Sunday, February 26, 2006

Weekend Wrapup

What a weekend. Not one, not two, but THREE cuban cigars.
And PLENTY of single malt scotch to wash them down. Now, tomorrow
morning, a brisk workout and then a nice hot schvitz (that's a steam bath for all
you gentiles like me).
Ahhh...feel the Macallan 25 coming right out of the pores...

Tried to catch Archer Prewitt opening for The M's on Friday@ The Empty Bottle but
the show was sold out and the doorman would NOT have any part of a bribe. Remember
the old days when you could slip a guy a twenty or a fifty and pretty much get into anything
anywhere? Those were the days...

Somehow wound up at the old Division Street standby Butch McGuire's. For those of you who haven't been through Chicago, you may have heard of RUSH STREET. It's the area of the city with the grownup frat guy bars. The area featured in movies ABOUT LAST NIGHT and NOTHING IN COMMON. Beer bars, most of them offering free shots with every drink to entice you. There are a couple of cheesy dance clubs, and lots of guys that high five each other, whether they are twenty, forty, or pushing sixty. McGuire's is actually the most tolerable of the bars. My pal Alain the French Canadien swears they have the best bar food in America. I say that is nothing to aspire to. But if you like mini burgers, chicken wings, and fried stuff, check it out sometime.

Also popped in at one of my frequent hangs, THE SALOON. It's a great little steakhouse on Chestnut. Recently they were featured on the WTTW-TV restaurant review show "Check, Please", so now they are hopelessly crowded all the time. Which is good for them but lousy for us. The bad part about hidden gems is, once you put them on TV or in the newspaper, they are NO LONGER HIDDEN. But, c'est la vie. If you like a good bone-in filet, it's the spot that started it. Tell 'em Steffers sent you.
Then when they ask, "Who ?", just politely ask for a table anyway.

Dress nice though. It's classy.

There were a few other stops on the pub crawl this weekend but let's not get into a full blow by blow. It's February and here in the Midwest, that means frigid. A great place to warm up at the end of a long night is the bar at THE PUMP ROOM, off the lobby of the Ambassador East Hotel on State Parkway. A column I wrote for the RedEye about the old place follows. Let me give a little shout out to my new pal, Andrew Distel, the jazz vocalist who holds the fort most weekend nights at the Pump Room, with his quartet....that counts him, so is it a trio plus him or a quartet? At any rate, Andrew is a great singer from Cincinatti (he tells me there is a Cicny "scene" going on here in the Windy City), with a wonderful catalog full of gems and surprises. Lots of Frank, Jobim, a few Tin Pan Alley cuts, some Johnny Mercer thrown in for good measure. You can check him out at
And if you'd like a nice port or glass of bubbly with a side of steaming jazz vocals, hit the Pump Room. Just stay out of my seat at the bar. I'll be there, eventually.
Sleep warm, baby.


Being out and about, cocktailing, you hear things you haven't heard before,
you rediscover old favorites, and start to like songs you hadn't paid attention to
before. A few things that are at the top of my heavy iPod rotation after this weekend..

Yes, the King. I maintain that, no matter how many lame-ass impersonators try, for the
rest of eternity, NO ONE will ever be able to accurately duplicate the sound of the King. He had a quality, a passion if you will, in his voice, that no imitator can quite get. I think it's because he loved music so damned much. But more on that at a later date. This track is from the CD ELVIS BY THE PRESLEYS, and it kills. Kills. The bass and horns are worth the price of admission alone.

The ultimate driving song. It's dark out, and we're wearing sunglasses.
Gotta find a way to get home strong, gotta find a way back home...

Josh Rouse should be a star of epic proportions. His music is just terrific. Great lyrics, catchy hooks, killer riffs, with a cocksure attitude and tongue firmly in cheek.

One of the best piano players of all time, Evans' phrasing just gives me a taste for a martini and a quiet conversation. Wait right here, baby. Let me slip into something more comfortable. Why don't you slip into something, well....less.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hair Club for Pricks...

Quite possibly the biggest disaster of recent memory, (ranking after, of course, the Indonesian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina's reign of destruction in the Gulf Coast) occured when the unwashed masses of this country decided to tune into Donald Trump's lame supposed reality show THE APPRENTICE, and make it a hit.

I can see why people enjoy it. I mean, watching a bunch of self-important supposed success stories sell lemonade and come up with remedial ad campaigns for major products IS so brutal that it's funny. But I have a sinking feeling that people aren't lauging AT Trump, but WITH him.

The whole Martha Stewart feud is ridiculous, which fits right in with everything else about this bombastic prick. He overstates his personal "fortune" by hundreds of millions, claims to be the arbiter of good taste when the interiors of his self named buildings feature gold plating and black onyx throughout, and let's not even start on the parade of gold diggers that his personal life has become.

Martha can't catch a break, since the justice dept. wanks decided to make an example out of her. But Trump's cheap shots at her only make him look like even less of a man than he already is. His refusal to ever accept negative criticism makes his claims that others can't take any heat ring quite hollow.

And the hair. Ugh. Not to mention the fact the guy was on Letterman the other night and didn't even know how to sit in the damn chair like a normal human being.

By the way, THE flash for you here, THE PINK's about time to hang it up. Now that they sell them at JCPenney, I don't think they're
"hip" anymore. Now get back to your fake boardroom set and "fire" a few more junior achiever wannabees who don't even know how to tie a decent knot in their neckties. This is a tough call, Donny but...

You're Tired.

Finally, someone who knows how to write a bio...

Somewhere between trying to make plans for the weekend and kicking yourself over things that you didn't do because you forgot or were ignorant of the event or the current position on the calendar, you come across the occasional gem.

Like this passage, from the bio for Chicago musician Archer Prewitt at the Thrill Jockey records website, concerning his latest CD, WILDERNESS...
The nymph-like siren gazing from the cover of Wilderness is a pencil drawing by Archer. He describes her as being an incorruptible innocent; an omniscient "child of nature". This fantastical female ties in with the idea present in many of his lyrics ? championing love above all else, even in life's darkest time."

Ain't love grand. It's what seperates us from the other primates.
Love is all you need. Or so they say.

Prewitt plays this Friday @ the Empty Bottle. Hopefully the bar doesn't live up (down) to its name. He's on a bill with THE M'S and DJ LA JESUS.

Give him a shot, even though his name sounds like a Wall Street bank, or a bratty snobby kid who drank and snorted his way out of the Ivy League and wound up at your State school, where he was the BMOC.

If you can tear yourself away from American Idol for a few seconds...

perhaps you'd like to take a breather from the syrupy ballads and lame mid-tempo rock songs to enjoy some actual MUSIC.

My favorite radio station in the country is member supported K-JAZZ, in Southern California, from Long Beach State University.I first discovered it on a trip to LA where I stayed at the Mondrian hotel (I usually base there or at the Beverly Hills Hotel). I had this terrific rented Mercedes-Benz sl500 convertible, and at night I'd just power up through the Hollywood Hills, listening to jazz way too loud. Then after a little carousing in the streets of West Hollywood, I'd head back to the hotel, where I had a terrific view of the Hollywood Hills, and leave the stereo on 24/7. Jobim and Getz and Cannonball Adderly and Billie and Miles are the soundtrack to Los Angeles for me.

You can check them out on the web at, where you can listen to audio streaming of jazz old and new. It's perfect for late nights, or early mornings. Maybe you're enjoying a nice, expensive Burgundy or something, or a fine single-malt. You've slipped into something more comfortable, so maybe has your significant other. Plug in some decent speakers, load up the website, and let nature take its course.

Gentlemen, you can thank me later.
Also goes well on the patio with a Cuban cigar and a starry sky.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Didja ever notice... banquet halls with "CHATEAU" in the title are always horrible?

...that it takes real intestinal fortitude to sit through the entire length of the movie COLD MOUNTAIN?

...that there is a fine line between good jazz and really, really bad jazz...but lightyears between really great jazz and good jazz?

...the Dan Ryan will now have undergone major construction in five of the last seven years? Is the city paying for all of this? Is anything ever done right the first time?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Not life changers, but still funky good delicious...

You can't always listen to life changers. Somewhere along the way, you've gotta break 'em up with solid songs, good, well-written ditties, but let's be real, if we all listened to Music That Will Change Your Life all the time, our lives would be in such constant flux we'd never get anything done.
Along those lines, here is what is filling up my inbetween spaces lately.
Wrecka Stow. If you get this reference, you love this tune.
KEROSENE - Miranda Lambert
Don't act like you're too cool to listen to country music. It's the new rock n roll. That makes George Strait the new Rolling Stones.
COME ON FEEL THE ILLINOIZE (album)-Sufjan Stevens
Critical acclaim that, in this case, is well deserved.
Pain and suffering in various tempos. You either get DM or you don't. I do.
The boys could've done a lot worse on this reunion record. CALL ME MELLOW is fun. Beatle-esque.

The editorial as Art

The best part about having friends who hail from other countries (well, maybe second best after getting to listen to their cool accents), is that those friends bring a circle of their own friends and families and before you know it, you're global, baby.

I was introduced to the work of Francois Smit by my friend Michael, and it is quite fresh, intelligent, witty and timely. Currently, a retrospective of his work in South Africa's Sunday Independent newspaper is running at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg, South Africa. If you're headed to J-Burg, check it out. Otherwise, click the link below. The exhibition can be viewed under the "Catalogue" link.

Music That Will Change Your Life, Part Two

Naturally, this will be an oft-recurring post, as music is the soundtrack to our lives.
And now that I've got a radio on my cell phone,well , I don't see how I can stay away from the tunes. These aren't always new tracks...but that doesn't matter, does it? Great music is timeless. Or reminds you of a certain time. Either way, good is good.

Standard disclaimer, feel free to check these tunes out but we here at Middle of the Night do NOT condone illegal downloading. Or downloading period. Just buy the CD. Or borrow it from a friend.

HOW MEN ARE- Aztec Camera
Roddy Frame, lead singer of AC, has one of the sweetest, most melancholy voices out there.
Killer track.

SURF - Roddy Frame
This is a heart-ripper for sure. Do not listen if you're depressed at all. Dangerous.

On the weekends, after a few single-malts, I like to slip into my robe, put this on, and emote.
The lovers, the dreamers, and me...indeed. Sleep warm, baby.

DREAMING - Loudon Wainwright III
"It's chances, not choices.Noises, not voices.
A day's just a thing to get through.
Living's just too hard to do..."
OK, it's a little mopey. But it's about how great it is to be DREAMING. So there's a positive spin.
Moody and emotive, just the way I like my baristas. This song hurts. But a good hurt.

If the phone doesn't ring, it's me...

So I dropped my cell phone one too many times over the weekend and it finally died. Luckily, I have two cell for my friends and family and a seperate phone for my celebrity pals and VIP's. For my celebrity phone, I chose the black RAZR from Motorola, but my "everyday" phone was an LG 4400 flipper that they no longer make.

You know how it goes with cell phones. First, they act like they're mega expensive, unless you want to sign over your next-born child and a few quarts of blood, then maybe they'll knock the price down a little. Unless, of course, you've been living in a cave for the last few years and finally decide to get your first phone, then they're throwing free ones at you left and right...

Long story short, I decided on the Nokia 6236i pictured above. It's small, which is my #1 priority. Hopefully the signal strength and battery life will be acceptable.

Boy, was I surprised to find that the phone only has two regular "ringing" tones. One sounds like a cartoon phone, the other is a beepy ring like in a big office phone system. The rest are all goofy tunes with names like ZIPPER and ESPIONAGE. Remember the good old days when phones just rang and you answered them? Now you've got to dance the cha-cha, or suffer through a rap tune, before you pick up.

And I was also surprised to find that the phone has a "radio" feature. With the headset in, you can tune to any FM radio station. They also had a few phones that let you download TV shows and watch them on that teeny tiny little screen. Do we NEED these features? Why are the makers of every gadget trying to put other gadget makers out of business? Why can't phones be phones, ipods be ipods, and video cameras ...well, you get the picture.

Then again, I am writing this while listening to Steve Edwards' brilliant "848" program on WBEZ 91.5 FM, Chicago's NPR outlet. On the headset of the new Nokia phone. So what the hell am I cranking about?

What can I say, I'm Joe Stephen, man of contradictions....

Sunday, February 19, 2006

It's Tongue-tastic

In case you missed, which I'm sure most of us did, it was the NBA All-Star weekend.

Actually, the NBA is the one All-Star game that doesn't suck, if you like to see lots of hotdogging and dunking and virtually no defense (kinda like watching the Lakers play anytime during the regular season).

Once again, even though THE MASTER has been retired a few years, people still wanna be like Mike. Even celebrity offspring(that's julianne moore's daughter, Liv) are working on their tongue moves. Does Michael Jordan get royalties for that?Just wondering...

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez...

Once again, it's Mardi Gras time in N'Awlins. And, despite the lingering devastation from that bitch Katrina, it's time once again, to laugh, sing, dance, imbibe publicly, witness indecent exposure a plethora of times each day, and , of course, dress up your dog in ridiculous outfits.

There is something SO small-town about most pet parades, almost borderline freakshow. But down in the Big Easy, it just fits.

So party on, my Cajun and Creole canine companions. Even though I can't make it down there this month, I'll raise one in honor of the Crescent City.

Even though you like to dress up your dogs. Still proud of you.

Hey, You, Get Off of My Catheter!

So the Rolling Stones played to over a million people in Rio de Janiero over the weekend, as the STEEL WHEELCHAIRS tour rolled on , proving yet again that even though Brazilians live in a beautiful country, speak a beautiful language, and have given us some of the greatest jazz ever recorded, they still have no taste in pop music.

I mean, seriously. I like to rock out as much as the next guy, but these guys are ANCIENT.
They're OLDER THAN DIRT. And if they hadn't been on this stupid tour for their latest album that nobody's buying, Keith Richards could've done a hilarious cameo as Johnny Depp's pirate dad in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2.

At any rate, they DO look great in women's pants, though, no? I mean, men's pants don't come that small, do they? Take a cue from Sammy Sosa, guys...hang it up already. You're more over than frozen yogurt.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Ah, yes, it's the weekend. The week's end. The time between Friday and Mundane.
Where we cut loose, Footloose. Where we go out looking for a good time and wind up
hunched over somebody's toilet. It's what we live for.

Here in Chicago, we're smack dab in the middle of the heartland. It's predicted
to be "record cold", which I always thought was a reference to that Ruben Studdard guy's album from American Idol, but I guess really means colder than any day previous to today at least within this month or anyone's memory. Which apparently isn't very good, since EVERY freaking year when it gets this cold all the local TV news stations send reporters outdoors in their North Face parkas to interview pedestrians and remind us all to check on old people.

Look, Winter is cold. We know that, especially here in the Midwest. Enough already.
Oh, and it's harder to drive your car in icy, snowy, or rainy conditions. How about reporting on some actual NEWS for once?

And Network wanks wonder why the hell no one under the age of 40 watches television news anymore...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Gadgets & Gizmos

If you're a Mac user like me, check out this cool software called COMIC LIFE.
It has a bunch of templates to make photos from your IPhoto library into comic strips.
It's fun, and oh so easy to use. Here's my first strip, starring my dog Lilly. Enjoy. You can click on the strip to open it by itself in a bigger window.
Get your copy of Comic Life for mac @

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Holy Toledo! Nice rug!

Houston Asstro Broadcaster Milo Hamilton has written a snoozer of a biography about his mediocre career. Sadly, the only way Milo could get any publicity for his boring tome was to slam beloved Cub broadcaster Harry Caray, calling him, among other things, "a miserable human being". Funny how Milo has spent the last umpteen years bitching about Harry's popularity...pretty miserable in itself.
To her credit, Harry's widow Dutchie had the cojones to fire back at this jackass. You can read all about it at the link below.

It's a sad statement on Milo's personality that, after 60 years of broadcasting, he feels the only way to draw attention to himself is by badmouthing a dead legend. If you've never heard Milo, don't bother. Do yourself a favor and check out a real announcer, St. Louis Cardinals radio guy John Rooney. He does a better Milo impression than Milo, and it's intentionally funny.

Nice toupe, Milo. Maybe if you had some respect for yourself, baseball fans would have more respect for you. Stay classy. NOT.,1,2321261.column?coll=chi-sportsnew-hed

Music That Will Change Your Life

From time to time, we'll mention songs that we like.
When I say "we", it pretty much means ME, although sometimes
I'll take some input from my assistant, Warren Westman, or perhaps
someone else around here like my dogs, Lilly and Daisy (golden retrievers).
Anyway, in my little circle we have a saying we've adopted from Michael
Waddington, aka "The African Wad" (he's from South Africa, natch). These are
recommendations, feel free to take or not take them. How you acquire these songs
is your business, we do not encourage copyright violation here at MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.
So, here are tonight's songs that will change your life....

Vehicles & Animals- Athlete
sure, it's a couple years old. but it's solid.

I Know Why-Sheryl Crow
from the WILDFLOWERS album(yes, I still call a collection of songs an album). been hearing it a lot on Radio Margaritaville on Sirius. Killer.

Meanwhile - Mac MacAnally
Mac has written songs for Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney, to name a few, and tours with Jimmy's Coral Reefer Band. Really talented guy, really big head of hair. Check him out.

Let's Play Ball!

Funny Baseball Picture

Ah, yes, it's spring training time once again. Pitchers and Catchers have reported, and
the anniversary of Harry Caray's death has once again passed.
As our beloved hometown Cubs get ready for yet another frustrating season
on the diamond, we can only wonder a few things...
1. When will Kerry Wood be ready to pitch again? Will he stay healthy?
2. Will Mark Prior be able to go the whole season?Will he be as effective as he was before his injury troubles the last 2 seasons?
3. Will the Cub outfield be any better now that it's full of players with French names?(Marquis Grissom, Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones) Vite, alors!
4. How many times will Dusty Baker say "dude" and "man" in press conferences?
5. Will the Cubs receive some sort of award for creating the whole club-owned ticket scalping ticket broker market now that many other teams are jumping on the bandwagon and reselling their own tickets at ridiculously high prices, too?
6. How long until White Sox fans lose interest in their World Series championship and revert back to bitching about the Cubs, Wrigley, Cub Fans, and Cub Media Bias?
Only time will tell...

Good evening Mister and Missus America, and All of our Ships at Sea...

Ok, ok. So I'm giving in. I'm blogging. I blog. Now you'll be able to share my random thoughts, musings on life, opinions (good, bad, or indifferent), and so on and so forth. Some have said this is a long time coming. Some of you may wonder who the hell I think I am. Just relax, enjoy the ride.
Is everybody in?? Is everybody in??
The ceremony is about to begin...