Whatchoo Talkin’ ‘Bout, Willis?!

Gripe all you want about the name change, but Sears Tower never had the Ledge.

I assume that the majority of humanity sympathizes with my distaste for the proliferation of corporate naming rights and the way this trend has altered tradition in the name of better market branding. Whether it’s a renamed annual event or a rechristened sports venue, I resent having the identities and logos of corporate America shoved in my face simply because the offending companies forked over enough dough to make it so. For example, one used to be able to go to downtown Cleveland and enjoy a game at Jacobs Field or Gund Arena, two facilities with nondescript names that did not overshadow the entities of their famous residents, the Cleveland Indians and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, however, sports fans must tolerate the dumb moniker Progressive Field and the even worse Quicken Loans Arena.

There is a certain chutzpah to waving a magical monetary wand and renaming cherished landmarks, a crass practice that I pondered on a recent trip with my family to Chicago. Short on time and wanting to make the most of our moment in the Windy City, we decided to ascend Sears Tower. Only there is no Sears Tower, technically speaking. A British insurance broker, Willis Group Holdings, became a major tenant in 2009, long after the folks from Sears had literally left the building. The owners threw in naming rights as part of the deal, and just like that, Sears Tower became Willis Tower. I don’t know what annoys me more, the fact that yet another architectural icon has been renamed by a big insurance company, or the insult that the tallest building in America now bears the name of a foreign corporation. If I have an anti-corporate sentiment, at least it’s patriotic. Read More

Still Standing Tall


Street Player, the new autobiography from former Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine, immediately grabs the reader’s attention with a riveting introduction:  the frantic musician’s arrival at the tragic aftermath of bandmate Terry Kath’s self-inflicted, fatal gunshot.  Following the conventions of modern memoir, this fascinating glimpse is only a snapshot of what is to come, and the clock accordingly winds backward to the author’s birth so that we may get all the details of his formative years.  Many autobiographies stall out almost as soon as they begin by using this familiar template, and the reader is left fighting the urge to flip through the pages until the story becomes interesting.  Not so with Seraphine.  Focusing on his upbringing is not a personal indulgence but rather a necessary exploration in order to understand the man.  By the time he helps found the band that will bring him international success, he has cemented a confrontational philosophy that will ultimately lead to his devastating downfall.

“From the time my parents brought me home from Oak Park Hospital in the late summer of 1948, I was a wild child with a constant need for movement,” Seraphine begins.  “I had a tendency to run toward the flame.”  And so he did, evolving into a defiant delinquent who once pushed an aggressive nun with such force that she staggered down a small stairway.  At the age of 15, he became a father, and soon afterward he was getting into violent street fights as the member of a gang.  Seraphine’s Chicago was an urban nightmare ruled by mob mentality (literally, as it was customary for members of Seraphine’s gang to work their way up to the local Mafia).  His talent for drumming and a dogged persistence helped him escape from an existence that had a strong likelihood of ending early and violently.  Yet to paraphrase an old axiom, you can take the kid out of the streets, but you can’t take the streets out of the kid.  Seraphine’s past would cast a long shadow. Read More

The Honeymooners


A scene from a Hollywood classic?  No, it’s only Mom and Dad.

On September 27, 1952, a young couple from Lima, Ohio boarded a Pennsylvania Railroad Company train bound for Chicago to celebrate their honeymoon.  Mature enough to marry yet still literal teenagers, the 19-year-old newlyweds must have felt very grown up as they sped toward the big city.  They had reservations for seven nights at the upscale Conrad Hilton on Michigan Avenue, from where they would be free to set forth and explore any Windy City attractions that caught their fancy.

Back then, they were just Frank and Jackie, she an only child and he the youngest of six.  In less than four years, they would be the parents of two toddler girls and two newborn twin boys.  Their productivity would decrease with the birth of just one more son at the end of a further four years.  Then, like a surprising afterthought, they would add yet another boy eight years later.  Little did they know in 1952 how short-lived and unique was the whirlwind freedom they were to experience on honeymoon in Chicago.  Soon they would no longer be just Frank and Jackie; they would adopt the permanent monikers of Mom and Dad, and as those are the names by which I have always known them, that is how I shall refer to them here. Read More

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