Snake Pussy

Snake Pussy (etching)

“Tone. . .I can’t go in there wit’cha.  The joint creeps me out.  I walked down the hallway and there’s nothing but Wicca broads, goth bitches, and gypsy types.  The joint is crawling with snake pussy.  The whole place gives me the willies.”–The late Ricky Viscosi, on a Halloween night at the Limelight, 1989.  Chicago

Some time around 1985 , New Yorker Peter Gatien blew into town and opened a Chicago franchise of the Limelight, the notoriously cool New York nightclubthat attracted such downtown luminaries as Blondie, Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and a host of other famous and near-famous denizens of the downtown, Lower East side demimonde.
In New York, the club was fabulously cool and featured art by Julian Schnabel, Basquiat, Kenny Scharff and others who were hot during the mid ’80s.  The Limelight in New York was a less avaricious and toxic place than Studio 54.
Oh, it had a VIP room like 54, it was just full of cooler VIP’s than Barry Manilow, Sylvester Stallone, and Liza Minelli, who were your dipshit-cousin-from-Long Island’s VIPs.

Studio 54 ruled the night-time club scene of the previous decade.  Oh, there was no shortage of drugs, there was plenty of sex of every variety–boy/girl, girl/girl, boy/boy– you name it; plus a lot of guys getting down with women who were men.  Even with the alarming rise of AIDS cases, it was still pretty wide open.  There was more heroin than cocaine–the boy drug never having fully ever lost its cachet in the go-go ’80s.  It was exciting, dangerous, culturally polymorphous and strangely necessary; a kind of last hold-out of Bohemia, before the real estate creeps started carving up the Lower East Side in earnest.

The Chicago Limelight wasn’t quite the same. We don’t really have movie stars or rock stars in as evident abundance as New York.  Who wants to notice the local weatherman getting blown in the VIP room, or the Morning Zoo radio  guy puking up his toenails over the balcony?

Christ.

There are just some things one cannot UNsee.

They tried women dancing in glass booths and cages, art exhibits, cool liquor promotions, lingerie nights, book parties and a cool revolving art project in the Dome Room.

The place didn’t die for want of creative people trying to make it cool.  Very good nightclub people ran the joint.
and they worked like sled-dogs promoting events there and eventually, none of it worked  and for one good reason:  We don’t stand in line like assholes.

For some reason, in New York, people will stand in line to spend their money.  They will also endure being looked over and appraised like a veal shank at Whole Foods.  All a joint needs is a velvet rope and a couple of hipster-shitheads with clipboards to start a line.  Nevermind the joint can be a low lit shithole that smells like cat piss.  In New York, this is cool.

I went to a joint called the Blue Angel there one night with the collector, Mickey Cartin.  It was kind of a faux-Brechtian kind of deal with strippers and a guy dressed like a rabbi who, at the appropriate time, would whip out his cock and tell jokes.

People waited, like assholes, for hours to get in this place.  We knew somebody there, so we just walked in, but what a shithole.  It was the kind of place I was always afraid I’d be found dead in back in my drug and alcohol days, yet here they were, lines of New Yorkers. . .the women skimpily dressed in keeping with the thematic premise
of the “Blue Angel”. . .standing out in 10-degree weather waiting to get in.

When Limelight opened in Chicago, we weren’t used to standing in line and being looked over.  Most of us didn’t bother with the place.  I had carte blanche to come and go because I was an artist and they sought out this community for their events.  Actors, artists, media creatures, the walking catalogs of the Ford and Elite Model agencies–this community was always welcome.

Joe Six-pack wasn’t.  Regular, everyday working people were herded outside behind the rope and Chicagoans were creeped out by it.  Standing in line to spend your money was for douchebags and pretty soon, if your friends spotted you standing outside of Limelight, you were pegged for a sucker and an overreaching shitheel.  It didn’t last here, and in some ways it was a shame.

The Halloween party alone brought out the freak in everyone–naked girls lying wrapped in snakes, acrobats, crazy vampire girls, transgender, other-world girls giving hand jobs to confused LaSalle street brokers–it was a bacchanal worthy of New Orleans, or the way-out-of-hand Halloween parade in New York.

I brought my friend Ricky Viscosi.  This was not his scene.  He liked biker bars and dance clubs, but Limelight on Halloween freaked him to no end.

“Tone, I was in the Piss-te-jool (men’s room) and a broad walks in an whips out her crank.  Tone, like a fuckin’ tree-trunk.  You could beat a cobra to death with a joint like hers.  This broad was packin’ and, don’t tell anyone. . . but she had a beautiful face.  Like a Playboy broad and jesus, I start to stiffen’ up.   Fuck.  I’m coppin’ wood.  I’m harder than Chinese algebra an’, if I’m honest, I’m thinkin’ I want to fuck this girl.  I want to pound her like milk-fed veal. . .like a filthy animal, y’know?  Barnyard shit.  And this broad is a GUY!!!! Maroooonnneee. . .I’m fucked up here.”

For years I teased him about getting in touch with his wild side.

He owned a pizza place and would regale his friends with stories of that night, always finishing with, “Ya gotta BE CAREFUL.  The broads might not be broads.  Joint like that?  Snake Pussy everywhere.  You could fuck up your whole alignment, capeesh?  An’ you might find yourself. . .liking it.  Then, whattya’ gonna do?”

Limelight lasted five years here–just long enough to remind us of who we are.

Published in: on December 30, 2011 at 11:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Ascension of Crazy Frank in the Big World

The Ascention of Crazy Frank in the Big World  Etching
“There is nothing one man will not do to another.”–Andre Gide, The Immoralist

There are men who are walking proof of evolution.  Those whose knuckles hover, just barely, over the ground.  The guys heavy of brow that just radiate “Cro Magnon.”  Men with short legs and long muscled bodies like primates. . like apes.

The first time I saw Crazy Frank I thought someone had shaved a gorilla.  He moved with intention and malice, rolling his shoulders from the years of
yard swag he’d cultivated.  Like a walking land shark.  Franky was built like an ox.  Franky was built for hard physical work.  Franky was built for violence.
There are men who possess a genius contained in their physicality; W.C. Fields comes to mind, light on his feet, a fleet and brilliant physical comic, despite (or because of) his size.  Almost certainly Marcel Marceau, Roberto Benigni, Muhammad Ali, Frank Gleason– no relation to Jackie.

Frankie was a leg-breaker, an enforcer. . .a man who’d forgotten more about dispensing pain than you will ever know.  He worked for bookies, bar owners, disgruntled husbands, wives, lovers; anyone who needed their fellow man tuned up and taught a lesson, and had a few hundred bucks to reinforce the learning experience of their transgressor.

Like Crazy Frank used to say himself, “Pain is a language everyone understands.”

There were ominous stories: “Frankie t’rew a guy off a 10-story building to see if he would bounce.”

“Frankie walked a guy into a propeller in Mexico.” La-la-la-la-la.

We knew some of these to be bullshit.

Then there were the stories that were true:  “Frankie broke Ricky’s arm from the elbow–BACK.”

I knew that story to be true because I watched it happen.  Ricky owed a bookie named Freddie Le Gare and when Frankie went to collect, Ricky decided to condescend to him, telling him he’d go get the currency, if Frankie could spell the word “currency” for him.  I believe Frank’s last words to Ricky G. were,
“Can you spell broken fuckin’ arm, Asshole?”

Frankie ended the lesson with a vicious kick in the ribs.

Frank was illiterate.  When he cashed his checks at the bars, he just made an ‘X’ on the back.  Nobody didn’t cash Frankie’s checks.

When he wasn’t doing his fellow man grievous bodily harm, Frank worked muscle jobs; construction labor, concert security and once in a wile, moving trucks and landscaping jobs.  He wasn’t allowed to drive so very often he rode a weird three-wheeler bike around. He drank a lot and did whatever drugs were offered him.

Frank’s biography is weird and patchy. He grew up around Villa Park and was in and out of juvie and foster homes his whole youth.  He would alternately say his mother gave him up for adoption because she was poor; others said she abandoned him.  Oddly, this illiterate man kept finding his mother and tried to
re-establish something of a relationship.  I once did a portrait of him wearing a white tux and a fedora, (“Like Sinatra”) and this forever cemented our friendship. vThis made me feel better because there have only evervbeen two things on this planet that genuinely scared me and Frankie was BOTH of them.

When I tended bar at Brennans. Frankie would come in and have a beer or two and then fall asleep with his head on his folded arms on the bar.  Me and a guy named Donnie Wright would flip coins to see who had to wake his ass up.  When one woke Frank, he would come up swinging and he knocked one of our doormen out one night.

There was a bar owner in Villa Park who ran the bookmaking around town.  Frankie did his collections,  If a guy hadn’t squared his Monday night football debts by Wednesday, he got a visit from Frank.  Often, Jimmy (the bar owner/bookie) would send someone to drive Frankie and “make sure he don’t get stupid and go too far.”  One time, this guy was me.  I was perplexed as to what Jimmy thought I could do to stop Frankie.  I soon found out.  Nothing.

We had been dispatched to a house in Oak Brook Terrace.  The guy was a big deal car dealer who was also a degenerate gambler on football, basketball, ponies, how far you could piss.  You name it, he bet on it.

He owed Jimmy three grand.  Because he was wealthy, he thought he could shine Jimmy on and roll his debt into his next week’s wagers.  The presence of Frank should have told him he enjoyed no such grace, but he had to be a hard-on and told Frankie to go around the side of the house and wash himself with the hose because he smelled.

Bad move.

Frank grabbed him by his hair and kneed him in the face.  The guy’s nose went like a cherry tomato, then Frankie dragged him across his own living room and found a bathroom, where he commenced stuffing the guy’s head down the commode.  I was guessing that this was the point Jimmy would have wanted me to make sure Frankie didn’t “go to far.”  In fact, we were way past that point.  I touched Frank’s back and said, “Hey calm down,Frank” to which he told me
to fuck off and that this asshole was going to pay or drown.  When Frank lifted his head out of the water, he promised immediate payment in no uncertain terms.  He had also shit himself and was bleeding out of his ears.  I wanted to throw up, but instead I just walked outside.

After the guy paid, Frankie grabbed him by the hair again and said, “When you lose, you pay, Asshole.  Those are the rules.”

Frank then suggested he go around to the side of the house and clean the shit off of himself with the garden hose.  I couldn’t help it.  I laughed my ass off when he said that.

I lost touch with Frank after that.  I never worked for Jimmy again and have tried hard to forget that day.  On the rare occasions, I ran into Frank after that.  It seemed like he’s shrunk.  He’d had two strokes which left him even slower of speech and he never did move down to Florida to live with his mother.  I always think of him this time of year because it was on Christmas Eve in 1984 I made the drawing of him for his mom.

Frankie was flush and insisted I take 50 bucks I really badly needed.  It is still one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.

I found his obit the other day .  A friend on FaceBook ran it down for me. It damn near only said he was born and 49 years later, he died.  Newsprint had rendered him into one of the unknowable.  Well, I knew him and oddly enough, I liked him.  He wasn’t a good man, and I believe, also, he wasn’t a bad man.
He was a tragedy.  He never stood a chance and was never blessed.   He’d spoken his own epitaph a long time ago.

Frankie Lost.

And Frankie paid.

Published in: on December 24, 2011 at 1:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Blue Buckeye

The Blue BuckeyeThe new ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ movie opens today.

I saw the Swedish films from this series and they were great. But I’m a huge fan of David Fincher–ever since Seven, a movie that actually scared me, as did ‘Zodiac‘, even though I kind of knew the ending since it was based on a true crime story. Fincher seems to always get the right cast, the right atmosphere and, like last year’s The Social Network, the right script. As great as Fincher’s pace, actors, and cinematography are,the star of this film will always be Aaron Sorkin’s withering script.

What appealed to me about these stories–and I’ve read hundreds of thrillers and crime novels–is the setting, Scandanavia. Cold, gray, bloodless and austere on film, your Swedes and Norwegians almost seem like the “other” white people: milk-pale, blond, humorless and quiet. Let’s put it this way; there are no Scandanavian hillbillies. No Chili’s, no Cracker Barrels in Norway,just lot’ of nice fuckers named Ollie and Sven and two nations’ worth of really beautiful women.

In fact, people from this country are so pleasant, it’s hard to find ethnic slurs for them. I managed to, but it wasn’t easy.  Swedes are referred to as “herring chokers” and Norwegians? “Box-Heads.”  One of my unofficial rules is: You can tell how likable a group of people are according to how many ethnic slurs are available to describe them.  Your Box-Heads and Herring-Chokers are pretty likable motherfuckers.  Polite and not snotty like your Swiss– there is a reason those fuckers make clocks.  Swedes and Norwegians go through life being useful, inventing helpful shit like Ikea stores and the good meatballs and not culturally getting up in the rest of the world’s balls like the fucking French.  I like to think of them as the Europeans who don’t annoy the fuck out of everyone else.

For ten years I reviewed movies for a radio station in Chicago.  Me and my pal Buzz Kilman, we sat in the old downtown, rat-infested theaters like the Dearborn and the State and Lake, when they were on their last legs.  So downscale were these venues, me and Buzz thought nothing of firing up cigarettes
while watching the movie–nobody said dick to us.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would have been right in our wheelhouse.  We only reviewed relentlessly violent horror and crime movies and to
our ever-lasting cultural credit–we coined the term “Quality-Kill.” A “quality kill” is as it sounds; something sublimely inventive in its homicidal execution, like when Stephen Lack makes Michael Ironsides’ head explode in Scanners.  Fuck, was THAT cool.

Or when Denzel Washington pounds a grenade up the bad guy’s hole and walks away in Man on Fire.  Ouch.

I used to love going to the movies.  When I was a kid, me and my friends would smuggle Schlitz tall boys in our girlfriends’ purses and watch classics like
The Hills have EyesLast House on the Left and Deathrace 2000 or The Outlaw Josey Wales and we’d bet on how many guys Clint Eastwood would air out.  We’d even have an over/under option.  I say bet the “over” every time.

When we were young delinquents, the movies were one of those sanctuaries where parents, cops, teachers and other assholes had to leave you the fuck alone.
When Sissy Spacek wastes her whole high school and her dipshit jesus-freak mother, in Carrie, ot was an annihilation fantasy we could get behind.  Me and my friends started cheering, and clapping, and whistling really loud during that part.  A whole segment of the audience got up and left, just to get away from us.  It was cathartic.  It was also the mid 1970’s, a golden age for films in this country.

When we saw Taxi Driver we walked in shit-faced and walked out cold-stone sober.  It woke us up a bit….The world was an ungentle place and there is enough hate to go around. The Gomorrah of that New York City  was the world our country deserved.  After Watergate.  After Viet Nam.

One learns a lot about people while viewing movies with them. People who talk back to the screen are sometimes people who feel like nobody listens to them in the world.  Then there are those who deplore violence in films; while eating dinner in front of the real-world reportage from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Those limbless bodies don’t seem to bother them that much.  They also hate seeing people banging away on screen, but are not appalled by the presence and obscenity of hungry people with nowhere to live in their own city.

So tonight, I’m going to go watch some shit blow up and Lisbeth Salander fuck up some bad guys.  Remember: the family that watches shoot-em-up movies together ain’t out killing people in the name of god and country.

Merry Christmas.

Published in: on December 21, 2011 at 12:20 pm  Comments (1)  

Hard Candy Moth

“The Prophets? Nostradamus? The Horoscope? They don’t know dick about the end of the world.  Let me tell you something, Home-Slice, somebody’s world end every fucking day. Believe that.” —  Overheard at the wake of Kerry ‘Dooms’ Emery
New Orleans, October, 2008

Hard Candy Moth etching by Tony Fitzpatrick

This late in the year, one sometimes thinks of the  scorecard. The tally, of what has been lost, what has been gained and what has been forever altered.

This year has been cruel. It has divided our country along the lines of class.  The long-festering, 800-pound gorilla in the room, is now entirely visible.  We’ve found out that our most cruel inequities and most visceral divides lie not among races, creeds, or colors, but along the lines of the distribution of wealth and resources, and how unjustly this bounty is distributed.

This  crisis has Americans staring each other down across an economic chasm and as the days go by, we painfully discover that the collateral resentments and pain are every bit as personal and wounding as conflicts of race and gender are.  What one cannot have, it seems, is every bit as entombing as what one cannot be, especially when that thing is a job or an adequate place to live.

2011 made visible the bruised soul of America.

This was the year that Egyptians threw off their shackles and, via Twitter and Facebook, brought down a dictator.  It was also the year Occupy Wall Street and its hundreds (maybe thousands) of sister organizations entreated Americans to find the courage and the stomach for justified dissent and civil disobedience.  In many cities, the cops kept their cool and observed (and sometimes participated in) the dialogue.  In New York and Oakland, the cops demonstrated their fealty and obsequiousness to the wealthy classes by brutalizing protesters.

It was also the year I genuinely felt like I had some common ground with the Occupy movement.  As a small business owner with eight employees, I feel like I did what our President asked of us, which was to create jobs.  Between my studio and my gallery, we created  four.  He also told the banks to take the TARP money and loan money to businesses such as mine, in order that we might create  more jobs.  It makes sense.  Stimulate the economy by putting more people to work and thus, more money moving around.

Because we have a Constitution, the President could only strongly suggest the banks do this with their hand-out.  He could not ORDER it.  Thus, a great many of the banks sat on the cash and continued to pay themselves bonuses while the rest of our nation took it in the ass.  These are the same tools who are intimidated when they now look out the window of their bank and see legions of dissatisfied and pissed off Americans of every race, creed  and social strata staring back at them.  It is like the Nietzsche quote that warns us of looking into the abyss. . .that the abyss looks also into us.

This year, the banks and financial gatekeepers began to fear us; and this is a good thing.  Every once in a while it’s good to let the powers that be know that we can take this place any time we want to.

*

This is the year we lost Smokin’ Joe Frazier, one of boxing’s faithful.  The bruising heavyweight forever throwing the punishing left hook that put Muhammad Ali on his ass and shut him up–briefly.  Joe was from Beaufort, South Carolina tobacco country and hailed from the working-poor upon whose backs the wealth of this country was built.  Joe Frazier actually walked behind a mule, pushed a plow, and with his own two fists, extricated himself from poverty.

Ali’s characterizations of Joe were thoughtlessly cruel and a real betrayal.  Frazier campaigned actively so that Ali’s boxing license might be reinstated after refusing induction to the army.  He even lent Ali money  when things were tough.  Ali’s subsequent taunting of Joe as a ‘Tom” and likening him to a gorilla was ugly and undignified.  Ali’s defenders will tell you this was just showbiz; something Ali did to goose the box office and create excitement, but they know better.  What Ali did was culturally cruel. He separated Joe Frazier from the admiration of other people of color and, at the very least, Joe Frazier of Beaufort, South Carolina had earned this. Frazier never forgave this and I don’t blame him.

Sadly, it is only now that Joe Frazier is gone that we are able to discern his history as his own as opposed to merely being tangential to Ali’s.  What is fascinating is how much more complex the portrait of Joe Frazier becomes once we view him fully–apart  from Ali and the zeitgeist of the 1960s.

In Chicago, we buried the great Hubert Sumlin a few days ago.  Whenever you hear that snarling guitar in Howlin’ Wolf’s Wang-Dang Doodle or those wrenching passages behind Muddy Waters, you’re hearing the incomparable Mr. Sumlin; and this man earned his dough.  He and Wolf often quarreled and, on occasion, knocked each other’s teeth out.  Howlin Wolf was a huge guy with a nasty temper who took no shit. Hubert often said, “I couldn’t let Wolf know I was afraid of him.  He’d a killed me.  So every time he hit me, I hit him back.  Harder.”

To hear Hubert Sumlin play was to hear one of the last echoes of Robert Johnson–Hubert and Honeyboy Edwards being the last living conduits to the man at the Crossroads.  My pal, Todd Park Mohr of Big Head Todd and the Monsters, played a tribute at Sumlin’s graveside on Tuesday.  It was lovely in its acknowledgement of just what we, who grew up with Rock and Roll, owe those generations of black men with box guitars, who took what was sad and mundane and made it transcendent.

Godspeed Mr. Frazier.
Godspeed Mr. Sumlin.

Published in: on December 15, 2011 at 10:22 am  Comments (1)  

The Dust and the Ache

Dust and the A   etching by Tony Fitzpatrick

This time of year, the colors become more of the earth–mud, sticks, grays, silvers, and pink sunrises and sunsets.  As the leaves fall off the trees, the skeletal picture of winter begins to render itself in this city. It gets dark at 4:30 and the cold becomes even more biting. It is to remind you that winter is cruel and winter is coming.  Getting old is not for pussies.

I always notice the people who work outside in this weather–the Streets and San guys, the mailman, the U.P.S. drivers, the cab drivers.  There is a middle-aged man who walks dogs in my neighborhood.  He got downsized out of his corporate job some years ago and I notice him because he is so close to my age.   He tells me that he was no longer “relevant.”  He says this without acrimony or bitterness.  He tells me it is what it is.  He tells me it is the best thing that ever happened to him; that he walks dogs for a living, mostly for cash that he doesn’t have to report and he lives a simple kind of life.

“I’ve learned gratitude.  I’ve learned it from the dogs.  I take them to Wicker Park and sit on the bench and we watch the world change minute by minute and it is not bad.  I got off the Hamster wheel.”
I’m sometimes uncomfortable around him because he is so close to my age. Selfishly; I feel like irrelevance might be contagious .

In fact in the art world, I’m pretty damned irrelevant–a dinosaur, a guy who makes pictures, which is SO last century.  So not post modern.  In Chicago, for years, there has been an effort to imbue the pantomime of art-making with the same definition as actual art-making.  In some circles, talk is the same as art.

Yeah.

Really.

Blow me.

To all you “conceptual” theorists, tell me how that works out for you

Culture moves fast,  usually faster than we do. It’s HOW one is rendered irrelevant.  What one generation considers important, or considers art, or literature, the next doesn’t.  One minute you are the next big whisper, the next, you’re talking to dogs.

I kind of get it and oddly, I accept it.

I’ve never functioned well in the art world.  I always had more in common with the Teamsters and cops assigned to art fairs than the art world mout breathers. Twenty years ago, when Chicago had the biggest art fair in the world, I remember talking with the Teamsters and kind of seeing this silly world full of self-important douchebags through their eyes.  One of my favorite lines came from my pal, Pirate, who has been a Teamster at Navy Pier for years.

“Hey, Tone. . .who dresses these motherfuckers?”

You’d have had to have been there to notice the absolute earnestness in Pirate’s face when he offered this query.

The truth is, I don’t belong here.  I’m a statistical aberration; one of those square peg, oddball cases.  I love making art and I hate the world one must traffic in to exist while doing this.  It is full of boot-lickers, ass-kissers, dilettantes, wankers, paste-eaters and pukes and sadly, these dopes?   They are necessary and as much as I would like it to not be true, these twat’ push the discourse forward, like it or not.

I never liked the contempt the collector class had for working class people.  People like the long line of them that I come from.  I remember once hearing a dipshit dealer complain about the working class’ enclave near where he “summered.”  He was pissed that the “service industry people” were
clogging up the supermarket on the weekends.  In fact, he thought they should have their own, on their side of town.  I’ve always been ashamed that I didn’t say anything.  I was new to all of this and didn’t want to upset anyone.  Needless to say, I soon got over this.

It is this time of year I’m extra nice to the dog walkers, the mail people, those who lift, push, carry, and build things, because I know I’m supposed to be out there in the winter weather with them,pushing a wheel-barrow, carrying an 8-pound sledge, building or pouring a form; the jobs I used to do before I refused to do anything seriously except draw pictures.  I remember the ache of physical work and sometimes I miss it.  It was a fatigue earned in the dust.  In an animal kind of way, I understood.   These are my people and this was my lot.  It was simple and honest and elemental.  Creating things is a burden and it fills you with strange, onerous fires that change who you are and how you carry your pain and your joy in this world.  It is the curse we are blessed with. . . those lucky enough to be afflicted with Art.

Published in: on December 5, 2011 at 10:47 pm  Comments (3)  
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