice it to say that we’re all glad that it worked out this way. Biographical notes on Roger suggest that he could have just as easily ended up a rumbling working class “geezer.” His rebellious attitude led him out of the refined schooling he found himself in, and ultimately down the road to rock stardom as the greatest frontman of all time (no offense Mick, but it’s the truth).

Pete’s music was made for Roger to sing, and it’s doubtful that we’d still be hearing from Roger in 2006 if fate looked a different way in those early years. At 62, Roger is still in fine voice, and looking forward to touring this year and releasing new Who material. I believe it’s a sincere love and connection to Pete’s songs that keeps him going. To celebrate, I’ve included a few songs here that may have eluded you:

If memory serves me correctly, See My Way is the only Who song penned by Roger himself. Written in 1966, it has a Buddy Holly feeling to it. The version here is a live take from 1967, included on the BBC Sessions record released a few years ago.

Recently the Who released a single disc of their greatest hits, called Then and Now: 1964-2004. The disc includes two new tracks so the faithful will buy it. I don’t like that marketing approach, so I include one of the new tracks here. Old Red Wine is vintage Who, and Roger sounds great.

Tommy can you hear me? Here’s to your amazing journey from sheet metal worker to rock legend. Happy Birthday, Roger.

Buy some WHO

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