back and forth

So two weeks of secret missions in the US have left me dazed and confused but thankfully back home in London.

I went out for the purpose of attending my brother’s wedding. My brother Ted was married in a beautiful ceremony in Hell, Michigan (really). The ceremony took place at Hell Creek Ranch, which is a biker clubhouse of the Forbidden Wheels but looks more like a country club then anything else.

On my way back out through Chicago I had the chance to see one of the greatest groups of all time, the Dead C, with Wolf Eyes opening up at the Empty Bottle. It was a fantastic show. I can?t say enough great stuf about this band. (I posted a clip of the show on my youtube page here)

On my last night there I had a drink with Todd Carter at Rodan and got to see the Jeff Parker trio as well. Another superb Parker group with Josh Abrams and John Herndon. Beautiful visuals provided by Brad Loving.

One bit of conversation on that last evening has left me thinking about the urban landscape of Chicago. Todd and I were joined by David Doby and Sheeba for our drinking and conversational pleasures. The four of us had lived in the Wicker Park neighborhood many years ago (12?) and were all reminiscing about the place it was back then.

When I met Dave and Sheeba (sometime around 1996) they lived above me in the Flat Iron building. I had gone upstairs to find out where the water coming through my ceiling had its source and had woken them up to see if it was from their space (no luck). Since then I have had shows at Heaven Gallery (which Dave runs) and watched the Wicker Park neighborhood go from a quaint little ethnic hood (Polish and Latin) that was starting to embrace these new art people moving in, to what amounts to Chicago?s drinking shithole. The streets used to be lined with empty store fronts and thrift shops that are now all overpriced boutiques and trendy bars that change name and facade every year or so.

And though I feel a little pang of nostalgia thinking about the pirogi at the Busy Bee and the crazy waitress at the Friars Grill (not to mention the 24 hour Wicker Dog fries), I have to wonder if it is a bad thing when a neighborhood is gentrified.

When I lived in Wicker Park I saw dead homeless guys frozen to the ground in their own piss, junkies smoking crack behind Urbis Orbis, and occasionally looked over my shoulder in fear while dumpster diving or coming home very late. The crime rate was high and the rent was cheap. Sure, the Quaker Goes Deaf record store had records that seemed to materialize out of some alternate universe (things not even in a labels catalog) but living there was a risk you took.

When the money came (and it did in a big way) I split to Logan Square like so many others, only to see that neighborhood be eaten by the developers as well in just a few years. But is this kind of urban renewal bad? Is it wrong to get rid of crime? To renovate buildings and make a neighborhood safe. I know plenty of artists who bought buildings before the big change and now have very lucrative property that they live in. In a safe, nice neighborhood.

I know many of my friends will take the side of the ethnic groups that have been pushed from place to place, uprooted by the changing financial structure of the urban landscape around them. But is it every really bad to make crime go away? To renew buildings and create a stable environment?

I am not a fan of the current Wicker Park. I like a few places, leftovers from that forgotten era like the Beechwood and some new places like Rodan (who support the hell out of the music scene). But given a choice between dead frozen junkies and drunk frat boys I will let the frat boys have their fun and go drink at the Skylark in Pilsen.

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