Thirty years ago, Peregrine falcons were among the most endangered of species. DDT and other pesticides did near-irreparable damage to their population. Luckily, the Cornell breeding project, conservation-minded falconers, and the the government joined forces in a “perfect storm” of protective measures to save the Peregrine.
It was also discovered that this falcon adapted beautifully to the urban landscape. They nest in the tall buildings all over the city and are fairly surrounded by an endless supply of pigeons to feast upon.
I watched this first hand one day. I was walking across Daley Plaza when I saw an explosion of feathers about fifty feet over my head. It looked like a pillow had exploded. The luckless pigeon dropped to the plaza and the Peregrine had spread her wings over her kill and proceeded to chow down on some squab. Pedestrians gave her a wide berth; some stopped to watch quietly, grateful they’d not been born a pigeon. I noticed all of the other pigeons got the fuck out of the plaza in a big hurry and nobody got within 20 feet of her while she ate.
What had happened was the falcon spotted her dinner and dove from about seven or eight hundred feet at a speed of 165 miles per hour and hit this poor bastard with her breast bone. The rock dove never knew what hit him. It would be like the gods dropping a boxcar on you.
I’m glad there are peregrines in Chicago. They are damn-near a perfect symbol for our city, in their beauty and cruelty. Chicago is that kind of city; you can hang on the cross, or you can pound in the nails.
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.
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.