Moving Forward: An Update on the Addison Recorder

Three years ago, I sat down in Julius Meinl with some friends and tossed around the idea of starting our own website, a place where we could write what we wanted to write, where we could talk about sports, movies, games, drinks…the skies were the limit.

Now, as we draw closer to the third anniversary of the Recorder and with a stable of 15 writers, over 400 posts, and multiple new features coming soon, we felt it was time for an upgrade.

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We’re still here (and we have things planned)!

Hello world,

Sorry for the long break in our correspondence, but life can get in the way of many things. Sadly, for the past month or so, life has been getting between us and our beloved Recorder for one reason or another. But have no fear, for Alex, Andrew, ~J, and Travis are all doing well and will soon be back with a vengeance.  The rest of the boys will get their work on here in good time, but I wanted to chime in and let our readership know about a few of the projects that I have been working on and plan to spit out soon.

Firstly, I am and will remain your devoted TV viewer, and so I am starting a recurring feature where I will drop an article every week or two about one of the shows that I keep tabs on. This will give me a chance to expound on all the programs that I dearly love (or still tolerate), without breaking my neck trying to do a weekly recap of absolutely everything. That’s what The A.V. Club is for.

Secondly, the awards season for films is quickly approaching, and since I have a longstanding fascination with the simultaneously excellent and awful horse race that is Oscar season I will be chiming in with coverage of that. I’m going to endeavor more to cover the films themselves, on their artistic merits (as I have with surefire Oscar contenders Moonrise Kingdom and The Master), but will likely devote a few posts to the race itself as well. Also, I plan to complain a lot about how the Academy consistently mishandles how to present itself and its mission (Seth MacFarlane!?! Really?!?).

Finally, I am planning on working through one of my burning shames as a cinephile. Many of my friends and colleagues know that I am a huge fan of the Coen Brothers, the filmmaking siblings behind such modern classics as Fargo, O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, and No Country for Old Men. What I rarely let on when I discuss the Coen’s work is that I have not seen huge swaths of their filmography. Every cinephile has many blind spots, and one of my most glaring ones is that I have not seen any of the films that the Coen Brothers have made before The Hudsucker Proxy. So, I plan on rectifying that with a series of articles wherein I will watch (or re-watch as the case may be) and write about every Coen film up to 2010’s True Grit. I think it will be illuminating to travel through their eclectic resume in a (relatively) short span of time, and if this is a hit, maybe I will do the same with other filmmakers or movements that I am woefully underseen on.

Anyway, that’s the plan of attack for yours truly. I’ll see you in the comments section.

P.S. I am going to write my essay about it someday, but if you’ve been holding your breath since the 1st week of July the best show on TV last year was Louie. It will also be the best show on TV this year. My thoughts about it will appear when I do not feel hopelessly intimidated and over-matched by its genius.

Welcome to the Recorder!

As a means of introducing ourselves and our site, we asked the members of the Addison Recorder to give us a few words on who or what they are, as well as their take on what we’re doing here. As happens with writers, “a few words” became a relative term.

We start with Travis J. Cook, the man who dreamed up this idea:



On behalf of the editorial board of the Addison Recorder, I welcome you to… the Addison Recorder.

What is this, you may be asking?

It’s a bit hard to explain in a simple statement. To force an attempt: you might say that this is the result of constant exposure to mass media, focused in a collaborative attempt to understand, analyze, and interpret the multiple signals that are coming in strong from all sides.

We are a collective of Chicago-based writers and young professionals (hence, the titular Addison) who have joined together in an attempt to provide a response to what we see as a new age in popular culture. At the same time, we seek to give ourselves something to do on hot (or cold) Chicago afternoons.

Coming from a diverse range of interests and backgrounds, we feel that it is only appropriate to introduce ourselves to you, our faithful readers, so as to breach an understanding of what you’ll be seeing from us on a daily/weekly/monthly/bicentennially basis.

To begin: I am a newly-transplanted Chicago denizen who works within the local theatre scene. I am a new writer, currently working on my first and second books. The first book is a collection of my memoir writings that I hope will serve as a response to the Recession Generation and how Millenials are dealing with the challenges and obstacles put forth by the world at large. The second book is the first volume of an ongoing fantasy series that I hope to have published by some time next summer. You’ll be hearing more about these in days to come. I have also been published in The Projector, a popular culture magazine put out by Bowling Green State University, where my essay “Performing Tricky Dick” explores the transformation of a particularly notorious president from person to caricature. Light reading, in other words.

My interests range from fantasy writing to baseball (though I leave fantasy baseball to those better prepared to deal with an Orc Lord’s WHIP), and from cinema to popular music. I have a vested interest in the area’s performing arts and what they mean to our city, as well as to popular culture at large. My cinematic interests tend towards the fantastic as well, covering science fiction, epic fantasy, and superheroes.

It should be stated that I am a devoted fanatic of the Cincinnati Reds, that I believe Will Shakespeare can do no wrong (except for some moments in several of the obscure plays), that the 1970’s B-movie scene was stronger than much of the A-movie scene of the 2010’s, that Neil LaBute never wrote a play that didn’t pander to WASP males, and that the designated hitter is a blight upon humanity that should be purged from the Earth.

But I digress. Now let me turn you to another of my fellow co-editors in an attempt to broaden exactly what it means to write about popular culture. I put forth that we are holding up a mirror to a festival of mirrors, and that try as we might to reflect the mirror, we are but shadows within the mirror. Gents?


Next to take up this meandering non-narrative is a man who moves the initial to the front of the name, J. Michael Bestul:


Oh, dear. The metaphor that Travis hath wrought reminds me of a short story by Clark Ashton Smith. It, too, involves shadows and a mirror, but does not end well for the main characters. Thus, I fear that to write about popular culture is to bring doom upon one’s self.

It could mean that. Or it could mean that my recent diet of pop culture, which includes a podcast about Smith’s work, has influenced my frame of reference for interpreting Travis’ words. I am reminded of Umberto Eco, who wrote… I hope you don’t think I’m being too forward here; we’ve only just met. If I bring up Eco, would you hold it against me? Literally?

(The printed words, I mean, not the man; ‘twould be horribly awkward for all involved, to have an old Italian man held against some wise-ass American essayist.)

As we can see, I like the absurd. I’m a Midwestern kid, ending up in Chicago via Wisconsin, Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Ohio (again). My preferred weapon is the parenthetical aside, and I love to juxtapose. My timbre oscillates between darkly silly and lightly serious. I’ve put angry, beer-drinking lawn gnomes on stage to debate regionalism and the definition of ‘home.’ I won a collegiate award from the Society of Professional Journalists, partly due to a newspaper column that mashed up carnivorous tendencies, Sheboygan culture, and Golden Girls references (years before commercials & sketch shows mined Betty White for comedic gold).

In the realm of the Recorder, you’ll see a lot of essays that involve spirits & cocktails, gaming, writing, and weird fiction. As these are passions that help form my worldview, they’ll be evident in much of my work for this site.

That’s how I approach writing about pop culture here: to focus the multitude of light through a lens of my own, and reflect it… Well, crap. I’ve stumbled right back to a metaphor suspiciously reminiscent of shadows & mirrors. Perhaps it’s time to turn this over to another writer.


That other writer is Andrew J. Rostan, a man who has taken that wayward “J.” and placed it back in the middle of the name.


Forget shadows, mirrors themselves are scary. I’ve read enough Borges to know that anything which creates a double will take you on a terrifying, uncanny ride from which you will learn absolutely no lessons whatsoever.

Of course, here at the Addison Recorder, we’re in the business of teaching lessons to you, our readers, though not in the boring memorize-all-the-European-capitals way from high school. We’re more likely to bring up European capitals only in the sense of which Bourbons were screwing which Hapsburgs… but I digress.

There are three big ideas we want our readers to take away from every installment. First, there are lots of cultural artifacts out there which are more than worth reading, watching, listening to, drinking, etc., and there are some which are undeservedly overlooked or overrated or just plain misunderstood. We’d like you to come away with a different point of view.

Or not. Because, for the second idea, we’re reasonably intelligent people articulating opinions… and so are you. Think for yourselves! These essays are the products of adherence to this mantra. You might completely agree; you might see more nuances or flaws in our statements than we realize; you might think we’re f—ing idiots. That’s okay! Because absorbing that aforementioned different point of view only increases your own critical appreciation. And those faculties are easily transferred from the aesthetic to the real-world everyday important business of living. I was almost afraid to write that this way, we’re making the world a better place, but the world becomes a better place through small actions like this.

Third and last, the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes are both the greatest teams ever and complete losers who deserve all the ridicule you can muster. That doesn’t make sense, you say? It’s our Zen koan. Resolve it and find enlightenment like we have.

Now, a few words about me. I came to Chicago via Youngstown (Ohio), Boston (with a few-month stopover in the Netherlands, where I lived in a haunted castle), and Los Angeles. From the time I was a teenager, I wanted to be a writer, and the lesson I had to learn for myself is that you need a voice and a medium, and finding those takes years of work. That work paid off: Not only am I writing this periodical with my friends, but my first book, An Elegy for Amelia Johnson, was named one of the best graphic novels of 2011 by USA Today, and there are more books forthcoming. Otherwise, I work good day jobs to pay the bills… and expose myself to culture.

LOTS OF CULTURE. I love literature (M.A.), films (B.A.), music, philosophy, sports (perpetually heartbroken Cleveland fan), the gourmand lifestyle, and… pretty much anything. I am indiscriminate and passionate. I’ll watch Bergman movies and The Hangover back-to-back and love both equally for different reasons. I have John Coltrane, Kanye West, and Air Supply side-by-side on my computer. One of my shelves has NOTHING but 700-page Anthony Trollope novels. I have found the meaning of life (for me) in the words of St. Paul, Malcolm X, and Robert Hunter’s lyrics for the Grateful Dead. Most of all, I rarely hesitate in sharing my influences with others.

Fourth and last lesson: I need editors most of all because I want to pick everything apart and my articles frequently go over. Apologizing in advance.

So now let’s turn it over to the other Mr. A, who actually teaches lessons to collegians, to close this out… and guarantee that I shut up.


Which brings us to our final wordsmith, Alex Bean, who has simply done away with the letter “J.”


I apologize if I was supposed to use initials, but since my last name is “Bean” I figure that will be reasonably distinctive. Actually, that was a good word choice by me, because distinction is what I hope we can provide with this little endeavor of ours.

Like my fellow editors I am a voracious consumer of every type of media, art, culture, knowledge, good beer, and better food I come across. Obviously, this is not so unusual, since this magazine is being founded by four men of remarkably similar breeding and background who all have the same interests, and there are many, many more besides us. So what the Addison Recorder will endeavor to provide is a distinct perspective on all those good things in life. We will complain and cajole, cheer and admire, and sometimes (lots of times?) just plain ponder the popular culture we have been given. Hopefully, it will be better than the torrent of Twitter posts, Facebook updates, and blog entries that make up so much of the Internet. I make no guarantees, since I am not Charles Foster Kane and cannot afford to keep them, but I know we will do our best.

All that being said, the real point of this little piece is to introduce myself, isn’t it? I am a Midwesterner through and through; raised in suburban Detroit, went to college in semi-rural Ohio, and moved to Chicago to get my Master’s and wound up sticking around. These days I spend most of my working hours at Groupon, where I work as a vetter/researcher/whatever-I-am-asked-to-do-next-er in their Editorial Department. In addition, and as my esteemed colleague alluded to, I moonlight as an adjunct faculty member in Harold Washington College‘s Humanities Department, where I teach Cinema, Pop Culture, and Mass Media courses. I like both jobs an awful lot (and know I am supremely lucky to have them), but am very happy to be launching this endeavor as a way to get all the things I ponder on the CTA into a more concrete and widely-shared form.

When you come across an article with my tagline on it here the odds are fairly good that you will be reading something about cinema or television. I have a deep and abiding love for visual storytelling, and I find both of these forms to be endlessly rich and rewarding. Expect many pieces that drop terms like “mise-en-scene” and “hegemonic messaging,” because someone other than my students needs to hear about that from me.

Beyond that I will likely dabble in some sports commentary, as I am a die-hard Michigan Wolverines fan, and will talk anyone under the table about college football (much to my wife’s chagrin). Other sports hold my interest at varying times (those times generally being when the playoffs are happening), and I look forward to sharing my occasional excitement at watching grown men get paid obscene amounts of money to play a game.

I know I will write about other things (video games, history, fiction, maybe even music someday?), but, well…I need to go write about them. It has been a pleasure collaborating with my co-editors on the process of getting this ready for all of you, and I hope that you will all find it a pleasure to be reading our work. Thank you so much!