- by Tom Dumarey
2018 Has been a good year for all the Brendan Kelly fans out there. Not only did Fat Wreck release a comprehensive Lawrence Arms retrospective that was so good Christophe included it in his top 10 feature, Kelly and his Wandering Birds also released 'Keep Walkin' Pal,' his second solo album, via Red Scare Records. And to finish the year in style, the unofficial punk rock mayor of Chicago was kind enough to take us on a tour through his beloved hometown. (photo credit: Charlie Wrzesniewski)
PRT: What made you first fall in love with the city?
Brendan: This is hard for me. I moved here when I was 10 and immediately, I loved it, as it was not Missouri, which, for you international types out there, Missouri: not that cool. But Chicago is truly a special city. If America has a secret, and you can have a secret as big as a massive, world class city, then Chicago is that secret. Everyone THINKS they want to see New York and LA. But what they’re really looking for is Chicago… green space, good food, walkable, affordable, friendly, cool, full of world class art and architecture. It’s hard not to love it here. Just as long as you’re not here in the Winter. That is kinda brutal.
PRT: If you had to come up with a marketing slogan for the city, what would it be?
Brendan: Chicago: you can literally get away with anything here. It’s long been said that Chicago is the birthplace of municipal corruption in the new world, and uh… that’s true. Capone used to run this town, just to use one example. And to this day, there’s a lawless awesomeness to Chicago that can’t really be described or quantified easily. Vegas winks at lawlessness, New Orleans just makes its laws in such a way that lots of things are just kinda allowed. Detroit is just emerging from real desperate times, but Chicago is just a big ass, super cool city where you can kinda do whatever you want. Um… It should be mentioned overtly that there’s a horrible violence issue on the South Side that definitely involves cops. The thing is, that’s a pretty isolated truth, even though it’s definitely in a significant part of the city. While I don’t mean in any way to disrespect that struggle, and in fact, I couldn’t be more in solidarity with our Chicagoans on the South Side who are victims of poverty, gang violence, police brutality, and the sort of hegemonic evil that creates the nihilistic attitude that runs the streets down there, I don’t think that’s what you’re asking about. I don’t think it’s a secret that there is a dangerous area in Chicago. What I’m saying is, the places that aren’t dangerous, they’re really, really nice, fun, safe, well maintained, and, frankly, and this is coming from a place of total privilege and I’m aware of that, but you can do what you want. Corruption manifests in two ways: violence and apathy. We have both here. If you’re lucky enough to be on the side where the cops are apathetic, hey, drink that beer on the street, man.
PRT: Best place to play?
Brendan: Metro. It’s the best club in the world. We’ve been playing there for our whole career and it’s home to us. I used to be a stagehand there for years, and the production manager’s wife was our childrens' nanny forever. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Metro in the life of The Lawrence Arms, or The Falcon or just me in general.
PRT: Best place to go for a late night drink after the show?
Brendan: The Gman tavern. It’s right next to the metro, it’s run by my best homie, Katie, it’s cheap, it’s fun, it’s clean. I used to work there. How can you go wrong?
PRT: Best place to go for a late night snack after the drink after the show?
Brendan: Wrigleysville Dogs. Open late. Right across the street from the Gman and has a Pizza Puff, which is only only only available in Chicago.
PRT: Best touristy thing to do in the city?
Brendan: The Signature Lounge in the John Hancock building. It’s on the 95th floor, it’s amazing, it’s semi affordable (considering the altitude) and instead of paying 20 bucks to go up in some dumb viewing tower just for the privilege of being way up above the earth, you get to go up for free and just pay for a buzz. It’s great.
PRT: Best hidden spot in the city?
Brendan: What kind of asshole would I be if I told you the best hidden spot in the city? It’s not the bar in my basement, that’s for sure.
PRT: One thing you would like to see changed in the city?
Brendan: Easy. As we were discussing before, there’s a terrible stratification in this town that leads to a disproportionate amount of violence on the South Side. I’d like everyone who lives in Chicago or thinks of Chicago to have the privilege to think of it as fondly as I do.
PRT: What's your best memory about the city?
Brendan: This is a hard question. I live here. I have a lot of memories here. I can’t just haphazardly pick my favorite. It’s not like my brain is some kind of rolodex. What’s your best memory from being in a car? Go ahead. Answer it. See? Not that easy, huh? Uh… when the Cubs won the World Series, that was pretty great.
PRT: Where in the city did you get your heart broken?
Brendan: I have a fragile heart, but I’ve had it broken at the Fireside Bowl, the Metro, the Gman, the L&L, my high school, my grade school. The beach. Oak Park. A barn out by Barrington. My home. The list goes on and on, but again, I’m kind of a wimp.
PRT: Is there a historical fact about your city that makes you chuckle?
Brendan: Yeah. My old high school math teacher used to be a local government official and he was, at the time he was in office, caught in a car under the train tracks with a prostitute right there in his own district. He responded to the cops that he was conducting his own undercover investigation on the prostitution in the city. Pretty classic Chicago.
PRT: Favorite song about your city you'd like to share, either yours or someone else's?
Brendan: There’s no song out there that’s as good as this town and pretty much any song I can think of about Chicago… they all stink. Read some Nelson Algren and swim in that lyricism instead. He knew how to bring this town to life.