To the editor:
Peter Margasak’s Post No Bills column of December 17, 1999, is simply an insult to the Lounge Ax, its owners, and to all of the bands and concertgoers who have seen the Lounge Ax as one of the few truly great places for live music in Chicago. While Margasak acknowledges the club’s great legacy, he ignores the fact that the Lounge Ax is still one of a very few establishments which truly care about independent rock.
Margasak is simply incorrect that “the quality of Lounge Ax’s bookings ha[ve] been slipping.” Yes, other clubs have opened, and they’ve increased the competition for bookings, but Lounge Ax’s quality relative to those other clubs has remained exceptionally high. The Reader’s Critic’s Choice selections, as well as Monica Kendrick’s Spot Check column, consistently list bands playing at the Lounge Ax more frequently than almost any other venue. And, after January 15, the Empty Bottle will be the only club in Chicago to book independent rock bands on an almost nightly basis. Hopefully, clubs like Schubas, the Beat Kitchen, the Hideout, and other venues will be able to pick up some of the bands who would otherwise have been booked at the Lounge Ax, but I doubt that they will be able to make up for the club’s demise. The loss of the Lounge Ax means that it will be just that much harder for touring bands to find a place to play in Chicago.
While all of this is bad enough, it is even worse that local bands will have a harder time finding a good performance venue. Margasak is completely dismissive of the effect that this will have on the Chicago music scene. It’s not just that “it may now be slightly more difficult for unknown local bands to get good gigs,” since there are plenty of very good, well-known (at least in independent rock circles) bands who are treated with little or no respect by many Chicago clubs. The point is that Sue and Julia treated all of the bands they booked with respect–a business strategy which rock clubs rarely pursue. Supportive clubs mean that bands have places where they can grow musically, establish a following, and gain experience. Perhaps none of this may affect the “average concertgoer,” but then again the average concertgoer probably never went to the Lounge Ax in the first place.
This attitude is just insulting. Margasak is simply deluded if he thinks that people who care about independent music won’t be adversely affected by Lounge Ax’s closing. Those people are the “average concertgoers” who matter in this picture. They’re the ones who pay attention to the Reader’s music coverage, and who tend to frequent the Empty Bottle, Schubas, and the other clubs which will continue in Lounge Ax’s absence. These clubs aren’t going to be able to pick up all of the slack, and that means that some very good bands are going to slip through Chicago unheard.
Perhaps Margasak’s point is that he no longer cares about independent music either. As he says, “indie and alternative rock…went out with yesterday’s papers, overwhelmed by a much broader range of niche interests.” I have no idea what he even means by such a statement. There are plenty of bands on independent labels doing great rock music, and you can still go to the Lounge Ax or the Empty Bottle and hear most of them. Sure, there’s “electronica,” and all of its associated subgenres, but this hardly means that rock music is dead. And judging by the crowds I still see at Lounge Ax on a regular basis, I would imagine that there are at least a few other people out there who don’t share Margasak’s assessment.
Ultimately, Margasak’s attempt to place the loss of the Lounge Ax in context is misguided. Exciting bands still play there, and local bands are still treated with respect. While Margasak may no longer care about any of this, I think that there are a lot of other people in Chicago who would strongly disagree, and who view the closure of the Lounge Ax as a very sad event indeed.
Benjamin C. Edmonds