Friday, December 24, 2010

STREET PLAYER, My Chicago Story, Danny Seraphine

As told by founding member, drummer Danny Seraphine, this autobiography about the formation, rise and decline of the rock band, Chicago is a comprehensive, if narrowly recalled history of this band. Given Chicago's publicly elusive identity, any history of this brass and guitar ensemble should be enough for an engaging rock and roll read.

Seraphine holds several gripes with the band, not the least of which is his firing from Chicago in 1990, and this odd-man-out point of view, (he eventually finds himself hermit-like in the Colorado wilderness literally contemplating life), leaves the book a little slanted in perspective and just short of trusting, even as you anxiously hang onto his simple and sometimes eloquent prose.

With an outgoing Italian-bred excitement, Seraphine's book is like a cross between a juvenile teen novel championing street gangs and petty crime, and a confessional rock and roll expose. His reconstruction of the Chicago timeline is told with all the enthusiasm of a teen-ager hot-wiring his first car.

Yet one feels slighted by recollection of events that are given the once over by Seraphine's 'kid from Chicago' narrative. I have a difficult time believing he was fired from the band because his playing was inadequate. Surely the band would cite otherwise.

Their debut album from 1969, "Chicago Transit Authority" (their original name) is a slick and perfect pop album (one of my favorites), steeped in shiny production and jazz influenced innovative arrangements, and Seraphine's hurried recollection implies the band simply went into a recording studio and put it to wax. That no mention is made of the brilliant percussive finale to the song, "Beginnings" by this drummer-writer, while the song itself is briefly mentioned, suggests a team of producers and a whole lot of money lie unaccredited.

This and other glossed over incidents make Seraphine's passive mob connections, (he insists they are just friends from Chicago - two of them were found shot through the head in a cornfield), all the more genuine.

Yet the book sparkles with interest in other venues. Encounters with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and other rock and roll icons are incidental brushes with life that go believed. We'll take his word that he called Janis Joplin a bitch to her face after a bitter exchange, and trust him when he tells us it was his good buddy, and not himself who spent an intimate night with her. He may be pulling our chain informing us his buddy had claw marks down his back the following morning.

The sad death of Chicago founding member Terry Kath, (guitarist and memorable lead vocal on "Make Me Smile" and "Colour My World"), a presumed suicide (or not) in 1978, is a heart breaker and serves as a driving force to Seraphine's rags to riches, (and back to semi-precious rags) story.

His identifying himself as an absent father is commendable, and his gentle plea to reconcile with Chicago at the end of the book is cloying.

Still despite reservation, I can't help but like author Danny Seraphine. My grandmother also made killer lasagna. It's enough to believe that he believes everything he says.