Chicago in Words and Music: Kogan to Springsteen

NSBJ-printersrowlitfestlogoA sunny Saturday afternoon at the Printers Row Lit Fest, now in its 30th year. At Center Stage on Dearborn Street (mercifully under a tent roof), Rick Kogan told meandering shaggy dog stories about Chicago neighborhoods, such as Uptown and Englewood. His stories were accompanied by Chicagoan (and émigré from Wales) Jon Langford on acoustic guitar. As a bonus, there were harmonica harmonies and more readings by Martin Billheimer, who often performs with Langford.

Kogan told about going to a Bruce Springsteen concert at the Uptown Theatre in 1980 (oh, how I wish I had joined him), which lasted oh, three, four or five hours—and about the 1907 opening of what became the Green Mill nightclub in 1909. He described the movie studios that opened on Argyle Street in 1907.

Kogan told stories about his father Herman (a Chicago newspaperman and city biographer) and Paddy Bauler. 43rd ward alderman and saloon keeper. Bauler is the guy who said, “Chicago ain’t ready for reform” in 1955 after Richard J Daley beat a “goo-goo” candidate (good government in Chicago parlance) to win his first term as mayor.

NSBJ-baulerparkI love the fact that Bauler Park at Wisconsin and Cleveland streets in his old ward is named for Matthias “Paddy” Bauler, who served 34 years in the Chicago city council.

Langford and Billheimer played a rousing version of “The Sidewalks of Chicago” and other songs. (“Sidewalks” is a song by Dave Kirby and recorded by Merle Haggard.) Billheimer read an excerpt from an essay by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano from the compilation Armitage Avenue Fundamentalists.

Kogan also told about visiting a school in Englewood a few years ago with Matt Damon, who was recording speakers for the documentary The People Speak, narrated by the late historian Howard Zinn and based on his book, A People’s History of the United States. Here’s a video of Zinn introducing and Sandra Oh reading from Emma Goldman on patriotism.

And finally, as my special treat for today, here’s a Bruce Springsteen excerpt from The People Speaks. He tells about how he came to write “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and performs the song on guitar and harmonica. (As my friends and Bruce fans say, there’s a Bruce Springsteen lyric or song that enhances any topic or occasion.)

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Political junkie fare + Chicago stories

My comments on an intriguing TV series (only on Netflix), a famous painting and some Chicago news.

House of Cards Redux

My favorite winter screen find is this delightfully seamy, steamy political machination series, a Netflix original series. It stars Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, a South Carolina Congressman and the House Whip. (The Whip is the 3rd most powerful majority party position in the US House of Representatives. See, you can learn something reading this blog.) All 13 episodes are available now for streaming and they are juicy.

Even better, however, is to also watch episodes of the original BBC series with the same title, also streaming on Netflix. The BBC version was first shown in 1990 and is set just after the Margaret Thatcher era. The neat thing is that the US version is patterned after the original. Ian Richardson plays Francis Urquhart, the Chief Whip in Parliament and an equally devious character.

Both series feature a powerful wife and a young female journalist who is lacking a few scruples. Many of the characters track throughout and the plots track for the first couple of episodes. Now that I’ve seen four or five of each, the plots diverge somewhat2075113. And both allow the leading character to break the “fourth wall” occasionally and speak directly to the audience. With a bit of snark and sarcasm.

I’ve been alternating US with UK episodes and it’s fun to watch them that way. I don’t know why I didn’t watch the UK version before; it’s been in my Netflix queue for months. It’s very well done.  If you’re a political junkie like me, you will want to devour them all at once. But just as I don’t let myself eat a whole pint of salted caramel butter pecan ice cream at one time, I’m spreading out the pleasure of watching House of Cards and House of Cards Redux.

Streaming all episodes at once is Netflix’s attempt to feed the TV bingeing trend, made possible by DVD versions of whole seasons of popular series such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Sopranos.

Binge or one at a time, both of these shows are compelling television.

Liberty vandalized

300px-Eugène_Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuple-1Ever since I saw Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” in a baroque art class, I have loved it – for political as well as aesthetic reasons. BBC News reported last week that the painting was vandalized with graffiti while it was on display at a new branch of the Louvre Museum in Lens in northern France. Museum officials said that it appeared that the painting could be “easily cleaned” – it was and went back on display the next day. Delacroix painted Liberty in 1830 to commemorate that year’s July Revolution.

Chicago from the Michigan Avenue bridge

Rick Kogan, a veteran Chicago journalist, is host of The Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio). He recently talked about his favorite place in Chicago, which is also one of mine. I paraphrase Rick’s comments.

My favorite place in Chicago is the middle of the Michigan Avenue bridge. You can stand here and see buildings representing Chicago’s past and present; the river flows under you in reverse; you see the spot where the first home in Chicago stood, built by a black man named Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, and where Ft. Dearborn stood. (The river in reverse refers to the fact that in 1889, the city reversed the course of the river to flow away from the lake to protect the city water supply from water-borne diseases. And send them downstate instead. Read about it here




Kogan, whose father was Herman Kogan, a famous Chicago journalist, also mentioned his uncle Bernard. I had wondered what had happened to Bernard Kogan since I took my first Shakespeare course from him one summer at UIC on Navy Pier. I remember him as an inspiring professor who really made me appreciate the bard’s characters and language. I took this class during a summer term and we sometimes sat outside on the grass. Yes, there used to be grassy areas at the west end of Navy Pier, where it’s now all concrete.

Bernard Kogan was also known for his writings on Darwin and on the Haymarket Riot. I also learned from Rick that his uncle earned the nickname Babe for his softball batting skills, playing in Humboldt Park.