The Mad Ripple Hootenanny This Week: “Born On Fire!”

July 29, 2015

Dear Good People,

Last week at Harriet, Steve McClellan took to the microphone and reminded the drinkers, dancers, and good listeners about the good works that DEMO does, and gigs happening that night after the Hoot, including those by Katy Vernon, James Loney, and Terry Eason, who was celebrating the release of his new CD, “Terminal Leave,” at the Kitty Kat Club, and who returns to the Hoot this Thursday night at Harriet, along with Justin Law, Iris Kolodji, yours truly, and more.

(Read/listen to Chris Roberts’ piece on Terry Eason’s 2011 song-a-day project, here.)

I’ve been saying the Hoot is a weekly musical DNA exchange, and though I or the Hoot claim no singer/songwriters or musicians as exclusive partners, I feel similarly to how Steve does – that with that DNA exchange comes real live lasting connections (speaking of which, Brianna Lane and Jeff Schuller are at the Aster Thursday night, 9 p.m.) that translates to widespread and ongoing support from one another.

Yes, I am a sap: part of what makes this Hoot ship float is the ghosts of all who’ve played it in the past, so even if you’re not there, even if you’re taking in another show or chilling at home or playing another gig during the Hoot, you know the drill and the camaraderie of the Hoot and it’s mission of playing and hearing songs in an intimate way, and so (here’s the sap part) part of you will always be there in spirit.

For me, anyway.

One of those spirited spirits, Ike Reilly, is in town Thursday night, at the Fine Line (doors at 8; music at 9). As I’ve written countless times since my first City Pages column about him and his first band Community #9 in 1990, I think the world of Ike, his band, and his songs. We’ve spent many great nights and days togther, including the Hoot at Java Jack’s, Grumpy’s, and at the Parkway Theater during the 2008 Republican Convention for the Lizz Winstead-produced comedy show “Wake Up World,” where we were joined by Billy Bragg, Tom Morello, Boots Riley, Jennifer Markey, and Eliza Blue.

(Watch videos from the Parkway Hoot here and here; special thanks to Citygirldebbie and Debbie Donovan.)

Ike can’t make it to the Hoot this week, as load-in and sound check duties at the Fine Line call, but I want to say one more time how much his songs and lust for life have meant to me. “Put A Little Love In It,” “Crave,” “Born On Fire,” “It’s Alright To Die,” “Broken Parakeet Blues,” “Hip Hop Thighs,” and many more are some of the most important soundtracks to my life, and I look forward to spending the rest of my life swapping songs, stories and shenanigans with Ike, whom I talked with last week from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he was about to go on at the Cat’s Cradle with the IRA. We chatted briefly about “Born On Fire” (just released on Tom Morello’s new Firebrand Records label); the late greats Chris Farley and David Carr, and the current IRA tour:

Walsh: You’re doing 30 shows in 32 nights. How’s it going and what’s been the reaction to the record?

Reilly: Believe it or not, we’ve never had a record that’s been reacted to like this before, in a lot of different ways. It’s almost as if people haven’t heard of us before. Which they haven’t (laughs). The show itself is a kind of explosive R&B show, and I’ve been breaking it down in the middle and that song “Born On Fire” really really affects people. I saw a guy wrote on the Internet, ‘The good news is you made my girlfriend cry; the bad news is you made my girlfriend cry, ‘Born On Fire’ in particular.’

Walsh: Where did that song come from? When I listen to it it feels like it was written to your kids, all kids, and all of us to remember to not let anyone get in the way of truly being yourself. What did you have in mind?

Reilly: It’s specifically a letter to my kid Kevin, but it took on a more universal feel as I read it and sung it, and I was like, ‘That song reminds me of what I was like as a kid,’ even though in this song I’m the oppressor (laughs). I think that anybody who’s ever had any kind of hope and dreams for themselves, there’s always some outside force that maybe tells you you’re not capable, or that it’s stupid, or that it’s ill-advised, and so this is kind of admission of that, and also an admission that, from a personal standpoint, I can’t take any advice… Burn it fucking down, man. You gotta try and do what you love.

Walsh: Most of the time, it’s not necessarily someone real’s voice, but it’s in your own head: you telling you you can’t do something. In your life, have there been forces in your life that have said, ‘Do something else?’

Reilly: Not so much, lately. But when you’re young, you know? Then there’s bills, there’s reality… Yeah, I had teachers tell me I wouldn’t amount to nothing – not that I’ve amounted to anything, but who would tell anybody that? I’d already thought I’d amounted to something when they told me that. I was like, ‘Whattya mean?’

But the cool thing about that song is that it’s going to be the featured song featured in a new Chris Farley documentary, called “I Am Chris Farley.” (Watch the trailer for “I Am Chris Farley” here.)

Walsh: What’s your background with Farley, again?

Reilly: He and I were friends from back in school; we played rugby together. I was working as a doorman when he was coming to Chicago and going through Second City, and we remained friends right up until his death. I’m really good friends with his brother, Kevin. When I was shooting this documentary with Father Foley and Gene Grant, a friend of mine from Libertyville, and we were just partying and reminiscing and being irreverent and talking about Chris, and Kevin knew I was recording, and I said, ‘I’ve got a song that I think would be great for the film.’

And Kevin’s always been a fan of our band, and [when he heard it] we both cried like pussies and then he put it in the film and he said it’s in an incredibly moving part of the film. I haven’t seen it, but I’m proud to be part of it. Chris was certainly born on fire. He ran fuckin’ hot. He went to Catholic schools until they threw him out. You know, there were a lot of people probably saying, ‘What are you doing?’ And he just kept doing it. And now he’s just a magical, mythical memory. I’m not talking about how he died, I’m talking about how he pursued… You know, he had no acting talent, no nothing. He just said, ‘Fuck it, I’m doing this.’

Walsh: And similarly, your friend, our friend, David Carr. Born on fire. Gone too soon.

Reilly: I was thinking, I met both you guys the exact same night and have become close friends since then. I think it was at [Grumpy’s owner] Pat Dwyer’s house at a party, and I met both of you that night. But I played ‘Born On Fire’ in New York maybe 20 months ago, and David was there and [later that night] I played it for his daughter Maddie in their kitchen and David goes, ‘That’s your fucking song.’

I went to David’s funeral in New York, and when I walked into the funeral home, Jill and her mom and the kids were there, and they all came up to me and said, ‘We just turned you off. We rode over in the limo to the chapel blasting ‘Born On Fire.’ They were all crying. It was terrible to lose David. I was not surprised, but I was not happy.

Walsh: How are the gigs going?

Reilly: We’ve been killing it. We’re going after it hard. Nothing’s getting in the way of these shows. We’ve been really affecting people, and the band is all about the sense of camaraderie and the sense of musicianship and it’s really all about the art and the performance and the songs and the lifestyle and it’s such a communal experience on the stage. And I feel like I’m a lot more open and connected to audiences in a way I never have been.

Walsh: You’re in town, you’re part of the Hoot whether you’re there or not, and a bunch of us, including the Kaiser clan, are all coming down to see you. Do you have memories of the Hoot, does it mean anything, or am I making it up?

(L-r) Ike Reilly, Boots Riley, Tom Morello, Jennifer Markey, Billy Bragg, Eliza Blue, Jim Walsh. Parkway Theater Hoot during The Republican National Convention, 2008. (Photo by Tony Nelson.)
(L-r) Ike Reilly, Boots Riley, Tom Morello, Jennifer Markey, Billy Bragg, Eliza Blue, Jim Walsh. Parkway Theater Hoot during The Republican National Convention, 2008. (Photo by Tony Nelson.)

Reilly: God, that night when we played during the convention at the Parkway Theater was one of my favorite nights ever: Tom and you and I and David [Carr] and Billy Bragg… I got to sit on stage with those guys, and David’s in the audience and you’re on the stage and Morello’s next to me and Billy Bragg’s next to him, and we’re just shooting the shit. Crazy.

(Read David Carr’s account of that night in the New York Times, “Hoot Owls” here and Andrea Swensson/Stacy Schwartz’s City Pages report here.)

But even those first hoots, when you first started doing ‘em in the basement [of Java Jack’s], that was really a place where – I mean, you’d seen me fuck around with my guitar in the back of buses and dressing rooms, but I hadn’t played alone in front of people a lot before that. So those early hoots reminded me that there’s a real power in one guitar and one voice, and an intimacy, too. And then, of course, you and I drinking is always fun.

(L-r) Boots Riley, David Carr, Tom Morello, Ike Reilly, Billy Bragg at Pepito’s, post-Hoot 2008, 2:30 a.m. (Photo by Jim Walsh.)
(L-r) Boots Riley, David Carr, Tom Morello, Ike Reilly, Billy Bragg at Pepito’s, post-Hoot 2008, 2:30 a.m. (Photo by Jim Walsh.)

That’s all for this week. Thanks as always for reading and listening. More to come…



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