John Hicks

Editor’s Note: This post first appeared October 7, 2011.

I have lots of magazines lying around. They come in the mail, which is delivered by a woman in a tan Plymouth. I always wave at her, if I’m outside. Keep up the good work, Mail Lady!

My family and friends give me magazine subscriptions as gifts. It’s great. They know I am poor and shiftless and sit around gnawing on raw turnips etc. and would otherwise never encounter such.

One of these gift subscriptions is to The New Yorker. I don’t know if you’ve ever read The New Yorker, but it’s a pretty big deal. They’ve been around for a while. Keep up the good work, TNY!

I used to live in New York City about a million years ago, so I know a little something about the place. For a while there, I was a New Yorker, although I was usually on the brink of homelessness.

My friends who’d grown up in New York City thought I was fascinating. Not because of any talent I possessed, and certainly not because I had a clue about what I was doing there in the great metropolis.

I was a curiosity, a person of interest, simply because I was from the South, and not just the South, but Mississippi.

Gary Mays

I missed it. I’m an area resident and one of many fans of the English band Mumford & Sons who were clamoring for tickets to the “Gentlemen of the Road Fest” held Aug. 18, in an unlikely locale: Dixon, Ill, pop. 15,773, home to one of the state’s biggest medium security prisons and birthplace of President Ronald Reagan.

With a towering statue of Chief Black Hawk overlooking the city and river, it’s also the spot where, in 1832, President Abraham Lincoln met up with the Illinois militia at Fort Dixon to fight in the bloody Black Hawk War.

But M&S— whose “gentleman” tour included Gogol Bordello, Dawes, Abigail Washburn and other acts— had no say on this particular tour date. Dixon officials entered and won a National Trust Main Street contest to host a “major band tour of historic towns.” (No doubt it was a welcome bit of  news amid a bad municipal run: the town’s Comptroller/Treasurer, Rita Crundwell, was indicted by the feds in April for allegedly embezzling $30 to 53 million from town coffers.)

Still, they threw out the welcome mat and let the music play for Dixon, which celebrated the event with storefront murals to greet the 15,000 fans who showed and nearly doubled the town’s population.

The Grammy-winning Mumford & Sons, whose newest record, Babel, is set for release next month, are an unplugged musical and lyrical tour de force, employing acoustic instruments, mostly, to deliver body blows of resonant sound, introspection and prescient honesty.

They rose to prominence from the “west London Folk Scene” that also cultivated such like-minded bands as “Noah and the Whale.” But when M&S played with Bob Dylan at the 2010 Grammys, the world too was finally able to make the musical connection, as that first network appearance pushed sales of its debut “Sigh No More” and thrusted M&S to major global headliner.

Derek Bridges

This post first appeared April 4, 2008.

(photo credit: obLiterated)

Yesterday evening I saw a Chrysler convertible fly by on Carondolet Street with a human-sized Tweety Bird stuffed animal in the backseat. To say it was a giant Tweety would understate the case given the small stature of the Tweety Bird cartoon character to begin with, and proportionally, Tweety’s head, when scaled up like that, is like half a dozen or more human heads. So there Tweety sat in the middle of the backseat, giant head looming there. But as the car sped past, a large–not Tweety big, but bigger than a baby–Teddy Bear rolled off the trunk, flying off and finally bouncing to a stop in the middle of the street. I pulled over. Four, five cars passed, each in turn avoiding the Teddy Bear. I grabbed the Teddy Bear and found it looked almost new, not dirty at all, though it seemed to have some sort of voicemaker inside that wasn’t working or needed a new battery, but all in all, a fine Teddy Bear. It would’ve been wasteful to just leave the Teddy Bear to become just more trash at the side of the road, and certainly a child somewhere would love to have it. It wasn’t the sort of stuffed animal my daughter would like, but I took it with me, figuring I’d include it in our next Bridge House donation.

It’s been three months now since that warm night in June, when Eddie, the local gangbanger spokesman came over to have a word with us, the new neighbors; and 20 years roughly since I returned to my hometown. Always rough-and-tumble, with mobsters, criminals and grifters mixing uneasily with working class rednecks who came north a generation ago; and in-turn mixing with working class and inner-city blacks who came for the same factory jobs.

Those jobs are gone and the city, Rockford, Ill., not only has the honor of the state’s highest unemployment rate — but has now been labeled “The 9th Most Dangerous City in America” by a recent and highly publicized US Dept. of Justice report. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 152,222 people lived in Rockford in 2011.

Tom Long

I’ve wanted to write about the record The Strain by Teeth for some time now, but given the subject matter, I’ve never quite been sure how to approach it. For those who are familiar with the compelling story of John Grabski, creative force behind the short-lived duo, I certainly can do no better than what has already been written.

Through the benevolent powers of the internet, John found a community to share his story of his battle with cancer. Shortly before his death, he recorded a seven-song LP with his brother Ben and Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in Chicago. It’s an unvarnished document of his fight with cancer: the medicine and surgery, the hope and vulnerability, the struggle to make sense and learning how to deal with the limited time one has. The project adopted the motto Rock vs. Cancer; Rock Wins, which captures the spirit of the record.