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The CHIRP Blog

Nicole Oppenheim: Ear Candy writesMidwestern Housewife: I’ll Take the Physical Challenge

Holidays are anniversaries of a sort. We’re celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice/Saturnalia/Festivus like we do every year, by getting together with our families, eating huge meals, watching TV, and giving gifts. These holiday get-togethers are usually hectic and always chock full o’ nostalgia—we miss those family members and friends who are no longer with us and we reminisce about the events of past holiday seasons. We can’t help it. It’s either something in the air or those tasty gingerbread lattes that everyone mainlines this time of year.

At the risk of sounding like a bad Hallmark commercial, as I stood in a favorite coffee shop debating the merits of hot spiced cider versus said gingerbread latte, I came to the conclusion that life is short. This silly decision shouldn’t have required the amount of time and brainpower I was giving it. So, I’ve decided to make my new year’s resolution early this year—or late, depending on how you feel about Rosh Hashanah. It goes something like this: Don’t waste time sweating things like mortgages, waist circumference, and whether anyone at future class reunions will notice my ever-deepening crow’s feet. (Of course they will. And they’ll all have their own sets, too. Oh, the joys of aging.) Enjoy the time here because it is a precious thing that should be spent it in the company of loved ones and friends. Engage in enjoyable tasks, not tedious ones.

Why the platitudes, you may ask? You can chalk it up to holiday-related nostalgia, but, as with many things, you can also blame Facebook. Thanks to a status update by one of my cousins, I was recently thinking about the last words of famous people. It got me curious, so I googled some of them. You’d be surprised how many pages are devoted to the subject. By and large, there were three themes: One, I’ve been a bad, bad person and am going straight to hell, so don’t bother praying for me (aka Repent Sinners! The end is near!). Two, I’m going to say something funny because I fancy myself a renegade and humor at this point seems inappropriate enough to cement my irreverent persona (see: Humphrey Bogart, Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas). Three, most applicable here, life is so short that I would give anything I possess to have just a few more minutes with the people I love. My dad falls into this latter category, so I find it especially poignant. (Sidenote: cancer sucks.)

This is what was on my mind while searching for just the right toy for my kids this year. I’m sure I’m not the only person on the planet to think about death while in a toy store at Christmas time, but really—what‘s the point? Is it worth giving yourself an ulcer worrying about whether Toys R Us will have enough of this year’s cool toy so your kid(s) won’t curse your name on Xmas morning? And what exactly does that teach your kids? What’s the point of walking around in a Norman Rockwell-inspired fog of idealized family life when in reality the same idealized set of people tend to drive you past the point of rationality in a mere 20 minutes? Of course you’ll have a profanity-laced meltdown a la Clark Griswold in “Christmas Vacation” if you set yourself up like this. Who was it who said that TV is the only thing that keeps families from killing each other over the holidays? Whoever it was was surely a modern day sage. (Now that I think about it, perhaps it was Bart Simpson. Yay, Simpsons writers.).

So, why do we delude ourselves into thinking materialism or notions of perfection are remotely important? And why do they always enter the forefront of our collective mind this time of year in particular? I realize these questions have been asked ad nauseum—Miracle on 34th Street, anyone?—and, because I’m not terribly clever, I’m asking them one more time. Seriously. So I’ve decided to dare my readers (all three of you—Hi, Mom!) to make this holiday season as stress-free as possible. Find the thing that drives you craziest about the season and neutralize it.

Hate buying useless crap for people just because it’s the holiday season and you think you have to? I dare you not to do it. Maybe buy one really nice gift, or, better yet, make something for your loved ones (DIY!! DIY!!) and leave it at that. It will be much more meaningful to the recipient(s) than a truckload of junk du jour and you will escape the mall zombies and subsequent stress, not to mention the amount of money and resources you’ll save on wrapping accoutrements. Your relatives will thank you and so will Mother Nature.

Hate cooking a huge meal for everyone—or worse, cooking a huge meal and then having people gripe about it? I dare you not to do it. Start your own tradition of pizza and/or Chinese take-out at holiday gatherings. I know I give thanks for my local restaurants all the time, why should the holidays be any different? Or have each of your guests bring a favorite food for dinner. Sure, you may end up with an entire table of donuts, goldfish crackers, and peanut butter cups, but is that really such a bad thing? At the very least it will be memorable, and isn’t that the point?

My family always wanted the “perfect” holiday. The problem is that such a thing doesn’t exist, hence the quote marks. Mom and Dad may have wanted me to remember fondly the Cabbage Patch doll for which they engaged in fisticuffs with other suburban parents when I was 7, the perfectly-roasted turkey at each Thanksgiving, and the lack of televised football at family shin digs each holiday season, and I do remember that stuff. But I also remember them freaking out about charred potatoes au gratin (Dear God! Now what will we serve our guests?!?), a tarnished silver coffee service set (Mom’s gonna be pissed! It never looked like this at her house!), and post-party stains on the rug (Goddamn that kid! He doesn’t understand the value of anything!!) Why? In the grand scheme, did any of that really matter? My dad’s last words were about how much he loved me and my mom, not about how much he wished he’d polished up that sugar bowl for Grandma’s coffee on Christmas Eve 1982.

So I dare you to have fun this holiday season. I dare you to let go of the stress and create something meaningful. Enjoy each other’s company as best you can. This is what I want for my kids. They will be getting toys on Christmas, but only a couple. They will be getting a tasty meal for Thanksgiving—sans turkey carcass as we’re vegetarians. And most importantly, they will be getting sane parents who show them that we care about THEM, not about stuff. I dare you to start your own traditions this holiday season—whatever you find most meaningful—and free yourself from needless pressure and corresponding regret. Enjoy yourself, because life is short.

Share November 24, 2009 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Categorized: Midwestern Housewife

Topics: midwestern housewife

Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Mike D. Edition

You’ve got to fight for your right to birthday party!  Hey ladies (and gents), it’s a Beastie Boy b-boy b-day for Mike D.  So get out your iPod/iTunes/MP3 player, put it on shuffle, then hold it now hit it, and share the first 10 tunes that come up with everyone.

  1. Mandy Barnett — Falling Falling Falling (I’ve Got A Right To Cry): Mandy Barnett is a wonderful country vocalist who has, unfortunately, not recorded much.  She put out a couple of records back in the ‘90s, but once those didn’t hit, she earns her dough playing Patsy Cline in a musical revue, and sometimes appearing at the Grand Ole Opry.  And Patsy Cline is certainly one of the reference points.  Mandy is a natural classic country singer.  On this album, she works with Nashville session pros, and the result is a time warp — this loping honky-tonk number sounds like it could have come out in 1965.
  2. Mott The Hoople — Crash Street Kidds (The Ballad Of Mott: A Retrospective):*  Mott is often lumped in with the ‘70s Brit glam rockers, primarily due to their association with David Bowie, who wrote their breakthrough song, “All the Young Dudes”.  But, for the most part, Mott didn’t have a glam sound.  The bands songs were more in line with Bob Dylan and The Faces.  They also had a proto-heavy metal side, more evident on their earliest work.  This song edges towards that, powered by a crunchy guitar riff.  The song also has a surprising use of dynamics, dropping into silence before launching into some more guitar tomfoolery.
  3. Dogmatics — MTV O.D. (1981-86):  In the wake of punk, there were bands all over America that played basic rock, but with a snotty edge.  Once a while, a band like that became The Replacements.  More often, the band was like Dogmatics.  This music isn’t quite as retro as garage rock, but it works traditional elements in a fresh way.  The band had relatively interesting lyrics, as on this slow bluesy dirge which laments a life wasted watching Quiet Riot and Martha Quinn for hours on end.
  4. John Hiatt — I Could Use An Angel (All Of The Sudden):  Hiatt is best known as a Adult Alternative pioneer, with a gruff voice and clever rootsy tunes.  Before he broke through with Bring The Family in 1987, Hiatt was actually positioned as an American alternative to Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and Joe Jackson.  His third and fourth records were very much in the Costello mode, but with thin production.  That wasn’t a problem for his Geffen Records debut.  Tony Visconti (production credits include David Bowie, T. Rex, Sparks, The Boomtown Rats) provided lush, dense backing for Hiatt’s snide, tense tunes.  This is one of the best songs on the album, a propulsive slice of drama.
  5. Prince — Dirty Mind (Dirty Mind):  The early-‘80s were such a rich period musically, because so many artists were disregarding genre boundaries and bringing different styles together.  Prince certainly did his part, bringing together his deep understanding of R & B and funk with the keyboard oriented sounds of the so-called New Wave.  This produced fabulous pop music.  I think one of the secrets is that the trebly keyboards and computer drums mixed with a heavier bottom that made Prince’s sturdy songs all the more appealing.  This song works a constant chilly rhythm with just enough melody to make it work.
  6. LCD Soundsystem — Thrills (LCD Soundsystem):  I’m sure that somewhere in the world, there is an LCD Soundsystem backlash, but I haven’t seen it.  Both LCD albums have been universally acclaimed.  James Murphy has mastered a modern electronic dance music vocabulary, but he has a strong sense of history, so influences like Kraftwerk, David Bowie, Television and The Fall, just to name a few, pop up in his work.  This song is a good fit after the Prince tune, as it also works a single rhythm to death, but Murphy layers the various percussive sounds and adds other variations to keep this lesser cut fairly interesting.
  7. Hepcat — Mama Used To Say (Right On Time):  This L.A. band played a more traditional R & B inflected version of ska than many of punkier ska outfits of the ‘90s.  This really is more of a pure reggae number, with bright horns and sunny vocals. Singer Alex Desert was in the supporting cast of the shockingly long lived Ted Danson sitcom Becker.
  8. The Young Nashvillians — Eagle Man (The Sad Smiles Of The Young Nashvillians):  A lot of high school and college students got together to jam in basements throughout America.  Some cut their teeth on “Gloria” or “2112”.  Others wrote silly songs, inspired by some of the post-punk and New Wave sounds of the time.  Most never recorded those songs, but The Young Nashvillians were discovered by members of The White Animals, a popular Nashville band of the early-‘80s, and they put out a couple of records, compiled onto one CD.  The playing is suspect in spots, but, for the most part, it’s good enough.  The songs are inspired fun.  This is somewhere between white boy funk and The B-52s, with some relatively ambitious harmony vocals.  Good stuff.
  9. The Beach Boys — Girl Don’t Tell Me (Today!/Summer Days and Summer Nights):  This is one of those pre-Pet Sounds songs that indicated what a terrific composer Brian Wilson was.  This is an mid-tempo acoustic love lament that sounds simple on the surface, but is full of sophisticated melodic tricks.  At different points, the melody rises and falls, in such an unconventional fashion, but without sounding dissonant or odd.  This wasn’t a major hit for The Beach Boys, but it ranks among their best songs.
  10. Peggy Lee — Don’t Smoke In Bed (Miss Peggy Lee):  I think Peggy Lee has one of the sexiest voices ever.  It’s honeyed and enticing, mixing a sweetness with a knowing edge.  Her readings of lyrics are always brilliant.  She captures the essence of the song.  On this break up tune, she balances the sadness of leaving a relationship with the knowledge that she is doing the right thing.  I’m no expert on torch and saloon singers, but that won’t stop me from declaring that next to Sinatra, Peggy Lee was the best pop singer of the pre-rock ‘n’ roll era.

Share November 20, 2009 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod, lists

Erin Van Ness writesMusic Is The Weapon

We are incredibly excited to be a part of Music is the Weapon 2, a DJ event that showcases and benefits local non-profits. Come by Between Lounge at 1324 N. Milwaukee from 930pm to 2am on December 12, have a drink or two, and get into the groove while you show your support for CHIRP. We’ll be splitting 15% of the bar proceeds with Rumble Arts of Humboldt Park. The more you drink, the more money we make! Not a drinker? Not a problem. CHIRP will be taking donations all night, so feel free to stop by, drop a buck or two in our donation jar, and get ready to dance! You must be 21+ to enter Between Lounge.

Share November 17, 2009 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Categorized: Event Previews

Topics: fundraiser

Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Jack Elam Edition

It’s another Friday, and this time, we celebrate the birthday of the late character actor, who appeared in countless Westerns full of menace, and a lazy eye.  In ol’ Jack’s honor, grab your iPod/iTunes/MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 tunes that come up.

  1. Morphine — The Jury (Yes): This Boston’s trio’s film noir music has aged really well.  The late Mark Sandman was like Tom Waits’ Boston cousin, and the combination of Sandman’s two string bass, cocktail drums and saxophone made for late night decadent magic.  This is a particularly atmospheric outing, with Sandman narrating instead of singing over disembodied sax wailing.
  2. Slow Jets — Up The Country (Good Morning, Stars): More oddball oblong rock along the lines of Big Dipper and Archers of Loaf, with a bit of a Wire influence creeping in.  Catchy, in a real offbeat way.
  3. The Rascals — Carry Me Back (Anthology 1965-1972): Why have these guys fallen off the radar when great ’60s bands are discussed?  The Rascals were a terrific white R & B band.  “Good Lovin’” and “Groovin’” were just the tip of the iceberg. This is a gospel inflected workout that a young Reginald Dwight probably studied a whole lot before changing his name to Elton John.
  4. *The Hollies — Searchin’ (30th Anniversary Collection): Speaking of great ’60s bands, while The Hollies deserve their glory for the amazing harmony laced pop hits they unleashed a year or two after this Coasters cover, they were a pretty fun British Invasion rock ‘n’ roll band before hitting their stride.
  5. Neko Case — Soulful Shade of Blue (The Tigers Have Spoken): Neko’s work has been so consistently high quality, evaluating her most recent albums is a matter of noting incremental progress.  On this live effort, what is most noticeable is that things twang just a bit more than the more Western type sounds on her last couple of studio efforts.  This isn’t a bad thing at all.  It’s nice to know that she won’t abandon the country tuneage that she made her reputation on.
  6. Split Enz — Wail (Corroboree): Early Split Enz had a bit of a prog-pop vibe, with influences such as Roxy Music (whose Phil Manzanera produced the second album) and Genesis.  Even as the band went to a more overtly pop sound that dovetailed nicely with the whole New Wave thang, they never totally abandoned some grander sounds, primarily thanks to keyboardist Eddie Rayner, who composed this instrumental.  Generally, I find instrumentals to be time wasters between the “real” songs with vocals, but Rayner’s contributions never disrupted the flow of the Enz’s albums.
  7. Betty Wright — Clean Up Woman (Can You Dig It?: The ’70s Soul Experience): This was a swell ’70s soul hit with a bright vocal by Ms. Wright.  She sings of the perils of neglecting her man — the clean up woman swept in and swept him away.  The syncopated bluesy lead guitar licks and horns sound fantastic.
  8. Cheap Trick — If You Want My Love (One On One): Cheap Trick was in the most peculiar position in the early-‘80s:* they were a big hit rock band with roots in The Beatles, The Who and The Move, surrounded by the likes of REO Speedwagon, Journey and Foreigner.  It’s no wonder they couldn’t sustain their commercial success.  While crap like Journey’s “Faithfully” and REO’s “Keep on Loving You” hit big, this substantially less overblown ballad (in the vein of ELO and John Lennon) couldn’t dent the charts.  This has two or three distinct melodic hooks and is one of the first exhibits in the “Robin Zander is one of the greatest rock vocalist ever” file, as he shows off his range and power, without ever showing off.
  9. The Sun — Demons (Did Your Mother Tell You?): This Ohio band put out two really good EPs of indie pop-rock back in the early part of this decade, before releasing their debut on DVD, which had to be one of the dumbest ideas ever.  Stylistically, their music was mix of scruffy Replacements rock, garage rock, The Clash with a bit of lighter melodic material, like this tender acoustic guitar number.  The band didn’t have a distinctive personality, but everything it did, it did quite well.  Until they put out their first full length on a DVD
  10. Tangiers — Your Colour (Never Bring You Pleasure): This Canadian duo put their own twist on post-punk revivalism, falling somewhere in between The Strokes and Spoon with tense songs that resolve in memorable choruses.  The Velvet Underground’s inspiration looms over everything, but I can also hear Modern Lovers, Pixies, Comsat Angels, Elvis Costello & The Attractions and others lurking in the mix.  This is the second of the band’s three albums, and the band’s best, where every song offered something extra.

Share November 13, 2009 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod, lists

Nicole Oppenheim: Ear Candy writesMidwestern Housewife: Let’s Play Doctor

One of the most fun parts of parenting is becoming proficient in all the stuff each of my kids thinks is cool. Winchie is very clear about his likes and dislikes. He likes trains, trucks, cars, baseballs, basketballs, and soccer balls. He also likes to dig holes in the back yard. That’s pretty much it. He loves to jump and run around, but will sit and read a book, too, provided the subject matter is something from his list of likes. Oh, and he also likes to build huge Lego towers only so he can stomp on them or crash one of his many wheeled toys into them. He loves his sister and his parents and we love him back. That’s all he needs to know. Give him a Thomas toy, toast with peanut butter on it and a lap to sit on when he wants it, and he’s the happiest camper in the universe.

I’m totally comfortable letting him engage in typically-boy activities like playing sports and crashing toy trucks into things because these activities bring him obvious joy and satisfaction. And I’m always more than happy to indulge him when he wants to engage in typically-girl things like playing with dolls or putting on lipstick. He’s open-minded and willing to try anything that looks like fun to him. He’s curious, but uncomplicated. What a great kid!

When it comes to my daughter, though, things are a little different. Of course, she is also a fantastic kid in my humble opinion, but she’s much more complex than her brother—or maybe it‘s just my relationship with her that‘s more complex. I’ll admit that I have the usual parental dreams of her turning out to be a little version of me (minus my insecurities and hang-ups, of course). So while I’m more than happy to let Winchie play with his trains and dig up the garden, I find it much harder to hold my tongue when Squeaky wants to do something that falls under the umbrella of “girl stuff.”

For instance, as those who know me well can attest, my everyday uniform consists of black, black, and more black, silver jewelry, chunky shoes (black, of course) and, now that I’m a mom, an industrial-sized canvas tote bag for all of the essentials like stuffed animals, blankies, and extra diapers. I wear so much black, in fact, that my husband will occasionally refer to me as Morticia and is visibly shocked when I wear anything in another color. I don’t do it because I miss the heyday of Wax Trax! or harbor secret vampire fantasies. Rather, I do it because I’m the laziest person on earth. Black matches everything and I don’t have to spend ten years searching my closet for something to wear. Oh, yeah, and I look good in black—all of us dark haired, dark eyed, olive skinned girls do.

Then there’s my daughter. She LOVES frilly, puffy, sparkly pink clothing. If it’s not entirely pink or has pink on it somewhere, she won’t wear it. Because she’s only 2.5 years old, she doesn’t yet know that tiaras exist, but if she did, she’d want to wear one around the house at all times and expect her subjects to genuflect accordingly. Her best friend is a stuffed pink bunny named Pink, when she grows up, she wants to be “a mommy,” and she loves playing with the kitchen set at preschool.

I’ll be honest. All of this makes me want to gag. And, so help me, the day she asks for a Baby Alive doll or Easy Bake oven, I will need to strength of 1,000 Hoover Dams to hold back the verbal condemnation of such hyper-gendered products. Yet, on the same token, I have no problem buying entire train sets and various sport-related toys for my son.

It’s like I’m living in one of those Frosted Mini Wheats commercials. The feminist adult in me wants to destroy all Easy Bake ovens, princess-themed toys, and anything that comes in both a blue version (for boys) and a pink version (for girls). If it appears in that Pepto Bismol colored aisle in the toy store, I’d like to take a blowtorch to it. I know toys are supposed to be all about escapist fantasies, but Bratz dolls? Really? I’d much prefer my daughter pretend to be a construction worker or a doctor or a rabbit than an empty-headed, materialistic, boy-crazy prostitot.

On the other hand, the kid in me knows Squeaky hasn’t read feminist theory and likes frilly, sparkly girlie stuff simply because she likes it. I didn’t teach her to like pink. She has always liked it. I didn’t teach her to like baby dolls. She just does. When my grandmother bought me a baby doll when I was three, I took one look at it and told her to give it to my cousin Jimmy. I wanted a Dukes of Hazzard guitar! When my mom bought Squeaky a baby doll, her face it up, she hugged it tightly, and asked for another one so her baby wouldn’t be lonely. She likes dolls and inwardly, I seethe. Her brother likes trucks, and I’m all for it.

So what’s a mom to do? In private, I throw up my hands and wonder aloud what planet my daughter came from. In public, I talk to my friends who also have kids and ask if they are as bothered by this gendered-toy dichotomy as I am. As one of them (a very intelligent and doting father of an adorable girl) recently pointed out, the problem isn’t with the products themselves, it’s with telling girls that they don’t have a choice and that cooking and childrearing are their only options in life. They can play with that stuff as long as they know it’s not a death sentence. As adults, they will have other options.

Of course, he’s right. These kinds of toys are only one avenue of many available for girls to explore. This may just be a passing phase for my daughter en route to another set of likes and dislikes My hope is that when Squeaky grows up, she will have even more avenues to choose from than those available to me or my mom. Fortunately, society seems to be moving in that direction, it just isn’t reflected in the toy aisle—yet.

And no, it hasn’t escaped me that I am a homemaker, so I shouldn’t be shocked when Squeaky asks for kitchen-related toys because she sees me cooking something everyday. My days consist of adult versions of the Easy Bake oven and child-sized dolls. But I don’t revel in it the way my daughter does and perhaps that’s the source of my ire. I did, however, choose this life (for now), and I know that it is temporary. Once the kids go to school full time, I plan on devoting more time to the business that I am just now starting up. (It would be off and running if I only had more time…) So I am definitely one of the beneficiaries of societal changes wrought by First- and Second-Wave feminists. I made a choice to stay home and I still have the option to work when I want to, how I want to.

But all that doesn’t stop my blood from boiling at Target when I see the face of a smiling little boy on a Doctor toy set (in a red and white box) on the shelf above the face of a smiling little girl on a Baby Care toy set (in a pink box). Yes, I can tell my daughter she has choices, but how can she believe it when faced with an option like this in the toy aisle? As a kid, I decided to reject all things pink and frilly when selecting my preferred toys and maybe that will be Squeaky’s decision as well. A mom can dream. Until then, I’m off to write a flame latter to Fisher Price, creator and distributor of the previously-mentioned toys on the Target shelf. I mean, really. How difficult would it be to use a picture of two kids—a boy and a girl—to sell both products?

Share November 10, 2009 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Categorized: Midwestern Housewife

Topics: midwestern housewife

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