Trapped again by the rain – I can’t believe the storms they have here. I’m almost sick of it all. I’m praying that there’s good weather tomorrow, but it seems that this whole outing has been plagued by rain, from the first day. We’ve been hunting for a wireless network, but there appears to be only ONE in all of Belleville that’s free, and they don’t let you use their outlets there, so my laptop effectively can’t use it.
SO, we’re waiting out the rain in a downtown parking lot in Belleville, Illinois – and I am FINALLY tired of rain.
Where do I start? Perhaps with “They may well have a perfect Life.”, or perhaps with “I think that playing three gigs in one day, perhaps, is too much.”, or maybe I could start with “So we drove up into the patio”, or perhaps even with “We may well have a perfect Life… almost” – but, instead of any of the above, I think I’ll start at the beginning, or just where we left off – and in the beginning, there was Doug…
Doug was an audience member back at CATH Inc., and someone who managed to spout all of the things that I ever wanted to hear. He was inspired by us, fired up by us, filled with wonder by us. He made me feel like we were getting someplace.
Every once in a while, someone seems to be spectacularly caught up in what we’re doing – and in this case, it just happens to be the man who came in as such a seeming cynic.
But Doug is a Believer – he’s a minister, and radiates that minister demeanor. Breakdown at CATH was delayed by conversations on spirituality and inspiration and God and obstacles, and I wish we’d had more time. I Live all day in the constant presence of so much cynicism and so much doubt and … even now, so much feeling that none of this should work, that Doug gave me a warm bath of optimistic splendour to wallow in.
But that was days ago… before the Rains.
The night after CATH, we broke camp, drove, and made camp. Granite City’s KOA welcomed us with dusty heat and columns of RVs like tanks and ranks of riled motorized infantry. After we got the tent set up, we immediately had to leave for St Louis to make it to the open stage (excuse me, Noiseday Hootenany) at Frederick’s Music Lounge.
I think that the thing I’ve Loved most about the midwest is the stories. It’s consistent that in the Midwest, we encounter the Storytellers – the people who’ve known their town for years, and who know the stories of their towns for years before THAT because of some sort of oral tradition. Somewhere approaching 35, I think Midwest Men are taken off into hidden canyons and into dying mining towns, and through complex and dangerous rituals, they are given white hair and wisdom and new vocal chords which emit rich, sonorous, rounded Midwest tones.
The host of Frederick’s Noiseday Hootenany (I just pray I’m spelling Hootenany right), Bob, was one of those storytellers, sans the hair.
It was mixed impressions right from the start. Frederick’s is eclectic to say the least – you have to ring the doorbell to get in, the ceiling fans are hung with underwear, various creatures’ heads decorate the walls (including Borgs and lawn gnomes) and the televisions are playing a collection of early 1900’s experimental silent movies, rather than football or racing.
The sound system gave us Hell, but we ended up playing a second time when it’s complexities had been further mastered, and the audience was still rather unreceptive, so it might’ve been just us.
Bob, however, was a wealth of random thoughts and knowledge. Initially, I was feeling waves of hatred for the outsiders who were complaining about monitor mixes – but very quickly, he was sitting next to me, whispering bits of trivia in my ear. Telling me about one song’s past, one player’s past, and generally giving me a running commentary of the shifting performers.
All in all, a very long night, as the talent was kind of rough, but the place itself was just so fantastic. Bob, who’s “real job” is that of photographer, was telling me about the Fred who initially created the paradoxical palace that is the music lounge…
About ten years ago now, Fred died of cancer – and cancer gives lots of warning, generally. Fred was showman – his personality was apparently perfectly captured by his creation – and had been selling tickets to his own funeral. Bob’s eyes gleam as he intimates the bar’s past to me – there’s Love for the long-gone Fred here…
And Bob was asked to do Fred’s “Death Portrait” – a beautiful, grainy, high contrast, Johnny Cashe-esque photograph which now hangs behind the bar. There was a whole lot of discount involved (Fred was adamant that a man shouldn’t be charged too much in his dying moments?) and Bob was proud of the final piece.
Fred immediately went to Kinko’s and had the thing made into postcards, and sold them to any and all buyers. Bob says that that’s just the sort of man Fred was.
I’m thinking the Cahokia Mounds, or Woodhenge, perhaps, could be one of the places that the aforementioned rituals take place. Beautiful wildflowers – Heather swore off stairs after the climb.
That night we went to the Belleville Summer Solstice Singer/Songwriter Festival Pre-party at the Belleville Midtown Revue, and met lots of the local artists and local music Lovers and local people and local colour. Storytellers and artists, and Mike and Terri Isenhart who work together as tax advisors and have recently bought a night club and even more recently created the Belleville Summer Solstice Singer/Songwriter Festival. They have some things to be proud of.
We met Greg Travous, local artist and former wanderer, who looks like a reincarnated Lorne Greene as Commander Adama – down to the expressive eyberows and the hypnotic voice that he uses to tell me that Oktoberfest here has nothing to do with celebrating German heritage – that Belleville, depite it’s primarily Germanic heritage, had buried all German references during World War II and never looked back…
I’m sorry to leave Belleville. A midwest town with a slow and stalling art scene. It’s sputtering and suffering birth pangs, but I think it’s growing.
The rednecks are fighting it, of course: One of our hosts, Dan, describes having bottles thrown at him from passing pick-up trucks, and his son, Clay has been smacked in the back of the head by guys in the back of OTHER pick-ups. Yet ANOTHER pick-up drove up to where a mural was painted, and laughed at the … waitaminute… male and female couple… calling them “faggots”. Sigh.
Everytime we told people where we were going, the response was the same… “Belleville? Belleville, Illinois? I’m sorry.” or “Watch our for the cops.” When we arrived there and passed these sentiments along, the response was … “well, maybe if you’re black”.
The town certainly has some problems, but we managed to only get second-hand knowledge of the underbelly of the place. It didn’t ruin our Love of the town. Houses are cheap, the artists are raising themselves slowly, and you can at least recognize the Enemy by that flatbed behind the engine.
The people who have FOUND something to do with their Lives, however, have really been creating something good here. Greg, the Adama-esque Storyteller I’ve mentioned, is creating an arts council, and is making headway with art shows that don’t include
flowers or ducks. Mike and Terri Isenhart have used the revenue from their successful tax accountancy business to create the Midtown Revue nightclub, which is a new home for “adult theatre” and independant playwrights to strut their creations. Oh, and not to mention creating the Belleville Summer Solstice Dan and Amy are an artistic couple who have purchased a building and created not only a spectacular Living space for themselves, but a slowly growing coffeehouse which I wish I could transplant back to Baltimore.
The people are friendly and unpretentious, and all in all – I regret leaving this town. I regret that it’s 833 miles from home. I could Live here.
This from an email recieved the other day… says it all, really…
“Read about your visit to Belleville. You said that we were backward. ok here, just because we drive pickups doesnt mean that we are dumb. Mine cost almost thirty thousand dollars. Have you seen that fruity mural. One of the reason many of us are against the arts is that it is geared towards the queers. Ducks Unlimited (I’m a proud lifetimer)puts on an art show here once a year and their is not just good art but great art! The decoys at the gun show can be called almost real. This takes a great sculpter.The police hassle only criminals here . If they don’t like it they should move to criminal land . Look at Baltimore, MARYland . Do I need more proof? I don’t think so.
Loved your music though, along with Duck Tape “
SpiralBridge’s Makeready Press Gallery. Mostly posters and art deco on the interior, but there were a couple of really beautiful things hidden in niches here and there.
back at SpiralBridge, a beautiful tunnel of people and poetry and light.