Stuck in Chicago


Syl Johnson – Concrete Reservation (from Is it Because I’m Black? 1969)

Duckin’ low in the concrete lined walls of a Project apartment, sharing electricity by means of extension cords strung out of connecting windows. Shady elevator shafts traveling to the tops of high rise sniper towers adjacent to rooms full of families and dope fiends. The story of Chicago’s failed housing authority.

“I used to let Curtis practice his music in my house when I lived down on Hudson. I knowed all of them, Jerry Butler too. I had to finally take Curtis over to Seward Park, and got the park to give him a room because my house wasn’t conductive for him to practice in”.

-Lillian Davis Swope from Cabrini Green in Words + Pictures

Everytime I walk through the park now across the street from Blockbuster Video and a Jewel Osco, I think about The Impressions, Sugar Ray Dinky’s Cabrini Green Rap and Brother Bill walking into gunfire with efforts to spread faith amoungst the youth. A Lambrogini dealer now touches the southside of the gates that block the low rises from the rest of the world on Chicago street. 50 feet away, one of the remaining red buildings sports the words “Fuck D Block” and “Cream Team $$$” in red spraypaint as a backdrop to the remaining squatters. I once saw a man in the back of cop car shit his pants while a crowd of CPD officers laughed and and patrolled the boarded up said to be inhabited apartments.

A conversation with a former Stateway Gardens resident in the park today about the death of Dantrell Davis and Girl X sparked the idea that I should listen to Syl Johnson’s classic tale of the worst Housing Projects in the nation. Writen at the end of the 60s, this song still rings true to the situation today. While not Chicago born, like much of the black population here in the Windy City Syl moved north from Mississippi in the 1950s. Recording with Howlin’ Wolf and Twinight Records, you know his music most likely in the crevises between the Wu-Tang Clan and the Geto Boys. His ghetto blues was overshadowed by the likes of the reverend, though at times he even out Al-Greens the man himself.

The high rises in every coridor of the city may be demolished or well on their way, but the displaced still remain. Johnson reminds us in his classic tale of the struggle.

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