Category Archives: Reviews

Light: On the South Side…Grit and Gold Lamé

I, for one, have stared for more than a moment at the forgotten, peeled paint on the side of the 408 Club building over on 79th Street (just East of King Drive).  In mid-seventies hipster font, the ad reads “Sheba Disco”, apparently some sort of disco club.  I’ve wondered what manner of elephant bells and Quiana was to be found there in its heyday. 

In the mid-’70s, photographer Michael Abramson set his viewfinder on the South Side of Chicago, specifically the many clubs and lounges that served as Hothouses of street fashion (among them, the legendary High Chaparral and the Showcase Lounge). They reflected where blues, soul and disco collided:  a dream of grit and gold lamé.   

Those photos have been compiled in Light: On the South Side, which is set for a November release by local label Numero Group.  The package also includes a 17-track vinyl-only comp entitled Pepper’s Jukebox, featuring various local juke joint luminaries including Bobby Rush and Little Mack. Cratediggers, this one also includes the one-time cockroach of Chicago 45rpm collecting: “I’m a Streaker, Baby” by Arlean Brown.  Remember that one?  Couldn’t even give that one away, it was so plentiful.  Anyway, check out the photo gallery, above (from the forthcoming book).  Be inspired.  Jive on.

 photo by Michael Abramson224_x600_cl_light18


Sweet Flypaper of Life: 1950s Harlem in Black & White

De_carava_the_sweet_6

Picture it.  I’m in high school, late for the morning bus, desperate for something to read during my lengthy commute.  On my Grandmother’s disheveled porch, I find a slightly sunfaded paperback.  The book is Sweet Flypaper of Life, with text by Langston Hughes and photography by Roy DeCarava (1955).  I toss it in my backpack, completely unaware that:

1. My life would never be the same… I would see the world differently from that day on.

2. That paperback was (at the time) thirty years old and worth nearly 100 bucks.  I would only discover its value when I attempted in college to upgrade for a hardcover.  Apparently, it’s an exceptionally rare book.  And I threw it in my backpack.  Did I mention it rained that day?

About the book:

Essentially, the Sweet Flypaper is written from the point of view of an older woman in Harlem who is a fixture in her community.  She introduces us to each person in her world.  We’re let in on their struggles as well as the hard-fought victories in their lives.  The Langston Hughes’ text is accompanied by a memorable photo essay by Roy DeCarava.

DE_Carava_the_sweet_1How I love this book.  It captures a time on the cusp of the Civil Rights Era: a time steeped in the Electrified Delta Blues, in Joe Louis Fights, in Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn, in Miller High Life, in Dixie Peach pomade.  It captures something so timeless that it stays with you…. always.  I recommend you discover a copy of your own, but until you do, enjoy the pages I reproduced here for you. Jive on!

De_carava_the_sweet_2


Nothing wrong with a little Sweat….

hadarI’ve been grooving to this in the whip for a while now, but I haven’t posted it….. for shame.  Hope you like it.

A bit about Peter Hadar:

“With just the right amount of heart, soul and edge, Peter Hadar IS the Coolest Weirdo”  – Rahsaan Patterson

Born Peter Winstead, Jr. in New Jersey,  Peter earned the surname Hadar from his Hebrew Israelite uncle (think Soul Vegetarian East).  It means “adornment”, and he adorns his tracks with a molasses-sweet vocal quality I am digging.  His first LP, Memories of the Heart, came out in 2006, and “Sweat” comes to us from his latest EP, “She’s 4 Months”.  “Sweat” quickens the pulse with a classic samba shuffle, and promises more sweetness.


Blackness…Finally Forgivable?

from the Stop Smiling Blog….

A Pugilist’s Pardon, Once Unforgivable

blog-johnson1It’s Jack Johnson, 1 — Scooter Libby, zero. Senator John McCain delivers some straight talk we can believe in with the announcement this week that he is seeking a presidential pardon for the late Jack Johnson, the nation’s first black heavyweight boxing champion, who he “feels was wronged by a 1913 conviction of violating the Mann Act by having a consensual relationship with a white woman” (read more about the story at AP); STOP SMILING featured Johnson on the cover of our Boxing Issue back in 2005, timing with the release of Ken Burn’s extraordinary documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. The final bell will be rung by President Obama.

Really? What’s McCain’s motivation? I remember an audio piece produced by my friend Kabuika for Vocalo.org in which an eleven year old kid asks Black Journalists if they think McCain is afraid of Black People (after McCain declined an invite to a Conference of Black Journalists in 2008).

McCain, Afraid of Black People? by Kabuika

So, what is McCain’s Motivation for pushing to pardon somebody who’s been dead sixty-0dd years?  Like the classic Tootsie Pop commercial, the world may never know


the Twinight Revue is Coming

numero

The Chicago-based record label Numero Group has brought together several veteran local soul acts from the short-lived (local) Twinight Record label (circa late 60s- early 70s).   Among them will be: Renaldo Domino, Syl Johnson, and the Notations.  They’ll perform Saturday at the Park West on Armitage Avenue in Chicago. Tomorrow on Chicago Public Radio’s morning show, 848, Richard Steele (great guy, by the way) will interview Syl in anticipation…. good golly.  Here’s some clips of revue practice…courtesy of The Chicagoist….  Chicago Soul rides again!!!

from Numero Group’s blog:

twinight128While Syl Johnson, the Notations, and Nate Evans perform regularly around the world, Renaldo Domino, the Kaldirons, and the Final Solution haven’t been on stage in over 30 years. In true revue fashion, we’ve hired Chicago’s stalwart Uptown Sound to back the entire performance and expanded their tight rhythm section to include horns, backing vocalists, and strings. The show will be preceded by an interactive slideshow of Chicago soul memorabilia and a DJ set from The Numero Group, followed by an autograph and photo line.



friday night lights: J*Davey at the Vic

jdavey2Coming Friday…

J*Davey
Live in Chicago at the Victor Hotel

Tickets available at: http://www.jdavey.eventbrite.com or

Dr Wax Records
5226 S Harper Ave
773-493-8696

Silver Room
1442 N Milwaukee
773-278-7130

Who??

J*Davey called their double album “The Beauty in Distortion/The Land of the Lost”.  I call that fitting.  The sound is sort of Mad Max Electric Soul.  Like, post-post modern with twists of new-wave, fuzz, glitch, and funk.  For me, “Mister Mister” was the lead track. But, there’s no shortage of freshness on cuts like “Venus 2 Mars” and “Hi Sun”.  One to check for…


Achy Obejas presents her “Ruins”

achyobejas

“Achy Obejas writes like an angel: flush with power, vision and hope … one of the Caribbean’s most important writers.”

Junot Diaz, author of Drown, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Achy Obejas, author of “We Came All the Way From Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?” and “Memory Mambo” (stories of Cuban Americans in ruinsChicago), spins disjointed dreams into tangible things through her poetry and prose. And come this month, the Chicagoan has released another book of dreams, entitled “Ruins”.  “Ruins”, set to be released on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, bears echoes of Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea” reset during the “special period” in Cuba.  The main character is “Usnavy”, a dig on the American military’s longsuffering relationship with Cubans.  A Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, Obejas feels she will eventually leave Chicago to settle permanently into Cuba (she left with her family when she was six).  She recently told Cafe Magazine, “I live in Chicago, with an ever-diminishing Cuban-American community and far from the Miami epicenter. I am much more interested in being a part of a post-revolutionary Cuba than the diasporic community, which will most likely follow historical pattern and be absorbed into the U.S. mainstream as another immigrant (no longer exile) community.” for more on Obejas and “Ruins”, click here.



chickpea means love

chickpeavI love Chickpea, or حمّص, a new Middle Eastern Restaurant on Chicago Avenue (just West of Damen).  Fly ambiance, great lunch prices, fresh food, A Die Hard movie poster in Arabic, and a Genie pinball game.

The owner, Jerry Suqi, told Time Out Chicago in November, “I came from Palestine when I was two and went back when I was 14….I distinctly remember grocery-store signs for Coke and movie posters from Robocop and Rambo, all printed with Arabic text, and how that stuck out visually…so I’m re-creating that streetscape here.”

Check the pics.  This joint is dope.

2018 W Chicago Ave between Damen and Hoyne Aves (773-384-9930). Bus: 50, 66 (24hrs), 70. Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $8.


Coffee and Cigarettes

cafejumpingbean

Café Jumping Bean on 18th Street (near Laflin) in Pilsen has a lock on deliciousness.  Both of these thumbs are up.  Last time I was there, I had a scrumptious sandwich and (my joint) cafe con leche.  Sigh.

The only other café I feel at home at is Istria café (at Hyde Park Art Center, 50th & Cornell).  They make a Latte…..Double Sigh.  Not to mention the gelato.  Got hooked on both while taking a Screenprinting class at HPAC.

I lied.  I really dig Little Black Pearl and Bronzeville Coffee House (528 E. 43rd St.), too  [ Especially Bronzeville’s book exchange, and those muffins…].

There’s a song by Otis Redding called “Cigarettes and Coffee”:

It’s early in the morning

About a quarter til Three

I’m sittin’ here talkin’ with my baby

over cigarettes and coffee….

I’ve never smoked, but that song made me believe in the common luxury of both.  Remember when, if visiting someone’s house, the cupboards may have been bare…but they’d still offer you some coffee (even instant).  That’s why Starbucks bugs me.  It’s not just the “corporate cog” issue.  It’s the “make something as basic as coffee into a status symbol” issue.  Not cool.

“Coffee and Cigarettes” is also a film directed by Jim Jarmusch.  Here’s a clip, featuring GZA, RZA, and Bill Murray:

I’ll leave you with some (disjointed) words I inadvertently memorized in high school:

It is with the bitter lives

Of bitter people
that I sweeten my coffee
on this beautiful morning
in Ipanema

–Fierreira Gullar


I am Not Sidney Poitier

not-sidney-poitier(Graywolf Press, 2009)

I was, in life, to be a gambler, a risk-taker, a swashbuckler, a knight. I accepted, then and there, my place in the world. I was a fighter of windmills. I was a chaser of whales. I was Not Sidney Poitier.

–from I Am Not Sidney Poitier

This is not a full review… that, my pretties, is still to come.  This is just a heads up on “I Am Not Sidney Poitier”, a forthcoming (May ’09) novel by Percival Everett.  According to the publisher, Graywolf Press:

“Not Sidney Poitier is an amiable young man in an absurd country. The sudden death of his mother orphans him at age eleven, leaving him with an unfortunate name, an uncanny resemblance to the famous actor, and, perhaps more fortunate, a staggering number of shares in the Turner Broadcasting Corporation.

Percival Everett’s hilarious new novel follows Not Sidney’s tumultuous life, as the social hierarchy scrambles to balance his skin color with his fabulous wealth. Maturing under the less-than watchful eye of his adopted foster father, Ted Turner, Not gets arrested in rural Georgia for driving while black, sparks a dinnertable explosion at the home of his manipulative girlfriend, and sleuths a murder case in Smut Eye, Alabama, all while navigating the recurrent communication problem:

“What’s your name?” a kid would ask.

“Not Sidney,” I would say.

“Okay, then what is it?”

Sounds like summer reading to me…..