Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Ballroom

Yesterday I posted about my five (well, six, actually) favorite concerts. One of those was a ZZ Top show at the Aragon Ballroom in 1980. I alluded to the fact that it has long borne the nickname "The Aragon Brawlroom," a reflection of the rough neighborhood it's in, Uptown, and some of it's old shows-- it tended toward heavy metal shows, wrestling and other things that drew a rougher crowd.

Yesterday, I got an email in response to my post from Armando Lopez, the manager of the Aragon:

The Aragon is a very elegant place again. no longer the Brawlroom (sic)

Thank You

Armando Lopez

Aragon Entertainment Center

General Manager

I was reminded of Splotchy's mention of an email from the manager of the Davis Theater, which is near my home, demanding that he take down a reference in his website that points out the Davis' general grime and dilapidation.

To be fair, I haven't been to an event in the Aragon Ballroom in years-- it may just have been restored to the elegance it and the surrounding neighborhood bore when it was built in 1926. I doubt, though, the neighborhood has changed-- the last time I went through Uptown, a couple of weeks ago, it was still filled with drunks, drug addicts, gangs and crazy people.

Do they still have Mexican wrestling at the Aragon?

In any event, I was reminded of a concert at the Aragon in December of 1990 that I was not at that only enhanced its old nickname "The Brawlroom."

On December 29, 1990, Sonic Youth and Public Enemy were playing a double bill at the Aragon Ballroom. It was a fascinating double bill-- one of the last punk(ish) bands paired with the most politically active rap band.


The first Gulf war was brewing-- the ground war was to begin three weeks later, on January 17, 1991. At the concert, some people from the Revolutionary Workers, a Communist Party group, hung a banner decrying the war. Chuck D responded positively to it, questioning why any black man would fight in a war for cheap oil.

As the concert ended, the Revolutionary Worker group exited, put up the banner, brought out a megaphone and began a protest.

Apparently, plainclothes cops tried to tell them to knock it off and they refused, citing free speech. They proceeded to arrest the ringleader, which the crowd exiting the Aragon took offense to. A shoving match between crowd members and police erupted; paddy wagons hauled dozens off. Billy clubs were swung, and there were a number of injuries.

In the middle of this, someone started videotaping. The video machine and tape were confiscated and destroyed.

The incident might have passed unnoticed but for the fact that the young up-and-coming actor John Cusack, a native of the Chicago suburb of Evanston, witnessed the whole thing, and a letter to the editor he wrote about it was published in the Sun-Times a couple of days later.

I'm curious if any of you bloggers were there or know someone who was there. I'd love a first-hand account, because as that esteemed philospher Jimmy Buffet has noted, "There are three sides to every story-- his, hers and the cold hard truth."

6 comments:

kim said...

I've spent many hours in the "elegant" Aragon ballroom.

The walls sweat from the inside.

GETkristiLOVE said...

Is that called Buffetism?

Sorry, I wasn't there but maybe you could get Cusack on the line.

Natalie said...

I think it's awesome that the manager wrote you an email. That means he really cares about the info you sent out to your readers. You have the power.

lulu said...

I saw someone get knifed in the Brawlroom, and my exBF and I once found a dead body in the street behind it when we were going back to our car.

TenS and I know a guy who works for the phone company, his stories about what is in the basement is enough to make my skin crawl.

Splotchy said...

This doesn't count to your request, but I thought I'd let you know that around that time I had picked up both Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, and Public Enemy's Fear Of A Black Planet, and really wanted to go to the Aragon show.

I didn't have any wheels, though, and no place to stay in Chicago, and I also was kind of a-scared of the big city.

Maybe I should do a separate post on shows that I really wanted to go to but for some reason was unable to.

Bats in the Belfry said...

I've seen many an excellent metal show in the late 80's there. From Megadeth to Malmsteen. I still remember waiting in line for 5 hours hoping to get a good seat for Malmsteen. It paid off, 10th row center! Just an elbow here and there.