I Fell in Love With Chicago, I’m Moving There in The Fall

So I went Chicago. The train on the way in from Michigan was so dramatic. The big iron/steel industrial wastelands outside the window were inspiring and told the story of people who lived and worked there. I was staying in the most amazing place (Bonnie-Jo’s lovely friend Sheryl was so sweet, left me a fridge full of treats and a killer view) and I was looking forward to meeting a very cool and interesting writer the next morning. Don De Grazia and his partner picked me up in their car and we headed downtown. Don is a gracious man, funny, smart, a real literary wordsmith and a proper Chicago native. He showed me around Northside, Southside and all the edges. We took the architectural tour on a boat and I really fell in love with Chicago out there on the water. There is something about the space, the streets, it feels very European. Each district is distinctively different. When the great fire happened most of Chicago burned down, there is a rumour the fire was started by some woman’s cow but quite frankly it’s slanderous and nobody can prove it. It is the largest city of the American Midwest, founded in 1830 and (as Carl Sandburg’s 1916 poem put it, “Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.”) A water transit hub, Chicago evolved into an industrial metropolis, processing and transporting raw materials from the sprawling hinterland. Originally the Miami, Sauk, Fox and Potawatomi tribes all lived in the area. I love hearing all the names that originate from the Native American people and I can’t help but hate modern America for what it took from the wisdom of the indigenous peoples and how much it could learn from that today were it only able to open it’s pulsing, forward moving, relentless, young and ferocious heart. This is a country in the process of becoming. It is inventing itself each day. Buildings are often not designed to last more than thirty years without needing re-roofed, or a lot of work done, the idea of forever seems absent. I’m not sure if it is in their dictionary. The truth is being elusive. I feel an instantaneous energy and I have met good, good people everywhere. I’m currently in a tiny town called Crescent City, very industrial, working-class, fishing town with seals and sea-lions and redwood trees and the locals say hello when you walk by them, I hold a lot of value in that, more of this later. In October 1871, a fire destroyed one-third of Chicago and left more than 100,000 homeless. They still don’t know what started it (this Mrs. O’Leary’s lantern-kicking cow story is sketchy but entertaining), but the fire was probably always going to happen, fuelled by drought, high winds and wooden buildings. The factories and railroads were mostly okay, and the city rebuilt with astonishing speed. By the late 1800s Chicago grew as a national retail centre and produced a crop of brand-name business tycoons, including Philip Armour, George Pullman, Potter Palmer and Marshall Field. In 1885 Chicago gave the world its first skyscraper, the 10-story Home Insurance Building. In later years architects Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius all added to the city skyline. In 1893 Chicago hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition, which drew over 20 million visitors to its “White City” of plaster Gilded Age buildings built on former bogland beside Chicago’s south lakefront. A huge Trump building dominates on the riverfront. I continue to wonder about this emperor with his love of shiny things and this persistent feeling that he spends his mornings chopping off the heads of reason, decency and intellect. I went along to Lumpen Radio and had such a great chat with the guys there. One of them works for a local library and among other things they put on punk gigs (in the library) and tarot readings. I love how much the libraries over here are fighting to keep communities together. I will post a link to the show later. It goes out to a lot of the areas of Chicago with projects and poverty. This city has so many communities on the periphery of all this wealth and potential. So, I spoke really openly about my own background in care, time in homeless hostels, how the word for me has been weapon, saviour, tool, solace, entertainment, evolution and reason. How lately I feel I have to be more open about that than I ever have done before. If people like me cannot fight the machine — if I cannot use my space to say — it is possible to reclaim the narrative of who you are, it is possible to be both a kid from the streets, a poet, an academic, an intellectual and a punk and none of those things have to be exclusive, and they all have space to enhance each other — if I cannot stand up and do that now, then what does that say about where I come from and how much love I have for anyone who stands up for what they believe in especially when it feels (and is often the case) that the whole system is against them? The system is at peak glutton, bloodthirsty for further devastation of communities rich with human life and potential and sparkle and promise. The extreme periphery is where I come from. I stand alongside those communities, fist raised, pen poised, heart open. So, I digress. I fell a little in love with Chicago. I’ve been on the road since then, Portland, crossed into California, I will do 359 miles over the next two days (by road) to hit San Francisco. Bonnie Jo and I went to Ken Babb’s place the other day. We  had a Merry Pranksters vacation from the strain and it was funny, real, true, inspiring. I’ll try and get to that blog tomorrow, if not I’ll catch up with you, the good people of the revolution, in San Francisco. One last thought — I was standing on a logging road with a dog that had been found wandering in LA (Jude & I were soul troubadours) and a cat called Freeloader, also an artist who I know I’ll keep in touch with and stars, there was a bus that made myths and five goats and all of it was good and righteous. The truth is out there. It is waiting to be explored. The town I am in just now has grifters. I said hey to a few of them. Averted my gaze to one getting changed by the side of the road. On the way in and out of cities you can see homeless people in motion. Trying to get somewhere warmer, safer or with more opportunity. I worry about them. I am going to keep trying to grasp the wild heart of this extraordinary country. I can see three lighthouses right now. The fridge is playing that same old tune. I better pack up for the morn.

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