Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Snakes on Her Head

Anyone who lived in Chicago in the 80's, who had even the slightest idea what was going on, will remember Medusa's Music Hall. It was located on the corner of Sheffield and School in a building has since been rehabed into very ordinary looking multi-unit condos. Whenever I pass it I remember it with fond and foggy memories. For those unfortunate people who didn't get to go there, Medusa's was a three-story after hours dance club that was open from 11PM to 8 in the morning. They sweetly called themselves a 'juice bar'. For about three years it was my special retreat from the horrors of city suburbia.

I remember getting a call from my friend Brian who in describing the club to me acted like he had discovered a secret golden city; Inside this Xanudu he'd found three full floors of debauchery, dancing, and drugs. (Not necessary in that order.) "There was some guy who was a waiter crawling on his hands and knees with tray on his back" Brian beemed, "And dancing girls in cages, and music videos."
When I went I didn't see any crawling waiter, but I did see things that they just didn't teach you about in high school at 55th and Narragansett. Punks, gays, druggies, goths, transvestites, lesbians, prostitutes (again, not necessarily in that order). Medusa's really didn't get hopping until after 3 in the morning when the other dance clubs closed. That was when everyone poured in downing sparkling water, and dancing until dawn. I went to Medusa's almost every weekend. Because it was a juice bar, my parents didn't seem to care that I stay out until 8 in the morning. After all, I was only drinking fruit juice and sparkling water. I think I must have had sparkling kidneys in those days.

Each week the decor of the club changed. Some times it was dark and gothic, other times spacey and freaked out; b/w TV sets showing old tv shows on UHF stations mounted upside down or sideways in the walls or being used as tables. The 2nd floor was a cozy room where you could look down on the huge dance floor; I'd sit for hours just watching like some nappy cat. On the 3rd floor they had a dark room where people sat and watch projected movies and videos (The Cure, Cars, Lene Lovich). There I saw "Forbidden Zone" and the "Evil Dead" multiple times, bravely clutching my Perrier water, terrified that someone might come up to me and talk.

I once brought a bunch of co-workers from Zayre there to experience it. I had told them how it was a magical land where woman sat behind panes of glass, dressed in nothing but silk lingerie eating French Bread; and where they blasted Soft Cell's "Tainted Love", and how everyone crowded the dance floor until you couldn't move. My co-workers were not impressed. I remember coming home early that night as they gasped that they had seen two men kissing, and some lesbian approached Athena and said hello. (Athena looked like a female Greek version of Gary Coleman). "It's good to be back on the Southside" one of them said when we arrived back at Archer and Cicero. From then on I was viewed with suspision; I vowed to move away from the Southside as soon as possible.

I wonder where all my old Medusa's friends are today. Where is the punk girl, my co-worker at JC Penny's, who would go with me on occasion? I would drive her and she'd immediately ditch me. Hours later she'd ask to borrow the keys to my Austin Marina where she would have sex with some club boy she'd just met; Anarchist symbols written in the steam on the windows and the beer cans under the seat. One night on the way home she told me in a serious voice that her musical tastes were changing and she was really getting into The Cure's older songs. "I'm really into old Cure now." As if this were some milestone in her life.

One night a guy told me to stand next to the biggest speaker on the dance floor and press against it "Because it changes your heart rhythms." As if that was a good thing.
I was so into my cocoon at that time that it would have taken more than speaker vibrations to get me out of it.

A few scattered memories include*:

*The night that they filled the second floor with dry ice smoke causing white blindness. I walked around the rooms casually bumping into people, hearing slurping noises in the corners.

*The night Brian and I were standing on one of the landings when someone fell out of the 2nd story window. One minute he was sitting on the ledge talking with his friends, then we turned and he was gone. I remember we walked upstairs after his friends started to scream.

*The insane Asian doorman, who wouldn't let you in if you walked up the stairs too fast or didn't have your ID and membership card out. Rumor was had killed someone; We weren't surprised.

*The night I saw Violent Femmes there and the concert started at 6:30 in the morning. The dance floor was littered with vodka bottles and the whole room pogo'd. I remember dancing thinking the floor was going to cave at any second.

It was around the late 80s that I stopped going. More gang kids were showing up and the music was getting harsher. I remember being sad when at one point they redecorated the video room to a brightly, neon blasted multi-media room with fifty TV's on a wall. I missed the dark room with pillows on the floor. They stopped redecorating every week. I don't remember the last time I went or why I never stopped in when I lived close by. But one day I passed it and it was closed and the building was being remodeled.

Medusa's tried to move to other venues: "Medusa's night at Foxy's", As if it were a gypsy caravan with a magic bottle that if opened in any other space would re-create the magic. Regardless, I'm sure if it opened today I'd only find the music too loud and the place too dirty, and I'd be mad they didn't serve drinks. Discuss.

More Medusa's Memories: click here

2 comments:

erik j said...

How is it we never met in the 80's?

Maybe by your description of being "in a cocoon", meant you were the guy in the corner that i never talked to. i don't remember anybody who habitually stayed in the corner. i don't remeber never talking to them.

What i do remember is; (circa March/April 1984) the two older people in my Art I class at Columbia telling me about this new place that was a "juice bar", which meant a 19 year old could go. They made it sound cool. (i had already been getting into Smart Bar at 17. but it was never easy, and always a nerve wracking moment at the door)

Victor. The older Latino guy who always took my money at the door.

Sugar. The Very Large gay man who always checked my ID. He may not have remembered who i was, but he always acted like it, even outside and away from Medusa's.

Dave "Medusa". The little guy who slunk around behind the scenes with a coctail in a plastic cup. We knew he was the owner, but who talked to him?

The various and sundry staff who seemed to be mostly hardcore punk people, selling waters, sodas and "juice" (what did i actually drink there? i wish i remembered), the one blonde mohawk guy who threw away trash and stomped around like a tough bouncer type, with keys and a flashlight hangin' from his belt.

Mark Stephens. DJ. Before i knew anything. i later had many friends become Club DJ's who even spun at Medusa's, but Mark was the first *name* i knew. Was he another casualty of AIDS? All i know is his vinyl collection wound up at Smart Bar. i used to peruse it when hanging out in "the booth"

My friends:
Brian S.- my buddy. Once we knew, we went every weekend. We even cracked the code:
Fridays - We Danced our asses off, (remember two guys, blonde and brunette, who spun around like crazy, and meandered all over the dance floor?) what whould you call it now? 80's night? We called it "Straight Night". it was just alternative music. the Cure, Echo, New Order and a HOST of 12 inch single one offs. Remember Din Daa Daa? or 99 Luft Balloons?
Saturdays - "Gay Night". Disco. More Beats. 80's Music. Same DJ's We Danced our Asses off. (Brian [brunette] spun like mad, i [blonde] meandered more)
It didn't matter which of the two nights it was, we always went. i almost always drove. this was every weekend for almost two years!
Mary Z (i asked her out there, it lasted for months). Sonja (ah, Sonja). Gwen (You and i had dinner with her just about a month ago). Lee G.(Pictured twice in the photos you have linked at the bottom. i once asked about him and you said he sounded familiar) God i wish i could remember more names. They went every night too. What did we all drink there? Sometimes i stayed as late as those others (brian was always the sleeping one in the car) i saw the sunrise, but i never went out for breakfast. Carlene, Craig, Tony, Tina, Carl...

The smoky "third floor" video room. i too remember the "Forbidden Zone" and not much else. they moved it around though and sometimes there were high-backed booth benches too. (my ending phase was when they moved it up to the "fourth floor", what used to be "medusa's" apartment, with the wall of TV's and all that crap. that was just the nail in the coffin for me)

Some, even MORE 'suburban', girls telling me i looked like Howard Jones ("You look like Howard Jones" said the one, "Howard Jones" echoed the second)

The LOUDEST show i ever remember: The Belgian band, "Front 242". Also the first Band i saw with Headset Mics. why i stood by the stacks i'll never know. what's that? Huh?

It wasn't the Violent Femmes i remember, but the gospel band the singer from the Femmes started later. what a crappy night that was!

The Second Floor/Mezzanine with the loads of seating behing the DJ booth, where we always met and hung out to talk. the other "bar". the balcony that looked out on the spinning, meandering crowd. and the large stairway, akin to the Metro's, which i climbed up and down a million times

Speaking of stairs. The Entry Stairs. After the place caught on, the line went all the way down and out. such a long set of stairs! Did i actually jump the line and sneak up to Sugar? So rude. So young. i was Young and Rude.

i need to insert the scan of my Medusa's Card, right here. (can i do that?)
my red beret made me look like i was the suburban kid in the SNLA or some Patty Hearst Movie.

Sadly, Medusa's faded for me. i started taking ... and having mini trips festivals in my parents living room. Painting my Vespa dayglo. then the crazy sex fiend girlfriend, and then finally, i was 21 and able to get into real bars. By this time, they had started the "teen" night on friday evenings or whatever. and the music changed, and the people changed and the Neighborhood changed, and the world changed. The Alderman dressed up in "disguise" (read: wig and old lady dress) and saw enough "activity" to begin the shutdown of the whole Neighborhood. Gangs. Punks. Dunkin Donuts Bums. Scenes Book and Coffee Beatniks. It was easy to park across the street at first. Then it was impossible. Berlin. The Doubling of Berlin. Leona's. Sheffield's. The Vic. it all shifted.

Finally, who wants to drive out to Elgin, to see Dave "Medusa"?


It was The Place, and it altered my life. i'll never throw that old ID away. Thanks for bringing the memory back to the surface. "Howard Jones"

Erik J

BC Kalz said...

Hey Kiddo
I just wrote a post about Medusa's, too. I thought they had four floors...
Brian