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Current Event-o-rama
Summer 2002
By Scott Speh

HC 16 is all pop, all the time. I’m saving what little art commentary I have for Pedro Velez’ FGA site. So if you’re looking for pithy art criticism, well, you wouldn’t be looking here anyway. But if you’re looking for incomprehensible raving about idiots in the art world, well you’ll probably have to wait until the fall. Until then I wallow in the minutiae of pop and cultural detritus.

By the way, Chicago is treating me fine, thank you very much. I ‘m just crushingly lonely. Whatever.

"There is so much media around," said Mr. Wenner, who retains the title of editor. "Back when Rolling Stone was publishing these 7,000 word stories, there was no CNN, no Internet. And now you can travel instantaneously around the globe, and you don't need these long stories to get up to speed."

"We cover change, and we have to change in response to the times,"

Oh Jan, that is so not the point. People can get “up to speed” but they do truly understand the news? Your in-depth articles in RS investigate issues at levels un-attainable by TV, radio or even the internet (few of us can stomach reading a 7000 word article on our glowing screens). RS exposés on the drug war, fast food culture and school shootings are what make it worth reading. Let’s stop the dumbing down of America - we have enough Maxim’s and FHM (of which I subscribe to, thank you very much). They have their place, but RS should aspire to something better. RS could do a better job at exploring the cutting edge of music, it’s original mission: at times it feels like a mouthpiece for the rock and roll hall of fame. Other times, with Britney and N-Sync on the cover, it feels like it’s reaching too far in the teeny-bopper demographic. RS doesn’t have to adopt a consistent tone or reach out to a niche audience - don’t we have enough of that narrow-casting shit right now (with the mighty exception of Eminem who is on every damn radio station - pop, alternative, hip-hop). Why can’t RS mish-mash coverage of the MTV Video Awards with an in-depth profile of John Kerry, a cover story on Blink-182, with serious reviews of new music and movies?

Bob Greene was everywhere pimping the memory of Ann Landers. And while I’ll miss her column and her spunky forthrightness, all I can think of is “What’s the deal with Bob Greene’s toupee?” Who’s he kidding? Max Weinberg and the Max Weinberg Seven had a nice subtle tribute to thunder-god bassist John Entwistle by playing “Boris the Spider” after Conan’s monologue on the night after Entwistle died. That fancy lad Conan didn’t notice. And when I think of Rosemary Clooney, I think of her brother Nick anchoring the evening news during my youth on channel 12 in Cincinnati. I also can’t help but think of her heroic underwater journey in the Poseidon Adventure. How come none of the obits mentioned that career-defining highlight?

And may I ask, what’s the deal with Vin Diesel? He looks like a bouncer at a midtown club and is less articulate. What’s he bringing to the table as an action hero? At least Steven Seagal can artfully snap limbs.

Are you as fascinated by the premium malt beverage revolution as I am? I say it’s all about branding - Skyy, Smirnoff, Capt. Morgan et al getting their brand identity onto the airwaves by marketing a supposedly less toxic brand of liquor. My pal Paul Kuzma claims “6% alcohol, plus light and breezy "chick" flavors = more drunk women = date rape.” In the next few weeks I’ll review each of these flavors. First up:
Skyy Blue
At first sip, tastes like a vodka tonic. Second sip vodka tonic with lemon. Third sip vodka tonic with lemon and a buttload of sugar. Then it sort of tastes like Sprite, or at least John Neff thinks it tastes like Sprite. Too much lemon for Sprite - not enough Limon, limon being the scientifically derived formula for the perfect balance of lemon and lime that makes Sprite so damn refreshing. Three of these in 90 minutes got me pretty damn buzzed and I weigh 200+ lbs. Young co-eds beware. Citrona (from Stoli)
tastes exactly like Fresca.
Bacardi Silver
disgusting - really, if you like sweet medicine flavored rum and tonic then this might the drink you’ve been waiting for. Maybe with a hint of papaya? Probably not?
Sauza Diablo
A real wild card: my brother and his girlfriend brought this home the other night - they knew I had never heard of it. Sauza is a fairly new player in the medium market tequila scene - their brand identity is “more premium than Cuervo but it won’t break your wallet.” They also want to known as the tequila for premium margaritas and that is exactly what Diablo tasted like. Not bad, especially over ice with a lime. I’ll drink it again.

Mary J. Blige - No More Drama -- perfect r&b - passionate, melodious, heartbreaking. The title track is a buoyant, effervescent breakthrough from a singer more known for her angst. The Dr. Dre track gets your rump a shaking and the ubiquitous Ja Rule pops up for his best duet ever, and he’s made a career of r&b diva duets.
Paul Westerberg - Stereo -- almost a return to replacements form. Westerberg crafted a bunch of same-y sounding mid to slow tempo songs, mostly just him and an acoustic guitar, in a seeming grasp at purity and authenticity. I think we’d rather he release a gritty ROCK album. But he’s too good a craftsman to make bad songs - “Only Lie Worth Telling” is haunting and tuneful, “Don’t Want Never” is a painful, bluesy song with a slathering of dirty electric guitar. Contrived or not, I love it when the songs stop in mid-verse, supposedly due to tape running out as he recorded the songs live in the middle of the night.
Grandpaboy - Mono -- Westerberg’s alias - this album, packaged with Stereo (2 CDs for the price of one, not bad) is supposed to be rawer and edgier and less polished than Stereo, but I don’t think it’s all that different. Again, I wish the guitars rocked harder.
Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot -- Maybe not worth quite all the hype and lavish praise, but it’s better than most
Tenacious D -- funny, it rawks, it's perfect. “Fuck her gently” is my favorite love song since Nirvana’s “Love Buzz.” An amazing achievement - comedic songs that never fail to rock yer socks off.
Neil Young - Are You Passionate? -- An album for serious Neil fans and completists only. I like it, but I’m biased. I lose all my critical faculties with Neil - he’s my favorite artist ergo he can do no wrong. Still, the classic soul vibe is disconcerting - his voice ain’t really made for crooning and it doesn’t exactly swing.
The Hives - Veni Viddi Vicious -- This disc fucking shreds. Another album I thought was initially over-hyped but upon further listening, I’ve succumbed to it’s charms. They don’t do anything revolutionary - a punkish garage sound but they do something a lot of bands of their ilk don’t - they bring the noise. Fast and loud as rock can get without being metal and with an incomparable swagger, hopefully they’ll take over the world.
Rye Coalition - On Top -- A strange disc combining the stripped, raging vocals and angular structures of fugazi with the hard rock dynamics of Led Zeppelin. I don’t cotton the vocalist very much, but I do like the big rock sound.
Drive-By Truckers - Southern Rock Opera -- A concept album about Lynyrd Skynyrd, the South, Neil Young, George Wallace, and growing up and finding one’s roots. Sometimes sounds like a thesis presentation but it rocks a whole bunch and you learn a little too
n.e.r.d. - in search of... -- dirty mix of funk and hard rock and hip-hop, breaks ya neck. Supremely shallow but funny, goofy and sleazy and rockin’.
Moulin Rouge Soundtrack -- My favorite movie from last year, mostly because of it’s soundtrack - how it plunders pop music history to drive the narrative. Elephant Love Medley - a pastiche of popular love songs in duet by Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman is an enchanting, mesmerizing mess of the gooey pleasures of pop and longing.


I applaud Jim Leracz's letter in Tempo. I too was disappointed to see Beetle Bailey gone from the comics pages. I questioned your judgment when you removed Fred Bassett, but now you have gone too far. In such an ugly world, what we need now more than ever is to laugh. Beetle Bailey gave us a daily chuckle to keep us going. -- Christy Gassett, ALGONQUIN

It's bad enough that you have removed comics such as "Fred Basset" and "Mixed Media," but now you've gotten rid of "Beetle Bailey." Kent Frederick -- DOWNERS GROVE

I started reading Beetle after watching the animated cartoons on Ray Rayner's morning show on WGN-TV. (Apparently, Tribune Co. believed in cross-marketing in the 1960s.) But what really annoys me is that you could not have waited until after July 4, when the name of the new IT officer is revealed. Now, I will have to go to Mort Walker's Web site to learn his name. Since you've been getting rid of old comics, I hope this doesn't signal the coming termination of "Peanuts." Even Charles Schultz strips from 30 years ago are still the funniest strips in the comics section. The comic section of the paper is no longer funny. "Beetle Bailey" was funny. "Out of the Gene Pool," "The Fusco Brothers" and "Mister Boffo" are just plain weird. -- Betty Erickson, Des Plaines

These letter writers to the Chicago Tribune need to get a fucking clue: Beetle Bailey is a racist, sexist, lookist piece of shit and has no place in a modern newspaper. Good fucking riddance. The Tribune’s comics page has been mightily upgraded since I was last a regular reader - the insipid Fred Basset is gone, Boondocks and Sherman’s Lagoon are welcome editions. Now if they could just get rid of Cathy, the Dinnette Set and isn’t it about time to put Peanuts out to pasture?

Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Pledge of Allegiance
Yes, finally, let us a real national discussion about the pervasiveness of God-talk in our country. I wish the religious fanatics of this country would step back, develop a little self-awareness and see how these forced pledges and God Bless America shit is so similar to the theocracies they detest in other parts of the world. Religion has no place in government, period.
Drug Testing
I’m no lawyer so I can’t understand this ruling: Schools can unilaterally test all students for drugs? Excuse, but what?! I thought we lived under the ideal of “innocent before proven guilty.” Why don’t students have any right to privacy. Are our government official subjected to these invasions. How would the members of congress, the Supreme Court and the executive branch react if they had to undergo pre-emptive drug testing? How would their aides like it? They’re on the public payroll. Shouldn’t they be tested too? More totalitarian shit coming down the pipe.
School vouchers
There is no argument here that public schools need improvement and that maybe competition could be spur changes. But this ruling smacks of more church/state problems to me. The ruling makes a big stink about freedom of choice, saying families can use these vouchers for any form of schooling, public, independent or religious schools. Well the problem is the amount of the vouchers - roughly three grand - which is right around the cost of tuition at a religious school but hardly near the cost of elite independent and private schools. This is freedom for choice? Sounds like state sponsored religion to me.
Barry - you’re a lawyer - maybe you could elucidate us with your stored wisdom on these rulings?

Decline of Western Civilization: Part II The Metal Years (Penelope Spheeris, director) at the Gene Siskel Film Center:
A funny and sad look at 80’s hair metal. The funny part is listening to the established stars like Ozzy or Chris Holmes from WASP realize the inanity of their business and the sad part were the interviews with unkown hopefuls who swore they were going to make it. In 1988, when I first saw it, their hope was charming. Now with the perpecitve of time, it’s pathetic. Only one of the wanna-bees ever “made it” - the glammy foxes in Vixen, but their success was short-lived. One guy looked exactly like Gary Cherrone from Extreme who scored big with the prom anthem “More Than Words” and later recorded a shitty album as the rent-a-lead singer in the band that used to be Van Halen, but I scoured the credits and he proably wasn;t the same dude. Megadeth came off as surprisingly passionate musicians who cared more about their craft than the excess, the booze and the babes that the all the wanna-bes wanted. Their dourness isn’t exactly what one hopes for in a rock star but their live-in-studio version of “In My Darkest Hour” was the highlight of the movie, a dark, pleading song revealing rare vulnerability and raw, non-cliché anguish uncommon in the macho world of metal.

Dancing Swans and Punking Out at the Gene Siskel
Dancing Swans is a documentary about the rise and fall of the Samshing Pumpkins in which Billy Corgan comes off a little more likable than his usuaul whiny, self-absorbed persona. The director follows him around the north side trucking through his old haunts like the Metro and his apartment above the Music Box. I watched this movie in packed house full of teens and early twenty-somethings who squealed at Corgan’s every utterance and who took photos of the screen during intimate headshots. This porves how successful Corgna was in writing anthems for teens but it made me want to stand and scream, This is my band - they formed in 1988, made it big when I was in collge, they’re my generation dammit!” but then I don’t want to reveal myself to be the old fuddy-duddy that truly am. Or worse, one of those indie-rock fuckers who hates it when they favorite band gets popular “I liked REM before it was cool” --well, la-di-fucking-da. Anyway, the film was shot on shitty videotape and presumably edited for a television broadcast and it had these horribly arty intro title graphics before each segment. Corgan says early on that this film will just like every Behind the Music episode, but it was still fascinating to watch the creative growth, his unmanageable egomania and Jimmy Chamberlain’s fall and comeback. Two major matzo balls were left hanging - Corgan early on mentions something about being an abused child with absolutely no follow-up, even as they interviewed his father extensively. Mentioned obliquely was the Pumpkins attempt to give a free concert in Grant Park which Mayor Richard Daley denied permission. This could’ve been investigated in depth as well as their decision to release their final album for free over the internet. All in all a charming flick chock full of Pumpkins hits. Punking Out was the opening act - a little doc about the nascent punk scene at CBGB’s featuring performances by the Ramones, the Dead Boys and Richard Hell. My favorite part was an interview with the Dead Boys who proclaimed they were making punk rock to destroy the shitty bands like Boston who dominated the charts in the Seventies. This was funny an hour later as Billy Corgan admitted Boston was a major influence.

So I lied - here's a smidgen of art criticism. Nothing has compelled me enough to write in-depth reviews but I’ll share a sentence or two about the current crop of summer shows. What a way to endear myself to my new neighbors!
Ryan Scheidt at Julia Friedman, West Loop - handsome if slight gemoetric abstractions full of rounded contours, bright colors and shiny surfaces. One nitpick - I don’t like seeing the woodgrain of the support underneath the paint. Paintings that rely on intricate jigsaw puzzle execution need to be flawlessly executed every step off the way. Gesso that wood, sand it down till it’s smooth and then paint.
Adam Scott at Vedanta, West Loop - More handsome paintings and more nitpicking - I don’t like the air bubbles pockmarking the surface of these paintings. Dug the more abstract ones - the more figurative paintings looked to indepbted to late Guston. Nice color and viscosity and heft in the paint application.
Patrick Collier at Vedanta, West Loop - Seriously ugly photos of ugly feet posing next to some stupid msmatched children’s toy sculpture. I like feet, when they are pedicured, with a smart polish in small strappy sandals. I do not know the relationship o fthe feet and the sculptures - I glanced at the statement and then remembered I hate work that relies on the statement for explanation. I also hate ugly feet.
Sven Druhl at Fassbender Stevens, West Loop - droll deconstructions of romantic landscape paintings: whose physicallity is palpable as Druhl sections off pictoral components with thick ropes of caulking where he lets paint pool and reticulate. Heavy duty.
Jurgen Grolle at Fassbender Stevens, West Loop - Dumbly sophisticated abstractions, perhaps influenced by my favoirte standard-bearer Laura Owens, Grolle mixes flat, monochromatic grounds with discreet passages of thick, globby grubby color.
Ideal Avalanche at the Pond, Wicker Park - A new space debuts with a group show (surprise, surprise) with some heavy-duty ringers (Weiner, Nauman, Robbins) with handsome work by youngsters like Greg Perkins (a cute Jasper John knock-off - a painting of the back of a canvas)
James Leonard at Dogmatic, Pilsen - One memorable piece lost in a sea of self-aggrandizing hoo-ha: a wishful thinking map of the CTA system with an invented line, the Gray, that runs down the western edge of the city and then down to the United Center, Comiskey and terminating at the Museum of Science and Industry. That’s an idea I can get behind
Elizabeth Pusinelli at the Suburban - Three architectual drawings, one of gallery owners home, one of a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home in Oak Park and a floor plan of the artists home, that were charmingly straightforward, with some fancy doodling and curliques in the windows as a bonus. What it all meant was elsuive without reading the artist statement, which I will not divulge here.

(published concurrently at FGA - http: //spaces.org)
Everyone on rock radio right now is a pussy. Those guys from Linkin Park seem really nice, plus they don’t drink nor do drugs. Incubus is just Chili Peppers-lite, plus they seem nice too. The kind of guys you could take home to mom. And that Pussy Aaron Lewis from Staind: qwit yer bitchin you whiny wuss. Those bland guys from Nickelback rockin’ their non-ironic mullets like it’s 1989 - they suck too. All these nu-metal bands be whining about their moms or their teachers or their girlfriends. Ok, girlfriends I can take. I got no truck with emo, except that they are all pussies. But at least they whine about girls. Lost love is a timeless and acceptable theme in the rock and roll. Sad songs, they really do say so much. Rock radio is opening up a little - Q101 plays the Strokes, the White Stripes, the Hives and the Vines and maybe they’ll get around to playing …And They Know Us by the Trail of the Dead. But they don’t play much Andrew WK and that’s a shame.

Andrew WK is the rock and roll’s high priest of positivity (well maybe priest is a bad metaphor - I don’t think he comes on young boys faces - by the way, did you see that riotous, blasphemous episode of South Park last week? Zowee!). All party, all the time. He ain’t whining about his fucking mom, he ain’t making lame political observations, he ain’t bitchin about the haters and the wanna-bes. He just fucking rocks. And that he did at Milwaukee’s Summerfest, one of America’s greatest music festivals. 11 bucks gets you in the door and that night, you could choose from Andrew WK, Jewel, War, or Soul Asylum and at the Marcus Ampitheater (which cost more) you could see Alicia Keys. Something for the whole family! And that’s just one night out of two weeks of rock, brats and beer (only $3.50) on Milwaukee’s beautiful lakefront. Seriously, it is beautiful, especially with the new airy wing of the art museum - the city is the new jewel of the Great Lakes.

There was something wrong with Andrew WK’s voice - he barely sang half of each song. And he growled guttural groans into his mic a lot like Slayer or Godflesh might. But his band more than carried the load. No power ballads, no guitar solo wankery (and no dreadful drum solo), little banter - just one irrationally exuberant fist-pumping party song after another. The crowd stood on their chairs throughout, singing louder than Andrew, pumping their fists and shit, having a great fucking time. No wallowing in misery, none of the gloom and whine of nu-metal - AWK combines the trash of speed metal, cheesy 80’s style euor-synths and soccer chant choruses. Visually, he’s a spaz. He’s like an old Star Wars figure or GI Joe in that he can’t bend his knees or elbows. With his leaps and windmills and spazz-outs, he fronted like a funky hard rock robot. And that hair, all in his face and shit - he almost swallows it and his mic when he sings. It’s the rockingiest long straight hair since Ian Astbury of the Cult. Which is refreshing - he looks like a rocker - all these new bands have short hair, they wear designer clothes - they’re so damn fashionable and nice. I love that AWK keeps his image, form and content, consistent - the long sweaty hair, the dirty jeans and white t-shirts - all fit into his party all the time aesthetic. And party all the time is what we did in Milwaukee. AWK and his band are a breath of fresh air in the hard rock game.

Not for the reader: I’m not descriptive enough. Maybe a reader could use my columns as a sort of art “Consumer Reports” as I usually cut to the chase with a thumbs up or down, although without any real analysis. Or one could disagree with everything I write and get a charge from doing so. Hey I regularly read Bill Safire’s and Bob Greene’s columns and I hate them.

Not for the artist: I don’t search for meaning. I often don’t care about “meaning” in art. I don’t care what the piece is “about” nor do I care about the artist’s intentions. Intentions are over when the art is finished. I’m more than happy to interpret the art on my terms. Which is I why I detest art statements. And god I hate having to read a statement in a gallery to understand the work. Sometimes I appreciate a little extra info - I like a binder full of stuff. But when the work is incomprehensible without consulting the statement, well, that when I leave the room. Art should not illustrate theories. Art should drive theories. And to quote a friend who would probably prefer to remain nameless, “ artists don’t investigate or explore” so stop writing that in your damn statements.

Not for my budding writing career: I know I’m not a good enough writer to get published in legitimate art publications, for many of the reasons listed above and because I eschew nuance. I like nuance, art should have nuance but I don’t have the facility to elucidate it. Plus I don’t have the requisite philosophical and art historical background to make cogent academic arguments. I just make half-assed, ill-considered, off-the-cuff arguments.

I write art criticism to praise worthwhile art and to encourage good artists to carry on, fight the good fight. But more to the point, I write art criticism to convince bad artists to stop making bad art. Seriously. STOP. There are too many artists out there anyway so let’s weed ‘em out.

And to give myself a proper introduction to FGA readers I offer some notes on my preferences. This should give you plenty of ammo when taking potshots at my crappy writing and views: · I like cheap materials and carefully shoddy craftsmanship, but not always.
· The figure has no place in painting. Neither does narrative. Unless the painting brings the “funny.” Funny elides many problems. Photography does these things better, although I’m deeply suspicious of figurative and narrative photography.
· I like structure, process, materials and process-derived abstraction.
· I have a proclivity towards abstract painting but most of it stinks. These proclivities aren’t inflexible. For instance, I believe Laura Owens is the most important painter of the last ten years and she’s not a pure abstractionist.
· I am easily impatient with video but am deeply passionate the few good videos I come across.
· I can’t abide by most political and activist art. Art is impotent - seriously, can art exact meaningful social change? Aren’t most viewers of art members of the choir anyway? Political art sometimes is a feel good gesture solely for the artist meant to be a feel bad experience for the viewer. I will put aside these complaints if the work is visually compelling. Make it visual, visual artists. Here’s a pertinent example: I was deeply moved by Richter’s Bader Mienhof series (which really isn’t explicitly political, but I mention it because I ‘m so rarely moved by art, much less Richter paintings. I’m usually moved by sad songs. They really do say so much).
·And I got no problem with the white cube. This is where art is usually encountered. I’m tired of artists who feel this need to break down barriers between art and the viewer and feel that the white cube engenders all this elitism and whatever. The public knows the white cube: they accept the white cube. They are confused when artists get all wacky and try to bring the art to them. You know, we can’t convince everyone to appreciate art. Most of us MFAs get 6+ years of specialized art education and still art is often so fucking confusing that most artists, much less the general public, have no idea what the hell is going on (see the trouble with artists statement above). It’s a niche field, like say, quantum physics or gluten-free baking, that one needs years of specialized education to comprehend. Either we accept this or we all go back to painting like Monet, Van Gogh or Michelangelo. The everyday person understands this type of work - they understand drawing skills, perspective and realism, not hybrid installations full of unconnected video, sculpture, text and whatever the fuck passes for progressive art these days.
· Also, I hate overhead lighting and I like dirty bars.


“I wish that I was anywhere with anyone making out”


The five or so columns have these song lyric snippets like the one above. Identify them all and I'll give you a prize. Send your entries to the below email address. The prize will be your choice of a piece of art, a personalized mix tape or a home-baked pie.

Respond to this blather


Summer 2002
Premium malt beverages, rock and roll, movies, Chicago art, art criticism rules
A last gasp of art in NYC: grab a beer, this column is long --
Spring 2002
My big move to the city of Big Shoulders, Jack Featherly, Su-en Wong, Andrew WK, Lists, ShitBeGone and tons more....
Early Spring 2002
Lots o'Art: Richter, the Armory Show + tons o' gallery shows: Neo-Grunge art, Paul Henry Ramirez, Type A and more on J-HOVA.
Valentine's Day 2002
Way too much info on my TV watching habits, plus Danielle Tegeder, Brad Tucker and art in Boston and much, much more...
Best of 2001
Moulin Rouge, Mulholland Drive, Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, James Ensor, Wayne Thiebaud, Radiohead, System of a Down redux
Thanksgiving from Hawaii
Serra, Pardo, Katz, Coen Brothers all suck. Grabner, Sienna, Prekop, Jay-Z all rock
Early Fall 2001
The Onion, Rodney Graham, Jim Lambie, Larry King, Music Movie Sundays, sucking up to Jerry Saltz and stuff...
Early Fall 2001
Skinny actresses, Fall Previews, Hair metal (again), and some other crap...
Late-Summer 2001
Chicago Art, Radiohead, Tony Kornheiser, another David E. Kelley rip and more...
Summer 2001
Wane Thiebaud, Printmaking, movies, more summer shows and more...
Summer 2001
Summer Shows, Paul McCarthy, Me, My Sister and more...
Spring 2001
James Ensor, Ennui, Journey, New Art Examiner and more...
Late Winter 2001
Dawson's Creek, Jessica Stockholder, David Salle, Albums of the Year and more...
Early Winter 2000
riffs on rock-Roll Singles, the West Wing, Bernard Frieze and more...
Fall 2000
The dirt on Damien Hirst, Jibangus, Cable TV and more...


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