Marcus “Mixx” Shannon at the Chicago Cultural Center, where he often works on his tracks. In the background is a piece of art that appeared in the 2015 exhibit Move Your Body: The Evolution of House Music, composed of the names of dance labels. Credit: Alexus McLane

Marcus “Mixx” Shannon has been making house music since the mid-80s, when the style was the beating heart of Chicago nightlife. In 1987, Farley “Jackmaster” Funk of the famous Hot Mix 5 played Shannon’s very first release, the 12-inch single “I Wanna House!,” on one of the crew’s hugely influential WBMX radio shows. Original copies of Shannon’s early records now provoke bitter squabbles among hard-core collectors—a compilation he made in 1989 has sold for as much as $500—but none of the money changing hands makes it to him.

Instead Shannon relies on the generosity of friends and earns a dollar here and there from the roughly 250 new house tracks he’s uploaded to Bandcamp since joining a year and a half ago. “Some days I’ll crap out three or four songs a day, some weeks it may be ten,” he says. He works in GarageBand on a 2018 MacBook, often near the north entrance of the Chicago Cultural Center or in a cubicle on the seventh floor of the Harold Washington Library. He also uses the library’s eighth-floor music practice rooms to shoot scenes for Marcus Mixx on TV, the 30-minute music show he’s made on and off since the 1990s for cable-access channel CAN TV. Sometimes he performs alongside sock puppets, which are really just plain socks with his hands in them, including a white one with a gray heel and a gray toe that he calls “Rockerd.” Shannon says the socks were a donation—with the exception of a couple months last year, he’s been living in homeless shelters since 2014.

Shannon, 52, doesn’t hesitate to discuss his circumstances on Facebook and in short YouTube videos. He has a robust albeit sparsely trafficked Web presence, which he uses to offer his video-editing skills for as little as $25 (he usually calls his service “Cheap, but Not Cheap Video”). Last year he joined the video production team of new label Wake Up! Music, run by Pepper Gomez, a house vocalist who recorded for crucial Chicago imprint DJ International in the 80s. Shannon says he could do more work—he’d like to film events, not just edit video—but he’s held back by the hours of the Garfield Park shelter where he stays. (It’s operated by Franciscan Outreach at Walls Memorial CME Church.) If he doesn’t arrive by 6:30 PM, he can’t be sure of a bed for the night.

On January 7, Shannon launched a GoFundMe to help him rent an apartment. If he finds one, it’ll be his first—he lived in the house where he grew up till 2008, after which he stayed with his father and then his brother, whose hospitality eventually ran out. “I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I have to swallow my pride & just face the facts that I can’t move forward in my life on any level until I get a few basic things in order,” Shannon wrote on his fund-raising page.

He met his $3,000 goal in two weeks, and so far 125 people have donated. He hopes to find a place for $500 a month—just a room where he can stash his cameras and computer, sleep, and do work. “I’m really looking for something with all utilities, and if it had a shared bathroom—I don’t really need a stove or anything,” he says. “I just really need a little space.”

On January 10, Shannon uploaded to Bandcamp a new remix of his earliest song, titled “‘I Wanna House Now (or at Least a Room)’—No Furniture Needed Mixx.” Many of the commenters on his GoFundMe page appeared to know him only through his music, and a couple even specifically referenced his old material, including the original 1987 version of “I Wanna House!”

YouTube video
  • Marcus “Mixx” Shannon’s 1987 debut, “I Wanna House!”

Shannon stopped DJing in 1995, and by the turn of the century he was largely isolated—his parents had split, and he was living in their old house alone. But his music had taken on a life of its own—especially the house 12-inches he’d made in the late 80s and early 90s with a loose circle of friends. Back then Shannon had started several labels (Under Dog, Missing Dog Records, Missing Records, Get Wet & Sweat Records), each of which released just a record or two, most in small batches that topped out at 700 copies. Those early recordings have earned him a cult following, and Missing Dog’s 1989 compilation Volume 2 has sold on Discogs for as much as Shannon hopes to pay for a month’s rent.

Producer Ron Morelli, who runs an important outre dance label called Long Island Electrical Systems (L.I.E.S.), sees Shannon’s offbeat music as critical to the development of a psychedelic strain in early house. “A lot of people don’t like that stuff—a lot of people think it’s too raw or it’s underproduced or it doesn’t hit. But to me, that energy and that spirit is the true energy of house music,” he says. “It’s just a couple people getting in a basement studio, just rockin’ out, and making really tweaked-out stuff for their own enjoyment—maybe with the hopes of a DJ playing it and hearing their stuff on the radio. For me, it’s really the spirit that they did it in—it’s the true DIY spirit.”

Marcus “Mixx” Shannon at the Cultural Center
Marcus “Mixx” Shannon at the Cultural CenterCredit: Alexus McLane

In the mid-80s, when Shannon was a student at Columbia College, he saw an advertising card for Head Studios that promised recording for $12 an hour. He drove to 18th Street in Pilsen, a few blocks east of I-90, where he met engineer Liam Gallegos: “An Italian guy, long hair,” Shannon remembers. “He looked sort of like Rambo.” Gallegos, who would later record and produce as Gitano Camero and L.I.A.M., had set up Head Studios in a one-bedroom apartment with high ceilings. He’d completely emptied out the bedroom so he could use it to track drums, and he slept in a loft he’d built above his studio setup, which included a reel-to-reel machine and a Commodore 64. One of the few pieces of furniture was a swing.

“One day this black kid comes in and says, ‘Hey, do you do house?’ I was like, ‘Well, this is a loft, dude,'” Gallegos says. “I didn’t know what house was.”

Shannon was happy to demonstrate. “When we did our first session, I was like, ‘Can you turn that bass drum up?’ He looked at me like, ‘That’s too loud,'” Shannon says. “I said, ‘No, that’s house.'” After an hour, Gallegos was hooked—he didn’t even ask Shannon to pay for the session. “He begged me to come back the following weekend—’Let’s just hang out and do this,'” Shannon remembers.

Shannon and Gallegos liked to party at Head with whichever friends showed up: on the 1987 compilation Missing Records Special Edition Volume 1, the follow-up to “I Wanna House!,” the guests include Kevin “Krazy K” Dobbins, Gallegos’s girlfriend China, and Corey “Send” Shannon, Marcus’s brother. Once folks had gotten pleasantly drunk and started to mess around with the studio gear, Gallegos had the foresight to start recording, capturing material that could later be reworked into formal releases. “If there’s a golden moment that happens when you’re doing these jam sessions—I don’t know what it is, but if you go ‘Wait a second, let me record!’ you scare it away. It doesn’t come back,” he says. “The same people there, three seconds later, they can’t do what they were just doing. I would have this tape recorder going, and I would take my finger off the pause just to capture the moment.”

Shannon recalls listening simultaneously to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and house heavyweight Jamie Principle while jamming, and he says he’d sometimes sing like Pee-wee Herman. The recordings that emerged from this atmosphere pushed house toward the fringe but kept its four-on-the-floor foundation intact: “Psychousic,” from Missing Dog’s 1988 compilation Volume 1, is dominated by a robotic arpeggiating synth that sounds like it’s rattling around in a downspout, but it’s spread across blistered tom-toms and an omnipresent, thundering bass drum. “Songs like ‘Psychousic’—there are maybe two or three other tracks like that we did in the same night,” Shannon says.

  • Let’s Pet Puppies reissued the 1988 track “Psychousic” in 2007.

Most of those tracks never saw the light of day, but what Shannon and Gallegos decided to release they’d send to Dixie Record Pressing in Nashville. “It was cheap as hell,” Gallegos says. “Seventy-five cents a record or something ridiculously cheap.” They’d press a few hundred, and Shannon would distribute most of them to local shops—notably South Loop house-scene hub Importes Etc. He also enlisted Ray Barney, owner of the Dance Mania label and crucial west-side store and distro Barney’s Records, to help get copies into retailers outside Chicago.

Sometimes shops would ask for more copies after a run had sold out, but Shannon didn’t consistently follow through. “I would press up, press up, but I just didn’t stick to it—I really can’t say why,” he says. “It was like, ‘I’m on my next project, I’ll let that sit and do that whenever,’ even though it was mastered. I didn’t really have that business vibe at the time.”

In the mid-2000s, Gallegos found an eBay listing for one of the 12-inches he’d made with Shannon. “One of our old records is selling for 500 fucking dollars—we were like, ‘What’s going on?'” he says. “All of a sudden, this old work had value. There was this guy who was coming and saying, ‘Look, I want to rerelease some of your stuff.'” That guy was Thomos Oakes, who’d moved to Chicago from Kentucky in 2000.

“I was a hard-core record collector, and I became aware of the Marcus Mixx records and just hunted them like crazy,” Oakes says. “People were paying $2,000 for these records. I’m still missing a few of them.”

Oakes reached out to Shannon, who asked him to swing by his parents’ house in Beverly Woods on the far south side. “The house is just falling apart—it’s like a weird haunted-house thing,” Oakes says. “I meet him, go in, he gives me beer. We’re sitting there, talking, and it becomes evident to me that the guy is kind of a hermit—he leaves the house, but he leaves the house to go to the liquor store on the corner and to the bus stop, and only on errands that he has to go to.” By that time Shannon wasn’t seeing much of Gallegos, who’d relocated Head Studios to the north side. (In 2006 Gallegos moved to France.)

Oakes pitched the pair on reissuing their old music. “They didn’t really understand,” he says. “They’re like, ‘Oh, this is really cool, but why do you give a shit?'” Oakes convinced Shannon and Gallegos to transfer the rights to their music to him—he made an up-front payment, and he agreed to give Shannon all the proceeds from any releases. Most of the recordings that Shannon and Gallegos made were never issued in any form, however, and much of that unreleased material is unaccounted for. “They gave me this list: ‘Oh yeah, here’s two or three hundred songs that we wrote,'” Oakes says. “I realized that 60 percent of it’s missing still. That just kills me—that it was just thrown away or something, ’cause nobody thought it was important.”

Longtime Marcus Mixx collaborator Liam Gallegos
Longtime Marcus Mixx collaborator Liam GallegosCredit: Courtesy of Thomos Oakes/Let’s Pet Puppies

In 2006, Oakes started the label Let’s Pet Puppies to release three 12-inches of vintage Marcus Mixx material. By the time he’d put out just one more, though, his work with Shannon’s music became suddenly urgent: In 2008, Shannon’s family home was foreclosed on, and he had to move out. He’d lived his whole life there, more than 40 years, and he had to find somewhere to put all his things.

“I went down there and loaded up my car with shit—and I don’t mean, like, pillaging his house,” Oakes says. “The walls were lined with posters and flyers, and it was all gonna go in the trash, so I saved it. I saved a couple crates of records, including some white labels that I found out later were test pressings of Missing Dog stuff that was gonna go in the trash. There were two locked closets that I couldn’t get into that went in the trash. They could’ve been full of reels—I just don’t know. That kind of stuff haunts me.”

By reissuing this old material, Let’s Pet Puppies has helped preserve a strange and precious piece of house history: the ineffable chemistry between Shannon and Gallegos. “Musically, it’s important,” Oakes says. “I was a big disciple of Chicago for a really long time—I still am—but there’s certain strains of music across the different producing groups that were derivative, and there was something wholly original about these kids. They didn’t really go out and participate with other crews. They weren’t faithful regulars somewhere. They didn’t try to imitate what they did on the radio. They got drunk and they clicked ‘record.'”

  • This cut was recorded at Head Studios in 1987 and reissued by Let’s Pet Puppies in 2010.

Shannon discovered house music in the early 80s by listening to WBMX and the Hot Mix 5—their Friday-night program hit him like a thunderbolt. “Sometimes I actually avoided it, ’cause I loved it so much,” he says. “I’m like, ‘This is outstanding, how could they do this?'” While still a student at Morgan Park High School (he graduated in 1984), he’d weasel his way into fly-by-night clubs that he was too young to enter legally by offering to carry record crates for DJs. “Frankie [Knuckles], the first time I met him—’If you break my records, I’ma have to beat your bootie,'” Shannon says. “I didn’t know what he was talking about. ‘I won’t break them, Frankie, I promise.'”

Shannon wasn’t close with the key originators of house music, but of course he knew who they all were—and some of them soon learned who he was. “When Marcus’s music came out in the record stores, I never paid for music—stores gave them to me because they knew I would play them on the radio,” says Farley “Jackmaster” Funk, aka Hot Mix 5 cofounder Farley Keith. One of the records he was given was Shannon’s “I Wanna House!” 12-inch. “Me being the epicenter of house music in Chicago, emanating from the radio show in the WBMX days, I was the one who played Chicago house,” he says. Shannon couldn’t have hoped for a more powerful cosign. “I would call him an eclectic artist,” Keith says. “He’s got his own genre—that’s how different Marcus has always been.”

Keith got to know Shannon through DJ and producer Armando Gallop, who in 1989 would contribute to the second Missing Dog compilation. Gallop worked at JR Records in the Evergreen Plaza mall, and occasionally he and Keith would make the short drive over to Shannon’s place. Shannon says Keith taught him a lot about promoting parties and getting his music out there. By the early 90s, he was hosting parties at a handful of clubs, most regularly AKA’s and Coconuts, and he’d sometimes recruit a bigger-name DJ to boost attendance (and his take for the night).

Shannon also DJed at gigs other people organized. Evidence of one has been preserved in a June 1988 Chicago magazine profile of entertainment lawyer and house-scene advocate Jay B. Ross by Mark Jannott, who talked to Ross and Trax Records star “Screamin’ Rachael” Cain at a house party in a Knights of Columbus Hall on 95th Street. Shannon was on the bill, and Jannott noticed him. “Marcus is tall and thin and definitely house,” he wrote. “He’s got his hair shaved up the sides and piled on top, he’s got these funky old plastic-rimmed glasses, he’s got this stud in his ear.”

Cain still knows Shannon today. “Marcus always had his own slant of house music—he was always a bit avant-garde, but I love that about Marcus,” she says. “He’s offbeat, but he’s still house—he’s house to the core.”

Shannon was hardly a recluse in the late 80s and early 90s, but the center of his social life remained Head Studios. He occasionally convinced better-known DJs to come hang out, including house pioneer Ron Hardy, who’d DJed some of Shannon’s events. Hardy contributed to a few Head Studios sessions by giving advice on editing songs. “I’d get five minutes: ‘Ronny, listen to this,'” Shannon says. “He said, ‘Keep the bass line out for like 32 measures.’ I’m, ‘OK, OK, can I call it the Ron Hardy mix?’ ‘Yeah, I don’t care.'” In 1992, Trax sublabel Streetfire released one of these collaborations, “Liquid Love (Chicago Mix),” on the EP The Best of Ron Hardy. Let’s Pet Puppies reissued it as part of the 2017 12-inch Liquid Love.

YouTube video
  • Marcus Mixx’s 2018 video for “Liquid Love,” a collaboration with Ron Hardy originally released in 1992 and reissued in 2017

The more or less constant party at Head Studios was good for attracting collaborators, but it wasn’t great for Shannon’s bottom line. “My whole goal, and thank God it’s not like this [now], was just to get my beer money and party money,” he says. “That’s all I cared about.”

Those priorities are just about the only way to make sense of the business decisions Shannon made. “If there was a $1,200 profit, hypothetically, in one pressing, I would not put the basics in to keep that going—I just partied with it,” he says. Even his generosity with friends didn’t always come from the healthiest place. “It’d be like, ‘This guy needs his rent paid, or this paid,'” he says. “Part of my drinking too, besides liking the buzz factor—for a while I was just depressed. I wanted a girlfriend and family. I had very high anxiety—I would help out anybody.”

Marcus “Mixx” Shannon at the Cultural Center, in front of a photo of house pioneer Ron Hardy at the Muzic Box
Marcus “Mixx” Shannon at the Cultural Center, in front of a photo of house pioneer Ron Hardy at the Muzic BoxCredit: Alexus McLane

In 1987, Gallegos began broadcasting a program on public-access channel CAN TV called The Chicago Underground Explosion. He and Shannon and their friends would throw dance parties in CAN TV’s studio, and he’d chroma-key images onto a green screen behind the dancers.

“It was live on the air,” Shannon says. He used the show to promote parties he hosted at bars and clubs. “I would plug probably four, five different events, and it was awesome,” he recalls. “I just went out there and said, ‘All the ladies that want to lick me, you gotta meet us at the party tonight.'”

Broadcasts included a call-in number, and occasionally somebody would try to bait Shannon with racial slurs. “It was that raw and that live and awesome,” Gallegos says. “We would get off on doing the show.”

The crew frequently kept partying elsewhere after wrapping the show for the night. “We’d go to AKA’s, and we were received like we were gods, man,” Gallegos says. “It was just something that was out of this world.”

Gallegos says that The Chicago Underground Explosion, which he produced concurrently with a stripped-down, surreal music-video show called Boom TV, only lasted a few years. “There’s a saying: ‘A favor once too many times given becomes an obligation,’ and so it was almost like I was obliged to do this,” he explains. “I was behind the scenes—everyone else was getting famous. And so I kinda got sick of it.”

Marcus Mixx on TV

Broadcast on CAN TV channel 19. Sat 3/2, Sat 3/9, Sat 3/16, and Sat 3/23, each night at 11 PM.

He gave the name Boom TV to Shannon, whose own show has gone through a long list of names in the intervening years—Marcus Mixx on TV is only the latest. Working on it has helped Shannon refine the skills he also uses for paying jobs as Cheap, but Not Cheap Video (and for video-editing work with Wake Up! Music, L.I.E.S., and other labels).

CAN TV program director Lesley Johnson estimates that Shannon has produced more than 400 episodes for the station since 1996. “He’s obviously found meaning in it, and that makes my job meaningful,” Johnson says. “He keeps coming back, no matter whatever else is going on in his life. He’s still finding time to create. He wants to share that with Chicago, and he’s so persistent.”

YouTube video
  • Marcus “Mixx” Shannon on his CAN TV show, expressing strong opinions about noodles

Oakes found Shannon because of his CAN TV show. “It was crazy—there was this rotating head, it was super lo-fi, and it was just him playing weird videos in his basement with a camera on himself,” he says. “He would just flash up a number there and beg people to call him.”

Shannon’s recent episodes lean heavily on music videos, which he breaks up with short skits recorded with his iPhone. “His shows are always him—I don’t know how else to explain it,” Johnson says. Because CAN TV contributors submit their episodes digitally, she doesn’t interact with Shannon much, but he does drop her a line occasionally. “He’ll reach out and say, ‘Hey, thanks to you for all your support,'” she says. “Not many people do that.”

In the early 90s—he can’t remember exactly when—Shannon briefly served as an A&R representative for Trax Records. “It was like saying, ‘Would you like to play for the Bears or the Bulls?’ or something,'” he says. He made $350 a week and acted as a liaison between potential signees and label founder Larry Sherman.

“He was kind of special—Larry’s right-hand guy,” Cain says. Because Sherman had a bad reputation in the business—a long list of artists didn’t want to work with him—Shannon’s job was often an uphill climb. As Michaelangelo Matos wrote in the 2015 book The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America, “Allegations of Sherman’s business tactics run rampant where and whenever he is discussed—with artists persistently raising questions about copyright grants and royalty payments.”

Sherman took a hands-off approach to Shannon, encouraging his latest A&R rep to do as he pleased. And Trax sublabels released a couple of Shannon’s creations: Streetfire put out The Best of Ron Hardy Volume 1, and Saber dropped the Tits, Ass & Pussy EP, credited to Shannon, Gallegos, and Victor Blood. Because Sherman didn’t spend much time at Trax headquarters, Shannon delivered the money coming in from sales to Sherman’s home each week. “He insisted that I drive one of his three Cadillacs,” Shannon says. “I had a station wagon at the time. He said, ‘You can’t represent us in that.'”

Marcus “Mixx” Shannon on CAN TV, probably in the late 1980s—toward the beginning of his decades-long relationship with the network
Marcus “Mixx” Shannon on CAN TV, probably in the late 1980s—toward the beginning of his decades-long relationship with the network

Shannon claims that Sherman’s hands-off approach sometimes extended to paying him. “After a couple months, I couldn’t even get regular money to put in the Cadillac, never mind my station wagon,” Shannon says. He’d sometimes have to ask his family for gas money just to get to Trax headquarters. Eventually he reached his breaking point with Sherman. “They had some kind of crazy falling out,” Cain says. “Whatever that was.”

Trax had the only operational record presses in town, and Shannon believes that Sherman was running a vinyl bootlegging operation on the side. He says he took an incriminating videotape to Pam Zekman, an investigative reporter for CBS Chicago, but Zekman doesn’t recall the incident. “I don’t remember ever doing a story about bootlegged records,” she says. “It’s entirely possible in my old age that I’ve forgotten.”

Cain claims that the Recording Industry Association of America raided Trax; Gallegos remembers it being the FBI. Sherman isn’t talking, but Cain says all charges against him were dropped and “everything was expunged.”

In any case, the damage was done. It would be decades before Shannon mended his relationship with Trax. “We realized that not only did we fuck Larry Sherman, we fucked ourselves,” Gallegos says. “Nobody wanted to talk to us after that.”

When Shannon burned bridges with one of the most influential labels in Chicago house, his career predictably suffered. He wouldn’t have label representation again till Oakes found him in the mid-2000s. A few years before that, Shannon started selling self-released CDs by promoting them on MySpace. He’d buy cheap CD-Rs from Best Buy, slap homemade labels on them, and put them out through a new imprint he called Marcuss Mixxed Up Records. The CDs were part of a series titled Legal Volume—a dig at pirated editions of his older material.

YouTube video
  • A 2010 Marcus Mixx video for a track he released via his Legal Volume CD-R series

“A lot of guys try to bootleg his stuff, many times, or take advantage of him,” Oakes says. For more than ten years, Let’s Pet Puppies releases of Shannon’s music have helped stamp out bootleggers, and they continue to provide him with a small income. Oakes periodically sends money through PayPal too: “If I give him three or four hundred bucks on records, that’s fine,” he says. “But it’s more like, every other week I give him 25 bucks.” (Shannon opened a checking account with TCF Bank about 15 years ago, but only so he could link it to PayPal.)

Unfortunately, for years Shannon often spent much of those funds on alcohol. “I’d have, like, two 30-packs a day, no problem,” he says.

Oakes noticed. “When I would get money in, I would give him lump sums that would go poof really quick,” he says. “Sometimes I’d be like, ‘Hey man, you have 800 bucks here, can I get you the best laptop I can possibly get you?’ He’s like, ‘Yes.’ I tried to get tools that would help him make more money instead of just giving him cash. He’s not the kind to go out there and blow it, but on the other hand, back when he was drinking really hard, he would just drink through that money.”

Shannon has been sober since 2014, but he says he used to black out regularly from drinking. After such an episode about ten years ago, he came back to himself at Stroger Hospital. “When I woke up, they said, ‘We need to tell you this, blah blah blah, you’ve got something called epilepsy,'” Shannon says. He takes an anticonvulsant called Dilantin, but he still occasionally has seizures. Oakes sends Shannon money when his Obamacare plan and Medicaid assistance aren’t enough to help him afford the medicine.

Around the time of his diagnosis, Shannon either blacked out or had a seizure (he’s not sure which) and knocked out two of his upper incisors. Oakes took care of getting him dental implants. “He came out of the blue one day and said, ‘We’re going to the dentist and see what they can do,'” Shannon recalls. “I think it was five grand.” He’s since lost the left implant, which he says “wiggled loose.”

Marcus “Mixx” Shannon at the Cultural Center
Marcus “Mixx” Shannon at the Cultural CenterCredit: Alexus McLane

Shannon calls Oakes his best friend. Gallegos is his best friend too, he says, and so is a homeless man named Grant who watches Shannon’s bag and laptop when he has to use the bathroom while he’s working at the library or the Cultural Center. (Grant also makes appearances in Shannon’s YouTube videos and social-media posts.) But some misfortunes nobody has been able to help him through. When Shannon’s family home was foreclosed on in 2008, he went to live with his father, who suffered from dementia.

“He would sing ‘Love Me Tender’ over and over and over—he’d sing it for four or five hours straight,” Oakes says.

His father’s deterioration took a toll on Shannon too. “I just watched him slip, so that got me even more depressed,” he says. Shannon looked after his father until his death in 2011, then moved in with his brother, Corey. He lived in the basement of Corey’s family’s house for a few years, but that arrangement came to a mutually agreed-upon end in 2014, after he was caught urinating in the oven while sleepwalking.

Shannon immediately checked into rehab for 30 days at the John J. Madden Mental Health Center in Hines, Illinois, taking only a small bag of clothes and leaving all his other belongings at his brother’s place. He says he hasn’t had a drink since. “It was refreshing—it was like a mental bowel movement,” he says. “It was like, ‘Wow, somebody’s not slapping me around saying, “Well, you’re Marcus Mixx, you did this, you did this, and you screwed it up.”‘ I already know that. They really helped me.”

He wasn’t making enough money from his music or his video work to support himself once he got out, but he didn’t want to ask his family for help. Within a month or so he landed at the Pacific Garden Mission homeless shelter, a few blocks north of Head Studios’ original Pilsen location.

Over the years Oakes has given Shannon several computers—two PCs, a Mac Mini, and his wife’s old laptop. After Shannon left rehab, Oakes eventually bought him another laptop, but at first he didn’t have a machine of his own. Shannon started making tracks on public computers on the third floor of the Harold Washington Library, using a free Web-based music-programming tool called Soundation. Often he’d tag them on Soundcloud and Mixcloud with the phrase “Home Is Where House Is.” French producer Joseph Bendavid heard some of those tracks and offered to put them out through his Skylax label. Shannon needed money and an ego boost, and he says he sold 50 songs to Bendavid for $75. (Bendavid hasn’t replied to an e-mail requesting confirmation of those numbers.) In 2016, Skylax released two volumes of Home Is Where House Is, both as 12-inch EPs.

  • In 2016, French label Skylax released two volumes of music Marcus Mixx had recorded after finishing rehab two years earlier.

After moving out of his brother’s place, Shannon barely spoke to him. But in January 2018, Shannon was stabbed in the stomach while peeing at a urinal at the Walls Memorial shelter. He spent a few days at Stroger Hospital, undergoing two surgeries that left him with a five-inch scar above his navel and a smaller one to its upper right. He badly needed a source of stability in his life, and he broke years of silence to call his brother.

Corey helped Shannon get a job working an overnight shift at an Amazon warehouse in Romeoville. He also found Shannon a place in Gary, Indiana, rooming with another Amazon employee he knew, in part by offering to chip in on rent himself. But within a couple months, Shannon says, his housemate was acting erratically and frequently badgering him for money. Shannon had to rely on his housemate to get to work, so when he moved out of the house, he was forced to quit the job. He returned to the shelter where he’d been stabbed.

Shannon’s Facebook update about the attack helped bring him another windfall, though: while he was still in Gary last winter, it caught the attention of Pepper Gomez, who hired him to edit videos for Wake Up! Music. She’d never met Shannon, but they had mutual friends from the house scene. She decided to take a chance on him. “I think it was a culmination of, basically, seeing the challenges that he was going through, and learning about his mad skills and talent,” she says.

Trax Records star “Screamin’ Rachael” Cain, who’s run the label since rebooting it in 2007, at the Cultural Center with Marcus “Mixx” Shannon
Trax Records star “Screamin’ Rachael” Cain, who’s run the label since rebooting it in 2007, at the Cultural Center with Marcus “Mixx” ShannonCredit: Alexus McLane

Gomez insisted on paying Shannon more than he was asking for via Cheap, but Not Cheap Video. And when the laptop Oates had bought him broke, she got him a new one. “Working with him is a joy—he’s so responsive, he gets everything done really quickly, and he’s super enthusiastic,” she says. Gomez isn’t the only one who’s been impressed: Cain, who rebooted Trax Records in 2007 and has run the label ever since, hired Shannon earlier this month to help edit the long-running Cable25 program Trax TV.

Even after years of homelessness, Shannon didn’t seriously consider turning to crowdfunding till early this year. “I think it was a pride thing,” he says. “I was afraid I wouldn’t get anything, and it would be more of a mental stress type thing—’Wow, I suck that bad.'”

Shannon has been looking at apartments that will allow him to sign a short-term lease without presenting pay stubs. He says he’s got leads on places in Garfield Park and Chatham. He needed a new bank account in order to collect the money from his GoFundMe, but after he created a savings account at Capital One, it took three weeks for the bank card to arrive at the homeless shelter.

For as long as Shannon had the family home to fall back on, it didn’t matter much that his income was spotty and meager. But once he lost that safety net, he discovered how biased every public and private bureaucracy is against the impoverished. After years of struggling with those systems and getting nowhere, he’s willing to consider even a small step a triumph. “I want an apartment that’s made for individual dwelling, where I can have a key,” he says. “I’m not gonna have live music up—I don’t have any pets, I don’t smoke, I won’t have people over. Like R.E.M., that’s me in the corner.”  v