Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Offbeat Chicago: the Busy Beaver Button Museum

In Chicago's museum pantheon, there's the Art Institute, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, blah blah blah. They're fine if you like Impressionist masterpieces or T-rexes or whales. But wouldn't you rather see George Washington's campaign button from the late 1700s? Or a red-cone-hat Devo button? Or a century-old button of a woman wearing a button?

The Busy Beaver Button Museum has the goods. Exhibits start with the Father of our Country showing his flair (though in his era buttons were sewed on). Pin-back buttons came along in 1896. Badge-making company Busy Beaver chronicles their history in displays holding thousands of the little round mementos. They tout everything from Dale Bozzio to Bozo the clown, Cabbage Patch Kids to Big Rock Point Nuclear Plant. They're fascinating to browse, and the hipster office staff is totally gracious about letting you gawk over their desks where the framed cases hang. Ring the doorbell to enter any time between 10am and 4pm on weekdays. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Buddy Sings the Blues

It's January in Chicago, and you know what that means: wintry balls-out cold, of course. But it's also the month when Buddy Guy gives blues lessons. 

Every Thursday through Sunday, Buddy shreds the stage at his downtown club. He does it each January. Tickets sell out fast, because Buddy is the last real bluesman left, and at age 78, who knows how much longer he'll be bending strings (he bends his really, really hard, incidentally - just ask his guitar tech).

Chicago blues is its own genre, what happened when Delta axe-men like Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Howlin' Wolf plugged in their amps. Their sick licks and electric sound paved the way for rock 'n roll, influencing the Rolling Stones, among many others. Their Chicago story plays out at the old Chess Records site.

Buddy is the last link to the old timers. He was a session guitarist at Chess and backed Muddy and Howlin' Wolf. He might tell the story during his January residency, and you'll be close enough to hear it, since the room only holds 550 people. He might also mention how Leonard Chess slammed him as just making noise, or that pre-fame Eric Clapton used to sleep in a van to come see Guy play when he toured England.

So Chicago in January does have a hot spot. While you're in the minor-key groove, why swing by Muddy Waters' home? And later in 2015 road trip to St Louis for the opening of the new National Blues Museum. Buddy will certainly be there.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Where the Dead Meet the Dogs in DC

It is jarring the first time you see a dachshund lower its haunches and poo right next to a tombstone. Some people say it's disrespectful. Others say the dogs saved Washington, DC's Congressional Cemetery.

Founded in 1807, the burial ground had become a forlorn place of crack deals and toppled monuments by the 1990s. But then a group of locals had an idea: turn the graveyard into a members-only dog park, and use the fees to restore the site.

It's now a lovely spot to ramble, and the cemetery has done a fab job documenting the dead. Pick up maps at the entrance to find famed civil rights heroes, global explorers, beer brewers, War of 1812 officers, and loads of other people you should know. Favorite spirits to seek out:

* Mathew Brady: The Civil War photographer is known as the father of photojournalism. He took the picture of Lincoln that's now on the $5 bill.

* Belva Lockwood: She ran for US president in 1884 as the Equal Rights Party's candidate. Yes, she was aware women didn't have voting rights at the time. She still got 4000 votes.

* J Edgar Hoover: The infamous FBI director has a grave that's surrounded by a fence and faces DC's jail.

Just watch out for loping black labs, stick-chasing Yorkies and other members of the K9 Corps patrolling the stony rows. Incidentally, it's a year-long waiting list to join the pack.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mustache Tourism

What? You've never heard of it? People travel all over the globe for their lip doilies. Here's where:

1. Portland, Oregon: It hosts the World Beard and Mustache Championships on Oct. 25. Contestants twist, curl and wax their facial hair into spectacular formations (some with flowers, like this).

2. Budapest, Hungary: The nation has such renowned 'staches it gets its own bushy category at the World Championships. Travel to Budapest, home of the Hungarian Moustache Society, and you'll see the lady ticklers firsthand.

3. London, England: Have a "hirsute appendage of the upper lip, with graspable extremities"? That's the qualification for membership in the Handlebar Club. Join the gents achieving mustache excellence at monthly meetings in a Marylebone pub.

4. Trondheim, Norway: Epic mustache history here. It's Norway's Viking capital - the very dudes who originated badass whiskers. It's headquarters of the Norwegian Mustache Club. And Trondheim has twice held the World Championships.

5. Liverpool, England: A mustache museum! OK, officially it's Merseyside Maritime Museum with a "Mustaches from the Past" exhibit. Most go walrus style. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Amsterdam's 7 Oddest Museums

Everyone goes to gape at Van Gogh and ogle Rembrandt. But where are the neck violins and fluorescent rabbits? The bong displays and erotic music boxes? Amsterdam has a sublime assortment of oddball museums. 

1. Kattenkabinet: Art devoted to cats – including works by Picasso and Rembrandt – hangs in this creaky old canal house.

2. Tassenmuseum Hendrikje: The Museum of Handbags and Purses shows arm candy throughout the ages, with lots of sparkling celebrity clutches.

3. Torture Museum: Spooky galleries display skull crackers, finger screws, a guillotine and the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg.

4. Sexmuseum Amsterdam: Good silly fun, especially the penis-encircled baptismal font and automated farting flasher.

5. Electric Lady Land: The world’s first museum of fluorescence lays out glow-in-the-dark rocks, rice and rabbits. Trippy!

6. Pianola Museum: Listen to rare jazz and classical tunes unroll on vintage player pianos.

7. Hash, Marijuana and Hemp Museum: Ganja galore in the Red Light District. Browse the whopping pipe collection and roomful of big-budded plants, then send an e-postcard of yourself in a pot field.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Top 5 Museums a Zombie Would Love

The Walking Dead had record-breaking ratings for its premiere on Sunday. Zombies are hot. Zombies are everywhere. But when they're done face-eating, what do zombies do for entertainment?

Here are the top 5 museums a zombie would love:

1. Indiana Medical History Museum: The room inside an old insane asylum filled with brains in jars is like a cannibal candy shop.

2. Philadelphia's Mutter Museum: Einstein's braaaain is here, in 20-micron-thick slices.

3. Cornell's Wilder Brain Collection: The smorgasbord of juicy lobes includes doctors, suffragists and serial killers.

4. National Zoo: Zombie pets will lip-smack at the pickled brains, from pygmy hippos to blue whales, white-tailed deer to red foxes.

5. Living Dead Museum: This one's for reanimated corpses with a sense of humor. It's set in the house where Night of the Living Dead was filmed and is stuffed with rotting legs, eyeball-less faces and other movie props. 

Photo from jaded-ink

Friday, July 11, 2014

Beer-Filled Donuts, Craft Classes & Modern Art: 5 New Things LeBron Can Do in Cleveland

A lot has changed in the years you've been gone, LeBron. Enjoy the new, cool Cleveland. Here is your to-do list:

1. Brewnuts: This Tremont shop fries donuts using C-town brews in the batter. And they're making you your very own boozy treat. It'll likely be a long john-type donut named King James. Suds to be decided....

2. Gotta Groove Records: Gotta Groove presses 70,000 records a month in an old elevator factory downtown. They'll preserve your crooning onto 7-inch or 12-inch vinyl. Staff will even give you a tour if you call ahead.

3. Cleveland Flea: The city's hipsters unite one Sunday per month from May through October for a crafty street market. The group also hosts underground dinners to which you are invited, LeBron, as well as DIY classes where you can learn to make your own craft cocktails with habanero-flavored salt.

4. Cleveland Museum of Art:  Fresh off a whopping expansion, this place will blow your mind with rock star works from Impressionists, Picasso and surrealists. Bring your mobile device, because the museum makes sweet use of digital technology.

5. Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland: MOCA is where you can get your fix of Belgian video artists and feminist performance artists, LeBron. If nothing else, gape at the shiny new building of geometric black steel.