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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Underrated?

Yahoo news reports that Buffalo is one of the most underrated cities in the United States. Somehow Chicago sits at the top of the underrated list.

Buffalo tends to overrate itself, Chicago underrates itself because it’s busy trying to ape New York City in order to appease all the yuppie businessmen who keep saying “Chicago will NEVER be like New York City!”

Here’s the list:
Most Underrated Cities in the US

Summer Days

I moved to Chicago during the winter, in a February, to be exact. I believed without any doubt that all of my years hardening myself from Buffalo winters was good enough preparation for anything Chicago winters could throw at me.

Turned out I was right. But that didn’t stop all of the people I met in Chicago from making excuses: “This winter wasn’t one of the bad ones! Wait until one of the bad ones!” “You haven’t seen the bulk of them!” When it finally became obvious that I wasn’t going to waver, the excuses came again: “Well, you spent your life in BUFFALO!” This was just as annoying because people who compliment themselves on how good they are at toughing out winter weather should be able to take anything thrown at them. I was in Chicago for the giant blizzard that hit in February 2011, an 18-incher which kept the city hoarding and indoors for three days. The primary veins of the city were dead, and on the initial night, people on Lake Shore Drive were trapped. The one time I saw people getting trapped in traffic in Buffalo, the people literally got out of their cars, walked home, and returned the next day to dig out.

Buffalo has a weather advantage in summer; the giant lake which annually dumps over 80 inches of snow on Buffalo plays the role of a giant air conditioner in the summer. The city’s hottest average summer month is July, in which the average high is a balmy 80 degrees. The humidity can make things tough, but as far as ordinary temperatures go, Buffalo has never hit three digits. Years literally go by between 90-degree days. The pleasant temperatures make even high humidity somewhat bearable.

I always told Chicagoans that if they’re trying to scare Buffalonians off with bad weather stories, forget the winters. Tell us how hellish the summers can get. Chicago hits 100 degrees every year, or at least it feels like it, and the humidity would shame the best Satan could ever concoct on his best days.

There were times I was hoping the gale force winds from Lake Michigan’s direction would throttle me, acting like a cool life breath as I roasted, soaked, and melted through the worst of it. There were days when I didn’t even mind the rain very much, which is saying something given the fact that I look for shelter at the lightest sprinkle. I always sweated the hardest in humidity, and would spend more time at the water fountains, buying sports and energy drinks, and trying to get myself into the air-conditioned buildings, believing those caught in the Buffalo summer humidity had it made.

How I Turned Blue

I was never very fond of the NPR Saturday blues show in Buffalo. The shuffling three-chorders about what kind of blues this week’s featured singer had just about summed up the blues music education I received from an otherwise fine station. The songs all sounded the same, played by the same drawling singers with the same gravelly voices. I literally learned more about blues music from my father’s copies of the Blues Brothers movies, which were a collective total of maybe five hours long. More to the point, I was busily occupying myself with classic rock and shock rap and so my musical world was pretty closed off. I wanted to hear flamethrowing guitar work and earth-bruising beats.

Buffalo is not exactly a blues haven. “Stairway to Heaven” and “Free Bird” are the local anthems, ten minutes whose chord progressions can be hummed as readily as either of the national anthems heard around here. I moved to Chicago with a polarized view of the blues so two-dimensional, it would have been perpetuated by a Warner Brothers cartoon. My willingness to expand my blues education was very limited.

When you look at cities, you don’t really think of them as having a particular sound. But Chicago, I noticed, had a distinctively different soundtrack guiding it than Buffalo. Buffalonians went about their business with a lot of shined-up classic rock taking them through the day, and so this was the music I loved growing up. Even in those days, however, I was noticing consistent little themes in the music I liked and the music I didn’t like. The music which sounded good to me had a more stripped, raw sound than the stuff I didn’t like, which is why I preferred The Rolling Stones and The Who to The Beatles (who I also really like, just not as much as the other two), why Guns ‘n’ Roses is still one of my favorite bands, and why I have such a blase attitude toward the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, two bands whose reverential status in Buffalo always baffled me. Granted, there were some shined-up bands whose work I liked, but they were mainly love-them-or-burn-them prog rockers like Genesis and Rush. I like the overproduced Van Halen a lot, but their exception is Thor on guitar.

Chicago’s sound was wall-to-wall blues – blues varieties and sounds I didn’t imagine could be classified as blues. As I began stepping out trying to meet people, I noticed many of the places I frequented played blues music regularly. In my most politically active period, I worked a fundraising show on the Milwaukee strip which featured a few big names in the genre, including Dave Specter. It piqued my curiosity enough for me to go out to the Chicago Blues Festival eventually, in a year when BB King was playing. After that, I set out to learn as much about the blues as I possibly could.

I couldn’t believe a lot of what I learned; it turned out that, despite my pleas of ignorance, I had actually been married to blues music for quite some time. The rock music I had grown up listening to had been something of a mistress. Most of the artists I knew and really liked – Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones chief among them – had a clearly traceable ground influence in blues music. Other artists I knew and loved – Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton – were so rooted in the genre, they could easily be considered straight-up blues artists themselves.