In praise of the Chicago Tribune's Christopher Borrelli



  • Christopher Borrelli
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There was a birthday party for me last weekend at our place in Michigan, and one of the invited guests who couldn't make it was Alison True, the former editor of the Reader. She sent word that the Blisters were performing at Lollapalooza. Her son Henry Mosher is the young group's singer and songwriter. So that's where she'd be.

And thanks to an exceptionally nice turn of writing, I wound up feeling I'd been there too. Monday's Tribune brought an account by Christopher Borrelli that planted me at that Blisters concert, probably "one of their last shows ever." I'd been hearing about the Blisters since Henry joined the band some ten years ago and Alison's husband, Rick Mosher, became band coach, sometimes—as Borrelli noted—playing guitar "standing behind a curtain." The group had since lost its need for an adult coach and phantom guitarist, or for songs to cover. They wrote their own. Borrelli described their first record, released in June, as a "mature, accomplished collection of moody songs."

But Henry and guitarist Hayden Holbert are off to college this month. Drummer Spencer Tweedy, who started the Blisters when he was seven, is about to be a high school senior. Gangs break up. And the note of time working its changes ran through Borrelli's piece, which understandably focused on Spencer, the founder, and also the son of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and Sue Miller Tweedy, cofounder of Lounge Ax. It was a long, sweet article, which noted without making too much of the fact that the Blisters played their set on the Kidzapalooza stage, which they'd outgrown, but didn't mind because—I suppose because a little revery and nostalgia were in order. After the set was over Sue Miller Tweedy gave her son a wave and said there was someone she wanted him to meet— the gynecologist who brought him into the world.

"OK, mom," said Spencer. "OK, I guess I'll say hi."

This was the second time Borrelli has written a story I felt a personal connection to. The first time was last April, when he wrote about a hot new restaurant, Fat Rice, that's run by Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Rice, whom we've known since she and my daughter Laura became friends in high school. Borrelli described her as "pleasant though she looks angry" and "reminiscent of Aubrey Plaza, the actress who plays the abrasive April Ludgate on 'Parks and Recreation.'" Roger that. And the food's as good as Borrelli said it was.

As he would in writing about the Blisters, Borrelli cooked his story long on a low flame. For all I know he's a quick study, but he doesn't write like one.

"I've seen them around for years," Borrelli wrote about Fat Rice's proprietors, and I got the impression he was familiar with the Blisters long before he decided to put them into words. This kind of writing takes space—which the Tribune, to its credit, gives him—and a lot more reporting than reporters usually think they have time or need for. I'd been aware for some time of what a good feature writer Borrelli is, of the breadth and penetration of his curiosity. But it was the story on Fat Rice, which I read in a mode of maximum judgmentality, that prompted me to send him a note saying so.

After reading about the concert that made Alison True miss my party I was about to write him another note. But I remembered I have this forum. There's no hard, fast rule against saying something nice.

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