Thursday, June 28, 2007

All I Ever Wanted

I was talking to my friend Will Briarwood this afternoon. He mentioned he would be taking a few days off work.

“Yeah, it’s vacation time. I’ll be out Friday through Wednesday.”

Big plans?

“Yes and no. Yes, I have lots to do around the house, but no, I don’t think we’re leaving town.”

I suppose you would not want to leave the cats for too long.

“Exactly. You know, I don’t think Mary and I have been out of town together for more than one night since… 2001, maybe? So, the old girl – not Mary, the cat -- is going back in to the vet tomorrow. She was due for a pedicure…”


“She’s getting her nails trimmed, because we’re tired of trying to cut them at home. Mary calls it her pedicure. And while she’s there, we want the doctor to check her weight and her hydration – we’re worried that her appetite is down again. And we’re worried that all the meds she takes are just wearing her down.”

As we have discussed, it is hard watching the pets get old.

“And then on Saturday, both the boys go in. Big guy for a checkup – it’s been three months since his second cancer surgery. And little guy needs to get his urine re-checked, after his surgery two months ago.”

Aside from going to the vet, got anything fun planned?

“I’d like to go to the FitzGerald’s American Music Festival, but I never seem to have the time or energy to back there since we moved out west.”

Who is playing this year?

Marcia Ball, Jon Dee Graham, the Wacos, Tony Joe White – if I do go this year, it will be to see him. Who else… Robbie Fulks, Beausoleil, Bill Kirchen, Anna Fermin. Maybe Mary and I will go to a movie. Most likely, I’ll just screw around at home for six days.”

You usually take a longer vacation this time of year, don’t you?

“I used up most of my vacation days with taking care of the cats. These two days were all I had left.”

Two days -- I thought you said you were off till Thursday…

“Tomorrow is summer hours – our office gives us alternate Fridays off during the summer. And Wednesday is a holiday.”

Got it. So what’s on the To Do List at home?

“Jeez, let me think – I want to clean out the office in the basement. And the usual stuff like mowing the lawn, and cleaning catboxes, fun stuff like that.”

Looks like you might get some nice weather for the next few days.

“Yeah, it sure was nice to turn the AC off and open the house up this morning.”

What movie are you thinking of seeing?

“Well, Mary wants to see Pirates again. I was thinking of Sicko. And I heard good things about Waitress.”

Have a good vacation, whatever you do. And good luck with the cats.

“Thanks. I feel like singing that Go-Go’s song.”

Go for it.

All I ever wanted
Had to get away
Meant to be spent alone”

Monday, June 25, 2007

Talking To the Old Town School

I was talking to my friend Will Briarwood earlier today. He was not in a good mood.

“You know, I love the Old Town School of Folk Music.”

You have mentioned that.

“Mary and I have been members for a number of years, and we’ve increased our annual donation the past couple years.”


“They piss me off sometimes.”

You have said that the Old Town School is a great place to see a show, and they have well-behaved audiences, and the people there are great…

“Yes, all true. But I have four complaints.”


“First, their phone system. When they put tickets on sale to members, I usually go there, to the Lincoln Avenue location, and buy them in person.”

You have mentioned that you have gotten some great seats.

“We usually get seats in the first row. But the other day, tickets went on sale for The Swell Season, and there wasn’t a pre-sale for members, and I didn’t feel like taking the morning off work and driving into the city just to buy tickets for one show, and I ended up with tickets in the balcony.”

I have been to the Old Town School, and balcony tickets are still pretty close to the stage.

“I know, I know. It will still be a great show, and yes, we’ve gotten spoiled after sitting in the front row for most shows. But I had to call like ten times, and wait on hold – so I wish they would either upgrade their phone system, or bring in more people to answer their damn phones.”

You said you had four complaints…

“Well, let me think, I guess the second and third complaints lead to the fourth complaint. The second complaint is Al, and third complaint is Robbie.”

Who are…

“Al is the guy who introduces the shows, and reads all the announcements, and explains the rules…”


“Rules for smoking outside, but not taking your drinks outside, and turning off cell phones, and not trying to sneak in a recording device, and not using the noisy doors during the show, et cetera, et cetera. And he thanks the show’s sponsors, and the school’s volunteers, and he thanks the members, and he thanks the media…”

That must take a while.

“And that’s my complaint. If it’s a seven pm show, and Al starts his intro at a few minutes after seven, then the show starts at seven fifteen, if we’re lucky.”

That doesn’t sound too bad.

“Hang on. My third complaint is Robbie. Robbie Fulks, that is.”

I thought you were a fan of his.

“I am, of his music. He is the host of a series of country music shows at the Old Town School. At each of these shows, Robbie interviews the performers.”

Again, doesn’t sound too bad.

“Sometimes he interviews them for like almost an hour.”

Oh. So with Al and Robbie…

“The shows start later than they should, and they run late. And that is my final complaint – and before you say that isn’t so bad, sometimes they have two shows scheduled for one evening. If the early show starts late, then sometimes the performer has to cut their set a bit short.”

Got it. I think.

“I should point out that on nights when Robbie hosts a show, they don’t have a late show. So his long interviews do make the evening a bit longer, but they don’t cut into the sets.”


“I know, I’m running on here. Let me give you two examples. Sometimes, with popular artistes, the school will schedule a 7pm show and 10pm show. If Al doesn’t get off stage till seven fifteen, and the opening acts ends at eight or so, and the main act comes on at like eight fifteen, then they play a shorter set so they don’t delay the late show.”

Got it.

“Second example – we saw Tift Merritt and Anna Fermin at the Old Town School last weekend. Al got off stage at about seven fifteen, Robbie interviewed them till about eight, Anna played about forty-five minutes, and Tift didn’t finish till like ten thirty. I know, that’s not so bad, but it was a Sunday night, and we’ve been to shows that ran past eleven, which would have ended earlier if Robbie had yakked less.”

Will and I both had work to do, and we finished that conversation. He called me back a bit later that same day.

“OK, so now I’m less pissed off.”

At the Old Town School, you mean.

“Yeah. I sent a couple of e-mails to their website, and I already got two nice e-mails back from Gary – he’s the membership director – thanking me for my past support, explaining that with some shows they don’t have time for a members pre-sale before tickets go on sale to the general public, and saying that the Swell Season show was a lot more popular than they expected. And he asked me to clarify my phone problems, so I gave him all the details.”

I’m not sure I know Swell Season, by the way…

“It’s the actor-musicians from the new movie, Once. Great movie, great songs.”

You did not complain to Gary about Al or Robbie?

“Mary says she’s thinking of doing that. I should probably e-mail Gary to warn him.”

Monday, June 11, 2007

Who Wants the World?

I was talking to my friend Will Briarwood a little while ago – he gave me a quick call to make sure I had seen a news story about our least favorite music venue.

“Did you see that story in the Tribune, that the World is for sale?”

You must mean the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, formerly the Tweeter Center, formerly the World Music Something-or-other -- I saw the story in Greg Kot’s blog.

“I think he called it ‘under-performing amphitheater.’”

I think he also said that the concert industry in general has had some performance anxieties lately.

“Heh heh – he said ‘performance anxieties.’”

I think the worst sound I ever experienced at an arena show was one of the Lilith Fair shows that covivant and I saw there. It was muddy, and it was boomy – just terrible.

“And I assume that Sarah and company didn’t have the sound cranked up that high.”

Not really.

“We’ve discussed this before – if you were in the middle of the seats, rather than the left or the right side, then the sound was not quite as bad.”

I don’t think I’ve been there for years, thankfully.

“I saw the Springsteen show there last year.”

Kot mentioned that show in his article, didn’t he. Let me find what he said, here it is:

“The nadir came last year when Bruce Springsteen, who normally packs stadiums, attracted only a few thousand fans to the amphitheater for a concert devoted to his folk-oriented 2006 album ‘We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.’

Springsteen fans, among the most devoted in rock, stayed away because, many of them said, they didn’t want to fight midweek rush-hour expressway traffic and shell out $92 for a ticket at a charmless venue.”

“I was down near the front that night – it was a great show, by the way -- and I think there were more than just a few thousand fans there. But yes, it was a pain-in-the-butt to get there on a weeknight.”

I think my worst ever traffic experience also involved the World – I think it might have been my first time there, it took us three hours to get there from Oak Park.

“The article also said that it’s Live Nation who is trying to sell the place – didn’t Jam used to own it?”

I think so.

“I seem to recall an interview Kot did years ago, with those two mopes at Jam, and they acted like they were offended when he brought up the awful sound of the place.”

Maybe it will sound better when it’s a subdivision in a few years.

“Imagine living in a house, on property where Bruce Springsteen, or Neil Young, or U2 once stood.”

Maybe they’ll call it the Midwest Tweeter World subdivision.

“How about the Springsteen Young Bono Estates. Start printing those sales brochures now.”

Friday, June 08, 2007


I talked to my friend Mary Briarwood last night. She’s married to my friend Will Briarwood.

“He’s out running errands – I think he was going to the birds store, to the pet store, the hardware store…”

Sounds like fun.

“As he long as he doesn’t get into any fights tonight.”

Will? Fighting?

“Just verbally. He went to get his hair cut last night, where we always go –“

Some guys get into bar fights – Will got into a fight at the salon?

“Let me tell the story, please. So, he’s talking with the woman who cuts our hair -- in previous conversations, she has referred to herself as a moderate Republican.”

Doesn’t sound like the kind of person that Will would get into a fight with.

“He didn’t, not with her. He said they were having a fairly polite discussion, speculating about next year’s elections, when the guy who was her next appointment somehow got into their conversation.”


“What was the term Will used – I think he referred to the guy as a ‘typical Republican dick.’”

I suppose there are still plenty of them around. I trust no one was injured.

“No, no injuries. Will said that this guy was just obnoxious. You know how some people just can’t discuss anything without making you mad?”

You mean, like typical Republican dicks.

“And you know that he and I don’t generally get into fights with people who vote Republican – I mean, I love his mother, and she has been voting that way for fifty-five years.”

And in all fairness, I’ve encountered plenty of people who vote against the Republicans, and who are pretty obnoxious when discussing politics.

“That’s true. I work with a woman who is a hundred-and-ten percent pro-choice, and she gets semi-hysterical with anyone who raises the slightest disagreement with her.”

So what did Mr. Dick say to get Will in a fightin’ mood?

“I think Will said that it started when the guy heard Will mention Hillary, and the guy said he was moving to Canada if she wins blah blah blah, and then the guy trotted out the old dogma about all of President Clinton’s accomplishments being just the finishing touches on everything Reagan and Bush did.”

I don’t mind talking with people who disagree with me, but come on, show me that you’re thinking before talking. Not just repeating talking points, or dogma.

“And the guy said he would never vote for – what’s his name, the actor – Fred Thompson?”

Yeah, just what the country needs, another Republican actor running for President.

“The guy said he could never vote for him because he voted against impeaching Clinton.”

An ideologue, sounds like.

“Lots of those out there. It’s going to be a long seventeen months.”

Well, tell Will to stay out of trouble, and ask him to call me when he has some time.

“OK. Say hi to covivant for me.”

Monday, June 04, 2007

All the people we used to know...

I was talking to my friend Will Briarwood yesterday. I reminded him that he was going to tell me (again) why he likes their veterinarian.

“Because he went with his instincts, and saved our old girl a lot of stress, and saved me the cost of some fairly expensive tests.”

This is the cat who had some sort of lung problems?

“Yeah. We took her in for tests, but the doctor thought that the anesthesia would put too much stress on her kidneys, and he thought that maybe an anti-inflammatory would help her.”

So what is wrong with her?

“He called it a consolidation in the lung lobe. He described it as mucus or debris collecting there. He put her on an anti-inflammatory, and it was like throwing a switch – she stopped coughing, and started eating everything in sight.”

Does he still want to do those tests at some point?

“I think so – we’re taking her back in at the end of the month for evaluation.”

And the other cats are doing well?

“Far as we can tell. The other old girl is going in for a checkup a week from Saturday – she’s sixteen now, so the vet said it would be good to check her at least every six months. And we’re going to take the big guy in, to make sure he’s doing ok after that last cancer surgery.”

It is tough to watch our animals get old, isn’t it.

“Yeah. Which brings me around, sort of, to my theme for this weekend.”

Animals getting older?

“All of us getting older. I ran into someone I knew in high school, last time I was visiting my mom. She and her husband were in the grocery store, and we made small talk for a few minutes, and she asked what I did for a living, and I told her, and she said something to her husband like ‘back in high school, we all thought that Will would be a famous scientist or something, he was always the smartest kid around.’”

Your point is…

“I never did become a famous scientist or something. I just do insurance.”


“Sometimes I think that I did not do all that I could have with my life.”

Will, you’re only fifty. It’s not like your life is over.

“I know. I was just thinking about some people, like – ready for my list? – Graham Parker and Jon Langford, and Loyd Auerbach, and the Cosmic Psychos.”

Umm – I know the first two you mentioned…

“I saw GP and Jonboy at the Old Town School Saturday night. Good show. Langford was the opening act, and let me think here, during his set he mentioned Barbara Manning, Kevin Coyne, Grant McLennan, and aboriginal country music.”

Go on.

“I’ve gotten the impression before that Jon is disappointed that some of his favorites have never had the success that he thinks they deserve. He introduced one song as something he wrote for Barbara Manning, and like one or two people applauded her name.”

And Kevin Coyne?

“Jon did one of his songs, and again, like one or two people applauded at the mention of his name. I had heard the story that the last time Coyne played in the US – he died a few years ago, I think – he played to a very small crowd at the Old Town School. Supposedly Langford was calling up everyone he knew, to get them to go to the show.”

Grant McLennan also died recently, didn’t he.

“Jon said he died right before a party, that was being thrown to celebrate his engagement.”

All kinds of happy stories there, Will.

“And Jon talked about playing some festival in Australia, and how most Australian country music is pretty bad, but aboriginal country music is pretty great. He played a song by an aboriginal singer – I wish I had written down the guy’s name, or the song title – it was really good.”

So to sum up so far, we’ve got you and your concerns about your life, and Barbara Manning, who never really sold many records, and Kevin Coyne –

“—who was fairly successful in parts of Europe, I think, but never sold anything over here in the U.S.”

And Grant McLennan, who I have heard of, with The Go-Betweens.

“On the other hand, you have Graham Parker, who has had a long career, but doesn’t sell nearly as many records as Elvis Costello, to whom he used to be compared.”

And Jon Langford, who has also had a long career, with The Mekons, and the Waco Brothers, and his solo stuff, and his artwork -- but has never sold a lot either.

“And I’m trying to get to the happier part of the stories here – both GP and Jonboy, they just keep on keepin’ on. They’re still making good music, and they’re not pretending that they’re still in their twenties – I hate to use the phrase ‘growing old gracefully,’ but they are growing old without compromising the qualities that made them worth listening to in the first place.”

Who else did you mention earlier – Lloyd somebody?

“I’ll get to him in a minute. I was listening to a live cd in the car this morning, something I downloaded online, by an Australian band called The Cosmic Psychos. I was reading the notes that I got with the music, and it said that the guitarist died recently.”

Another happy story.

“You know that I really like a lot of Australian bands – The Church, Celibate Rifles, Hoodoo Gurus…”

The Hummingbirds, Midnight Oil, Kasey Chambers

“...and aside from Midnight Oil, and maybe The Church, those bands never really had a lot of success.”

But they kept on keepin’ on, as you said. Is that our moral to our story today?

“Could be. Then there’s Loyd Auerbach.”

Who is…

“I knew him back in college. Weird dude, really into comics, and science fiction. I saw his name in the latest alumni newsletter. He is a parapsychologist.”

You’re kidding. A real Ghostbuster?

“He writes books, too. I was reading his Wikipedia profile – which I suspect he wrote – and it says he’s been on Oprah, and Letterman.”

How does he fit in to our stories here?

“I don’t know. I just wanted to make the point that, back in college, we all kind of laughed at his career plans – he was going to do graduate work at some school in California –“

In parapsychology?

“You know, I think it actually was in parapsychology. Anyway, the point is, that most of us got out of college with no idea of what we wanted to do. Loyd had a plan, and he stuck to it, and now it’s almost thirty years later, and he’s still doing what he wanted to do.”

You mentioned that he has written books.

“I also checked Amazon. I think three of his books are in print, and the rest – like four or five, maybe – are out of print. The book that’s selling the best is ranked number 432,745 at Amazon.”

So you’re acknowledging that you’re kind of happy for Loyd, that he’s doing what he wants to do…

“And I’m acknowledging that I’m kind of happy that he’s not selling a ton of books.”

Didn’t you tell me awhile back that someone else you knew in college was an author?

Sharon Shinn – she writes fantasy novels. I have seen her books at Borders, so I think she probably sells a lot more than Loyd does.”

Can I add one more person to your stories here?

“Go for it.”

Brian Rosinski.

“Singer or author?”

Baseball player. When I was working and living in Evanston years ago, I knew people who went to high school with him. Supposedly, he was the best high school baseball player in the area in many years, and people thought he would be a big star.

“I’ve never heard of him, so I’m guessing that he was not a big star.”

He was drafted by the Cubs in the first round, like the fourth player overall, but he never made the majors.

“Couldn’t hit the curve ball?”

I think he got hurt in the minors.

“Your point?”

Ummm… sometimes we don’t have the career that we expect, or that we think we deserve, sometimes we get hurt or sick, or our cats get sick.

“There was a nice moment during Jonboy’s set, when he talked about listening to Graham Parker’s first record, and being blown away by it, and how great it is that Graham is still around, making good music.”

Can I say “keep on keepin’ on” again?

"Go ahead."

“The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin' on like a bird that flew…

All the people we used to know
They're an illusion to me now.
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenter's wives.
Don't know how it all got started,
I don't know what they're doin' with their lives.”