Urban Djin: Tales From Maxwell Street – City of Ghettos

Urban Djin played for Buddy Guy’s Legends for over 7 years, delighting our lunch crowds with a shining smile and a one of a kind sound. Unlike other musicians he would walk amongst the tables in his classic red cowboy garb enjoying the interaction of the guests. He was one of a kind performer, person, and friend, we miss his joy at Legends everyday and no matter where ever he travels he has a home here.

The following is a collection of experiences Urban had while living in Maxwell street from 1982 to 1996. Maxwell Street was a community unlike any other made up of musicians, food vendors and more, you could find just about anything there. It was the heart and hub of Chicago blues, hosting many of the greatest musicians to ever live. Whatever Maxwell Street became in its heyday it was a mecca of wonder that will never replaced but it will always be remembered.

(Continued from Watch Your Step)

City of Ghettos

It’s conventional to call Chicago “the city of neighborhoods.”  It’s a lot less true now than it was back then, but in the 80s and 90s I called it “the city of ghettos.” It seemed everybody in Chicago wanted to live exclusively near people who were just like them. Bridgeport was full of city workers who grew up there, married their high school sweethearts, and bought the two-flats down the street from their moms’ bungalows. Everyone in Hyde Park had a PhD or was working on one. There was Boys Town, the gay ghetto. Everyone in East Pilsen was an artist. Everyone in West Pilsen was Mexican. All the single suburban transplants seemed to live near all the singles bars. After they coupled they all bought houses in the same neighborhoods where everybody drove the same kinds of cars they did. As recently as maybe fifteen years ago every third or fourth person I’d talk to in Wicker Park was in an indie rock band, or their boyfriend or girlfriend was. All the lesbians were moving to Andersonville. I just loved the irony that Chicago’s original ghetto was the great exception. It was wildly mixed.  And everybody got along and respected each other. It was so tolerant.  ou could see street people smoking a joint while having a perfectly pleasant conversation with a beat cop, cuttin’ up, doin’ the dozens, and all on a first name basis. I could go on and on with one story after another but I won’t.

It’s long gone, of course, replaced by retail and food chains, and condominiums that nobody really wanted. It took a real estate bubble to bail the whole thing out.  When the University of Illinois exercised eminent domain, nobody believed they were really going to build the University of the 21st Century that they had models of. Where were they gonna get the money? The State? The Federal Government? Everybody knew they were lying so they could get it cheap and then turn around and sell it at a profit to politically connected developers who would build crap that would fall apart in 25 years so the children of those same developers could churn clout into more money.  The first building to come down was the world’s first prenatal care and gynecological facility for poor women, founded by Jane Addams. Since it was a genuinely historic building they had to tear it down fast before the preservationists could get organized.

Chicago has so little respect for culture.  Can you imagine Florence razing the Palazzo Vecchio because it’s so old, and besides, they could generate more tax revenue from the same footprint by building a mall? And because their buddies could get richer off the deal? But in Chicago having a couple chunks of cornice and some wrought iron hanging in the Art Institute is an acceptable substitute for a magnificent building.

It’s so sad what they did to my beloved Maxwell Street. But I’d rather celebrate its magical life than mourn the pathetic end. It was such a beautiful place, rich in history, culture, characters, music. It was the only place I’ve ever really felt at home. I treasure the fourteen years I was privileged to live there, play music there, and participate in the last stand of the best Chicago has ever had to offer.

Ave atque Vale.

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BGadmin

BG is a free magazine bringing you stories about Buddy Guy's Legends, blues music, and music generally. Please direct submissions to buddyguyslegends@gmail.com for consideration.

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BGadmin

BGadmin

BG is a free magazine bringing you stories about Buddy Guy's Legends, blues music, and music generally. Please direct submissions to buddyguyslegends@gmail.com for consideration.