Formed in suburban Wilmette in 2001, Fall Out Boy rose from playing exactly the sort of shows that the Chicago City Council would like to outlaw to headlining arenas and selling more than six million albums in the U.S. to date.
An avid reader of this and many other local blogs — even as he prepares for a Hollywood wedding — bassist and songwriter Pete Wentz contacted me this morning and said he felt compelled to speak out about the promoter’s ordinance. We connected a few hours later after the law was tabled (for the time being). But the perspective of a mutli-million-dollar career that would not exist without small shows organized by independent promoters is invaluable.
Our conversation follows the jump.
Q. Pete, I appreciate the email and the call. I gather you want to say something about this issue because the kinds of shows that would be affected by this law are exactly the sort of shows that you played for the first two years of your career.
A. This is the truth: Fall Out Boy… we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now, because I wouldn’t even have gotten into playing the kind of music I play without those kinds of shows, like the Fireside Bowl. At the first show we were ever supposed to play at the Fireside Bowl, they forgot to bring speaker cables, so we bowled instead of doing the show! The band in general, we played all of our shows under the radar.
Often times, these things can get a little bit of attention, and then they go away—like C.B.G.B. in New York. Or it gets out of control, and people don’t really understand what’s going on. I don’t even really understand all the intricate details of this ordinance or what needs to happen, but I do understand that there are people who practice illegitimate business or dangerous business, and there has to be a way to regulate those people. But at the same time, you can’t penalize people who are creating a great counterculture and a great art culture and leave it so that they have nowhere else to go.
The best thing about tabling this issue is that there can be an honest dialog between club owners—the Metro, the Riv and these places—and the city and the CMC. It’s great to have a dialog created.
Q. I have a feeling, Pete, that the law will eventually back off of requiring promoter’s licenses for people working with PPA-licensed venues. But what about the real indie promoters doing shows in storefronts and VFW halls? City officials think that’s scary, but hey, I know your mom: You played in VFW halls, and she’d never have let you do that if she thought you were gonna die in a fire or get shot! The City Council is scared of it because they just don’t understand it.
A. I’ll tell you, we had this guy who used to book shows for us at this place called Back to the Office—I don’t know where it was, like Arlington Heights or wherever—and he was 17 at the time. He would book shows and they would just close the bar so it could be an all-ages show. The best way to show that narrative is to bring people into the dialog who currently do that in a successful way, to be able to have city officials meet these promoters, meet the bands, meet the kids, meet the parents and hear their stories and try to find a way to establish legislation that allows those kids to still do it. Because this is the thing: Kids are kids, and music is music—especially with punk rock or whatever—and they’re going to find a way to meet up with each other regardless of anything. That’s just gonna happen, because I went to shows in basements for five years of my life, and I know there were no permits on the basements!
Q. Chicagoans sometimes get beaten down by the politics here: “You can’t fight City Hall,” “It’s all who you know,” all of that.
A. At the end of the day, I love Chicago. For all of its flaws, there’s something about it: There’s something about the skyline, there’s something about the clubs, there’s something about the way summer is in Chicago on the lake that’s amazing, and it’s worth working around this other stuff for. The thing that’s amazing to me is that a couple of blogs—a blog from you and the CMC and savechicagoculture.org—have really expressed a voice and made it so that there can be a dialog that goes on, and I think that’s the most important thing. It’s not young vs. old, it’s not suburbs vs. Chicago, it’s about finding a compromise and having a conversation. Any time when there are two sides of anything, a conflict, the best thing to do is to get in a room and talk about it, and you meet the other person and you’re like, “Well, that guy’s not such a jerk.” Every once in a while, you leave and say, “Well, that guy was a jerk,” but it’s good to have the dialog anyway.