Saturday, January 26, 2013

Muddy Waters, Chicago Pride, And The History Of Rock ’N Roll

Around here, we like to think of Chicago as the home of the blues. In fact, the blues originated in the Mississippi delta and then moved north to places like Memphis, St. Louis, and Chicago. Nonetheless, there is something unique about the electrified sound that came out of Chicago in the 1940s and ’50s. It was rougher, louder, meaner, and whole lot grittier than other flavors of the blues. Chicago was, after all, the musical home of Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Houndog Taylor, and Willie Dixon.
And then there was McKinley Morganfield. You know him as Muddy “Mississippi” Waters, and he might have been the most influential practitioner of art form that made Chicago famous. So influential, the Rolling Stones took their name from one of his songs. So influential, the best known rock music publication of all time followed suit:
“You’re probably wondering what we are trying to do,” founder, editor and publisher Jann Wenner wrote in the first [Rolling Stone] editor’s note [in November 1967]. “It’s hard to say: sort of a magazine and sort of a newspaper. The name of it is Rolling Stone, which comes from an old saying: ‘A Rolling Stone gathers no moss.’ Muddy Waters used the name for a song he wrote; The Rolling Stones took their name from Muddy’s song, and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was the title of Bob Dylan’s first rock and roll record.”
 Growing up in the shadows of the city in the ’60s and ’70s, there wasn’t a lot to be proud of. The Bears won the NFL championship game in 1963, before the advent of the Super Bowl, but it would be 23 years before they won another title. Likewise, it would take the Blackhawks another 49 years to repeat their 1961 Stanley Cup championship.
And as for Chicago baseball. Well. As much as it might sound like the lyric of an old blues standard, it really wasn’t the fault of that black cat:
The Cubs just flat-out collapsed.
We had decades of sports futility. We had the 1968 Democratic National Convention. We had among the most corrupt politicians in the country. Our court system was so dirty, it took a massive federal sting – “Operation Greylord” – to restore any semblance of confidence in it.
But we had Muddy Waters. Muddy Waters was Stan Mikita and Gale Sayers and Ernie Banks rolled into one. He was the guy who gave the biggest rock ’n roll band in the world its name; the guy Mick and Keith came to see when they were in town. He was the guy who influenced a generation of rock musicians (including Led Zeppelin, who got sued for being a little too influenced by Muddy’s “You Need Love”). When our politicians went to jail and our teams choked or dwelled in cellars, there was always Muddy Waters. The source of eternal civic pride for any true Chicagoan.
So it’s painful, to say the least, to read this (via WBEZ):
An historic North Kenwood home where legendary bluesman Muddy Waters once lived — and jammed — is the subject of demolition order now being sought by the city’s buildings department.
The 120-year-old weathered and boarded-up two-flat, 4339 S. Lake Park Ave, has been vacant for years and its owner has been cited about the structure’s condition, Department of Buildings spokesperson Susan Massel said.
Inspectors found the building open last November and the dwelling has been the subject of complaints to the city’s 311 non-emergency number as far back as 2002, she said.
Earlier this week, the city affixed a red “X” to the building’s fa├žade — a signal to first-responders that the home is structurally unsound. Although the building department is seeking a court order to get a permit to demolish the building, Massel said the agency would rather have the owner take better care of the property. A court date has not yet been set.
“We want compliance,: she said. “Demo is not imminent.”
Another factor: The home sits in a landmark district, which would require permission from the city’s landmarks commission to demolish the home if the building department wins in court.
Obviously, it’s too early to tell how this will play out. I can tell you from past experience that the city usually pursues internal administrative remedies to get building owners to bring dilapidated buildings into code compliance, and only goes to court to seek demolition if the administrative process is unsuccessful. Moreover, the story has gotten some attention here in the past week, and not just from our NPR affiliate. The Chicago Tribune reported the story yesterday. So Muddy’s home may yet be saved.
But all that aside, I have to say: If nobody rescues the home and the city ultimately tears it down, many of us who lived through darker times around here will die just a little inside. 

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