Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: Hooray for Pedro!

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By Tony Fitzpatrick

Pedro Vélez

Pedro Vélez

I don’t often pay any attention to the Whitney Biennial—to me it has always been like prom night in the art world. It also seemed hopelessly stacked in favor of New York  artists and my friends used to refer to it as the “New York Biennial.” When I read that two of the curators, this year would be Chicagoans, I was a little interested but not much. Both Anthony Elms and Michelle Grabner are eminently qualified choices and wound up doing a great job but at first—again  it is at the other end of the pool for me—I’m in a different art world. In fact, it’s debatable whether I’m really in at all anymore, but this is a different story.

What is edifying to me was a view of the list. For the first time that I can ever remember, the list of artists for the Whitney Biennial actually seemed like a survey of American art. It felt democratic and everyone was represented—in particular, Chicagoans, and not the usual suspects. It does my heart good to see Dawoud Bey in this show. For years he has made a dignified, relentless and ever more fascinating body of work. He has also been a mentor, confidant and luminous example of what is possible for an artist in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: High Hopes and Faint Praise

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

There is actually a lot to like about “Chicagoland,” the eight-part consideration of this city airing on CNN this spring starting March 6. Namely it gives us a look at the lives of people like Fenger High School principal Elizabeth Dozier and police commander Leo Schmitz. These are Chicagoans with very difficult jobs who perform them bravely and make life-and-death decisions every day. Dozier particularly earns our admiration with  the compassion with which she dotes on “her kids”—the student body of Fenger—often following them on foot to navigate the gang-infested mean streets around her high school. At one point, the heel of her shoe breaks off and she continues—barefoot.

Commander Schmitz maintains an optimism and a sense of goodwill though he presides over a district in which far more young people are in gangs rather than college, on the turf that has earned the ugly moniker of “Chiraq.” Commander Schmitz  isn’t jaded  and is the very face of hope for the good people of his district.

These are people who make me proud to be a Chicagoan. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: “Walk on the Wild Side” Changed Everything

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

There is a very expensive steakhouse in Brooklyn called Peter Luger’s that, for more than a hundred years, has served what’s thought to be the best steak in New York, or the country for that matter. And when you eat their beef, it is hard to argue with this appraisal. It melts in your mouth. It is perfectly seasoned and cooked at a very high temperature in butter. The Luger’s steak is delicious. No argument. The service leaves a lot to be desired, though: snotty old Kraut waiters, a long wait even when you have a reservation, and the light so bright, you’d think you were in an operating room.

For many of the years that I knew Lou Reed, this was his favorite steak and we ate a lot of it. We’d often go with a big group, five or six people at least. Luger’s was less likely to fuck you around if it was a big table. Over the years, Lou brought Salman Rushdie, Hal Willner, the musical genius, Laurie Anderson and a host of dudes from his tai-chi classes, including the instructor. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Wonder of Birds

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

The other night at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park, an event celebrated the publication of my friend Joel Greenberg’s fascinating natural history account of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, “A Feathered River Across the Sky.” It is a remarkable book about the squandering and wholesale slaughter of a single species.

In 1860, a single flock of passenger pigeons so huge and in such great volume took two days to fly over. The estimate is something like three billion birds. So many that the sky was darkened; a phenomenon reported on many other migratory paths as well. It must have been almost unfathomable that these birds would ever NOT be in the world. A scant fifty years later, they were gone. The last one, “Martha,” died in captivity in a Cincinnati Zoo having never flown or even been in the wild. It is almost impossible to believe that this hearty species, a bird that could swallow acorns whole, could be wiped out in such short order. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Many Lives of Art Shay

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Photo: Art Shay

By Tony Fitzpatrick

While walking through Art Shay’s exhibit at Ann Nathan Gallery, one can’t quite help noticing the “right place-right time” element in each of them. Shay as a photo-journalist, artist and observer has that thing.

That almost unnatural ability to wait for the defining, salient moment to reveal itself—and then he pulls the trigger. His photos of the civil-rights era: a black man leaving a demonstration with a sign that states  “I am a Man” slung across his back, while a crowd of white, indifferent faces pass him by—this image still cuts to the bone—and we realize it was NOT a long time ago.

This show is full of these kind of revelations—for Shay, like Studs Terkel, bore witness to a century. He’s been around for so long it is sometimes difficult to decide which Art Shay to write about: The ground-breaking Life magazine photographer? The seriously underrated artist? The best chronicler of Nelson Algren and his Wicker Park demimonde? The decorated World War II aviator who flew more than fifty bombing missions over Germany and France? The championship racquetball player? Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Memories of the Limelight

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ChicagoSky#11By Tony Fitzpatrick

Tone… I can’t go in there wit’cha. The joint creeps me out.  I walked down the hallway and there’s nothing but Wicca broads, goth bitches, and gypsy types.  The joint is crawling with  dangerous-looking snatch… I’m too fucking high for this…  The whole place gives me the willies.”–The late Ricky Vee, on a New Year’s Eve at the Limelight, 1987  Chicago

Some time around 1985, New Yorker (by way of Canada) Peter Gatien blew into town and opened a Chicago franchise of the Limelight, the notoriously cool New York nightclub that attracted such downtown luminaries as Blondie, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and a host of other famous and near-famous denizens of the downtown, Lower East Side demimonde.

In New York, the club was fabulously cool and featured art by Julian Schnabel, Basquiat, Kenny Scharf and others who were hot during the mid-eighties. The Limelight in New York was a less avaricious and toxic place than Studio 54. Oh, it had a VIP room like 54—it was just full of cooler VIPs than Barry Manilow, Sylvester Stallone and Liza Minnelli, who were your dipshit-cousin-from-Long-Island’s VIPs. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: A Christmas Story

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

He stayed upwind of the doe, and exhaled slowly, without sound. He’d have liked to have gotten closer but, as far as he could tell, she’d not caught on to any of his scent yet. From this distance, eighty yards or so, the wind might play hell with the flight of the arrow. He wanted a clean kill; he didn’t want the doe to suffer unnecessarily. One through the ribcage would end it quickly. All vital organs right there—heart, liver, lungs (any one of them would do) would put meat in the refrigerator for a winter or so. His family wouldn’t be hungry—job or not.

He only hunted for meat. Food on the table. He never understood trophy-hunters and kind of regarded them the same way he thought of the guys who drove Porsches and joined  the country clubs—always needing to prove they had some sack. It reminded him of the line in “Full Metal Jacket” when R. Lee Ermey asks one pathetic recruit: “What’s the matter numb-nuts? Didn’t Mommy HUG you enough?”

He laughed to himself for a second and then thought, “Say this for the assholes, at least they’re not out here, tromping through the slush, looking to kill their dinner. Fuck me.”

He sighted the arrow almost at the same time. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Talking to Drunk Girls

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Illustration by Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration by Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

This, another of my “Lunch Drawings,” came from an encounter with some drunk girls at Black Dog, the greatest gelato place in Chicago. These young women were shit-faced and trying to eat gelato, string noun and verb together, and play with my dog, Chooch, who ate their gelato and they giggled until one of them puked like a fire-hose. It was a serious puke with the projectile force of a jet engine—even my dog got the hell out of the way.

I was terrified her friends might be tempted to join in with a “sympathy puke,” seeing as they were all pretty hammered. Though I feared it might turn into a group puke-a-thon, luckily it was just the one poor girl, so I decided to help.

I held her hair so she wouldn’t puke in it, and then they cried and told each other they loved each other and they loved me for not letting their friend vomit in her own hair. There was some puke on my shoes but it was no big deal. I felt bad for her; I can remember many a night this also afflicted me. It also occurs to me that women are nicer drunks than men—or at least the men I knew when I drank. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Nature for Reals

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

As a kid, I liked making imaginary animals, beasts—lions with eagle heads, snakes with baby heads and naked women with bird heads. I had more fun drawing things and animals that didn’t exist except in the curious neighborhood of my own head. I remember Johnny Carson would have Jim Fowler, the animal expert from “Wild Kingdom,” on his program. Fowler often brought odd and frightening creatures to scare the shit out of Johnny—pangolins, vultures, hyenas and all manner of large constricting snakes. Once he brought a Bateleur eagle that took a monstrously slick, sticky shit on Johnny’s desk and Botany 500 suit, and Carson about puked before cutting to commercial.

Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” was one of the highlights of my childhood. The show’s host was the avuncular and kindly Marlin Perkins, who was at one time the director of the Lincoln Park Zoo. He may not have looked it, but he was a badass: his specialty was reptiles, particularly venomous reptiles—the best kind! This staid, genial older gentleman had survived many bites from poisonous snakes, including a Gaboon viper—which is lovely and deadly in equal measure. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: So Long Lou

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Lunch Drawing #20 Kid Satellite of Love (Magic Cat for Lou Reed) by Tony Fitzpatrick

Lunch Drawing #20 Kid Satellite of Love (Magic Cat for Lou Reed) by Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Everybody has something to say about the passing of Lou Reed. The past couple of days have yielded an outpouring of love for the man that quite honestly might have surprised even him. Particularly from music journalists, some who never had a kind word for him in life, who have written fawning eulogies that say a good deal more about themselves than they do about Lou. It is a curious thing.

And right about now? He is probably laughing his ass off. One of the things I treasure the most in this life is that Lou Reed was my friend and, for more than twenty years, we shared meals, dirty jokes, stories and a lot of friends.

People would often complain to me that Lou was rude or nasty to journalists, but I never once saw this. I can believe he could be formidable and thorny with some in the ink racket. Do I condone this? Yeah, every goddamned bit of it. When some asshole with a notepad decides to make a punchline out of you, the last goddamned thing you are obligated to do is help them. So if Lou messed up their hair a little bit, good for him. Read the rest of this entry »