order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish


Dawn Heath’s Odd-Fish art, and Ted Leo’s “Broadway musical”


We had a raucous time at Collaboraction‘s Dome of Doom in Logan Square on Sunday! As soon as I get the video and pictures, I will post them. Thanks, Collaboraction and Unity Park Advisory Council!

In the meantime, check out some more great art from the Order of Odd-Fish art show back in April by Dawn Heath. It’s Jo’s first morning in Eldritch City, when she and Ian are riding an elephant down to the Municipal Squires’ Authority. I love the lush, medieval feel Dawn gives Eldritch City, and the colorful jumble of architecture, especially the bulbous Russian-style onion domes! Thanks, Dawn, for another fantastic piece.

In case you missed them the first time, here’s Dawn’s other two paintings for the art show: the Grand Feast of the Odd-Fish, and Jo with her father’s manuscript in the archives (click on the images to get a larger version).

And at last, before I sign off for today, I’d like to share something special by an old college chum Ted Leo.

Ted and I both attended the University of Notre Dame. I first heard of him when I was a high school senior, mulling whether or not to go there. I’d signed up to visit campus overnight, and was assigned to stay in the dorm room of someone named Bob Eberhardt.

Bob was part of a music scene that centered around the campus radio station WVFI. The day before, Bob had gone all around the university, scrawling “FREE TED LEO” with chalk on the sidewalk. (He was also scrawling things like “HAVE A DUODENUM? CALL x4561”). I’d never heard of Ted Leo. Bob told me that Ted was in an incredible campus band called Chisel, but he had been kicked out of school. People wanted him back.

I picked up the Scholastic, the weekly student magazine. In the back was a review by Jeff Jotz of an album called Spiderland by a Louisville band called Slint. I bought the album and I was astonished. Who were these WVFI people, who knew of such amazing music? Who was this Ted Leo, who inspired such devotion?


I decided to enroll at Notre Dame. However, when I got there, I was in for a rude awakening. Notre Dame was nothing like the mecca of punk rockers and indie aesthetes I’d expected from my brief visit. It was a pretty conservative, football-driven place. (Duh. What did I expect?) However, there was a very small, enthusiastic, supportive music scene. Ted Leo indeed came back, and I saw Chisel at a Halloween show in 1991. It was like my skull had been ripped off. I had never experienced anything like it. Whatever was going on, I wanted to be part of it.

And so I started being in bands. I was no musician. It doesn’t matter whether my songs were good or bad. They were probably all bad. That wasn’t the point. There was something about the 1990s that encouraged the inspired amateur. It was liberating. And the music scene was small enough that the barrier to entry was low. Anyone could do it, and everyone in the scene supported each other. I’m certain that it never would’ve happened if it wasn’t for real musicians like Ted Leo, who created a context for it. That group of people was, by far, the best thing about my four years at Notre Dame.


That’s Chisel. From left to right, that’s Ted Leo, John Dugan, and Chris Norborg. I became good friends with Chris. (Indeed, I ended up marrying Heather, his sister.) After university, I moved to Washington, DC and lived with Chris while Chisel was making a name for themselves. They broke up in 1997, but not before unleashing a series of incredible albums, culminating in 8 A.M. All Day and Set You Free.

I remember coming home from Chisel shows and writing for hours. I kept thinking to myself, “Ted and Chris and John have their thing, what’s my thing?” Seeing them perform inspired me to try harder at writing, to take it seriously. If they could make such electrifying music, why couldn’t I at least try to write novels?

Also, I never danced so much as I danced at Chisel shows.


Now it’s years later. Ted has had a successful post-Chisel career in his band Ted Leo & the Pharmacists. My favorite Pharmacists album remains 2003’s Hearts of Oak, but right now Ted is promoting his latest, the pretty great The Brutalist Bricks.

One of the things that was always admirable about Ted was his punctilious sense of punk rock integrity. Nowadays, it’s a category that some feel has become quixotic. But in the nineties, it was everything. The idea of selling your song for use on a commercial, while grudgingly accepted nowadays, was anathema back then. The ideal was Fugazi: cheap, all-ages shows, lots of touring, living sustainably on a modest income. You wouldn’t become a millionaire, but you could eke out a living making music with integrity for the rest of your life.

For various reasons, that model has collapsed. (For instance, people were actually asking Ted on Twitter where they could find pirated copies of his new album.) There was a much-talked about article in the Village Voice about Ted Leo’s “retirement.” Then, on his blog, Ted started to say mysterious things about perhaps reconciling himself to what used to be called “selling out.”

That all led up to this video, which showed up on Funny or Die yesterday. It’s about Ted taking his music to Broadway. I really don’t know what else I should say about it, other than I giggled maniacally. It’s got Paul F. Tompkins and John Hodgman in it, and it’s directed by WFMU’s Tom Scharpling. If those names mean anything to you, you’ve probably already seen it. But if not, please enjoy. (The song’s good, too.)

It’s refreshing to know there are people who stick to their ideals. It’s even more refreshing when they have a sense of humor about it. Stay gold, Ponyboy.

Dome of Doom in Logan Square this Sunday!

By Swisidniak of DeviantArt

If the animation above takes a few seconds to load, wait for it—it’s worth it. It’s by Swisidniak of DeviantArt, and it’s a doozy: a 6-frame animated .gif of the giant fish vomiting the Odd-Fish lodge. Amazing work! I especially love the queasy look the fish gets before he hurls, and how the the stomach goo coats the “lens” of the “camera.” If we ever have another Odd-Fish art show (and I’d like to), this should definitely be in it, playing on a loop on a monitor!

Swisidniak tells me that he and his friends are “creating our own mini Dome of Doom for fun . . . We are trying to follow all of the traditions but it is a bit difficult finding double sided flaming lances and flying ostriches so we expect we might have to improvise a little. We hope to finish it soon and plan on video taping the whole thing to put up on YouTube. There will most definitely be pictures, and many bloopers. ” I CAN’T WAIT.

Speaking of the Dome of Doom, this Sunday the theater group Collaboraction (with whom I did the Odd-Fish art show back in April) is going to haul out their geodesic PVC dome for another Dome of Doom costumed dance party!

This will be an all-ages, family-friendly event. It’ll be this Sunday (August 22) at Unity Playlot in Logan Square in Chicago (2636 N. Kimball) from 6 – 8 pm, followed by a Movie-in-the-Park screening of Where The Wild Things Are.

I’ll be judging the fights, along with Collaboraction honcho Anthony Moseley. The crazy costumed marching band Environmental Encroachment will be there as well!

Meet us at the Eagle Statue in Logan Square (Kedzie and Logan Blvd.) at 6 pm to march to the Dome of Doom for the open dance battles! Dress as a God or Monster, or get costumed on the spot by the Collaboraction team. Summer fun, and it’s free!

(Unsure what the Dome of Doom battle-dancing is? Here’s our brief video explanation:)

What else is going on? The lovely Kate Elstad interviewed me at the website Eve’s Fan Garden. I talk about how I’ve found that young readers are often better readers than adults, I make some book recommendations, and I lay out the dream cast for an Odd-Fish movie.

I’ll leave you with this great picture by Freya of Jo hiding in Snoodsbottom from the rampaging Wormbeards. I love Freya’s attention to detail: the Apology Gun tucked in Jo’s pocket, the alien clothes hanging from laundry lines, how the composition traps and squeezes Jo (and the viewer) into a confined space while Fiona and the other Wormbeards look for her.

Thanks, Freya! Hope to see you and everyone at the Dome of Doom in Logan Square this Sunday!


Month at the Museum

This is great! Chicago’s amazing Museum of Science and Industry is holding a contest to find someone to live in their museum—for someone to eat, sleep, and breathe nothing but science and industry for thirty days. Seriously! From their website:

We’re looking for someone to take on a once-in-a-lifetime assignment: spend a Month at the Museum, to live and breathe science 24/7 for 30 days. From October 20 to November 18, 2010, this person’s mission will be to experience all the fun and education that fits in this historic 14-acre building, living here and reporting your experience to the outside world. There will be plenty of time to explore the Museum and its exhibits after hours, with access to rarely seen nooks and crannies of this 77-year-old institution.

Further requirements: “sleeping in confined or ‘untraditional’ spaces” (ooh, do we get to sleep on the U-505 submarine? the lunar lander?) To apply, you have to fill out a detailed questionnaire, write a 500-word essay about why you want to do this, and most fun of all, make a 1-minute video explaining why you should be chosen. My video is above.

Thanks to MaryWinn Heider and Chris Norborg for camera work, Thomas James of the Oriental Institute, Paul Bryan of the Smart Museum of Art, my wife’s father (for playing my own father), and of course my wife Heather and daughter Lucy for their star turn. (I used music from The Go! Team.) It was fun!

Hey, wait—the applications are due today! I’m off to hand-deliver it to the Museum of Science and Industry right now. Wish me luck!