I Went To Chicago and All I Got Were These Lousy Great Memories

As we all know, art and the artists who artify it exist in many different shapes and sizes—like rocks. Or haircuts. You'll notice I did not include muffins, but it was a deliberate omission; muffins may come in different sizes, but they are all still of a general muffin-shape. Sure, throw your cranberries or your walnuts or your banana-mash in there. Go ahead, try to beat the system and fool me with your muffins. No matter how you slice it (there is no slicing required when making muffins), you're still going to have to pour your batter into a muffin-pan and stick it in an oven. There, in that inviting metal food-womb, your delicious concoction will expand and crest the surface of the bakeware, creating a dome of moist great-grains and egg-drippings. If I've said it once, I've said it 10 million times, a muffin is a muffin is a muffin is a muffin. They all look kind of the same and I'm sick of talking about it, so let's get past the muffin-thing.

My point is, when we think of art, I would venture to say that many of us conjure up images of Michelangelo frescoing the Sistine Chapel under the watchful papal infallibility of Rex Harrison, or Mozart dashing out a handful of symphonies to pay off his many brothel tabs, or Herman Melville writing down everything he remembered about everything, mostly boat-related, or Martin Scorsese doing a ski-slope of blow with Robbie Robertson and cranking out a 300-page shooting script for a documentary. All of these things are tangible, they are preservable, they speak to us across time. But what of those pieces that are impermanent? What of the art that can not be kept under glass or on a shelf?

I recently journeyed down to Chicago City, luxurious megalopolis of the Great Lakes and the sausage capital of the Western Hemisphere. I was in hot pursuit of some of this vaporous, ephemeral art, and it was there that I met up with my soul-brother from many moons ago, Michael McKeogh, aka The Raven, aka Michael McCute, aka Minkus Marigold: Private Dancer. He'd sent me a fax informing me of a production he was a part of, and I leapt at the chance to check it out, knowing what I know. 

What do I know? Well, among other things permanently ingrained in my memory, like the street address I grew up at or Ty Cobb's lifetime batting average, I know that Michael McKeogh is a great actor. We all play roles in this life as we swim from one social reef to another, and our group of precocious schoolboys was no different: Joe was the charitable one, Tom was the flirt, I was the prankster, and Mike was unquestionably the talent.

When faced with the brazenly gifted like that, you can't help but wonder about the many dimensions of such a talent—was Mike special because he could (and certainly would) pop-and-lock whenever he felt like it? Or was his mad-stylin' the result of an inherent specialness? It's a real chicken-or-the-egg thing, and we never got to the bottom of it because all of us were, and continue to be, well aware that both chickens and eggs are nutrient-rich and filling, so why bother pulling on that thread, you know?

Anyway, he's the guy, the guy we want to be, and we've watched in awe as he uses the tools of the memory-artist to speak to us and for us. I've spoken with him about this before, and he loves the idea of this thing created with body and voice, this embodiment of character, this interaction and aspiration to truth. He loves the idea of building it up, only to knock it down once the house-lights go up. Like a scientist, he seeks experimentation with the elements he's been given, and pushes for what will be most effective to leave his mark in the memory of the audience. 

For those of us who dabble in the tangibles, there is always the fantasy of being on our deathbeds beside a table stacked high with shit we've made—evidence that we were here, we had something to say, and we tried to say it. It is an ego-driven lust to conquer time, a vain attempt to persevere even when our selves have stopped mattering in any kind of first-hand way. This drive for product (and I'm not using that term in any kind of commercial sense) reminds me of how I feel about my mp3 library: will there ever be enough external hard drives for me to stop worrying about losing the music I have rightfully stolen? Will these things I hold so dear continue on as living pieces to be forever enjoyed, no matter the format changes? What happens when USB cables become obsolete? Do I really trust this 'cloud' I've heard so much about?

It's this sort of paranoia that makes artists so difficult to be around, but you know who's not so difficult to be around? Michael McKeogh. This is a guy who throws himself out there on a nightly basis and earns his reputation. He earns his place in the memory of our culture with his performance. He gives himself to electrify that room, and he has the discipline to let it all go once the show has ended. He says, “Hey, maybe my computer crashes and I lose all my Wu-Tang records. Not a problem, baby—I got them beats memorized.” That takes some swagger, and if you know this dude, you know he has plenty of swagger.

So here's the deal: this weekend is the last set of performances Young Master McKeogh will be doing as Colonel Chamberlain in the stage-adaptation of The Killer Angels at the Lifeline Theatre. I want you to drop everything and go see this thing—I don't care what it takes, you quit your job, you abandon your children, you sell your plasma to get to Chicago and have Michael earn his way into your memory. I did, and I am better for it—it is a tremendous staging and it really puts out, so let's pack this thing to the rafters. If the tickets are sold out, I want you to jimmy the side door open with some kind of lever and sneak in to watch the magic before it disappears for good.

As for the rest of my time in Chicago, let's just say that other memories were made as well—firewood was stacked, writing utensils were debated, and that is all I will say about it. Am I speaking in euphemisms? I don't even know anymore. As the old saying goes: What happens at the Ukranian Institute of Modern Art stays at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, am I right, people? Heh-heh-heh...