Chicago blues

Chicago is a wonderful town. I just drove in from the suburbs, where the Historical Novel Society conference was held, and am looking down on Lakeshore Drive from a height of about 300 ft, watching the sun set over Lake Michigan.

The conference itself was interesting, it was surprising for me that the vast majority of writers (and readers) are women, and I learned a lot. Sex was a prominent feature of the discussions, which was to say the least a curiosity. I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I sat in a room full of highly respectable ladies hell-bent on discussing the finer points of writing about orgasm. How different from the discussions at the science conferences I attend. Although a story told by a Dutch colleague did come to mind, of a diagram shown in a slide during a talk on plant physiology. By all accounts, the gigantically projected image bore a striking resemblance to a vagina, complete with labia and clitoris, much to the satisfaction of the audience and the puzzlement of the oblivious male presenter.

The conference was a new experience for me, as you know, and I felt a great empathy with the many people who have become unemployed, and search for or secure jobs in a totally new field. I was in the unusual situation of not knowing anyone, and had to tread water vigorously to avoid sinking out of my depth. The respect I already had for those who are rebuilding their lives in these hard times increased tenfold. And it reminded me of what young scientists go through when they start up the ladder. It’s been almost 30 years, and I’d lost perspective. Good to have it back. Humility applied with proportionate force is always a strength rather than a weakness.

I’m driving a Prius, which is a curious machine, I keep thinking I’m driving one of the old UK electric milk floats, silent but deadly. And it keeps speaking to me about kilowatts, so I don’t know if I’m driving a car or boiling the kettle. But true to America’s wonders, the hybrid only pays half-price for valet parking in the hotel.

Since I am more caught up with marine activities, it would be unlikely to find myself in Chicago on business, which makes me wonder how many great inland cities I don’t know. Although Lake Michigan looks like an ocean from here. Then of course there’s the music, which for me is a godsend. The guy who helped me with my bags plays trombone, and I popped into Buddy Guy’s and found a blues band rocking the place. On a Sunday. At 4pm. Siesta time the world over!

Buddy’s is at Wabash and 8th, and as you walk south from the Chicago River, past Macy’s and the like, the landscape changes from ritzy white to something altogether different in about a block. I was expecting the club to be more swanky, but it’s just what a blues bar should be. No reservations, music good and loud, no one cares if you go in and just listen, they know that in a while the thirst will come. And lots of minor chords.

John Lee Hooker - Guitar

John Lee Hooker - Guitar

… Somehow I knew this story couldn’t end here. I found myself walking south on Wabash around 10 O’Clock last night, heading for the blues. Subconsciously, I knew it might well happen so I had taken cash only, no passport, no cards. That whole area seemed run down but safe. Still, things can change in the small hours. No crowd at the door, fifteen bucks to get in.

The band started at half past. Lil’Ed and the Blues Imperials. I’d never heard of them, have you? Two white guys and two black guys, the white guy kicked it off and played a couple of amazing songs, clearly the man in charge. Of course I’d forgotten the old blues move of warming up the main act. Lil’Ed plays slide, and I never heard anything that made me want to give up guitar so fast. Best gig I ever saw in my life. Period.

This man is straight out of another generation of blues, which makes it even stranger that I’d never heard of him – he was born in 1955. Plenty to see on YouTube, but watching the band live in a small club is breathtaking. Funny too, good music should always bring a smile to your face, but watching Ed sing “Check my my baby’s oil” (someone bin stickin’ their dipstick in her oilpan) is downright hilarious.

I only made it back to the tony side of town around 2.30am. Walking up Wabash at that time is fairly lonely, but aside from discouraging a few anatomical propositions from lurking night people of both sexes, it was calm itself. Reminded me of my dad, who was in Tenessee in 1971, and told me that only him and black people walked. Everyone else drove. Anyhow, even if I’d been interested, I only had three bucks in my pocket. Today is starting off slow, but I doubt very much anything I do could beat what I did last night. By the way, I’m not sure I’d eat at Buddy’s, although the food might well be good. I can vouch for the whisky, though.

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One Response to “Chicago blues”

  1. Taurus Says:

    What a wonderfully vivid description! It’s so amazing to learn another side of someone through his writing.. 🙂

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