Lovers Lane
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File: May 2011

| April 29, 2011

O Come, O Come Emanuel
On the 16th, Chicago will inaugurate its first new mayor in 22 years. Despite the inevitable letdown breathed by every new administration that has ever taken office anywhere, Chicago’s music community seems cautiously optimistic about Rahm Emanuel. Outgoing Richard M. Daley wasn’t the savviest despot ever, and his post-E2 tragedy crackdown on small clubs and originally unbending stance on lakefront concerts (among other difficulties) soured the relationship. Daley was a Daley, a well-connected Bridgeport kid whose stewardship of his father’s Machine left little time for artists and musicians. (Unless those people wanted to help gentrify neighborhoods that the connected could then profit off of.) People who watched him declare Chicago Music Day in 1990 have begun to think they were incepted.

Emanuel — at least based on descriptions by those who worked with him on President Obama‘s staff — doesn’t strike many as an improvement. But he is brother to the Hollywood superagent on which Jeremy Piven‘s “Entourage” character is based. He spent a lot of his campaign telling people that Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy was one of his favorite, all-time musicians. And in a broadcast interview with WXRT-FM (93.1), he proposed an Uptown “music district” to foster community and build the city’s international presence, which, musically, has always been in the shadow of the coasts.

Rahm It Through
Of course, each of our requests to interview the mayor-elect have gone unanswered, so there you have it. A music district would be a boon to the sputtering development of Uptown, home to the Aragon and Riviera as well as The Green Mill and Kinetic Playground. It has four CTA stops within seven blocks, sits right off the lake, and has cheap enough rents along with a smattering of gangs and homeless to provide the gritty, urban feel artists crave.

Any such move, however, would be met with fierce opposition from South Side aldermen, who have been hankering for the city to exploit our blues history for tourism and would want any such musical destination somewhere below Roosevelt. They’ve already lost Record Row and Maxwell Street and had to watch the housing boom crumble on their doorstep. Emanuel will meet a revamped city council, that could be ready to reassert itself after years of managing Daley’s zipper and belt for him; losing South Side support could prove crippling.

The People’s Party
While an official of Emanuel’s standing had never gone public with such a proposal, it’s not as if people haven’t tried to give Chicago a more musical bent, both internally and externally. The Chicago Music Commission came into being partly in response to the E2 atmosphere, but has battled infighting and efforts to establish its authority. Its study (that alleged local music’s billion-dollar annual contribution to the local economy) might make the city’s indifference toward it seem ridiculous, but it’s not as if Mayor Bloomberg wasn’t attacking danceclubs in Manhattan or Austin police can’t be heavy-handed during South By Southwest or, well, have you read about New Orleans’ law enforcement lately? The CPD isn’t chasing hippies through Lincoln Park anymore, is what we’re saying.

We have pride/embarrassment issues with the quality of Taste artists and the Blues Fest lineup, but ain’t that the way it’s supposed to be? I don’t know what everybody else is reading, but rock music has an anti-authority streak that runs counter to all this clamoring for Officially Sanctioned Events. Yes, capitalism trips a gag reflex in organized musicians, and you’d like to see tax dollars spent on something other than the sewer they’ve dug up at the end of your block for the seventh time in three years, but do we really want to drag bureaucracy into this?

Baby Steps
There exists a disconnect between what people dream and what could feasibly make a difference. One of the CMC’s desires is a friendly bond between city inspectors/departments and the music establishment, which it believes to be a negative, at best benign, relationship. Emanuel can insist upon improvements, but memos and scandals got Daley nowhere with corrupt cops or government, and he really really did all he could to straighten them out.

Other than a music presence in tourism brochures, what else can be done? A museum? (See: Peace Museum, The.) The city can’t make musicians famous. Better festivals? Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, Mobfest, Riot Fest, North Coast, World Music, and others have become international destinations independently. Remember, whatever’s given can also be taken away. Without major, private-sector investment (which would effectively destroy our grassroots identity), what you see is what you get.

— Steve Forstneger


Category: Columns, File, Monthly

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