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McLaggan Street

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Diary of a Billsticker – Chicago, USA

There’s lots of things to think about with a head full of the Blues in the Windy City: The failed Volstead Act and how that applies in this day and age with drugs; ‘Hinky Dick’ Kenna; ‘Bathhouse’ John Coughlin and other crooked Politicians (“Vote early…and Vote often); Abbie Hoffman; Bobby Seale and the 1968 Democrat Party Convention along with its subsequent riots; Oprah and the failure of television; Nelson Algren; Saul Bellow; Robert Johnson; Tom Petty’s excellent album “Live in Chicago”; the Paul Butterfield Blues Band; John Belushi and the Blues Brothers; John Dillinger and the Biograph Theatre; Al Capone; Barack Obama; Eliot Ness; The Tommy Gun; Carl Sandburg (“Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders”); the Rolling Stones and 2120 South Michigan Avenue; the stock yards; the freight yards; the trains; the 1893 World’s Fair… To name just a few topics of thought.

These are all the images that come to me of Chicago. New Zealand television played the original series of the Untouchables in the early 60s as I was growing up in Dunedin. I was left with wonderful and wild imagery. That’s what television can do. For better or for worse.

Now with all of that it’s probably better to do a simple poster run. I did. A poster run always clears the head and gets the blood flowing. It was very wet and windy on both days as we went out to tape NZ poetry posters to lampposts around Chicago. It was kind of like postering in Wellington with the weather against you. Still, as I’ve often said, nothing beats a good, simple poster run and the knowledge that one is making a difference. I am enormously proud of NZ poets as I go about this. There seems to be a limited system of framed off poster sites in Chicago just as Phantom operates in New Zealand. But there are also lots of lamp-post posters in the Windy City. Going by the posters, Chicago has a lot of very creative people about. That’s how I judge creativity in a new city, by the style and number of street posters I see about. A creative city always has lots of street posters. What craven-hearted type of person would want to stamp this out? To stop people expressing themselves. That’s not good.

Chicago is an exciting city and does not disappoint. For all its crime and bad times, it is a wonderfully vital city. It is obviously very alive. Chicago (say the name over a few times… What a great name) is kind of like the McLaggan Street area of Dunedin in the 1950s and 1960s blown up and maximised to a 10,000% image. In McLaggan Street at the time, almost anything went and most of it twice: the crime, the violence, the Opium houses, the great music in the local pub, the Kiwis just doing their best and working every day. Some of those Kiwis were getting over the experience of the Second World War. They were all good blokes. I remember that. They had a dignity in bad times.

In Dunedin, the wind even came blowing in off the harbour and up the hill just like the wind blows in off the lake in Chicago. I don’t know if either wind actually cleanses, but a bit of bad weather always makes for an interesting city. It certainly did (and does) in Dunedin. Dunedin is a similarly creative city. Obviously, lots of great NZ music has come from Dunedin. It’s the atmosphere of the place. It’s a mixture.

I’ll finish this by saying there is a new Untouchables movie in the making called ‘Capone Rising’. I long for the day when someone makes a movie about McLaggan Street. Janet Frame touched on the area in some of her writing, but there’s more work to be done. New Zealand has just as rich a culture as Chicago and there’s more to be said. Lots more to be said.


Thank you, friends.


Jim Wilson