6 Places to Grab the Best Waffles in ChicagoAmanda Schellingon May 18, 2022 at 12:56 pm

Fluffy, warm, and comforting, waffles are perfect any time of the day. Traditionally, they’re made with a few simple ingredients like flour, sugar, milk, and eggs. But today, many many restaurants have taken a spin to include fresh or macerated fruit, savory meats like bacon or sausage, or the superior combination with fried chicken. So, whether you’re craving carbs or want the classic syrup-soaked delicacy, check out these great places for the best waffles in Chicago. 

Image Credit: Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles

3947 S King Dr, Chicago, IL 60653

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Peanut butter and jelly, french fries and ketchup, and… fried chicken and waffles! The love of Soul Food and home-cooked meal behind Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles created the best chicken and waffles in town. Drenched in syrup, your sweet tooth will be thanking you and you’ll be left planning your next trip. Looking to step out of the box a little? Try out their catfish and waffles for a  meal packed with flavor!

2845 W Irving Park Rd, Chicago, IL 60618

Looking for a fluffy waffle with a twist of creativity? Churro Waffle in Irving Park East brings you classic waffles with various concoctions and toppings. Build your own waffle and explore the endless possibilities! Try the Oreo waffle topped with crumbled cookies, caramel sauce, and cookies & cream ice cream. Or, if you prefer more savory breakfasts, check out the chorizo waffle loaded with chorizo, onion, jalapeño, eggs, and tomatillo sauce. Finally, give the signature churro waffle a shot. A warm, fresh cooked waffle piled high with cinnamon, sugar, caramel sauce, and creamy sea salt caramel ice cream. There is no better brunch in Chicago than this!

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955 W Webster Ave, Chicago, IL 60614 

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Need to take your waffle on the go? That’s when you come to Eiffel Waffle! Loaded with ice cream, fruit, sprinkles, chocolate chips, and other fun toppings, you can take your dessert style waffle with you wherever, because it comes in a hand held wrap! Once you try every topping combination, be sure to try their other sweets like slushies, milkshakes, and mini Eiffels. With three locations across the Chicagoland area (Lincoln Park, Downers Grove, and Bolingbrook) you can find your new favorite treat whether you’re in the city or the suburbs. 

2748 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

They say it’s all in the name, and at Batter and Berries, you are set with all your batter and berry needs. Started in 2012 by Dr. Tanya and Craig Robinson, Batter and Berries decided to bring an “eclectic touch” to Chicago’s breakfast scene by serving up world-class french toast, pancakes, and waffles. The chef, Ken Polk, has 25+ years of culinary experience; some of the delicious plates he whips up include blueberry, apple-cinnamon, and banana-walnut waffles. If you’re looking for a fresh take on a classic, try Batter & Berries’ “Cluck-n-Gaufre”: a sweet potato waffle stuffed with fried chicken and drizzled with a hot nutmeg sauce.

1400 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

Sweet or savory? Who says you have to choose! At Chicago Waffles, the waffle menu itself is so expansive that you’ll definitely have to keep coming back for more to try one of each. From green tea waffles to a waffle sandwich, you won’t be able to get enough of the different ways to enjoy this breakfast staple. With two locations in Chicago, Chicago Waffles, aptly named, is the perfect, family-friendly place to spend your Saturday morning. For the kids in your life, bring them to a place where they can have fun with their food, and for the adults, the full coffee menu should come in handy when the sugar-rush kicks in. 

2294 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

Nothing feels better than a restaurant that reminds you of home. Start your day with the steaming coffee and delicious waffles at Cozy Corner Restaurant and Pancake House on Milwaukee Ave, and say goodbye to Monday blues. Try the strawberry waffle or the classic mouthwatering Belgium waffle, and see why this place is called “cozy.” This quaint breakfast joint also takes pride in making sure that diversity, community, and culture are celebrated within their walls as well as in the area they serve. 

Featured Image Credit: Eiffel Waffle

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Where to Get Authentic Korean BBQ in ChicagoElise Tayloron May 18, 2022 at 5:19 pm

Korean BBQ always impresses with its spicy and sweet flavors, high-quality selection of meats, and playful array of sides (banchan) — all grilled up right in front of you! While the city contains several notable joints for good Korean BBQ, you can also find some of the best Korean BBQ restaurants in the Northwest suburbs (which many call New Koreatown). From traditional Korean dishes to Asian fusion to all-you-can-eat establishments, keep reading to discover where to get authentic Korean BBQ in Chicago.

PS: don’t forget to check out the best Asian foods in Chicago if you’re down to explore!

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Image Credit: Cho Sun Ok

4200 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

If you’re looking for a dependable spot for some Korean BBQ, Cho Sun Ok is the place to go. A staple of the Lincoln Square neighborhood since 1980, Cho Sun Ok offers a wide selection of prime meats and signature sauces to grill up on their tabletop burners. The classic, wood-paneled interior emulates a traditional Korean establishment with a focus on food. Before you go, just know that the popular restaurant is BYOB only and does not accept reservations.

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3333 N Kimball Ave., Chicago, IL 60618

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Tucked behind the aisles of Joong Boo Market in Avondale is a hidden gem counter-service restaurant called the Snack Corner. At this simple eatery, you’ll find delicious, authentic Korean BBQ specialties to pick up and take home during your weekly shopping trip. 

2568 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614

This Lincoln Park restaurant brings a fresh West coast sensibility to Chicago. Their Asian fusion dishes blend a variety of flavors and styles into a delectable array of street food options. Step up to the counter and order Korean BBQ tacos, stuffed with seafood and meats such as sesame-chili shrimp and kalbi. For the perfect pairing, grab a side of kimchi fries with colorful toppings and tasty seasonings.

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1747 W Golf Rd, Mt Prospect, IL 60056

Mr. Kimchi is one of the few remaining all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ spots left in the Chicagoland area. Although the drive out to the Mt. Prospect suburb may be lengthy, their brisket and bulgogi meats marinated in soy sauce, sugar, and garlic make the drive worth every minute.

6240 N California Ave., Chicago, IL 60659

Distinguished by its quality meats and service, Gogi provides a delightful culinary experience for Korean BBQ lovers across Chicago. The Uptown restaurant gained the respect of Chicagoans from their famous kalbi, its flavor magnified by the charcoal grills they’re cooked upon. If you’re new to Korean BBQ, Gogi is a great place to start, as the servers are happy to help you prepare and grill the meat every step of the way.

Image Credit: Yelp

9020 W Golf Rd, Niles, IL 60714

Another all-you-can-eat establishment, BBQ Garden is known for its fresh meat, like bulgogi and miso pork belly, and their large banchan buffet, featuring sides like pickled vegetables and potato salad. Take a road trip out to this northern suburb for a family dinner – their spacious tables and buffet options make it a great option for large groups.

Posted by San Soo Kab San on Tuesday, June 10, 2014

5247 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

This unassuming Korean BBQ joint might be tucked away in a strip mall, but for what it lacks in location, it makes up for with an extensive menu and powerful flavors. With an abundant array of banchan and special deals for groups of 5 people or more, San Soo Gab San is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Visit San Soo Gab San at one of their locations in Lincoln Square or Morton Grove.

Image Credit: Yelp

3420 Milwaukee Ave, Northbrook, IL 60062

This Korean BBQ in Glenview keeps it simple with a focus on high-quality meats. Try their famous thinly sliced pork belly (the meaning of samgyubsal in their name), which the servers help to grill at your table. Dip the meat in sesame oil or jang sauce and place it into a lettuce wrap with scallions or a different topping. Grab a soup or noodle dish to compliment your grilled meat – the true star of the show.

Featured Image Credit: Gogi

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Best Asian Food in Chicago to Celebrate This AAPI MonthXiao Faria daCunhaon May 18, 2022 at 7:15 pm

You can’t celebrate culture without trying the authentic fares. So, as you learn about AAPI heritage in the Windy City, do yourself a favor and check out the best Asian food in Chicago to make your celebration complete!

110 W Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60654

Speaking of the best Asian food in Chicago, you’ve got to mention Sunda. Here, traditional Asian cuisine meets its modern counterparts and together brings you the most unforgettable dining experience. Whether you’re here for fresh sushi and sashimi, or looking to dive into hot appetizers and new Asia entrees, you’ll fall in love with something on the menu. Don’t forget to try their spring cocktails too! They’re also running an AAPI month special, the menu includes:

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VIETNAM: “CHAO TOM”GRILLED SUGAR CANE SHRIMP – shrimp mousse, sugar cane, rice noodles, lettuce, fresh herbs, nuoc cham
JAPAN: “GOMAE MAKI” – shrimp tempura, spinach, asparagus, cucumber, rayu chili oil, sesame soy
THE PHILIPPINES: CEBU LECHON – roasted lemongrass pork, foie gras gravy
CHINA: DAN DAN NOODLES – szechuan spiced beef, bamboo shoots, watercress, radish, wheat noodles
THAILAND: MANGO STICKY RICE – sweet rice pudding, champagne mangoes, coconut milk

1816 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614

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Check out our latest find! If you’re into high quality sashimi and understand the beauty of a high-end omakase experience, then, you need to check out Sushi By Bou. The chic lounge is the sister restaurant of Sushi Boutique, also in the Claridge Hotel, and the highly acclaimed Sushi Suite 202 concept. Experience yourself what a true omakase + cocktail experience looks like.

59 W Hubbard St #2, Chicago, IL 60654

219 N Green St, Chicago, IL 60607

It’s never too hot for ramen, and no, you cannot argue with us on this one. Ramen-San is our go-to for a quick yet delicious bowl of ramen. You just can’t go wrong with their signature bowls. Enjoy a classic tonkotsu ramen, or explore the more innovative options like the kimchi fried chicken ramen or spicy garlic miso ramen (our fav!).

Posted by Pho 777 on Friday, October 14, 2016

1065 W Argyle St, Chicago, IL 60640

Looking for a quick lunch of warm Pho, refreshing spring rolls, or healthy salad? Or are you ready to explore the rich texture of AAPI cuisine? Then, come to Pho 777! Plenty of Chicago foodies will tell you they have the best pho in town. They also have seasonal appetizers, snacks, and special menus for traditional Asian holidays, which are totally worth checking out!

2211 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

Is the hot weather getting to you? Then, head to Cebu for some light, refreshing, and flavorful Filipino street fare, plus a signature summer cocktail to break you free from the heat! However, you do need to be adventurous to fully enjoy Cebu’s menu. But once you step beyond your comfort zone, you’d realize how much you were missing out up till this point!

1232 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

Want to see what REAL Filipino food looks like? Try Kubo’s Kamayan “Boodle” Dining experience, where you eat with your hands! The term kamayan can be used to describe the act of eating by hand, but a traditional kamayan meal is a feast served family style, usually over banana leaves. This special menu includes Fried Pampano, Baked Mussels, Longganisa (Filipino Sausage), Pork Adobo Ribs, Sweetie Pork (Tocino), Crispy Chicken Inasal (Strips), Chicken Eggroll, and many more!

Image Credit: Ban Po Jung Korean Restaurant

3450 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

There are many Korean restaurants in Chicagoland, but only one Ban Po Jung. If you consider yourself a serious foodie ready to explore the most authentic Korean food in Chicago, you need to pay Ban Po Jung a visit. From various pickles to authentic appetizers to probably the best Bi Bi Bamp in town… Be careful. Ban Po Jung will make your taste buds only accept the best Korean food from here on!

1147 S Delano Ct East, Chicago, IL 60605

Wagyu and hot pot — do we need to say more? The X Pot has brought hot pots to a whole new level. Featuring top-grade ingredients, authentic broth with various spice levels (be careful!!), and a dazzling immersive experience of sound and light, the X Pot easily got on our list of the best Asian food in Chicago. Depending on the time you come in, you might even get to see Dancing Noodle and Peking Opera Face Changing performances right by your dining table!

2828 S Wentworth Ave, Chicago, IL 60616

New Furama Restaurant is the S**T if you’re looking for authentic dim sums. Choose from American-Chinese dim sums like eggrolls, or go straight into the real deal, including beef tripes, pickled chicken feet, curry baby squid, and lotus-wrapped mochi rice. You will also find a variety of chicken, beef, pork, seafood, and veggie entrees at New Furama Restaurant.

108 E Superior St, Chicago, IL 60611

Experience luxurious Chinese fine dining at the beautiful Peninsula Hotel Chicago, specifically, the famous Shanghai Terrace. A gem on Mag Mile by itself, Shanghai Terrace brings you elevated Chinese fare in its 1930s supper club ambiance and will keep you coming back for more. Try the iconic Monk Jumps Over The Wall made with dried seafood delicacies, finest herbs and thick broth, or the traditional Peking Duck with mandarin pancakes, cucumber, scallion, hoisin, and plum sauce.

Image Credit: YATAI Asian Street Food

6230 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60660

Can’t decide which cuisine you’d like to try? Why not take them all? YATAI Asian Street Food is the perfect place for those who don’t want to pick and choose. From fresh sushi to Korean stirfry, YATAI is here to satisfy all your fast Asian food cravings. Keep coming back until you’ve tried them all, then come back once more for your favorites!

Featured Image Credit: Sunda New Asian

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DeVon Franklin’s “It Takes A Woman” is a Homage to the Women Who Raised Him.

DeVon Franklin’s “It Takes A Woman” is a Homage to the Women Who Raised Him.

DeVon Franklin is known for many things. He is a Hollywood Producer, New York best-selling author, Vice-President of the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, and President of Franklin Entertainment. His new Audible Original, “It Takes A Woman,” is a personal look at his life growing up after his father died at a young age and the women who stepped in to raise and mold him into the man he is today.

Listening to the “It Takes A Woman,” you hear the actual voices and emotions of DeVon’s mother Paulette, and his five living great aunts, Aunt Nuna, Aunt Ida, Aunt Enis, Aunt Sondra, and Aunt Donna as the speak on the circumstances and events that led to them bringing the Village together to help raise DeVon and his brother.

I spoke with DeVon and asked why he decided to write this book and why with Audible Inc.

DeVon Franklin: “I wanted to acknowledge and bring awareness to the black women in my family and in our culture and community that sometimes are unsung heroes. And you know, they do so much for who we ultimately become, especially as men. And we don’t do enough to honor them and give them in a moment in the spotlight. And so, one doing this book, it called… It Takes a Woman and really allowing the voices of my mother and my five great aunts, my living five great living aunts to be heard. The youngest is 75. The oldest is 95. I wanted to make sure that their voices were preserved. They weren’t lost in the sands of time as a way to really memorialize the impact that black women have had for generations on our families and our communities.”

I asked DeVon, even though he had those women there for him, I’m sure it wasn’t all rosy. There had to be some hard times.

DeVon Franklin: Yeah. Very hard, very difficult. And when you’ve listened to us, I really get into the details of those difficulties. And what’s cool about this book is that it’s really engineered for the audio experience. This is not a book that was like written and then I’m reading it. It’s like no, every choice that was made and how I put this book together was with the listener in mind.

DeVon continues: So it’s almost like you put it on and you’re just taken into this world and the story of my family and how this tragedy of my father’s death became like a pebble in the water. And there were all these ripple effects. And so you get a chance to be involved and invested in the experience of these different ripples and hearing the different stories of my… What my aunts have gone through. And my mother went through and as families, we don’t talk enough. I believe that transparency leads to transformation. And so I really wanted this book to be my most transparent, my most honest, as a way to really reach people and share our truth with them.

I couldn’t imagine getting all my Aunts together to do something like this so I asked DeVon if was a hard task to get them to do this project.

DeVon: It wasn’t hard. I mean, I did individual interviews with my mom and my five great aunts. And to start the interview as an icebreaker, I read them the introduction that I had already written and them hearing me talk about my perspective of my father’s death. It was the first time that they had heard that. They didn’t know that I had that memory. So as I’m reading them the introduction, all six of them just started to cry because it brought them back to where they were. So my transparency then opened up their transparency. And what you hear is… Was at on some level was very easy in that it was free flowing. And so once those interviews were done, I then took those interviews and the transcription of those interviews and then rewrote the whole book and really started to put the whole book together.

It’s truly a moving experience to hear the voices of these women laughing, somber, tears, and stern in recalling various issues.  They talk about everything, and I mean everything from DeVon’s father’s relationship with his mother, his mother emotional state after his father died, and even his aunts giving him the sex talk.

DeVon interviewed each of the women in his life as well as entering his own narrative.  As I was listening to it, I felt as if I was sitting in the room with them, so much to the fact I wanted to ask them questions on that bond as women.  It was like hearing their voices was a “Laying on of hands,” that only the women of the village can do.

I usually do not listen to audible books, however, “It Takes a Woman,” is one that I will listen to more than once.  You can find DeVon Franklin’s “It Takes A Woman,” on Audible Inc.

To hear the entire conversation with visit www.mixcloud.com/bonnieseye or

It gets 4 out of 4 winks of the EYE.

Until next time, keep your EYE to the Sky!

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Ozzie Guillen on White Sox’ Tim Anderson: ‘I don’t really care how he feels, I have a job to do’

Tim Anderson fired off a tweet directed at Ozzie Guillen after the White Sox’ 2-1 loss to the Royals Tuesday.

It wasn’t nice. But Ozzie’s not mad about it.

Guillen, the former White Sox shortstop and manager and current TV analyst for NBC Sports Chicago, has been known to speak his mind, especially when he’s told off.

To say the least.

And he’s still doing so in his current capacity. After Guillen said Anderson, the Sox’ All-Star shortstop, should have played both ends of a split doubleheader against the Royals Tuesday, Anderson tweeted, “Ozzie need to stfu at times … talk too much!”

Anderson, the team’s leading hitter, and Jose Abreu, who doubled in two runs in Game 1, both sat out Game 2.

“Tim is one of the best players in the league and he’s fun to watch,” Guillen told the Sun-Times Wednesday. “I respect him and I respect his opinion, but I don’t really care how he feels, I have a job to do.

“I am glad he’s watching the pre- and postgame.”

Guillen’s work on those shows has played to strong reviews because of his knowledge of the team and his candid takes. He is a staunch supporter of La Russa, his first manager in the majors, but doesn’t hesitate to criticize a managerial decision he disagrees with.

La Russa’s resting of players and reluctance to play Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert and others on both ends of doubleheaders or on day games following night games for the purpose of preserving their legs over the course of a long season has been questioned by fans. Anderson and Moncada both dealt with tight hamstrings last season, and Robert missed six games with a groin issue in late April.

When Anderson and Abreu were rested in the nightcap of a split doubleheader against the 13-22 Royals on Tuesday, the Sox lineup without them managed one run against Brady Singer and the Royals bullpen. Anderson, 28, is batting .328 with an .847 OPS in 31 games.

“TA is what, 27 years old?” Guillen said on the postgame show. “Built like a rock. And we hear Gordon Beckham [filling in for analyst Steve Stone on the broadcast] say it, when you’re a kid, go play. When you’re a veteran, sit down.”

That’s what probably prompted Anderson’s tweet, which was later deleted.

“If I hurt his feelings, that wasn’t the idea,” Guillen said. “I have nothing against him, never will. I hope he brings a championship to this organization.”

The Sox (18-18) play the Royals Wednesday night in the fourth game of a five game series. The Sox have won two of three.

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Former Bears RB Tarik Cohen is much more than the sum of his pain

Tarik Cohen recently wrote a painful, touching and unsparing article about his life for The Players’ Tribune. It’s a letter to his 17-year-old self, and the raw honesty of it is remarkable. It’s a hard read, but you’ll be better for taking it on. I’m sure he’s better for writing it.

The former Bears running back has been through so much — is going through so much — but there’s something good out there waiting for him. There has to be. He’s known death after death and injury after injury, but how he has reckoned with his sorrow and addressed his challenges tells me there’s a happy ending on the horizon. I’m rooting like hell for it.

In his letter, we learn of the massive guilt he lugged around after Dante, his younger brother, became involved in drug dealing and eventually got shot in the head, leaving him paralyzed. And more guilt and pain came his way when Tyrell, his twin brother, died after fleeing the scene of a one-car accident. What if Cohen had been around more for them while he was chasing his dream of being an NFL player? What if he had kept them on the straight and narrow? Would that have been enough to save them?

Chicago had known some of the details of what had happened to his brothers while he was playing for the Bears, but we had no way of knowing the agony that was his fellow traveler. If we could have consoled him, if we could have let him know that we were there for him, as flimsy as that sounds, perhaps that might have helped ease his pain. Might have let him know he wasn’t so alone. The cheers and the gasps over his ability to change directions seem shallow now, as if we were all missing the bigger point, the point being that here was a suffering man.

The oohs and aahs went away when he injured his right knee during a punt return against the Falcons in 2020. He had torn the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, and fractured the tibial plateau. He hasn’t played football since. The Bears waived him in March. In April, Dante, the brother who had been paralyzed in a shooting, died in a car accident.

Jesus.

And now, a little more than a week after his article ran in The Players’ Tribune, more bad news: Cohen reportedly ruptured his right Achilles tendon Tuesday during a workout that was being livestreamed on Instagram.

It sounds like way too much Biblical smiting, like Job getting through four quarters of affliction only to find out there’s an overtime of more abuse coming. But here’s where it gets better. Here’s where I hope Cohen goes back and re-reads that letter he wrote to his younger self. I hope he focuses on the last two paragraphs and embraces them for all their worth, which is everything:

“You will never be fully clear of the pain. And that’s OK. You wouldn’t want to forget the past anyway. Your past … it’s all just part of who you are now.

“But who you are can be so much more than just hurt.”

He’s so much more than the hurt he’s feeling right now over being hurt again. There’s pain, yes, but there’s also a resilience and a perspective to him that will have the final say in the story of his life. If he can make his way back from two terrible injuries and play again, it will be an incredible achievement. But judging by the letter and how he has responded to the suffering and challenges of his 26 years on the planet, he’s so much more than a football player.

He’s still the 5-foot-6 ball of muscle who went from North Carolina A&T to the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft to first-team All-Pro as a return specialist in 2018. But he’s also the uncle to his twin brother’s two young children, the one who vowed in his public letter to take care of their needs:

“First off, buy them a house. All cash. In their names. Free and clear. Theirs to use and own. Give them that security. Next: Make sure college and any other school expenses are fully paid for both of them. Put that money away. Have it all set up. Do this stuff now. Immediately. Because you love them and you want them to feel good, and to know that they’re loved. But also do it as a tribute to Tyrell. In his name. Honor him in that way.

“And then just keep being there for them in a way that shows the world how proud you were to call Tyrell your brother.”

That’s Tarik Cohen. And he’s going to be OK.

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Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Ensemble Adaptation Brings an Understanding to Chekhov’s Seagull.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Ensemble Adaptation Brings an Understanding to Chekhov’s Seagull.

Being a theatre major in college, I have read and seen many productions of Anton Chekhov’s iconic play Seagull. I must say, not matter how hard I tried I never fully understood it, until I saw Translator/Adaptor/Director Yasen Peyankov’s adaptation of play performed by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company Ensemble.

Yasen’s version is lighter and direct but has not diminished Chekhov’s words or intent.  Yasen says that his version is rooted in contemporary English so American audiences may experience the play as they would a contemporary one without moving away from the Russian feel, spirit, and history.  I am so happy for that because I left the theater really in love with the story, I thought I understood but didn’t.

Photo by Michael Brosilow

I had the opportunity to sit down with Ensemble Member Kami Smallwood who plays Konstantin Treplev who dreams of being a successful playwright and is hopelessly in love with Nina Zarechnaya.  I asked him what the story of Seagull for his personal point of view. He told me that, “Seagulls, it’s about one’s relationship with art and love, unrequited love, getting older and not being as popular as you once were. New forms of art versus old forms of art. It’s a lot in there and it’s really about the Russian Revolution. We kind of went through things with art in America as well, you can go to the Black Arts Movement, we wanted to tell stories about Black folks here in this country and they did the same thing in Russia. So, it’s really about those kinds of things and it’s really accessible and palpable to what we as human beings deal with on a daily basis.”

Photo by Michael Brosilow

In addition to Namir, Seagull features co-founder Jeff Perry, and fellow ensemble members Sandra Marquez, Caroline Neff, Karen Rodriquez, Eric Simonson, alongside Keith Kupferer, Elijah Newman, Jon Hudson Odom, Joey Slotnick, and Lusia, with Scott Jaeck stepping in for Jeff Perry from May 24th – June 5th.

Photo by Michael Brosilow

I must mention the set design by Associate Scenic Design Sotirios Livaditis. The stage is in the round with a beautiful floor that surprises the audience during parts of the play.  The sculpture that hangs over center stage is beautiful.

Photo by Michael Brosilow

One of the reasons I love productions at presented by Steppenwolf’s Ensemble is just that.  There are many television, film, and Broadway stars that are a part of the Ensemble, but everyone on that stage is equal to bring a fantastic experience to the audience and just due to the play being performed.

I give Seagull 3 ½ winks of the EYE out of 4.

Until next time, keep your EYE to the sky!

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The Devil Bell Hippies: Chicago’s greatest avant-garde band that only kind of exists

Since 2004 Plastic Crimewave (aka Steve Krakow) has used the Secret History of Chicago Music to shine a light on worthy artists with Chicago ties who’ve been forgotten, underrated, or never noticed in the first place.

When I finished college downstate and moved to the Windy City in 1995, the Chicago no-wave scene was breaking apart. While still in school, I’d often driven three hours to catch gigs here, and after my move I caught the last shows by local no-wave stars the Scissor Girls and Lake of Dracula

The original no-wave scene, born in New York in the late 70s, was a confrontational avant-garde movement whose bands used lots of clattery dissonance, and in a nod to that precedent, the Windy City scene was sometimes called “Chicago no wave,” “now wave,” or simply “new no wave.” When the CD compilation Chicken Bomb dropped in 1996, coreleased by the Lumpen Times, it put Chicago no wave in context by juxtaposing young locals (including lesser-known groups such as Xerobot and Monitor Radio) with influential New York no wavers James Chance & the Contortions and international skronkers Dog Faced Hermans. It also seemed like a headstone for the scene.

Scenes don’t just wink out of existence, of course, and the likes of Metalux, the Flying Luttenbachers, and Bride of No No continued to carry a torch for noisy, abrasive not-exactly-rock music. (The scuzzy freak-out bands I played in at the time shared bills with all of them.) With the possible exception of the groups led by Zeek Sheck (I once saw her with an insanely huge ensemble at 6Odum), none were more shambolic and confounding than the Devil Bell Hippies—though they’re barely even a band and have never been part of any real scene. They’ve existed for nearly 40 years without becoming any easier to define.

“There is no real lineup per se, never has been. Anyone can join. We’ve had countless members,” says cofounder Martin Billheimer. “Just say you’re in and you’re in. We might even play a show again someday. . . . Members are contacted by secret communiqué. The main obligation is spiritual.”

Billheimer was born in 1970 in Uptown, and when he was still a child his family moved to the industrial city of Bradford in Yorkshire, England. At age 11, they returned to the Windy City, and Billheimer soon found his musical calling. “The Devil Bell Hippies started when I was 13, in 1983, by me and my best friend at the time, Scott Brewer, in Albany Park,” he says. “The whole mess just grew on from there, attracting members like a Danish attracts flies.” 

While attending Lincoln Park High, Billheimer developed antifascist leanings and got deeply into punk. He also met fellow malcontents on the same path, including future Devil Bell Hippies member Eric Colin Reidelberger. “We were two of maybe seven kids that were into punk rock in our school,” Reidelberger recalls. Billheimer soon dropped out of high school and went to work, taking jobs as a dishwasher, house painter, construction worker, and furniture mover.

Billheimer’s band concept drew from a wide variety of subcultural sources: he mentions sword-and-sorcery movies and kung-fu matinees at the city’s long-gone downtown movie houses, as well as early-80s hardcore (MDC, Verbal Abuse, Earth A.D.-era Misfits). The Devil Bell Hippies also liked late-70s industrial music (SPK, Throbbing Gristle), though they saw it as unintentionally funny in its self-seriousness. 

“We were influenced by Bowie, Culturcide, old horror movies on Son of Svengoolie, Weekly World News, by anti-Nazi and pro-communist sentiments . . . but most of all, by the dreary landscape of north-side Chicago and its gang mythology,” Billheimer says. “The band was then a mishmash of obscure references to north-side lore, played on acoustic guitar and bongos and kitchen pots. We made Jad Fair look like King Crimson in comparison. A hideous thrift-store din . . . at least early on. Later, we got people who could (kinda) play.”

Reidelberger never played any shows with the band, but he recorded with them frequently in those larval years. “I was banging and howling away on some of the earlier cassettes,” he says. “My memories of DBH were basically making cassettes at Martin’s house with Scott, and peppering the recordings with our in-jokes and anything that we found funny, including bell-bottoms—hence the name. This would have been 1984 and ’85. I do remember being encouraged to not be musical. Our approach was very Throbbing Gristle-esque.”

The Hippies’ first proper gig was at a WZRD benefit in 1986, and they had some pretty impressive company: Ono, the Effigies, Naked Raygun. They played for just ten minutes, but part of their set made it onto the 1987 Panic Records compilation What Is Truth?, alongside material by weirdo luminaries Eugene Chadbourne and Phil Minton

Part of the Devil Bell Hippies’ first live set (at a WZRD benefit in 1986) appeared on the comp What Is Truth? in ’87.

“Panic Records was our pal Scott Marshall, who was at WZRD with our other friends,” Billheimer says. “He was the first person to play our first demo, Hellish Hot Bros, recorded in 1984, which had 247 ‘songs’ on it. He was deeply impressed with its barbaric simplicity. This was all mail-order.”

“Early on, we recruited members of the legendary punk band Silver Abuse. That changed things utterly,” Billheimer says. William Meehan would become a consistent member of the Devil Bell Hippies, and Dave Purdie got involved too. “We garbage-picked the percussion—old barrels and toilets, et cetera—which really helped the beat.” Meehan and Marshall, his bandmate in noise group Burden of Friendship, both played with the Hippies at that 1986 WZRD benefit; Marshall added what Billheimer calls “ridiculous synthy drums.”

The Devil Bell Hippies have issued the vast majority of their releases themselves, but Panic Records also put out a self-titled DBH cassette in 1987. “I think several of them even got ordered,” Billheimer jokes. “Most of our releases were live recordings. Weasel got us a few sessions at small studios, and those are the best-recorded ones (this was in the early and mid-1990s).”

The aforementioned Weasel is self-described “brutal prog” purveyor Weasel Walter, whose past and current bands include the Flying Luttenbachers, Lake of Dracula, Behold the Arctopus, Cellular Chaos, and Lydia Lunch Retrovirus. He encountered the Devil Bell Hippies in the early 90s and soon got involved. “Martin Billheimer is a genius—he’s the no-wave James Joyce,” Walter says. “I first saw them in 1993 and it blew my mind. I think the first gig I saw was at the Double Door, and it was utterly hilarious. There were about ten people onstage, all in stupid outfits, out of their minds. It was like Animal House meets early Half Japanese. The club wasn’t pleased. I doubt they played the straight venues twice—ever. I saw them play all the small dumps over the 90s.”

Despite the extreme flexibility of the DBH lineup, the collective has passed through distinct eras during its long history. William Meehan from Silver Abuse colored the band’s sound strongly in the 80s, and around 1990, several of Billheimer’s friends from Indiana joined—at about the same time as they came to Chicago and formed the grungy metal band Wicker Man. “For the next ten years or so, they played most of the gigs,” Billheimer says. “At that point, we started to have loads of guest musicians and really anyone could join. It got more and more chaotic. There were a few gigs that even I didn’t play. Weasel joined about 1993 and gave us a renaissance indeed. Very important, the Weasel Era. He is still in the band.”

Walter has helped organize the Devil Bell Hippies’ unwieldy discography for the beginnings of a proper Discogs page, cataloging their many DIY cassettes of bizarre noise, field recordings, spoken-word rants, sound collages, and overloaded instrumental attacks. He’s also made detailed notes of the dates, venues, and lineups of many of their shows. In his entry for a Lounge Ax gig in 1996, I notice Tye Coon, lead singer of underappreciated noise-rock band Hog Lady. 

“My shit is all in order—they were just into chaos,” Walter says. “I neither claim to be a member or expert, just a fan.” 

Walter’s notes for a show at Roby’s on April 4, 2000, read as follows: “Duc de Zima (vacuum cleaner), Bosco Necronomicon (electric mandolin), Sean Carney (keyboard), ‘Mike’ (vocal, poetry), E-ROL (drums, etc). Laundry Room Squelchers, Cock E.S.P., Stagecoach, and Metalux also appeared.” I was at this gig, but appropriately, I barely remember it.

A few months later, at the Fireside Bowl on July 30, 2000, the Devil Bell Hippies brought a different crowd: “Erazmus Khan the Kruel (TV), Bosco Necronomicon (mandolin), Bronco Asmodeus (beer), Duc de Zima (vo-kills, CD player), Martin of Billheimer (metal), Keith Poseurslaughter (metal), a guy (guitar), Johnny Sweet (synth). Songs included ‘Pile of Poseurs’ and ‘Soapy’s Revenge.’” 

Walter describes an especially absurd DBH set at the Congress Theater, which his band Vanilla (sort of a sarcastic throwback heavy-metal outfit) had rented for a Halloween show. “About 50 people showed up, and that place is BIG—it was ridiculous,” he says. “The Hippies were insane that night, big stage, big sound, total mayhem. Martin had gone out and rolled around in muddy water or something before he hit the stage. It was like a satanic southern preacher.” 

In the late 90s, as Walter remembers it, the band’s momentum faltered—it seemed like most of the folks involved were simply losing interest. “I actually did a Hippies gig where I was the only person who showed up!” he says. “It was just me dancing around with a blanket and some random guy playing trombone sometimes.”

Some relatively Devil Bell Hippies music, written in 2013 and updated in with anti-Trump sentiments in 2018

I could fill several articles this length with gonzo stories about DBH gigs, so I’ll stop with just one more. “DBH got into a brawl with these guys in a very silly band called the Electric Hellfire Club at a Whitehouse show at the Empty Bottle,” Billheimer says. “Can’t remember why it started . . . they were being assholes, we probably were too. It stopped the show, and I was pretty drunk and can’t remember much of it. Nobody got really hurt, aside from a couple bloody noses. 

“The next day, our bass player Phil (aka Bronco Asmodeus) brought Peter Sotos and William Bennett from Whitehouse into where I worked at the time (Rose Records downtown, a job I had for about two weeks), and we all laughed about it. Bennett managed to get his finger broken in the melee—I think someone fell on him onstage—and he had it in a splint. But they seemed really happy that their music was still able to provoke violence. A few weeks later, the Electric Hellfire Club sent word that we should all stop feuding and unite to worship Satan, which I thought was pretty funny.”

By now, you surely understand that the Devil Bell Hippies were more than a band, or less than a band, or something not quite a band. “Performance art” seems too lofty a term for their aggressively weird, off-the-hook underground happenings, but there isn’t really a better one. When I ask Billheimer what makes the group’s sound special, he says, “The appalling lack of cohesion and utter lack of the musical element in music.” 

That’s not to say that some of the folks joining the demented party weren’t respected musicians in other contexts. “We picked up musicians who later made other bands, people who could actually play or were good at faking it,” Billheimer says. “We had special guests: Ron Holzner from Trouble played a TV set once, and we recorded with a fabulous opera singer who called herself Madame Iron Butterfly.”

Billheimer’s high school friend Kevin Junior, later the leader of classy orchestral-pop band the Chamber Strings, even played gigs with the Hippies. “There were so many people,” Billheimer says. “Sometimes a couple of us would show up and recruit band members from whatever dopes were hanging around the club or bar.” 

“Bad Night at Mongos” appears on the 2019 Devil Bell Hippies album Inhuman Resources.

Last year Billheimer published the historical book Mother Chicago: Truant Dreams and Specters Over the Gilded Age, which he describes as “unearthing the crimes of capitalism via neighborhood legends, occult street lore, and the psychology of walking around this city in its new feudal psychological landscape.” Despite his new status as an author, he insists that the Hippies have never broken up. “Devil Bell Hippies is more than a legend, it is a name,” he says. “We return sporadically. No one notices either our appearances or absences—and this is the key to real integrity. Like in Zen, you know?”

Billheimer further claims that a new Devil Bell Hippies recording is in the works, to be titled Pig State Pigs. “It has me, Keith [Pastrick] from Wicker Man, Sally Smmit (the old Hangahar soundtrack nom de guerre of Sally Timms, which she doubtless wishes to retain), and is being finished very slowly,” he says. “I have about half kinda done, and it will be of epic length. Lockdown music. Wanna play on it?”

I just might.

The radio version of the Secret History of Chicago Music airs on Outside the Loop on WGN Radio 720 AM, Saturdays at 5 AM with host Mike Stephen. Past shows are archived here.

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The Janes is a call to action

We Chicagoans are a proud bunch, and usually with good reason. For many, we’re especially appreciative of our city’s radical history, from the echoing impact of the storied Haymarket Affair to things happening now which will undoubtedly become part of our oppidan tapestry. The aptly named Windy City nevertheless endures as a weathered barometer of this country’s leftist politics.

It’s that past to which we look now, both for guidance and inspiration. “So many activist organizations were headquartered [in Chicago],” says documentary filmmaker Tia Lessin (who codirected Citizen Koch [2013] and the Oscar-nominated Trouble the Water [2008]), “between Students for a Democratic Society, the Young Lords, the Weather Underground, one of the largest Black Panther chapters was in Chicago . . . the Janes were really part of the fabric of that time.” 

She’s referring to the Jane Collective, an underground organization that helped women access abortions and even began providing the service themselves, performing over 11,000 between 1969 and 1973. The motley crew of unlikely outlaws are the subject of a new documentary, The Janes, which Lessin codirected with Emma Pildes. This timely ode opens the annual Doc10 Film Festival on Thursday with two sold-out screenings (it’ll premiere on HBO on Wednesday, June 8); both directors will appear in person, as well as the largest reunion of Janes since 1973.

“I felt particularly thrilled to make a film about Chicago, and a film about Chicago at that time,” says Pildes. “I’m sure there were a million interesting places on planet earth, and Chicago was certainly one of them.”

Pildes has a personal connection to the film, which was codeveloped and produced by her half-brother Daniel Arcana. Arcana’s mother, Judith, was a Jane, and their father was a lawyer who advised the group. Both appear in the film, along with other former members and several people who were associated with the collective either by giving assistance or by benefiting from their clandestine services.

The documentary features an inspired use of archival material threaded through the interviews. Per Lessin, these assets were sourced from a variety of places here in Chicago, including the Chicago Film Archives (she mentions the films of JoAnn Elam, an experimental filmmaker whose best work focused on labor and women’s rights), Kartemquin Films, and even Chicago’s favorite chronicler of the everyday. 

“We were able to use some of the beautiful 8-millimeter camera work of Vivian Maier,” she says, “whose really candid shots of people in the street were pretty extra special to us in painting a picture of what life was like in Chicago.”

The film’s crucial story is anchored by candid recollections charting the group’s origins on the University of Chicago campus—where, in 1965, Heather Booth began referring women to a known abortionist, civil rights leader and surgeon T.R.M. Howard, after learning of a friend’s sister’s unwanted pregnancy—to the “official” establishment of its unofficial and highly illegal enterprise (including details of the labyrinthine process the Janes undertook to evade authorities), to the 1972 police raid that resulted in several members being arrested. As luck would have it, their lawyer was able to delay the judicial process, biding time in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade.

Diane Stevens was one of the Jane members arrested during the bust. She’d joined the group after getting her own abortion—a legal, “therapeutic” abortion she procured in California after pleading her case with two psychiatrists and a doctor. She says she was spurred by her desire to help women in the same situation she had been in.

“We were the women . . . there wasn’t a separation,” she says. “That was something we felt strongly about. In my group, ‘professionalism’ was like, where you think of yourself and the doctor, in a white coat, probably male, so apart from you. That wasn’t the case [with us]. These women, we were in it together. We explained everything to them, we provided them with the education, and they trusted us. They opened up their lives to us. We were together.”

Her experience with the Jane Collective inspired her to pursue a career in health care, specifically helping underserved communities. A likely career for an unlikely abortionist, in more ways than one.

“[The police] kept asking where the doctor was,” she recalls about the raid. “‘Where are the men? Where’s the doctor?’ And of course there weren’t any.”

Recently a draft opinion scribed by Justice Samuel Alito foretelling the potential ​abrogation of Roe v. Wade was leaked to the press, resulting in widespread panic over the future of reproductive (and potentially other) rights in the United States. The times they are a-changin’, no. Rather, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“On the 50th anniversary of the bust of the Janes . . . May 3,” points out Lessin, “that was the same day as the leak of the Alito opinion, 50 years later.”

Doc10 opening night screening of The Janes
May 19, 7 PM; Davis Theater, 4614 N. Lincoln; sold out. Join the waitlist.
The Janes streaming on HBO June 8

The documentary is punctuated by harrowing stories of illegal abortions obtained outside the Jane network, whether self-induced or via the mob, veritable exclamation points that emphasize the importance of access to safe abortions. “We can talk a lot about it and watch things on the news and read things on social media and all that,” says Pildes, “but these are real women dying. And real women that are gonna die and be injured and afraid . . . it’s a visceral experience through these women’s testimony of what this country looks like when women don’t have the right to make this decision for themselves and what the repercussions of that really are.”

The film begins with a woman recounting the story of her mob-affiliated abortion, a decidedly impersonal experience that highlights the terrifying uncertainty around the procedure back when it was illegal. “We were searching for women who used the service, who were willing to go on camera,” says Pildes. “That was sort of the tough spot that we were having.”

How was that issue resolved? “Dory, who starts the film talking about her mob abortion and then later in the film speaks about her Jane abortion, came to us because . . . we had hit every wall, we had no idea what left to do . . . so we placed an ad in the Reader.” 

“We went old school,” she says, “and it worked.”

The old-school method of placing an ad worked, yes, but old-school methods of handling abortion won’t. The filmmakers hope their documentary will help people realize this.

“We’re hoping that this film can really reach people all around the country and around the world to help underscore what it looks like when abortion is criminalized,” says Lessin. “What we know for a fact is that making abortion illegal does not stop women from seeking abortions, it just keeps them from getting safe abortions.”

The Janes is not just a cautionary tale but a call to action for those willing and able to assist should Roe v. Wade be overturned. As Lessin points out, “Illinois looks like it’s going to continue to be a sanctuary state, where people will be able to access abortion care, but it’s pretty clear that the clinics in Chicago and elsewhere will be flooded with folks who are going across the border from Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan . . . and swimming across the lake if they have to . . . to get abortion care.”

It’s a sobering thought with an even more discomfiting reality, which should galvanize those looking to help, the unassumingly heroic Janes an inspiration for what might be needed. “That is really going to drain the resources of the local providers,” Lessin continues. “Even as abortion probably will continue to be legal in the state of Illinois, there will be long lines, there will be waiting lists . . . and [it will be] potentially impossible to access care. There will also be people coming in from out of town who will need housing. They may need rides, they may need some help subsidizing and defraying the cost of their travel . . . the people of Chicago can continue in the tradition of the Janes to be of service.”

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The Devil Bell Hippies: Chicago’s greatest avant-garde band that only kind of existsSteve Krakowon May 18, 2022 at 4:54 pm

Since 2004 Plastic Crimewave (aka Steve Krakow) has used the Secret History of Chicago Music to shine a light on worthy artists with Chicago ties who’ve been forgotten, underrated, or never noticed in the first place.

When I finished college downstate and moved to the Windy City in 1995, the Chicago no-wave scene was breaking apart. While still in school, I’d often driven three hours to catch gigs here, and after my move I caught the last shows by local no-wave stars the Scissor Girls and Lake of Dracula

The original no-wave scene, born in New York in the late 70s, was a confrontational avant-garde movement whose bands used lots of clattery dissonance, and in a nod to that precedent, the Windy City scene was sometimes called “Chicago no wave,” “now wave,” or simply “new no wave.” When the CD compilation Chicken Bomb dropped in 1996, coreleased by the Lumpen Times, it put Chicago no wave in context by juxtaposing young locals (including lesser-known groups such as Xerobot and Monitor Radio) with influential New York no wavers James Chance & the Contortions and international skronkers Dog Faced Hermans. It also seemed like a headstone for the scene.

Scenes don’t just wink out of existence, of course, and the likes of Metalux, the Flying Luttenbachers, and Bride of No No continued to carry a torch for noisy, abrasive not-exactly-rock music. (The scuzzy freak-out bands I played in at the time shared bills with all of them.) With the possible exception of the groups led by Zeek Sheck (I once saw her with an insanely huge ensemble at 6Odum), none were more shambolic and confounding than the Devil Bell Hippies—though they’re barely even a band and have never been part of any real scene. They’ve existed for nearly 40 years without becoming any easier to define.

“There is no real lineup per se, never has been. Anyone can join. We’ve had countless members,” says cofounder Martin Billheimer. “Just say you’re in and you’re in. We might even play a show again someday. . . . Members are contacted by secret communiqué. The main obligation is spiritual.”

Billheimer was born in 1970 in Uptown, and when he was still a child his family moved to the industrial city of Bradford in Yorkshire, England. At age 11, they returned to the Windy City, and Billheimer soon found his musical calling. “The Devil Bell Hippies started when I was 13, in 1983, by me and my best friend at the time, Scott Brewer, in Albany Park,” he says. “The whole mess just grew on from there, attracting members like a Danish attracts flies.” 

While attending Lincoln Park High, Billheimer developed antifascist leanings and got deeply into punk. He also met fellow malcontents on the same path, including future Devil Bell Hippies member Eric Colin Reidelberger. “We were two of maybe seven kids that were into punk rock in our school,” Reidelberger recalls. Billheimer soon dropped out of high school and went to work, taking jobs as a dishwasher, house painter, construction worker, and furniture mover.

Billheimer’s band concept drew from a wide variety of subcultural sources: he mentions sword-and-sorcery movies and kung-fu matinees at the city’s long-gone downtown movie houses, as well as early-80s hardcore (MDC, Verbal Abuse, Earth A.D.-era Misfits). The Devil Bell Hippies also liked late-70s industrial music (SPK, Throbbing Gristle), though they saw it as unintentionally funny in its self-seriousness. 

“We were influenced by Bowie, Culturcide, old horror movies on Son of Svengoolie, Weekly World News, by anti-Nazi and pro-communist sentiments . . . but most of all, by the dreary landscape of north-side Chicago and its gang mythology,” Billheimer says. “The band was then a mishmash of obscure references to north-side lore, played on acoustic guitar and bongos and kitchen pots. We made Jad Fair look like King Crimson in comparison. A hideous thrift-store din . . . at least early on. Later, we got people who could (kinda) play.”

Reidelberger never played any shows with the band, but he recorded with them frequently in those larval years. “I was banging and howling away on some of the earlier cassettes,” he says. “My memories of DBH were basically making cassettes at Martin’s house with Scott, and peppering the recordings with our in-jokes and anything that we found funny, including bell-bottoms—hence the name. This would have been 1984 and ’85. I do remember being encouraged to not be musical. Our approach was very Throbbing Gristle-esque.”

The Hippies’ first proper gig was at a WZRD benefit in 1986, and they had some pretty impressive company: Ono, the Effigies, Naked Raygun. They played for just ten minutes, but part of their set made it onto the 1987 Panic Records compilation What Is Truth?, alongside material by weirdo luminaries Eugene Chadbourne and Phil Minton

Part of the Devil Bell Hippies’ first live set (at a WZRD benefit in 1986) appeared on the comp What Is Truth? in ’87.

“Panic Records was our pal Scott Marshall, who was at WZRD with our other friends,” Billheimer says. “He was the first person to play our first demo, Hellish Hot Bros, recorded in 1984, which had 247 ‘songs’ on it. He was deeply impressed with its barbaric simplicity. This was all mail-order.”

“Early on, we recruited members of the legendary punk band Silver Abuse. That changed things utterly,” Billheimer says. William Meehan would become a consistent member of the Devil Bell Hippies, and Dave Purdie got involved too. “We garbage-picked the percussion—old barrels and toilets, et cetera—which really helped the beat.” Meehan and Marshall, his bandmate in noise group Burden of Friendship, both played with the Hippies at that 1986 WZRD benefit; Marshall added what Billheimer calls “ridiculous synthy drums.”

The Devil Bell Hippies have issued the vast majority of their releases themselves, but Panic Records also put out a self-titled DBH cassette in 1987. “I think several of them even got ordered,” Billheimer jokes. “Most of our releases were live recordings. Weasel got us a few sessions at small studios, and those are the best-recorded ones (this was in the early and mid-1990s).”

The aforementioned Weasel is self-described “brutal prog” purveyor Weasel Walter, whose past and current bands include the Flying Luttenbachers, Lake of Dracula, Behold the Arctopus, Cellular Chaos, and Lydia Lunch Retrovirus. He encountered the Devil Bell Hippies in the early 90s and soon got involved. “Martin Billheimer is a genius—he’s the no-wave James Joyce,” Walter says. “I first saw them in 1993 and it blew my mind. I think the first gig I saw was at the Double Door, and it was utterly hilarious. There were about ten people onstage, all in stupid outfits, out of their minds. It was like Animal House meets early Half Japanese. The club wasn’t pleased. I doubt they played the straight venues twice—ever. I saw them play all the small dumps over the 90s.”

Despite the extreme flexibility of the DBH lineup, the collective has passed through distinct eras during its long history. William Meehan from Silver Abuse colored the band’s sound strongly in the 80s, and around 1990, several of Billheimer’s friends from Indiana joined—at about the same time as they came to Chicago and formed the grungy metal band Wicker Man. “For the next ten years or so, they played most of the gigs,” Billheimer says. “At that point, we started to have loads of guest musicians and really anyone could join. It got more and more chaotic. There were a few gigs that even I didn’t play. Weasel joined about 1993 and gave us a renaissance indeed. Very important, the Weasel Era. He is still in the band.”

Walter has helped organize the Devil Bell Hippies’ unwieldy discography for the beginnings of a proper Discogs page, cataloging their many DIY cassettes of bizarre noise, field recordings, spoken-word rants, sound collages, and overloaded instrumental attacks. He’s also made detailed notes of the dates, venues, and lineups of many of their shows. In his entry for a Lounge Ax gig in 1996, I notice Tye Coon, lead singer of underappreciated noise-rock band Hog Lady. 

“My shit is all in order—they were just into chaos,” Walter says. “I neither claim to be a member or expert, just a fan.” 

Walter’s notes for a show at Roby’s on April 4, 2000, read as follows: “Duc de Zima (vacuum cleaner), Bosco Necronomicon (electric mandolin), Sean Carney (keyboard), ‘Mike’ (vocal, poetry), E-ROL (drums, etc). Laundry Room Squelchers, Cock E.S.P., Stagecoach, and Metalux also appeared.” I was at this gig, but appropriately, I barely remember it.

A few months later, at the Fireside Bowl on July 30, 2000, the Devil Bell Hippies brought a different crowd: “Erazmus Khan the Kruel (TV), Bosco Necronomicon (mandolin), Bronco Asmodeus (beer), Duc de Zima (vo-kills, CD player), Martin of Billheimer (metal), Keith Poseurslaughter (metal), a guy (guitar), Johnny Sweet (synth). Songs included ‘Pile of Poseurs’ and ‘Soapy’s Revenge.’” 

Walter describes an especially absurd DBH set at the Congress Theater, which his band Vanilla (sort of a sarcastic throwback heavy-metal outfit) had rented for a Halloween show. “About 50 people showed up, and that place is BIG—it was ridiculous,” he says. “The Hippies were insane that night, big stage, big sound, total mayhem. Martin had gone out and rolled around in muddy water or something before he hit the stage. It was like a satanic southern preacher.” 

In the late 90s, as Walter remembers it, the band’s momentum faltered—it seemed like most of the folks involved were simply losing interest. “I actually did a Hippies gig where I was the only person who showed up!” he says. “It was just me dancing around with a blanket and some random guy playing trombone sometimes.”

Some relatively Devil Bell Hippies music, written in 2013 and updated in with anti-Trump sentiments in 2018

I could fill several articles this length with gonzo stories about DBH gigs, so I’ll stop with just one more. “DBH got into a brawl with these guys in a very silly band called the Electric Hellfire Club at a Whitehouse show at the Empty Bottle,” Billheimer says. “Can’t remember why it started . . . they were being assholes, we probably were too. It stopped the show, and I was pretty drunk and can’t remember much of it. Nobody got really hurt, aside from a couple bloody noses. 

“The next day, our bass player Phil (aka Bronco Asmodeus) brought Peter Sotos and William Bennett from Whitehouse into where I worked at the time (Rose Records downtown, a job I had for about two weeks), and we all laughed about it. Bennett managed to get his finger broken in the melee—I think someone fell on him onstage—and he had it in a splint. But they seemed really happy that their music was still able to provoke violence. A few weeks later, the Electric Hellfire Club sent word that we should all stop feuding and unite to worship Satan, which I thought was pretty funny.”

By now, you surely understand that the Devil Bell Hippies were more than a band, or less than a band, or something not quite a band. “Performance art” seems too lofty a term for their aggressively weird, off-the-hook underground happenings, but there isn’t really a better one. When I ask Billheimer what makes the group’s sound special, he says, “The appalling lack of cohesion and utter lack of the musical element in music.” 

That’s not to say that some of the folks joining the demented party weren’t respected musicians in other contexts. “We picked up musicians who later made other bands, people who could actually play or were good at faking it,” Billheimer says. “We had special guests: Ron Holzner from Trouble played a TV set once, and we recorded with a fabulous opera singer who called herself Madame Iron Butterfly.”

Billheimer’s high school friend Kevin Junior, later the leader of classy orchestral-pop band the Chamber Strings, even played gigs with the Hippies. “There were so many people,” Billheimer says. “Sometimes a couple of us would show up and recruit band members from whatever dopes were hanging around the club or bar.” 

“Bad Night at Mongos” appears on the 2019 Devil Bell Hippies album Inhuman Resources.

Last year Billheimer published the historical book Mother Chicago: Truant Dreams and Specters Over the Gilded Age, which he describes as “unearthing the crimes of capitalism via neighborhood legends, occult street lore, and the psychology of walking around this city in its new feudal psychological landscape.” Despite his new status as an author, he insists that the Hippies have never broken up. “Devil Bell Hippies is more than a legend, it is a name,” he says. “We return sporadically. No one notices either our appearances or absences—and this is the key to real integrity. Like in Zen, you know?”

Billheimer further claims that a new Devil Bell Hippies recording is in the works, to be titled Pig State Pigs. “It has me, Keith [Pastrick] from Wicker Man, Sally Smmit (the old Hangahar soundtrack nom de guerre of Sally Timms, which she doubtless wishes to retain), and is being finished very slowly,” he says. “I have about half kinda done, and it will be of epic length. Lockdown music. Wanna play on it?”

I just might.

The radio version of the Secret History of Chicago Music airs on Outside the Loop on WGN Radio 720 AM, Saturdays at 5 AM with host Mike Stephen. Past shows are archived here.

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