Today, we’re pleased to present an excerpt from Dmitry Samarov’s forthcoming book Music to My Eyes, due out on April 1st on Tortoise Books. In it, Samarov turns the spotlight on several of the musicians who have impressed him most over the years, bringing together his impressions of their sound with memories of a changing Chicago — and, of course, his artwork, capturing the energy and emotion of musicians playing before an audience.
Joan of Arc/Disappears/FACS
When Jinx Coffee opened on Division Street toward the end of 1997 it filled a vacuum. Urbus Orbis—the coffee shop which laid the groundwork for the demise of Wicker Park—was about to close. I had just moved back to town from Boston and Urbus was the first coffee shop I logged serious time in. It was the first true third place in my adult life but was gone before I could even make myself fully at home.
Jinx was staffed by a bunch of art and music kids— Tim Kinsella and Jonathan Van Herik among them. This was before the internet so I had no idea Tim had already been in bands for years. To me he was just the sullen coffee shop kid who played Scott Walker all the time.
I made illustrations for an Italian kid who worked at Jinx. He was going to use them for a 7” for his band, Audience of the End. He never did, but I have them in a drawer somewhere, just waiting for some punk band in need of a Georg Grosz-style drawing of cops beating on a guy in an abandoned lot littered with busted bottles and spent syringes.
After both Jonathan and Tim crossed the street, rounded the corner, and started bartending at the Rainbo Club, I didn’t get to know them any better, but I was much more aware of the music they were making. His band, Joan of Arc, was made up of a revolving cast of friends who congregated at that shop.
I don’t think Brian Case ever worked at Jinx or the Rainbo but he was always around. When Jonathan and Brian started Disappears, sometime in the mid aughts, I was all in.
They had a hollow, empty house vibe which persisted through a Spinal Tap’s-worth of drummers. The songs mutated from minor-key melodic to an increasingly sparse, angular, abstract atmospheric sound by the time the band itself disappeared. I loved every iteration. I made countless paintings with their spectral sounds as a backdrop.
Then FACS rose out of Disappears’ ashes and it was like like hitting a reset button. The lineup was three-quarters of the old band but it was a new thing.
Their first show was on an old-fashioned parquet basketball court inside the recently-refurbished Chicago Athletic Association Hotel on Michigan Avenue. They were opening for Joan of Arc.
All those art kids were now working in bespoke cocktail bars and trendy bistros and programming music at posh spots like this one.
Tim interviewed me for his short-lived blog the sum- mer before my first book came out. We talked into his iPhone while sitting on a picnic bench in the Rainbo’s backyard.
I was surprised reading that interview again recently how friendly and familiar we were with each other. We had probably had only a half dozen serious talks but had known one another for about fourteen years. It adds up without your noticing it.
A couple years later he commissioned a double portrait of Charlie Chaplin and the Elephant Man for a Joan of Arc record cover. Then came portraits of the Dardenne brothers for the covers of a two-volume set of their film diaries to be released by the literary press he runs.
As isolated as I often feel, I have to admit that guys like Tim and Jonathan and Brian are part of whatever passes for my idea of a cohort or community. We don’t spend much time together but when our paths cross there’s a recognition and mutual respect for continuing to plow ahead.
I know Noel Kupersmith from the time he used to clean the Rainbo Club. He was usually there having a post-work beer when the bar opened at 4pm. Then he became a plumber.
A guitar player named Kevin McDonough started Sound Plumbing and hired Noel as an apprentice. After that, every time I saw either of them they were covered in grease and grime. They worked on the pipes of all the bars and record stores where all their current and former band- mates worked. One time I even called Kevin to my house for a clogged drain.
The fix was so simple he didn’t even charge me.
I don’t know if Noel still plays bass. I don’t recall the date when I drew him at the Bottle playing with cornetist Rob Mazurek, and that may have been the only time I ever saw him play. Even so, every time I see him at the bar, in the back of my mind I know he has this other side. He’s not just a guy who digs through basements; he’s also a guy who plucks strings.