Browsing articles in "Chicago"
Feb 9, 2012

City of the Big Shoulders

I went to New York City last week.

I didn’t like it.

To be fair, I hardly saw the place. I was there for a conference for work, so most of my time was spent at my hotel, attending conference sessions.

New York was absolutely nothing like a Doris Day movie, and it made me quite crabby.

I did notice one major thing while I was there, though.

I noticed that I really like Chicago.

So, as a small celebration of the city that I love, I thought I’d share a little homage to the city that I love best.

Whenever Chicago comes up in popular culture, one of two songs is chosen as the sound track, either Frank Sinatra singing “My Kind of Town“, or [someone] singing “Sweet Home Chicago“. Those are great songs. I’m not saying they’re not. I’m glad they exist. Etc. But do you know what? They weren’t written by Chicagoians. It was some guy from New York and another guy from Mississippi. I’m offended. Don’t you think if we (I’m talking to Chicagoians now) are going to be represented by an artistic work, it should at least be written by Chicagoians?

I know. I’m right.

So, I would like to present to you my favorite short piece of literature about Chicago. It’s not like it’s terribly obscure or anything. I just don’t think it gets the attention it deserves. Instead of copying and pasting the whole thing into my blog post, which smells a lot like stealing, I’m going to show you this video:

Vincent Price reads “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg. I know. Vincent Price. Neat.

You’ve probably heard it before. We’re pretty mainstream here at Staircase Wit the Blog. It’s “Chicago”, by Carl Sandburg, who was born in the suburbs and lived in the city as an adult. Don’t you just like it? It gives me just exactly the feeling I have when I step off the train at LaSalle and Jackson. The city has a rhythm that the first two songs just don’t capture. There is a heartbeat and a dichotomy that “that toddelin’ town” can’t explain. That’s why I like how Vincent Price reads the poem. At first I thought it might be sacrilegious to have a St. Louisian read it, but he was the only one on the whole of YouTube who didn’t read it like capital-P Poem. He reads it like he is telling you that Chicago is proud to be Hog Butcher, Freight Handler, Stacker of Wheat…

I love this poem.

Sure, Chicago is flawed. Sure, we have more corruption in our little finger than Michigan has in their whole mitten. But “[c]ome and show me another city with lifted head singing, so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.”

This post is getting sort of long and I haven’t even showed you the thing I wanted to show you.

Here. Go look at this picture of a baby otter and come back refreshed. I will eat chocolate-covered soybeans and re-read my poem and we’ll continue on when you’re ottered and ready.

Ready? Ok.

Now, here is the Thing that I Wanted to Show You. It’s a local artist. His name is Meng Yang. He has a store called Know Your Flag, which is full of Chicago-inspired art work. I met him at the Renegade Craft Fair last summer. I was looking for a particular Chicago-themed poster and thought it might come from his booth, which was full of Chicago-themed art, so I stopped by to ask him if he knew anything about it. The conversation went sort of like this:

Me: Do you have this poster?

Him: No. I bet lots of Renegade sellers have Chicago-themed art that they made just for this fair. I try to make Chicago-themed art that’s a little more meaningful and tied to the spirit of the city itself instead of just screen-printing the flag onto a t-shirt and calling it a day.

Me: How many children do you want?

Here is what was so exciting: his booth was full of posters based on the Sandburg poem.

I know. I freaked out. I mostly just looked at them all and flapped my hands and embarrassed Long-suffering Lorraine who was with me.

Here is my favorite:


It’s perfect, really. It is just exactly how I see Chicago. Stormy, husky, brawling. Can’t you just see the “City of Big Shoulders” embodied in the Sears Tower?

He has lots more, too: Player with Railroads, Stacker of Wheat, Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker. He has a series on Chicago neighborhoods, and one on each of the stars in the Chicago flag. There’s also one that I love on “Da Good” and “Da Bad” of Richard M. Daley’s rein. (In case you were wondering, I own this t-shirt, only girl-shaped.)

There was one poster that completely stumped me:

Me: I know that one. That’s the statue from the first World’s Fair.

Him: No, actually, that’s Miss Chicago. She was chosen to be the emblem of the city after the Chicago Fire, and she says “I Will” because the city vowed to rebuild and be better after the devastation.

Me: So do you want some sort of dowry agreement?

Let’s see. We’ve covered how I didn’t like New York, how Doris Day has let me down, how local people should sing songs about things which are local to them, how Vincent Price should read more poetry, how Carl Sandburg wrote my favorite poem about Chicago, how I make a fool of myself in public, and how people make amazing art about things they love. Oh, and how I love Chicago. I think that’s about all I wanted to do today.

By the way, this is a close runner-up to my favorite song/poem/thing about Chicago, but it’s a little newer and therefore not canonical.

Yup, I think that’s all.