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Random ramblings

Friday, December 10, 2004

Logan Square in Seven Days

Monday, 7:45 am:
Just before the el, the same stripped-down minivan parks in front of the same house laying on the horn. No one uses the doorbell in this neighborhood.

Tuesday, 5:45 pm:
The contrast of laundry soap and tacos encases every nose that steps out of the el train at California and Milwaukee. It's vital not to make eye contact with the amputee bum that takes money for opening the door to the panaderia. He will make you feel shitty for walking past him.

Wednesday, 6 pm:
Oompah music blasts out the tinted windows of compact cars. Faux chrome embelishes their tires and windshield wipers.

Thursday, 7:30 am:
Some no-name does the walk of shame from some guy's parents' house as a scrap collectors clunks down the street.

Friday, 5:30 pm:
Angels with dirty faces play in the gravel sinkhole in the middle of the sidewalk because the park has no swings and the back yard is a small concrete slab.

Saturday, noon:
Corn stalks grow in the small square of dirt between a wire fence and porch.
Tea roses, unattended, grow because nothing smells good.

Sunday, 9:15 am:
Roosters call out in the distance. It's unsure if they've been rasied to be eaten or to fight or which death is more honorable.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

FRIENDSTER FILES: Hand-Me-Down Culture

When I was little, I didn’t necessarily want to be like my big sisters, who were five and six years older than me, it just happened, cruel and inescapable as it was. Just one year apart, they were at each others’ throats nonstop. They hated each other and both played the villain in their comic book relationship. My oldest sister was usually the Evil Princess and the younger one was the Instigator Underdog. I usually rooted for the Underdog, but because I looked a lot like the Super Princess (and she bribed me into siding with her), there was some weird genetic kinship between us beyond siblinghood. As if we were twins that were born six years apart.

INXS, Tesla, You Know, the Worst Music Ever
My sisters boyfriends and friends, in addition to MTV, which in the 80s still played videos, dictated their fashion, lifestyle and overall taste in everything (and some of their bad preferences wore off on me -- too young to understand good vs. bad taste and too naive to know how to use discretion). And because I didn’t have much better cultural influences to grab onto, I suppose the sisters became my influences. From INXS (the instigator’s arty high school boyfriend’s favorite band) to Tesla (the princess’s stoner high school boyfriend’s favorite band), I was a product of their weirdo tastes, which were really just moved down the food chain from my sisters' friends and boyfriends friends and boyfriends (maybe a cool uncle somewhere along the way). I’m glad, though, that for the most part, this ugly style and preference hand-me-down tradition ended with me and was not passed down any further.

Why Couldn’t They Have Been Cool?
Of course, you don’t realize how big of an effect your older siblings have on you until you’re in a supermarket somewhere 10 years later and are moved to sing along to a 10,000 Maniacs song or you can name every Hutchence brother in INXS on command. This is not necessarily the type of trivia I would openly admit to knowing, but it’s programmed into my brain somewhere and it rears its head only to embarrass me at times. Like how I got into 70s girl rock bands thinking I was all retro-sophisticated until I made the shocking connection between glam rock 70s Lita Ford who jammed with Joan Jett in the Runaways to slutty 80s metal Lita Ford who my sister was so into in '88 (and who I thought was just a gross bleach blonde that tried too hard to fit in with Poison and Warrant). Looking back, I desperately wish my sisters were into Minor Threat or Bikini Kill, but I suppose if their tastes all stemmed from a chain of influences who just weren’t into the whole political punk or riot grrrl scene. It’s no matter, though, because I would later grow up and my sisters would leave home and I’d discover much better music, i.e., PUNK ROCK (through my high school friends, of course. Surely these kids had brothers, sisters – and an occasional cool uncle – who was into punk, art rock, riot grrrl, etc.).

Who Needs Sisters When You Have Friendsters?
Friendster is the new hand-me-down culture machine, the new “big sister” if you will. And better than a big sister, you can choose your "sister" to look up to. Think about it. If you want to get into some really good books, movies, music or hobbies, start eavesdropping on Friendster profiles. I do. Shamelessly, actually. I have an ongoing list of movies I want to rent based on fellow Friendsters’ favorite movies. Most of the flicks I have on my “to-rent” list are from second-, third- and fourth-degree Friendsters. Most of the people I don’t even know. How many times have you gone to the video store and spent like an hour trying to find something to rent? I’m notorious for it. Now all I do is bring my Friendster picks in with me and I’m in and out and I usually end up with a memorable movie. All thanks to Friendster! I pick Friendster targets based on their overall interests. If they’re into stuff like ‘50s culture, feminism, punk rock, rockabilly, ska, indie films, dive bars, vintage stuff, Thai food, etc., they’re probably my kinda people. Sometimes I look at their picture, too. I’m more likely to buy a CD a chick with Bettie Page bangs and animal print shirt than I am to go out and research a book that some crew-cut Marines-type likes.

I guess eavesdropping on Friendster profiles and stealing stuff from their “favorite’s” lists is my way of rebelling against my sisters who force fed me some pretty indigestible stuff through two boy-crazy, desperate-to-fit-in-teenagers (in the ‘80s no less). Friendster allows for instant life enrichment by test-driving other people’s favorite things. I’m not saying I totally hate my sisters for making me watch The Lost Boys and every single Molly Ringwald movie, but Friendster eavesdropping offers much more variety than anything a big sister can offer, even if she is a riot grrrl.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Atlantic Records/Donnas Fiasco

Some of you have heard this one before because I griped a lot about it! The link to the Donnas story is www.venuszine.com under music. This letter actually got kicked back to me (no such address). Whatever, though, right?


November 9, 2004

Atlantic Recording Co.
290 Avenue Of The Americas
New York, NY 10104
Attn: Kim Harris

Dear Ms. Harris,
My name is Erica Burke and I am a senior editor for a major publishing firm in Chicago. In my spare time, I freelance for music and entertainment magazines, usually on a volunteer basis because I work with small, independent magazines that can’t afford to pay their writers. I usually work with musicians and artists that either work independently or are part of an independent record label. I find this work extremely rewarding.

When I discovered Innerview magazine – a publication dedicated to promoting upcoming Chicago concerts – I thought it would be fun to do some work for them. Having loosely followed Kill Hannah over the years, I felt this would be an interesting project, so I did it (voluntarily) and felt my experience setting it up through your organization was pretty painless. I enjoyed the opportunity to talk to the guitarist and was really excited to help spread the word about this burgeoning Chicago band. I was refreshed that the major label was not intrusive or bureaucratic about the whole process.

You pitched The Donnas to me on September 20 (I’m assuming because you liked the KH piece). Innerview was not interested, so I pitched it to Venus Zine, an amazing Chicago-based magazine dedicated to women in music, arts and DIY culture. Liz Phair, Le Tigre, Janeane Garofalo and other talented and important women have graced the zine’s cover since its inception. I have been writing for the zine on a volunteer basis for three years.

The editor agreed, and although the zine went to print almost the day of the Donnas’ first tour date in Chicago, we were set to do a very substantial piece on the band in the Spring issue. Things seemed to take a wrong turn somewhere between you pitching me this story idea and actually setting up photos and the interview. I remained flexible and was willing to meet with the band on any one of the Chicago dates. I was patient and waited to find out the time and date you proposed. We were all set to work out an interview on Nov. 3 (Metro), but at what seemed to be the last minute, it was cancelled. My photographer, meanwhile, with all of her equipment in tow, was given two songs for which to shoot. You offered us promo shots as an alternative to backstage access, but Venus is very big on original, artistic documentary-style photos (and I told you this a bunch of times via e-mail).

The night of the Metro show, I was embarrassed while speaking with the tour managers as they shook their heads and scanned their databases for any information related to me or Venus Zine. It was as if we didn’t exist. When I suggested we try to get our photographer an opportunity the following night, we were told, “Absolutely not, it’s a private show sponsored by Rolling Stone.”

They said they needed at least a few weeks notice for interviews and photo sessions. When I told them I’ve been working with you since September, they couldn’t believe it.

No one ever did get back to our photographer about access to the Rolling Stone show as you promised. You suggested I could interview them the night of the private show. How I would gain access and my photog couldn’t is a mystery. Thankfully I had a prior obligation that night and didn’t have to sit through a whole day wondering my fate.

You hooked me up with a phone interview with Maya Ford, the bassist on Nov. 1. While our conversation was long enough to write a semi-decent story, after 10 minutes, we were interrupted with: “Erica, let’s wrap this up.” I thought that was extremely rude. I speak with CEOs of multi-million/billion-dollar companies for my dayjob and I have never been so rudely interrupted or sped along to finish my work. Surely their lives are important and busy, too.

I submitted my story to Venus’ editor, who has decided to put it online at www.venuszine.com. I maintain my integrity despite my biases for or against my subject and the Donnas story, though painful to write at times, was no exception. I want you to know, thought, that I was especially saddened by this situation because I have always liked the Donnas and have bought their merchandise and introduced many of my friends to their music.

Kim, I know Venus is not Rolling Stone. That it’s a blip on the industry’s radar, but it is a great zine that many women and men look forward to reading every quarter. I know I’m not a popular rock writer and my opinion doesn’t matter in the world of the majors, but I love talking to bands and sharing their stories. Your organization really made me feel like
publicity in Venus doesn’t amount to much and that I’m not important enough to share time with your band.

I have never in all of my years working in journalism been made to feel so unimportant. This experience has made me reconsider what projects I take on in the future, though I want badly to believe my experience isn’t normal practice for Atlantic and other majors.

Thank you for your time,

Erica Burke





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