A Weekend of Blondie and Weird Books: Blondie at The Genesee Theatre and the 55th annual Midwest Antiquarian Booksellers Association's Book & Paper Fair

Very seldom do I do two things in the course of a weekend that perfectly embody who I am as a creative human being. Whenever something comes up that fits my schedule and my passion, I work doubly hard to make them work.

On Friday I went to the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, IL to see the iconic punk band of the 70's and 80's (and into infinity) Blondie with special guests The Smithereens.

Ever since I was about seven or eight, I remember connecting with Blondie. They embodied that youthful rebellion, so important to the culture of the 70's and 80's, that thankfully carried through as I was growing up in the 90's. Their lyrics were (and still are) edgy, shocking, and authority-defying. Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Clem Burke, Leigh Foxx, Matt Katz-Bohen, and Tommy Kessler make up this iteration of Blondie. Harry and Stein were in a relationship during the first incarnation of the band and, when Stein developed a rare skin disease, Harry halted the band and nursed him to health for more than eight years. Stein and Harry have since broken up, but the band has risen again from the ashes to shock and soothe us.


I saw them last summer when Blondie was paired with rocker Melissa Etheridge and I adored that combination. Yet, though I adore Ravinia with all my heart, the large pavilion isn't the ideal setting for a punk band like Blondie. The stage last night at the Genesee Theater was absolutely perfect for the band's tight show, complete with video screens behind them adding colorful and often shocking commentary to the songs we all know and love. The Theatre, a once-dilapidated movie house which was left abandoned before it was refurbished and turned into a concert venue. Think of a very small consolidation of The Chicago Theatre and you can visualize what makes the Theatre so vivid and alive. The Smithereens, a band from the 80's who scored big with the hit "A Girl Like You," provided a thrilling and satisfying appetizer at 7:30pm. The band members, though more rotund and grey, threw themselves into the passionate strains of music, which included an instrumental cover an excerpt from The Who's iconic Tommy.


Blondie took that stage at about 9:00, instantly commanding attention with their hit song about Stalker-ish love, "One Way or Another." Harry, now almost 71 years old, wore a long platinum wig, dark sunglasses, and a black skirt with an above-the-knee skirt. As I said to one of the people around me, "I would like to see another 70-year-old who could pull off that skirt." Harry has taken immense care of her body, her voice, and her spirit. She is still punk, dark, edgy, sassy, vulgar, and filled with energy. Belting out hits like "The Tide is High", "Hanging on the Telephone", and "Heart of Glass" holds no strain for her, her voice rich as velvet. She has the punk, the charisma, and the drive to perform that made her a sensation in the Warhol Generation.

Today, I was in the Art Deco ballroom of the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers' Union Hall for the 55th annual Midwest Antiquarian Booksellers Association's Book & Paper Fair.

I went to this fair last year and, being a bibliophile, it is like a kid being dropped into a Hershey's factory. The main items up for public consumption are rare books, ripe for the buying. First editions, signed editions, and beautiful works of literary art fill the Art Deco hall with a brilliant musty odor of years gone by. I was able to see, in one room, first editions of The Great Gatsby (which would set you back $3,500), Atlas Shrugged ($1500), To Kill a Mockingbird ($1400), and many other literary masterpieces. There are books signed by Toni Morrison (a mere $200) and Orville Wright (a whopping $4,500.) There were books from the 1700's and books that were published a few weeks ago.


The room, packed to the rafters with literature, was nicely air-conditioned and the vendors (for the most part) were friendly, kind, and willing to bargain. I have two stories to tell that describes the most helpful encounter I had today and also the oddest encounter:

Earlier in the day I had bought what I thought was a first "book club" edition of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Another vendor, who I had become friendly with earlier in the day, asked what I had purchased. I told him about the book and he identified the features of a true "book club" first edition and deduced that mine wasn't, a mistake he had made in his early days of book collecting, when he bought a copy on eBay for $1400 dollars that was described as a first edition and wasn't. That being said, he congratulated me for still paying a good price for it, as I bought it for $35 and it was worth in the ballpark of $500-800!

My other encounter was a man I bought from last year. The wrong side of 60, balding except for errant tufts of hair, and missing all but a few of his bottom teeth, he reeked of eccentricity. But, as so happens, two of the things I wanted most were in his booth (and we haggled and got alone, as he is a rather honest businessman.) After my transaction, we started to talk. One of the books I purchased from him was a book written by a potential victim of John Wayne Gacy, the famous Chicago serial killer with an end total of 33 murders. This book is extremely rare and hard to find and he gave me a great deal. But, he said, he had another book about Gacy, written by a reporter from The National Enquirer. He said the best thing about the book was the inscription, which said, "To (blank), to someone rare and sexy." The bookseller started laughing like a schoolgirl, saying "that's just the kind of stuff I like." He then proceeded to tell me about his assistant, who he assured me has "great cans," was working another sale in the Chicagoland area and that, since it was outside and warm, that she should "strip her clothes and make some sales." This guy didn't exactly have all his marbles, but he made for a great character study.

This weekend, above all, proved that I'm doing what I love in life and that the oddest combinations are what make life grand.

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