Thursday, December 28, 2006

The heart of the Bungalow Belt

Christmas in Chicago: My parent's brick bungalow on Melrose Street.
Posted live via cell phone

Reliance Building gave rise to skyscrapers

Christmas in Chicago: The Reliance Building was the first building in the world to have more glass on its exterior than other materials.
Posted live via cell phone

Art and architecture always in full bloom

Christmas in Chicago: The Dubuffet sculpture, State of Illinois Building.
Posted live via cell phone

CTA Blue Line, outbound

Christmas in Chicago: The L at Clark & Lake.
Posted live via cell phone

Luggage sale on Belmont Avenue

Christmas in Chicago: The Northwest Side has the largest concentration of Polish people outside of Warsaw.
Posted live via cell phone

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Waco Brothers live at Schuba's

Chirstmas in Chicago: Jon Langford rocks Shuba's with the Waco Brothers
Posted live via cell phone

Catwoman lamp lights up a Stella

Christmas in Chicago: Stella Artois is only one of 200 beers and 300 whiskies at Delilahas.

Huron & Orleans at noon

Christmas in Chicago: Mr. Beef is a tofu-free zone.
Posted live via cell phone

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Cold steel on air

Christmas in Chicago: "Cloud Gate" by Anish Kapoor in Millenium Park
Posted live via cell phone

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tidings of strange joy

Last night I was besieged by a series of strange dreams, two of which I actually remember well.

In one, I recall being at a party in a large apartment flat. There were lots of people on many floors, but for some reason the party didn’t feel at all crowded. Perhaps it was early in the evening and just getting started.

I made my way around, gently acknowledging people, all strangers, as I explored the flat. In the frontmost room there were large banks of windows that overlooked the street. I thought it reminiscent of my surrogate grandmother’s apartment—it was familiar in a way, but not the same. In the room was a series of oversized curved leather couches—probably four or five of them—each of which I sat on for a few seconds. I remember feeling like someone was going to kiss me, but there were no people in the immediate room, only the voices and sounds of the party from other rooms.

As I sat pondering kissing—envisioning lips and tongues engaged and entwined—I recognized a voice coming from another room, but I couldn’t place it. Perplexed, I investigated and found a couple singing the John Denver song “Country Roads.” As if that were not enough, the woman of the couple was dragging the man by grabbing the shoulders of his sweater and sliding him along the floor. He was barely mouthing the words to the song and she sang in a quivering, teary voice. They both looked up at me with a look of terror but continued dragging and singing.

Sensing that something was wrong, I asked the woman if she needed help and she nodded yes. I realized that the man appeared to be choking so I stood him up and performed the Heimlich maneuver on him. Twice. On the second thrust a large chunk of unmasticated seafood, followed by a yellow liquid ejected from his mouth. He coughed a bit, turned around and looked at me blankly.
At this point of the dream, I awoke, scratched my head for a second and went to the bathroom to relieve myself.
I’ve always been fascinated by dreams. There seems to be many schools of thought on the functions and meanings of dreams. At one extreme, some scientists explain the existence of dreams as the mind merely keeping itself active while the body rests. At the other end of the spectrum, psychologist see dreams as portals to the unconscious psychic self…revelations of deep personal meaning.

I’m not sure who’s right, but I think even wacky stories can teach us valuable lessons and here are a few I’ve gleaned from this particular dream:

1. If you find yourself inclined to kiss someone at a party, hang out in a room with other people. Even better, hang out near someone who might want to kiss you back. Also, it’s the holidays—mistletoe can’t hurt!

2. If someone you’re with starts choking, having them sing songs will not help the situation, no matter how much said song may remind him or her of home.

3. If you must start a sing-along while someone is choking, at least select an artist whose life didn’t come to a tragic end—adding such darkness will only compound the chokee’s anxiety.

4. Learn the Heimlich maneuver, it saves lives. It’s so easy even I can do it—and have…twice!

5. Eating large quantities of Lucky Charms just before bed may stimulate odd dreams.

6. Chew your food well.

7. Be wary of people who try the Heimlich maneuver on you when you are not chocking. They may be trying to kiss you…or something.

8. If someone saves your life with the Heimlich maneuver, thank them for it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

PE in no-so-full effect

Chuck D rules while Flav and 'Malibu’s Most Wanted' bite

I can’t even fathom that it’s been nearly 16 years since I last saw Public Enemy—when they played a show in Chicago at the voluminous Aragon Ballroom that ended in a mini riot**. PE is one of those bands that I have in this kind of elliptical orbit whereby I listen to them heavily for a while, then kind of move on for a long period of time, only to revisit them again with some listening density. Given that they’ve recently reemerged in my heavy rotation, I was stoked to see they were playing the Mezzanine last night, a newish (and awesome, intimate) venue in San Francisco.

Image Hosted by
Chuck (r) still has the shiver when he delivers. Not so much for Flavor Flav.

Now as back in the day, front man Chuck D—for my money, the all-time quintessential rap voice—delivers the biting cultural and social commentary with the same fire, strength and conviction that has always set the band apart and made them not only a means of entertainment, but a socially important catalyst as well.

Chuck’s voice is the same as it ever was—strong and authoritative—and he tore the house down early on with “Welcome to the Terrordome.”

Unfortunately, that early highlight was more or less the peak of the show. Somewhere on that track or the next one (which kind of melded into one) Chuck’s foil, Flavor Flav joined the stage and began laying down his court jester’s variety of vocalizations…the “boings” and “yeaaah booooyz” and the like. And while a perfect compliment when he’s used like a human sample machine, Flav just looses it when he tries to put a sentence together—which he did more and more of as the night wore on.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the Flavor—despite him becoming an appallingly bad reality TV show clichĂ©—I think he’s highly entertaining in small doses. But as the show progressed and eventually unvolved into Flav on the stage doing songs from his new solo album, things just started to suck. Like that Oprah magazine where she’s on the cover every month, Flav’s songs are the same way—repetitive ego overkill.

On the whole, however, the show was good—not great—but good. Professor Griff, the redheaded stepchild of the band—was on hand to lend his rhyming to the vocal mix and DJ Lord did a capable job of filling the very big shoes of the long-departed Terminator X, who left the group in 1998. I wasn’t so into the traditional guitar/bass/drums band—called The Banned—whom opened the show on their own and then played on the PE set. Part of what makes Public Enemy’s sound so amazing are the Bomb Squad’s beats and samples that came of age on Fear of a Black Planet and The Enemy Strikes Black. If these sounds were present at all, they were covered up by the heavy-handed band…whose 45 minutes of introductions I could have done without as well.

On the plus side, I have to give props (‘cause that’s what I do for a week or two after going to a hip hop show yo) to the crew that played just before PE, The X Clan. They were old school and dialed tight…and did a really great job of getting the place fired up.

In fact they almost made up for the rejects from Malibu’s Most Wanted who wedged in front of us just as the set began and made complete asses of themselves bouncing, fronting and jerking off for each other. I can’t remember the last time I wanted to hit someone so badly without being directly provoked. GRRR!

** At least that’s what it said in the newspapers the next day. I remember a bunch of people running around after the show, but it was in Uptown late at night and people a certain amount of anarchy was to be expected.

Monday, December 04, 2006

All hail LineRider…the poor man’s PS3

Yeah, you can get your eBay on and spend scads of cash acquiring a Playstation 3 from some scumbag e-scalper...or you can run from store to store, get a wristband, wait in line and get shot at trying to buy one legit. Or you can just say "fuck it" and play the best video game ever online for free—LineRider. (It’s actually the third best videogame ever, behind Toobin’ and Sega Genesis NHLPA Hockey ’93, respectively). Sure, sure, all the new systems have dazzling graphics, but is the gameplay really that great?

Check out the oh-so-simple pleasure of LineRider and prepare to have your elation alternate with confounded frustration as you burn hours and hours trying to land that little sledhead just right.

When you’re done, check this out to see how much you really suck.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chris D wins costume contest with ‘George’

It is with great pleasure that I declare friend, colleague and all-around jackass-of-trades Chris D the winner of the First Annual Dongoose Halloween Costume Contest. The Portland, Oregonian not only pulled out all the stops in making his costume—an homage to professional cyclist George Hincapie—he also became the character, entering a real-live bike race as the man himself.

CD (left) and George Hincapie hisself...separated at birth?
Note the Hincapiesque mouth gape. Nice touch Chris.

While not having the universal appeal or recognition of say a pirate or a dead president or a slutty kitten, Chris’ attention to detail and assumption of character were remarkable—except that part where he vomited and dropped out of the race. The fact that message boards were aflame with “was that really?”-type posts in the ensuing week are testament to his authenticity.

In making his costume, Chris no doubt used his extensive connections to secure not only the rider’s signature eyeglasses, but a full team uniform and a rare suspension road bike exactly like the one Hincapie uses for the rough-and-tumble Paris-Roubaix race. He even grew his facial hair to the perfect George-like five o’clock shadow. The only thing missing was the French podium girl wife. Oh, and a trip to the podium. But props to Chris for forgoing knobbies and tackling the unpaved cyclocross course with high pressure road tires.

While Chuck’s frightening Mr. T outfit and Rye’s White Goodman (a.k.a. Ben Stiller’s character from Dodgeball) both ripped, I have to go for the authenticity, obscurity and flawless execution of Chris' costume. Plus I didn’t see anyone with a good naughty librarian outfit this year.

Unlike the Nobel Prize, which has an elaborate and sophisticated system of application, nomination and juries, the Dongoose Halloween Costume Contest has no rhyme nor reason whatsoever and the award is at the sole whimsical discretion of myself and myself alone. It's even arbitraily awarded some week-and-a-half after Halloween.

For his efforts, Chris will receive an autographed poster of the University of Maryland’s Fighting Terrapins Women’s Field Hockey Team. Fear the turtle.

God bless Jon Stewart

“Tomorrow, you’re all going to wake up in a brave new world, where the constitution gets trampled by an army of terrorist clones created in a stem-cell research lab run by homosexual doctors who sterilize their instruments over burning American flags, where tax-and-spend Democrats take all your hard-earned money and use it to buy electric cars for National Public Radio and teach evolution to illegal immigrants. And everybody’s high!”
- Stephen Colbert

Thanks to Chris H. for this one.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Please Vote

Tuesday, November 7, 2006 is Election Day
Please vote.
Your right to bitch about things is directly
correlated to exercising your right to vote.
Says me anyway.
Please Vote.
Urge Overkill - The Candidate
I am the candidate, I hope your voting for me,
Candid candidate, making promises so easily
I am the candidate,
But I'm not your favorite son - you say
I hope you come out on election day
I am the candidate, but you don't need me,
Looking down like a satellite, oh, how I wish I could see.
I am the candidate,
But I'm not your favorite son - you say.
I hope to see you on election day.
All these people that I call friends,
Can't beleive what I've done.
I'm just a criminal lost on my own.
I've got to run, got to run, got to run, got to run...
I'm running
I am the candidate,
I am your candidate,
I hope your voting for me...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Macabre Media Monday

As the days get shorter I tend to ride a little less and read and watch and listen a little more. This is a good thing, especially the reading. With that in mind I thought I’d share some new books, music, and podcasts I’ve been taking in lately. Coincidentally, much of it has a Halloweenish vibe, thus today’s title.

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
by Mary Roach

I just started reading Mary Roach’s Spook, the follow up to her 2003 debut Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, a smartly entertaining look at what happens to human bodies after they expire. In a similar vein (pun kind-of intended) Spook attempts to follow something a bit more ethereal—the human soul—and see what happens to it goes after we’ve passed. Though I’ve just begun to put a dent in Spook, I’m already enjoying Roach’s original approach to this seemingly dark subject matter.

In Stiff, she managed to walk the delicate line of being humorous and entertaining while maintaining a respect and reverence for the dearly departed. So far she’s taken a similar tack in Spook as she pits scientific method against mysticism and religion with an open mind to the results.

While peppered with humor throughout, Roach employs liberal use of footnotes which deliver some of the book’s best zingers without interrupting the flow of the narrative. In one passage, she describes the effects of pus build-up in an injured brain on the subject’s consciousness. She annotates it with the following footnote:

“I was intrigued to learn that the French for ‘pus’—even among members of eighteenth-century aristocracy—is ‘le pus.’”

And so I laugh.

Roach is an amazing writer with just the right dash of wit and sarcasm for my taste…someone I would love to have had as a teacher.

Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain
by Michael Paterniti

I have to admit the cover art really helped me toward this one…along with an anniversary sale at the Arches Book Store in Moab, Utah. Discount aside, this book is off to a good start and I think I’m gonna end up loving it. I’ve always found travelogues engaging and the twist that Driving Mr. Albert adds is pretty irresistible.

Like buying too many CD’s at the same time, for me, trying to read more than one book at a time has the potential to water them down and stretch them out too much. In the case of Spook and this book, it’s not so bad and I’m really enjoying them both as the stories come forth drip by drip, and fit by start.

Which is to say I’m not very far into this book either, but author Michael Paterniti has me on the edge of my seat wondering how he’s going to chase down the urban legend of the whereabouts of Albert Einstein’s brain…and then what he’s going to do when he finds it.

The book starts off with Paterniti casually mentioning his back-burner obsession with the cranium-in-question to an eclectic neighbor, who, in turn, matter-of-factly says he knows where the brain is. At the next door neighbor of his friend William S. Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas, of course...Yes, THAT William S. Burroughs, the now deceased Beat Generation author who famously killed his wife with a gunshot wound to the head in a Russian Roulette-like game called William Tell. Which seems ironically fitting given that said neighbor has the dissected grey matter of Mr. E=mc2 in a jar in his basement.

I'm not sure where it's going from here, but I'm excited to be along for the ride.

Sound Opinions – WBEZ Chicago
I’d been a fan of music critics Jim DeRogatis (Chicago Sun-Times) and Greg Kot (Chicago Tribune) for several years before I left Chicago. I found them both intelligent, witty and unpretentious. Having similar taste in music and being in their ballpark age-range probably didn’t hurt either. I also liked that it was pretty common to see one, the other or both at shows in Chicago back then. It was obvious that in addition to being critics, they were also fans…and they loved what they did.

Additionally, DeRogatis achieved sainthood in my book when he was fired from Rolling Stone for writing a less-than-glowing of Hootie & the Blowfishes’ horrendous Fairweather Johnson in 1996. RS Publisher Jann Wenner refused to let the review run and axed DeRogatis after he spoke of the incident publicly.

Fast forward a few years during the time since I moved to California and the two critics had collaborated on a radio show called Sound Opinions that aired on WXRT, Chicago’s longtime independent progressive rock station. While it was possible to listen to their show by streaming it, as I did a few times, it wasn’t downloadable(1) and required huddling around the computer like I some character in Woody Allen’s Radio Days.

Then late last year the pair struck a deal to move Sound Opinions to WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station. Along with the move came the podcast edition of the show, which has become a mainstay of my drive-to-work entertainment. While the show is billed as “The World’s only Rock and Roll Talk Show,” it’s thankfully much more—live in-studio performances, interviews and coverage of music news, events and history are all part of the mix.

And while all critics have their crutches and quirks, Kot and DeRo are aware of theirs and humorously self-deprecating. Something I really came to appreciate when listening to NPR’s All Songs Considered, a similar show that gets a little too academic at times. And when host Bob Boilen started an interview with Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous by saying, “I was listening to your album and I pulled out my 12-string and played along…” my gag reflex kicked in. This would never happen on Sound Opinions...and if it did the other host would call him on it.

As with all things Public Broadcasting, Sound Opinions is free—but if you like it a donation is a nice thought come subscription drive time. You can check it out on the iTunes Store podcast directory, through or on WBEZ’s web page.

(1) While ‘XRT never did podcast Sound Opinions, it does now have a podcast edition of the often hilarious Goin' To The Show With A Regular Guy movie review show and some other content that’s available here.

A Life Less Lived - Gothic Box Set
- Various Artists (Rhino Records)

Nostalgia is a funny thing. There’s part of me that really detests it…that thinks it’s the sappy enemy of new experience and a crutch of mind-numbing sameness. I tell myself it’s the balding middle-aged guy in the Tommy Bahama shirt pulling out of his tract house driveway in the SUV-of-the-moment, going to see Don Henley at Shoreline because the Eagles are the shit, man. They killed it in ’76 and still do!

And then I look in the mirror and see the same Chuck Taylor’s I had in high school and the collection of t-shirts that predate the shoes and, oh, that turntable over there and the requisite vinyl I rarely listen to but refuse to part with (we wont even get into the many sunny recollections of being "back in the day" that fill this blog space). And I realize that, love it or hate it, nostalgia is an inescapable part of us all and it’s comforting. I realize that I’m as big a sap as THAT guy, just with more obscure taste in music and, perhaps, a little less to prove…or maybe more.

Which brings me to A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box. I was at the record shop the other day, when out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the faux leather corset that makes up the outer packaging of this box set. At first I thought it was the onset of some fetishistic arousal, but soon enough realized I was having a nostalgic flashback…complete with visions of pale white skin (which goes hand-in-hand with the corsetting), throngs of sweaty, throbbing bodies and…carrot juice cocktails. Cue the flashback music…

Medusa’s was a legendary teen dance club on the Chicago’s North Side. It was big, played scary music and had a juice bar. The kids all dressed up (or down) and were drawn to the flame like moths. They nicknamed the donut shop around the corner “Punkin’ Dounuts” because its parking lot was overrun with mohawks and combat boots and all the Sid Viciouses and Siouxsie Siouxs when Medusa’s shut down for the night (2).

I remember vividly dancing to the Cure’s “In Between Days” at Medusa’s while Robert Smith’s preternaturally pale face and jet black thicket of hair appeared on video screens. He was “so very Goth looking,” my classmate Terry would later tell me in explaining the inspiration for his new matching haircut. He went on to give me a dark and spooky definition of Goth that I thought matched the fashion but not always the music of the Cure. “In Between Days” sounded more cheery than scary to me. But that’s the thing about Goth…sometimes it’s in the fashion, sometimes in the music and sometimes in the attitude. And the three CD’s and one DVD of A Life Less Lived proves this out.

Take Bahaus’ “Bela Lugois’s Dead.” One hundred percent, soup-to-nuts Goth. For sure. Scary looking band with the skeletal Peter Murphy as lead singer. Dark and gloomy and morbid. Nails-on-chalkboard instrumentation. A horror villain actor’s death as subject matter. Throw in Murphy’s deep bass tone vocals and its place on the DVD is fully justified.

But take the same Mr. Peter Murphy a few years down the road and his solo creation “Cut’s You Up,” which was selected for one of the CDs. The instrumentation is bright and lively! The vocals are downright soaring! The production values are stellar! Could this really be Goth?! Well he does wear a black smocky thing in the video and he still has that gaunt Skeletor air about him, so I think he can get away with it. And ultimately it’s irrelevant—A Life Less Lived is a great compilation that does what it ostensibly intends—capturing the essence of the early Goth scene.

Which should not be much of a surprise coming from Rhino Records, the world’s foremost purveyors of reissues, compilations and, yes, nostalgia.

For the full listing of songs, click here to get to the A Life Less Lived page on the Rhino website.

ADDENDUM – As fate would have it, Sound Opinions selected Goth and a Life Less Lived as the topic of their pre-Halloween show. This was after I wrote most of this post. Ahh the irony.

(2) I’m not sure I fit with any of these descriptions. I just wore whatever clothes I had…and my Chuck T’s. And I took the bus.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Rally the Wonder Dog

I shot thie video while on vacation in Moab, Utah:

Rally belongs to Kyle the propietor of Acme Mountain Bike Shuttles, whom I would highly reccomend if you're ever in Moab...(435) 260-2534.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Now java enabled!

At the age of 38 and ¾ I am, for the first time, a coffee drinker. I think it was taking scalding hot sips of my mom’s black-as-coal Hills Brother’s in my formative years that had delayed this for so long. It’s hard to shake the sensecerebral scarring of those first forays…the burnt tongue, the scalded roof-of-mouth…the urge to spit it out…the bitter taste, so sharp and biting, and so less sweet than what kids normally drink.

Despite that memory, I’ve been thinking about drinking coffee for a couple years now. I know the Coke I’ve been drinking as a morning pick-me-up—and I find more and more that I need such picking—with its massive sugar and carbonation is just not good for the body…or the teeth. And it tends to give me belly aches as well. It also doesn’t pair well with bananas which I really like in the morning.

I’ve also felt a certain amount of social ineptitude because of my lack of coffee comprehension. I still don’t know a mocha from a monkey, nor could I brew my way out of a paper bag…or filter as the case may be. I started drinking chai tea a few years ago, just so I’d be able to not feel like a complete dweeb when I accompanied co-workers on coffee runs. And while there is comfort in the chai, it lacks the caffeine punch and is really no more than a differently-flavored grown-up hot chocolate.

So how did the big switch happen? Serendipity, of course. On the final day of a week-long business trip to Vegas, a co-worker got my chai order wrong (no blame there; we were all pretty spun out at that point) and bought me a latte' instead. Even before it hit my tounge, I sensed something was substantial nose drank in the coffee scent microseconds prior. Too tired to protest or bring it back for a switch, I just rolled with it. And it was good. It didn't taste a thing like that tar that mom drinks...nor was it nearly as hot. The soy milk took just enough of the bite out of it, making it mellow but not too sweet or milk shakey.

So it's been one-a-day ever since and I'm diggin it. Since the switch, I've been encouraged to try all kinds of variations with interesting names...Americanos, au laits, espressos, Mexicanos, Cubanos, etc., etc. And while I'd like to think I'm multiculturally enlightened, I'm not yet ready for the United Nations in my cup. And I will never submit to speaking Starbuck's—it's a MEDIUM dammit! But next time you offer to buy me a coffee...I just might take you up on it and actually get a coffee.

PS - Thanks Andy!


Is it too early for this:

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Interbike 2006 Entry #2: Hurry up and wait

So as often is the case with trade shows, you show up early, hoping to get things done for set-up and run into inevitable snags that grind things to a screeching halt. After seven or eight years of this, you develop a sense for these things and come up with things kill a couple hours while waiting for issues to get resolved.

And so it was on Monday with the crew heading over to Ceasar's mall...

Casey got down with Headless GQ at Banana Republic...

While Tom picked out some 24L, 32W jeans....

During dinner at Cafe BaBa Re Baah!, Jim bobbed for Kebobs....

And the Ricky Bobby helmets showed up at the booth!

This is my first YouTube post, so I hope it works...Chuck and I on some rediculous ab exerciser in Ceaser's mall.

More to come!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Interbike 2006: Day 1

Herein starts my possibly daily photorific coverage of the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas.

I'm always hopeful of a good omen when I arrive in Vegas...and it doesn't get any better than a cabby with a 3-F-15 super mullet (3 inches in the front, feathered sides, 15 inches in the back).

Casey and Chuck were shocked and amazed.

After some work, we had a nice team dinner at Tao, which has this 40-foot tall buddah statue. I liked the Laura Croft Tomb Raiderness of it.

The wait for the men's room was a bit long, however.

I had heard there were naked women at Tao, and found this to be true. This one seems aroused to see me.

We ended up at The Beach, which kinda sucked, but we made the most of it. Chuck and Toni dance on napkins while Tino turns away from the camera so his parolle officer doesn't see that he's crossed state lines.

They had these not very attractive, skanky Corona girls at the club that Chuck gave dance lessons to.

They were surprisingly quick learners.

Tommorow...the joys of booth set up!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Tool Time

Why yes I am using a shovel to install the bottom bracket on this expensive Italian bicycle.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

IN SEARCH OF: A Real Hot Dog

with apologies to Leonard Nemoy

One of my quests in the seven or so years I’ve lived in California is finding adequate replacements for the unique regional (and mostly unhealthy) cuisine my hometown of Chicago has to offer. I fully realize it’s more likely we’ll have a White Christmas before I find something remotely comparable, but that doesn’t stop me.

To pine for the euphoria of Gianotti’s seven finger cavatelli or the primal gratification of a dunked cheesy beef from Al’s on North is a recipe for disappointment…I know this. These things have no equal, no substitute and are completely unique. As is the Chicago-style hotdog, perhaps my favorite vernacular delicacy. I suspect it’s the peculiar juxtaposition of the Vienna “Pure” Beef dog covered with what amounts to a salad of vegetables embellished with celery salt that does it for me. And of the many great hotdogs in Chicago, Superdawg on the city’s Northwest side stands out as the pinnacle to me, a veritable Xanadu of entubed cow part puree tossed with the best of grandma’s garden.

It’s not just the food either, it’s the full experience…the sight of the authentic ‘50’s-style building, the car hops, the smells, the ‘dese, ‘dats and ‘does of the guy ordering in front of you…the 15-foot tall his-n-hers hotdog couple on the roof! The salt-of-the-earth, Midwestern Chicagoness of it all.

If I digress here it’s because a new place opened in Santa Cruz this week promising “Chicago-style” hot dogs. And if it don’t measure up, these are fighting words to me.

So it was with the twisted arms of three co-workers and the chip on my shoulder that I made the trip to Santa Cruz News, a newsstand/coffee shop/hot dog stand that opened this week on the West Side. Shoehorned into the facade of an old gas station that currently serves as a drop-station for Goodwill, Santa Cruz News is under the propriety of a former Chicagoan (and I use the term loosely as he’s actually from Arlington Heights)** named Robert.

With sweaty palms I approached the counter and ordered my hotdog, paid my $4 and waited—alternately hoping for a miserable failure, then for a euphoric foodgasm, then back again. I noted the buns and dogs were steam cooked, and the buns had poppy seeds—good signs both. The tomato wedges and pickle were cut just right and fit into the crevasses between bun and dog, held together by the mortar of ketchup and mustard. A couple points off for the natural brown mustard—it’s supposed to be near neon yellow—but that could be a minor quibble if it tastes OK. Points on the plus side for the oblong paper dog wrapper…white and pleated on the ends to perfectly surround, protect and present...oh, and the celery salt—quite satisfactory.

I sat down, eyed it up and took a deep breath as I lifted the dog towards me. In the milliseconds before my teeth hit, I registered a familiar and intoxicating smell. This converted to taste as the full mix of flavors—punctuated by the celery salt finish—hit my tongue and the hotdog ‘snapped’ with the firmness only properly steamed hotdogs exhibit. As I swallowed and went for bite two I realized that this was a more than satisfactory result. The Santa Cruz News dog is the real deal.

Better than a Superdawg? Well let’s be realistic here—HELL NO! But it’s right up there with your average Chicago dog, and that ain’t bad…and for the West Coast, that’s pretty darn excellent.

So if you see a little snow on the West Side of Santa Cruz come Christmas, you’ll know why.

Santa Cruz News is located at the corner of Mission and Trescony Streets and is open from 7am-3pm daily.

** Those of us who actually grew up in the City of Chicago take offense to folks from the suburbs saying they’re from Chicago because we’re snobs like that. It’s like people from Walnut Creek saying they’re from San Francisco. We also don’t like it when people in Lincoln Park or Bucktown claim to be Chicagoans because they’re all frat kids from Michigan. I know, I’m such a bitch.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Pictorial: How I caught the Clamp in Downieville

It was supposed to be so simple. A long weekend trip to Downieville and Tahoe for some mountain biking. Who knew we would all catch the Clamp?

Click here to see all 170 photos from the weekend.

Click here to find out what the hell a Clamper is.

Rest in peace Bruno Kirby

Kirby (in focus) with Al Pacino (left) and Johnny Depp (right) from Donnie Brasco.

I learned last night that character actor Bruno Kirby had died a couple weeks ago from leukemia. Kirby was one of those actors who flew just slightly under the radar, never a huge star, but always one to give a solid, believable supporting performance.

Probably most famous for his roles in City Slickers and When Harry Met Sally, I came to like him for his performances in Donnie Brasco, Birdy, The Freshman and of course This is Spinal Tap. Despite his diminutive stature, he had the chops to command respect as a wiseguy/mobster and was often called upon to play that role.

Most recently he appeared on the HBO series Entourage as a flamboyant film producer who is beside himself when the original Shrek doll is stolen from his mansion. As ludicrous as that sounds, Kirby sells it as believable.

Bruno Kirby was 57...his filmography is available here.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Aural Fixation #2: A surley, limey cowboy called Jon Langford

Before you start reading, turn up the volume and click on one of the following links for a little mandatory mood music, then minimize any windows that pop up:
> Click here if you run Real Audio or
> Click here if you roll with Windows Media Player

Well done, now read on.

I happened to be trolling the net the other night when I came across what you’re listening to: a live, in-studio recording of Jon Langford and longtime collaborator Sally Timms doing a cover of Alejandro Escovido’s “Broken Bottle.” It’s always cool to hear one of your favorite artists cover the song of another favorite…and even more so when the song itself is one of your favorites. Such is the case with “Broken Bottle.” I had been immediately drawn to the studio version Langford and Timms did for the Escovido tribute/benefit album Por Vida, that came out a couple years ago. And I was almost shocked to see that it was one of only five songs Langford chose to play on KEXP’s Live Performances, what with his own songs being so outstanding.

And while covering this particular song pays homage to Escovido’s immense songwriting talent, it also lends credibility to Langford’s own formidable talent, and confidence therein.

I was completely clueless when Langford's band, the Mekons, started to gain notoriety in the Leeds, UK punk scene. In my own defense, I think being nine years old at the time is an acceptable excuse. Simultaneously, the Sex Pistols and the Clash were being hailed as the irreverant, outsider response to rock. The Mekons were actually more noisy and irreverant than the lot of 'em—outside of the outsiders, if you will.

But like I say, I know none of this from my own personal experience—it is only something I've learned of post-facto and out-of-context. The Mekons and Jon Langford, have been on my real-time radar since the mid-’80’s when Mr. Daniel J. Berry, esq. and then program director at WRRG River Grove/Chicago turned my attentions to a spacey looking record with the faint face of Elvis on it (a detail which would later get them sued, by the by). Now as then, The Mekons Rock N’ Roll stands out as one of the most incredible things to ever stimulate my cochlea.

Since then Langford has moved to my hometown of Chicago and been prolific in mostly outlaw punk-country endeavors—the throw-back Waco Brothers, the collaborative Pine Valley Cosmonauts—as well as occasional punk pauses like The Three Johns, Wreck, Khomeni Lightbulbs and Skull Orchard. He’s also lent his guitar riffing and some vocals to the likes of Neko Case (mmmm Neko) as well as the Old ’97’s and Kelly Hogan. Additionally he’s been the catalyst for a number of tribute/cause albums—homages to his musical heroes as well as rare tribute albums that have as much substance as sentiment.

Langford’s artistry extends to the stretched canvas as well where he’s established as a painter with works that echo the punk and country stylings of his music. Rustic and rough-hewn, his paintings are mostly portraits or statement pieces that reflect the same influences and outlook as his songs. Not surprisingly, Langford provides much of the cover artwork for the albums he’s worked on. Marketers would call it good branding. Everyone else would call it consistent. You can see more of his work on , the website of an Austin, Texas art gallery.

Recently, Langford has taken to the airwaves hosting a free-form radio show called The Eclectic Company on WXRT in Chicago. Rotating hosting duties with Nicholas Tremulis—who’s known for combining jazz with punk much like Langford does with country—the MC’s chat, play songs, have in-studio guests and, I’m sure, otherwise share their creativity. I was at Delilah's one boozy night years ago when Langford was a guest DJ spinning insurgent country records...the fact that I remember little of it is testament to its excellence. I'd think the radio showgram would communicate the personality, if not the context, of such events well. If you’re in Chicago, tune in and consider yourself lucky.

For the rest of us, there’s lots of Mekons, Waco Brothers, Three Johns, etc., etc. to catch up on. Some of it available here at Bloodshot Records.

I think I may have a custom wool cycling sweater made for me with 'Pine Valley' in block letters and 'Cosmonauts' underneath in script (like the ‘Alameda’ one on the bottom). I think it would look cool. And I’m weird like that.

Note: It probably goes without saying, but all the paintings shown here are Langford's work.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Talk aside, ZeroOne kickoff an amazing spectacle

The ZeroOne festival officially opened in downtown San Jose last night in an spectacular mix of color, sound, performance and movement. Even the requisite bevy of long-winded speeches by politicians, sponsors and mostly non-artists at the opening ceremony could not stop the momentum of the spectacle.

Not wanting to fall in the same trap--talking about art, rather than experiencing it--I will leave you with only photos and a bit of encouragement. Come on down and check it'll be glad you did.

Monday, August 07, 2006

ZeroOne transforms San Jose into interactive, electronic art canvas

Something very strange is going on in San Jose this week…Photo-equipped pigeons will be blogging, a karaoke ice cream truck will be cruising downtown and just walking in front of the San Jose Museum of Art could get you transformed into a Sims videogame character. Skateboards will be making music, the new city hall will be transformed into something reminiscent of a Lava Lamp and passersby will be challenged to interpret Bat Signal-like projections on the top of the Adobe building.

It’s all part of ZeroOne San Jose, an electronically influenced, organically actuated festival of art that turns all of downtown into its broad canvas starting today and running through August 13th.

Though generally discredited by hipsters from San Francisco to Santa Cruz as a bland suburbia, San Jose actually has a thriving yet compact indie art scene that’s anchored by a number of galleries in downtown’s SoFA (South First Avenue) district as well as its excellent Museum of Art near the north end of Cesar Chavez Plaza.

It is this modestly sized sphere of activity which makes something like ZeroOne possible. Were it too small there wouldn’t be enough critical mass for it to happen, too large and it would collapse under its own weight. ZeroOne’s emphasis on technology also seems a good fit for San Jose and its high tech heritage. On paper (or screen, as it were), it’s the perfect convergence.

As a bonus, the festival will leave behind its wireless infrastructure providing free internet access after ZeroOne closes, a fitting gift one would think, for a town with the unfortunate “Capitol of Silicon Valley” subtitle.

The only downside is figuring out what of ZeroOne’s copious offerings to take part in. Ironically, the festival’s website takes some work to get particulars from, but I found this page offers a good staring point. The San Jose Museum of Art’s plan of attack is even better and its cafĂ© seems like an obvious jumping off point.