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I first read about Big Star in Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau’s first Consumer Guide collection. But reading about Big Star and finding their records was a tricky proposition in 1981. Then one day, I found a copy of Radio City in a cutout rack at Rose Records. It was a great introduction — I was fixated for months on “O My Soul”, which took so many familiar ’60s rock elements, but rearranged them in new and exciting ways. Eventually, I came to love the other songs on the album. And that was all I heard by them for years, since Big Star didn’t have anything in print. Even when Radio City and #1 Record came out in CD, it was import only. But eventually I had all the albums, which are so distinctive, and have become part of the power pop canon. Big Star ran the gamut, from the teenage ecstasy of “In The Street” to the tender defiance of “Thirteen” to the blissful longing of “September Gurls” to the desperation that permeates the Third/Sister Lovers project, this was pop music that had strong emotional resonance.
Alas, things weren’t so easy for main man Alex Chilton. A teenage star with The Box Tops, his preternaturally mature soulful voice keyed hits like “The Letter”. But the band was controlled by the record company and producers. And he never made much money from the Tops. He began to explore his own sound, captured on Chilton’s 1970 album, which eventually came out in the ’90s. Finally, with the talented Chris Bell, Andy Hummel and reliable drummer Jody Stephens, Big Star was born. The name wasn’t intended to be ironic (thought that’s how it turned out) — they took it from a local supermarket chain.
Signed to the local label Ardent (an affiliate of Stax), there was no promotional muscle for the band’s music, and perhaps they weren’t quite as mainstream as, for example, The Raspberries. So the records didn’t sell. This took it’s toll. It took years for the cult to expand, and Chilton and Big Star were championed by artists like R.E.M.s Peter Buck, Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, and, most famously, The Replacements, in the classic song, “Alex Chilton”. From these ripples, more and more bands have shown the influence of Big Star.
Chilton’s death just two days ago, at age 59, is such a shame. I wonder if he’d realize just how many people he touched, as illustrated by scads of Facebook updates and tweets in his honor.
I only saw Chilton once, when Big Star (featuring Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies, with Stephens on drums) played Metro. It was an amazing night, as I saw the great local band Frisbie for the first time, and they raised the roof. Fortunately, Big Star was up to the task of following that set. And I started following Frisbie, which led to friendships and contacts that are why I’m now at CHIRP. So Chilton’s music has touched me on many levels.
The first song played on CHIRP, just two months before Chilton’s death, was Big Star’s “Thank You Friends”. It was the perfect song to kick CHIRP off, and typical of Chilton’s ability to capture feelings, both lyrically and melodically. We’ll all miss him, but we’ll always have him around.
In Chilton’s honor, please grab your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
As we head into spring, CHIRP Radio has been on the air for two months. We hope that you’re making the station a part of your life, tuning in to check out our wide-ranging mix of music, new and old, and our true commitment to the amazing, creative work being done right here in Chicago.
In fact, we know many of you are tuning in on a regular basis, because we’ve already seen listener numbers that are more than three times our pre-launch projections! We couldn’t be more pleased that our audience is bigger than we predicted, and growing every day. We appreciate your help in spreading the word, posting about CHIRP Radio on Facebook, Twitter, and via good old-fashioned email. However, when you’re a web-based station, that growing audience does have a cost — a very literal one.
CHIRP Radio pays per listener per hour for every person who tunes into the station. That means, with an audience three times the size we anticipated, our streaming fees are also three times the size of our estimates.
That’s why we’re inviting you to become a Year One member of CHIRP Radio today. You can join with a one-time gift, or you can become a sustaining member with a monthly contribution of as little as $5. And to show our appreciation, we have an array of limited-edition thank you gifts that will only be available until April 11th.
Just click here to join. Your support of CHIRP Radio is essential to keeping the station strong. We’re so happy you’ve found us; now we’re asking that you help us grow and strengthen the service by becoming a Year One member. We’ll always remember that you were here with us from the beginning!
This week, let’s pay tribute to a cornerstone of the Chicago music scene, Leonard Chess. Over 60 years ago, he and his brother Phil launched Chess Records, the label that launched the careers of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, among others, releasing some of the most vital records in blues and rock ‘n’ roll history. Sure, Leonard may have engaged in questionable business practices, but the list of honest record executives starts (and may end) with Corey Rusk (NOTE: this is an exaggeration). But Chess is simply a seminal label that changed the face of music — and it happened here in Chicago. So pay tribute to Leonard and the Chess roster by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
Initially, I purchased the Dum-Dum pops because I thought they’d be kind of a fun little treat for the kids once in a while. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d come to curse the existence of that little cartoon drum figure and the insulin-spiking, fruit-ish flavored globs of pure evil on a stick that he peddles. Dum-Dum pops, almost at the bottom of the candy hierarchy in my humble estimation (they rank just above Laffy Taffy/Now ‘N’ Laters, and those weird British licorice things that look like black spots of tar surrounded by day-glo pink, yellow, or orange fondant. Yuck.), have become my kids’ junk food obsession du jour.
Frankly, I’d rather eat a nearly-petrified peanut butter drop from my grandmother’s purse than a Dum-Dum pop. It’s not that they’re gross, it’s just that they’re so boring. It’s like they’re trick candy. You think it’s a delicious treat, but NOOOOOOOOO. It’s really furniture polish or LSD or crystallized goat innerds. Dum-Dums are suspicious. I don’t trust them. People give them out at the bank, for Chrissakes! And yet I bought them for my children. Such are the lengths a mom will go to to keep her kids quiet for 10 seconds.
Given my distaste for Dum-Dums, I never thought my kids would take to them more than cookies, cupcakes, marshmallows, or another type of mass-produced confectionary treat. Yet, as I type this, there’s a huge jar of them up high on a shelf in my kitchen with two little kids dancing a pagan jig beneath it, clamoring for the sugary goodness that only the Dum-Dums in question can deliver.
When I ask my daughter what she wants for breakfast each morning, the response it always the same: “lollipops!” When I tell her that lollipops are not a breakfast food and she can, instead, choose from cereal, eggs, fruit, waffles, yogurt, toast or a muffin, she shifts into Linda Blair mode and screams as though I’ve burnt up her favorite toy in the furnace. I always turn my head away slightly to avoid the pea soup that I’m certain she’ll spew at any second. Seriously. It’s frightening how quick the transformation can be from happy, compliant toddler to twisted demonic banshee hell-bent on destruction due to the utterance of a simple word: No. Yikes!
Her brother has a slightly more devious approach. Instead of getting upset at being denied the sugary snack for breakfast, he will seemingly shrug it off and walk away. Does he wait patiently at the table for toast and jam? Does he go to the refrigerator and grab some yogurt? Does he pick a banana out of the fruit bowl on the island in our kitchen? Oh, no. Instead, he attempts to scale the shelving unit on which the lollipop jar rests. Or he pulls the drawers out from under the counter, climbs up them onto said counter, and attempts a 10’ standing long jump across the kitchen to the shelving unit in the hope that he may land somewhere in the vicinity of the lollipops. I would applaud and encourage his feats of athleticism if I weren’t so scared that he’ll break his neck, or worse, the shelving unit. Those things can be pricey!
Seriously, though, I feel like a drug dealer. I’ve unintentionally gotten my kids hooked on the white stuff: Pure, unadulterated sugar. I’m sure pediatric endocrinologists and dentists alike approve of my innocent blunder. It’s seemingly innocuous mistakes like mine that keep them in business. But I curse the day I ever put that brightly colored bag of treats into my grocery cart. Fortunately, my kids haven’t stopped eating their vegetables and they always leave room for dinner, but still. The lollipop obsession is annoying and I’d love to put a stop to it. I know I can’t do this without creating a mutinous environment in my house, so I’m taking aim elsewhere. The lollipops can stay, for now, but other junk has got to go!
In an effort to cut down on the amount of processed and pre-packaged foods my kids eat, I’ve decided to start making much of my own bread, waffles, crackers, etc. I know what you’re thinking: “But, Nicole, that’s just more work for you!” Yes. Yes, it is. However, having received an amazing bread maker for my 32nd birthday (thanks, Sweetie!), it’s not as bad as it sounds. The bread machine has turned the tedious job of making bread at home to something so easy, even my 3-year-olds can do it—as long as Mommy’s around to do the measuring and push the buttons on the machine. My advice? If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. It is so choice. (Full points to anyone who gets that reference.)
Likewise, I picked up a cheap waffle maker from Walgreen’s (of all places!) last week. It was ten bucks and I’ve already used three times. The recipe it came with produced heavy, terrible waffles, that I could probably sell to the IOC for use in a gold medal hockey game. But a Google search remedied that. I found a much more suitable recipe in about 5 minutes thanks to the magic of the interwebs. Subsequent uses have yielded light, fluffy, TASTY waffles better than pretty much any others I’ve eaten. All this from relatively inexpensive kitchen machinery and ingredients I already had in my pantry. Sweet.
So how do the kids like the change thus far? Frankly, they love it. They get to help make their own food by putting pre-measured ingredients into the bread machine, helping me stir the waffle batter (the best part being when they get to lick the spoon, of course) and using their great-grandmother’s heavy rolling pin to flatten the cracker dough. I tried letting them sprinkle salt and sesame seeds on the crackers, but that devolved into a ridiculous food fight that was damn near impossible to clean up—the dog is still shaking out the occasional seed from her fur. So, as with every other parenting aspect, it’s all about trial and error.
And none of this even takes into consideration how much more the kids like what they eat. As anyone who’s ever made bread at home can tell you, it tastes significantly better than what you can buy at the store. It doesn’t last as long from a hardening- and mold-growing perspective, but smaller loaves mean fresher loaves. Plus, the kids feel a sense of pride at having contributed to making their own food. They’re starting to understand it and see the connection between what’s on the shelf and what goes into their tummies. As a parent, that’s pretty cool to see. (As an aside, I feel the need to give Michelle Obama some serious props for bringing this issue to the national stage via her organic garden. Any time people get the chance to take a direct hand in the production of their own food, they will benefit. Yay, Michelle!)
I realize that this effort is not something that everyone is willing or able to undertake. Not everyone has the time or energy to make much of their own food. But, as any of my friends or family members can tell you, I’m a total control freak who distrusts industrialized food products, so the production of food at home is ideal for me. I control what goes into the food, so I know it’s good. Now that I make the waffles my kids eat, I don’t worry what hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and/or preservatives are doing to their little systems. Likewise, the bread I make doesn’t have any ingredients you’d need an advanced degree in Chemistry to identify.
All of this makes me sleep much better at night and keeps me from begrudging my kids their lollipops. Yes, I wish they’d get as excited for fruit and veggies as they do for candy, but I’m not living in the Twilight Zone here. I know that will never happen as long as humans are hard-wired to crave sugar- and fat-laden foods. But it is nice to think that I might be imparting some small appreciation of good, healthy food to my kids. And isn’t that one of the best things I can do as a parent? Give my kids good food, nurture their innate self-confidence and curiosity and then turn them loose on the world to discover, learn, and grow? Yup. That pretty much sums it up. And if Dum-Dum pops are part of that experience, I can live with it. There are worse things. Like Velveeta. Seriously. Processed “cheese food” that requires no refrigeration? What? Who decided THAT was a good idea? Frightening.
*This title was stolen directly from “Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys.
In 1972, I was in the living room with my mom and dad watching the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. Johnny Cash was singing a song live from the WLAC-TV studios in Nashville. During the performance, there was a camera shot from behind the Man In Black, and there, in the front row, was my Grandmother and Grandfather Booth. I was so excited. I would have been even more excited had they not cut away from the local feed after the performance, as my Grandfather went on the stage and gave Johnny a check for Muscular Dystrophy from the insurance conglomerate for which he worked. I have a picture of that presentation in my home. It’s hard to sum up Johnny Cash in a few words. He was a special part of American music, representing rebellion and a gentle spiritual side, but his religious songs didn’t proselytize — they dealt with the complexity of human behavior. Moreover, he was always, always cool. So in honor of Johnny, grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 tunes that come up.