Chicago, September 25th 2014
Why do we wave to people on boats? I’m sitting under a high sun by the Chicago river beginning to roast in jeans and a black shirt. I give a casual little flutter of the fingers of my right hand, my arm hanging nonchalantly across a park bench. A blonde woman in big sunglasses waves back from the pleasure cruiser slipping past my vantage point. The sun is beating at me, really hammering. A sparrow drops by for a morsel I do not have, hopping around my boots with its back to me, keeping one eye on the chance of a flung breadcrumb. I’m not in the habit of carrying breadcrumbs. I don’t need a reputation as a groomer.
This city has been the scene of much debauchery for me. Chicago was often the gig you did about a month in, when the madness descends. It’s a drinking town in the grand tradition. Nobody here looks down upon the concept of getting fucked up. Like Glasgow, it’s openly encouraged. We do a radio thing for WXRT’s web feed in the morning and I get to chat to morning host Lin Brehmer, a man I like a lot and much respect. He has the ability to broadcast in a popular mainstream format without ever sounding patronising or feeling the need to hide his intelligence. He’s someone who can have his tongue completely in his cheek and yet simultaneously be completely sincere. The fact that he has remained breakfast show host on WXRT for more than twenty years says a lot about the station and a lot about Chicago.
I continue to mooch about. I have coffee in a corner bar and watch Lazio v Udinese on a huge TV. I earwig the locals but their conversation turns to personal finances and their voices lower beyond earshot. The jukebox is incredibly loud for two thirty in the afternoon. For some reason records I loathe sound remarkably bonny in this context. God, I’d love a beer. I’d love to sit here till morning pissing my dollars over the bar. Don’t say I lack ambition.
I meet up with old ’86 compadre, Bobby to whom I will always be beholden. One of the original supporters who put us all up and put the Dels on a number of bills in his hometown of Milwaukee, Bobby is a stalwart. The first gig we did somebody was shot outside while we were onstage. We couldn’t load out the gear for all the yellow police tape. It all seemed impossibly exotic.
The dressing room area in the venue is vast and kitted out like some music executive’s loft. There are two vast rooms full of groovy furniture and even an old turntable and hefty vinyl collection which proves to be 90% piffle. This area leads into a recording studio which is all rather spiffing.
The crowd are well up for it and are in very fine spirits. They meet my miserabilism with mirth, the appropriate response and a great relief. I want people to have a good time. There is much yeeing and hahing.
At five in the morning I am awoken by demonic banging from the building site next door, echoing around the grim light well outside my window. I twist around in the bedclothes until drilling starts in earnest at eight o’clock. At eleven I meet Bobby for coffee and at noon we hook up with mutual friend, Mike, to go and see the Bowie Is exhibition at the Modern Art Museum. It’s $25 a man and proves to be a lot of old tat. Consisting mainly of mouldering stage costumes and tatty record covers, it’s a bit like a three dimensional representation of a booklet from a box set. I can’t believe this is the show so many people raved about in London and can only assume it is the scaled down version. Very, very poor. It comes across as a vacuous vanity project. And the footage of his performance in the stage version of The Elephant Man is excruciating. He seems to be channeling Norman Wisdom. The only exhibit I was interested in was a 1974 EMT synthesiser that Brian Eno (another pretentious git) had given him in 1999. A shame they didn’t let you fiddle with it. David Bowie – great records (up to ’77) but the rest is utter bollocks. As if to rub it in I spotted footage of Gary Kemp paying tribute. I noticed too that Tin Machine seemed suspiciously absent. You’d have more fun spending an hour raking through Pete Doherty’s bins. Rock stars don’t belong in museums. If they’re not onstage just look away – they’ll only embarrass you.
I manage to change rooms at the hotel and find myself on a higher floor looking out into a multi-storey carpark which is a radical improvement. I can even see a sliver of sky if I look up from a low enough angle. I figure the way to enjoy this town is to settle into a grotty bar for an evening and soak up the patter. But I’m a singer and I have a job to do.
The air con clicks on in my room and breathes its manufactured air into my face. It stirs me from a drowsy hour. Time to move again, always another show to do, new faces to search into, seeking approbation. Get on, give it out, get off. Take a bow and take your leave. Wave to the passing people. Luxury.