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Acclaimed Diane Izzo remembered in tribute concert

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6715.jpgDiane Izzo is still speaking. Call her partner, Marco Zas, and if he's not home, the voice of the late Chicago singer-songwriter still invites you to leave a voicemail message.

"I don't know how to change it," Zas chuckles, then stops. "Even if I did, I probably still wouldn't do it."
Izzo died in February after a grueling battle with cancer, but her voice -- and her acclaimed songs -- still resonates with fans and especially musicians throughout Chicago and beyond.

As part of the announcement of this weekend's First Annual Diane Izzo Memorial Concert -- subtitled with a line from one of her songs, "Venice": "Yeah We're Pitiful but We're Gods!" -- local luminaries chimed in with memories and praise for Izzo's underappreciated talents.

(Photo by Jim Newberry)

Beau O'Reilly of Chicago Public Media's "This American Life": "Of the writers that emerged from the '90s Chicago vital art scene, Diane Izzo remains the most powerful. In a direct literary lyrical line that includes William Blake, Leonard Cohen and Townes Van Zandt, Izzo's images and language were always beautiful, always strong."

Brad Wood, who produced Diane's lone album, "One": "Diane's voice stopped me in my tracks -- unbridled, wild, rich and deep. Her singing drew me in completely and immediately, but it was her lyrics that made the hair on my arms stand up."

Sally Timms of the Mekons: "I remember how intimidating Diane seemed when I first met her with her dark voice, dark songs, dark braids and dark clothes. Of course, she was nowhere near as scary as she looked, she was a sweetheart."

Featuring Califone, Souled American, the Friends of Diane Izzo, Cheryl Trykv, Crooked Mouth String Band and more
♦ 5:30 p.m. Oct. 2
♦ The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia
♦ Tickets, $20, (773) 227-4433,

The event this Sunday will feature members of Izzo's band (Jim Becker, Ned Folkerth, Eddie Carlson and Lennie Dietsch) performing some of her songs, as well as other musicians in the local scene Izzo touched or worked with, including Souled American, Califone and Nora O'Connor.

In my own limited experience with Izzo's legacy, I've found the mere mention of her name brightens up people. They react instantly, telling me without being asked how much they liked her -- as a person even more than as a musician.
Her brother, Anthony Izzo, thinks he knows why.

"The majority of the time she was around people, she was trying to absorb who they are and not just push out who she was," he says. "She was a good listener. She cared about conversation, which is kind of a lost art form. It meant more to her than e-mails. For her, it was about getting right next to someone and feeling who they were. People felt that. ... So it wasn't hard to take that extra step and write lyrics that, because of the way she came to know people, are a notch above the typical songwriter. She was able to absorb so many very interesting things about life and the world and the universe we live in, and she did it directly from the people in it and reflected it back in her songs."

At the time, fans didn't realize the title of Izzo's only album, 1999's "One," would be literal. An album of poetic lyrics and fierce playing on par with Liz Phair or PJ Harvey, Izzo never officially followed it up. She contributed to a few other projects -- her rendition of "O Death" on the Pine Valley Cosmonauts project ("The Executioner's Last Songs," in 2002, with Steve Earle, Neko Case and others) is haunting even without the posthumous context -- but eventually moved with Zas, a painter and designer, to a 35-acre patch of land in New Mexico.

It was idyllic scenery, but life there became less than ideal. Zas developed a genetic kidney disorder (he's had a transplant, but it didn't take, and he remains on daily dialysis) before Izzo's brain cancer appeared.

"For the first couple of years, she took care of me," Zas says. "The last few, I took care of her. There wasn't enough time to work on music or the film. Life centered around doctor visits and hospital stays."

Zas, however, now is working on those two projects Izzo left behind. There are many unreleased recordings -- almost a half-dozen from summer 2010 during a Chicago visit, a couple more from the autumn before that -- which Zas hopes to digitize and complete as a record that will serve as the soundtrack for "Black and Gold," an atmospheric film she and Zas were making, with Chicago photographer Jim Newberry, at the time of her death.

Anthony Izzo works in Chicago as a video producer and film editor (it's a dynasty; another brother, plus the Izzos' father and uncle, are also film editors) and has been helping to complete the project. Proceeds from the tribute show will assist in those efforts.

"The film," Anthony Izzo says, "seems to be about a woman trying to find her own way in the world and pursuing her vision, and finding along the way different phenomenal people teaching her how to find out about herself."
Sounds autobiographical.

"Yes," he says, "it hits pretty close to home."

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on September 28, 2011 6:00 AM.

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