Are We Ready for the Chicago Music Awards?

If seeing Richard Marx and Peter Cetera live onstage at the Chicago Theatre immediately calls to your mind the glories of Chicago rock ‘n’ roll, you’re on the same wavelength as the organizers of the upcoming Chicago Music Awards. The group, a New York-based outfit that calls itself the National Music Awards, comes into cities and puts together star-studded events that it says are designed to (a) highlight local talent and (b) make some money. They’ve done shows in Boston, New York, and LA and now are poised to let Chicago into the club. Their show was originally scheduled for November 14, but it’s now been pushed back to March. The change, says organizer Robbie Woliver, is actually a blessing in disguise–the November date was a big schedule conflict for Marx, who is now positively ecstatic that he’ll get to participate.

The organizers talk in just this way, with the names of all the stars clamoring to participate just tripping off their tongues: “Pearl Jam wants to play,” says Woliver. “Eddie Vedder grew up here: he considers himself a Chicagoan. Ministry wants to play.” Local organizer David Eisen is excited as well: “Peter Cetera wants to sing with Chaka Khan,” says Eisen. “Ministry’ll be there, Cheap Trick, Bo Diddley . . .”

The image of a scary band like Ministry making nice onstage at the Chicago Theatre seems a bit farfetched, but the group’s management says that they did indeed agree to at least present an award in November before having to cancel because of a European tour; they haven’t ruled out participation in March. The organizers are definitely not scam artists: the New York Music Awards are in their seventh year, and New Yorkers report that the shows actually go on, with those who’ve been advertised to show up showing up. The event’s main problem, they say, is a People’s Choice Awards-ish indiscriminateness. Nominees for this year’s “artist of the year” prize at the October 10 New York show are Vanessa Williams, Paul Simon, L.L. Cool J, Mariah Carey, and Michael Bolton. That’s a pretty motley crew, and it’s not helped by the fact that the only two serious artists on the list haven’t released anything for more than a year.

Here’s how the voting works: Local industry types–label reps, club owners, DJs, writers–have already received a detailed four-page questionnaire asking for nominations in 60-some categories, from “artist of the year” and “rising star” to “best local/unsigned heavy metal band.” From these nominations, Woliver says, the group assembles its competitors, then distributes two ballots: one for the public, disseminated through the press and in stores, and one for industry people. These two ballots are tallied separately and then combined, with the industry results weighted in some fashion. Awards are distributed at the show, with the public invited to shell out $35 to $75 at the door and another $20 or $30 for this or that pre- or post-show soiree, where they can presumably touch noses with Marx, Cetera, or–gulp–Al Jourgensen. Chicago’s first show will have an additional fillip: while the organizers make it clear that it is meant to be a profit-making proposition, at least part of the Chicago proceeds will go to the Chicago Academy for the Arts.

Can they pull it off in Chicago? The group’s beginnings here haven’t been particularly auspicious. Early on an intern munchkin called around–out of the blue–asking local music people to provide letters of support for the undertaking. Next came the nominating questionnaire. Then the November 14 event was postponed, and there things sit. No definite March date has been set.

The Illinois Entertainer awards got off to a somewhat embarrassing start two years ago, but they cleaned up their act and put together a respectable talent and awards lineup for their second last July. The next one will probably be even better. It’s pretty clear that what Chicago does not need at this point is a vehicle to fete sloppy MOR balladeers like Marx and Cetera. To this contention Woliver replies with an audible shrug. “What we want to do is bring attention to this incredibly vital and burgeoning rock scene,” he says. “It’s good to have the credibility of Richard Marx to help young bands get attention.”

Three Questions

The imponderables of rock ‘n’ roll are many, from why does Billy Joel exist to why do so many current groups (Metallica, Faith No More, Soundgarden, to name just three) feature guitarists with funny facial hair. Here are three equally knotty problems I’m having trouble with:

1. What, in “Brass in Pocket,” does Chrissie Hynde say after the words “Gonna use my arms / Gonna use my legs / Gonna use my style / Gonna use my _____”?

2. What is the proper pronunciation of the title of Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker,” the reggaefied rocker with the “You don’t have to go” chorus on Houses of the Holy?

3. What does Grace Slick sing in “White Rabbit” after the words “When logic and proportion have fallen _____?”

And speaking of sad old Bay Area rock ‘n’ rollers, how ’bout that Jerry Garcia, grounding the Dead after a bout with exhaustion brought on, so his doctor says, by too many corn dogs and milkshakes? First time we’ve heard about Jerry’s problems with junk food. You can send get-well cards and any spare Big Macs, doughnuts, and Haagen Dazs to Jerry c/o Grateful Dead Productions, PO Box 1073, San Rafael, CA 94915.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ron Keith.