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Events Wed Aug 15 2012

The Last Neutron Bomb Goes Off with a Blast!

What's going on with the literary scene this month? Last week, the beloved reading series P. Fanatics had its final show, and this weekend, punk rock reading series Neutron Bomb is following suit. Maybe it's the weather, or the shifting of seasons. "We're stopping because, at the last event, Benny said he didn't want to do it anymore, and Mike from Cal's told me that the bar is closing at the end of the summer," said "C.T." Chris Terry* one of the show's hosts. "Since the average punk band only lasts a couple years, it seemed about right."

The series got its start when three friends, all grad students in Columbia's Fiction Writing department, Chris Terry, Benny Kumming and Maggie Ritchie, decided they wanted to put together a reading series unlike any other series around town. I had a class that fall semester with Benny and remember him asking me if I knew of a place that would be good for punk bands and readers to get together. There weren't that many places in Chicago I knew that would accommodate that request. When they gave me a flyer, with the Misfits Crimson Ghost on it, I knew they were onto something. And Cal's was the best place for their series, set up for having bands, yet intimate enough for the audience to interact with readers.

The initial idea sounded part basement show, part reading in a coffee shop, with the potential to be the most DIY reading series around. They booked punk musicians and drew a crowd of zinesters, students, emerging writers, and professors from various writing programs. A band typically closed out the show, and sometimes, the musicians themselves would be featured readers.

"We chose writers whose work shares a certain immediacy or rebelliousness with punk," said Terry. "A big motivator for me has been bringing together two worlds that I love; lit and punk. The punk-to-lit crossover was made by getting zinesters to read -- getting punks to tell stories. If you've ever been on a punk tour, you know that there's a storytelling culture there. When you break a string onstage it's like, "So, you wouldn't believe what happened last night in Omaha..." and getting punk bands to be our musical guests."

And the reading did feel like a punk show. People would gather outside the bar chatting while someone would try and bum a smoke. Maybe there would be a writer, a big enough name to seem out of place (like bumping into the member of an old punk band at the Fireside back in the day). You'd say, "Isn't that," or "Why is he here?" And then you would walk in, bike messengers and regulars finishing up their drinks while the reading crowd was getting acclimated to the surroundings: the bar lined with a giant wall-sized mirror; a fish tank that may or may not have had fish in it (ever); silkscreened posters from events past; and an uncountable amount of bands' set lists taped in a patchwork on the wall closest to the "stage" (stage being a side of the bar that held PA speakers and a sound mixer). You could order an Old Style and grab a bar stool, or, if you were lucky, one of only two tables in the narrow bar just in time to see the band loading in amps, guitar cases with spray painted names stenciled on them illegibly and a drum set haphazardly carried in piece by piece (the cymbals loosely transported in a Papa John's pizza delivery warmer). And you would think, what did I get myself into?

After long the small bar would get packed and the three hosts would put down their whiskeys and beers long enough to address the crowd and introduce the readers. In one of the corners packing the space even more, you'd see Sharon A. Mooney, Terry's better half, behind a tripod filming it all for posterity. "As of now, we're just sitting on the footage," said Terry, "I'm not sure what we'll do with it."

For their finale, the setting will be no different. The lineup features readings Jim Joyce (of "Or Let It Sink" zine) teacher by day zinester by night, and Columbia graduate student and writer for, Dan Terrill. Top it off with comedy by James Cardis, and end the night with music by Krayola (featuring a reprise of Jim Joyce this time on guitar and vox).

So that's it. Right? "As it is, I wouldn't say we're hanging it up entirely," said Terry. "Benny has other obligations, but Maggie and I still want to do a similar event -- maybe under the Neutron Bomb name, maybe not. We'll need to retool a bit and, of course, find a new venue that is preferably not on the Blue Line. Take that, Logan Square." Like punk bands that run their course, give it a while and maybe we'll be witness to a reunion of sorts. Until then, the last bomb drops Saturday, Aug. 18 at Cal's Bar, 400 S. Wells St., at 7pm.

*That's his nickname, but you gotta read it like you're announcing a Saturday Night Live cast member. You know how, right?

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