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Bloodshot Briefing: Lofty Deeds

By Matt Harness

As a music writer in Chicago, Mark Guarino has seen and heard countless bands.

Why Guarino chose to collaborate with Jon Langford for his soon-to-be-released play All the Fame of Lofty Deeds speaks volumes about the Waco Brother and his pop culture transcendence.

"Because we live in Chicago and he's always around, I think we take him for granted," said Guarino, 39, a longtime fan of Langford and his various musical incarnations. "Hopefully one thing the play will do is re-examine his contributions as a songwriter."

The show is set to run at the Chopin Theater from Nov. 12 through Dec. 20. Beachwood Music spent some time talking to Guarino, an Oak Park native and Rogers Park resident.

Beachwood Music: I read where the play was developed through Victory Gardens last year. Tell me about that connection, and how you ended up with the House Theatre.

Mark Guarino: It wasn't a production at Victory Gardens, but they put up some money. They had a new play reading series, and we had two separate readings. One was a staged reading. The actors read from scripts and walked through the play. At the time Victory Gardens hadn't committed to it. They offered more advocacy.

I had spent about eight months writing this play, and it turned out to be much bigger than what the Victory Gardens produces. This play exists on a large canvas.

The House Theatre is known for plays on a larger scale. They have high theatrics, and they do imaginative theater. What I had written matched their sensibilities. The play found the most appropriate home possible.

Beachwood Music: Talk about the play, which follows the life of a Hank Williams-like country singer from anonymity to fame, and the work you did with Langford, whose 2004 album serves as the play's title.

Guarino: I wrote the story first and then I listened to the music. There was a connection. I used the songs to fill in parts of the story and used images of his artwork to bring the story to life.

Beachwood Music: What do you like about Langford's music?

Guarino: It operates on different levels. It's great to enjoy while you're having a drink at a bar. It's also really great rock music from the Clash to Bruce Springsteen. Jon makes serious music. It's potent lyrics and punchy music. It's a real combustible mix. It's not frivolous music; it's quite powerful. You listen to it and it takes you in.

When I wrote the play, it forced me to sit down with headphones and think about what each song is saying. His music is well-crafted and well-written, using metaphors and colorful images. But he uses them in simple ways to say profound things.

Beachwood Music: How involved is Langford with the production?

Guarino: He's been in every meeting and he has suggestions. He's very involved, particularly with the music and art. We are going to have a five-member band playing. He's not playing, but he's working with the band and the arrangements because some of the songs are different than the recordings. He's also teaching the art people how to paint like him.

He's been fully involved from the start, and he's been very generous with us twisting his images and music.

Beachwood Music: Any other Bloodshot artists have your ear?

Guarino: One of the best songwriters to come out of Chicago is Robbie Fulks. I can't think of anybody that's a better triple threat. He's an incredible performer, an amazing guitarist and a great craftsman. His talent is frightening. No one comes close to his songwriting talent out of Chicago. He hasn't had the commercial success of others, but I think that's more true of the times. In different times, he's Elvis Costello. He's records really have depth that is mind-boggling.

Beachwood Music: Bloodshot sure can pick 'em.

Guarino: They've always presented artists that have a connection to the live stage. Those who started it grew up in the punk rock world. Music wasn't about the record; it's about live performances. Bloodshot bands are best appreciated live, and that's how I love them best.

Others I live are Deadstring Brothers, Scott H. Biram, Bottle Rockets, Old 97s and Justin Townes Earle. Justin's two records with Bloodshot are so strong. It goes back to Fulks; Justin has it all.

Beachwood Music: What are some of your favorite Chicago music venues?

Guarino: I have fond memories of the Metro since I was in college. It's up there as a favorite. It's a shrine to rock-and-roll.

Also, FitzGerald's. I lived near there, and I learned a lot about music by what was booked there. Going there was like graduate school for me.

The Hideout. Great community vibe. Lounge Ax before it closed. That was the ultimate punk rock club in Chicago. Lot of fond memories.

Rosa's on the West Side. That's another family owned spot. That's what connects all of these places. There is some family dynamic there.


Bloodshot Briefing appears in this space every Friday. Matt welcomes your comments.


Posted on October 30, 2009

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