Harold Bishop has a posse

The Rae St Institute > Blog archive > Fear and Loathing on S. Wabash St

Old Mother Hubbard
Stooped Down to the Cupboard
To fetch old Rover a bone
Well old Rover
When she bent over
He gave her a bone of his own..
And with that, I was introduced to the skanky, misogynist and altogether underwhelming experience of a Chicago Blues Club.

I'd rolled into Chicago on a sultry evening a day or so prior, on Thursday, having broadly failed to plan the next few days except for realising that I had to get myself to Bahhston by Sunday night (being that Monday was a public holiday and thus opening the doors for a Sunday night out or a Monday night on the town), and thus only had two nights to make anything of The Windy City.

  • It's not called the Windy City because it's actually Windy. It's because their politicians at some point talked a lot of shit (BUT THAT'S THE CASE EVERYWHERE WHY IS CHICAGO SO DIFFERENT) and a journalist coined it. (WAS IT IOYC?)
  • The Sears Tower's observation deck is a savage and mind-numbing experience. You're practically strip searched, X-rayed, subjected to five consecutive queues, a dull 20 minute documentary, and finally let onto the deck itself, whereupon you can usually see exactly 4/5ths of 5/8ths of fuck all, being that it's constantly hazy. THIS IS THE LAST TOURIST ATTRACTION I AM GOING TO. THERE WILL BE NO MORE. I prefer spots where I can sit with a beer in one hand and a notepad in the other and talk nonsense to strangers (eg: The Train).
  • Riding a bike around Chicago in general is pretty good.. the city is flat, the streets are a grid, and the whole N/E/S/W division of streets (eg N. Halsted and S.Halsted, with numbers increasing based on distance from the centre of the city) means that navigation is piss easy.
  • Critical Mass in Chicago is brilliant. There's a somewhat uneasy relationship of acceptance with the cops and motorists.. there's NO CORKING and yet the mass doesn't get broken up; being that there's over a thousand people most months it's just a matter of size perhaps.
  • Chicago is a benevolent dictatorship of sorts; there's really only one political force in city hall, and that's Richard M. Daley, Mayor (which you see plastered EVERYWHERE ON EVERYTHING). Son of Richard J. Daley, also Mayor (former). ITS JUST LIKE A CHINESE DYNASTY.
  • The John Hancock centre is coated in plastic, and only five feet tall.
  • There's clarinet music playing EVERYWHERE. I really didn't get that. Very 80s.
But anyway, back to the point... one of my gracious hosts took me on my last night in town to a place called Buddy Guy's Legends Bar, 800 S. Wabash St. As with everywhere else in the US they demanded to see ID (WHAT THE HELL IS WITH THAT).. they then extracted a $15 cover charge out of us, and when I paid for the first round with something close to correct weight, the bartender attempted a Confusatron™ switcharoo, result being that I "paid" $20 for two drinks. Some stern but friendly accountancy cleared this one up and all was ok, but echoes of San Francisco (and Revolver) hovered just outside the frame, waiting to invade at any moment and render the scene poisoned before it had started.

The bar consists of a large dark area filled with round tables, in turn filled with middle aged white people and tourists, a red-lit stage with some seating just beside it, filled largely with rich yuppies and black people, some pool tables lit in flouroescent blue (WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO BOOT SMACK WHILE PLAYING POOL I WONDERED), and a back bar. John and I got some food and went and hid down in the back corner and watched the sad mess unfold.

The band (can't remember their name, I thought I'd written it down but clearly not) consisted of an alarmingly rotund gent behind a keyboard, a couple of distinguished looking types on bass and drums respectively, and a slightly haggard bearded old guy with a big white Stetson hat as the front man, doing vocals and guitar.

Some musicians you watch and can tell they're winging it, on the brink of fucking the entire thing up royally, but that's half the thrill. Some musicians you can tell know exactly what they're doing but are still enjoying themselves (IT'S CALLED SHOWMANSHIP).. but some you watch and can tell they're both extremely skilled and dead bored. By and large that was the air that this four gave off.. the front man whooping it up a bit, and the others giving at most a smirk in response to his cues. He was trying his best but you could tell the whole thing was old news.

He'd stop in between songs and point out the 'redeeming' features of various women in the audience, then sing a song 'to' them, usually about engaging in rough anal sex or the like ("I'm gonna play with your poodle.. from behind."). This kind of scatological humour and appeals to raw animal misogyny and embarrassment is best used sparingly. NOT FOR YOUR ENTIRE SET. It was these guys' schtick, apparently, and as the audience got increasingly drunk and less attentive, and the front man talked about how drunk he was getting, the whole thing started to look more and more like a car crash in slow motion. (NOW WITH ADDED SODOMY)

We decided it best to evacuate this sinister scene before things got any worse. Riding half-whacked at breakneck pace without a helmet down broad Chicago streets late at night provided enough of a thrill that the bar scene could be safely relegated to the annals of history, dismissed as something representative of neither Chicago, nor blues musicians.

So I'm told Blues is a dying genre in Chicago; the players and the audiences are getting older, and there's a dearth of new people coming onto the scene. Admittedly my sample was a lot smaller than I would have liked, but the need to get to Bahston within a reasonable time frame fucked that up for me. And so it goes...

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