Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Can See Frankie From Here!

About a year ago, I posted about a field trip with my alternative school students to the Sears Tower, one of the last things I did as a teacher. I had some shots from the top, and Skyler's Dad, one of my favorite bloggers, made the comment "Hey! I can see your house!" I replied that he had no idea how funny that comment was to me, and promised to post about it. Well, finally, a year later, I'm making good on my promise.

I've mentioned before that the summer of 1982 was, for various reasons, one of the worst in my life. I won't go into that, but at the end of the summer, I was getting ready to go back to school and my brother, a year younger than me, had just returned from grueling Marine basic training. I was dead broke, but he had a bunch of cash from back pay burning a hole in his pocket, so we hatched a plan.

In the late seventies and early eighties, before Chicago's Navy Pier was renovated, the City of Chicago used to have a huge festival that they called, very cleverly, Chicagofest. It was actually really amazing. They had a main stage, where they'd have a variety of acts during the afternoon and early evening, and then a big act at night. They had a variety of themed stages who actually performed on stages that were on barges moored to the pier. On a windy night, it was funny to see the stages bobbing up and down with the waves with the performers gamely swaying to the waves to maintain their balance. There was a rock stage, a blues stage, a country stage and a folk music stage. For some reason, the folkies got to play on a stationary stage inside the main building of the pier.

All up and down the pier there were a variety of activities, all included in the price of admission, which was something like 5 bucks, ridiculously cheap even in 1982. There were movies-- "Rock and Roll High School" and "Quadraphenia" were showing. The then-unknown The Flying Karamozov Brothers performed their quirky, hilarious blend of juggling, comedy and performance art daily. There was food and drink. I remember smelling three things all the time-- coconut oil from the suntan lotion, stale beer and a certain herb burning.

In any event, my brother and I decided that we were going to walk down to Navy Pier from my parents' Lincoln Park apartment and see Frank Sinatra. We were realistic, though; we knew that there were probably thousands of others with the same plan, so we had a back-up. We looked in the newspaper and saw that there was an incredible line-up at the blues stage, which was sponsored by local progressive-rock station WXRT. Mighty Joe Young was performing, as well as Texas bluesman Albert Collins, a big favorite of my brother and I.

Sure enough, when we arrived, we discovered that the line to get into the Frank Sinatra show was huge. We went to Plan B.

We sat through a couple of great blues show. Mighty Joe Young brought the house down with "Sweet Home Chicago." About a year later, the recording of that performance was on a record that WXRT, teamed with Chicago blues label Alligator Records put out of live blues performances. Once in a blue moon, WXRT plays that record, and I'm fond of noting that my brother and I are on that record, in the crowd cheering.

As the evening wore on, we had a great time. I'd just turned 21 and he had a bunch of money (and was only 20) so we did the "I'll fly if you buy" thing. And there were a number of flights. We alternated between plastic cups of beer and wine, which was oddly served in those plastic pitchers you get in the hospital. We were, apparently, pretty entertaining, cutting up the crowd around us, who bought us a couple of rounds.

One of the people sitting next to us told us that Sinatra had a deal with the Chicagofest people that nobody else would be performing while he was. And sure enough, all the other stages quieted down, and to our amazement, we could see (and hear) Sinatra, probably nearly a half mile away from us on the other side of the long pier.

Now, you know that old joke where Jesus is on the cross and keeps calling to Peter, and Peter fights his way up Calvary Hill, past the Romans, to Jesus, at great risk and cost in physical abuse, only to have Jesus tell him "Peter, Peter-- I can see your house from here!"? Well, this was one of my brother's and my favorite jokes, which you have to know for this to make sense.

All of a sudden, as the audience quietly chatted and looked at Sinatra, who was a tiny crooning figure in a bright spotlight a couple of thousand feet away, my brother suddenly stood up, threw his arms up so that they were straight out and yelled "Johnny, Johnny-- I can see Frankie from here!"

I was, of course, laughing so hard I couldn't breath, as were the handful of people around us who actually got the joke. We should probably have been ashamed. But we weren't. We were pretty hung over the next day, though.


Mathman6293 said...

I do recall ChicagoFest at Navy Pier in '82 but don't really recall the music much but do remember eating crab legs for the first time. I love your blues story.

Wasn't '83 at Soldier Field? I seem to remember seeing the Temptations and the Four Tops.

lulu said...

I went to the Frank Sinatra show at Chicagofest. Little old ladies will kneecap you to see Sinatra. DO NOT get in their way.

SkylersDad said...

Thanks for the shout out JY, this is a great post.

deadspot said...

Ladies come to see Frank Sinatra,
From as far away as Scotland,
Or if you're there, from here...

Crap. I cannot remember the rest of that song.

Dale said...

That's hilarious and a great memory! I can see your blog from here you know! Okay, not as funny.