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American Gothic


The DJs in Chicago really favor Midwest rock bands like Springsteen, Journey, Rod Stewart, a lot of bands from Detroit. There's this musical character to Chicago that has a faster beat than LA. LA has that tripped out pace that's slow, dazed, hallucinating in haze and too much sunlight, from Snoop Dogg to Washed Out. Chicago's beat has the even 4/4 character of bluegrass and American folk- a fast, even character that exists spectrally even in Chicago footwork and Detroit house techno. For example, take Andy Grammer's Honey I'm Good- a song that exemplifies not only that hand-clapping rollicking sound, but also a very middle-American conservativism. Walk the Moon's Shut Up and Dance also has that going on.


I began feeling very emotionally connected to the better aspects of Americana, the optimism of small-town 20-somethings newly relocated to the metropolis of Chicago, and to our youth- the boys that ride motorbikes down Lakshore Drive, popping wheelies in the midnight fog, the kids from the South Side who are just out there struggling without resources, the optimism of the young Business Boys who drink pints at John Barleycorn’s and go to IKEA with their moms to buy office furniture for their startup, and the trixies, who are all beautiful and prim, bundled in their parkas with just a little nose and ankles out for the world, their eyes framed in fur.

There was melancholy too. The DJ’s would often play Rod Stewart’s version of Forever Young for the late commute shift home on the L, around 7 or 7:30, and it could really jerk your heartstrings. I gazed out the window and felt the days slipping through my fingers like the wind. The lyrics read like an old Irish blessing that we used to have framed in my childhood home;

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

At the time I was really into self-characterization through fashion, and I was wearing very Mary Tyler Moore-ish looks for work, with kind of an edge- faux leather cigarette pants with a butter-yellow sweater and brown wool taxi-driver hat, or on especially cold days, big winter boots with a chalet sweater and denim farm jacket. It came down to the details; I remember crossing the street in Milwaukee one day after I was finished writing at the public library, and realizing that I’d also developed a subtle array of gestures and mannerisms to complement the Mary Tyler Moore persona, which went with the wool hat. Small town girl, visiting, working hard. I think it’s part of a survival mechanism that I’d originally worked up when I was living in DTLA, crafting a public persona to suit the scene; for example, looking homeless when I would bike home after midnight. I guess this time I was interested in communicating my newfound professional optimism / geospecific-persona-as-art-project to the world at large.

american gothic
Milwaukee is crumbling, and it feels like a ghost-town. Most of the homes I saw had visible wood-rot and questionable structural integrity, but they have the echo of beauty in their design. Every building looks like a church, with the steep vertical lines, narrow profile, and visible exterior wood framing that characterize the the American Gothic. The German influence is apparent in the architecture as well as the naming (New Berlin is a short drive away).

I note that the architectural and sonic character of a place are necessarily the crystals of that place's moral aesthetic and values system, for example the free flowing individualism of the Ab Exers compared to the tight, controlled quality of a Persian miniature. The pace of music in Chicago emphasizes a kind of mechanization of ambition in service of the forward volition of industry, and the absoluteness of the Gothic style of architecture imbues daily routine with a moral imperative, and commands reverence.

From what I’ve heard, the the municipal officials in Milwaukee, paralleling the history of corrupt aldermen in Chicago, have siphoned funds away from the neighborhoods that need it it the most and spent it on, what? I don’t know. Presumably political cliquishness and nepotism, rewarding campaign stars and political players within their own factions in the tradition of machine-boss politics, or perhaps in Milwaukee, the public library-  the interior is dazzling, with elaborate terrazo work and a sweeping entrance that feels like you’re being whisked into the the Smithsonian. Perhaps the city center was built on hopes for the region that turned out to be a flash in the pan, leaving this monument  as a reminder of the unrealized vision that earlier settlers had for the city.

There also seems to be some tourism & hospitality industry, including a Harley Davidson museum that I have not been to. I guess being a rockstar is like being… passing through innumerable worlds, part of this elaborate caravan, a player on a movable stage- a nomadic economic stimulus package.

Driving back through rural Milwaukee around 2 or 3 am, the stars were molten. We entered a psychosexual headspace as the constellations whirled past us in cartwheels like 10,000 possible futures, and Brian gently played with the edge of my clothes, singing me a soft rendition of Bette Davis Eyes—

her hair was harlowe gold
/ her lips sweet surprise

she's precocious, and she knows just
/ what it takes to make a pro blush

all the boys think she's a spy, she's got
/ bette davis eyes ...

cafe days

I actually got made fun of one time by, literally, children in the neighborhood, I think they were high school kids. I had no dishes or money when I got to Chicago, so I would cook a pan of lentils in the morning to take to work. One morning I was walking down the street with this open pan of legumes in the *middle* of winter, undoubtedly looking like a total weirdo, and it really cracked everyone up. I guess it’s the type of thing you’d be more into mocking if you had never dealt with adult responsibilities before, but I also don't blame them for recognizing the inherent comedy of the situation, because I was always dressed well but didn't own so much as a piece of freaking tupperware.

I'm mindful again of the way family's cultural values generally parallel those of the nation, in my family's case, a pioneering attitude that favors investment rather than acquisition- as my father said, 'the only way to waste money is to not spend it.' (That is, when you have any kind of come-up or are able to save a sum of money, you have to immediately invest it into something that will bring returns, such as paint, or improvements to your business, otherwise you will piddle it all away on small junk like cappuccinos or going to the movies). He would also say, 'out on a limb; that's where the fruit is.' Both, statements I feel like I've quite absolutely lived by. In this case, I'd spent all my savings making paintings in Finland and relocating to Chicago.

I was writing at a cafe most days in Irving Park, listening to Leonard Cohen and reading Fredrico Garcia Lorca (whose poem Little Viennese Waltz Cohen translated for the lyrics to Take this Waltz)-

& I'll dance with you in Vienna
/ I’ll be wearing a river's disguise

the hyacinth wild on my shoulder
/ my mouth on the dew of your thighs

At this time, I was also having dreams of a Bablyonian timescape where time was unfolded into the linear form of a path, and demarcated by a series of ornately constructed towers of different materials, ranging from minerals to flowers. I feel these dreams were likely influenced by the Cohen track Tower of Song, and the Richter Sleep Symphony; Cohen’s lyrics are powerful, but hint at claustrophobia, and conjure a vision of the inescapably linear trajectory of time, speeding forward on rails like the L train with unblinking velocity. Not so much as a blink, a shimmer of feeling, a sideways glance. Time wears blinders and stares at the sun. eliciting

(a silent Edvard Munchian Scream, immediately followed by a gentle, expansive serenity)-

I accept of my own motion and stasis within this larger mosaiced framework, as one smidge of sun floating through the swirls of a Van Gogh. Life goes, time flows.

The baristas at the cafe were a brother and sister who became very dear to me. She is a poet as well, and had a few kids at home, who it seemed like were often getting sick in the Chicago winter. We would listen to Sade's Smooth Operator and King of Sorrow before the cafe flow started and we had to buckle down our respective work. Time moved gently, and gradually the aura became luminous and kind. I would shuffle in off the street, shake the snow off my boots, then wrap up in a Mexican wool blanket and type away by a window rimmed in twinkle lights, as the snow fell softly and the sun sank below the tops of the buildings.

The other full-time cafe denizen was a really odd guy who lived on bagels and black coffee and played internet RPG’s 8 hrs a day instead of showing up to appointments at the employment office.


Both of us also had taped over the edge of our computer screens to prevent the FBI from sneaking glances through our Facetime cams, which I think the other cafe patrons thought was really neurotic, but honestly if you spend that much time with the space of the internet, you realize it's highly likely that someone could be gazing back at you through the camera, and it's nice to shut that down.


The Bean is the best public sculpture in America. I also feel that it's the only sculpture grounded in the idealism of relational aesthetics that doesn't disappear. The Bean isn't passive, and it's not a decoration. It's an active, theatrical space. It is about you. It literally flings you into the space of Chicago. The Bean loves you. It literally picks you up, multiplies you infinitely, and reflects you back out into the space of the city with everyone else.

It also aestheticizes the infinite mysticism of cloudspace as the dreamworld. Rather than a shroud, or a symbol of gloom, cloud gate paints clouds, and the city of Chicago, as magical, and infinite in its possibility. The extraordinary beauty and kindness of cloud gate nearly brings me to tears.

Honestly, sometimes I think the reason I moved to Chicago is because I fell in love with cloud gate.


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