Monday, March 22, 2010

More Backyard Tire Fire

OK, OK, I know. You've had enough. But really, have you? If you haven't listened to Backyard Tire Fire's latest release, "Good to Be," then you are missing out on something special.

Anyway, I wrote a review of the Los Lobos/BTF show from Saturday night. It's posted on a message board that caters to Chicago's live music fans and is run by my friend, Dave Miller.

You can find it here, but you have to click on the "Concert Reviews" section when you get there. Please check it out, and then poke around a little bit on the site, especially if you're in Chicago. It's a great resource and I know Dave works hard on it.

In the meantime, here's another BTF video, this one featuring the opening track on the new record, the kick-ass "Roadsong #39." As the 70-something woman usher said to me after the show, "If that didn't get your blood pumping, nothing will."

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's OK, it's all right, I'm alive and it's Good To Be

Photo by Brad Hodge

Life on tour can be a lonely existence. The long miles between gigs, that constant, unending road leading away from home and family. It can chew up musicians and spit them out in the shoulder already littered with the debris of failed bands.

Yet, it can also be exhilarating. For some, the road becomes home. The chance to play music for a living can outweigh the difficulties of a nomadic lifestyle.

It seems to me Ed Anderson falls into the latter description. Anderson, who turns 38 next month, is the leader of Backyard Tire Fire. His brother, Matt, who plays bass, and drummer Tim Kramp complete the trio that hails from Bloomington, Ill.

BTF is in the middle of a long tour in support of its latest record, the exceptional "Good To Be." I talked with Ed last week while he was driving between Montana gigs in Missoula and Bozeman. You can read the result of that interview here.

Our conversation drifted to his youth in the western suburbs of Chicago (he and Matt graduated from St. Charles High School). He joked that as a kid he wanted to grow up to play shortstop for the Cubs. He never really considered becoming a rock star. But as he got older music became a viable option, thanks mostly to his blue-collar work ethic.

BTF has played between 150 and 200 shows a year for the past decade.

"It's been a haul," Anderson said. "We've worked our asses off, but even if you work really, really, really hard, there always has to be a little luck involved."

Luck for the band came in the form of a show opening for Los Lobos in October 2008 (more details can be found in the article I linked earlier). Because of that the band is riding an unprecedented surge of popularity, though BTF is far from a household name at this point.

But that isn't the point. Ed, Matt and Tim are doing what they love. They are creating music that is connecting with people. They are doing that one town at a time, finally getting a boost from commercial radio stations that have begun spinning "Good To Be" in regular rotations.

No wonder Ed is able to say, "It's OK, it's all right, I'm alive and it's good to be," as he does on the title track.

"I feel fortunate to have found something that's challenging and that I love," he said. "So many people don't get that in life. They end up having to do things they don't want to do. I never wanted to be one of those people. I always wanted to be happy with what I was doing.

"I think I found what I'm supposed to be doing, you know?"

I, for one, am happy he has.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The importance of work

For most of my life I fought the notion work was good for you. To me, work was a necessary evil, a way to earn some money so I could spend it.

The Puritanical belief that hard work is its own reward was lost on me. I came to think of that mantra as a way to condone the continued exploitation of the working class in our society.

That feeling embedded itself in me during my final days working for The Naperville Sun. With massive nationwide layoffs crippling the newspaper industry, those of us remaining were made to feel we were lucky to still have jobs. We shouldn't complain about the added workload or the new skills many were being asked to learn. Some places began forcing reporters to become videographers.

When I left the Sun during a round of layoffs last April, I was relieved. My job had become just that -- a job. It was so bad, I could feel my mood change every time I got into my car to go the office. Being unemployed freed my spirit.

Because of Kristin's job, I was in the fortunate position of being able to walk away without having to worry about the mortgage getting paid. We don't have any children, so that wasn't a concern. Kristin's job also takes care of our health benefits, so no worries there either.

But now I'm nearing a full year of unemployment. And I'm surprised to have discovered the importance of staying productive. It turns out work is important, and not just as a way to make sure the bills get paid. As Studs Terkel wrote in his 1972 book "Working," "Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread."

For much of the past 11 months, I've been searching for that meaning. Really, I've been searching for it even longer, probably all my life. Now I wonder if it was right in front of me the whole time.

In recent weeks I've been doing more freelancing for newspapers. I just finished three articles since Friday, including this one published in Sunday's Naperville Sun. Those came a few weeks after I wrote a story about Evan Lysacek's sports podiatrist, also for the Sun, and a feature on a local high school basketball player for the Chicago Tribune.

None of the stories can be considered award worthy, but that doesn't matter. I wasn't writing them hoping to win an award. I was writing them because I enjoy writing those kinds of articles, especially the feature on Ryan Boatright.

What I discovered is that working didn't feel like work anymore. (OK, to be honest, when it came to deadline time and I was staring at a screen with only these words written, "By Paul LaTour," it felt a little like work.)

It felt invigorating. It felt good to be busy, to have a reason to wake up in the morning other than to avoid spending the day in my pajamas.

I have a few more assignments on my docket, including another one for the Tribune. Soon I'll be brimming with work as I try to ride this rebirth of enthusiasm. I'll be covering the high school state hockey semifinals and finals next week for the Tribune. I'll be covering high school girls soccer again, this time for

And in just over a week I begin a part-time, temporary job with the U.S. Census Bureau. My task will be doing follow-up visits to group homes, nursing homes, shelters and dorms, making sure everyone is counted. I'm excited if only because it could lead to meeting some interesting people. Of course, everything I find out is confidential, so I won't be able share the details. Then again, they could turn up in a short story or two.

This is all to say that I have found my daily meaning. It really was with me the whole time.