April 6, 1917

Been 100 years exactly since the United States entered the Great War. How could I forget to mention that?

Found this Pathé clip not long ago. Copyright is 1960, so a little late for this kind of newsreel-style March of Time-like bit of work. Can’t imagine anyone doing such a thing in 1970. Worth watching for the images especially, helpfully cataloged by the poster.

Interesting lines: “Never again would we see our entry into a major conflict excite so many to such heights of elation. Naive? Probably. But here was a generation of young men not yet saturated by the paralyzing variety of self-analysis and the mock sciences. They believed.”

Birds Above, Mud Below

More rain, more mud. Such is early April this year. At least the grass is green, even where it’s underwater.

The season also means active birds. At about 2 this afternoon, I was out on my deck — but not for a leisurely sit-down, which was pleasantly doable on Saturday — and noticed a lot of birds in the tree overhead. Who sounded like this.

At moments like that, you feel like you’ve stepped into The Birds.

I saw The Birds on television when I was very young, sometime in the late ’60s. I didn’t see it again for more than 20 years, though in the interim I managed to see The 39 Steps, Lifeboat, Notorious, Rope, Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, Marnie, and even Topaz (Hitchcock’s Henry VIII; can’t really recommend it). But I never got around to seeing The Birds as an adult until the early ’90s.

From the first time I remembered the birds pecking a woman to death, and a guy lighting a cigarette and blowing himself up at a gas station, as an indirect victim of the birds. I didn’t remember that Suzanne Pleshette played the pecked woman. Hey! That’s Emily Hartley being offed by birds!

Also, somehow I had it in mind that the movie depicted a worldwide attack by birds. So I was a little surprised to learn upon second viewing that the movie was about a local incident. In the hands of a lesser director — let’s say much lesser, like M. Night Shyamalan — the attack would have indeed been worldwide, and CGI birds would have destroyed the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, just for the birdy thrill of it all. Hitch would have had none of that.

Combat Boots, Crimped Hair and Chokers are Out

The following email showed up in one of my inboxes recently. How this happened, I’m not sure. I have no professional use for this information, but I will post it here. It came without introduction or other explanation from someone named Duane.

If pearls, full skirts and tiaras are your version of a perfect prom—you’re in luck.
According to new data from online shopping site Ebates, full skirts (25 percent), a tiara (24 percent), gloves (20 percent) and pearls (18 percent) are America’s favorite retro prom fashions.

These retro fashion statements are also what Americans say their teens are planning to wear this prom season:

Pearls—23 percent
Tiara—21 percent
Full skirt—20 percent
Gloves—14 percent

While it seems that the 50’s and early 60’s were the favored era for prom fashion, Americans admitted that the 80’s were the worst. Combat boots (7 percent), crimped hair (8 percent) and chokers (11 percent) were the least favorite fashion choices.

Dang, it’s disappointing to learn that combat boots are so low on the list of prom fashion choices. Fatigues might be higher, though. The release doesn’t say.

Glad to learn that ’80s was picked as the worst retro fashion decade. The ’70s usually catches that slander. That was a poor decade for clothing, I suppose, but what people actually wear, as opposed to what people who care about fashion think they should wear, isn’t any better now than 40 years ago. Go to any large public event in the summer and see.

Mud Dogs

Spring rains returned today. The earth was still a little soft, so that meant more mud. Dogs are fond of mud.

There’s a story about the mud on her snout (not as visible in this shot as to the eye). It involves Psychodog, a neighborhood animal that not only always barks viciously at us from its back yard as we walk by (on a public walkway), it keeps barking until we’re very far out of range. This contrasts to other neighborhood dogs, who either know us and thus don’t bark, or who bark for a little while as we wander by.

Large puddles formed in Psychodog’s back yard during last week’s rain, along the fence line. That meant that if the animal were turned loose, it would charge across the yard, barking its vicious bark — straight into the puddles. We were on the other side of the fence. I like to think my dog pees there to annoy Psychodog.

I didn’t think the owners would turn Psychodog loose to get so muddy, but I was wrong: out the animal comes, straight into one of the sizable puddles. Splash! Some of the muddy water comes through the chain-link fence and hits my dog.

The Salvador Dali Museum Bench

On April 2, 2005, we visited the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla. As wordy as I was before I published pictures at BTST, I didn’t write much about the place. “Housed in a mid-sized, appropriately modernist building, the Dali Museum is all Dali, all the time, as it should be,” was one line. I also considered how the museum came to be in central Florida.

As far as I can tell, I didn’t take a picture of the building. I did take a picture of bench on the grounds. Lots of people have taken pictures of it.

Salvador Dali Museum benchI didn’t realize until I read more about the place today that the Dali has been in a new building since 2011, and apparently the bench was moved to be near the new structure. I don’t remember whether the giant Dali mustache was there in ’05. You’d think I’d remember a thing like that, but memory is a eccentric thief, taking things you’d never expect.

Regarding the new building, the museum web site says, “Designed by architect Yann Weymouth of HOK, it combines the rational with the fantastical: a simple rectangle with 18-inch thick hurricane-proof walls out of which erupts a large free-form geodesic glass bubble known as the ‘enigma.’

“The Enigma, which is made up of 1,062 triangular pieces of glass, stands 75 feet at its tallest point, a twenty-first century homage to the dome that adorns Dali’s museum in Spain. Inside, the Museum houses another unique architectural feature – a helical staircase – recalling Dali’s obsession with spirals and the double helical shape of the DNA molecule.”

A Poster, A Sign & A Lot of Bumper Stickers

Persistent rain starting last night and on through most of today. Mud season has started. But it also looks like the grass is greening.

Spotted on a telephone pole on Randolph St. on the near West Side of Chicago late last week. Looks like someone added the toothbrush mustache.

anti-Trump poster March 2017Spotted in Itasca, Ill., also last week, sometime after the presumed wedding. Glad that “Bubba” isn’t dead as a name.

Itasca Baptist Church 2017Spotted at a rest stop on I-57 between Champaign and Chicago.

Been There Bumper Stickers 2017I can’t quite make out all of the stickers, and there are more on the non-visible side of the van, but included in the destinations are the Kennedy Space Center, California, Nevada, Laughlin, NV, Key West, Roswell, NM, Wyoming, Mackinac Island (two), Naples, FL, Ventura, CA, Texas, the UP (more than one, including the 906 sticker), North Dakota, Piggly Wiggly, the Full Throttle Saloon (Sturgis), Route 66, Mississippi, Montana, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and a sticker that says, “There’s a place for all God’s creatures. Right next to the mashed potatoes.”

Alma Mater, UIUC

I took Lilly back to school on Sunday. I didn’t do quite as much of a walkabout on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus as I did in January, but I was determined to pause on the way out to see one thing: Alma Mater, a sculpture by Chicago’s own Lorado Taft.

Alma Mater UIUCAccording to UIHistories Project by Kalev Leetaru, “Unveiled on Alumni Day, June 11, 1929, the statue depicts ‘a benign and majestic woman in scholastic robes, who rises from her throne and advances a step with outstretched arms, a gesture of generously greeting her children.’ Behind her stand the twin figures of Labor and Learning, joining hands in a bronze incarnation of the University’s motto.”

This is Labor. The muscular man in the work duds.
Alma Mater UIUCLearning, in Classical garb. It would be more interesting if the costuming were reversed, since labor involves learning and learning involves labor, but never mind.
Alma Mater UIUC

Older pictures of the statue depict a green patina, acquired over time. During the 2010s restoration of the sculpture, that was stripped away, so presumably it now looks a lot like it did when new.

“Conceived in 1922, Alma Mater was cast in 1929 by the American Art Bronze Foundry and paid for by donations by the Alumni Fund and the classes of 1923-1929,” notes Leetaru. “It was crafted by Taft as ‘his gift to the University in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of his graduation.’ Alma Mater rests on a granite pedestal conceived by Charles Platt.

“The statue was originally placed directly behind the Auditorium, and at night spotlights cast twin shadows of Labor and Learning onto the rear wall of the Auditorium, making them truly larger than life. On August 22, 1962, the Alumni Association moved the sculpture to its present location in front of Altgeld.”

Altgeld being Altgeld Hall, named after the Illinois governor. There’s a bell in that tower, and I took this picture as it was ringing 4 o’clock on Sunday.

building behind Alma Mater UIUC“Completed in 1897, Altgeld Hall, originally known as the Library Building, was designed by Nathan Ricker and James McLaren White…” writes Leetaru. “From 1955 to the present, the Department of Mathematics and the Mathematics Library have called the building home.

“The building is an example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture and the external stonework is pink limestone. The original pink hue may still be seen in the interior of the East entrance.”

Songbird Slough

Sometimes a name on a map is intriguing enough to inspire a visit to the place. So it was with Songbird Slough, a part of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Charming name. When we went on Friday afternoon, it was toward the end of a pleasantly warm day, the kind you get sometimes in March (but not too often).

The Forest Preserve District says that “the 393-acre preserve is a part of a large glacial kettle formation that is the low point for a 1,000-acre watershed that drains the surrounding urban area. Songbird Slough is a combination of natural and constructed wetlands, fishing ponds, restored prairies, and meadows.”

Still a little ahead of the greens of spring, but not a bad place for a stroll, especially in 70-degree temps.
Songbird Slough, DuPage County“This urban retreat serves as a nesting spot for numerous grassland and song birds, and is a great spot for wildlife viewing, especially during waterfowl migration season,” the forest preserve continues. Not that many highly visible birds around on Friday, but there were a few.
Songbird Slough DuPage CountyWe left at about 6 pm for a 20-minute or so drive home. By the time we got home, it was 10 or even 15 degrees cooler. The sudden drop was the beginning of a cold, wet, generally unpleasant winter-spring mix of a weekend.

Al Stewart at City Winery

Considering his longstanding love of wine, it seemed fitting that Al Stewart appeared at City Winery in Chicago last Thursday. I don’t share his oenophilia — I like the idea of wine more than wine itself — but I can appreciate an enthusiasm like that. Still, it didn’t matter to me exactly where he was playing. Some time ago, I decided to catch his shows whenever they were convenient to where I happened to be, and anywhere in the Chicago area is close enough.

City Winery is a relatively new place, taking its current form on the near West Side of Chicago only in 2012, and as such, it was a pioneering venue in that part of the city. Just before the music started, an announcer said, “City Winery’s not just a kitschy name. We actually make wine here. All those barrels in the back are filled with our wine, aging for your consumption.”

Carefully stowed barrels dominate the back of City Winery’s music room. The place also has a number of other rooms, including a large restaurant space forming the front of the building. All together, it’s a handsome interior space, characterized by brick walls and barrels and bottles, and the acoustics are good.

I’ve seen Stewart with a band, with sidemen, and by himself. This time, he had a band backing him, the young but talented Empty Pockets. They did a set before Stewart came out, including a fine version of “Fever.” The band’s relative youth caused Stewart to marvel at one point that he was being backed by musicians who weren’t born when the music they were playing came out, but who had the jam down pat anyway. That wouldn’t be quite so remarkable in a classical or jazz context, but I suppose it still is in popular music.

Though not a member of Empty Pockets, sax man (and flautist) Marc Macisso joined Stewart and the band for the concert too. He blew his sax like a man possessed, and did a fine job on the flute as well. On a number of Al Stewart songs, the sax is a defining sound, so it was good Macisso was on hand. He reminded me of the saxophonist who killed it with Stewart during his 1989 Park West concert, who might have been Phil Kenzie (who played on the record Stewart was promoting at the time), though I’m not sure.

The set list for the City Winery concert was different than any other of his that I’ve seen. After a handful of songs — “Sirens of Titan,” “Antarctica,” “Time Passages” — Stewart and the band played all of the songs from the album Year of the Cat in order.

The bonus was Stewart’s usual entertaining patter between the songs. “This brings me to Year of the Cat,” he said by way of introducing the songs. “It was a shock for me. I was an English folk singer playing in coffee bars, and all of the sudden people bought this thing, and I wasn’t sure why. I did begin on a very commercial note by writing a song about an English seafarer from 1591, Richard Grenville. This is a subject that most disco artists at the time were embracing.”

Stewart was being coy. If ever he did a polished commercial record, it was Year of the Cat (except maybe Last Days of the Century, which wasn’t as good). Alan Parsons produced Year, after all. The first song, “Lord Grenville,” does indeed mention Richard Grenville. He of “Out-gunned, out-fought, and out-numbered fifty-three to one.” I believe listening to the song in 1976 was the first time I’d ever heard of him.

About the next song — “On the Border,” a favorite of mine since I acquired the record 40 years ago — he said, “I thought we’d continue with mass popular appeal by doing a song about the Basque separatist movement, the crisis in Rhodesia and the fall of the British Empire, and amazingly this one actually made the top 40. I have no idea how that was possible. I can only assume the disk jockeys didn’t listen to the lyrics.”

For a long time I thought the song was about the Spanish Civil War, but I’ll defer to the songwriter. But it doesn’t really have to be about anything so specific.

Regarding “If It Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It” — my least favorite cut on the record — he said, “It has far too many words. If I’d known when I was 30 that I’d be singing it when I was 70, I’d have written half as many words.”

Stewart said that his favorite song on the album is “Flying Sorcery,” which was not top 40, but a fine tune all the same. “It concerns two lovers. I turned them into airplanes. They take off from the same airport but they get caught up in a fog bank and land at separate airports. Obviously that means they’re breaking up.”

I never quite took that from the song, but no matter. It has some wonderful lyrics, including, “You were taking off in Tiger Moths/Your wings against the brush-strokes of the day.” The brush-strokes of the day. What a way to describe the sky. It occurs to me that he’s done other songs with aeronautic images (not on Year), such as “The Immelman Turn” and “Fields of France.” (“When Lindy Comes to Town” talks about flight, too, but it’s a particular historic event.)

He mentioned some alternate lyrics to the song “Year of the Cat,” though not in as much detail as recorded on this Songfacts page, based on a 2015 performance. I think everyone was pretty glad that the final lyrics came out the way they did, including Stewart.

On the whole, Al Stewart was in fine fettle on Thursday. His voice is still clear and his guitar playing is impressively energetic for a man of 71. He also seems to enjoy himself thoroughly on stage, which must be why he still tours. Hope he’s got more years yet.

The Fulton Market District, Chicago

Last Thursday, late in the afternoon but before dark — Daytime Saving Time is good for something — I took a walk through parts of the the Fulton Market District. Like most urban neighborhoods, it’s a little fuzzy in definition, but roughly speaking the area is on the near West Side of Chicago, west of the Kennedy Expressway and a few blocks to the north and south of Randolph St., until you get to Ogden Ave.

The district is in the midst of a boom. Here are a few headlines about it just from 2017 in Curbed Chicago:

Bright two-bedroom Fulton Market timber loft lists for $475K

Fulton Market office project changes design, again

West Loop residents say five-story proposal looks ‘prison-like’

Ace Hotel in Fulton Market to open in the autumn

Rehab work begins on two older Fulton Market buildings

Another Fulton Market food distributer looks to sell-out to developers

Demolition to clear path for 170-room Fulton Market hotel

The area, formerly a distribution — food wholesalers, mainly — and light industrial district, is giving way to apartments, hotels, restaurants and entertainment. The pattern is a familiar one in Chicago and elsewhere.

West Randolph, looking east, back toward the Loop.
Randolph St ChicagoUmami Burger looked intriguing, but I didn’t stop there.

The corner of Randolph and Carpenter St. is home to a particularly striking building, the former Richters Food Products building, which dates from the early 1930s.
Richters Food Products building - Venue One 2017The exterior has been immaculately preserved. Forgotten Chicago says that “the architect was H. Peter Henschien, a noted and prolific Chicago-based designer of meat packing plants. The Tribune described the new building at the time of construction as being ‘of pleasing design.’ Bruno Richter had started the firm about ten years earlier in Jefferson Park, with the idea of ‘marketing sausage through extensive advertising.’ ”

Remarkably, Mr. Henschien’s Tribune obit from 1959 is online. A remarkable line from it: “He and his firm designed more than 300 packing plants in the United States and in Russia, Pakistan, Cairo, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and Canada.” People have their niches, mostly unknown, or in his case, forgotten.

An update on the Forgotten Chicago post: the Richters Food Products is now occupied by Venue One, which “offers 25,000 square feet of customizable event and meeting space.” The construction crane in the picture doesn’t have anything to do with Venue One, except being nearby. It was merely one of the cranes rising over a number of other projects in the area.

My destination for the evening: City Winery, at Racine Ave. and Randolph.
City Winery Chicago 2017A cool venue indeed, though it’s a little hard to tell from this picture. More about it tomorrow.