For many Chicago rock fans, Ken Kurson will always best be known as the bass player for 80's alt. rock pioneers Green, whose legendary second album Elaine Mackenzie remains an indie classic, and for fronting his own band, The Lilacs through the early 90's. If you've found yourself wondering what he's been up to since, then read on!
Q: You first came to my attention as bass player in the Chicago band Green, whose excellent second album Elaine MacKenzie is an absolute, stone-cold classic. What do you remember most fondly from your days in Green?
KURSON: Thank you for your kind words about Green and for holding affectionate memories of what I continue to believe was one of America's great rock 'n roll bands.
As for what I remember most fondly, my time in Green is hard to distill into one particular memory. I'm blessed to have had an amazingly exciting first half of my life so far, filled with adventures that are sui generis, unbuyable at any price. My four years in Green are sealed in amber.
I was a very lost and confused kid during high school. My parents' marriage had broken up and I lived alone with my dad and we struggled to make ends meet. We had to sell all of our furniture and there were rooms in my house that were literally empty. I worked 20 - 25 hours a week during high school; I remember adding a year to my age when I applied to work at Baskin-Robbins in Sanders Court so that I could work more hours than a 14-year-old would have been allowed. And I gave much of my pay to my dad because we needed it for food and clothes. I've written a lot about this in magazines, and it shaped my worldview about money. But this period also contributed to my lifelong intense love affair with music and its transformative power. I'm a gigantic lover of every kind of music (with the exception of Opera, despite Rudy's best attempts to proselytize). In discovering music, first with my brother as a kid when he played piano and I sang (mostly Elton John and the Who) but later by myself, was a great way to form my own opinions. I didn't realize that you weren't allowed to like the Cars and the Clash and AC/DC and Dolly Parton and Stevie Nicks and Barry Manilow and the Bee Gees all at the same time. I loved it all and I still do.
During my junior year, when things were at their worst in my home life I began working at Marshall's, the discount clothing store, because I could get time and a half on Sundays. There was a guy working there named Luke Garrott who I kind of knew about because he was a superstar soccer player at my high school and a year older than me. Luke also was (and is) movie-star good-looking and super popular so I was surprised when he rather aggressively befriended me. But he did and remains a close friend to this day. It was Luke who turned me on to the Dead Kennedys and Husker Du and The Reverbs and The Replacements. Then he played a four-song 7-inch for me that he'd bought at Record City because he liked the cover.
That record changed my life. What a cliché, I know, but I mean literally that the direction my life took was very different because I heard Green's first EP. At the time I was playing in an ordinary high school band called Rox with terrible original songs and covering everything from Zebra to the Cars to Zeppelin. Over the summer between junior and senior year I grew close to Luke and his older gang of friends, who introduced me to tons of new music that blew my mind. All these bands could barely play their instruments. How could they be writing and recording songs that moved me so stirringly? All those years I spent practicing in bands to sound tight and sing on key and to play solos like they were on the record–all of a sudden I realized that wasn't what it was about.
Now this particular group of friends – all of whom are still my friends today and one of whom, Dave Levinsky, I later founded the Lilacs with – were typical Indie music jerk-offs. The day they discovered REM was the day they dropped all previous music allegiance. For me, Circle Jerks were the same as The Who. Richard Howell was the same as Bob Dylan. The Three O'Clock were the same as The Cars. I think it is some critical element of my personality that I never grow out of things; I always just add new influences to what's always there. I watch the Brady Bunch with my kids now and I realize I still love the shows I loved when I was a little kid even as I've added grown-up, sophisticated influences in my life.
Anyway, from the moment Luke put the needle down on "Gotta Getta Record Out", I basically decided that the robotic march from leafy suburb to leafy college campus wasn't for me. I sucked at school anyway, so losing me wasn't some giant disappointment to the Ivy League–I was something like 550 in my class at 660 at Glenbrook North. However, in a suburb where more than 99% of high school graduates go on to some sort of college, my decision to rock out was maybe the first original thought I ever had. I had been seeing Green every possible chance I got -- at the West End or Metro, and even if they told me they were playing at a friend's wedding I'd ask if I could go. I got to know Jeff, Johnny and John a little bit and would even hang out at Jeff and Johnny's house in Oak Park sometimes. It was like hanging out with Paul Weller or Ray Davies–to me it was clear as day that Jeff was a genius along that order.
Meanwhile, on December 6, 1985, when I had just turned 17 years old and a senior at Glenbrook North, I met a Northwestern freshman, Heidi Stillman, at a Slugs concert at Mertz Hall at Loyola. I fell instantly in love. Heidi's encouragement and support of my plan not to go to college and to try to find some way to keep rocking out was instrumental in giving me the courage to pursue that path. Heidi was the rarest thing in the world -- a genuine nonconformist. She might be the only one I've ever known. I've done a bunch of things that don't conform and so have many people I admire. But the difference is I'm always aware that what I'm doing is somehow taking a chance and I have to get my head around that risk in order to work up the nerve to do it. A genuine nonconformist like Heidi just does what she does and it doesn't matter how unconventional that pursuit may be -- it just seems like the most normal thing in the world to her. Her attitude gave me a lot of courage -- it still does -- thinking about the way she approached life and probably still does. We're no longer in touch but I bet she's still like that today.
Anyway, in July of 1986 I heard through the grapevine that John and Johnny had quit Green only several weeks before their planned massive East Coast tour in support of their first album. That first album is a masterpiece. Every single one of its 14 songs could have been a monster hit. I wrote Jeff a long letter -- how quaint, writing a letter! -- in which I detailed all of the reasons he ought to overlook the fact that I was only 17 and a shitty bassist and give me a chance to join Green. My theory was that my unparalleled love for his music and my energy and determination would turn me into the true musical partner he never had. Plus, I can sing (see earlier -- all that training from my brother). I didn't hear back from Jeff for a few weeks and kind of forgot about it. I was up at Heidi's cabin in Elko, Wisconsin. To give you some perspective on Elko, the nearest "big city” was Rhinelander. Heidi's grandparents had never met a Jew before–they were actual Norwegians and ate lutefisk and everything. So her grandmother greeted me with a bag of Lenders bagels when I got there and said, "We wanted to make sure you'd have something to eat." Then a tragedy happened in Heidi's family and her parents and grandparents had to leave the cabin to deal with it. A couple days later, all alone in the woods with my girlfriend and her little brother, I was out by the lake reading–Heidi was horrified by how few books I read and was constantly forcing Dostoevsky or Camus on me. She came running out of the cabin to tell me "Jeff Lescher is on the phone!!!" Somehow, Jeff had tracked me down and asked if I could try out for Green later that week.
Heidi and I immediately jumped in my 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass -- bought from my dad for $500 -- to drive back to my house, where I practiced Green's songs on bass (and harmonies) for approximately 35 of the 48 hours until my tryout. (I should add here that I am deeply ashamed that we abandoned Heidi's little brother Toby, who was maybe 15 at the time, in the scary cabin in the woods.) I made it. I was in. So to answer your question, that began my four years in Green. ALL of which I remember fondly. Living with Jeff on Winthrop when it was a slum, the first time he played "I Know, I Know" for me, playing to 25 people at Phyllis' Musical Inn, playing to 10,000 people at a festival in Belgium or Holland or Austria or Germany, being the hottest band in Chicago, recording the demo for "She's Heaven," being a band that Joe Shanahan would rely on to build crowds for national acts at the Metro, getting a royalty check for my one minor hit, "My Sister Jane," being the band no one cared about in St Louis or Los Angeles or Baltimore -- it was all good. I learned more about life than every single one of my friends who spent those same four years getting wasted at frat parties.
Q: What’s your favorite Green tune?
Better Way, I Want What You Want, Bittersweet, I Know, I Know, For You, She's Heaven, My Tears Are Dry, a hundred others.
Q:. Who are your biggest musical influences?
I love any kind of music that's got a memorable tune and stirs my soul. I mention above that I really don't draw distinctions between types of music. My ipod will constantly play NWA's Fuck Tha Police followed by Bach's Harpsichord Concerto in F minor; REO's "Time for Me to Fly" will follow Serengeti's "Dennehy." The Kinks, The Thermals, Curtis Mayfield, Jay-Z. My dad was an influence, too -- he was a terrific singer and would always sing these great Louis Armstrong and glee club type ditties. On long trips, sometimes we'd harmonize.
Q: What led you to leave Green?
I felt that Green had progressed as far as it was ever going to get career wise. By the time I left, in January 1990, Green had achieved much of what I'd hoped for -- created great art, allowed me to visit 9 or 10 countries, paid the bills (badly, but still...), and most importantly, given me life experience.
Q: You then went on to form the Lilacs, who recorded two EP’s and an album, Rise Above The Filth (another stone-cold stunner, BTW). Most notably, while you shared singing and songwriting duties with David Levinsky, you took a more active role as front man than you had in Green and, as a result, ultimately gave Green (which merely replaced you, as if such a thing is possible) a real run for their money. Did you consciously set out to prove your new band could match Green song-for-song or were you just content to go about your business making music?
I guess everyone who leaves one band and forms another is trying to correct or undo the elements of the previous experience he didn't like. With the Lilacs, my goal was never to "outdo" Green -- I could never be the singer or songwriter Jeff is. But yes, my dissatisfaction with Green's horrendous live performance was one of the stated goals of the Lilacs -- I wanted us to be tight and wear outfits and stuff. And it worked. And you know what? Green was probably a better live band after I left. Clay (Tomasek -- KK replacement) is only a passable songwriter, but he's a better bass player than I was and he seemed to up Jeff's game in a way I never could. I think I basically looked up to Jeff with such worship and unconditional love that I could never convincingly get him to raise his game. Clay had been in Slammin' Watusis, which was a mediocre band, but they did have a real record contract and were professional musicians (including Jeff's former bandmate from Next Big Thing, the scorching guitarist Mark Durante), so I think that kind of made Jeff approach his craft more professionally, at least live.
Q: What single Lilacs tune is the one that came closest to fully capturing the band’s true essence?
I would say our signature song was "Hop In the Stanza," which combined a ton of what the Lilacs was about -- raw emotion, laying it all out there, catchy chorus, some interesting songwriting components wrapped into the tightly unforgiving parameters of a pop song, cool little guitar riffs. So that'd be the one that most "captures" the Lilacs. But my personal favorite Lilacs song is Dave's gem, "Pointless." I find it really hard to listen to any of my songs now. I have an "all-Dave" Lilacs playlist on my ipod.
Q: Speaking of the business of music: All things considered, was music a profitable experience for you or merely one where the ROI wasn’t much, but the “life lessons” were plentiful?
ROI? Oh, brother. My dad used to bust my balls by pointing out how little Green earned. I'd be psyched to report to him, "Dad, guess what? A frat at Notre Dame just hired us for a thousand bucks!" And he'd bust my bubble by saying, "A thousand each?" But yes, tons of life lessons.
Q: What led to the dissolution of the Lilacs?
Tons of stuff, as usual. OK, the main thing is also the answer to number 10 -- my girlfriend (later wife) had basically grown disgusted by my rock life. I was a 25-year-old college sophomore and my behavior was regrettable. She moved to New York City and I was like "fine, be that way." Six weeks later, I dropped out of college and drove my brother's girlfriend's (now his wife) crappy little stick-shift Honda to Chelsea and begged forgiveness. Thank G-d that Becky (eventually) forgave me.
But there were secondary reasons, too. For one thing, Dave and I could not keep a decent rhythm section together. All these musicians were dying to be in the Lilacs and when we'd put ads in the Reader, we'd have amazing responses and these really good players would show up at our practice space already knowing our songs. But Dave and I are not easy to get along with, and no one kept lasting. After Tom Whalen and Art Kim left, we hired the drummer who'd been in Green, John "Freight Train" Valley, aka the best drummer in Chicago. Then we got this guy Stu Roseman on bass. Stu was a fantastic bass player -- like a session player. Great harmony singer, too. But his approach really bugged me. He would wear like wool suit jackets to shows. And he didn't play with a pick, which I hated. And he was bald. Which is a funny complaint, given the state of my hairdo these days. But still, he just didn't rock. So we fired him. Then we got this guy Bob Michaelson. He was a great kid and loved the band, but he was also very immature and wanted to contribute his own songs. It was hard enough to get a word in edgewise with Levinsky and me hogging all the oxygen, but add to that Bob's songs were mostly about peeing and farting. So we fired him. Then the deal with the devil that brought us Valley started to sour. His home life was never all that stable to begin with and it was collapsing at that time. He got into some sort of epic fight with like all the cops in Wooddale (who lives in Wooddale!?!?!?) and they kind of maced him and still couldn't control him -- he was a total stud. And then he stole our van! So that was the end of the Freight Train. We then hit upon the idea that a good group should really be a band of brothers -- friends first.
We recruited John Packel to rejoin (he was the Lilacs original drummer and my high school classmate and still my best pal) and also our other close friend, Luke Garrott, whom you'll recall from the Marshalls story. Luke and his girlfriend moved all the way from Florida for this great "opportunity" and because I love the guy, I was really really touched by that gesture. He even moved in a couple doors down from me. The problem is ... he sucked at bass. It's a weird thing cuz he has this very musical neshama and even was a decent songwriter. I always felt like a monkey could be a decent rock bassist, but for some reason, Luke just could not nail these very simple Lilacs songs. I mean, this is like a genius guy -- a phd who went to Stanford. And a guy I truly love and look up to. But I remember a gig on Coney Island. I looked back at Luke during the second verse of "Pointless," where there's this marginally complex little time shift/stop and Luke had this pained look on his face, like he knew he was gonna blow it. And he did. It wasn't fun for him and it wasn't fair for us to ask him to do something he couldn't do. I just had basically had it -- the strain of teaching yet another guy the chorus to "I'm in love with a girl in the red dress" was just too much to bear.
And then there's this, too. At that point, Dave had begun a really fascinating religious journey. He was hanging out with all these Hasidic guys and he was clearly torn between the two very charismatic worlds that were tugging on his arms. At that time, I was not a very observant Jew. But I was always a passionate and proud Jew, and I started to feel like I didn't want to be the guy standing in Dave's way as he explored this calling.
At the time I left the Lilacs, we were probably at the peak of our popularity. And we had some really great songs that we never recorded, including the best song I ever wrote, "Monica," (later recorded by Chicago pop group The Returnables) and a little gem called "Henry." The very week I left, we had headlining shows at the Limelight and others booked. But I felt like I couldn't play another time, no matter what.
Q: What led you to found Green magazine (and, additionally, how much time took place between your initial idea to start the publication and you officially launching the magazine)?
OK, I believe that I've had one totally original thought in my entire life and that thought was Green Magazine. Here's how it happened.
When I decided to become a writer, I quickly realized that no one gave a shit about what I had to say because everything I tried to pitch was already covered by tons of writers who were already established. I was working at Harper's magazine as an intern and pitching all these story ideas to Playboy and the Village Voice and whatever. But my story ideas were like "how about I review the Husker Du show" and they were like, "we already have a bunch of people who do that, dumbass." My mentor was Michael Pollan.
He used to get all these weirdo seed catalogs and I'd babysit for his kid all the time and he had like zero edible foods -- this was years before anyone knew about "shopping local" or even "organic" but Pollan was way into that stuff. I asked him about it, and he told me he was going to write about it for two reasons: 1) he was interested in it and thus could write with passion and authority, and 2) no one else was writing about it so he figured it was a good career move. To all these tree-huggers who worship him now, Michael seems like some sort of modern-day hippie, untouched by crass commercial concerns. But if you know Michael's father (Stephen, who also mentored me a lot and is also a great guy), you'd know that Michael was a guy who very adroitly parlayed his brilliant writing and oddball subject matter into a stunning career. I admired that.
Michael also got me my first paying job, as a fact-checker at Rolling Stone, via his friend Eric Ethridge. So one day at Rolling Stone, I made a list of all the subjects I was interested in enough to write about and then I circled the things on the list that were not regularly covered by the magazines for which I aspired to write. The only one that really made sense was comics. No one was writing about serious comics for serious publications. I pitched a review of Peter Kuper's Kafka book to the New York Times and Eric Asimov called me the next day and said, "great idea, do it." Then a flood of comic reviews and articles in all kinds of places, like a cover story for Seattle Weekly about Dan Clowes and a recurring column about comics in Spin. But the problem with writing about comics is that the opportunities are limited. I wanted to make a ton of money.
Meanwhile, I was working as an editor at a company called United Feature Syndicate, editing stuff like their bridge columns (one of my guys was Philip Alder, who now writes about bridge for the NYTimes) and Bruce Williams. UFS had just hired Vanguard investments to run its scary new 401k program, which would invest our money in exotic things called "mutual funds." It was very low-level finance but all these writers and editors and salesmen I worked with treated it like they were being asked to analyze the impact of the Dodd-Frank Act on the price of credit default swaps. I was writing everyone these long emails explaining what a mutual fund is and how compound interest works and all my coworkers were saying, "Wow, you are the first person who ever explained this to me in a way that makes sense."
I realized that I didn't necessarily need a subject that no one was writing about. What I really had hit upon was a WAY to write that was different and necessary. Basically, I combined my lifelong love of fanzines and the “punk rock” ethos and language with that most un-“punk rock” of topics -- personal finance. I wrote and designed The Kenny Quarterly. It was a huge hit, immediately. So much so that my pal John Packel (see last question) came aboard -- he would publish and I would edit the newly rechristened Green, named in tribute to our favorite band (and also cuz it's a perfect name for a magazine about money aimed at young people). The press attention that Green garnered was overwhelming and immediate. For five years, I was on CNNfn every single week as a paid contributor. I was on tons of other TV and radio programs and every major newspaper in the country wrote about us. We sold Green to Bankrate and then with their help built it into a real magazine and daily website.
Q: When did you split Chicago for New Jersey?
I left Chicago in Oct 1993, but I moved to New York City -- lived in Chelsea for three years before moving to NJ.
Q: What was Green magazine’s highest paid circulation?
Q: In 1998, you published your first book, The Green Magazine Guide to Personal Finance...give me three reasons why anyone should grab that book, instead of (or in addition to) the gazillions of other books on personal finance.
KURSON: I don't think anyone should buy that book today, although it sold very well when it came out. I actually re-read it fairly recently and it holds up rather nicely. But the financial world has changed a ton since the late 90s and I'm not sure it's sound to rely on such a dated resource. That book includes the line: "With the advent of better security, banking over the Internet has recently become less Jetsonian." So it's not exactly current. On the other hand, I began the book by saying, " This book isn’t about the senseless accumulation of assets. It’s about attaining the freedom to do what you want to do" That's exactly how I feel today.
Q: What’s one thing that the average person who actually gives a crap about their finances and is trying to take proper steps to prepare for their retirement should know?
Starting early is the most important thing. Not just for retirement, but for freedom throughout your adulthood. Start the discipline of investing with your very first paycheck.
Q: What led you to sell Green Magazine to Bankrate (NYSE: RATE) in 1999?
They gave me a million bucks. http://www.allbusiness.com/banking-finance/personal-finance/6703150-1.html
Q: What did you do between then and late 2002, when you returned to the publishing world as co-author of “Leadership” with Rudy Giuliani?
There was no "between then" -- I was hired by Rudy in 2000 and began working on the book immediately.
Q: How long did it take to write the book and what was the experience of doing so like?
It was about 80% finished by Sept 11, 2001, and obviously that changed the content and our approach to writing it quite a bit. It took about two years. It was the most thrilling but also the most awful experience of my life. On Sept 14, 2001, for example, I went with Rudy to the office of Dr. Charles S. Hirsch, New York City's Medical Examiner. We saw cuts all over Dr. Hirsch's face and noticed crazy stitching on the back of his hand. Rudy asked him what had happened and Hirsch said that he got hit covering his head as pieces of the building rained down on him. To avoid diverting doctors who were needed elsewhere, Dr. Hirsch stitched his own hand with a cross-hatch of dark black thread.
As we talked, a big rolling laundry cart rolled by -- the kind a maid would use for the bedding at a fancy hotel. Inside were dozens of random body parts, including an arm that was severed but perfectly intact. On its wrist was a watch that was still ticking. I very nearly vomited but was trying my best to act composed among all these unbelievable heroes. Becky was pregnant with our first son. It had been very hard for us to conceive and hold a baby so by the time she was 7 moths pregnant with Steve, we were ecstatic about our lives. And then, on one horrible Tuesday, we realized like everybody else how dangerous and out of control this world really is. September 11 was only part of the experience, of course. Writing that book with Rudy changed my life in just about every way. There's a column in the New York Times called "Public Lives" that profiled a new person every weekday. In July, 2001, they profiled me after I'd been writing the book for a few months. I've been profiled in the Times on three different occasions -- once for Green Magazine, once for running for office, and then "Public Lives", which I always felt was the only one that "got" me. I know how tremendously jerky that is to say -- as though there's all that much to "get" about my epically complex soul.
The thing is, the woman who wrote it, Robin Finn, is just a great writer and she noticed a lot of my personality quirks, even as I was thinking that I was doing a great job hiding them, media-savvy fellow journalist that I was and all. Something else interesting about it was that I was displaying three traits in that article that probably seemed kind of corny to a lot of NYTimes readers in July 2001 but became very much in vogue a few months later: 1) Giuliani fandom, 2) I discussed how little use I had for irony as a literary/personality device -- I explained to Robin that I knew it was passé (and maybe even evidence of dumbness) to say what one means but that I didn't care, 3) Patriotism (In the photo of me on my Vespa that appeared in the story, I was wearing an American flag helmet.)
Q: In addition to your duties as COO, you were instrumental in writing Giuliani’s speeches. Were those mostly collaborative efforts and, in such cases, what was that process like?
They were totally collaborative. I write a good number of speeches just to keep my chops sharp and earn a few bucks (I wrote a commencement speech for a major university this year). I've never worked with anyone who's as good a writer and editor as Rudy. You are free to consider me a bootlicker, and it's true I worship the guy and just plain really like him. But the fact is, Rudy was the most feared trial attorney in the country for a good while. What a lawyer does -- craft persuasive, powerful arguments -- is pretty much what a speechwriter tries to do. I spent so much time with Rudy during 2000-2008 that the two main speeches you're referring to -- the nationally televised RNC speeches of 04 and 08 -- were really easy, comfortable collaborations. We'd mostly just sit at the Havana Room, smoke cigars, and talk deeply about what he was trying to communicate. I will add that in 08, there was an additional member of our team -- Fipp Avlon, who's a great guy and great writer.
Q: You’re currently Executive VP of Jamestown Associates. What does JA do?
We win elections.
Q: You are strongly tied to numerous Republican candidates. Would you or JA ever consider backing a candidate from a different party if their platform and political goals were in alliance with your own ideology?
That's not really done in this business. Republican consultants work with Republican candidates and Democrat consultants work with Democratic candidates. It is something of a shame. In my corporate work, I toil alongside tons of Democrats. Some company will hire me to direct a video and the pollster and strategist and comms director will all be Democrats. And I get a chance to see how they think and the techniques they're using and often they're doing stuff in some really interesting way no Republican competitor of mine has employed. But when it comes to candidates, you gotta choose a side. In the old days, great consultants like David Garth would work for both sides. Dick Morris got away with that a bit, too, though it's difficult now to imagine him working for a Democrat. But these days, it's just not done.
Q: As an American voter, and as someone involved in the political process, what are the three most important qualities that you look for when choosing a political candidate to support?
Integrity, backbone and for me a commitment to the two things I care about most -- cutting the size/scope of government at all levels, and defending our nation and our values from attack.
Q: Having been involved in Giuliani’s bid for the White House, as well as a number of Congressional and Gubernatorial races, when will you, yourself, run for office? Heck, we’d register in New Jersey to vote for you!
I ran for State Assembly in 2003 in the 34th District of NJ. Did well in an impossible district. But I deeply disliked the experience. I wrote about it for This American Life (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/267/propriety) so I won't go into too much detail here, but it comes down to this: I've been unpopular my whole life and that's how I like it. At the end of the day, politics is about being popular. It's just not something I want to be.
Q: Bringing this back to music, what new music do you listen to these days or are you just amazed at the crap that passes for tunes these days?
I don't share that "everything sucks now" viewpoint at all. I love a ton of new music. Being in the business of directing tv commercials, I'm around young hipsters a lot and they turn me on to tons of new groups. Blind Pilot, Delta Spirit, The Gutter Press, The Genders, Against Me, Telekinesis -- all kinds of stuff that blows my mind. Artists I've loved for a while continue to put out great music -- The Thermals, Hold Steady, Eminem. And then I discover great stuff from the old days that I missed -- it's not new but it's new to me. This 25 year old shooter in my office had Nilsson Schmilsson on in his car and I couldn't believe I hadn't given it a better chance back when he was kind of contemporary -- great record. And I come to reconnect with groups I always loved in different ways.
I read Rick Springfield's autobiography and found myself singing the chorus to "Kristina" over and over.
I went to Chicago to see Material Issue's reunion show and was reacquainted with what a great band they were. I always knew that (I wrote the liner notes to their fourth CD) but you know what I mean -- that thrill you get when you reconnect with an old love affair.