The Rio Games

The city and state of Rio is a beautiful and intriguing place to be. The culture and lifestyle of Rio is unique to Brazil and everywhere else. There are common sense rules about how to live there, or survive there as a tourist, just as there are in other exotic cities and places. Rio has significant difficulties, but it would be unfair to malign it as a whole, just as it would be to look at Chicago only for its horrendous gun violence.

Nevertheless, as the NBC coverage of the Americans at the Olympics is about to end, and the USA’s mining of gold complete, it begs the question why the Olympics needed to be held there in the first place. The decline in Zika infections is probably the greatest post-Olympic benefit to Rio, because there does not seem to be any value that the Olympics have produced for Rio’s culture, economy, infrastructure, social equity, or world perception, and, certainly not for its architecture.

The International Olympic Committee, as well as their counterparts in nations around the world, perpetuates a thirst for hosting the Olympic games that etherizes away all economic common sense. In an inexplicable effort to do anything to get them, cities ignore what are their real needs to sustain and improve their urban environments. With few exceptions, the Olympics have done more to ruin host cities than to improve them.

If the Olympics are to perpetuate, they should be both economically and environmentally sustainable. Why not alternate holding the Olympics between two locations – Athens and Chamonix (the two original modern Olympic hosts, and in the case of Athens – its inventor)? All participating nations, and of course NBC, should share in building permanent facilities of great architecture, and maintaining them. It makes economic sense, environmental sense, and it would help thwart corruption, favoritism, and politics. For a change, it would be nice to focus on the sporting events of the Olympics.

Studio Playlist: May Day - Cuba!

Guajira Guantanamera              

Compay Segundo

Juana Bacallao                           

Juana Bacallao

Mambo No. 5                               

Pérez Prado 


Buena Vista Social Club

Chan Chan                                    

Compay Segundo

Quizas, Quizas (Bolero Cha)    

Ruben Gonzalez

Calzada del Cerro                       


Amor Verdandero                      

Afro Cuban All Stars

Rumba Caliente                          

Elio Revé y su Charangón

El Negro Esta Cocinando        

Los Van Van

Todo lo bonito (En Directo)   

Lazaro Valdés y Bamboleo

La Negra Tiene Tumbao        

Celia Cruz

Gozando En La Habana          

El Chacal, Charanga Habanera & David Calzado

No Vale la Pena                        

Issac Delgado

A Mis Abuelos                           

Arturo Sandoval


Danay Suárez

El Party (feat. Micha)             




Don't Unplug My Body           

Daymé Arocena

Mambo Break                          

Wichy de Vedado

Me Recordarás                        

Diana Fuentes

La Mulata Rumbera                

Roberto Carcasses

Alas Escarlatas                         

Yilian Canizares

Yemaya - Son Montuno                       

Roberto Fonseca


X Alfonso


Studio Playlist: AFRICA!

Méchant Garçon

Diblo Dibala

Toujours Oui

Diblo Dibala

Be Africa

Bibi Tanga & The Selenites


Miriam Makeba


Miriam Makeba


Miriam Makeba

Gari Good

Segun Damisa & The Afro-Beat Crusaders


Segun Damisa & The Afro-Beat Crusaders


Segun Damisa & The Afro-Beat Crusaders

African Dialects           

Peter King

It’s a Vanity 

Gabo Brown & Orchestra

Se Na Min

El Rego et ses Commandos

Crazy Afrobeat

Tony Allen

Soul Makossa

Manu Dibango

Wicked Funk 

Kwanzaa Posse

Alu Jon Jonky Jon

Fela Kuti

Chop & Quench

Fela Kuti

Eko Ile

Fela Kuti

Je’nwi Temi

Fela Kuti


Olu Dara



Home for the Holidays

Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony, in what would later become part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving in the fall of 1621 after a winter of starvation and privation. Reportedly, all of the colonists and the neighboring Native Americans shared a feast that happened to include four wild turkeys. Almost one hundred and seventy years later, George Washington proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day on November 26, 1789. It was not until the middle of the civil war that Abraham Lincoln—upon the urging of feminist, editor, and writer, Sarah J. Hale—created the national holiday of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November beginning in 1863. In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt pushed to make the third Thursday in November the official holiday, but it was in 1941 that Congress passed a joint resolution to make the fourth Thursday in November the law.

Not to be outdone by the Americans, Canadians can trace their first Thanksgiving to Martin Frobisher holding a formal Thanksgiving ceremony in Newfoundland in 1578 to celebrate surviving his voyage searching for the Northwest Passage. However, it wasn’t until almost four hundred years later in 1957 that Canadian Thanksgiving was officially declared to be the second Monday in October—coincidently, the same year that Fernand Lachance came up with the idea of poutine: "Ca va te faire une maudite poutine."

Many decades before there were parades and football games and, in fact, before there was a Macy’s or a football, there were families traveling home for the holidays. Historically, families lived closer geographically, so perhaps it was an easier trek in distance, if not in convenience of transportation.

On the first official Thanksgiving Day, ninety percent of the United States population were farmers and during the Lincoln administration, fifty-eight percent were. At the end of World War I, twenty-seven percent of Americans were still farming, and the end of World War II, that number had decreased to fifteen percent. Today, farmers represent less than 2.5% of the American population; however, there are more acres under till than ever before producing more agricultural products per acre. What began in this country as a family-based agrarian culture is now predominately a large, industrial complex.

Going to grandmother’s house by sleigh in Louisa May Alcott's time was not just a romantic plot idea for the March family of Little Women fame. In the mid-nineteenth century, it was reality. The March’s were not a farming family but they were one generation removed and lived in a town that was more rural than urban. Other realities in New England at this time also meant close philosophical ties to a community of Transcendentalists, people like Emerson and Thoreau. Mr. March, like the real life Bronson Alcott on whom he is based, was one of these enlightened, forward-thinking people. It was later in the nineteenth century that these transcendentalist ideals strongly influenced designers in the Midwest, such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, the latter also being one generation away from working the farm. In Little Women, the March sisters travel the globe—Jo goes to New York, while her sister Amy embarks on a European tour—but they always come back to the family home where their pride in the democratic ideals of independence and advancement through hard work is obvious.

Over the years, this agrarian heritage also gave families a sense of practical know-how. In learning how to construct and make things, repair and maintain them, they developed an ability to recognize quality, craftsmanship and lasting value, and established a criterion for evaluating aesthetic achievement. The further we get away from knowing how things work, and indeed, working with our hands, it seems the further we remove ourselves from appreciating craftsmanship and thoughtful endeavors in our built environment.

This year, though, I am thankful that someone still knows how to make good bourbon and author a good book.


We’re on a Mission from God

There have been plenty of movies made about Chicago, in Chicago, and around Chicago, but no feature film captures the visual and cultural essence of Chicago in 1980 better than The Blues Brothers. I was reminded of this the other night as my 17-year-old son and I watched it for the tenth time. The unimpeded view of iconic tall buildings across the cityscape made the best modern high-rises of Chicago easily recognizable (along with one in Milwaukee as seen from the bridge to nowhere in the famous car chase scene).

Thirty-two years ago Chez Paul was considered the finest restaurant in Chicago, crime was up, Jane Byrne was mayor and graft was a daily part of doing business with practically every city and county department. When John Landis, the director of The Blues Brothers, sought permission to shoot on Cook County property, he didn’t approach county officials; instead, he went to the mob. Like other American cities of a similar size, Chicago had yet to see the urban renaissance of young professionals forsaking the suburbs in droves for the urban experience, gentrifying neighborhoods that needed it as well as those that didn’t.

By the time John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, and Howlin’ Wolf had all passed, so too had Nate’s Deli, which was used as the location for the fictional Soul Café where Aretha Franklin belted out “Think” and where John Lee Hooker performed “Boom Boom” outside on Maxwell Street. In the following scene, Ray Charles performed “Shake a Tail Feather” at Ray’s Music Exchange, better known to Bronzeville residents as Shelley’s Loan and Jewelry on East 47th Street. James Brown performed at the Pilgrim Baptist Church on East 91st Street and the concert scene in Wisconsin at the Palace Hotel Ballroom with Cab Calloway was actually the South Shore Country Club in Chicago.

Today, Maxwell Street is there in name but a large percentage of the buildings have either been demolished or replaced. With few exceptions, where there were once thriving street markets, blues clubs and authentic soul food, there are now chain restaurants, sports bars and new condo developments. The bridges, roads and “L” trains that were so predominately depicted in the movie have been modernized by new train cars (and I miss the look of the old ones) and some very new stations, but not all are better.

The Chicago skyline has dramatically changed as well. The city has increased the number of tall buildings over 18 stories by tenfold in the last thirty-two years. Unfortunately, this hasn’t made it a more attractive skyline, just a bigger one. One must remember that the first skyscraper in Chicago (and thus the world) was only ten stories in height. Most buildings were only a few stories high and the vast majority of them, no matter when they were built, could not be considered good architecture—just urban infill and real estate. The difference is that this new litany of tall buildings that we see on the skyline detracts from the beauty of the skyline rather than improves it.

It’s not all bad. As the city changed so too did its politics, business investment, real estate, investment in education, and the perception of us as an urban society. There have been wonderful improvements made to the built environment in Chicago in the last three decades. To name just a few of the more thoughtful and meaningful building projects, we have seen countless preservation initiatives, sections of Millennium Park, the Gary Comer Youth Center, the Buckingham Fountain visitor pavilions and the tree planting of the boulevards and Lake Shore Drive. It is too bad the same skill and thoughtfulness was not instilled in many of the new tall building developments that now obstruct our skyline.

The plot of The Blues Brothers was to raise money to save the Catholic orphanage in which they grew up from tax foreclosure. The irony of the plot is that it was Cook County foreclosing on the Catholic Church and as an organized religion the Catholic Archdiocese does not pay property taxes.

In today’s election, once again we are being told how horrible our tax situation is and that we need to rely more on private enterprise and business expertise to save us from the horrible mistakes of government. It is an indisputable fact that we are paying less tax as a percentage of income than we were thirty years ago and seeing less done with our money domestically with what tax revenue we do have. Regardless of what we pay in taxes, we should be asking ourselves what our government is supposed to do for us. Shouldn’t our expectation of the government be to provide a physical infrastructure on which we base the way we live in good times or bad?

The government gave the automobile manufacturers paved highways, oil companies subsidies for exploration, and the western states power and water. Unfortunately, the projects of this great recession haven’t come close to those of the Great Depression in either scope or quality; and in the private sector, big building projects have done little for our skyline, culture, or sense of identity unlike, say, Rockefeller Center in New York in 1933. The private sector has not stepped up to the plate when the government has pulled back. In fact, more than ever, large corporations are looking for government subsidies to determine their geography. And, unfortunately, our government leadership has not effectively made the case as to why we should be investing in our infrastructure like no other time before.

Today, as we elect a president and hundreds of federal representatives, what is it that we seek from government? It seems the best investment our government can make is to develop and maintain a path that can bring neighbors together, helping to create both a political and physical environment that promotes interaction and a healthy exchange of ideas as well as a vibrant and divergent commerce. That is difficult to do when the path you use to seek out your neighbor is a muddy rut. Perhaps it is again a time to ask ourselves what it is that we can do for our country.


Studio Playlist: Halloween

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

Johann Sebastian Bach

Funeral March of a Marionette

Charles Gounod

Theme from Psycho

Bernard Herrmann

Tubular Bells

Mike Oldfield


Michael Jackson

Werewolves of London

Warren Zevon

Black Magic Woman




Burnin’ Hell

John Lee Hooker

I Put a Spell on You

Sreamin’ Jay Hawkins

Evil Hearted Woman

T-Bone Walker

(You’re The) Devil in Disguise

Elvis Presley

Friend of the Devil

Grateful Dead

Old Devil Moon

Frank Sinatra

Sympathy for the Devil

The Rolling Stones

Voodoo Child

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Psycho Killer

Talking Heads


Stevie Wonder

Evil Ways