PERSONAL POLITICS: Some people get mad. Some get even. Others -- though not many -- write new-music-and-spoken-word operas to express their discontent.
Close readers of this column will remember the ill will that the city of St. Louis created with some residents of Cherokee Park when the various tentacles of local government helped take down an abandoned building at 3314 Lemp while leaving its neighbor, a structure in equally bad shape, standing. The reason that 3314 Lemp became an issue at all is the fact that Mark Sarich began looking into its history, surmising that it might have been a part of the Underground Railroad, with a cave network spreading out from the old home's basement.
Unswayed by the impassioned arguments of Sarich and his supporters -- including tenacious Gateway Tech teacher Chip Clatto, who still plans to use the area for a summer program in archaeology -- the city took the old home down, with occasional haphazard "work" done on the property in the weeks since.
"I have a language and they have a language," says Sarich of conversations with various city agencies. "And we wind up spitting at each other."
He adds: "Something's gone awry here. The city demolishes 1,500 buildings annually, and maybe a few good historical ones fall through the cracks."
Not content to let the structure die in silence, Sarich -- a musician and music prof -- has headed up efforts to create a unique program that will run this weekend. At 3 p.m. Saturday, the Lemp Neighborhood Social Arts Project will present In Whose Interest: The Heritage of Removing Ourstory, an hourlong program that'll incorporate new music specifically written for this project; texts written in a sketch manner, with titles such as "Demolition Derby," "Fruit of the Doom" and "Change Politician"; and a handful of firebrand speakers.
The event, which will take place in the street, right in front of 3314 Lemp -- between Utah and Cherokee -- was written by Sarich, Edward Schneider and participants in a summer initiative taking place at the nearby Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center, which doubles as the Cherokee Park Neighborhood Association meeting hall. Combining old-style grassroots activism with "kooky artists" and their unique vision of protest is the key to the weekend's statement.
"We want people who are interested in new music or new art and community development," says Schneider. "It's an effort of bringing people that live in the city together to speak about the problems."
"I hope for a real mix," says Sarich. "I don't want to preach to the choir."
The Cherokee Park neighborhood -- notable for its proximity to Cherokee's Antique Row and the sprawling Lemp Brewery, plus a host of historic row and alley houses -- has a unique place among city areas going through an extended period of change. Once, Germans dominated the area, though that time has long passed. The new reality: a mix of black and white, renters and owners, transient and established residents, together providing an interesting challenge for those inclined toward the traditional, unapologetically "liberal" notions of consensus-building.
Sarich and his associates have fought some of the usual (if testy) urban battles: removing drug dealers from the surrounding blocks; helping run off prostitutes and johns; starting a community garden. They've also been striving to give the area a defined artistic bent. If the demolition of the 3314 site -- and that's a relative term, considering the halted, half-assed efforts of the C Jones Wrecking Co. -- brings something positive, it's that Sarich now has a wider forum in which to challenge the neighborhood's consciousness.
"I hear a lot of lip service to diversity here," Sarich says. "I have yet to see that in practice."
Listening to Sarich and Schneider banter in the backyard of the house once owned by Sarich's grandparents -- debating the best way to get across the idea of "taking an opera and sticking it in the inner city," for example -- you get the notion that Lemp has a leadership in place, if one that's taking a highly unusual, highly proactive approach: the use of operatic new music for social change, with everything from spoken word and accordions to tape loops. (OK, so there is a historical precedent for these ideas, but not in latter-day South St. Louis.)
In fact, hearing the pair sketch out ideas for cleaning up the alleys, attracting new homeowners and bridging racial gaps, you could almost lose the perspective that something sketchy happened just around the corner on Lemp. Instead, the demo site's become a lightning rod, drawing energy to a corner of the city that's loaded with both the charms and warts of an older, urban environment.
Says Sarich: "The goal of our program has always been 'The city does certain things well, other things not very well at all. It's up to the citizens to take care of the rest.'"
ANOTHER "HIT PARADE" EXCLUSIVE! Yes, the answer to another of life's puzzling questions is coming into view. Recently this investigative column noted the troubling absence of the Southwest City Journal in the Kingshighway Heights area, which was robbing South Citians of all the following highlights: the riotously funny "Town Talk"; Jim Fox's armchair musings on life and how it used to be better; and those slick discount-store circulars. Where did all the papers go?
Just last week, our thorough (OK, thoroughly inadvertent) research netted these startling results: Three large stacks of Southwest City Journals were found in an otherwise empty neighborhood Dumpster! Is this the Journal's policy of tending to our fragile Earth? Do "Town Talk" callers know that their insane ramblings are going straight into the circular file? Like, what's the deal here?
Even the thought of rescuing those recyclable papers from the Dumpster was a sticky, stinky and not-altogether-pleasant experience. Geech!
THE INFAMOUS SOUTH SIDE BRAIN TEAZER: In our newest gimmick aimed at attracting readers bored by the tedious pablum normally offered up by this increasingly self-referential column, we offer the "Infamous South Side Brain Teazer." In our first installment, we ask a tough one: The South Side tavern named Pooh's Corner, 6023 Virginia, is decorated, in large part, with images and stuffed likenesses of what whimsical, fictional, golden-haired bear? The first correct respondent (send answers to the e-mail address below; no phone calls, please!) will win a title randomly selected from the RFT Gratis Book Bin!
"HIT PARADE" TOP SEVEN, PART 1: The letters-to-the-editor section proves this new truism: "Food is hot." Never slow to jump on a bandwagon, this week we salute Tangerine's move to a challenging veggie cuisine while offering our top seven suggestions for new menu items at the Courtesy Diner, where the world's first vegetarian slinger has been hatched by the fertile mind of chef Peter Neukirch:
7. Bok-choi kebabs
6. Poached bananas accented by a mung-bean-and-starfruit jam
5. Grilled habaneros on a bed of toasted pumpkin seeds, with a rosemary-and-thyme garnish
4. Kiwi-turnip chowder
3. Persimmon-scented new potatoes with a pinch of chutney and peanut
2. Radish-lettuce salad topped by a prune/cilantro dressing
1. Mockingbird stew
"HIT PARADE" TOP SEVEN, PART 2: With no Monday to toss away this week, the RFT's whip-cracking editors forced an early deadline, condensing the usual seven-day search for foolishness. Thus, a bonus list. (The only winner here is you!) This week, we examine the underlying, yet key, subtexts presented by Die Symphony on their bristling Codependence Day EP/CD-ROM:
7. My black clothes reflect my troubled soul.
6. True love is like falling through glass; putting guns to our temples; a never-ending process of self-doubt and inner turmoil.
5. Our ripped fishnets make us unpopular with the athletically inclined.
4. The newly found attentions of a beautiful woman can be flattering but also bring thorny issues of possession and alienation.
3. Individuality belongs to us (and those of like mind).
2. Let's knock boots ... no, let's not.
1. Modern times are indeed vexing to the spirit.
E-mail tips, quips and Infamous South Side Brain Teazers to: Thomas_Crone@rftstl. com.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.