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The New York Times Discovers The Magical Land of Chicago

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Nov 21, 2008 6:20PM

Have you ever heard a song by a band and totally been turned on to that band, rushing out to buy their record, listening to it, and then excitedly telling your friend all about your "discovery", saying, "Hey, have you ever heard of this band called The Rolling Stones??? They ROCK!" only to have your heart crushed when your friend tells you that band's old news? (Tankboy has to do it to me all the time.) We hate to be "that friend," but...


Photo by The New No. 2

Yesterday, the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny looked at the "renaissance" of Chicago in his cheekily titled article, "A New Wind Is Blowing in Chicago." One doesn't necessarily envision Zeleny and his colleagues (Maureen Dowd, perhaps?) sitting around a computer looking at pictures of Chicago with wonder and saying, "They have...buildings! And...parks!" but judging from the article it feels like they haven't actually stepped foot in Chicago in quite a while. It's all O'Hare, Obama, and Oprah to these people, isn't it?

Now, we're proud to call this city home and marvel at its wonder all the time, but things ain't all grand; our response to a lot of their points is, "Yes, but..." For instance, the article gushes about the Donald's new tower going up downtown -

A spire is finally poised to be placed atop the Trump Tower here, bringing the skyscraper to 1,361 feet, the tallest American building since the Sears Tower was built three decades ago.
- but doesn't mention the financial crapper Trump's dealing with to get things going, nor does it mention the big hole in the ground that would be the Chicago Spire. Fortunately, the Reader's Ben Joravsky has a nice post doing just that.

So, instead of piling on, I'm gonna take the Positive Patty view here. Yes, Obama's election has thrust us back in to the national spotlight, but it's not like we haven't been rocking all along.

Zeleny at least had the foresight to interview one of Chicago's musicians who's popular with the kids these days, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, who interestingly said the "city never felt the inferiority complex that outsiders spend so much time musing about." Not that Tweedy was a bad pick as a cultural representative. On the contrary, we're sure he came off much more coherent than Kanye would have. Tweedy goes on to say, “There have been all these prevailing stereotypes, and people don’t know how big and urban Chicago actually is. People think of it as being in a cornfield.” The same can be said for Chicago's music scene. With the recent success of Lupe Fiasco, Chicago's music is pushing itself even closer to the front of the stage. Local rock bands like Walter Meego, Icy Demons, Tom Schraeder, Grammar, Shellac, and Dianogah make Chicago a great place to dive into local shows. And there's plenty more where that came from. We've been the home to Lollapalooza for years. And let us not forget our pals at Pitchfork who, besides being based here, put on a pretty great annual music fest of their own. And that's just the present; it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of this city's rich musical past (Chess Records, Bo Diddley, Sam Cooke, Mavis Staples, Old Town School of Folk Music, the entire jazz scene, etc.)

And the culture doesn't stop at music. As Time Out showed us earlier this fall, Chicago is full of cultural icons. Whether it was a pair of thumbs or Studs Terkel, Chicago has constantly been involved in the conversation. And with new voices like Aleksandar Hemon, as well as culinary stars like Grant Achatz and Stephanie Izard, we're becoming even more visible. And as for all the superstars from the New York-based Saturday Night Live, including the beloved Tina Fey, where do you think many of them got their start?

As for sports, we know the Cubs' futility has been a fun story for outsiders, especially since the Times had to stop writing about the Red Sox bumbling four years ago, but this kind of raised our ire:

Chicago has long been a place that seems comfortable — or, at least, well adjusted — to losing, a place where you put your head down and shoulder through whatever hand is dealt you. (How could it be otherwise, considering all the practice that the cursed Chicago Cubs have provided over the years?)
Wait, what? Because the White Sox won the World Series more recently (2005) than either the Yankees (2000) or Mets (1986). And what about the Bulls ridiculous 90's run of six titles in eight years? Sure, there's a sense of fatalism amongst Bears fans every time they see Rex warm up on the sideline, but "comfortable with losing?" Outside of Wrigley, I'm just not sure I see anything that makes a Chicago sports fan any different. Or even Chicago residents in general. We may handle things gracefully sometimes, but no one likes to lose.

I'm going to stop there because otherwise, I would keep going and going. Rest assured, others will pick up the torch. We know this city is far from perfect. The recent budget crisis and rise in violent crime is a not-so-gentle reminder of our faults, faults that every civic institution has. Sure, we have a transit system that's on the verge of collapse and a local government run on nepotism and cronyism. But nothing riles us like the tone of borderline mock-awe in the discovery we're not all Bill Swerskies. As Whet Moser points out at the Reader, the Times always manages to be condescending when remembering we exist, while Gapers Block's Jasmine Davila sums it up nicely by saying, "Um, yeah, thanks for noticing. Again." So, thank you, New York Times, for giving us a shout out, but we're doing just fine without it, thanks.

To paraphrase LL Cool J, don't call it a comeback; we've been here for years.