When I Look At The Stars
Growing up in suburban Chicago, a field trip to the Adler Planetarium was a special occasion.
The Adler was built in 1930 by concert violinist turned Sears Roebuck & Co. VP Max Adler. It was the first planetarium built in the Western Hemisphere, and is the oldest in existence today. Its Zeiss projector reproduces the movement of every aspect of the night sky. It’s spectacular. As is the building. Viewed across the bobbing masts of Burnham Harbor from Grant Park’s Buckingham Fountain, it’s copper dome — nearly half a mile into Lake Michigan — floats above the waves.
Like a lot of kids, I had a thing for stars. Still do. I’m not even sure why. Maybe because they broke the night. Or because they provide direction. Either way, I distinctly recall visiting the place when I was nine-years-old. Mostly, I remember the gift shop. And the blinding lake-effect storm that nearly stranded us in our yellow school busses. Back home in Oak Park, nary a flake had fallen.
Years later, watching Sam Jones’ Wilco documentary, “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” I smiled as the band walked along the sea wall there, the impressive Windy City skyline glimmering across the waves.
It’s a magical place.
In fact — for me — the city of Chicago is a magical place. The best, most-innocent years of my life were spent here.
And so it was with great enthusiasm that I returned this weekend. And what a weekend.
MTV News was in town to cover Lollapalooza. Our coverage plan was vast: articles, video, and photos for MTVNews.com. Plus, we were seeding our new user-generated concert site, You R Here. In three days, we produced thirty news hits, two dozen blog entries, thirteen interviews, and tons of photos. Moreover, we began growing our “army of correspondents” by soliciting and then airing fan photos and videos.
Our media tent was a few hundred feet off the main (AT&T) stage, and within earshot of another (My Space). Accordingly, we heard dozens of performances, from The Hold Steady to Silverchair to Lupe Fiasco and Pearl Jam. Armed with a half-dozen PowerBooks, digital cameras, and Blackberry Curves, we covered the festival from every angle: from the food courts to the side stages and port-a-johns.
Periodically, performers would blow through the media area: Perry Farrell, Pete Yorn, ?estlove, Interpol. No one was more impressive, though, than Patti Smith. In her ratty black jeans, a white shirt, black vest and floppy hat, she looked more Rimbaud than REM. Though her presence at this most-heavily branded event was confounding, she looked comfortable, confident, and cool.
By the end of each day, I was shredded. So shredded that, for example, I literally bumped into Amy Winehouse in the elevator of our hotel and didn’t even recognize her.
Despite all of the music and musicians, though, I didn’t really find myself very moved. The whole thing felt too ADD, too non-committal. None of the performers seemed enthused. And no one was really singing.
Early this afternoon, though, my cousin Andrew and I checked out his pals The 1900s. “Good music,” I wrote on my You R Here entry, “is like a butterfly here. Look for it and it eludes you. Don’t, and it lands on your shoulder. The 1900s – currently playing it in front of me on the Citi Stage — are just that. Their slightly-retro, uber-melodic, and straight-up adorable rock is the best surprise of my weekend thus far.”
As I watched the band — imagine The B-52s crossed with Lynard Skynard and Spoon — perform with rapid enthusiasm, I felt a smile rise from my toes. Soon enough, I was bobbing along, desperate to download their new album, Cold & Kind. And soon enough, I was desperate to get home to my guitar.
Truth be told, Lollapalooza mostly bummed me out. With it’s branded stages, four dollar water, and sprawling, anonymous lawns, it was the converse of everything I’ve known about rock ‘n roll since I was twenty-years-old: me, my friends, and their friends, bouncing around a dark, smoky room illuminated only by the whites each other’s eyes, and the sound of each other’s voices.
While the Lollapalooza Nation still slept yesterday morning, I ran all the way out to the planetarium. Sitting there a sun, the skyline stretched out before me, I was struck by the music made by the morning itself: wind, waves, birds. And like the butterfly that actually landed on the shoulder of the woman in front of me as The 1900s played, I was reminded again that melody and harmony and rhythm is everywhere in life. You just have to be open to it, and listen for it, and hear it when it whispers in your ear.