Monday, June 29, 2009

You Missed Out: Black Moth Super Rainbow

It was only 45 minutes, but nobody can ever complain about a free show. And Black Moth Super Rainbow was certainly a trip to see at noon in Millennium Park. This was a match made in the cornea of the third eye of mythological beasts. But BMSR were able to pull off something that I haven't seen since Andrew Bird's show last year, they got the kids out of their chairs and dancing up front.

People were blowing bubbles, grooving without abandon and probably high on this or that. It was a fun, psychedelic 45 minutes. For most of the kids here, it was early morning. What a strange Monday in the city of Chicago. College students mixed in with wandering tourists and Taste of Chicago strays. It was motley. And why shouldn't it be? After all, this is the city where wind blows. If the right ear catches the fuzz and noise of a psych-rock indie rock show, the listener ad the music find each other.

And look at the reward for trudging out to the park so early in the day. Just look at that picture up there. The lead singer sat on the ground the whole time, mumbling into that pink stick. He sounded like a robot on acid. And if that isn't the silliest hat I've ever seen, then I don't know hats. And the overweight ninja. What was going on here?

I have no idea what I just experienced. Families, old couples, hippies and everybody was here for this event. Why? What were thinking?

Boy am I confused. Black Moth Super Rainbow really did a number on me. But I'm glad that they did. I would have regretted having skipped this one.

Enjoy the good music, folks. Don't miss out.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Love and Happiness Exists

After tomorrow’s post, Total Darkness vs. Blinding Light must take a very short break. I will be in the wilderness, camping. I’m assuming that wi-fi isn’t available at campsites, so on Tuesday and Wednesday, just read something else. Maybe the Bible, that’s always good. Or some Carl Jung (that’s what I’ve been wrapped up in lately), that’ll satisfy your subconscious for a while.

But when I do return to my blog, it will be with tidings from Milwaukee. We’re heading out to Summerfest on Wednesday for Bob Dylan. I will have a lot to say I’m sure, for this is an important event in my life. A sort of fulfillment of prophecy. If you care about me at all (as a friend, acquaintance, secret crush, whatever), make sure you check out this blog again on Thursday.

But I do have something coming tomorrow. A “You Missed Out” post. I’m not going to tell you what’s happening, but it might involve my first acid trip. Okay, not really. But check out tomorrow’s post to see what you're about to miss out on. If you’re like me, you love getting told how badly you screwed up. Negative reinforcement is the best reinforcement.

Speaking of screwing up, did anybody see the Cubs today? Wow. I know that our White Sox aren’t so hot either, but sheesh. Were there two easy fly balls in one inning that the Cubs weren’t able to catch? As a Sox fan, it felt good to watch that game. But the Cubs were so bad, I actually felt some empathy for my northside brothers and sisters. I wish you all a quick emotional recovery. I’ll wait until then, but once your wounds have healed, I’ll be rubbing it in your face pretty hard. Right now, I have pity on you.

This is a very informational post. No poetics. No dismal bullshit. I guess I’m tired. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s just one of those days. But I am in no mood for storytelling now. I admit, I am using a grand total of one half of my ass on this post. And I’m sorry.

But it was a ridiculous week. Tons of celebrities died, I got a horrible new issue of Relevant Magazine in my mailbox for some reason and the humidity didn’t let up for days. Plus, I still don’t have a job. Things are rough.

Still, I want to end this post on a high note. On Wednesday, an Al Green song came to my attention (V103 folks.). Love and Happiness. You can find it in my player on the right. If you need to feel a little bit of goodness in your soul, do give it a spin. The funk hit me so nice a few days ago that I actually exclaimed, “oh my God!” “Yes!” “Wooo!”

Because, for all of my doomsday talk, there actually are such things as love AND happiness. They do exist in this world. May we all experience their goodness soon. They are surely much better experiences to have than hate and misery. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about here.

By the way, that sweet art at the top of the page was created by Ian Johnson. Brilliant, yes? Maybe the best picture I've ever posted in this blog. Dig it.

And, go Sox.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Keeping Up with the Violence

I listen to the news on the radio, read it online and watch it on TV. I do this because I'm sadistic. I believe that the world is a horrible place for human beings to live, and I need regular validation. The news is brutal. There's so much rape and murder in this city alone, journalists have to take their pick on which story is better. That is, which story is worse. "What will make their stomachs churn tonight?"

It's not so much that the actual newspeople are concerned with gruesome events, the problem is with the people who ingest this media. After all, it's the consumer's choice what they decide to put into their minds and bodies. We are a sick bunch of humans. If we can't watch gladiators kill slaves at the Coliseum anymore, we satisfy our primal urges by keeping ourselves informed of the daily death news. We're just sick. Humans need violence, even if they won't commit the acts themselves, they need to know it exists.

Even our grandparents, the people who will never go to an R-rated movie after hearing Clark Gable say "damn" in Gone with the Wind, ingest the news on a daily basis. They hear about the latest story of gang cross fire killing a five year old on the south side and shake their heads, "what a shame. What a shame." And that's the full extent of their remorse. They know violence continues, they accept it, and they drink their Lipton tea.

Our great religion is based entirely on violence. Through the crucifixion of Christ, we find our salvation. Without his bloody, awful death, we cannot be saved. Violence speaks so directly to the heart of humanity. We all understand it so clearly, not mentally of course, but innately. Subconsciously. Violence keeps us grounded in the animal kingdom.

But when a wolf rips into a rabbit, tearing through the fur and tugging its guts out, there's nothing violent about that. That's nature, and nothing more. Oh, but if a human subtly sticks a rusty knife into the neck of 10 year old boy in a public setting, now that's headline news! We need to know about our violence. If we lose violence, we lose our nature. Our spiritual side becomes malnourished if we forget about the torture they put Christ through. Without violence, we are robots. Violence proves our emotion and passion. It proves that we believe in things. We go to war for a cause. We set the electric chair a-glowin' for political reasons. And I won't even get started on abortion.

Don't be surprised anymore. We are fearsome creatures, capable of intense evil. This is true of all humans. There is not one person incapable of murder. I am capable of murdering you. You can just as easily murder me. But let's hold off. We can just watch the news and get our satiation just before Conan and Letterman help us laugh it all away.

As For Film: Moon

Homage to sci-fi has been done before, but never with such dignity. Moon’s space station looks like an old Star Wars set from the 70s’, they just replaced the light bulbs and dusted things off. The talking base computer reminds us of 2001’s HAL constantly. It's definitely not ripping anything off, director Duncan Jones is simply giving credit where credit is due.

Add to this great homage a stellar performance by Sam Rockwell and the always-spectacular composer Clint Mansell, and Moon is a pretty fascinating piece of work. More than likely, the theater audience is made up of people who watched the trailer online. Already knowing that this film is going to have something to do with multiple identities, the viewers are treated to even more surprises as time goes on. But to our surprise, the film doesn't really end up being what we think it will be, and some of the film’s biggest mysteries are never revealed.

In the first act, it seems possible that our protagonist, Sam, is playing head games with himself. And indeed, he is imagining some weird stuff. But eventually, he stops imagining, and reality sets in. By the time we’ve taken this dose of reality, we’re surprised, a little bit disappointed, and intrigued by this unique story that begins to unfold.

Three things keep us glued to Moon, two of which I’ve already mentioned (Sam Rockwell and Clint Mansell). The film moves in such a way that keeps us constantly guessing. At the exact moments in which Jones intends for us to figure a new piece of information out, we do. But each new thread beckons another question, and this continues up until the end of the movie.

But there’s one image that we won’t find clarity on. Oddly enough, this image sets off the entire chain of events in the film. … That girl. Perhaps this is a MacGuffin. Perhaps we’re never supposed to know what this magic image is, but it's the only key to all of our heroes’ questions. Who was that girl? What was that all about?

And yes, there is more than one hero in this movie. But both of them are the same person. As confusing as that sounds in writing, Sam Rockwell makes it look easy. This is probably the actor’s finest performance of his career. Once he proved himself in Snow Angels, Rockwell is set in stone as one of better actors we can have the pleasure of watching at the movies nowadays.

But the real kicker is Clint Mansell’s soundtrack. Mansell found fame with Requiem for a Dream, and some of the residue of that intense musical anxiety is left over for Moon. Synthesized fear, mystery and claustrophobia with a little bit of futuristic dread keep the intensity thumping.

I’m still wondering what this movie is about though. Some of the base computers were named after the synoptic gospels. Is Moon about the pre-programmed truth of religion? Clones are not treated as persons, but as dispensable objects of technology and modern efficiency. Is Moon saying something about social injustice amidst energy efficient, green consumerism? Was Gerty, the base computer, completely neutral? Or was there a sort of subjectivity in this machine? And if the machine was "good," what does that then say about the individuality of Sam? Especially if he's a clone. And what about that girl? Why did he see that girl? Was it his daughter? An angel? An angel of death?

I really think that I might need to see this film again. The first viewing delivered too many surprises, but a second time around might give me some more perspective. I loved the homage though. If you are a sci-fi fan, you must see this film. You will appreciate it (unless you’re a Star Wars or Star Trek nerd, in that case just stick to your sources. There's no geeky action at all in this one). But Kubrick fans, rejoice in the unanswered questions and ambiguity. Moon is a philosophical trip and a cinematic buzz. Bravo, son of Bowie.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Make Wishes, They Come True

I can't count very many happy memories of my mom and dad doing familial things with me. There are a couple that linger, but family moments never transpired again after I turned 8. And I'm not sure if I should call any of the memories "happy" either. Because in one way or another, there was deception in my family. And what seemed like happiness to me when I was 6 probably was a facade.

For example, I have a lovely little memory of watching Walt Disney's Pinocchio with both of my parents. They sat together on the couch, and I sat just in front of them on the carpet. It was a magical experience of course, one that had me believing in wishes. "When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires, your dreams come true," or some Jiminy Cricket bullshit like that. I totally fell for it.

When the movie was over, I had an idea. I would go outside, find the first star in the sky, and make a wish. If Gepetto could look out a window, catch a glimpse of a star and bring a wooden puppet to life, I could easily score what I had in mind.

This wish would complete my collection of Batman toys. I had a few different Batman action figures, even a gold suited Batman, as well as The Joker and some other villains. But I didn't have Robin. This was before Robin appeared in the Batman movies, but I knew how important he was because I read the Batman comic books. Robin was an integral part of the Batman stories, and my playtimes were not what they could be without him. When I found that first star, I would wish for the Robin action figure. Boy did I get excited when I asked my dad if we could go outside.

"You're gonna make a wish? Make sure you find the brightest star in the sky," he walked outside with me. Into the front lawn I wandered, and once I was in well oft into the grass I threw my head up. I almost fell backward. The sky was pitch black. And there were millions of stars in the sky. I'd never seen them like this before, they were beautiful, shining brighter than ever before. I saw my star. I don't know what made it special, but I locked my eyes onto it and didn't let go.

"Now make a wish Dylan!"

I really believed in this wish. I believed in this magic moment. It wasn't just a setting sun, billions of miles away from me, burning pointlessly through the universe. There was no such thing as science now. This star had a supernatural power, and by simply acknowledging it I would have my desires fulfilled. There wasn't a thought in my six-year-old brain that whispered the possibility that this wish might not work. I believed in what we were doing, 100 percent.

I said the words in my head, silently, but in such a rhythm that whoever was listening to my wish would be able to pick up the transmission without any mental stutters. "Starlight, starbright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, get the wish I wish tonight... I. Wish. For. A. Robin. Action. Figure..." It was done. A mere thought, and now, physical reward. It made perfect sense.

"So what did you wish for?" I turned around at my dad. "Uhhhh," I wasn't sure if I could answer. If I said it out loud, would it come true still? Or was that just for birthday wishes? "I.... wished for...."

"Did you wish for a cookie?"

...No. I definitely didn't wish for a cookie. We have cookies in the house. Why would he think that I might wish for a cookie? I can get a cookie anytime I want. I stared at him confused, still not sure if I could say it out loud. But I had to correct him. I couldn't let him think that I might wish for something so ridiculous. "No, I wished for a Robin action fig-"

"Well why don't you wish for a cookie."

Looking back at him, I could just tell that he was in the mood for a late night snack. And it really killed the moment. The longer he stood there, the faster the magic drifted away. But I looked back into the sky, found whatever measly star required the least amount of bend in my neck, and wished for a cookie anyway. "Ok. I wished for a cookie."

"Ok, let's go back in the house now and see if your wish comes true!"

I walked slowly back towards my dad. I felt kind of disappointed with this wish. There wasn't anything magical about it at all.

We went into the kitchen. My dad opened up the cupboard and grabbed some Oreos. Then he grabbed two glasses out of the cabinet, poured us some milk, and we both ate cookies on the kitchen counter. "Looks like you got your wish!"

I smiled, but didn't say anything. They were good cookies. I was in no place to complain. And I learned a lesson about reality. A wish can only come true if it's possible. And maybe it might have been very possible to get a Robin toy, but my dad never did buy it for me. Nor did it magically appear in my toy collection later that night. Wishing upon a star isn't as fun when you know that your wish will come true five minutes later due to your own free will, but in reality, it might be the best wish worth wishing. If I construct my own facade, I'll more easily know how to tear it down.

Then again, maybe I just shouldn't have said it out loud.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Supervillain's Bucket of Death

As a supervillain, I will round up every human being in the world. My method of accomplishing such a task is yet to be determined, but if Noah could get two of every animal, I'm sure that I can get all of the homo sapiens somehow. They will all be thrown into a giant bucket, a thousand feet deep. They will pile, one on top of another, until they are forced to fight against each other to stay at the top of the pile. Higher they'll pile, 100 feet, 200, 500, more. Most of them will suffocate to death. But before suffocating, the immense weight of the humans above them will break ribs and puncture organs. They'll bleed internally and choke on their blood. Millions will see this fate. Billions even.

But to those at the top of the bucket, those with breathing room, they will be in a constant struggle to remain at the top. Suffocating people will constantly be clawing at the man, woman or child above them, trying to pull them down so that they may live. It will look like one of those children's ball pits at the McDonald's playplace. An ocean of humans.

To make matters worse, a polar bear will be dropped into the giant bucket as well. The great carnivore will have his way. He may choose to tear into one already dead, but he will surely prefer to hunt. He will kill some of the strong survivors at the top, until he becomes bored and full. This polar bear will look just like a child jumping around in the ball pit. Oh what fun it will be for the polar bear!

When the bear is bored, he will nap on the dead bodies. The living will keep pressed against one side of the barrel, each person trying to get as close to the edge (as far away from the polar bear) as possible. But once the polar bear becomes hungry again, that person closest to the edge will suffocate against the wall due to the pressure of the panicking people furthest from the wall, pushing in against him. His bones may even break against it as the mob of people all try to push their way through the crowd, away from the coming polar bear. It will be a constant, inescapable panic.

People will puke from fear. Shitting and pissing themselves, it will be a filthy, stinking mess in the bucket. It will be too gruesome for sex. Too hopeless for prayer. All of humanity will admit their situation, and eventually give in to it.

Some will try to kill the polar bear, and all will fail. The polar bear will rip the limbs off of the human that attempts to fight it.

All the while, the human floor will be moving like a waterbed. Barely living people just below the surface will try to force themselves up into the air, pushing with all of their might against the dead and living that surround them. Hands will constantly be grabbing upwards. Tired, hoarse screams will eventually become white noise. Language ceases to exist, as the need for communication becomes altogether useless.

Some will poke their heads up out of the fleshy ground, taking in gulps of air. The polar bear will pounce on them just as a fox kills the woodchuck when he pokes his head out of the prairie hole. Everyone will eventually die. Some will choose throw themselves before the polar bear in hopes of a quicker death. Some will vainly attempt to stay alive as long as possible, suffering and miserable all the while.

By the end, the bucket will look like those clear bottles multi-layered with colored sand. Red layer on yellow layer on brown. It will be a work of art, this bucket of death. Nothing like it will ever be seen again. It will be the final work of art. Its statement eternal. And I will sign my name on the mouth of the polar bear when it's over.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Body is Not a Cage

Arcade Fire got it wrong.  They want their spirits to be set free, they think their bodies are cages. They were almost right, just a little turned around. Our bodies aren't cages, they're all good. We should take care of our bodies and make love to one another with them. In truth, it's our spirits that are the cages.

We must compare everything to the animals. By everything, I mean every aspect of what we believe makes us unique creatures in the world. If we choose to believe in things like justice, ethics, logic, spirituality and politics, we have to qualify them against the animal kingdom. The animals are nothing but bodies. Bodies of cats, bodies of dogs. Whales, lizards, snakes, salmon and giraffes. They're all bodies. And indeed, these creatures are free. It is only when we bring in our "spirit" that we find ourselves enslaved. Our spirit tells us to seek out justice. Look at the animals, they seek no justice. Our spirit tells to follow a code of ethics. Ethics does not exist to the other animals. And spirituality? Well, that's obviously a manifestation of human arrogance. 

It's easy to think that the body is a cage. Easy but stupid. Believing that the body is a cage will lead one to living for spirituality over nature. But this is so dangerous. This will lead to suicide. This will cause us to leap out of our skin, right into the supernatural lake of the afterlife. What a cursed spirit we must have! Telling us all the time that we are not meant for this world. Telling us to hope for Heaven. So how can we get rid of our spirit? How do we break free of this cage?

Today, I declare war on my spirit. By the end of the year, I hope to see it dead on the metaphysical floor. And then I will be able to live a life that isn't restricted by rules that kings and priests made up thousands of years ago. I will join the giraffe who has just escaped the zoo for Africa, and there will be bliss.

And if the spirit is supposedly eternal, I will prove that false. Nothing about me is eternal, no matter how badly I used to want it to be. My spirit is weak, and will soon be dead.

Worry not, the spirit is a liar and a taskmaster. To kill it will be the first inkling of justice a human being has ever experienced. To be back in the animal kingdom, no longer arrogant. Oh what a thought!

Next time you see a child making a mess, join in. When he cries for candy, give it to him. Do not tell him that Santa brings presents to good boys. Do not tell him that Jesus wants to come into his heart and save him. Let him bathe when he wants, let him pull the tails of cats and dogs. Don't hold his hand. Don't hit him. Don't yell at him. Don't tell him what to do. Before he even has the opportunity to accept a spirit of his own, keep the cursed possibility away from him. Just because you have one, that doesn't mean your child deserves one too.

It's either this, or we all just take medication that makes us feel numb. But my friends, we shouldn't feel numb, we should feel alive. As long as we continue to perpetuate the human spirit, we will not feel alive. Who will digress with me? Who will write the letter to Win Butler explaining his mistake?

Or am I alone on this one?

Monday, June 22, 2009

You Missed Out: Dirty Projectors For Free at Millennium Park

I feel confident saying that the girls in The Dirty Projectors are the hottest women in rock and roll today. The things they do with their voices, those harmonies, oh Lord have mercy. They're amazing. I know that every instrument we've ever created is just trying to sound like the human voice in one way or another, but these girls voices sound like something better. Their audio tennis game is so much fun to listen to, and watching them in action makes the Dirty Projectors experience even more exhilirating. If you still haven't seen the Dirty Projectors for some reason, please get on it.

More than likely though, you were at Millennium Park tonight. I haven't seen the place this packed since Andrew Bird filled the Pritzker Pavilion beyond capacity last year. I suppose tonight's full house was due to the headliners, The Sea and Cake. Chicago loves their local bands, especially when they're playing for free. Anyway, I hope you didn't miss out. It was a warm night of agreeably eclectic indie rock.

The Sea and Cake are a perfect summer festival band. If you have a blanket, some alcohol and some friends, the final ingredient for a satisfactory summer music experience is Sea and Cake post-rocking away as you laugh and drink on your plot of grass. It's the perfect background music for a fun summer evening.

Dirty Projectors, on the other hand, demand you stand up to find out what the hell your ears are experiencing. The harmonies are the sort that force you to rethink everything you thought you knew about music. Like that day in college when you first heard Modest Mouse, that feeling you got when you realized that initially weird-sounding music might be more interesting than all of that Dave Matthews and Coldplay (or replace them with Kings of Leon or Jack Johnson for an updated version of the too-popular, overrated Mtv band of the week). Hearing a new Dirty Projectors album makes you say "what is this music?" And then you turn it up.

This will probably be the biggest free show at Millinneum Park this summer, definitely more than double that of St Vincent's turnout. But I wasn't surprised. Two remarkable bands played for free in Chicago tonight, why wouldn't thousands of people be there?

Enjoy the good music, folks. Don't miss out.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

He Named Me After Bob Dylan

25 years ago, I was born. Before the monumental event of my birth, my father found a hero in Bob Dylan. He saw him as an artist, a renegade and a genius. He appreciated Bob Dylan's work so much that he decided to name his first-born son after the musician. His love, respect and admiration for the great poet was put into a seed: my first name.

For my entire life, I've known who I was named after. Knowing that my name was meaningful and inspired gave me a sort of regard for my namesake. But up until a few years ago, that was all I felt for Bob Dylan. I knew he was a big deal somehow, but I never really understood just how huge his impact on our modern world really was. As many of you know, I've moved well beyond regard for Bob Dylan, into love and admiration. I know exactly why my dad named me after Bob Dylan, and if he hadn't done it already, I would probably name my first-born son Dylan as well. But he beat me to it. I have to be original with my boy's name. Whenever that happens.

Anyway, when my dad gave me my name, he was only planting a seed. He wasn't sure if I would understand what an important name it was. He hoped that I would someday become a Bob Dylan fan, but he would never try to force me. He just gave me the name, and left the rest up to me.

15 years ago, my dad went to a Bob Dylan concert. I was 10 at the time, and I didn't know he went to this concert, nor would I have cared had I known. I didn't appreciate the music of Bob Dylan when I was 10. I didn't care about music at all back then. But my dad did something at that concert that further nurtured my destiny to be a lover of music, art, and Bob Dylan.

He had great seats that night. This was the ump-teenth time for my dad, but this concert was a little more special than the others. Right up front and to the side, he could see Bob offstage as the crowd cheered for him to come out for an encore. Bob stood there with his guitar, all by himself. He looked out at the sliver of crowd that he was able to see from his back corner, and locked eyes with my dad. My dad looked back at him. Bob was scowling. My dad was subtly smiling, clapping his hands. He wanted Bob to come out and play another song. But the look on Bob's face wasn't convincing. It seemed possible that he might turn around and leave the building. So my dad, still in a staring contest with Bob, widened his eyes, tightened his lips, and nodded at Bob. Without mouthing or verbalizing anything, Bob understood what my dad had said. "Come on, Bob. Come on. Play another song." Bob never stopped looking into my dad's eyes. The scowl never left his face. But he nodded back, silently in agreement. And he walked back onto the stage.

After the show, my dad bought a t-shirt. But he never wore it. He intended it to be for his first-born son. But he wouldn't give it to me that night, he had no idea when he would give it to me, or if he ever would at all. He wouldn't give it to me for another 15 years. He was never interested in forcing his own interests upon me. But he had faith that I would someday understand just what Bob Dylan means, and once that happened, he would celebrate by handing the shirt over to me.

A couple weeks ago, my dad gave me the shirt. I never knew it existed, he had kept it hidden in his room for all this time, waiting for the right moment.

"I thought about giving it to you when you turned 21, but I could just tell that you weren't ready yet. I had to make sure that you were a true Dylan fan."

He had never been more excited about giving a gift. The seed that he planted 25 years ago had finally grown into what he hoped it would become.

This Father's Day, I think about the man who named me after Bob Dylan. The man who planted seeds in my life, but never forced me to do anything that I didn't believe in. He never tried to make me his. He wanted his son to be an individual. Independent. He wanted me to be as freewheelin' as Bob Dylan, thinking for myself, living for no other.

By giving me that shirt, he has shown me great love. He has revealed that he is proud of the man I have become. My childhood is over, and it is my dad who helped grow me to the point I'm at today. He trusts me to make my own decisions. He loved me, because he didn't try to control me. He nurtured my growth, and now I am grown.

And now I'm a disciple of the Jewish harmonica player. Not because my dad told me I should be, but I saw the truth in his actions, through his good example. He dutifully followed the teachings of Bob Dylan, and it has impressed me. But none of this truth was shoved down my throat, it came by my own experience.

I am so proud of the name my father gave me. It revealed his own belief in art as something that can continue beyond his generation. He believed that I could someday write poetry like Bob, or affect the lives of others the way Bob affected him. And I am so grateful for his faith in me.

Dad, I will not give up, even when those around me are in disagreement with my choices and don't believe in me. I will be strong. Even when my peers are telling me that I'm crazy, I will not abandon my ideals. I will take the name that my father gave me and hold it in the highest regard. And I will wear this t-shirt. Not merely as a "Dylan fan," but as a man who will soon find himself in fatherhood, and will take the lessons that his father gave him for his own son. I will not force-feed anything to those who I love, but will simply love them. And by example, I will show them that they, too, can be artists.

If Bob Dylan could do it, so can I. After all, we're all just men.

The Burb Trap

I went to the suburbs tonight for a party. Some of the evening festivities included beer pong, that "bags" yard game, and bud light. If you know me even a little bit, you know that this is not my idea of a good time. On the contrary, it is quite the opposite. Bud light, bags and beer pong is my recipe for a bad time. But hey, it was the suburbs. It's what I expected.

We recently watched Revolutionary Road. It definitely made the suburbs look like a hellish place for independently-minded people to live. And indeed, they are. The suburbs exist for families, comfort and safety. Quite a contrast against cities, which are host to artists, liberal thinkers, noise and unsafe environments. People like myself decide to live in the city because of these attributes. And, it's not boring. Progressive people dwell in the city, settled people dwell in the suburbs.

So this is the trap of the burbs. In an environment where nobody is taking chances on a daily basis, the most excitement people can find is on a TV or theater screen. In the city, you couldn't avoid an interesting person or story for more than a few hours. It's all around you.

Since the suburb environment is built upon safety and comfort, the collective spirit of adventure is quite low. People are trying to remain settled and safe in the suburbs. They value security over risk-taking, be that financially, politically or artistically. If an idea to join the Peace Corps comes to a person in the suburbs, they're going to have a much harder time making their decision than the city-dweller. The suburbanite is comfortable where they are. They're safe. Why take a risk? If risks must be made, well, they should be done at the casino or OTB. Then, after the risk is good and taken, they can return to their four-bedroom house, park their car in one of their three garages, and sleep in silence. Far away from even the possibility of sirens or gunshots. Safe and sound suburbia.

Oh but the city! The city is full of artists. Full of ideas. Your odds of going on a new adventure tomorrow are great in the city. If you don't like the traffic here, get rid of your car. If you're scared of getting mugged, carry mace. If it's too noisy, maybe get real stop being such a whiny little pussy.

Or if you want, go ahead and play beer pong in the suburbs. Keep paying tribute to your college days. Don't budge. Stay trapped. Don't walk anywhere unless you have a shopping cart in front of you. Go ahead, I'm sure that's a fine life to live. It worked out well for the Wheelers, right?

Friday, June 19, 2009

As For Film: Public Enemies

In one of the earlier bank robbery scenes in Michael Mann's Public Enemies, John Dillinger holds a gun to the head of the bank manager and offers him a proposition: "you can either live a coward, or die a hero." This line carries us through one of the best action films I've seen in years. Johnny Depp is a murderous protagonist, the infamous mobster John Dillinger. It's a relief to see Depp finally doing something that doesn't require pasty makeup or vile overacting. His tepidly restrained acting comes off flawless here. His character is a criminal, but might be a hero anyway. Comparison to Robin Hood are apt.

An ambiguously accented Christian Bale plays the long arm of the law. Concerned with nothing more than getting his job done, you feel no sympathy for the character. You don't hate him, but Bale is a persistent pursuer. He will not go away, but it's a good thing. Because you want Dillinger to escape again so he can rob more banks.

It's a funny thing when a film plays up an audience's bad side. It's fun to cheer for the "bad" guy in Public Enemies, even to the point of viewing him as a hero. And why not? He lives for the moment, wears sharp clothes and tricks the government's smartest cops. How can you not cheer for that guy?

One of the more interesting traits of the John Dillinger character is his brilliant ability and dangerous inability to make plans. If it comes to an impossible task like breaking out of jail again or robbing multiple banks, Dillinger put the plans together and follows them to their completion. But making plans for anything beyond the present day seems to be a lost cause for Dillinger. He lives for the moment, and would never get too ahead of himself.

Herein lies his heroism. He is a sincerely flawed man, unable to really nail down a proper plan for himself. But, he doesn't care. He cares about the day he has been given, and he makes the most of it. As nihilistic as it may sound, Dillenger really isn't a psychopath in Public Enemies. He's an existential hero. As long as, of course, he is a character. If this weren't a movie, if this were merely a history lesson, then yes, Dillinger is a murderer and criminal. But we have a lot to learn from him as the protagonist in Public Enemies. He teaches us to challenge the stronger arms. Fight against the established order. Don't settle for easy money, hell, don't settle for easy anything. Make life worth living. Don't expect to get caught, and alwasy try to stay ahead of the curve. And, if you can, try to look good doing it.

Along with this compelling story comes a Chicago backdrop. How Mann made our modern city look the way it did in the 30s' is beyond me, but I love it all the more. Public Enemies is now a welcome addition to our collection of "Chicago movies." From the old L and Art Institute to neighborhood graystones and a stunning re-imagination of the Biograph theater, there are more than a fair share of tributes to the Second City.

Thanks to Ain't It Cool News, Michael Mann introduced the film tonight. A native Chicagoan himself, he wanted to hearken back upon the nostalgia of the brick buildings and blue collars of his childhood that inspired him to be a filmmaker. Public Enemies might be the best version of Chicago nostalgia ever put to film. If you're not a Chicagoan, you probably won't understand why this is important to us, but it just is. So deal with it.

There are no cheesy explosions in Public Enemies. No Hollywood bullshit. Just an entertaining story, exciting action scenes and compelling characters. It's not without its flaws, but we probably won't see a better action movie this summer. Will Smith go home, this summer belongs to that Edward Scissorhands guy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Return To: Sufjan Steven's Enjoy Your Rabbit

It's a perfect time to come back to this 2001 album. Released before anybody knew who Sufjan Stevens was, and before No Age and Animal Collective made experimental noise quasi-mainstream, Enjoy Your Rabbit came ahead of its time. It's perfect now because 2009 is a downright chaotic year. Almost everything seems uncertain. Economically, politically, artistically and generally, we have no idea what to expect anymore. And Enjoy Your Rabbit is the ideal soundtrack for this time of turmoil and confusion.

Since there will probably never be another release from Sufjan Stevens in album format again (I’m not holding my breath anymore), Enjoy Your Rabbit is something of a historic document. It reveals, at an early stage of Sufjan's musical career, distaste for orthodoxy. But a love for conceptualism.

14 tracks and stretching the full 80 minutes a CD can hold, each song is based on a year in the Chinese Zodiac. Our current year, 2009, is the year of the ox. On Enjoy Your Rabbit, this is probably the most accessible song of the bunch. How ironic, right? It runs an easily digestible four minutes, and carries enjoyably discernable melodies amidst the fuzzy, electronic rhythms. But to be sure, none of these songs really sound like the years they're named after. After all, how could Sufjan have known in 2001 that he should have made Year of the Ox sound a little more like Year of the Snake? He couldn't. And it wasn't his intention to do so either.

And that's part of the fun of this concept. As with most astrology, if it’s ambiguous enough you can convince people to believe it. Sufjan's musical astrology goes for the same effect. Under the right circumstances, 2008 is a dead-on Year of the Rat. And who knows, next year's perfect song could be Year of the Tiger. It all depends on what we're willing to admit is true for us within the abstract ambiguity (in the music). It’s a subjective album by nature.

In a way, this album is prophetic. It could be returned to every new year with refreshed senses, experienced as a totally different truth. Or if you refuse to accept it, then it's just a bunch of bullshit. And indeed, just as many claim astrology to be bullshit, many more will likely label Enjoy Your Rabbit as musical bullshit. Personally, I believe that this album is a creatively satisfying work of art. And possibly bullshit.

As a whole, the album is a hard bargain. At times, the noise becomes unbearable. The second to last song is over 13 minutes long, and isn't a very fun 13 minutes. And throughout the entire 80 minutes, there are plenty of winces. Harsh crackles attack the eardrums without warning. Monotonous buzzes drone on for longer than necessary.

But after experiencing a bat-shit year, it's easy to understand an album like Enjoy Your Rabbit. As life is riddled with its abstractions and mysteries, so Sufjan Stevens’ sole instrumental album about ongoing (but dependable) time constructs does intrigue and perplex the audience.

"What are we listening to?" is probably what you'll hear when you put this album on around other people. The proper response should be something like "what year is it?" The direction of time is never clear, we never know where it's leading us, but our clocks keep ticking anyway. But once we pass midnight, a whole new cycle of hours begin again. Once the Chinese Zodiac runs through its 14 years, it does it again, and again, and again. It's this paradox of certainty amidst misunderstanding that drives the concept of Enjoy Your Rabbit home.

Sufjan didn't specifically predict the future with Enjoy Your Rabbit, but he did pay a brilliant homage to the sinking feeling we get when we think about how unsure we are of the years to come. In No Country for Old Men, when we last see Llewelyn, he says “just waitin’ for what’s comin,” to which his responder offers: “yeah, but nobody ever sees that.” And so it is with Enjoy Your Rabbit. The album audibly sounds like a plethora of unsure outcomes, that are all sure to come.

Instrumental music is often called “soundtrack to your life” music. This is also the case for Enjoy Your Rabbit. But, “not in the sense that you mean.”

If you’re a control freak who needs to understand everything, you’ll hate this music. But if you can accept that ambiguity is the only real truth that is a part of everyone’s future (or if you enjoyed the ideas that drove No Country For Old Men), you’ll be able to appreciate this complex, noisy, conceptual genius-work from one of our generation’s most fascinating artists.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obituary for Nick

I picked my grandparents up from Midway airport at 12:30 last night. Their flight was delayed, and apparently only a night owl like me was willing to drive around at that hour. They were returning from the wedding of their sixth grandchild. While in Colorado, they spent time with other children and grandchildren, celebrating the love between two young people. In a sense, they gained a grandchild over the weekend. But in reality, they actually lost one.

"Teddy was there. Oh he's such a good kid," she told me from the back seat as we went down Cicero avenue. "And your cousin Nathan, he was an usher. But he fainted during the ceremony!"

"Uh oh!" I smiled as she told me the weekend's stories.

"And your cousin Nick, he wasn't feeling up to par."

"Nick wasn't feeling good? Was he sick?"

"Yeah, he wasn't feeling well."

She knew that something was wrong, but she didn't know how wrong it actually was.

A couple days ago, my cousin Nick committed suicide. He was 20 years old. A couple days after the wedding, he and some of our family went to Yellowstone National Park. He jumped off a 300 foot cliff. His siblings, parents, uncles and cousins were there when it happened.

And now we're here. The family doesn't even know what to feel. I don't know what to feel. "Sad" isn't even a strong enough word. A mixture of confusion, desperation and devastation is flowing through the veins of every cousin, aunt and family member in my family.

Some of us found out yesterday. Some found out today, like me and my grandma. And some, namely the grandchild who is currently on his honeymoon, may not find out for another few weeks.

I write about death a lot, but when it actually touches you on the shoulder to remind you of how close it really is, words spoken seem trivial. There are no words to compliment death. But it hit a little close to home when I wrote "from dust we came, to dust we return" yesterday.

I wish I could have talked to him before he left. I wish I could have told him that he's not alone. Other family members wish other things. We're all helpless though. What's done is done. And we grieve a beautiful life lost. Nick was such a precious person. In his brief time here, he was always welcome in the world. Always welcome in the family.

There will be no talk of Heaven or Hell today. If you want to know what I think of that, read yesterday's post. Today, I am concerned with something that really happened. I am troubled by reality. This is no time for fairy tales.

All we can do now is support and love each other. It is no one's fault, and there's nothing we could have done. Nick made a choice, it was his to make. We can only mourn him now. Questions are on hold. Answers never. Prayer throughout. This is not a story. This is the reality we have to confront today.

Goodbye Nick. Thank you for your life.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Uselessness is Inevitable

The mother of Jesus is creepy. She's a pale, shawled statue with a blank face. But if you hold her up to the demons in your haunted paintings, she'll scare them away. That should tell you how creepy she is. If the demons can't stand the sight of her, you know you're dealing with something terrifying.

Every day, humans look more and more like giraffes. Legs for walking, and necks for swallowing. These goofy constructions of bone and flesh, cloaked by the fabric of sheep and other mammals. Are they good for anything other than sex? High heels tell me "no."

Still we  sit and think. We have this cursed freedom to actually think about ourselves. Instead of grabbing those legs and spreading them open, we restrain ourselves. Any other animal will lunge at the opportunity for a good hump, but we remain civilized.

The Garden of Eden has never been so poetic. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. We were once naked, banging each other whenever we felt so inclined. Until we started to think. Oh God. and now we cover ourselves. Now we feel guilt and shame for our natural tendencies. We are the most absurd creatures to ever exist, freaks of evolution, utterly foolish in all of our wisdom.

It's a wrong that can't be righted. Since we feel guilt, we always feel guilt. We die guilty, and only then are we released of our sinful nature. Into the ground we go, where we are all intended to remain. From dust we came, to dust we return. Our time away from the dust is a brief vacation.

And while on vacation, we make up all sorts of stories. We tell ourselves that we have a purpose. Our purpose is to be useful. A useful person fulfills his purpose. So we fulfill our purpose by being useful. 

The evolution of arrogance sets us apart.

Our purpose is actually uselessness. This is also the purpose of the giraffe. And coffee beans. And quasars. And electrons.

Purpose is eternal, unlike us. We do not live forever. We die. We return to dust. When we die, we return to dust.

To all of you interested in Heaven, step back a few inches. Perhaps in contrast to eternal torment, Heaven sounds nice. But everything you know, everything you understand is a result of contrast. It has become a popular Christian argument against the problem of evil that God's love is only possible when there is the availability for a lack of love. Why is there evil in the world? Well, God wouldn't be able to reveal his love and grace if everything was perfect now, would he?

So now you're in Heaven. For weeks you live it up, without a problem or anxiety to be found. It is bliss, and you look forward to living this way forever. Forever. But after a few years, you start to wonder if anything different will ever happen. You've marveled at the pearly gates and gold streets for a while now, is there anything else to get blissful about? Oh but our Lord, he is to be praised for all eternity. How can this get boring? He is worthy of all our praise!

How long can you keep that up? A decade? A century?

Maybe you've sang a song in church that really touched you. You felt the Holy Spirit wash over you, and you raised your hands and closed your eyes. Wouldn't that be a great feeling to have for eternity? That feeling lasted for a few minutes in church, but what if it lasted a whole day? A week? A year... A decade........

You know what, Heaven sounds awful. It sounds monotonous and terrifying. Where is the dust? Where is the stuff that we came from, the stuff that made us into useful beings? Oh, right, we're not useful. We just praise God for eternity. That's not a purposeful existence. That's slavery.

Freedom requires contrast. In heaven, it doesn't exist. So you still want to go there? You want to exist forever in a place that offers no choices? You want to forget about the dust that made you feel like you had a purpose?

Oh to have eternal joy, there is no such thing!

Then again, to be back to our natural state sounds pretty good. To be rid of this cursed freedom sounds like a relief.

But realize that Heaven and Hell are places for our vacationing existence. Between dust, we ponder the two extremes. We can get no darker than Hell, and no brighter than Heaven. But we can only ponder them on vacation. When we are dust, we are dust. There is no pondering of anything, let alone extremes.

While you're here, do not desire an extreme. Ponder it, but do not try to grasp it. Surely, if you take an extreme, you will have left the beach for the slave-ship. Avoid slavery while you wait for your return to dust. Have sex and occupy your cursed mind with poetry, imaginations and jokes.

It didn't mention it in Genesis, but the giraffe also came from dust. And to dust, so the giraffe also returns.

Monday, June 15, 2009

As For Film: Up

Pixar can do no wrong. Well, except for Cars and A Bug's Life. But other than that, they're pretty awesome.

After watching Up, and having such a distinct feeling of appreciation for the company, I started to associate each of their movies with different types of people. For example, my wife, Jaclyn, is a Toy Story. She is adventurous and sweet, with a childlike spirit and uplifting attitude. I am a Wall-E. I am a philosophical guy, concerned with the end of world. I value liberal/progressive education. I should make one of those facebook "which ____ are you?" quizzes.

My old coworker at the champagne and caviar lounge, Tomas (Toe-mahhhs), was a fancy pants. He was a connoisseur of food and wine. I'll never forget the night he strolled up to me with his hands clasped in front of his belt which his back perfectly arched. "Mister Dylan," his chin was held high, "have you seen Ratatouille yet?" I told him that I hadn't seen it yet. "It is a BEAUtiful movie." I smiled at this human Ratatouille.

The fat girls that wear their greasy black hair in tightly scrunchied ponytails and pastel colored Eeyore shirts? They're A Bug's Life or on a good day, possibly Monsters Inc. (on a REALLY good day.)

Finding Nemo is the shy and introverted stepchildren, the ones from the broken homes. The Incredibles is nerds. Superhero, comic book stuff. Nerds and fans of action. And the hicks and republicans are obviously Cars

But now we have Up. This film doesn't fit into any sort of niche, and for that I'm thankful. If Pixar was in danger of anything, it was becoming a simple vehicle for visual spectacle. By that I mean, Pixar movies always pick subjects that look good as computer animated cartoons. With each new Pixar movie that comes out, you always say to yourself, "yeah, I could see why they would make this as a computer animated movie. Toys, fish, cars, robots. Makes sense."

With Up, Pixar has gone beyond the merely visual world. Up is a marvel of compelling storytelling. Unlikely metaphors abound, and even surprise us at times. I mean, what in the world was up with that big colorful bird? And why would all of the dogs talk? And why were there so many? And so on.

And then there's our hero, a grumpy old man. I'm not sure what kind of kids' movie decides to make this old crank a protagonist, but practically nothing about this movie is orthodox.

Even with all of its complexities, I had a hard time relating to a lot of it. I'm sure you've heard from most people who've seen it that it's a tear-jerker. Maybe you even cried yourself if you saw it. Now, I am not opposed to crying at the movies. I've done it a few times. Finding Nemo set me off actually. Hell, I've already cried at Where The Wild Things Are. The trailer choked me up. But I didn't cry during Up

There were definitely some emotional moments in the film, but I spent most of my time trying to figure out what the hell I was watching. By the end, I understood what the filmmakers were trying to say, but I disagreed with them. Personally, I thought the ending was too happy. There were some mildly sad moments throughout, but the ending really needed to drive the nail home. But instead, they yanked the nail out, filled the hold, washed it and put a band-aid on.

Unless the old man developed Alzheimer's or had become senile by the last scene, I felt kind of betrayed by the end. It felt like he replaced his wife with the boyscout, and that the boyscout replaced his father with the old man. It showed them each doing things that were so meaningful in their prior relationships, in the exact same ways. What about their memories? Were they of no value?

Sure, the great lesson to take away from the story is that "love is the greatest adventure." I know. It's not about zeppelins and exploring uncharted territory. I get it. But true adventure is not about filling a void either. And that really seemed to be what happened by the end of the movie. In the "New Adventure Book," it basically seemed like the old man cut his wife out of all of their old pictures and replaced her with the boyscout. How is that a "new" adventure?

A better ending would have been the death of the old man. He would then have the opportunity to pass all of his wisdom about "real adventure" onto the boy. Sure it would've been sad, but at least his sacred promises wouldn't have been co-opted. "Cross my heart" really became a vice by the end of this movie. Eventually, it wasn't even a noble thing anymore. Once the old man admitted, "eh, it's just a house," everything went to shit. The lessons of loyalty eventually flew out the window. And the concept of death was diminished. Unless that line really meant, "eh, we're all gonna die anyway. Who gives a shit." Because in that case, he's right. And the movie's better.

But yeah, I don't think that's what he meant...

The old man's death would have been a little more real. It would have also been a little more staggering. And the film wouldn't soon be forgotten as a result. Seeing him having a picnic at the end really felt shameful.

As it is, Up is a very good movie. Probably on a par with The Incredibles. And it showed us that Pixar does have some balls when it comes to trying new things. I think the story could've been better, but with what they had, they did well.

If anything, I'm excited for whatever Pixar has next. Because I'm sure that they'll work out their storytelling kinks and give us their most emotionally potent and cinematically gratifying film yet. Until then, I'll try to figure out what type of person Up correlates with. Maybe it's just the misunderstood person. I'll leave it at that until I can come to a better understanding myself as to what the hell the movie Up is all about.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Best Music of 2009 (halfway edition)

Once I hit the halfway mark of the year, I like to look back at my favorite new albums of the past six months. Since we're now halfway through June, and leaks for August releases are making their rounds, I think it's about time I do this thing. Here are the best albums of 2009 so far:

10. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

He has yet to top Mysterious Production of Eggs, but Andrew's latest is the closest he's come so far. Andrew Bird is an artist music fans can trust. He's not going to take too many chances stylistically, because the formula he's working with is still too unique to be tampered with. Nobody compares to Andrew Bird, and as long it stays that way, let's hope he keeps whistling and playing that violin the way we've come to know and love.

9. Sleep Whale - Little Brite EP

Every now and then, we just need some somber nighttime music. We need it for lonely evenings and rainy afternoons. Sleep Whale is a new band to watch for. Don't be surprised if they end up touring with Album Leaf or Lymbyc Systym. As headliners.

8. Bob Dylan - Together Through Life

It almost feels like an obligation to just put Bob Dylan's new album on every list I make. But it's not just "because he's Bob Dylan," it's because his albums are usually more heartfelt and soulful than these noisy brats you hear on the radio nowadays (said in cranky, old man voice). Together Through Life reminds listeners of their roots. It's a look back at better times, and a maintenance of post-modern dilemmas.

7. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

One of those ambitious bands that let you hear the work they put into their art. With each ridiculous, counter-balanced female harmony game, you become a little more impressed with the Dirty Projectors. Bitte Orca takes the band to their highest level, musically. No longer are they just playing around with ancient memories of Black Flag, they're now forging their own genre.

6. Here We Go Magic - s/t

Instead of putting Grizzly Bear on this list, I'm putting their opening act act. Not because I'm full of backlash, but because I'm sincerely more excited by what I hear from Here We Go Magic. This is the Brooklyn band that makes me want to visit Brooklyn. If you're craving art-rock, this should be your next stop.

5. M Ward - Hold Time

In a way, I think this album is the perfect soundtrack for 2009. Between the economic meltdown and our new president, our future's outlook has never looked more unsure of itself. Hold Time is full of questions about God, life and hopefulness. There's a lot going wrong in the world, but people keep writing melodies. M Ward's writing is top notch here, a perfectly faith-fueled poem of an album for a year of turmoil.

4. Dan Deacon - Bromst

Being around people with a lot of energy makes me tired. They suck up all of the air in the room and leave me too exhausted to take part in any conversation or fellowship. Dan Deacon is definitely one of these sorts of extroverted maniacs, but he found a perfect way to temper himself: overly ambitious electronic music. Deacon has created symphonies with wires and knobs on Bromst. It's a stunningly vivacious album, and cools Dan off a little bit.

3. Mos Def - The Ecstatic

This is easily the best rap album of the year so far. Mos Def barrels through generations of hip hop with cinematic flair. You get more into it from one track to the next. A new beat is always welcome. What I can't figure out, is if he timed each track perfectly so that at the exact moment we feel tired of one beat, then switches it up. Or, is each beat a little more bangin' than its predecessor? I don't know. It's just a jam of an album, only topped by these two:

2. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Classy rock and roll that sounds sexy and fun. I didn't think it was still possible. Especially not in 2009. But Phoenix make me want to sing and dance. That hasn't happened to me in years. It's easily Phoenix's best album to date, and a solid contender for the top stop of 2009's album of the year.

1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

This came out, what, the first week of the year? And it's still the best album I've heard in 2009? Well, when you're just that good, you're just that good. Animal Collective are one of the only bands of my generation that I feel proud of. In a deeply rooted world of rock and roll music, they dare to experiment with new seeds. If we can trace Animal Collective's influence back, we'll end up in a black hole. They're probably doing some sort of new drugs that lead them to this revolutionary sound. I can't encourage drug use of course, but in the case of Animal Collective, hey, go ahead and pop that pill.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

How to Build a Pet Bat Cage

(Egyptian fruit bat in a homemade bat cage)

It may sound strange, but a bat can make a great pet. You can't just catch a bat and keep it though. A bat must be acquired it through a legitimate source. A legitimate source is an exotic pet dealer, and the animal must be born in captivity. If you can attain a bat through these avenues, you can keep a bat. You'll need to build a 6 x 6 x 6-foot tall cage for your new bat, and learn how to maintain a healthy living environment for your pet.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Things You'll Need:

  • 24 (6-foot wood 2 x 4 studs)
    9 (5-foot wood 1 x 2 studs
    120 square feet of plastic mesh
    72 square feet of half inch plywood
    Tape measure
    Staple gun
    Slide bolt hardware


Step 1:

(Completed bat cage)

First, double check and make sure you have all of your supplies.

Keep in mind the entire process should take about four hours. Actual sizes may vary, but this particular cage is 6'x6'x6'. Door size is up to the builder.

Step 2:

(frame detail)

Each wall requires five 2x4's, and each one should be 6'x6'. A 2x4 frame panel should have a top stud and bottom stud, each one 6 feet long with three upright 2x4's. There should be one upright 2x4 at each end and one in the middle. Use a power drill to secure the frame together with long screws. Mark a vertical line across the two boards at a point one inch from each end. Drill three holes, one inch apart, along these lines with a quarter-inch drill bit. Connect the boards. Use a Phillips screwdriver to screw six 9c bolts into each of the holes on two planks.

Step 3:

(mesh ceiling detail)

After the four wall panels are made the ceiling panel should be made the same with three ceiling support 2x4's (rather than just one). After measuring 6'x6' of mesh for each wall and the ceiling use a side cutter or tin snips to cut the wire. With a staple gun, use as many staples as necessary to staple the mesh to the wood. Leave half of one side un-screened for the door. With the screen mesh inward, the panel should be screwed together, making the four walls and the ceiling panel applied to the top (Make sure there aren't any edges of mesh sticking out so the bats don't snag themselves. You can use 1x2's to stabilize any loose wire mesh.). If you're using galvanized mesh, make sure to wash it with vinegar solution to sterilize it before placing bats in the cage. If If everything is secure, the door should now be created.

Step 4:

(door detail)

With some hinges, and simple slide bolt hardware, a plywood door can be cut to size (3x6 for this case) on the panel with the door opening. Use a tape measure and pencil to mark a 3x6 rectangle on the plywood. Use a saw to cut along the line. Use a power drill to screw the triangular side of the hinges onto the plywood. The other half of the hinges should be drilled onto the cage. There will be one hinge on top, one in the middle, and one at the bottom of the door.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you have more space, you'll have an easier job constructing the cage. An empty garage is recommended.
    Use proper tools and materials. Don't use old drills or used wood.
    Put 6'x6' of plywood above the mesh ceiling. This will make the cage a little bit darker for the bats, and they'll feel more secure.
  • Do not keep this cage outside. The best place to keep your pet bats is either a garage or basement with windows.
    Since fruit bats come from tropical areas, you have to place the enclosure in an area that can have strict temperature control. The temperature should be keep in the 70's.
    Never use a padlock on the door of the cage.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Dylan is Anti-People


As you look around at competitor’s prices for your new sign, let me remind you that Artisan will meet or beat any price you find elsewhere. In addition to the finest quality signage and over 60 years of professional experience in Chicago, Artisan also offers financing plans. If you prefer to make monthly payments over the course of 12 to 36 months, we can reevaluate our proposal and put together a new monthly payment plan.

Please call if you have any questions about price or process, we’re more than happy to take extra time to make sure that your sign is exactly what you need and want. We’re looking forward to hearing back from you and going to work on your new Margie’s sign.

My wife and I will likely be there for dessert sometime soon, but until then, take care, stay in touch and keep making those delicious candies!

Thank you kindly for your business,

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hasn't Come Out Yet: Sleep Whale

I used to make a regular habit of emailing publicists of record labels about new music for the Relevant Music Blog. I have not mentioned Total Darkness Vs. Blinding Light to a single one of them. And yet somehow, I received an email from a publicist today regarding a new band that he wanted me to talk about on Total Darkness Vs. Blinding Light. I was so excited to find out that somebody other than an old college friend has actually paid attention to my blog. I have absolutely no idea how he found out about me, but I am happy that he did.

So here it is. Sleep Whale. From Western Vinyl (where you’ll also find vinyl releases from Here We Go Magic, J Tillman and Dirty Projectors), the record is called Little Brite. I downloaded the album link this afternoon, but decided to wait until tonight before listening to it. I’m glad I did, because this is perfect nighttime music.

I’ve been a big fan of quiet instrumental music since I first moved into the city. There’s something about the city lights that just need an Album Leaf or Unwed Sailor to accompany them. Now Sleep Whale is officially joining the ranks.

Listen to the track below, “Josh Likes Me.” If The Books took away all of their found sounds and focused on their beautiful acoustic work and calming polyrhythms, this would be it. Perfect finger-tapping and enchanting tones make up for one of the most pleasant EPs I’ve heard this year.

It comes out in a month, on July 14th. Check it out, you’ll probably be glad you did.

Josh Likes Me

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quantifying the Chicago Experience

While enjoying some Wow Bao at Water Tower Place yesterday afternoon, out-of-towners scurried all around. Looking as fashionable as possible with shopping bags in both hands, these people were doing their best to have a real-life Chicago experience. Looking at them, I thought, "They're receiving about 5 percent of the Chicago experience." Which led me to determine the remaining 95 percent.

What makes up a "Chicago experience"? Let me know if I forgot anything:

10% - Sports

This is a sports town. And you can't have a complete Chicago experience without first going to a Bulls or Sox game, or watching a game with your neighbors at the corner bar. Sports really parallel Chicago's drive to be great. From our historic competetiveness with New York to the current bid for the Olympics, Chicago loves to be the best. Hopefully our sports teams will be a signifier of that.

5% - Wrigley

Loveable losers. As much as I hate to admit it, Wrigley is pure Chicago lore. Despite all of the progression and advancement, Chicago is unbelievably flawed and ugly. Nothing compliments this better than the Cubs. Heartbreak and history, dedication and devastation. It's the paradox that describes our wonderful/terrible city more than we'd like to admit. Go Cubs? Oh what a joke. But it's true.

5% - Museums

Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, Planetarium, Lincoln Park Zoo and the Field Museum. We went to these places on field trips, and prepared ourselves for further education. There are many more museums in this city, but they make up a part of the Chicago experience because they represent our care for intellect. Now I'll be the first to admit that this city is full of idiots, but at least they all think that they're smarter than everybody else. And that makes for some fun learning experiences.

5% - Lakefront/LSD

This is one that we take for granted. But our lake is what makes us the metropolis we are today. Without it, we wouldn't be able to call Chicago the heart of the midwest. It's beautiful too. Whether swimming in it, driving alongside or exercising on the LSD trail, we're blessed with a huge body of water that effects our weather and moods from day to day.

5% - Weather

Speaking of weather: this is something we do every day. This city can go from zero degrees to 100, in a span of a week. For the winter of 2008, I biked to work every morning. I've never been a tougher son of a bitch than that winter. It made my skin thick. Our winters turn us into hardasses, but our summers are non-stop parties. Chicago weather is ridiculous, but it sure does build character. You haven't really experienced Chicago until you've waited for a bus in negative 20 degree wind chills.

10% - Music Scene

This is my favorite 10 percent of the Chicago experience. There is a great show every night in this town. Tons of great venues to choose from, tons of free fests every summer and local acts that make us proud enough to cheer at the very mention of our city's beloved name. I really don't think I have to say much more about this one. It's just too obvious.

10% - Downtown

There's just too much to say about this one. Too much history, too much architecture, too much to experience. Business people, tourists, pigeons, homeless, rich people. Art Institute, Grant Park, Loop, Michigan Avenue, the Chicago River and everything else. It's the part of Chicago that makes people call it "world-class," and for good reason.

5% - Suburbs

I definitely hate to admit this, but the suburbs are just as important to Chicago as the city itself. Half of the sports fans come from the suburbs, as well as the families. Without the suburbs, Chicago is not the city we know. And once you experience the suburbs, your Chicago experience is all the more thrilling. Without the contrast of the lame-as-hell outskirts, the excitement of Chi-city is a little bit less stunning.

10% - Food and Drink

Another obvious one. Chicago hot dogs and deep dish pizza alone are enough to make up 10%. But we've got some great dining going on here. There's always another restaurant to check out. And you should.

5% - CTA/Public Transportation

It's such a screwed up system, but again, it's one of those things that's just a mirror against the real nature of Chicago. The CTA elevated lines are so brilliant. Their sound is so comfortingly familiar and the buses are so disgustingly clustered (the next time I see three buses bumped up against each other on Chicago Avenue will be too soon). Our system has been developed to be one of the best public transportation services in the world, and we just can't figure out how to make it work. Maybe if we get the Olympics. Maybe...

10% - Art and Architecture

This is how I first got to know Chicago, as a city of art. The Art Institute is the obvious example, but you can't walk around for more than a minute without being struck by some sort of guerilla art. Music is everywhere. Graffiti blasters never deter the wild style. Architecture is breathtaking. If you don't care about art, Chicago is not your kind of town. Because art is Chicago.

5% - Festivals

We know how to party here. We pay higher taxes, and we make it worth our money. I don't even know how many parks we have in this city, but there are definitely a lot. And we make use of them almost every weekend. Countless music festivals, but art fests and street fests abound as well. Whether it's downtown, north side, west side or south side, Chicago celebrates life well and often.

5% - Theatre/Improv

The second city is a funny place. But I'm glad that this city has its sense of humour. There's so much to be mad about around here, but we decide to just laugh at ourselves instead. If we can't make jokes about our crooked governors, we'd be a painfully sad community.

5% - Politics/Social Awareness

Oh God. We have such a problem here in Chicago. We're incurably corrupt, and we know it. Blagojevich brought our embarrassments front and center this year, and we have to just hang our heads in shame. And as long as Daley is the boss, we keep shrugging our shoulders and throwing our hands up. But this is Chicago. It always has been, and always will be.

We keep shrugging our shoulders, laughing at ourselves while we listen to Wilco and drink Goose Island. Oh sweet home, how we love you. We hope you never change.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Too Much Balance Results in Implosion

"We are not going to be able to operate our spaceship earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody." -Buckminster Fuller

I'm writing this post from Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. Whenever I feel scared, I either write or walk.  Walking wasn't really doing the trick, I've been walking around this museum for a good hour now and it keeps getting worse. So a blog post it is.

Buckminster Fuller's designs and drawings are all over the top floor here. It's so much trigonometry. So much balance. Just look at that drawing up top. "Chart Indications for 4-D Color Progression." If that doesn't scare you, you're probably just normal. But as for me, I'm shaking like a dandelion in a tornado freaked out. And even those cursed things! Dandelions and tornadoes have such freakily beautiful designs. Damn them!

Normally, order and balance should really give a person comfort. If there's no chaos to worry about, why worry at all? "It's all a part of a divine plan." Well I'm more worried about complete order than I am of a flawed system. Because this would mean that randomness is a lie, an nihilistic desire of modern man. And I don't think I'm ready to accept that.

I need madness. I need mystery. Too much order makes me claustrophobic. If there's no room for nonsense, then everything is rational. I can't stand this thought. There must be nonsense. There must be ridiculousness.

If it's all predestined, I'm killing myself now. If the universe can't break away from hexagons and domes and wear a different outfit on the weekends, we're already dressed in caskets.

Where are the new colors? What is the new sound? Who will rise from the grave? I'll embrace Jesus until the day I die because of his disregard for ones and zeroes. A rebel doesn't just tear the fabric of our universe, he manufactures his own material and wears homemade clothes.

When all the stars burn out, it won't be the end. There are other dimensions that have no use for time or space, and they will live on. I want to vacation there.

Monday, June 08, 2009

You Missed Out: St. Vincent for Free at Millennium Park

Millennium Park is taking it up a notch with the cool, free shows this summer. Last year, the big highlight was easily Andrew Bird. He packed the park. And it was probably the best show I saw last year (between that and Blitzen Trapper at Schubas).

This year, there aren't any big names (if we can consider Andrew Bird a "big name" these days... which I would.), but there sure is a hot mess of notable artists. Over the next few months, Chicagoans can enjoy the benefit of totally free shows by Dirty Projectors, The Sea and Cake, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Daedelus and a lot more.

The kick-off event was tonight, and was probably the best show the Pritzker Pavilion will host this season. St. Vincent sang sweetly for the wine-drinkers on the lawn, and rocked my amadeus with her axe. I've never felt more comfortable calling something 'chamber pop,' with every woodwind, brass and string instrument five musicians can bust out in an hour, the band fit right into the classically inclined auditorium.

Clarinet, flute, saxophone, oboe. I felt like I was back in the junior high band. A very quirky and "indie" junior high band.

Now, Annie Clark definitely rocks. And that's that. I was really annoyed to see Jessica Hopper's mini-review of her on the Chicago Reader's website today though: 

"On one hand it’s sad and insulting that people still marvel at a woman who can really light up a guitar, like it’s some freakish new evolutionary development (Sister Rosetta Tharpe, anyone?). On the other hand it’s great, because it means amazing polymaths like Annie Clark are that much more likely to get the praise they deserve."

I guess I'm just not a feminist, so it's hard for me to think about music this way. But we don't often see women shredding. We see them dancing and singing. That's what our culture pushes. I guess Jessica gives us an example to prove her point, some Rosetta woman, but how pretentious can you get? The bottom line is that Annie Clark is unique. She makes great music, and does deserve all of her praise. But it's not because she's female. She's just good!

Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. Because it's NOT "sad and insulting" when people are surprised to see an act like St. Vincent. It's entirely appropriate. What's insulting is when a reviewer decides to accredit an artist's accomplishments to their race, sex or religion. In the age we live in, everyone has a fair shot at being an artist. And playing the "girl power" card is just as stupid as excluding yourself to solely "christian" labels and clubs. 

Enjoy the good music, folks. Don't miss out.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Chicago Neighborhood Street Fests: Metronome feat. Here We Go Magic

A first-year festival is always intriguing. You never know if it will be successful or not. But Logan Square has been long overdue for a hip, expansive street festival. Metronome is a subtle success. Significantly less douchey than the recently fraternized Wicker Park and Bucktown, the White Sox caps outnumbered Cubs caps in this Northwest side neighborhood street fest by 10 to 1. (If you don't understand how I mean that as a positive thing, go sing some karaoke and get yourself a pitcher of Miller Lite.)

As a resident 60647-er, this is officially my neighborhood festival. Blocking off Milwaukee avenue from Armitage and nearly to California, I couldn't have been happier with my community's stab at the outdoor celebration. It wasn't crowded. There were plenty of families. The music was good. The skies were gray. What more could one ask for in a Chicago neighborhood festival?

John Vanderslice headlined the fest last night, but I want to talk about the band that played before him. There aren't many new bands that I find very noteworthy this year. The only album that has really made an impact on me is the independently released, self-titled Here We Go Magic.

This band pulls off a perfect slow burn. A muted rhythm starts things off, and is eventually greeted by a buzzing synth. Bass and guitars unassumingly join in, while indecipherable female vocals become barely audible until a melodic male vocal warms the tone. All the while, the drums are ringing louder. Guitars are becoming heavier and before you know it, we're five minutes into a distorted crescendo of noise and polyrhythm.

Here We Go Magic can drone like Stars of the Lid and rock danceable like Animal Collective. They're the best new band I've heard in 2009, and won't be surprised if they headline a few cities by 2010.

Life is officially good, summertime Chi is gaining momentum and the parties are many.

Until next weekend, and the weekend after that.

(Here We Go Magic video for Tunnelvision)