First Time: First Digs

My very first apartment was in Naperville, IL. I was 19, and was kicked out of North Central College for literally not making the grade. I had no intentions of moving back home to Wisconsin, much to the chagrin of my parents, who spent the better part of the next decade inquiring when I’d be coming back. Answer: I wasn’t. It was a full-time job at Crown Books and a part-time job at learning how to become an alcoholic for me. Yes, this was the life.

I lived in an apartment complex next to the Metra tracks for three years, with two different roommates. First Emily, then Aaron, and then Emily again. The whole period is sort of a blur of pot, Milwaukee’s Best Light cans and a rotating cast of characters. Rooms and rooms filled with our friends, listening to music, playing cards, smoking cigarettes and pontificating about life.

I guess it was mainly just one room, the living room of the second year with Aaron Feaver. And the music was always either the Beastie Boys — generally focused on Paul’s Boutique — or some greatest hits album. The kid owned more greatest hits albums than anyone I knew. Violent Femmes. INXS. Fleetwood Mac. CCR. And Bob Marley. Always with the fucking Bob Marley. I cannot even listen to Legend because of Aaron. I know we were potheads of the highest order, but enough Marley, man!

The thing about Aaron that was infinitely frustrating was that the kid was always ridiculously high, completely carefree and yet, managed to be a brilliant mind — earning a degree in physics or calculus or civil engineering or something. He went on to get a master’s and then maybe even a doctorate. Kid is working for Boeing, last I heard.  However, despite his genius intellect,  there *was* the time he and two of my other friends went out into the wild west (of Illinois) and brought back sheaves of naturally occurring cannibis and laid their bounty out on our kitchen table.

To this day, I cannot imagine 1. why I was not with them on this particular adventure, instead finding myself aroused from a dead sleep at 4 a.m., 2. why on earth they thought this ditchweed was going to be smokable, much less produce a high, 3. and why on God’s obviously green earth, no one thought of the fact that when you get busted for weed, you get busted for the WEIGHT of what you have, regardless of whether or not it comes from the dankest, hairiest nugs wrested from some holy place in Hawaii, or the most ragged, ridiculous pile of nothing you found in nowhere, Illnois. They’re still going to mark pounds, not ounces. I looked at the pile of brush on the kitchen table, ascertained its worthlessness and became buzzkill #1. I told them to get it the hell out of the house and went back to bed.

Although that was my very first apartment, it’s not the apartment that holds the dearest place in my heart. That honor goes to 3763 N. Kenmore, my very first apartment in Chicago. Located at the corner of Grace and Kenmore, it marks the beginning of my adult-ish life — August, 1997.  I had a job at a downtown financial establishment, and a place in a real city. Like most WASPy immigrants to Chicago, I had previously only spent brief flurries of activity in and around Lakeview; hanging around Belmont and Clark — exploring the mysteries of The Alley, getting fringe and weird with the masterminds of improv over at the Annoyance when they were still at Belmont and Broadway, and going to the occasional show at Metro. Cabaret Metro, as it were. A place that would go on to change my life in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined. But we’ll get there.

So, having limited knowledge of the city, it was only fair I should find an apartment smack dab in the middle of Wrigleyville. And I do mean smack dab. Short of putting my bed up against the ivy and waking to the sounds of batting practice, Grace and Kenmore didn’t get any better. And I really mean that. The apartment on Grace and Kenmore was perfect at the time. We could open our windows during the National Anthem and hear the crowd sing along; you could do the same for the 7th inning stretch. If one were so inclined, you could just go and sit down at the end of Kenmore and hang with the guys shagging homeruns and follow the game with Harry and Steve on someone’s TV or with Ron and Pat on the radio if you wanted some real drama. We could still come home after a day’s work and walk up to the ticket booth and pay $10 for a decent seat at a Monday night game that first year. It was 1998, and the magic of the homerun race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire was literally in full swing.  You also could still pretend baseball wasn’t riddled with HGH and steroids.

A baseball sidebar: I invited my parents and some of their friends down to watch a Cubs/Brewers game toward the end of that year. They arrived VERY early — 10 am early — to barbecue in my front yard and get the party started. My friend, Jeff, was in town from Naperville to join the festivities and enjoy a late-season game. This was pre-9/11, and you could still bring coolers filled with liquid into the ballpark, and while they weren’t *supposed* to be filled with liquor, you could whip up a good batch of vodka pink lemonade, and no one was any the wiser. The Brewers and the Cubs had an incredible game. It went into extra innings and it seemed everyone and their brother on both teams had a homerun, pitchers included. The Cubs came back to win the game and it was one of those days where you just think to yourself, “that was one of the greatest games.” And if you’re blackout drunk, you just might say it out loud, tauntingly, ad infinitum to the guests from out of town. Until my dad was ready to get into a fistfight with him, my sister tried to talk some sense into him in the kitchen and when all he could do was mindlessly say  “That was one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen” on robotic repeat, she was ready to put up her dukes as well. I managed to end the party when I said “fuck” in front of my dad and my mom told me to ‘watch my mouth.’ After hours of making sure everyone was okay and trying to keep everything on an even keel, I snapped like a dry twig. I whirled, facing my mother in a slight crouch and said, “It’s MY fucking house and I will say fuck if I fucking want to. Fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK fuck fuck.” Then everyone looked at me as if *I* were the fucking lunatic. Good times.

But for the most part, I was never fazed by the party — partly because I was up for the party back then, and partly because despite anyone’s recollections to the contrary, the party wasn’t as hedonistic as it is now. Gone are the days of the dive bars like the Wrigleyville Tap and when you could go down the street from Sluggers to do your laundry at Laundryland (it’s a Chase bank now, natch).  When Yakzies still had an obnoxious yellow awning and Bernies didn’t look like every wooden faced bro bar in the city. When John Barleycorn was where it belonged — on the mayhem of Lincoln Avenue between Diversey and Armitage. But I bitterly digress.

I found my roommate like I’ve found all my best roommates in the city; the lottery process of the rooms to share section of The Chicago Reader (or now, Craigslist). It was back in the day when you had to actually read the print version of the magazine, scouring the tiny ads in the back for your true mate — either the ones you would drop $.99 a minute on to ascertain their potential date worthiness by the dulcet sounds of their voice (BAD IDEA), or the ones you would scour in an effort to find a suitable living arrangement. I fared much, much better with the roommate ones than I ever did with the few larks into the Reader Matches scene.

I had never had to look for a roommate who wasn’t previously known to me, and in retrospect,  my first meeting with Ann Marie was pretty comical.  I remember looking around at the apartment, intuiting she wasn’t a serial killer and announcing “I’ll take it.” She looked at me like *I* was fucking crazy, since I should have been the one in the supplicant position, applying to live with her, as it were. Luckily, she didn’t kick me out right there, and we sat down to continue our chat. We figured out that we were both small-town Wisconsin girls living in the city, making our way, Packer fans to the end. We also worked out our proclivities for puffing, various and sundry substances that could fit in a pipe.

It turned out we were two peas in a pod. We spent countless hours firing up bowls, snacking, watching various and sundry on TV and playing cards or Yahtzee. We shared stories and secrets. We shared music.  She gave me Crowded House, I ended up giving her everything else.

Music. It was so much easier to go to shows living in the city. There wasn’t the angst of a huge commute; an hour in traffic or trains and buses to see a band for an hour. The small, intimate club scene of Chicago became my home. Schuba’s, Double Door, Metro, The Vic, The Riv, Park West, The Aragon (when absolutely necessary), Subterranean, Gunther Murphy’s, Lounge Ax, Beat Kitchen.

Back then, it seemed like I was at Metro more than anything. I don’t know if it was because it was my neighbor or because that’s just where the bands I wanted to see were playing. The 90’s in general were good to me. Indigo Girls, Gin Blossoms, Judybats. Almost getting crushed by a sea of flannel in the front row of Material Issue. Better than Ezra, Sarge and Semisonic.  I became the nominated representative to sit (literally) outside  in the frigid December air for two hours to get tickets for when Dylan came to Metro in December of 1997.  There was also the time my friend Shawn and I recklessly and foolishly said that we were too tired or too whatevered to go see Nirvana at Metro (she had two free tickets) and that “they’d be back again.” Unless of course, Kurt killed himself or something. Ouch.

And then, one May day in 1999, Big Star was playing a show at Metro. I was so excited. I found out about Big Star working at my college radio station in Naperville. I  was clueless — but my friends showed me. See? R.E.M. loves these guys. See? They’re poppy and lush and beautiful.  See, Trip Shakespeare covers them. See, the Replacements sing a song about the lead singer, Alex Chilton. And so I dove in. And fell in love. But they never toured. So, it was what it was, listening to this underrated band that all my favorite bands loved and just knowing that it was enough, I suppose. Like knowing I’d never see XTC live.

But, then …I would. Alex and Jody were touring with Jon and Ken from the Posies — a dream come true. I tried to keep low expectations, because I had heard that Alex could be unpredictable when playing live, that he could sometimes be … well, kind of a dick. I was there, front row, trying just to be happy that it was even happening. There was the whole matter of standing for hours to be in the front row. There’s that whole matter of the opening band, and all. My friends and I talked about what we could be in for. My friend, Shawn and I were just hoping for anything better than the aforementioned Material Issue show where before getting smushed against the front of the stage, we had to stand and be crushed by the sound of a band called Specula. Their name sounded like an instrument used in giving a Pap smear, and the experience was less pleasant.

We chatted amongst ourselves and then this band came on. There were five of them, all dressed alike, in what I remember being white suits, but my memory could be completely wrong. All I remember is that they looked awfully Beatles-esque and my hopes were lifted. And they started playing and I was mesmerized. I instantly decided one of them was the “Paul” of the band and that the other was the “John.” I’ll admit, it didn’t hurt that they both were easy on the eyes. The five of them just went through song after song, and I’m sure I sat there with the stupidest smile on my face.  They had a HORN! They sang harmony! They were so fucking good!

I made a note of their name — Frisbie — and I swore that I’d go to their shows whenever they played in Chicago. Lucky for me, they were Chicagoans, and I’d have plenty of chances. The next show I can remember going to was at Lounge Ax, and I vaguely remember saying something vaguely stupid to one of them after the show. I think this is the start of my becoming a groupie.  I hated that word. It conjured up visions of blowjobs in backrooms and the stories of whorish girls who’d do anything for a backstage pass; wild rides of Cynthia Plaster Caster and her salacious sculptures.  I wasn’t “down to fuck,” I was down to rock.
Not to mention they all had serious girlfriends or wives and such, and there’s always that weird conundrum of having your rockstars being so attractive because they’re so … good. Dan Wilson is sexy as fuck, but if I ever found out he cheated on his wife, I’d be crushed.

And here’s where I struggled for weeks. I didn’t know where to go with this piece. It was supposed to be a first apartment piece, but I won’t lie — I cheated on this one. Instead of writing the story or having the idea first, song second, I wanted to go the other way around. This month marks The First Time’s second anniversary. And when I found I was cutting it close with readers, I decided I’d read. And I decided I knew what I wanted to hear these guys play. I wanted you all to hear something original from them. You hear them tackle covers from all eras and genres with amazing skill and ingenuity. You often remark to me afterward what a great band they are. You don’t have to tell me twice. I know. Come May, I’ll have been listening to them for 13 years.

I found out that Steve and Liam played a weekly set as a duo up at Pops Highwood on Tuesday nights for the better part of …several years?, and Tuesday nights were booked after me and Shawn and Ann Marie and Kelly found out. I traveled on a Greyhound bus 24 hours round trip, to see them play. I traveled the West Coast from San Diego to San Francisco one summer because I just couldn’t get enough. Yeah, I definitely groupied out.

But something else happened. We grew up together. They got married. They got divorced. Some of their band members moved away. The band struggled with the effects of mental illness, and so did I.  There were loves gained and loves lost. I was walking the same path with a different cast of characters.  I stopped drinking, and got spiritual again. They had children and they fell in love again. The band reorganized and gained new members. They recorded another album. I was worried; would I still like their music? Would I still think they were as wonderful as I did when I was younger and more naive and a little more crazy?

They changed and so did I, but their music remained great. I had nothing to worry about. When something is real, it doesn’t fade over space and time, it just is. Truth and love and music for me, mostly. And so here we are, all these years later, different and the same. I wanted you to hear them being themselves, but selfishly, I picked two songs that most resonate with me. They’re both from an acoustic album they did, called period. They’re songs that their drummer, Zack Kantor, wrote, and which they performed acoustic for the album, in much the same setting as you see here. .They had been playing the songs out the whole time I knew them in various shapes and forms, and they’re the songs that took root in my heart and my soul.  I’ve said a lot and could say much more. Here’s some Frisbie for the First Time at the First Time. Happy Second Anniversary everyone.

The First Time … and why you should care.

It’s funny.  I’m always caught between being a voyeur and an exhibitionist. You wouldn’t know it from the Tweeting and the Facebooking and nearly 8 years of blogging I’ve done here at the old Smussyolay, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to be looked at. I don’t want to be critiqued or analyzed or noticed, or god forbid, praised.  So, it’s always striking to me when people actually remember stuff about me — stuff I’ve told them or stuff I’m interested in or stuff that defines me.

At some level, it pleases me. I want people to know me. I want people to love me and find me attractive — in more ways than one. I want people to understand me and I want people to want to be near me — in more ways than one. And so that’s probably the part that continues to share things regardless of the fact that it could actually turn people off. It’s a double edged sword, actually.  On one hand, I share in the hopes it will actually make people interested in me. On the other, I think I share everything, in the hopes it will actually make people run away. Wow, getting deep here.

Not to mention getting deep on this post, which wasn’t supposed to be about this. Point BEING, that 3.5 years ago, I started working with CHIRP Radio. And I started talking about it, I guess. I didn’t really remember talking about it, but I guess I did.  Because after a little bit, people started to ask me “How’s the radio thing going?” Sometimes, they now remember to ask “How’s CHIRP?”

I was talking about it because I was excited, because I couldn’t believe that I was going to get to be part of a radio station again. Working at WONC in college was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and led me to some of the greatest friendships and memories I’ve ever had. So, to be able to have even one-fourth of that experience was going to be great. It had to be.

I was not let down. Being back on the air again was fantastic. 1/17/12 marked our second anniversary, and we’re still working diligently in the background to get our low-power FM license as well.  You can listen to us at www.chirpradio.org, 21/7, and we were named Best Radio Station by the Chicago Reader’s poll last year and Chicago Magazine named us Best Internet Station. Awesome. What honors.

In 2010, I created a reading series to benefit CHIRP. It’s called “The First Time.” People write 5-7 minute original pieces around a First Time theme (first sex, first job, first car, first record) and then they pick a song to accompany their piece. Immediately following their reading, we have a live band, “The First Time,” play their song live, in a stripped-down, acoustic setting.

We’ve had Jim DeRogatis, Susan Messing, Josh Caterer, Robbie Fulks, Scott Smith, Whet Moser, Megan Stielstra, Matt Spiegel and Dag Juhlin … just to name a FEW of the readers. And I’m so blessed to have the band be made up of Steve Frisbie, Liam Davis and Gerald Dowd.  They’ve taken on The Misfits, Huey Lewis, Cypress Hill, Extreme, Van Morrison, Concrete Blonde, Sinead O’Connor, Uncle Tupelo and The Rolling Stones.

So. I’d love it if you’d help CHIRP out.  Today is the second day of a membership drive. We’re listener supported and volunteer run, and you can help out by going to www.chirpradio.org/donatenow. If you do it, tell them I sent you. If you know my real name, put it down. Otherwise, put smussyolay, and I’ll tell them to count it for me.  We’ve got a friendly competition going, so every little bit helps.

The other way you can help is by coming out to see The First Time: First Digs if you live anywhere near Chicago. It’s April 18th, 8:30 pm at Beat Kitchen. It’s going to be amazing. They’re always so much fun. Help me help you have a great time and have a great radio station — and that you don’t even have to be in Chicago to listen to. I’ve gotten requests from Paris before.

Smooches and rock and roll,

Smussyolay

First Time: First High

I read again at the last First Time series. It had been awhile. For those of you who wished you had come, but couldn’t and for those of you who thought you were coming and didn’t, here’s what you missed. My song choice will come, like it does at the events, at the end.

Growing up in Wisconsin there was always some sort of party around. I am fond of telling people that I “grew up” in bars. But, it’s really not an exaggeration. My earliest memories are of being in bars, taverns, and bowling alleys. My father’s father owned a bar when we were small, and we’d go in on Saturdays and say hi to Grandpa and run behind the bar and pick out a candy bar. It was called the Penny Bar, because the whole length of the bar was … covered in pennies.

The Penny Bar no longer has my Grandfather’s original bar, but it’s still open, and still called the Penny Bar. The bar in our basement is covered in pennies in homage and seemingly as well stocked. I guess one of my first highs was from the polyurethane my dad used to seal the shiny, new 1988 pennies onto the bar – in the dead of winter as my sister and I sat downstairs and tried to conquer Super Mario World. A high that quickly turned into a headache after about 45 minutes, of course.

But drinking and music was part of how life was in small town Wisconsin. Bar leagues and jukeboxes. My little town had exactly two churches (Lutheran and Catholic), a beer depot (that’s a liquor store) and approximately 15 bars. To this day, the smell of stale beer, cigarettes and bar disinfectant smells like … home to me. It’s a feeling I can’t shake and I’ve stopped trying.

Oddly enough, I ended up to be a perfect candidate for Nancy Reagan and her “Just Say No” crew. I was convinced that I wouldn’t drink and I most certainly would NEVER do drugs. EVER. However, the mind is a strange thing, and its ability for paradoxical thought, is truly amazing.

For instance, I was also obsessed with the 60s. I loved the idea of peace and love and Woodstock. I loved the hippies protesting against the war and expanding your mind. And I was pretty sure that at some point, I’d want to check out smoking pot. I thought that it’d be a prerequisite to being an activist.

But as far as high school was concerned, I was busy hanging out with a fundamentalist Christian chick, so I was lucky to be able to mention watching MTV without disapproving looks coming from her direction. Really? – the shit you could see on MTV from 1984-1991 was fucking incredible. From The Cars to Whitney Houston to Peter Gabriel to Guns and Roses to Billy Joel to RATT to George Harrison to Madonna to Paul Simon to Duran Duran to Prince to Weird Al to Twisted Sister to Michael Jackson to RUN DMC to the Beastie Boys to whatthefuckever was on Top 40. Seriously.

Yet, I digress. Point being, I wasn’t doing shit toward advancing myself toward any sort of first high in high school. But, I really loved MTV. College was more of the same. I went to a small, liberal arts school in Naperville, and I hung with a lot of real straight shooters. Honestly, if I had ended up going to a huge party school like Madison, for instance, I don’t know what would have happened to me.

I made it two years in college before the combination of my first big breakup, lack of direction and a first major depression led me right out the doors of higher learning. By that point, I had made friends with some younger people who already had learned the finer arts of drinking, smoking and doing illicit drugs. When I first met them, I was still “straight edge” (according to the one who was a punk from Grand Rapids, South Dakota), and I felt bad for their wanton ways. One of them had already gotten into trouble a few times with the school, and so I decided to hang out with him on the weekends while his (my new) friends partied ass and he did his best to abstain.

We would borrow a friend’s car and drove around a lot. Spending all that time together, we inevitably started to fall for one another, and ended up dating. Eventually Scott decided he’d had enough of chemical abstinence and my new education began in earnest.

My first real drunk was when I moved into my very first apartment. In what was to set the stage for my future drinking career, I got wasted from the get. I was supposed to go to a concert with a friend, and I got brownout drunk on Jack Daniels. She didn’t want to go to the concert alone, so I was still companion on this trip down to the World Music Theater to see Neil Young. The long and short is that I sat down in my seat and closed my eyes, and woke up to hear what was at that time my favorite Neil Young song, “Rockin’ In The Free World.” This was amazing! Rockin’ In The Free World! Hell, yeah! I stood up excitedly and enjoyed the song – the best I could in my condition – only to find this was the last song of the encore. Needless to say, my friend was fucking PISSED about my lackluster performance as a concert companion and my karma was soon upon me as I spent the rest of the night fighting off throwing up and probably the worst case of the bed spins I ever had. I never drank brown liquor again.

On the contrary, I know that much like when I had sex for the first time, when I was ready to start smoking weed, I was ready. I started smoking cigarettes to learn how to inhale so I didn’t “waste anyone’s weed.” My logic was clearly rock-solid, and no one was challenging me on it. My first cigarette was a hand-rolled Drum, and I’m glad I was sitting on the ground, because it literally knocked me silly. I thought to myself, “THIS is why people smoke.” Needless to say, that fucked up dizzy doesn’t last forever.

I should note here that I came to learn years later that my personality is as addictive as the day is long, and then longer, because that’s how I roll. More, please. If there’s something that will alter the way that I feel about myself, I want to do that. Or anything else that will do that. To excess. The idea that there is a way to moderate these matters – matters of ecstacy and exuberance and excess – seems impossible. See, most people don’t even couch the idea of kissing or drinking or riding a rollercoaster in those terms, anyway. They don’t think like that – they think about having a beer or a day at a park or the distant memory of their first love. But not me; I just don’t know how to regulate these matters. It’s just how I’m hardwired. It’s a disease of perception, an allergy of the body; in layman’s terms, I don’t have “an off switch.”

Some people, they have a few drinks, they feel “buzzed,” and they decide they’ve had enough. Me, I feel it and I think, I need to keep this feeling going for as long as possible. Actually, I believe there’s something in my body that triggers that feeling without any conscious thought on my part, if you really want to know the truth. And, so I go until I pass out or feel sick or whatever. Some people are blackout drinkers, some people are pukers. I’m neither. I don’t blackout and I’d probably get sick, except for my vomit phobia. I’d probably be doing my liver a favor if I’d been a stick my finger down my throat kind of gal, that’s just not my style. It also means if you’re with me and you start in on the choaching, I’m not holding your hair. You’re on your own.

Back to college. Me and my merry band of boys, and all the boys to come – we had some really awesome times. I’m not going to lie. They were still beholden to college and trying to do the deal. Me, I had already failed at one stage of life. I now had a full-time job, which meant there was no more homework for me. There were no papers to write. When I was done with work, my time was my own. And like the “good girl” I was, I had waited to start this partying process until I was nearly 21, so now I had legal access to liquor and bars. This was the life, right? This was the new school.

They showed me what whippets were. I did acid with them for the first time and really, really tripped. Seeing diamonds in an ice slick is amazing and being alone in a winter graveyard while tripping is something else. Peaceful, calm, beautiful. I’ll never be sad that I’ve done any sort of psychedelic. Tripping in Wrigley Field on mushrooms and seeing 7 Scott Servaises at home plate while the outfield takes about a 35 degree slant towards the batter is truly a sight to behold.

But mostly, I was chasing my first high and my newfound love affair with marijuana. Cannabis. Mary Jane. Grass. Pot. Reefer. Smoke. Cookies. Whatever random nickname you have for it. It had the same wonderful pattern every time: Euphoria – laughing and talking and tons of things to say about all the intense thoughts and feelings I was having and then a slow come down, mellowing out, getting hungry, wanting to chill and possibly “get high” again. Lay around, take a nap, be a complete sloth. Not the key components for someone trying to make something of herself.

I was high a LOT. I also had to listen to a lot of music I hated. The guys were into Sisters of Mercy and Laibach and Skinny Puppy and Einsterzende Neubauten. But Scott loved the Rolling Stones. And he introduced me to Some Girls and Sticky Fingers …. and Exile on Main Street. Previously, my knowledge of the Stones came via whatever was on the Oldies station as a kid. Brown Sugar, Satisfaction, Get Off My Cloud. But Scott was minorly obsessed with this double album and was singing its praises from the rooftops.

Good thing, too, because this shit was good. I was instantly sold. There were horns and honky tonk songs and country numbers. It was as good as all the critics had acclaimed it. After we broke up, Scott and I didn’t talk for a long time. I went on to have other highs with other boyfriends – crazier, higher, weirder highs. I crossed every line I said I wouldn’t except for crack and heroin and meth. I had to figure out that despite all the good times I had and the memories I made, it’s best if I leave the highs to people younger and stronger than me; people better equipped to do one and leave it alone or actually only occasionally dip their toe into the well of madness. It wasn’t until after I surrendered to the fact that I am one of those people that will eventually end up along the lines of Kurt and Janis and Jimi and now Amy, if I don’t seek a different way of finding bliss and peace and serenity.

I did find a different way, and I haven’t seen a drink or a drug pass my lips for nearly 10 years. Saying that out loud seems insane. Only because drinking and doing drugs was such an integral part of who I was, what I did, who I hung out with. It defined me in every way possible for nearly a decade. But I got out of that game. I have talked to Scott since; he read at this series last September. And even if I hadn’t, I believe that if they leave you with nothing else, most romantic encounters leave you with some sort of musical gift. Some sort of new band or new way of looking at music that never leaves you. I got high on weed with Scott, and I got high on Exile on Main Street. One has left me and the other never will.

The First Time

So. I’m unemployed again. Did I tell you that here? Not sure. I talked about it on the usuals — Facebook, Twitter and all that — but I’m not sure if I said something here. Anyway, I can get to that later. But, I’ve found myself with more time to dedicate to Coffee Club and CHIRP. Good thing, because the reading series I created and curate as a benefit for CHIRP is going on our 5th go around tomorrow night. Pretty exciting, if I do say so myself.

So, here’s the deal. Every three months (or so), I present a reading series called “The First Time” to benefit CHIRP. I’m in charge of the theme and the readers. I emcee the night and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. We’ve done the First Time (ahem), First Jobs, Back to School (first teacher, first college, etc.), First Car and tomorrow will be First Concert.

Here’s how the evening unfolds. Performers write original pieces on the theme — how they interpret it is up to them. I originally started the idea telling people they could write non-fiction or fiction pieces, but no one has written a fiction piece yet. How they interpret the theme is also up to them; I don’t edit or inspect the written pieces beforehand, which is nice, because it allows me to have the same sense of anticipation and reveal that the audience gets. The stories are just as fresh and new to me as they are to them. I laugh, gasp, cry and wince right along with everyone else.

Along with the written word, the performers have picked out a song that accompanies/represents their piece. Immediately following the reading, the house band, “The First Time” (former Frisbie members Steve Frisbie, Liam Davis and Gerald Dowd) plays the song they’ve chosen in a stripped-down fashion. Acoustic guitar, electric bass, basic drum kit. Again, no one knows anyone else’s song but me and the band. It’s proven to be a really great concept and really successful.

This time out, we’ve got Matt Priest of Canasta, writer Leah Jones, Gerald Dowd of said house band and many other musical endeavors, Dag Juhlin of Poi Dog Pondering and other musical pursuits, Karl Klockars of Chicagoist, writer Amy Hayden, and Dan Phillips of Zapruder Point. We’re throwing down at the Beat Kitchen and everything gets underway at 8 p.m. Cover is $10 and all proceeds benefit CHIRP (Chicago Independent Radio Project). I promise you, it’s a great time and something really special. Come on out and you’re going to want to come again. You can get tickets right now, right here.