Thursday, March 16, 2006

Elgin -- punk rock capital?

Music is a key part of what makes a place authentic, in effect providing a sound or 'audio identity.' - Richard Florida (Rise of the Creative Class)
Several weeks ago, somebody added Alkaline Trio to the list of notable Elginites on Wikipedia. I'd never heard of Alkaline Trio, so I clicked on the link. It was a stargate to another world.

I've talked about Richard Florida's ideas about the creative class before. I agree with his basic idea that creativity generates economic activity, and that creativity is multidimensional, multidisciplinary, multi-etc. It thrives in a diverse environment where different forms of creativity--artistic, technological, musical--find free expression. If a city has a music scene, that kicks it up a notch on the creativity scale.

So imagine my excitement when I follow the Alkaline Trio link and discover a rock band. Could it be true? A music scene? A music legacy? In Elgin? I was both skeptical and hopeful as I plunged into Googling, exploration and discovery.

As a mostly-classical music listener, I never knew much about rock music, certainly not punk rock. This really was another world. Everything was new to me. In my quest to discover whether Elgin indeed had a creative legacy, I learned about and listened to the music of bands with names like Slapstick, the Smoking Popes, and Colossal. I heard about a place called Third Floor. And I pictured the Wonderland Ballroom blazing with bouncing heads and ringing with rock 'n roll.

I learned something profoundly important to the idea of Elgin as a creative city: Elgin was a rock music center.

This wasn't decades ago. This wasn't part of an irrecoverable past. This was in the 1990s. A while ago, yes, but recent enough that the guys who made this scene are still touring and playing music, and perhaps willing to come home for a reunion.

However briefly this scene may have lasted, its legacy has endured. The preeminent Elgin band Slapstick, often prefaced with the epithet "legendary" (as in "the legendary Slapstick") spawned a huge family of bands. Vagrant Records's Alkaline Trio is one of them. The Lawrence Arms is another. While the Smoking Popes, also a part of the Elgin scene, went on to a record deal with Capitol Records, a tour with Morrissey, and an MTV video before they broke up when Josh Caterer became born again.

As you know, the Smoking Popes got back together this year for their first tour in 7 years. This, along with talk of a Smashing Pumpkins revival has had some wondering if 2006 would be the "ultimate reunion year for early '90s Chicago rockers."

What I'm wondering is how such a reunion year can be complete without Slapstick's 10th-year reunion (in Elgin, of course). They broke up in 1996, so this year would be perfect. I don't know when Festival Park is scheduled to be completed, but maybe this is the way to open it.

Think: Elgin Punk Festival.

Imagine: The Smoking Popes and the entire Slapstick family (Alkaline Trio, Lawrence Arms, Duvall, Colossal, etc).

The crowd would be enormous.

We should pursue this--to honor our own music legacy and assert our vitality as a creative center.


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