Oh, Holy Shit, Hello!

If you’re arriving here at The Addison Recorder because of the link in Todd VanDerWerff’s essay over at The A.V. Club we just want to say hello! So…hello! Personally, I’m sort of flipping out that our little blog, with a readership that probably maxes out in the dozens and has a mere 71 Facebook fans,  was linked to by the publication that the four of us are all sort of aspiring to emulate on here. It might just be me, and it might just be because I am running on only a few hours of sleep because my dog is sick, but this feels like a big deal.

Anyway, please do have a look around. Our “Welcome” post from when we started off last summer is a good place to get to know the writers on here, and we’ve done a decent job of filling this site up with words since then. So dip into the archives, tell us what we’re right (like my thinking that The Master is some kind of classic) or wrong about (like Travis insisting that baseball is an exciting sport worth caring about).  I know for certain that this weekend Andrew is planning on liveblogging the Oscars (I may join him in this endeavor), and I’ll probably write my own accounting of the cinema of 2012 within the next few days, and we’ll have even more articles coming your way in the future.

Thanks for visiting!

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!