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Feature Thu Aug 27 2009
Editor's Note: Please enjoy this guest post from Chicago area-based writer, and former radio personality, James VanOsdol. He is currently seeking backers to help fund the publishing of his book about the Chicago music scene in the 1990's, Chicago Rocked.
"New York and L.A. are like the girls you want to fuck; Chicago's like the one you want to marry"
– Mat Devine, Kill Hannah
So much for spoilers. That quote is the final thought of my book, Chicago Rocked. I suppose I'm not really spoiling too much; the book technically doesn't exist yet, and there's a chance it might stay that way. More on that in a bit.
Whenever I followed a trail of empty PBR cans to Wicker Park for a local band's set in the '90s, I thought, "Someone really should write a book about this era of Chicago music. Someone should commit the stories of these amazing bands to print. Hey, wait, that someone should be me."
Why the '90s? For one, the decade fostered a sense around town that anything...anything...could happen. How else to explain the Casio-wielding, schizophrenic, headbutting. man-hulk Wesley Willis getting a record deal? Material Issue frontman Jim Ellison getting urinated on in public? Ministry's Al Jourgensen recreating Sodom and Gomorrah in a recording studio?
After playing the part of "second city" stepchild for so long, Chicago suddenly mattered to the rest of the world. Dozens of bands were courted by ponytailed major label weasels. Dozens more bands gave major labels the finger, continuing to create challenging sounds for their own art's sake (thanks, Tortoise; thanks, Steve Albini).
During the '90s, I hosted a Chicago music radio show ("The Local Music Showcase," later "Local 101") on Q101 (WKQX). Running the show was like being given an "All Access" pass to the scene — and I didn't have to blow anyone to get it. I did have to suck up to my Program Director at the time, but it's not like I felt dirty afterward.
Through the show, I got to know all the noisemakers around town; if not personally, then through their recorded music or live performances. The show gave me a foundation for the book, but the idea of actually writing it seemed fairly overwhelming. Before I totally committed myself, I solicited some band friends for feedback. "You're insane," one said. "Can you make me more famous in your version of the story?" asked another. Chicagoans are nothing, if not self-deprecating.
I started working on the book (then given the working title of Chicago Rocked) in 2005, around the same time that I was let go from radio station "The Zone" (WZZN). Perfect timing--I was suddenly free to fill my days with interviews for the book. I sat down with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio. I hung out with Ed Roeser (Urge Overkill) at the Andersonville Starbucks. I met Josh Caterer (Smoking Popes) for pizza in Des Plaines. I recorded dozens of phone interviews, transcribing everything as I went.
Envisioned as an "oral history," Chicago Rocked was originally scheduled for publication by a regional press. My relationship with the publisher ended in 2007, and I then made the decision to put the book on a shelf.
And there it stayed.
I'd spent too much time...too much energy...and in the end, I had nothing to show for it. I was disgusted with myself, and needed a break. "It's not you," I told my book, "it's me."
When I finally opened the manuscript back up, I had a minor revelation. My "oral history" method was fucked. I needed to rewrite everything, starting from the very beginning. So, one night, in the middle of the winter, I did just that. Two rewrites later, I was confident. Excited. Rocking.
If I learned one lesson from the musicians I interviewed and wrote about, it's that "D.I.Y." is the way to go. I couldn't let my enthusiasm for this book go through the soul-sucking process of searching out a literary agent. I couldn't spend years schlepping the manuscript to publishers who are losing money faster than they can pay it out. I had to take matters into my own hands.
I'd heard stories of musicians like Josh Freese and Jill Sobule turning to their fans to help fund their projects. Fans pledged contributions for projects based on specific financial tiers, each of which brought different rewards from the artist (a liner note mention or a song written about a generous benefactor, for example). Web 2.0 glossaries call the concept "crowdfunding." The word "fun" is right there in the middle of it. Count me in.
I decided to use Kickstarter.com, a website designed to help artists bankroll projects through tiered crowdfunding support. Once I got approval from the site to use it for Chicago Rocked fundraising, I panicked. "Oh shit," I thought, "I'm really going through with this. What kind of money do I actually need to make this happen?"
I considered everything, including offset printing, copy editing, indexing, mailings, legal support, ISBN, and design work. My estimate came in at a jaw-dropping $17K. The thought of asking for that kind of coin made me uncomfortable. And then I told my inner self to suck it the fuck up and start chasing down the money. Shilling for cash is a necessary evil; this book needs to be read. I worked the pledge tiers so that most everyone who kicked in would be included in the finished work. And then I took the Kickstarter page live.
All Kickstarter projects have a 90-day limit for pledges. Chicago Rocked fundraising officially began on June 17, and concludes on September 16. As I write this (8/24/09), I'm 30% to goal, with 70 backers committed to $5,086 of the full $17,000. If the goal isn't hit, nothing gets collected, and the book doesn't get published.
If Wesley Willis (bless his batshit-crazy soul) were alive today, he'd wrap this up by saying "Rock over London, Rock on Chicago...United, Fly the Friendly Skies." Then he'd give me a headbutt and make me shout "RAH!" I'm simply saying Chicago Rocked, pledge money."
Now c'mere and give me a headbutt.