The Union Stockyards have been closed since 1971. The century of suffering, human and animal, still bears much historical currency. We are still thought of in literature as “hog butcher of the world.” Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle brought great change in the meat packing industry. Until this great novel, nobody inspected the meat we ate. Six months after The Jungle was published, the U.S.D.A. started inspecting the slaughterhouses and the meat being issued by them. It was a grimy, filthy business. The Armours and Swifts built threadbare shanty-towns for their workers–mostly Czechs, Polish and Ukrainians– and the conditions were so unsanitary, that workers often brought home blood-borne diseases on their clothing and skin. There were no wash stations or showers. At one point the infant mortality rate was so high, one out of three children did not live until his first birthday.
It was a cruel life imposed upon generations of immigrants, all the while building great fortunes for the Armours and Swifts. I write this because I realize this has always been a city of great cruelty…to people, to animals, and somebody always profited from this suffering. It’s a little late in the game to be surprised by this, yet still, I am. This piece is called “The Prize Bull.’ It’s based on a pinata I saw when I was about 7 years old.
Every Sunday, I waited patiently while my father read the comics. I would not get them until he was finished. When he’d flip the section over to read the back page, I’d get a peek at what I’d been waiting for all week–Dick Tracy…the Sunday color comics. I loved Dick Tracy. His creator, Chester Gould, lavished much attention on the villains, as if their evil-doing were manifested into their very physicality.
Flat-Top, The Mole, Prune-Face…they were a gallery of grotesques unlike anything else in newspaper comics. Dick Tracy dispensed justice with a Calvinist zeal, shooting bad guys through the head electrocuting them. It was an immensely violent comic for a family newspaper.
As a kid, I drew Dick Tracy obsessively, as well as the villains. I also got to meet Mr. Gould when I was a kid and he was kind and told me to stay away from hippies and long-haired no-goodniks. I told him I would and was sworn in as a crime-stopper. So I got that going for me. . .
This will be in the new show in the spring. There were five deaths from gunfire in our city this weekend, and no small amount of violence perpetuated by drunken assholes “celebrating” St. Patrick’s Day.I guess Chicago has always had ice-cold killers, and is a city of immense cruelty. You don’t want to believe it, or at least, I don’t. But it is a mean city, and after midnight, there is absolutely no mercy here at all.
Anybody who loved roiling and thrashing punk rock loved this place. People bitched that it was a shithole. It smelled bad, the bathrooms were gross, it was grungy. Well, it was rock and roll–it was supposed to be dangerous and grimy. It was also, and still is, a perfectly serviceable bowling alley. I will always love this place.
I saw The Orwells and Sleater Kinney here. Every time I went to the Fireside I felt like I was easily twenty years too old to be there, and I’d look around and realize I wasn’t the only geezer there. This place was a uniquely American venue, a bedrock of Chicago music history– grease, sweat , blood, and spit–the very stuff of rock and roll.