To the editor:
At times I fantasize about owning my own TARDIS. With this time machine I would travel back to early 20th-century Berlin, Vienna, Paris, or maybe even to the New York of the 1920s. I'd seek out those little cafes where surrealism was born and nurtured. I'd try my hand at a game of exquisite corpse with the likes of Andre Breton or Rene Magritte. I'd navigate through clouds of dense cigarette smoke to observe the early expressionists expressing over strong coffee and frisch Fruchtschnitten. I'd try to out-caffeine Kafka and Stein, and I'd have fun observing the nervous mannerisms of Hans Pfitzner or the argumentative Igor Stravinsky. I might even be stimulated to give birth to an idea or two of my own.
Upon awakening from this most recent fantasy, I found my eyes focused near the middle of the Reader article "House Blend: Will the eclectic Logan Beach Cafe change under new management?" (Our Town, January 16, 1998). "Yes," I say to myself, "it's right here! Artistic foment, originality, experimentation, and exchange of ideas are right here in Logan Square. Do I need Paris?" Upon hitting the last paragraph I'm hopeful that the cafe, which drew me to this neighborhood in the first place, might just survive after all. It might even take a new step or two.
Another such cafe, Urbus Orbis, which was larger and better known than Logan Beach, was featured recently in a front-page spread [November 21]. I read about its tale of woe and ultimate shutdown on December 31. Urbus Orbis was justly characterized as a main force in defining the Wicker Park we know today. In his regular column, the Reader's Peter Margasak has been chronicling the bumpy roads traveled by several other such places--places like Lunar Cabaret, the Bop Shop, and HotHouse. He has invited us to celebrate the survival of such places as Myopic Books, the Empty Bottle, Unity Temple (Oak Park), the Velvet Lounge, and the freshly underway series at Xoinx. Just what is surviving at these places, which are not found in tourist magazines? What is going on in these hidden jewels?
Music. Difficult music. Unpopular music. Music that sometimes doesn't work. Improvised music. Music performed by knowns and unknowns, by foreigners and locals. Music created by those with a jazz-based sensibility and by others who are grounded in the classical tradition, often working the same stage together. The music may be startling in its raw urgency, and it may be inexplicable in its apparent disconnection from traditional harmony or rhythm. Instruments may be played in a manner that suppresses their traditional voices, replacing them with noise or air sounds where pitches are expected. Audience indifference is rare.
These musicians are trying to create new sounds, new idioms. Chicago is becoming known internationally as a center for experimentation in improvised music. Some of this stems from activity at a few local universities. Much of it is born in the public places mentioned--little theaters and cafes in the neighborhoods. It is not a feature of the downtown establishments where museumlike programming predominates. Who could live without the music of Mahler or Shostakovich, which is done so well by the CSO. But Chicago is also a place for the new and untested. Like Paris and Berlin of the fin de siecle, Chicago is host to tremendous vitality and individualism in the arts.
I applaud Deirdre Guthrie for painting a vibrant picture of the Logan Beach Cafe. I appreciate the endearing way she introduced its proprietor and her staff, people who have lent such color and strong character to this haven. The real Logan Beach emerged through her words. I felt a surge of optimism when reading the words of Ari Sternberg and Nathan Ferguson, the new owners who want to expand the jazz and experimental-music offerings at this sparkling gem across the street from where I live. However, I feel that Ms. Guthrie missed a real opportunity to expand, to place "the Beach" in the context of this unheralded movement that might be creating the enduring music of today.