Saturday, March 1, 2008

Chicago elitists and the underdog complex

I love the underdog. That's why I get my pets from the pound. That's why I like March Madness. That's why I like independent music. That's why I don't go to chain restaurants (when given a choice). I could go on and on and on.

I like St. Louis because it's an underdog city. Many people from the metropolitan suburbs and exurbs trash talk about or openly hate the city, yet claim her namesake, cultural institutions, sports teams, nightlife and parks. I hear this all the time. People who have lived in or around St. Louis who make the decision to leave for greener pastures love to let you know why St. Louis sucks when they leave. You'll hear them say: 'Chicago is this, the East Coast is that, this place is a cow town, it's a joke, you're all a bunch of rubes, you deserve what you get'. All things I've heard or read when people who leave STL, and once probably even loved STL, say to make them feel more validated in their decision to abandon or wash their hands of STL. If I were to leave STL, I would mourn. I would openly and unabashedly mourn. I would pray for her well being and future, although I'd have no part of it in my new digs. I would never, even with all the obvious faults (lame ass govt, suburban strip malls, messed up schools, racist tension, etc) say how happy I am to leave all that shit behind. But then again, I don't like to kick a dog when it's down. I am not an elitist, and again, I like and will bet on the potential of the underdog. Even when I lose, it's more fun to bet on the underdog.

I went to undergraduate university at Southern Illinois-Carbondale in the mid-1990's Many, many people attending that Univ. are from Chicago, or more accurately ChicagoLand (sub and exurbs). I had many, many arguments with friends and acquaintances about which city was better. They always won (in their minds). But there was one point that would at least make them sway from their elitist arguments. It'd come down to Smashing Pumpkins (Chicago band) vs. Uncle Tupelo (St. Louis band). I always won (in my mind), but it was tough because no one had heard of Uncle Tupelo and Smashing Pumpkins were extremely popular at the time. But once they heard how cool and different Uncle Tupelo was, they had to at least acknowledge my argument that St. Louis was cool and more underground than the behemoth that is the Windy City.

Chicagoans are elitists. No doubt about it. They love snubbing other Midwestern cities. They think they are somehow better than us. Just talk to a Cubs fan. Delusional at best. They love comparing St. Louis and Chicago. They hammer us on vibrancy, downtown nightlife, density, culture, architecture, investment, coolness, pizza, you name it. Chicagoans love bragging about how they're better than the "cow town" to the south. I get it.

Please bare with the music fanatic while I digress: I can make an argument about how the Rolling Stones are way fucking better than a small unheard of band. As an example, let's use Pavement, one of my favorite defunct bands that 90% of the people I've met have never heard of.

Chicagoan = Rolling Stones
St. Louisian = Pavement

Chicagoan argument: "The Stones are the best band of all time after the Beatles (NYC) and maybe the Zep (Los Angeles). The best, dude! Sticky Fingers (the Loop), Gimme Shelter (the Blues), Some Girls (Second City), Beggar's Banquet (the Lake). Enough said. You can't even compare them to Pavement (STL)."

But here's the deal, and what they don't seem to understand: The Rolling Stones are fucking great. Pavement fans get it. But Pavement is more special to those that love their music. It's a more intimate and personal relationship. You are part of a club if you are a Pavement fan. If I saw someone with a Pavement shirt, I would walk across the room and make a comment about the shirt, ask them what their favorite album is and ask if they bought the new Jicks record. If I saw someone in a Stones shirt, I probably wouldn't feel compelled to strike up a conversation. After all, everyone loves the Stones, right? Can't you get a stones shirt at Target?

My point is, the underdog is sometimes way cooler than the obvious elitist or populace choice.
St. Louis lovers are definitely part of a club. And it is not a high-falootin' club. It's a humble one, like the love for a mutt.


  1. Interesting post. I generally favor the underdog and the more obscure too (and years ago, I did see Uncle Tupelo and Pavement shows, so we're definitely in agreement there).

    But I think what you missed is the extent to which Chicagoans feel like underdogs compared to the coasts--the attitude that everything's in New York and you have to go there (or L.A.) if you want to be in the arts. Or that everything cool is on the west coast (esp. Seattle, Portland, San Francisco). Much of my boastfulness about Chicago is in comparison to those places, not other Midwestern cities. I'd love to point out to people in those cities how easy it is here to find 3-bedroom apartments that rent for $1000, say, or talk about the terrific literary scene here, and the gorgeous parks...

    I'm from central Iowa and I'm definitely much happier living here and I can give people many reasons why, but I try to defend Iowa when people assume it has nothing to offer. It was a wonderful place to grow up.

    I don't hold out Chicago as so much better than other Midwestern cities, either. I think it has more to offer just by being bigger, but not everyone wants to live in a huge city. I've liked my brief (and sometimes long-ago) visits to Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, etc., and since I've become seriously interested in architecture and urbanism I'd love to get to visit those cities more.

    I'd say Chicago certainly has the "lame ass govt, suburban strip malls, messed up schools, racist tension" you mentioned, too. And I enjoy visiting the Milwaukee Art Museum much more than the Art Institute of Chicago. And riding public transportation anywhere else just shows how inefficient and run-down the CTA is (though at least we have some 24-hour service, most cities don't). Etc.

    I guess my point is not everyone in Chicago makes a sport of bashing the rest of the Midwest...

  2. you're back! and being thoughtful as always.

    katherine, you make a good point about those of us in the fly-bys always having to validate living here to people from either coast. I've joked for a long time that St. Louis has more New Yorkers than Manhattan because it seems like everyone wants to be cool and only NYC is cool enough ....

    somewhere along the line Midwesterners went from being self-deprecating and modest (think Garrison Keillor here) to having regional self-esteem problems. it's time to get over it.

  3. People that bitch about anything, anybody or anyplace without having tried whole-heartedly to improve or understand whatever they're bitching about are boring and unfortunate.
    There is a lot going on in St. Louis and the beauty of most of what is happening here (and everywhere like it)is that it is not immediately blasted out of proportion and swallowed up by the masses.
    I lived here for a full 10 years before I found a worthwhile groove and I'm still happening upon better scenes and opportunities.
    No need to go into any of it here. If you know me, you know what I'm talking about and I'm glad, for the most part, that the events and places I enjoy are not over-crowded and difficult to get to...
    The best thing about St. Louis?
    You don't HAVE to work all the time only to return home without the energy and cash to go out and hang with good folks at any number of affordable bars and restaurants. You don't HAVE to have roommates if you are able to make a decent living and aren't the lonely type.
    For someone like me that doesn't like to work five and six days a week and who likes to go out and have time to myself, I don't know of a better place to live.
    The magazines and newspapers and certain other desirable employers are gone, but fuck it!
    I can do all the art and media work I want on my own time and stack the cheese with a somewhat demanding bartending gig.
    From my experience, Chicago is easier to live in than NYC, LA, SF, Seattle, Portland, etc...and Smashing Pumpkins was a gawdawful act...and so was (is?) Pearl Jam.
    I'd love to see crowds and beer selections at shows like the Empty Bottle puts on in St. Louis, yeah...but, wait, sometimes, I do!
    My only problem:
    Highway Matrons never played in the Bowery in the early 70s and I really want to spend some summer afternoons in decent seats watching the Cubs in a half-empty Wrigley Field and get good and sauced on the way home.
    But even Wrigley Field is too crowded, because the bozos have torn down virtually every other ballpark and it is far, far, too far away from my comfortable abode on the South Side of St. Louis...which, of course, is an easy bus ride from Busch Stadium, but who wants to sit with a bunch of fucking Cardinal fans?!!!

  4. ^Wow, a Highway Matrons reference. They are one of my all time favorite STL bands.