The troublesome formality of winning the mayoral election all wrapped up, Rahm Emanuel is in the midst of a mini-PR campaign to assure his hipness in certain quarters of Chicago, try to show he has a sense of humor, and possibly silence criticisms that he’ll care more about corporate monopolies than artistic communities.
The summit with @MayorEmanuel Tweeter Dan Sinker during evening drive time on WLS Wednesday was the most-hyped initiative in this regard, but slightly more revelatory for the music and arts scenes was a half-hour talk with the always jovial and highly-caffeinated XRT morning host Lin Brehmer and his sharp and diligent news anchor Mary Dixon that aired the same day. Part of the station’s silly “Chicago Day” celebration, it played in pieces during the morning show, was repeated in its entirety Wednesday evening, and now is available as a stream online.
“It’s kind of like why you run for mayor—so you can do this interview,” Emanuel says at the start.
After some jokey introductory chatter about his residency battle, Dixon asks a good question: “You’ve been busy dealing with the residency challenge, running a political campaign, winning an election, and now you’re setting up an administration…”
“But I found time for WXRT,” Emanuel says, laughing.
“Why are you here?” Dixon asks.
“It’s a question I asked on the way over,” Emanuel says, laughing again. “But I’m here first of all because it’s an institution in the city of Chicago. I love your radio station.”
The mayor-elect proceeds to tell the story of how he and his brothers would fight with their dad whenever they were in the car about whether the station should be tuned to XRT or “the classical station.”
“What is it about Chicago that draws you back here?” Brehmer asks.
Not surprisingly, our next mayor loves this city. “I think Chicago not only is the center of the country, it’s the center of the world.” And he’s ready to face the challenges here—like making life better and safer for the students at a South Side school he just visited, “where these kids were doing their rap poem.”
“What were your places to hide out in the early ’80s—night clubs, rock concerts, places like that?” Brehmer asks. “Where would you find a Rahm Emanuel on a Friday night with his friends in 1983, 1984?”
“I can’t remember… Let’s not talk about why!” Emanuel jokes. “This is a little later than the ’80s, [but] my general election in 2002, I won the primary, and my [party] was at Schubas Lounge. … Aragon! Here’s my highlight of my life: It’s Yom Kippur, we break the fast and rush over to the Aragon [for the] Rolling Stones. I’m now reading Life by Keith Richards. … Talk about a guy with nine lives—right there, man.”
The mayor-elect then has a chance to play one of his favorite rock songs: “Tonight, Tonight,” which, if you’ve gotta play the Smashing Pumpkins, certainly is a savvy choice, with its swelling, uplifting choruses, its profession of love for “the city by the lake,” and its admonition to “believe, believe in me.”
Returning to the conversation midstream after the tune, Emanuel is heard saying he “saw Laurie Anderson at the Vic, too. That was like ’06.”
“What a memory,” Brehmer gushes.
“Don’t tell the grand jury,” Emanuel jokes.
“I love mayor-elect humor,” Brehmer cracks. “There’s nothing like it.”
Then Dixon asks a million-dollar question: “You’ve talked about investing energy into neighborhood artistic and music scenes the way the city has already invested in the downtown theater district, which has been successful. How are you going to do that?”
“I don’t know; it’s just good rhetoric,” Emanuel jokes.
“No. Talk about food deserts… Over the last five months, I was in a cultural desert, [while] running [for mayor]. So I went to the Old Town School of Folk Music Friday night… Saturday night I went to the Wit to see a wonderful play about Chicago, and Sunday night I went downtown and saw David Gray, who I saw at the Riviera, in either 2000 or 1999.
“Now, I believe we have great institutions. We have a downtown theater district. Should there be an uptown music district, given our history with labels and our club scene, which truly is unique around the country?
“Now, a little piece of history, and I’ll reveal it here on WXRT,” Emanuel continues. “When we were living in the city growing up, my mother had started a club called the Daisy Patch. I was young then, but it was a club for up-and-coming aspiring bands. You walk in, there was bar, then you went down a hallway where the bands were playing and dancing.”
“Not that kind of thing,” Emanuel says. “But on a serious note, the Uptown area, I think you could anchor a lot of communities through our theater, our music.”
Here, the conversation veers toward the inane, including a lot of chatter about the Emanuel family fondness for Scrabble. Dixon tries to steer things back to more serious turf by asking about Emanuel rival Ed Burke (the mayor-elect is willing to work with anyone) and the President (“We are friends and we talk with some frequency”).
And who will play at the new mayor’s inauguration?
“How about this? When we decide on all this, I’ll say it on this show,” Emanuel promises. “You know this: You know a lot of the music I like, and that should be guidance enough. Twenty-four-hour jam fest right here in Chicago, everybody I’ve ever wanted to hear! You have to like my music!”
Emanuel is cracking himself up with this notion. Then he showers some love on Jeff Tweedy and Wilco before “I’m a Wheel” plays him out.
“Remember the concerts he did at the Riv, four nights in a row, all of his albums? [I attended] three of the four!” Asked how he has time for such indulgence in the arts, Emanuel says, “Don’t sleep.”
“He [Tweedy] also played a campaign stop for you, and he is not the sort of guy that just does that stuff because somebody asks him,” Brehmer notes.
“He loves his city, his music is beautiful, and I really do think he is one of the great artists in the United States [or] in the world,” Emanuel says. “His music is powerful, really incredible, and his words are great.”
And that is that.
Without slighting Dixon—who had to consider time constraints, XRT’s status as a music not news station, and letting Brehmer talk, since it is his show—the list of important or just plain interesting questions that went unasked and unanswered regarding the new mayor, music, and Chicago is a long one. This blog has several times listed some of its queries, and these include:
How exactly, Mr. Mayor, will the “independent negotiator” you’ve promised work when dealing with issues regarding Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza, given that you accepted campaign contributions from those corporations and your brother is on the board of directors of one and his agency co-owns the other?
What do you think should happen with the Northerly Island concert venue, which Ticketmaster/Live Nation is bidding on?
Do you think Chicago should re-examine its long-term deal with Lollapalooza to assure that the city is earning all that it should? And do you think it is unfairly competing with local clubs and promoters, an issue that the state Attorney General is investigating?
What do you intend to do with the seven city music festivals and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events?
Can you tell us exactly what you envision for an Uptown Music District, and will you work to help Jam Productions find funding to renovate the Uptown Theatre?
How, specifically, can city government better interact with the music and arts communities after years of abuse from the Daley administration?
And: Would you consider establishing a Mayor’s Music Office and an advisory panel on music and the arts?
Emanuel campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt still has not responded to this reporter’s several requests for comment on these issues, dating back to Feb. 7. Amount of time Rahm has been ignoring questions from this blog about music and his ties to the corporate concert industry:
Photos by Nate Azark/WXRT
Eariler reports in this blog about Rahm Emanuel and music and the arts: