Chicago Graffiti and 7 other issues on the brain

Dear King Daley,

1) Repeal the spray paint ban.
Please repeal the idiotic ban against selling spray paint in Chicago. It does nothing to deter graffiti and makes it incredibly difficult to obtain for non-graffiti purposes.

Now I'm a big fan of graffiti. I love the idea of a city full of walls that are exploding with colors, letters, and crazy characters. It creates a richness and liveliness that is otherwise lacking in an urban environment dominated by dull, lifeless, muted colors. But I do hate gang tags, and I do think that a citizen's personal property should be respected. So I can understand that for some people graffiti is a problem that needs to be solved. And for those people I think the city has a great graffiti removal service - just dial 311 and within a day or two city workers will come and remove it. But by no means does banning spray paint reduce graffiti in Chicago. Graffiti artists will simply find an outside source for spray paint (thus making it harder to track), or they will choose to tag with acid markers, stickers, sharpies, or scratching implements (arguably more damaging and harder to remove than paint).

2) Stop selling out the city's infrastructure.
*Sigh* Apparently Chicago has just privatized it's parking meters, allowing Morgan Stanley to take control over the parking meters for $1.16 billion. Supposedly the rates for the meters will now quadruple to $1.00 an hour. The leasing of public infrastructure appears to be a trend in Chicago - recently Midway airport was leased to a private company for 99 years. This is some serious bull. We pay some of the highest taxes in the nation, only for our infrastructure to be sold to the highest bidder, yet we still have a major budget crisis and crappy roads. Could someone please explain to me how this is possible?

3) Stop trying to get the Olympics here.
Yes, we know you like to make yourself look good. But trust me, having the Olympics come to Chicago will NOT be good publicity for you. Just imagine athletes missing their events while waiting for their CTA bus, or by having their flight delayed to O'Hare, or by their taxi breaking down after hitting a 4 foot deep pothole. Kiiiinda embarrassing, no? In the meantime, you are wasting a lot of time, energy, and (thanks to Blagojevich) committing more taxpayer money to this endeavor while your city's infrastructure is crumbling.

4) Stop hating on street musicians and street vendors, and culture in general.
What is the point of banning hot dog vendors from downtown Chicago? Why can't musicians busk on the sidewalks of Michigan Avenue? Why are there so many restrictions for small venues? Almost every major city in the world benefits from street performers and street vendors filling their streets. It creates a sense of communal space and makes the public way something more than a transitory element. The sidewalk goes from being a slab of concrete that gets someone from Starbucks to Dunkin' Donuts and becomes something living and breathing on its own. This seems like such an easy and harmless thing to do. I really don't know why Daley wants to run this town like a police state...

5) Term limits.
Daley, you've been mayor for almost 20 years now, and your father was mayor for 21 years. Combined, the Daley empire has ruled Chicago for almost half a century. As the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. With term limits, Chicago taxpayers could avoid the stranglehold of two decade mayors, forcing fresh blood in periodically and flushing out corruption.

6) Get rid of Lake Shore Drive.
The city has done an amazing job of preserving a lot of prime downtown lake shore real estate for public parks. Yet it completely ruins the lakefront for pedestrians by running a giant highway between the park and the lakefront.

7) Corruption.
Yeah, a no brainer, I know. But this city is way too tolerant of corruption. Part of me thinks that Midwesterners take a certain kid-like pride in Chicago's organized crime roots - as if it makes us tougher. The other part of me thinks that there is just a high tolerance for corruption because there has been so much of it, meaning Chicagoans will continue to support corrupt politicians, despite their scandals. If it isn't the police or the politicians, it's the building and zoning departments or the city inspectors. I think the first step in fixing corruption is to simplify and streamline bureaucratic processes (tangled and convoluted red tape means greater opportunities for corruption).

8) Segregation, Classism, and Gentrification.
Certainly these issues are a problem in any city, but in my opinion Chicago simply ignores these issues all together (or are so tolerant that change is very slow). The city focuses on improving downtown shopping and tourist districts while sweeping the voiceless away by bulldozing public housing and conducting arbitrary raids on illegal immigrant workers. There is certainly a lack of prioritization and focus going on.

I started this out as just a small rant about spray paint but realized I had more on my mind. Chicago is a great town, but it keeps shooting itself in the foot. What kills me is that a lot of improvements could be made to this city and it wouldn't cost a dime! They might actually generate more jobs and revenue. Let the street musicians play wherever, let street vendors sell hot dogs downtown, remove beaurocratic red tape to reduce bribery, let me buy spray paint in the store, reduce spending on cosmetic architecture improvements and focus on infrastructure development (but don't sell it), put term limits on the mayor, connect the park to the lake, and reduce the police-state of downtown Chicago.

I think the biggest obstacle in the way of any change is of course Daley. Being a corrupt Democratic incumbent mayor in a heavily Democratic town means that he will continue to win a re-election as long as he runs as the Democratic candidate. The only way it will change is if he leaves voluntarily, or if he makes such a big political blunder that he ruins any chance of re-election.

Here's to hoping things can get better for Chicago in 2009.

Happy new year ya'll!

R.I.P. Freddie Hubbard...

Another jazz great has passed away. Freddie Hubbard died this past Monday of a heart attack - he was 70. He was an amazing jazz trumpet player whose reputation and playing was second to none - he played on some seriously groundbreaking records. If ya didn't know, now you know! Check him out, and I've said it before - if you have the chance to see live jazz by a living legend, do it now...

Rest in peace Freddie! Hope you are rockin' out in the after life.

Commercialism in Music: Get Creative!

I just read this NY Times article about commercialism in music. The author of this article believes that as recording companies begin to fall, commercial licensing companies will begin to emerge as dominant players in the market.

I couldn't agree more. However, while the author suggests that this is somehow a negative turn of events, I'm not sure I quite agree. It feels like a lateral move towards status quo.

The musician today has more choices than ever. The digital age has enabled free music distribution and has allowed musicians to connect with more people across the globe than ever before. So why does it feel harder than ever to get noticed?

The answer is signal to noise ratio. With millions of bands out there, and infinite, unlimited access to all the bands, consumers and fans are paralyzed and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of music available. A new band in this environment has a tremendous challenge to get noticed. The ruthless ambition of a young band might lead them to a licensing company, who will in turn sell their music for the purposes of marketing a new product or promoting a new movie.

Whether or not you believe that commercial licensing somehow devalues the music, it isn't anything *new*! And that's the real problem.

We still buy into the old notions of how music can be bought, sold, and licensed. Much of the current music industry depends on old tactics applied to the internet. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking happening just yet, in fact most of the music industry is dominated with fear about the demise of traditional revenue streams. So bands are scared too, don't know what to do; they seek out licensing companies and sell their tracks on iTunes and sign multi-million contracts with Live Nation.

Our problem is that we all instantly became dinosaurs when the internet became ubiquitous. In less than 10 years the entire world changed. The old rules don't apply, yet we keep trying to apply them. Fear dominates every action, there is too much change happening - it's all disruptive and our natural human reaction is to shout out apocalyptic visions.

But we've gotta maintain perspective. The opportunities created by the internet and technology only serve to empower musicians, not stifle them. To say that bands can only make money off licensing and touring seems very shortsighted and old-world to me now. We've got to look beyond the old ways and think of new ways for bands to make a living. Maybe the concept of a music band needs to be stretched to involve filmmakers and artists. Maybe musicians have to become more like traditional businessmen. Maybe the concept of an album needs to be redefined.

The demand for music will never go away. So - for a musician to survive, that means that they've got to get creative and innovative with how they want to present themselves to the world - and realize that there are infinite routes and ways to measure success. It might take a few generations to become comfortable with all this freedom...but in the meantime we can at least remain positive about the changes that are upon us and see them as opportunities and not setbacks.

Bucket drumming and other ideas

I recently went out of town and as usual started getting lots of scatterbrained ideas for projects.

Bucket drumming. I like those street drummers like the bucket boys but while they display amazing feats of speed, coordination and flashy handwork, there is something missing. I feel the same way about marching band style drumming and the blue man group. It's like there is a stylistic, melodic component that I'm looking for but is not there.

Some bucket drummers use pots, pans, grills, and other cookware to get some different sounds this guy. It started me thinking of how I could build an interesting junk set with lots of different types of sounds - wood, metal, plastic, hollow, solid, trashy - and also incorporate interesting pitched tones or long drones. Unfortunately, probably having a shit load of different sounding things wouldn't make it a very portable kit.

I then started to drift off and reminded myself of my first years in college when I didn't have a drumset. I remember hauling a garbage can on the bus, using different cardboard boxes for a bass drum, and hitting change in a bag for a hihat/snare sound. I found out the best and deepest sounding kick drum can come from one of those big industrial plastic garbage bins just laid on its side. So I started thinking as if I was one of those bucket drummers. Well I'd probably choose one of those big plastic garbage bins for a big boomy bass sound. If it had caster wheels on it (some do) then when it is upright it could be used to store a smaller snare like bucket (maybe a bucket with bottle caps attached to the head?). Then I'd want some sort of metal sound that had a range - from a simple hihat-ish tick to maybe a thicker/trashier sound. Maybe a piece of old ductwork? Finally I think I'd want to incorporate some sort of melodic component, tuned to a specific "personal" melody that would work well with polyrhythms. Hmm...Mbira? But something you can hit with sticks. A giant sized mbira. Something that could elicit semi-long and mushy drones.

It's not the first time I've tried to come up with an interesting street performer type setup. Ultimately what seems to stop me is - would this be fun for me? Interesting to watch? I think I'd like to do it, but what purpose would it serve for the public? Ah...deep and confused questions are starting to appear, revealing my relationship to music and performance. For fear of being a self-serving and self-aggrandizing performer (maybe this fear is the source of my block and awkwardness towards solo performances? hmm...) the next logical step is to introduce elements outside of myself or eliminate myself from the equation.

My first thought was to attach some sort of boombox/speaker thing to the drumset and plug an iPod into it. Have some music going through that, either original compositions or some music I choose, and play to that. It adds a rich melodic component but I can still riff to it. It's like playing with another person. A lot of street performers do this, but usually to terrible music.

Then I started thinking, "Maybe I should just eliminate myself completely from this." I don't know why my mind went here. But I started to think about public space and people in it. The problem with street performers is that it's like being a guy on a soapbox shouting to the world. You get a lot of people mildly involved with what you are doing, and perhaps in a rare instance someone is deeply affected by what you are doing or saying. But it would be interesting to flip the situation on the public and have a few individuals passing by become the performers themselves, becoming deeply involved with what is going on. An easy way to do this would be to have a pair of interesting looking horn shaped speakers setup in a public area and invite whoever is passing by to plug in their iPod and play a song through it. Almost everyone has some sort of portable music player these days and thinks the music they are listening to is the Best Music Ever so naturally there would be some people who'd like to take off their headphones, plug into some giant ass speakers and blast their favorite song in a subway tunnel while they wait for the train.

I think this kind of thing would be interesting to setup and watch how people use it. Would they abuse it? Fight over the use? Be annoyed by it? Or not really see the point?

It'd be really cool if the speakers were directional and could only be heard within a 20 foot radius of the speakers. This would give annoyed people room to move away but also create a confined physical area like a dance floor for those who want to listen. Now it's interesting because the performer is pushing and pulling people in a physical space.

So here is the scene: Some guy with his iPod is listening to a song that he really likes and wants to blast it loudly while he waits for his train. He plugs into this device in the middle of the subway platform and it starts playing the music in a 20 foot radius. Captivated listeners stay in the circle and start dancing. Annoyed people move out of the circle and can't hear anything. And they are now watching people dancing in silence. The whole thing seems like a fun experiment to try, and something that could remain interesting if permanently installed in one location for a long period of time.

But back to the bucket drumming. I'd like to do this, even if it wasn't for a street performance thing. Hm. I wish there was a venue for trying something like this out. I have tons of weird sound ideas/games/experiments I'd like to try.

The Hairy Ball Theorem

Probably one of the best articles I've ever stumbled upon on Wikipedia.


Don't mess with us.


Holy crap, Obaaaaamaaaa! I just got back from the Obama rally at Grant Park. I think I'm still in disbelief that Obama won, and by such a large margin! I was expecting a really long, drawn out, excruciating vote tally that would last all night. By 10:00 CST they had called it for Obama. The rally was kinda weird in that they split up the crowd - Griselda and I got stuck behind a barricade half way in the field that prevented us from getting any closer to the stage, but we probably wouldn't have been able to see much better anyway. The crowd was fucking great, young and diverse and genuinely felt like a breath of fresh air...both Barack and McCain's speeches were great. I don't think it will all really kick in until I wake up tomorrow. Holy crap. Sooo awesome.

I really liked the line in Obama's speech where he mentioned that those who did not vote for him might be disappointed, but that he will listen - and that he will be their president too. This sentiment is one of my favorite aspects of Obama, that he will listen to everyone, and try to work towards common solutions. People put a lot of emphasis on the candidates' policies, issues, agendas and idealism, but despite it all, a good leader is one who is smart, a good communicator, and listens to both sides - all sides - before coming to a decision. And I hope this remains a fundamental aspect of an Obama/Biden administration. Because our nation is shouting, the world is shouting, and someone needs to listen. I'm excited and proud that we were able to vote Obama as our president. A weird, patriotic feeling, I have not felt before. It makes me think we are capable of more. I for one am not expecting any sweeping changes in the next few years in our government - I remain about as cynical as I was before about the capacity for our government to solve our problems. But Obama's power is that he motivates people to get up, get involved, and solve their own problems. And this kind of grassroots-y motivation is just what the doctor ordered - it is a catalyst for real change.

Brilliant campaign. GObama! Whew! We made it!

Call Me (and Vote)

Today is Election day! (happy b-day keevs!) Don't forget to vote! It's also a great excuse to call that special someone and remind them to vote, catch up, or just say hi. Here's a little something I cooked up last night that you can play all day to help you remember to call them (and vote)...

Attached audio files: 

Fight the Smears!

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Obama party pic

Courtesy of Rogge. Just want to put this on file for the future.