Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Takin' It to the Streets

My 14-year-old daughter still wonders why her old man -- a cranky, gray-haired lawyer -- enjoys spending the occasional Saturday or Sunday morning busking on the streets of Chicago. I do it, I tell her, because I enjoy making music, meeting interesting people, and regularly stumbling into situations that ultimately make for great stories. I don't have a head of hair like I did 25 years ago, when I often played music on the corner of Belmont and Broadway, but my voice and my guitar playing have improved over time.

Chopping changes on a busy Chicago corner in 1990

So, too, have my busking-related stories.

It was just last year, for example, while playing my guitar and singing on a lovely spring afternoon near the corner of Michigan and Erie, that I ended up lecturing -- guitar in hand, mind you -- a group of unsuspecting Northwestern University law students, who almost certainly had me pegged as a broken-down, peripatetic minstrel, hustling for lunch money on the Magnificent Mile.

My current musical antics now have me following in the footsteps of my oldest daughter (now almost 25), who, as a high school student, acted and sang in The Annoyance Theatre's 2010 production of "40 Whacks," a dark musical comedy about the Lizzie Borden axe murders. When your high school kid lands a role in an Annoyance production, rest assured yours is a twisted kid. And I, of course, wouldn't have it any other way.

A young Chelsea Farmer, as Bridget, the Bordens' Irish maid

Which is why I, the equally twisted father, was thrilled, some six years later, to end up playing and singing on the Annoyance stage. And the only reason it happened was because I continued hitting the streets with my guitar.

Flash back to September 18. I was playing music outdoors in Lincoln Square. At some point during my roughly two-hour set, I sang "Trump's America," a cautionary tale I'd written and recorded about Donald J. Trump back in March. A couple of passersby introduced themselves and told me how much they enjoyed the song. Those folks were Mick Napier, founder and artistic director of The Annoyance, and Jennifer Estlin, actress and executive director of that same Chicago comedy institution. Mick also told me that he'd just opened a new show at The Annoyance. The show, he said, was called "Fuck Trump: A Collection of Songs to Demonstrate What a Horrible Person Donald Trump Is."

I thanked both Mick and Jennifer for their kind words, and then I told them that I had an Annoyance connection. I was Chelsea Farmer's dad.

They laughed, said a lot of nice things about my kid, and we exchanged contact information. We also talked generally about finding a time for me to play my song during the new Annoyance show.

A few weeks later, I wrote a second Trump tune, "Tic Tac Trump." With the second song in the can, I connected, via email, with Mick and Jennifer, and we nailed down a time for me to play some music in their show.

And since my buddy Steve Doyle played outstanding electric guitar on each of my Trump tunes, I made sure that I would hit the Annoyance stage on a night that he was able to join me. I also know that Steve is good friends with (and an occasional bandmate of) Lisa McQueen, music director at The Annoyance. And to demonstrate just how small the world is, my friend Al Rose, a great Chicago singer-songwriter who also works regularly with our mutual buddy Steve Doyle in his own first-rate band, not only contributed songs to "Fuck Trump," but is also a member of the show's cast.

Having worked out the scheduling details with the powers-that-be, I first hit the stage with Steve last Friday night to perform "Tic Tac Trump" at the end of the show. It was a blast. We did it again on Monday night, and that night Steve was also able to sit in on the songs that Al sings during the show.

This Friday night, which could possibly turn out to be Night Three of my four-year membership in the Loyal Opposition, I will be filling in for Al, who, along with Steve, will be opening for David Bromberg at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

What this means for me is that I'll kick off the Annoyance show on what I assume will be its final night. Al ordinarily does the first song of the show. This weekend, however, that task will fall to me. After the opening number, I'll obviously race back to the green room for some cold cuts and amphetamines while regrouping for my next song 15 minutes later.

Come Monday, I'll ditch my guitar for a few days, don a suit and tie, and resume a bench trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Life is for living, my friends, and not even a Trump presidency will change that.

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