Because we hadn’t done anything after eating at the hysterical Rain Forest café on the evening we arrived, we were able to tackle Chicago with a fresh head. Of course, I had to see The Bean (the gigantic, shiny, bean shaped sculpture by Anish Kapoor), and we managed to fit in a lot of wandering.
At about six thirty in the evening we walked to the station in the centre of Chicago, for the third Station to Station event. All the usual suspects were performing in the once again impressive station hall (there appears to be quite a few in ‘Murrica). But tonight was different to the other evenings. The line-up was extended with some extra names, one of which, the Black Monks, grabbed my attention. A kind of close harmony gospel group with a double bass and a drummer. Sounds terrible on paper, I know, but goddamn (sorry God), they were good. It was just perfect to get a little bit of soul, in between all the art rock bands.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better (I’d had a peek in the programme, of course), Chi-town legend Mavis Staples wandered on to the stage. With difficulty ok, and with a walking stick, but that didn’t stop her from transforming the station into a church for three quarters of an hour. Preach!
Gregor Salto, who had seen on Instagram that I was in Chicago, then texted me to ask if we wanted to go with him to check out Ron Caroll (Chi-Town-legend #2) and Mike Dunn (Chi-Town-legend #3). Hell yeah. We drove to a totally unassuming bar in the South Side (the kind of area where white Americans have absolutely no reason to be), where a hoard of people and motorbikes were gathered at the door. Inside, it was a dark cave, with a sick sound system and even sicker atmosphere. Black thirty and forty somethings dancing as if their lives depended on it.
Mike Dunn playing ridiculously good tunes, and all kinds of other random stuff happening, making this yet another legendary evening. We ended it with Jerk chicken barbecued at the front door, of course. This trip is a trip.
All aboard, the train left for Minneapolis, which unfortunately for us is another last journey. I know nothing about Minneapolis, except that Prince lives here and I’m not looking forward to leaving this place. The train journey was a long sightseeing tour through an endless postcard.
5:01 happy hour. Brilliant. We were engaged in a long conversation with Eli, the auctioneer who called 5:01 every day. Besides his auction activities he also proved to be a cowboy and he knew how to give tips. How to sit on a bull as long as possible. Handy, you never know.
Minneapolis is a really crazy town, very quiet and dotted with people dressed in red. There was a sales meeting at Target, in the city, very surreal.Unfortunately – no Prince, but, the country’s largest shopping venue, the Mall of America. Of course we had to go even though it was a bit senseless. A complete amusement park in the middle of the complex and more shops than you would find in the centre of Amsterdam, I think.Surprisingly the evening’s entertainment was in a gigantic impressive station.
Tonight was the absolute highlight, a performance by Patti Smith, who just showed that ‘first row’ photographers could move aside for the whole station, everything revolved around the sing along, cheering and shouting. Absolutely Crazy! After the show, there was an ‘after party’ for the Levi’s crew in the Amsterdam Bar. No joke, they even had bitterballen (croquettes) there..
Too bad this trip is already over for us. I have been in places where I otherwise would probably have never been (when do you come to Pittsburgh?) and I’ve seen parts of this country that were so great that I wanted to jump off the train and explore everything in sight. I’m pissed off that I have to say ‘farewell’ to all the people with whom I have built friendships within a very short time. I’d like to have had more time to talk, travel and drink cocktails with them.I’m aggravated too, because it was becoming clearer at every stop for anyone that this trip is a once-in-a-lifetime situation. The mix of people, music styles, art venues and is one which I my proverbial hat off, Doug Aitken. You need balls to have something ambitious-fangled. What may at first felt like a random idea, turned out to be educational and inspiring for all concerned. I believe discovery is the core of everything. This may all sound very corny, but that doesn’t interest me. It’s true. Go further where you would otherwise stop and turn left where everyone goes right. Go out there and explore.
Chicago wins. I know that New York is special, but Chicago is a hidden gem. Everything feels right here, it’s not too busy or too quiet. There is an absurd art, there are beautiful buildings and a beach.
There may well not really be a sea, but you notice anything about when you’re in the water. You imagine yourself in the Maldives with the strange contrast of the Chicago skyline. With a small 36 degrees it was hot, and what do you do if you have no bikini with you?
Fresh and ready for the evening. Union Station Chicago. One way or another a story emerged that we had all been in a band together. That provided the necessary attention. We were in a ‘film shoot’ by a well-known photographer, so we had our minute of fame in America.
However our attention was quickly lost to the stage when The Black Monks of Mississippi brought the audience into a trance. This performance created goose pimples right down my spine. I do not believe in God, but listen to these voices and you will be taken to the edge of conversion. To me it seemed an impossible task, take the stage after them? But Mavis Staples did it with her 74 years in Glorious style. Rolling Stone calls her the most underrated Diva of this generation. If you know how to give such performance at that age I say” hallejulaaaa “!
We were on a roll and all but ready to go home. As happy chance would have it, Gregor Salto was in Chicago together with Ron Caroll. Sef had already rung them and we were picked up at the station in an orange SUV. Casually, Sef informed us we would be going to the South Side – you know, that place where people shoot each other. All right then. Sure. I’m cool. After about a thirty-minute drive we arrived and I saw a big house in front of which all kinds of people on motorcycles were hanging out to music and barbequing
It felt a bit as if I had arrived in 8 Mile. At first people gave us strange glances but we were cool soon enough. I can honestly tell you: it was one of the best parties I’ve ever been to. I’ve never seen people so totally free and party the way they did here. Everyone was open and friendly and it didn’t matter what you looked like or how old you were as long as you danced as if your life depended on it.
Sweaty and exhausted, Sef and I ate some soul food from the barbecue in the parking lot. Thank you Chicago.
The party never stops because the train continues on its way. White Magic’s brother and sister and their bright red hair made for a striking appearance in the train.
The party could never begin early enough for them, she was armed with a hand harmonica and he with a handkerchief and this is how we steadily rode towards Minneapolis.
At lunch I got talking to Anna, artist, musician and trainspotter. This woman has an absurd fascination with trains. When she heard that the soul train was coming to Chicago she immediately bought a ticket for the show. Afterwards she simply had to see the train so she went looking for the track. Meanwhile the after party was in full swing back in the train. Even when she finally found the LED-lit train there were security guards were waiting for her. “Invitation only.” She tried talking her way into it but they didn’t let her in. Then she thought: I’m going to look for Doug Aitken, the creator of Station to Station. She turned around and the first person she happened to address was Doug. He laughed at her story and not only offered her to have a look at the train but also to come along for the trip. She immediately cancelled all her appointments and left on the train.
Without wanting to be too philosophical, this story reflects beautifully what this trip is all about. The sense of possibility, of being in the moment and going with the flow.
When we have to leave the train that evening at St. Paul, I basically just want to hide but luckily we still we have a city to go. Or two cities actually: Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Minneapolis has been hijacked by people in red outfits. It feels like The Walking Dead except these people aren’t dead but are wearing red shirts. Very unusual. On our afternoon off we go to the Mall of America which claims to be the largest mall in the United States. To be fair, there was an actual theme park in this mall. I took a turn on the roller coaster but Sef was too scared to join me.
Our last evening, our last party. We’re welcomed by a group of people walking around with flowers in their hands who suddenly stood on top of each other and formed a human statue. We’re back home.
The crowd this evening was the best so far – especially when their own rock heroine Patti Smith came on stage. What a cool chick. The press had gathered ringside before the stage making it difficult for the audience to see everything. Which is why after the second song she screamed: “OUT OUT OUT! When a photographer pays 25 dollars, they can sit there.”
Then someone in the audience shouted: “Patti for president!” After some laughter she suddenly said deadly serious: “If I were the president, I would close Guantanamo Bay and pump money into Detroit, not Syria.”
The after party that night was in a bar called Amsterdam. You could even order bitterballen (croquettes), though they didn’t taste good at all. I found it pretty symbolic that our journey was to end here. The last few days were one never-ending journey and that’s exactly where the magic lies. It wasn’t about the destination but the journey itself – that’s where all the special moments arose. With our hair in the wind, dancing to the sounds of the guitar, completely free.