Monthly Archives: June 2008

Chop Suey has been sold

Well, crap.

Apparently a Japanese company’s bought the place, and there’s no word yet on their intentions.

Hannah Levin’s all over the story, and will be reporting more on Rocket Queen soon.

Update: Slog is reporting that it will remain a club, with the same staff (a big whew! for the former Croc employees involved, I’m sure) and all current bookings will be honored.

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Dad, always in motion

As I said about my Mom on Mother’s Day, a lot of you have heard me talk about my dad but you’ve never met him either, so here’s a picture:

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Hi Dad! (Everybody say hi.)

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, it’s hard to make out my dad’s face here or size him up, but really, there’s a very specific reason I’m using this picture — it captures the always-in-motion man himself, actually AT REST. You’re seeing a thing of rare and elusive beauty.

I’m sure you’re all thinking, okay, he’s a busy guy, we get it. But you have to understand that it is nearly impossible to see my Dad not doing something. Besides the day-to-day running of the greenhouse (an endless task in itself) and then working his second job in the evening (this pic captures him taking a brief break before heading off to that job in the late afternoon), he’s always got some project going on in fixing up the house, or planting forecasting, or greenhouse repair and maintenance, or the seemingly-constant mowing that needs to be done on the fairly large property during the spring and summer (secretly, he loves doing that last part, much to the bemusement of Mom and I).

Growing up, I honestly thought that all Dads were non-stop, and it took me until college to realize that it was not so. Even our summer vacations weren’t exactly rest-a-thons, with camping being our standard break, meaning that Dad was constantly setting up camp, or cutting wood, or snorkeling or scuba diving. For several summers, we spent a week or two of vacation at Circus World with my dad as the guest clown, which was several shows a day in the sticky, sweltering, sawdusty goodness. Before that, it was years of clowning in parades and at birthday parties on weekends. And of course, there were the many years of coaching Pee-Wee, Little League, and Pony League baseball. Did I mention the mime troupe? (Perhaps I’d better not, as I know for certain I’ve already seriously scared a few of my friends with the revelation that he was a clown — clown phobia is so common, who knew?) See? I was not kidding when I said the man is busy.

But here’s the important thing: he was never, EVER busy at the expense of time with his family. No matter how many hours they worked, though, we did all of the things above together, all three of us. Clowning? My Dad got started quite by accident, and my Mom and I got pulled in not long after. Those Cousin Otto’s clown alley years were a blast, especially the international conventions, and the Circus World time? Every girl wishes she could run away with the circus; I got to do so for 2 weeks every summer while my Dad clowned. Baseball? Well, I played for awhile, before joining my mom doing stats. Snorkelling? Again, done all together. No matter what one of us was doing, the other two were involved in some way, too. Nowadays, my parents are together every day running the greenhouse and flower shop, and that’s been true for so long now that I’ve almost forgotten what it was like when Dad was a machinist and Mom was working customer service desk at a retail store. My dad worked a lot of tough hours in that machine shop, standing on hard cement all day, with the danger of getting injured pretty high (fingertips chopped ending guitar playing, metal chips directly in the eye). There was also the half hour commute each way, meaning he’d be up by 3:30 or 4am on the snowy days, or staying with my grandma closer to work on the snow storm days. Such hours also meant he was early to bed, meaning I had limited time to catch up with him in the evenings, many times relegated to us arguing over old math vs. new math at the kitchen table. He’d sometimes work Saturdays, which always really bugged me as I didn’t understand why he couldn’t be around one of the two days a week I didn’t have school; I can still remember watching the local TV network’s old movies on Saturdays at noon, waiting impatiently for him to come home as learned about every movie and star from my Mom. (I suspect this directly led me to my job today.) As I got a bit older, I got it, that he was working extra hours so that we’d have enough money to get by, a fact that became even more clear as my Mom picked up more and more hours at her service desk job, and we were still struggling.

One day, we stopped by a local greenhouse to pick up a lily for my grandmother and ended up being there for well over an hour as my Dad talked to the owners, I was frankly bored and thought it was a passing fancy that the place so fascinated my father. What I didn’t expect was that my parents would decide to take a huge leap, quit their jobs, move us away from the country and into town, and scrape together enough money to buy that greenhouse, or why the heck they’d want to do so. Craziness! So scary, sinking all that money into a business venture when my mom had never designed a flower arrangement in her life and my Dad had only farmed big crops in a field. But I underestimated my parents, and my Dad in particular, and it foolishly took me years to realize it. Within a few years and many conversations during hours of early spring transplanting sessions at the potting bench, I grasped the value of my Dad having control of his own course, to be his own boss, no matter how physically and financially tough it would be. There is an immeasurable pride in having to answer to no one but yourself, to learn by trial and error, and to make mistakes because even though they’re errors, they’re YOUR errors.

It took me more years than that to understand how very hard my Dad was working to not only make sure that I’d have food, clothing and shelter, but also how hard he and Mom worked to always be involved in my life. Learning baseball and snorkeling and clowning were fun and interesting, but they were especially important in ways I couldn’t possibly realize at the time. I was getting to actually spend time with my parents (as I learned many kids my age never did), and maybe even more importantly, I learned about who my parents were, that they weren’t just Dad and Mom, but individuals with unique talents and tastes. In spending time with me like this, they showed me the importance of working hard, but especially of finding ways to do things that excite you, inspire you, make you feel alive. I learned that being busy isn’t a bad thing, but should be a balance of things that you must do with those that you love to do. Taking the time to teach me all of this by example is something that couldn’t have been easy during the machinist/service desk years, and particularly during those first years of getting the greenhouse business up and rolling. But still, there they were at every home and away basketball game, at every band concert, and the home and away football games when my best friend Karen and I were managing and doing stats. Even when I was editing the newspaper, they wanted to know what happening, and always wanted several copies, and asked questions. They encouraged me to write. Music was everywhere, and I can’t remember them ever telling me I couldn’t listen to something; if anything, they kept handing me new things to hear, and talking to me about the records. They pushed me, but not so hard that I couldn’t look around and see what options were out there. And just as they were getting the business to a workable point, I wanted to go to college. I remember visiting my eventual choice with my parents, and sitting in the Dean’s office for my interview and hearing my Dad’s gasp in the room next door at the cost per year, and figuring the place was probably just too much for us. But somehow, when I got accepted, they sat down and found a way to make it possible when combined with grants, loans and a few scholarships. I still don’t know how or why they did it. There’s so much more they could have done with that money, but they placed their faith in me, and I didn’t want to let them down. I still don’t.

So, as my Dad continues to work, work, work, I’m glad to report that they’ve made it through another spring season. Even better, they made enough that they can take a vacation next month, a proper one, something they started doing after I graduated from college and they weren’t helping me pay tuition any more — I was so excited that they were finally doing something just for themselves. I went with them on one of those first real vacations, and it was then that I saw my Dad for the first time ever, at rest, sitting in lounge chair and not moving from it except to swim all day. It was amazing then, and it’s still amazing to see now … thus the picture above. I hope there will be a vast deal of lounging in his future, when Mom isn’t dragging him to Playa del Carmen.

Best of all? Dad and Mom are visiting me here in August! I hope to see Dad at rest early and often during that time.

All my love, Dad. I thank you everything above, and more. And sometimes? It’s okay to actually sit still when you’re not on vacation. Seriously.

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Happy birthday, Kid Crocett

Once a fighter, always a fighter; he was just smart enough to switch from his fists in the ring to his voice on the stage, his peerless straightman routine in the nightclubs, his smooth silliness on the screen, his practiced skill on the golf course, and especially his deadly charm in the company of women, beating all contenders with a flurry of stylistic punches that were uniquely his own.

Not to bad at all for a boy from Steubenville. How is it again that his birthday isn’t a national holiday?

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In celebration of what would have been Dino Crocetti’s 91st birthday, I’ve pulled all my vinyl and am working my way through the stack pictured above this afternoon. If I didn’t have pressing plans tonight, I think I’d be chilling out with a nice bottle of red and the Matt Helm Collection, but two of my other favorites of the small screen and the local punk honkytonk are drawing me out into the rainy night, so I guess the celebration will just have to continue tomorrow. Shucks. Such tough choices for a girl to make.

In any case, raise a toast today, please. Mr. Martin would surely appreciate it.

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A change is gonna come….

Ever experience a moment that you can look at while it happens, and know that it’s iconic, at least in the span of your own life?

I think just had an evening like that.

It’s been a dark week or so for reasons that I won’t talk about here, but I will say that things have looked the bleakest I can remember in a great while, and it’s been harder than I’d like just to keep my head up. A good friend once said that while I do a pretty good job masquerading as a pessimist, my closet optimist tendencies just sneak out despite my best efforts to contain them. I never really understood that, but maybe this evening I get it, at least a little bit.

While waiting for a lecture to begin, I stopped at a place I love and don’t get to visit nearly enough, and had a very well-made Negroni (many thanks, Murray) and a light dinner. There must have been some hellishly excellent juju in the place (or the drink), because I stepped outside into cold wind and the kind of downpour that had no right showing its face in Seattle outside of November, and I didn’t even mind. No rain gear, just my super-absorbent denim jacket and I, a new book tucked safely underneath a lapel as I wandered up the steps and into the post-rush hour downtown.

I found myself at the newsstand at Pike Place (I guess that’s redundant now — I should just say the newsstand, as its the last in Seattle) and stopped in for no apparent reason, despite the fact that I was now running late. When I stepped around the corner, it was just the owner of the stand and his radio left in that whole section of the market, which is my favorite time of day there and hard for me to catch with any regularity. What made it really remarkable today? That radio, competing with racket of the downpour and the splashes and squeaks of the bus stop just outside, was somehow able to project over the din and clearly broadcast, live, Barack Obama as he accepted the Democratic party’s nomination.

Just to stand there, trying to avoid the rain as it bounced off the adjoining cobblestones, listening to this speech that I thought I’d never hear, to have the newsstand owner softly mention how amazing it was, as we near the 45th anniversary of Rev. King’s “I have a dream” speech, that we were finally seeing something happen, was one of those noisy-turned-quiet moments — where things I can’t even understand yet are coming into focus — that I will not soon forget.

As Senator Obama commended Senator Clinton for her service, I glanced up and realized that I was now very late, and had better head out. The rain turned torrential as I walked/ran to Benaroya and I went from damp to heavily soaked, laughing in disbelief with the few foolish others on the streets as we passed each other. Then, stepping into the Hall lobby, I was instantly surrounded by something completely different — leopard print, taffeta ball gowns revealing amazingly hairy backs, impressive bouffant hairdos, and even a few dastardly pencil-thin mustaches — yes, as if it could be anything else, it was an evening with one of my favorite directors, John Waters. And it was exactly what I needed at precisely the right time.

If Seattle can still surprise me with a now too-rare outburst of actual character and deliver such an evening as a swift spiritual kick to the head, if I can actually have a warm, genuine conversation with a stranger on the street, if someone here knows how to make a proper Negroni, if I can hear an historic speech standing in an open air, cobblestone market on an old radio in a world where I’m usually online 24/7, if people can join together in a room and laugh and remember that humanity is perverse and we should delight in it at every opportunity, and if all of this can happen in one 4 hour span…well, then, I might just be able find a way to break free of all the crap that’s been so oppressive of late, and build something new and fine in its place.

A closet optimist? Well, maybe I am.

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Tombstone hand and a graveyard mind…

Bo Diddley dead at 79

By Greg Kot | Chicago Tribune music critic
11:30 AM CDT, June 2, 2008

Bo Diddley, who died Monday at age 79 in Florida, was as essential to the creation of rock ‘n’ roll as Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Little Richard, though he seldom got the credit or the accolades that were showered on his better-known peers.

The singer-guitarist was a hard-scrabble visionary from the streets of Chicago’s South Side who literally had to fight for everything he got. He created rock ‘n’ roll’s essential rhythm, pioneered an approach to electric-guitar playing that was at least a decade ahead of its time and developed a vocal style and stage persona that influenced everyone from Elvis to Chuck D.

Diddley, born Otha Ellas Bates in 1928 and later renamed Ellas Bates McDaniel, first moved to Chicago with his family to escape the sharecropping life of Mississippi in the mid-’30s. He never knew his father and his mother was a teenager when she gave birth to him; the boy’s primary caretaker was his mother’s first cousin, Gussie McDaniel. As a child, he was mocked for his “country” ways and found himself scrapping with grade-school bullies several times a week. By the time he was a teenager, however, he had become an accomplished boxer, and a boy nobody wanted to mess with.

“When I started fighting back, there wasn’t anyone around to whup me and they didn’t try, so the kids started calling me ‘Bo Diddley,’ ” Diddley wrote in the liner notes to the 1990 compilation, “Bo Diddley: The Chess Box.”

At the same time, the budding pugilist was taking violin lessons at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, and later built himself violins and guitars at Foster Vocational High School. These were the first of many custom-made guitars the aspiring musician would wield, and he developed a playing style as distinctive as the box-shaped instruments he made. His large hands made the finger-picking style of country-blues guitarists difficult to master, so he developed a more percussive approach that drew on Afro-Caribbean rhythms and the choppy wrist strokes he adapted from playing the violin.

“When I was about 15, I was trying to play like Muddy Waters, but it didn’t work,” he said in a 1985 interview. “I figured I was on my way to becoming a first-class fool trying to play like Muddy and them. So I invented my own style. I always felt it was better to do your own thing than try to copy someone else, but I had no idea my thing would change rock music.”

Diddley called his syncopated groove a “freight-train” sound, others described it as a “shave-and-a-haircut” rhythm. The beat had been around for centuries, most notably in West African drumming, but Diddley mastered it and augmented it for the rock ‘n’ roll era. He perfected his sound by playing on Maxwell Street and various South Side street corners for pocket change with his band the Hipsters.

By the early ’50s, he was gigging regularly at the famed blues tavern the 708 Club with a band that include maracas player Jerome Greene, bassist Roosevelt Jackson and drummer Clifton James. His custom-built guitars and amplifiers sounded like no one else’s, heavy on reverb and distortion. When he stepped into Chicago’s Chess Records studio in March 1955 to record for the first time, Diddley and his band were already seasoned entertainers of 11 years with a sound all their own. His songs were filled with tall stories, jokes, insults and good-natured bragging. Diddley portrayed himself as a larger-than-life character, and sang with a mixture of cartoonish joy and hoodoo-man menace.

“I’m a man,” he declared, and spelled it out slowly, “M-A-N,” as if daring anyone to doubt that he was the toughest of them all. “Who do you love?” he growled rhetorically. When he declared his ardor for “Mona,” there could be no doubt of his intentions.

On stage, he wore horn-rimmed glasses, a Black Stetson and a huge smile. He was a master showman whose high-spirited boasts and self-referential songs echoed folk songs, nursery rhymes and childhood games such as the dozens, even as they prefigured the rise of hip-hop. He played box-shaped guitars with his teeth and behind his back or swung them suggestively through his legs, while making the amplifiers howl in a way that wouldn’t be heard again until ’60s innovators such as Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix came along.

But it was Diddley’s feel for rhythm that truly set him apart. His drummer focused on the tom-toms and bass, rarely the snare or the cymbals. Jerome Green’s hypnotic maracas were mixed way out front on the recordings so that they were made to sound unusually full and vibrant. They danced in and out with Diddley’s guitar lines, which were drenched in tremolo. Other percussion instruments also factored into the mixes, all orchestrated by Diddley into rhythms that anticipated the bottom-heavy thunder of heavy metal, the clipped syncopation of funk and the lighter skip of reggae.

The “Bo Diddley beat” was copied by countless artists and underscored many hits: Buddy Holly used it on “Not Fade Away,” Presley on “His Latest Flame” and Johnny Otis on “Willie and the Hand Jive.” But as Diddley found, it was difficult enough to get paid for writing a song, let alone to receive credit for popularizing a rhythm. He claimed that he never received royalties for any of his Chess recordings, and his rhythmic innovations became so ingrained in rock ‘n’ roll’s DNA that generations of fans grew up hearing them without knowing his role in their creation.

Though he had dozens of classic songs, Diddley never approached the level of fame enjoyed by Presley, Little Richard, Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, among other ’50s contemporaries. His sole appearance on the “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the prime-time television star-making vehicle, did not go well. Sullivan insisted before the 1955 appearance that Diddley play a Tennessee Ernie Ford hit, “Sixteen Tons.” Diddley agreed, but once the cameras rolled he played his signature song, “Bo Diddley.” Sullivan was enraged and the singer never appeared on his show again.

Diddley avoided the scandal and notorious lifestyle that bedeviled some of his peers, but his hits dried up in the ’60s and his career faded in the ’70s. He settled in Florida in the ’80s, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1998, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

He continued to record sporadically and toured frequently on weekends. During the week, he lived quietly in Florida, writing music, repairing vintage cars, and attending church. At home, he was the antithesis of the showboating rock star he played on stage. His neighbors described Diddley as a self-effacing man always ready to help others.

“When I first became famous, it really freaked me out,” he once said. “I mean, it didn’t seem real. I said, ‘Wow, I got a hit record! Little ol’ me!’ I didn’t know what to do with it, but then I turned around and faced it. I come from a very religious background, and I figured I was being given a chance and I wasn’t about to let it slip by. Maybe that’s why I’m still around and others aren’t.”

greg@gregkot.com

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