I had the honor of doing the cover for the great Frank Catalano’s new cd, God’s Gonna Cut You Down. He is joined by the great Jimmy Chamberlin. These are “essential sides.”
More and more the Albert Camus quote about artists taking a long and arduous journey to rediscover the one or two images that first opened their heart; feels true to me. As a kid. I loved signs, and Chicago was full of them. I also memorized the ones in Villa Park and Lombard as a way of navigating. I loved the Cock Robin sign because of the rainbow cones you could get there– three neon-bright square scoops of sherbet. I also loved their burgers, which is not to say that they were good. They weren’t. they were buffalo-pucks, but as a kid, I ate all manner of garbage happily.
One of the things I loved in Tokyo was all of the packaging of candy, snacks, flair, popsicles, you name it. There were all kinds of signs and messages therein. Even today, I can tell what kind of neighborhood I’m in anywhere in the world just by the signs.
The Drive on Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard from the Pacific to downtown LA takes you through every American circumstance and appetite, from the penthouse to the outhouse and back. One minute you’re driving through tony Bel-Air, and very soon you’re among the walking wounded of East LA. This drive is amazing at night, when Los Angeles looks like a fleet, sleek animal decked out in lights. I get what people love about it. On that majestic ride, everything looks possible.
Needless to say there were no Cock Robin burger joints in LA. They have Rick’s In-and-Out Burger, which is way better and also has an iconic sign.
People who’ve had near death experiences will always tell you “your life flashes before your eyes” or some such jive. In truth, they are not all the way wrong. You find yourself revisiting places, situations, and circumstances that are familiar, kind of like a deja vu thing, but more resonant because it is something from your life, if this makes any sense.
I saw the Cock Robin sign, the side of my house from childhood where my mother grew lily of the valley, and my sister’s rabbits, among other things. They felt like missives from a childhood, waving good-bye.
Somebody sent me a picture of this bird on Facebook. I believe its proper name is a “Silver Eared Maltesia,” which sounds like a medication you take for the clap. One often sees these birds in the Asian bird markets, where they are sold tethered to sticks as cage birds–a stupid and cruel practice which I wish would cease. In fact, I wish all trafficking in exotic birds would be outlawed. I’ve never understood the instinct of people who would cage a creature meant to fly. It seems contrary to the creature itself, and identifies a deep and abiding cruelty.
This drawing has its genesis in remembering ditching high school and going downtown to hang around the bus station, where you could buy cigarettes, fuck-books, and rolling papers. It was at the corner of Clark and Randolph and it was a pungent, down-at-the-heels, way station for transients and those down on their luck, forced to ride the dog. Old people would sit in their chairs and pay to watch television, 15 minutes at a time.
Homeless people would do the same thing, except pretend to watch television, catching a few nods. This place is where questions about “class” in America began to take sharper focus for me. This drawing is about remembering that place. I miss it. Every time I hear Steve Earle sing ‘Continental Trailways Blues‘ or think about Denis Johnson’s brilliant novel, Angels, this place comes alive in my memory.
There is a marvelous novel by Colum McCann, the great Irish writer, called Let the Great World Spin, that is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It takes place on the day Phillipe Petit dances his magical dance on a high wire between the Twin Towers. It links together moments of lives that at first seem separate in the book, only to have sometimes close, sometimes tenuous connections, and hints at how dependent our stories are on each other. It is an immensely human and heartbreaking book. There is a couple mourning the deaths of their sons in VietNam and their grief renders a distance of whistling miles between them–a couple of Irish brothers, one a monk making their way in a new country they don’t quite comprehend and maybe aren’t quick enough for… it is a truly lovely book. I love daredevils like Petit, and his remarkable walk between the Towers, where he takes the time to play and dance and just almost become part of the air, and the wire, and the sky. . .it certainly makes the case that life is an all-or-nothing proposition. This bird is for Phillipe Petit.
If you’d ever seen Bobby Keys, you’d never forget him; big body, face like a canned ham, sandy-grey hair, and a smile as big as Texas. He was from that part of the country where you swear there is something in the water that makes musicians–Lubbock County, which gave the world everyone from Buddy Holly to Delbert McClinton. Bobby was from Slaton Texas , a stone’s throw from the county seat in Lubbock.
I don’t know how many times and in how many incarnations I saw Bobby Keys. Of course I saw him with the Stones, his biggest platform in rock and roll. But I also got to see him with Joe Ely at the Fitzgeralds American Music Festival, playing the kind of music he was born to play and playing with musicians who shared the same hard-scrabble geography of childhood that he did.
Over the years I’d seen him play with Lloyd Maynes, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and all manner of Texas troubadours and he was never less than a force of nature. His sound was as distinct as that of big Lee Allen; like a sonic fingerprint. He also had the Bobby Keys mythology following him around– the only guy to get kicked out of the Stones for a while after drinking a bath-tub full of Dom Perignon. There was talk that he drank it while he and two French hookers had cavorted in it, but Bobby often said he’d already drank it by the time the hookers arrived, saying “I’ve got too much respect for Dom Perignon, than to BRUISE it in such a way.”
Whenever I listen to John Lennon’s Whatever Gets You Through the Night, I always think it is the kind of song he should have written more of. All throughout this joyful stomp is Bobby Keys, off the leash and running amok and it is the aural picture of a good time. Or when I hear the Stones’ Can’t You Hear Me Knockin‘, it is Bobby’s horn playing that low, rhythmic, dirty mind kind of horn that seems to crawl up from the depths and reach into your pants. His horn provided a great percentage of the Stones suggestive and transgressive funk, grease, and dirt and I, for one, am going to miss him.
These are actually Blackburnian warblers. They blow through here during migration. My pal, Greg, knows a place where you can see them every year in Lincoln Park.
I met with a bunch of the Chicago and Illinois Birders the other night at The Rail, a joint up on the north side. We watched the Bears get creamed and talked birds. It’s amazing to be in the company of people who know so much; where the owls will be, where this bird and that bird will be and always having to adjust estimations because of stuff like climate-change and adjust expectations accordingly. Sometimes I feel like I am WAY too late to all of thit, but these folks made me feel at ease. The only desire that is important to them is the desire to see birds, and to share in the wonder of what they magically bring into our world. I’m very grateful to be in their company and it’s wonderful to be able to learn so much new information at my age. I’m lucky.
Somebody sent me a picture of this bird on Facebook. I believe its proper name is a “Silver Eared Maltesia,” which sounds like a medication you take for the clap. One often sees these birds in the Asian bird markets, where they are sold tethered to sticks as cage birds; a stupid and cruel practice which I wish would cease. In fact, I wish all trafficking in exotic birds would be outlawed. I’ve never understood the instinct of people who would cage a creature meant to fly. It seems contrary to the creature itself, and identifies a deep and abiding cruelty.
This is actually a Riverside wren, a little bird endemic to Costa Rica and Central America. It is endangered because of shrinking habitat and climate change. The State of the Bird Report from the ABA came out last month with some dire and sobering results regarding the expected extinction of hundreds of songbirds in the next decade, which will be devastating to our ecosystem and a grim reminder of what “progress” has robbed us of. . .
For the past 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of making the cover art for Steve Earle’s CD and album covers. The new one, Terraplane, is a blues record, and it is a knock-out. It is named for the old car that Nash used to make; one that blues men referred to as, “The Money Ride.”