Friday, May 29, 2009

The Unexpected Joys of Unemployment

Not working certainly has its drawbacks; most obvious is the lack of steady sufficient income (though unemployment has actually given me a 20% raise from the last time). You also are faced with periods of loneliness, boredom and frustration, even occasional depression. Aside from that--and while doing what you can to abbrieviate it--unemployment is to be enjoyed not rued.

I don't mean this simply because you can often sleep late, not shave, not dress and pretty much do things at your own pace. Nor is it simply a matter of being able to watch movies (and thus justify my DVD collection; this week alone I watched The Usual Suspects, The Big Sleep and In the Name of the Father); take in an afternoon ballgame (I haven't yet been out to Wrigley but did enjoy watching the Champions League soccer final on Wednesday) or do some reading (I'm almost done with Vikram Seth's "An Equal Music").

No, what unemployment truly offers over regular same time, same place employment is the heightened opportunity for unexpected surprises.

For instance, yesterday I went downtown to meet with a creative staffing firm; it seemed to go pretty well and hopefully they can get me some projects. But as I was walking there, I came across an Art For Obama exhibit at 72 E. Randolph (where HotTix is, across from the Cultural Center). And if checking that out wasn't cool enough, there was a "that day only" Gallery Talk by Scott Thomas, a guy I hadn't heard of before but who was the Design Director for the Obama campaign. Except for the horizon logo, which was created prior to his involvement, Scott either designed or oversaw every piece of artwork the campaign put out, from posters to banners to podium placards and more. He even designed the much lauded Obama website.

I actually missed most of his talk, but caught the tail end and wound up speaking with him for a while. Rather than a graying industry veteran or even a pretentious hot shot, he just was a down to earth guy who earned his responsibility by being good at what he does. He said he's in the midst of writing a book called Designing Obama with hopes for a summer release. Though there's not a lot there at present, check out his website and if you have a couple hours to kill--sorry for those of you with jobs--you might enjoy this talk he did at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis along with the logo designer.

After my appointment, I went to the Art Institute to see the new Modern Wing. The building was beautiful, but as is often the case in contemporary art museums (the Walker, Guggenheim Bilbao, MOCA-Chicago), the art within wasn't nearly as cool as the building itself.

Anyway, if you have a job, be happy and grateful. But if you don't, do likewise.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Would You Spend $9,266,500 For This?

As you can see here, although I used to dabble in painting, I can't claim to have been very good. And while I actually enjoy Piet Mondrian's minimalist works, I think I could duplicate the above painting--which just sold for over $9 million at auction--and would be willing to accept only $49.95. The hardest part would be finding a square canvas. 

Fun-Play Bloody Fun-Play

Theatre Review
The Lieutenant of Inishmore
A Play by Martin McDonagh
Northlight Theatre - Skokie, IL 

Just when I was about to write off plays as an expected source of enjoyment, I saw one of the funniest, and in the end, most insightful, plays I've seen in a long time. Written by Martin McDonagh, one of the two reigning wunderkinds of Irish theatre along with Conor McPherson, The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a grisly dark comedy, complete with dead cats, severed limbs and a whole lot of blood. While it is going on, you're not completely sure the point it's making, but it is laugh out loud funny. And when the end comes -- at 90 minutes, this is about the right length for a play, rather than the 2:45 Rock N Roll -- you understand how sharp a commentary about the IRA and the "troubles in Ireland" it is. Bloody brilliant. And having loved both this and McDonagh's The Pillowman, but being a bit lukewarm about McPherson's recent (and acclaimed) The Seafarer and Shining City, well, I think McDonagh might not only be Ireland's best working playwright, but perhaps even the world's. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Here's My Verdict...

Theatre Review
Legally Blonde: The Musical
Broadway Tour
Ford Theatre - Chicago

I wouldn't quite call "Legally Blonde" an all-time great musical, but it is a highly enjoyable one that comes close to "excellent." And while last night's cast and production weren't quite up to the Broadway version, the show remains a whole lot of fun. Becky Gulsvig, who understudied the Elle Woods role on Broadway and plays her here, was very good and quite charming. The music & lyrics, co-written by Lawrence O'Keefe, who also wrote Bat Boy the Musical (which I loved in London), are quite good throughout and there are a number of imaginative scenes, all enthusiastically performed. I certainly had a lot more fun than I did the other night at "Rock N Roll."

Bruce Springstein?

If you've read/watched my other Springsteen posts, you already know that he's been playing song fans request via signs. I like the one that comes in at 2:17 here. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Taking Up More Space

See my post from Saturday for the explanation, but here are more photos from John Grunsfeld aboard the Space Shuttle. I'm not really much of a space geek, but these are amazing.

It's Only... ...But I Didn't Really Like It

Theatre Review
Rock 'N Roll
A Play by Tom Stoppard
Goodman Theatre - Chicago

In theory, I love plays. I mean I admire the art form, and while I freely admit that I prefer musicals, I have seen over 150 plays and am sure to see many more. But the truth is, I'm sad to admit, that there have been relatively few plays that I have truly found phenomenal, even among those that have been well-reviewed and that others seem to like.

I don't know, maybe I'm just not smart enough to "get" a play in a single sitting, or I have ADD and tend to zone out somewhere, but if a play called Rock 'N Roll, written by a living legend like Tom Stoppard, is about Prague--which I've been to--and how rock music helped contribute to the end of Communism--which fascinates me--, and was lauded both on Broadway and in its Goodman production, doesn't do much for me, well, maybe I oughta stop playing.

I mean, the performers were good--including a Minneapolis actor named Stephen Yoakam who I had seen in 'Blackbird' when I visited the Twin Cities in November--and much of the writing showed Stoppard's obvious gifts, and I enjoyed the heavy allusions to Syd Barrett--who I've never appreciated enough--, and all the recorded music that was incorporated, from the Stones to the Beach Boys to U2, but I honestly spent most of the 2 hours & 45 minutes (way too long for a play if you ask me) waiting for it to end.

It wasn't awful, but it just wasn't all that. Nothing that will last, nothing that really taught me much (except to download The Piper at the Gates of Dawn). Oh well. I'm going to see The Lieutenant of Inishmore on Wednesday night, and I loved Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman, so I have high hopes, but then, I'm much more excited about seeing Legally Blonde The Musical tomorrow night.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Nothing but the Truth

OK, I admit it, last night I rented Bride Wars, pretty much solely because it stars Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson. Because of the two of them, it was watchable and not dreadful, but in the end it was "movie world only" drivel completely out of touch with today's world. At least the one I live in. And while I have no idea exactly when it was produced, agreed upon, etc., for Hathaway, coming after her Oscar-nominated performance in Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married," it was an embarrassing step backwards (and she also had another stinker, Passengers, that even I won't watch). But she did look lovely. As for Hudson, who didn't look quite as hot as she has previously, I don't know who is giving her career advice, but at this point, the caliber of her movies make her mom's (Goldie Hawn) look like Meryl Streep's. Just one piece of crap after another. Unlike Hathaway, I'm not sure if she's going to graduate to something better. Or even wants to. For the record, I give Bride Wars @@ (out of @@@@@).

But for only another $1 at Redbox -- they'll put Blockbuster out of business even faster than On-Demand -- and for pretty much the same reason as with Bride Wars, only in the case of Kate Beckinsale, I also rented Nothing but the Truth. And that I would give @@@@1/2. And along with last year's Snow Angels, it showed that Beckinsale is finally defining herself as a fine, serious actress in addition to a beautiful one. Unfortunately, hardly anyone's even heard of this movie. It was going to have a limited release late last year and go wider in January, but after opening in New York and perhaps LA, the film's distributor went bankrupt, and so supposedly did Beckinsale's hopes for an Oscar nomination. She probably deserved one, for playing a journalist who is put in jail for not revealing her source, in this fictionalized version of the whole Valerie Plame-Judith Miller-Scooter Libby affair. I didn't, and still don't, understand exactly what happened in real life, but the movie version helped educate me and was excellent throughout. Beyond Beckinsale, strong performances were given by a stellar cast, including Matt Dillon, Alan Alda, Angela Bassett, Noah Wyle, David Schwimmer and Vera Farmiga.

I won't tell anyone not to rent Bride Wars, but to respect yourself in the morning, perhaps balance it out with Nothing but the Truth.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Personal Photos From Outer Space

John Grunsfeld is an astronaut & astrophysicist currently on a shuttle mission to fix the Hubble Telescope. Originally from Highland Park, he is the brother-in-law of the stepfather of my longtime best friend Jordan. The Chicago Tribune recently had a big story on him which you can read here. This is another article on the progress of the repairs.

These are some of the photos John sent from Outer Space:

Friday, May 15, 2009

The world's best rock band is...

Who is the best rock band in the world? Right now, today? Not necessarily your favorite band, though obviously it’s a subjective question. And not the all-time best band that is still somewhat active, e.g. The Rolling Stones. I mean the band whose recent recorded output and quality of their live shows earns them the title of “world’s best rock band, circa 2009.” Although this is my blog post, and I’m about to reveal my choice, I’m really looking for feedback. Who do you consider the best rock band in the world?

My answer: Green Day

Again, not my favorite band that’s still active; in that regard, U2, REM, the Stones, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters and perhaps some others outrank Green Day. (And I’m not counting Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as a band for these purposes.) But while I’m still digesting Green Day’s new 18-song concept album, even the first listen sounds pretty good. Their last album, American Idiot, was great, their entire recorded output is pretty stellar and they are always great live. And they seem to keep getting better.

I think all the aforementioned bands are still great, but their best albums are well behind them. Radiohead is an obvious contender, but name a truly great, “gotta hear it” song from their last several albums. I think the Killers rate pretty high, but I found their latest album a step backwards. Wilco is great, but can be too hit or miss to claim the title. The White Stripes are barely a band and have never excited me live. The Flaming Lips were fantastic, but their last album was a real dud. I still love England’s Stereophonics, but Green Day is clearly better, and more recent Brit faves like The Fratellis, Maximo Park and The Enemy just don’t have enough of a track record. Kings of Leon, The Arcade Fire and Fall Out Boy have had lots of buzz, but Kings of Leon is the only one I really like and they certainly aren’t “best band” material. Metallica and AC/DC continue to rock live, and have had solid recent albums, but are a bit too long in the tooth and one-dimensional to top the list. And while I like Coldplay a bit more than I don’t, they largely leave me cold. I’m sure there are indie bands that people love, like Frightened Rabbit and Fleet Foxes, but to some extent, longevity and popularity have to factor in. So there you have it.

Green Day is the best band in the world. Right now, today. May 15, 2009.

And if they’re not, who is?

To every end there is a beginning

I was actually at this show (below), in about the first row, so I should be in this shot somewhere.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Concert Review
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
United Center - Chicago

Last night was the 34th time I've seen Bruce Springsteen, 28 of which have been with the E Street Band. (You can see a rundown of all my Bruce shows & setlists here) And once again Bruce and the band did not disappoint, even though I wouldn't rank it as one of their best shows. The setlist didn't quite flow right; a few more true classics would have been nice. But in terms of live performers--and I've seen hundreds--even nearing 60 years of age, there's Bruce and then there's everyone else. And even with an aging band, he delivered a nearly 3 hour show that if not quite an all-time best, was still truly phenomenal.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's Boss Time, Again

So last night I konked out and went to sleep after the first period of the Blackhawks game, a series clincher that saw 10 goals scored after I went to bed in a see-saw affair that the Hawks wound up winning in dramatic fashion. I'm kind of hating myself for wussing out and missing it.

I awoke with a kink in my neck that has really got me kind of sore.

I have very little to do at a job that I'm being laid off from this Friday, with no ready prospects for new employment in a terrible economy.

The girl that I like and thought was cool, doesn't feel the same and seemingly isn't.

But today is a good day that will only get better. In fact, for me, it's like Christmas to those who celebrate Christmas.

Bruce Springsteen is coming to town. He plays the United Center tonight and I will be there with 3 of my close friends.

Sure, he's been my favorite musician for about the last 30 years. And I've seen him perform live 33 times, including 29 times in the last 10 years and 8 times in the past 19 months.

But I can't remember ever being more excited about seeing him. For while I'm really not in a bad way, not depressed or acutely anxious, well, things aren't exactly spectacular either.

And whereas some people turn to drugs (legal or illegal), alcohol, religion, psychiatry, exercise and/or other ways to cope with whatever life throws them, beyond some great family & friends, I have always turned to Bruce. Other music too, and other entertainment as well, but most consistently and above all, the Boss. And unlike most people in life, Bruce has never let me down.

So let's rock.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Mystery Repeats Itself

I think I wrote this poem in 1990. Unfortunately, it still applies.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

4-Gone Confusion

What will it take to make Brett Favre go away and stay away for good? I mean, even as a diehard Bears fan, I always liked and admired Favre, until he started to pull his Roger Clemensesque annual "am I going to play this year?" crap. And even last year, I kind of sided with him in his pissy-fight with the Packers. But my God, enough is enough. Retire dammit, or just say, "I'm going to play as long as someone will let me." What a big whiny baby.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Boss gets his Punk on

London Calling

I Wanna Be Sedated

Bad Luck (w/ Mike Ness of Social Distortion)