Monday, January 31, 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Da Mare

The mayoralty of Richard M. Daley, longest in the history of the City of Chicago, is about to end. He has been both beloved and bemoaned, often by the same people.

On the plus side, he took over and improved the Chicago Public Schools, established a theater district in the downtown Loop, built the showcase Millennium Park (however late or over budget), created bicycle lanes on major roads throughout the city, and beautified neighborhoods by planting flowers and cleaning up streets.

Then again, he turned a blind eye to systemic corruption within his own administration, silented dissent by coopting more or less the entire Chicago City Council, and consolidated power to rule by executive fiat. Most notably he tried to build a children's museum on dedicated open land in Grant Park and demolished the runway at the popular Meigs Field airport in the middle of the night.

The above photo is an apt distillation of the widespread binary feelings about Mayor Daley's reign. It's the forward-thinking rooftop garden atop City Hall, conceived as an experiment to test how green roofs affect temperature and air quality, featuring 20,000 plants of more than 150 species.

It's also closed to the public.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Da Sears

As seen from the Kinzie Street Bridge on Friday evening, the building formerly known as the Sears Tower is rocking the orange and blue.

Go Bears!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Attention cheeseheads...

It's spelled "Chicago." You know, as in "Asiago."

Whoops! Upon further review ...
[Chicaco, I mean Chicago Tribune]

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Happy Slam

The 2011 Australian Open began "today" Down Under, though the first ball was struck over 24 hours ago since Melbourne, Victoria is 17 hours ahead of Chicago.

Having been lucky enough to attend the AUS Open a few years ago, I can attest that it lives up to its casual nickname, "the Happy Slam." Of the four major tennis tournaments, known as the Grand Slams, which I've attended a total of seven times — all but Roland Garros, which I'll hit as soon as I can get away from the office in May — the Australian is the most laid-back and fun-loving. It's a festive party atmosphere where a tennis tournament also happens to be going on.

In an inspiring example of the good vibes on the pro tennis tour, when Roger Federer heard about the recent flooding in Australian tennis legend Rod Laver's hometown of Rockhampton, Queensland, the princely Swiss called "the Rocket" and asked if there was anything he could do to help.

Laver replied from California that he wouldn't be able to make it down to Melbourne for this year's event, but encouraged Roger to get involved. In short order Federer rounded up Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Kim Clijsters and a dozen or so other top pros to stage an exhibition in Melbourne Park the day before the tournament to raise money for flood victims.

It worked out to perfection. They sold out Rod Laver Arena at 20 bucks a ticket, thousands more fans packed the nearby Garden Square, corporate sponsors made matching donations, players pledged a share of their prize money and everyone from to John McEnroe to Lance Armstrong (in Australia for a bike race) wrote checks. All in all, Federer and co. raised two million Australian dollars in a few hours.

Plus the tennis was entertaining as hell. Since the players were there to put on a show rather than beat each other, they left their game faces at home and broke out all the shots we rarely see (and commentary we rarely hear; they wore wireless microphones).

It was all quite reminiscent of the similarly impromptu "Hit For Haiti"charity events that took place at last year's Australian Open and Indian Wells tournaments in the wake of the Haiti earthquake.

Speaking of which, check out these ridiculous back-to-back points from the Hit For Haiti at the 2010 Australian Open featuring Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt playing doubles against Andy Roddick and Rafael Nadal:

If you can spare a few American dollars to help Australian flood victims, click here to visit the Australian Red Cross.

And if you can take the next couple weeks off from work, the Australian Open will air live from Melbourne on ESPN2 for about 10 hours per weekday beginning at 8 p.m. Chicago time.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dept. of Duh

As long as I'm generously offering up gratuitous criticism of the writing in our national media...

"This is Steve Buscemi's first Golden Globe nomination and first win. He was previously nominated for his performance as a supporting actor in Ghost World."

Insert condescending corrections of obvious error and subtle superfluity here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bear down, SiriusXM

I just woke up and turned on my SiriusXM satellite radio, which soon played a commercial for this weekend's NFL football playoffs.

I usually either skip the commercials altogether or tune them out, but this one got my attention when it started, "This Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern..." because my hometown Chicago Bears are playing at noon Sunday. "A trip to the NFC championship game is on the line" (true) "when Matt Hasselbeck leads the Seattle Seahawks" (mhmm) "against Kyle Orton and the Chicago Bears."

Whaa? The Bears traded that guy for Jay Cutler two years ago.

Current Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (left);
former Chicago Bears quarterback Kyle Orton (right)

Bristol, Connecticut-based ESPN earns widespread derision for obsessing over and breathlessly hyping East Coast teams, particularly the New York Yankees, while overlooking the drama here in flyover country. This criticism is often justified. But they apparently also deserve credit for knowing which players are on which teams.

I know most of us who subscribe to satellite radio are paying for the Howard Stern show, not NASCAR or football or Oprah or Martha Stewart (all of which are considerably more interesting on television), but surely SiriusXM can pretend to care about the NFL.

It's the playoffs.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Security fail

Wouldn't you think the president would travel more incognito?

I drove past this car today on the I-290 Eisenhower Expressway, Illinois license plate OBAMA.

Wicked this way comes

Attention teenage girls past and present, and the people who love them:  Wicked is haunting downtown Chicago, through January 23.

My Flavorpill preview is here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mining the depths

Nice article in today's NYT about Marc Maron's highly respected comedy interview podcast.

I ran into Marc a few months ago in New York City. I don't have an iPod and hadn't yet checked out the podcast online, so all I could muster was a deeply insightful "What's up, man."

Hitting and running

In case you missed it, here's Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch's touchdown run from yesterday's upset of the New Orleans Saints, in which he displays remarkable tenacity and/or the Super Bowl champs demonstrate their collective inability to tackle:

Lynch was instantly lionized in football circles, but lest we forget, not all of his work in online video clips is quite so commendable:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Presto, change-o, rearrange-o

As I mentioned in this space a month ago, FOBB&B Peter Gordon edits the weekly crossword puzzle at The Week magazine.

When each new year rolls around, Peter likes to create a puzzle that highlights the previous year's celebrity headlines by rearranging the letters of names in the news to spell appropriate answers.

Peter recently put out the call to his friends in crossword circles, asking us to suggest celebrity anagrams for this year's puzzle. I sent him a few ideas.

Out of the dozens of suggestions sent, he chose one of mine to use in the puzzle (at 1-Across and 69-Across, no less) along with submissions from Andrea Carla Michaels (36-Across) and Bonnie L. Gentry (54-Across), plus a nifty one he wrote himself (20-Across).

This year's puzzle is now hitting newsstands, assuming there are still newsstands, and also becomes available online today.

You can find the celebrity anagram puzzle here.

The Week's puzzle page is here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

And on keyboards, Bobby Sax

On New Year's Eve I saw the cover band Tributosaurus perform as the Rolling Stones with a very special guest: longtime Stones saxophone player Bobby Keys.

It was remarkable to hear the famous saxophone part from "Brown Sugar" performed by the guy who came up with it in the first place and played it on the record.

Mr. Keys was part of a small horn section that also included a trumpet player and a second saxophonist, longtime Chicago saxman Steve Eisen. Among countless other gigs, Steve played on "The Super Bowl Shuffle" by the Chicago Bears Shufflin' Crew. (Casual viewers of the music video might infer that running back Calvin Thomas was playing the sax, but it was actually Steve.)

During Tributosaurus' excellent rendition of "Waiting on a Friend," Bobby sat down and let Steve handle Sonny Rollins' familiar sax solo from the end of the song. It sounded great.

Between songs, Mr. Keys told a few stories about his experiences with the Stones. He explained that their musical relationship started about forty years ago when he ran into Mick and Keith, already acquaintances of his, in the hallway of a Los Angeles recording studio. He was there working on a different project and the Stones were laying down one of their reputation-making string of LPs during the several years around 1970 ("I think it was Sticky Fingers, no, wait, it was Let It Bleed"). They asked him to play on a song and he did, beginning a fruitful collaboration that continues to this day. In fact, they're making a record together this summer.

I had the chance to talk with Bobby after the show and came to realize what a rock and roll Zelig he is. I asked where he was from and he answered, "West Texas. Lubbock." I remarked that Buddy Holly came from Lubbock, and he replied that Buddy was a buddy of his: "The first time I ever played a sax into a microphone was in Buddy's garage around the block from my house."

I had to ask him about his good friend Keith Richards, from whom he has been inseparable for decades.  Their close bond was only strengthened when they discovered they share a birthdate. To this day they speak with each other several times a week.

As Bobby tells it, "When Keith found out we were born on the same day he said, 'You know what that means? We're half man and half horse. We can shit in the street wherever we want!' I don't know what that means but it sounds good." You can't make this stuff up.

As if that weren't enough, Bobby also lived next door to John Lennon in England and played on all his solo records, plus Beatles tracks like "Got To Get You Into My Life." Bobby's take on the smart Beatle? "He was a great man, John. A truly great man." I happen to agree, but he would know.

Bobby is a warm and friendly guy in his own right. Several times when he told me something surprising, such as that he grew up with Buddy Holly, I'd say "You're kidding," to which he'd yell back in his Texas twang, "Would I [expletive] kid you?!"

What a character, and what a life.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year

The Breeders, "New Year"
Koko, London, U.K.
17 April 2008