Rockin’ at the Dailies

Both the Trib and the Sun-Times have been shoring up their popular culture coverage of late. Best new feature: Greg Kot’s column “First take” in the “Friday” section of the Tribune, billed on its premiere (October 23) as “a column of news, notes and commentaries on the pop music scene.” The first two entries were pretty interesting critical features on Paul K. and Joe Ely. Kot followed those up with a Sunday “Arts” section profile that saw him zooming around Manhattan in the back of Neil Young’s limo. In a little more than two years on the job, Kot has single-handedly revivified the paper’s music writing; he now regularly provides the Trib with intimate coverage of prestige acts like Young, U2, and Bruce Springsteen, and does it over and above his extremely conscientious coverage of rap and local bands. (Aside from some free-lancer weaknesses, it’s difficult to fault the Trib on anything popwise: it was the only paper in town to cover the underpublicized but by-all-accounts steamy Parliament-Funkadelic reunion concert at the south side’s New Regal Theatre. We didn’t even have it in the Reader’s music listings.) Logically you’d expect to find Kot’s new column in the “Friday” section’s music ‘n’ movies insert “Take 2.” Instead it’s up at the front of “Friday,” where even its name seems to comment contemptuously on the pointless balkanization of the section. The music coverage in “Take 2” is actually quite thorough, but the section-within-a-section-within-a-section bit makes it seem an afterthought.

Over at the Sun-Times, more and less is happening. Their Friday entertainment section, “Weekend Plus,” has a pretty brisk new look, though the section is still hampered by reams of dumpy looking ads and the occasional embarrassing error. (Memo to the headline desk: those Neil Young shows are at the Chicago Theatre, not the Vic.) The Sun-Times is obviously trying: after hitting an uncertain low over the past year, it’s slowly putting new music writer Jim DeRogatis to good use, and he’s been producing prickly criticism and solid reporting as well–notably on Lake Forest’s attempts to criminalize the selling of certain records. And last Sunday’s lengthy “Arts & Show” piece, in which DeRogatis and a group of five suburban kids played jukebox jury with the most obscene and violent rap tracks around, was an eye-opener–a model of creative music coverage.

But the Sun-Times’s coverage still seems directionless. At the Tribune Kot is a de facto pop editor; he watches over quality control and makes sure important things get covered. There’s no such coordination at the Sun-Times. And the entertainment editors there still seem unable to deal with the problem of Jae-Ha Kim, who’s the flagship music writer in “Weekend Plus” by virtue of her page-five preview column, “The Beat.” If you’re shopping for Christmas gifts for your local critics, get Kim a dictionary–and make sure it has the word “dichotomy” in it. A month or so ago, writing about the English dance band Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, she wrote, “CUSM’s shows are live and taped, but [band member] Fruit Bat doesn’t see that as a dichotomy.” Last week she told us, “Social Distortion is a dichotomy, creating joyous cacophony with guitars while singing about painfully autobiographical subjects.” Writing on this level of weirdness is very rare at a daily paper; the Sun-Times copy desk seems to be sitting on its hands when it comes to Kim.

By the way, the Hitsville photo department struggled mightily to get a picture of Kot and DeRogatis, but like most pop critics they were too humble to show their faces. After being reminded of the public’s right to know, however, they did allow rock ‘n’ roll photographer Paul Natkin to make this portrait of their feet. Which is which? Send your guesses; we’ll print the answer.

Boss Bogosity

Bruce Springsteen’s second TV appearance (he played a few songs on Saturday Night Live some months back) is scheduled for Wednesday at 9 on MTV. The one-hour show was supposed to be the latest edition of the channel’s groundbreaking Unplugged series. I was in LA when the show was taped; the next day the local papers reported with straight faces–and MTV still insists–that Bruce played one song acoustically before suddenly declaring that he couldn’t go through with it and bringing his touring band on to finish the show loud and electric. (MTV’s calling the show Unplugged with the “un” crossed out.) Given the realities of shooting and recording before a live audience, this scenario has to be bogus, but the show may be interesting anyway…There was a fire at Dreamerz October 19. Everyone got out safely, manager Lauree Rohrig sez; the club’ll reopen next month.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul Natkin–Photo Reserve.