Tuesday, January 25, 2011

State of the Larcher…aka Chili Champs….aka All the Presidents Men…aka…Football is Her Name…aka…Any Given Sunday…aka Clout Is Still King

“the State of the Union is…”
--Traditional line in the first paragraph of most Presidents State of the Union Address.

“It's been my policy to view the Internet not as an 'information highway,' but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.”
--Mike Royko

Tonight the TV will flicker with the State of the Union Address…and now in High-Definition!  Same bullshit, just now delivered a lot clearer and with a more vivid picture. 

President Obama is a powerful speaker with a staff of writers that seem to capture the imagination of a tired union.  I hope he succeeds in creating some sort of impact that will truly benefit you and I.  Words are still powerful, and belief in anything these days is a healthy change of pace in a generation bogged down in mistrust and caution.  Something tells me that just because the TV’s are bigger, the technology is brighter, the President is darker, the congress divided, the nation at odds, the money spent, the debt real, the resources limited, the population high, immigration out of control, the rich getting richer, Corporations in control, the dangers of war still terrifying, -- and the fact most people would rather be watching reality television than the State of the Union – my tomorrow will be about the same as it was yesterday, and a year ago.  So goes the spin of Washington so fast just like the spin of the earth, we don’t feel it (about 900 miles per hour).

Here in Chicago where Mike Royko taught us the meaning of clout; clout is still king and Rahm Emanuel is still on the ballot.  The state, of our State of the UNION, here in the city, is business as usual and the machine is still running strong.  Shit’s about to get nasty.  We all know this city was once called Hog Butcher of the World and it’s because we all know guts, gore, and slaughter -- we all see it coming.  The city is broke.  The citizens are beaten down, the corporations are scared to invest, and yet the city keeps getting nicer and nicer through beautification projects.  Soon to be ex-Mayor Daley is acting like somebody running up a credit card knowing they are about to file bankruptcy.  I feel bad for whoever has to walk into this nightmare situation.

Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against Rahm Emanuel and in all honestly I think he probably is the best qualified (although I think Chico is better qualified) and would do the best job with the city; given the tough job laid in front of him.  No matter who gets the job it will be more of the same as usual: selling out tomorrow for a hit of today’s fix.  I guess I really shouldn’t care.  It just frustrates me that it has become (or always was) all about money, and the assumption of power from power.  Entitlement is a very scary thing, and when you mix it with indifference it becomes dangerous scary.  

When laws are bent for some (especially the privileged), even if it’s the seemingly right thing to do you risk destroying the whole system in the process.  Once a law becomes a suggestion, it loses all is binding and everything it ties together falls with it.  We tend to look at what’s right for right now, not why it was there to begin with.  Our system has a way to undo things that is a bit slow but there is a reason that it was set up with no haste in mind.  In other words by ripping it apart fast, we forget history as we kill the ability to research, and erase what we placed to keep history from repeating its self unbinding the past in the process.  But people inundated with free information and knowledge tend to become too trusting in the process and simply follow a alliance or allegiance they think they believe in as that was what was taught to them from very young by a generation hell bent on hanging onto power.  I’m probably way over reacting but why the hell not?  Is it wrong to work at finding the truth from the most extreme of the worst?

Well I’m on these sorts of things what is with all the media telling us to play nicer and not shout so loud?  How can they ask of the citizens to rile down passion, in an impassionate nation, filled with compassionate people?  It’s absurd, dangerous, and only benefits both sides of a two party system.  Nuts exist.  Bad things will always happen, but that is no reason silence anger.   Telling people to calm down after a political shooting is as logical as telling kids to stop playing violent games after Columbine. We always look for scapegoats – just beware when the scapegoats become us.  To question the anger and try to change our tone is one thing, but to paint it as ‘lunacy’ or ‘dangerous’ is  very controlling and a great tool for those already with a voice to shush up everybody else.   Just a thought. 

My fellow travelers I’m proud to say the State of the Larcher is in positive transition.  It is true things I thought were realities for some time have been shattered.  In the process my beliefs, identities, and principles have suddenly fallen into self questioning.  Political, moral, and social foundations have all become fairly shaky, and the damage is still being assessed. It’s also true that our economic future is uncertain and our current state is poor. It’s been a win-lose kind of year and I think last Sunday’s Bears game summed up my year.

I only love one sport, and Football is her name.  Chicago is my town, and the Bears are my passion.  Every year I go down to training camp to assess my team so that I can factor my mood for the fall and winter seasons.   To be honest the Bears did not look very good in training camp and like the rest of the city I was expecting a bad season that would at least wipe our much embattled head coach out of town.  We all knew it was a time for change and the only way it would be avoided would be with a miracle season we knew couldn’t happen.  But as they say, “Any Given Sunday.” 

Even though they looked subpar they kept winning and soon that old timey Chicago Second City story of falling for the sharp talking con-artist only to be left down started to come into play.  I tuned in every week with one eye half opened watching the game while the other cringed in fear.  Fear mainly for our tough as nails (fuck the doubters) QB named Jay Cutler.   We didn’t have an offensive line but we found ways to hide our flaws and cover our holes. 

We stayed healthy when everybody around us fell sick and almost by default we won the division and a week off from the grind.   Everything was falling our way, but this is Chicago and we’re used to a sunny day on Sunday followed by snow storms and blistering cold on Monday.   It’s who we are, and we make no apology for our; up one day down the next attitudes. 

But we made it to the championship game and it was against our most hated rival in our house.  The game also happened to fall on the same day as my local bars annual chili cook off.  It’s held every year on Championship Sunday but its rare when the Bears are playing, and never against the Packers.  So there I was, with some of my favorite faces in the world, watching the sport I love the most waiting to be judged on a chili we felt could win. 

Well the luck ran out for the Bears, Cutler went down, and as they say the rest is history.  The Bears fought hard, and could have won, but they just didn’t have all the tools needed to be anything more than almost.  So close yet in the end we didn’t win and everything remained about the same.  Just as the final score came to a close, the owner of the bar came over and told me we won the cook off.  My buddy Patrick who looked very defeated thanks to the end of the game leapt for joy when I whispered to him that we won. Hugs and smiled and a presentation as the Champions. It was very bitter sweet but Patrick was damn proud of that chili, and so was I.

I stumbled home after the game drunk and alone foreshadowing one possible ending.  The sidewalk was a sheet of paper think ice and all my mental and physically energy went to staying on my two feet and not on my fat ass.  I slipped once or twice but caught my feet in time and in the darkness I didn’t fall.  Instead I smiled as I looked over the sheet of white that covered house after house reflecting the blue light of the moon.  Occasionally I would come across one house still light up with Christmas lights and I would take it all in with a near tear in my eye.  The loss of the game hurt, but really my only thoughts were of my friends sharing that moment with me. Both the agony of defeat, and the joy of victory.   I knew what my life had become, and I was alright with it.  The state of the Larcher Union is Healthy.  So mote it be.

AFL 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

More Questions Than Answers…aka What?...Aka Question Everything...Aka Life’s Illusion…aka Life Machine…AKA 2012 Is The End Of The World As Al Knows It….aka Will You Please Shut Up?

"I’ve looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall.
I really don’t know life at all"
--Willie Nelson, 'Both Sides Now'


It just don't make sense to me anymore. 

What is secure?  What is enslavement?  What is freedom? 

Who’s got the winning lotto numbers?

Can I really not eat that on the Atkins diet? 

Why aren’t the Bears getting any fucking respect? 

What is the Patriot Act? 

Is the world run from the East?  Who’s East?  

Why can’t we stop the murders, when we can catch everybody going through a red light in the city of Chicago?  How much is a life worth?  How much profit do those camera tickets really make?  

What are my rights?

When can I question authority? When can I question technology?  Can we question computers?

Is there really absolution?

Where are the jobs with the long term path? 

What’s hot on Youtube? Do careers exist?

 Is fame my only option? Do I have talent? 

Are we all just a replaceable part? 

Are we past roots and evolved to flying; or are we malnourished and slowly dying?  

How big is too big?

Why don’t you talk to me?

Why are the taxes so high, and the benefits so low?  Who’s paying for it all? Is privilege and power really all about drug access; in regards to both the young and old?

Is the highest point on earth, moot point?  Does any of it really matter if we’re all just cosmic fellow travelers or future dust?  

When does asking to many questions actually become control through confusion, rhythm, and repetition?

Who is the political candidate you are passionate about?  How do you personally, progress their power?  Does it matter if you don’t have one? Did you vote?  When does indifference become slavery?   Who is in control?  Is somebody asleep at the wheel?  Is it all a circus and we’re buying overpriced snowcones with either a donkey or an elephant on the souvenir cup?

What happened to marriage?  Do you think Tommy Barlett’s lake dried up due to bad karma from putting those bumper stickers on everybody’s car in the 80’s? 

Did I write that write?

Have you checked Facebook lately?   Did you read the national news today?  The local?  Who is in control of those news organizations?  Did you know Google got a new CEO today?  Do you think you’ll be laid off in the next year or two?

Is 2012 the end?  Why are so many people in power acting like it is? Who’s to benefit if it isn’t?   Is this the big event that could bring or scare the people back to the church?

 Why won’t you dance with me? 

Does the Catholic Church have an advertising and marketing department?  Does religion matter?  Will it be space aliens that get us?  An Asteroid?  The Apocalypse, or another day in paradise?  What if this is as good as it gets?  

Who’s on third?

 Is culture the wave?

What’s a matter with me?  What’s a matter with you?  Could it be a plague?   What’s with the dead birds?  Dead Fish?  Dead Cows?  Did you know more than 200 Wisconsin cows just dropped dead the other day?  What the fuck is going on?    

Are we doomed? 

Weren’t we always doomed?  Doesn’t every generation claim the end of time?  Aren’t we born doomed?  Is there a need to worry?  Is the inevitable really just destiny?   

What’s up with China?   
Do we work for them now?   
Was there a change of management and I wasn’t informed?

 Is it true the more the government provides me the less freedom I really have?  Is water really in short supply?

Does fear really sell? 

Are we to distracted?  When’s the last time you touched your phone?  A keyboard?  A lover?   Friend?    Is individualism a style?  A Dress Code? Does everything come back to code? 

Is it all about the numbers? 

Am I being all I can be?  Can I be more?  Do I have the right licenses’?  Can I still drift our nation?  Is New Orleans the new Wild West?  Is Detroit really a war zone?  Is Chicago a police state?  Can I park there? 

Will the Chicago Bears have the greatest parade ever?  Can Geico really save me more on car insurance? 

What is property anymore when music is free?  

Are we in a Depression?  Are we in an age of enlightenment?   Are we at the beginning of the end?  

Is the end really that bad? 

Is the best yet to come?

Has sport networks become the new stage for fiction writers?  Is anything real, beside us?  Are we real?  Are we real with each other? Isn’t nature one massive machine?  Is that luck?  Is that creation?  Is it a question worth asking?  When’s the last time you shook a mayors hand?  What happens when the population surpasses the resources? 

Do you feel secure? 

Me Neither.

AFL 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cultural Infidel…aka Knocking on Heaven’s Door…aka Mad Man Martz and the Birds Falling From The Sky

[Training Camp 2010: Heading to the light]

 [2012 Lurks]

[Last minutes of Earth]

[“I will sweep away both man and beast; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea— and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all mankind on the face of the earth,” declares the LORD,]

I like to talk to homeless people.  As matter of the best advice I’ve ever gotten, was when I asked a broken down fellow traveler if he slept on the box he was sitting on outside of a bar on Music Row in Nashville, TN.  He told me with great certain and Zen like wisdom that, “cardboard sure beats sleeping on the Earth.”  Truer words have never been spoken, and you never hear that kind of candor from any presidential candidates in an era of foreclosure and property loss.

As 2012 approaches the end of man lingers a questionable finale for us all; so naturally I want my Chicago Bears to pull off a miracle and win the Super Bowl before it’s too late.  It’s true, as I sat in training camp I didn’t feel to positive about this team.  As a matter of fact I figured my odds of winning the lotto or dying in a grease fire were far more substantial than the 2011 Bear even making the Playoffs.

Being from Chicago we have certain bravado that is both charming and annoying to outsiders.  When I saw a kid in abusive Packers colors stumbling through a cave in Kentucky I threatened to call DCFS on the child’s parents immediately for putting the kid in such offensive wear and daftly yet with absolute authority informed the dim witted hillbilly (all Packer fans are a variation of) parents that their team has no chance of winning the division.  I didn’t fully believe what I was saying, but after being a Bears fan most of my life I’m used to being wrong, plus living in one of the most politically corrupt cities in the world I’ve become adapt to advanced political delivery of less then truthful speech.  

A lot of people didn’t want Mike Martz to come to Chicago and truthfully neither did the Bears.  He was the last name on their very long list, and when nobody wanted the job, he was given it reluctantly.  To be honest I was pumped as I know he’s a real coach with a real system.   I didn’t think we could pull it off, and to be honest we haven’t, but he’s made adjustments and we somehow managed to field an offense and win a game despite no offensive line.   Thank you Mike Tice for giving a miracle drug to a terminal unit giving them a few more weeks of comfortable living to somehow stun the experts and sorta play football.  Sure they are still terrible, and terminal, but you can’t argue with the results.

The real hero here is another head coach turned kitchen cabinet kingpin named Rod Marinelli who’s taken over the defense, and turned them back into the Monsters of the Midway we’ve always known they were, and are.  This leaves us with only one lonely yet lovely man who happens to be the head coach, Lovie Smith.  Everybody in Chicago wanted the dull ho-hum coach to be fired and escorted out of town by a hungry mob of chub-a-bulls with pitch forks.  He sucks and still does.  But he’s winning, and he’s letting his staff do their job.  If he is a leader and a man who can stand at the helm while real coaches coach I have no problem with him being our figure head even though I still say they fire him right after we win the Super Bowl this year, just for the sake of great television. 


--2,000 red-winged blackbirds fell dead from the sky in a central Arkansas.
-- Then, around 300 more birds quit living and fell from sky in Louisiana, with more reported dead in Kentucky.  Its not just here in the one nation under God but also similar reports are surfacing out of Sweden and New Zealand.
--Plus this… "An estimated 2 million fish have been reported dead from the Bay Bridge south to Tangier Sound, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment, which investigates fish kills. The dead fish are primarily adult spot, with some juvenile croakers ... Large winter kills of spot have been documented at least twice before, the MDE spokeswoman said, with about 15 million dying in early 1976 and a smaller number in 1980."  -- The Baltimore Sun  (Print isn’t dead just a lot of fish)
--Add that, to this… 40,000 Crabs Wash Ashore in Kent… 100 Tons of Fish Dead in Brazil….and we’re talking about some weird shit happening in the lords year of 2011.

Anybody want to go to church with me this Sunday (Bears have a bye week and maybe we can score a few points with the man upstairs.)

If 2011 is the end at least we all made it. Living is mostly waiting time anyhow and whatever lays ahead may sure be better then sleeping on the earth. 

AFL 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011

Seeking out a Shrink..aka .Shrink Wrapped...aka Meat and More Meat...aka Can't Seem To Finish

Cold grey skies,
Lonely fat man --
Warm on whiskey

I have so much to say yet nothing comes out.

I want to write something funny but I don’t feel much like laughing.  I try to write sad but all I get is pathetic self loathing.   I’m in trouble, and I know it. 

So today I have health insurance for the first time in a few years which means I finally get to go to a doctor and have all the issues that have been worrying me for the last few years checked out.  Now I know what it feels like to be rich, Canadian, or responsible.

I tried to go to a therapist about a year ago after my grandmother died when I realized my family heritage is all but dried up, and I really am alone in this world.  When I was a child my mother used to tell me all the time that we had nothing, and if I ever got into trouble she would give me up to foster care.  Whenever I misbehaved she would drive me to the local orphanage and tell me this is where I will end up the rest of my life before finally settling into prison.  It forced me to grow up fast, as I knew I never had a safety net or anybody to bail me out if I got into trouble.   But scared to death of falling is no way to live.

Anyway I went to this lady and she told me, more or less, that I’m too fucked up to fix.  Talk about a depressing life.  I’ve never really given much creditability to the mental health industry and this was close to a nail in the coffin for me.   But I realize there is good and bad in every profession and to be fair I didn’t pick her she was assigned to me through a program at work. 

So today with health insurance I went searching for a therapist that I might connect to.  It’s a fun and interesting life exercise I recommend everybody to par take in at least once in your life even if you don’t need therapy.  One website had pictures and I found myself judging possible shrinks based on looks.  I could never talk to that guy if he still has that stupid beard.  Jesus, her eyes are funky and I that would be too distracting.   That last name is Polish and I don’t know about that.

Vanity has never been a shortcoming for me even when just about everything else is.  I can’t move forward in anything I do in this world.  School, Careers, relationships, and even blogging (you’ll see).  I’m great at starting, but I guess I’m afraid take that next step.  When you live your life without a safety net you think very little is possible and you take as much comfort as you can in the basics that you have.  It’s a terrible way to live and one I’m drastically trying to change.

Getting my health in order both physical and mental is step one.  My New Year’s resolution this year is to return to the Akins diet and take a good chuck of my gut out.  I tried this diet a few years ago and it worked for me and I’m excited to get back to trying to finally overcome this battle with my weight.   I know I’ll lose.  I always do, as I’m food addict and for Christ sake I’m pissed we don’t get the same sympathy as all the other addicts and I’m getting pissed about that! 

I’m easily addicted to anything that makes me feel good, but food has always been the ultimate.   It’s cheap, its legal, and it’s easy to obtain anytime day or night.  It’s a very real and tough battle.  A few nights ago I was so depressed I was sick and my hands were shaking and I knew exactly what I needed.  So I pulled to my friendly drive thru dealer and ordered up a quarter pounder with cheese, fries, and a coke.  I knew what I was doing and I couldn’t stop myself if I wanted to.

I cried when I bite into the burger as a wave of pure bliss just took all my pain away.  I cried because I knew how broken that really makes me.  I’ve done hard drugs, gone through withdrawals and found comfort in finding another fix.  This was the exact same feeling and yet it was nothing more than a cheeseburger.  There is a need for that comfort hardwired in my head and it’s scary to me as everyday my body hurts more and more crying for me to take care of it.

So like millions of other Americans I will start my diet and do the best I can for as long as I can.  I’ll keep you updated.   Hey the murder rate in Chicago is the lowest it’s been in like forty years!!  Thought I’d leave you with some good news.

Peace and Love,

AFL 2011

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Roll over Beethoven Tell Chuck Berry The News…Aka Legends Last Stand…AKA Duck Walk Off The Deep End…aka We Still Love Chuck.

Chicks told Casey, You better move man,
This is only a one night stand, Casey wasn’t in time, but he was dancin awhile
Till a cramp caught his leg and he had to change his style.”
--‘Too Pooped to Pop’ by Chuck Berry, 1960.

It was opening night of 2011, the start of my 31st season here on earth, and the one, I will finally blog full time for. Welcome fellow travelers.  New Years Day is a point of reflection, and always a chance for new beginnings, although most of us see it as it truly is; an extra day off of work and a chance to sober up after drinking away the past years joys ,and woes.  

A few weeks ago I noticed the legendary Chuck Berry was playing the Congress Theater in my sweet home of Chicago, Illinois.  It was billed as “Chuck Berry’s Winter Dance” and in my mind I had visions of a 1950’s high school gymnasium-styled dance, which may only exist in cinema, and the minds of a dying breed of baby-boomers.   

I knew Chuck Berry was 84 years old, but I still had hope that maybe this night -- would be his night.  In my dreams Chuck Berry would come out see the crowd of young faces mixed with old fans and ride the energy possibly one last time in the twilight of his fully lived life, on the first night of 2011, to a crowd of 3,000 people who loved and cherished this American icon. 

Chuck Berry carved the modern sound of music having just about every major artist of his era giving him credit including; the Beatles, the Rollingstones, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys (‘Surfin’ USA’  took the melody of ’Sweet Little Sixteen’ forcing the boys to give Berry co-writing credit on the song to avoid a law suit), and even as late as AC/DC who’s Angus Young reintroduced fans to Berry’s signature ‘Duck Walk’.  He was in the opening class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and yet  no one questioned the selection of a man, who only had one song reach number one (the novelty My Ding-A-Ling,”) yet has had just about every major honor bestowed upon him including playing for everybody from Presidents to small town workers all across our great land.  Chuck is a pioneer, a legend, and history will shine its light fondly on him without question.  

For as talented as Berry is as a performer the man himself has always been of questionable character.  Notorious for bad sounding live shows that never met expectations due mainly to Chuck Berry’s refusal to hire a touring band in favor of picking up local performers, at little to no cost; is as legendary as his sound.  With different bands every night, Berry fans were never really knew what they were going to get. When Ole Chuck and his house band didn’t click, it was a disaster.  When they did click, it was magic and defined some of those tales of Rock & Roll lore that has span his fifty plus years as a touring musician.  

Chuck Berry was arrested for arm robbery before music, and did time for tax evasion later in his career as he likes to be paid in cash, and didn’t always share with the IRS, and you and me.   Chuck also has a few sex scandals in his past including transporting an under aged girl over the border and allegedly secretly videotaping the girls bathroom stall at one of his clubs.  If you take the time to search it out you can also read some bizarre and weird Chuck Berry fetishes that may or may not exist.  

So I knew the risk, but one night while l was twice mellowed on Gentleman Jack and wild smoke, I ordered up four tickets to witness this historic night of music.  I figured why the hell not?  Get a little stoned, wonder into a movie theater that at one time sat 3,000 people (back in the days when movies/air-conditioning could draw that kind of crowd,) and even if Chuck isn’t 100% I would still dance to his music live -- for the first and last time as this master would display his craft.   To me it was a gamble worth taking in a world where the house always seems to win, and the chips seldom get cashed as winnings and a way out.  

While the weeks dragged on through the holidays on my interest peeked as I downloaded and lived through his music; listening to each of his songs as they helped me fight off my seasonal depression. Berry’s years on the legendary Chicago record label Chess; were masterpieces, and one of the finest catalogs of music ever made.   It was an artistic renaissance and he was riding the wave while leading the charge.  

Despite my interest in the show, I didn’t find much interest from any of my friends in seeing this moment in history.  Perhaps they knew what I didn’t, or didn’t want to say what we all already knew –Chuck is really old and this could be a disaster.  Sadness seems to follow me, stalk me, and has surrounded me my whole life.   Sometimes I feel like I’m the curse, and I fear casting my black cloud on others.  I feel like I spread it like a flu, so I lock myself away in quarantine which keeps me distant from a lot of people I love.  Yet sometimes I wonder if it’s me who seeks the sadness and not the other way around, as I often walk into tragedy ignoring all the warning signs on the approach.  I knew I would find a story at the Chuck Berry concert, but I had no idea it would become a national news story as well. 

We smoked up before the show and ventured into the Congress Theater at 2135 North Milwaukee Avenue.  Immediately you could tell the show was poorly run and the vibe was already weird.  It was as if nobody cared and nobody wanted to be there.  After pushing through angry old faces that all looked as if they worked for the city’s Streets and Sanitation department, we entered the historic theaters main floor.  Built in 1926 and showing every sign of its age it’s still an awe inspiring architectural dinosaur of a long gone era.  Like what our children might feel walking into the shell of an old mall that once was a central part of our lives, now stands as a ghost town, and a reminder of greed  along with the progress of man.  With DVD’s, On-Demand, and readily available temperature control the need for a 3,000 seat theater has faded into another chapter of America’s past culture.  Thankfully the theater was turned into a concert hall (although the acoustics suck,) and its purpose remains, even if for just a little bit longer.  

The crowd was mixed between old men with beards, hipsters with beards, punks with shaved heads, ska kids with annoying clothes, an annoying guy with a stupid hat wearing shorts and flip flops, Ronnie Woo-woo, and the most beautiful blonde girl I have ever seen dressed in the shortest skirt with a red rose in her hair begging for me to fall in love and live happily ever after or go to jail Chuck Berry style as she may have been under age.  Everybody was interesting.  It was as if a major television network held an open casting call for all the worlds’ character actors, weirdoes, and wise guys.  Greasers, bikers, a guy dressed like pee-wee Herman, and well dressed black men with oil drenched hair and wing tip shoes.  It was a time warp, or more honestly really just warped. 

The stage was nothing as I expected, as it was bare with just a drum set, a few guitar stands, and a keyboard.  The only thing that made it a ‘Winter Dance’ was a small artificial Christmas tree only decorated with a strand of white Christmas lights to the far left end of the stage.  It was pathetic and made me angry wanting to yell profanities and curse the world.  I was starting to feel let down already, and I think everybody in the theater was hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. 

After killing my munches with a dried out slice of  bad concert frozen pizza my fellow traveler  Erick managed to finagle a few arm band bracelets that allowed us into the VIP section of the show which had an open bar in the theaters old projector room in the far back top of the venue.   This turned out to be the biggest scam of the night (they charged the people who paid a shit load of coin) as the projection room was so far back you could hardly see anything and the sound was terrible almost to the point of not being able to hear.  Not to mention it was about 100 degrees up there as heat rises while the line for the open bar was a good twenty minute wait for small cups.  Plus they ran out of ice.   Beggars can be choosers while Gypsies alone in the palace. 

But we were sitting now, not standing which was a relief, and could see the stage as the opening act bored the crowd into absolute submission.   They were a ska band with about as much excitement and energy as a Christian Rock concert on a holy night PBS special.   It was as if Ben Stein booked them.  I opened up the window behind us letting a little bit of ridged Chicago air into the aged theaters ‘VIP room’ as a rat running through the ally caught my eye entertaining me far more then the shit head opening act.

Soon the suffering was over and the legendary Chicago Rock & Roll disk jockey "The Wild I-tralian" Dick Biondi brought his booming voice to the stage, calming me as he’s done since I was in my mother’s stomach waiting to be born again.   A Chicago icon, a local legend, and when he started into his speech on Chuck Berry I knew something was wrong.  He kept prodding us to give Chuck the love and respect he deserves and reiterating his age over and over almost to make a point as to what we were in store for. 

The band started playing as the now packed crowd cheered wildly as a tall lean old black man with the longest legs I have ever seen strolled on stage wearing a sparkling red shirt and a captain’s hat.   He kicked right into it with “Roll over Beethoven” and everybody was just happy to see him.  It was clear the band and him were not on the same page, as Berry was clearly out of tempo and playing slow.

We kept waiting for everything to click and magic to happen.  The crowd never lost faith in him as he tried and tried song after song often times not getting further then a verse.  From where I was watching I had a hard time hearing the legend speak, but I heard him once or twice clearly say, “I’m struggling….I’m struggling here.”  But he kept on trying and finally played a song all the way through and appropriately enough it was ‘My Ding-a-Ling”.   

About a half hour into the show everyone was sad as we watched this man fight to perform like an old boxer far beyond his prime still thinking he could win the title.  He would pick a few cords of Johnny B. Goode before giving up knowing he couldn’t do it justice and trying something different.  I went to the back window to smoke my blues away and when I returned I was not only high but also confused.  

“Why is everything in slow motion,” I kept asking over and over to anybody around me who would listen.  I didn’t understand as when I looked around the room everybody was moving in real time but yet on the stage it was all very strange and slow.  I knew I wasn’t that high and started to panic thinking maybe I was having a stroke.  

“Why is he in slow motion it’s like a time machine,” I kept saying.

Finally I realized Chuck Berry was passed out, head laying on the keyboard as the band kept playing in a very slow tempo trying to figure out what was happening.   Everybody was. The band didn’t want to stop.  Nobody wanted the music to die, but it needed to.   Soon a flood of staff surrounded Berry, just like an NFL game when a QB goes down.   They were checking on him and trying to get him to become responsive.   They helped him to his feet and the crowd clapped a sympathetic serenade to an old man who once serenaded the world.  Some fat guy told us the show was over and the crowd started to scurry away like the rat in the ally before the show with tears in their eyes as we just witnessed what could very well be the death of Rock & Roll, and the final good bye of a living legend. 

My friends and I were chilling refilling our free drinks when all of a sudden like a beacon of light, on a dark night, while lost at sea the man reemerged from the back with the lights sparkling bright off his red shirt.  With no band behind him he walked over to his guitar, picked it up, and started to tune it.  In one of the coolest visuals I have ever witnessed I watched as hundreds of people rushed back into the theater gathering around Chuck’s feet waiting for his triumphant return.   It was touching, yet sad, yet inspiring, yet tragic and soon it was over as his doctors rushed back on stage and took his guitar away in a clear moment of the reality of age.  His entire life was spent surrounded by people begging him to put the guitar in his hands and now suddenly they were doing everything they could to keep it away from him.

They took him backstage again as the promoter came out to tell us that Chuck is being checked out and if he’s ok he wants to play some more.  The crowd cheered. We waited as a strange man name Victor approached me with tear s in his eye.  He began to tell me that he just arrived to the United States from Uruguay, and the first thing he did was scour the papers for some live music.  He saw Chuck Berry’s name and decided like I did this would be an amazing way to kick off the New Year, and for him his new life the land of the free in the city of corruption.   

Victor told me how he has not been in the US for over 17 years , not since he was a child, and today was the first time he had a Mountain Dew in that span and how moving it was to drink one.  “It tasted like freedom,” he told me.  He kept saying how he can die happy after watching Chuck Berry play in Chicago.  I agreed with Victor as he shared the same feeling of virtually very person in the theater.  Erick was talking to a black guy while waiting in line for a drink who told him he would buy the overpriced ticket he bought tonight again, “even if it was just to watch Chuck Berry tune his guitar.”  He too was right, as we waited for the old man to return all the while hoping he was ok.

About twenty minutes later from the back emerged the Rock God who this time went straight for the mic.  He apologized and wanted to play another song but pointed to the fact they took his guitar away.  The nurse came in from the back with an angry look on her face as Chuck Berry promised us to do his famous Duck Walk regardless of what the doctors say.  With no way to stop him, Chuck Berry Duck Walked across the stage while playing air guitar as the audience cheered madly with a happy spirit of redemption on an otherwise cold night.  He waved good bye and the show was over.  

An hour later Bobby Reed had the story posted on the Sun-Times website, and an hour after that the story hit the Associated Press which sent it national to all the major News outlets.  “Chuck Berry Collapses at Keyboard at Congress Theater in Chicago.”  Some stories painted it as the end of Berry but I don’t think that’s the case, as he played two shows the night before in New York on New Year’s Eve.    He simply collapsed from exhaustion, as he is 85, and we all can only hope to be that lucky.  Rock & Roll by most accounts is dead as the sound that once defined it is now hard to find on the radio as pop is now king.  American culture is in trouble as our economy weakens so does out output of what the world is watching. 
Chuck Berry took me on an emotional roller-coaster that maybe I needed even if it wasn’t through his music.  Even if it was to remind me that artists are only temporary, and to enjoy their output before it goes away because it doesn’t come back.  The sound can remain, but the creation is unique to the artist, and their vision, and Chuck Berry was 20/20 in the way he saw sound.    I wish him the best in 2011 and I hope for the best for myself and my fellow travelers.  New Years day is a chance for new beginnings, as we also take a moment to reflect on once was.

I think Victor had it right when he said with tears in his eyes, “we got to see Chuck Berry in Chicago on New Year’s Day and in my whole life I will never forget that.”  Damn right Victor and welcome to America – you’re one of us now.

AFL 2011

“His mother told him 'some day you will be a man,
And you will be the leader of a big ol' band
Many people comin' from miles around,
To hear you play your music when the sun go down,
Maybe some day your name will be in lights sayin
'Johnny B. Goode' tonight”

--Chuck Berry, Johnny B Goode.