How Chicago House Got Its Groove Back

A look at Chicago’s DJ culture in the ’90s.

One day in 1997, Sneak promised his friend and fellow Chicago DJ Derrick Carter a new 12-inch for Carter's label Classic, then spent hours fruitlessly laboring over a basic, bustling four-four beat. Finally, Sneak gave in and smoked the J he'd had stashed for later in the day. When he came back inside, he carelessly dropped the needle onto a Teddy Pendergrass LP, heard the word "Well . . . ," and realized, "That's the sample, right there." He threaded Pendergrass's 20-year-old disco hit "You Can't Hide From Yourself" through a low-pass filter to give it the effect of going in and out of aural focus, creating one of the definitive Chicago house singles.

Sears – Where America Shopped

An uncertain future for the retailer.

"Sears was so powerful and so successful at one time that they could build the tallest building in the world that they did not need," says James Schrager, a professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. "The Sears Tower stands as a monument to how quickly fortunes can change in retailing, and as a very graphic example of what can go wrong if you don't 'watch the store' every minute of every day."

All Hail the Chairmen

On office chairs.

In the 1950s and '60s, the distinctions between rank found blunt expression in chair design, naming and price point; Knoll, for example, produced "Executive," "Advanced Management," and "Basic Operational" chairs in the late 1970s. Recall the archetypal scenes where the boss, back to the door, protected by an exaggerated, double-spine headrest, slowly swivels around to meet the eyes of his waiting subordinate, impotent in a stationary four-legger.

Ring My Bell

A history of the cell phone ringtone.

Many recent hip-hop songs make terrific ringtones because they already sound like ringtones. The polyphonic and master-tone versions of “Goodies,” by Ciara, for example, are nearly identical. Ringtones, it turns out, are inherently pop: musical expression distilled to one urgent, representative hook. As ringtones become part of our environment, they could push pop music toward new levels of concision, repetition, and catchiness.

The Mysterious Mr. Zedzed: The Wickedest Man in the World

Few men have acquired so scandalous a reputation as did Basil Zaharoff, alias Count Zacharoff, alias Prince Zacharias Basileus Zacharoff, known to his intimates as “Zedzed.” Born in Anatolia, then part of the Ottoman Empire, perhaps in 1849, Zaharoff was a brothel tout, bigamist and arsonist, a benefactor of great universities and an intimate of royalty who reached his peak of infamy as an international arms dealer -- a “merchant of death,” as his many enemies preferred it.

Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Cary Grant's Intimate Bromance

The phrase “knew how to wear clothes” is a loaded one. To “know how to wear clothes” is another way of saying that Cary Grant embodied class, which is to say high class: Grant wore well-tailored clothes, and he knew how to hold himself in them. But he came from nothing, and the way he wore clothes was just as much of a performance as his refined trans-Atlantic accent, his acrobatic slapstick routines, and his masterful flirtation skills.

Star Babies

Affluent star babies, much like regular humans, experience nature and transgressions in this slightly surreal fable.

"Similar promises were made at the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls and the Hoover Dam, where unwitting star babies were brought to the edges in hopes of seeing god and instead were hurled over the edges, smashing their skulls on the rocks or impaling themselves on branches. In the Everglades, Mushroomites proclaiming themselves to be Alligatorians, walked their foes into the mouths of waiting predators who swallowed them in single bites."

You Say You Want a Devolution?

Why little has changed in popular American style in the last 20 years.

Why is this happening? In some large measure, I think, it’s an unconscious collective reaction to all the profound nonstop newness we’re experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts. People have a limited capacity to embrace flux and strangeness and dissatisfaction, and right now we’re maxed out.

Grief and Solemnity

On the American way of death, burial, and mourning, from war heroes to Elvis:

At the scene of his mother’s funeral, Elvis Presley — invincible sex symbol, cocksure performer, the man who changed the world and music forever — was reduced to a pathetic, blubbering mama’s boy. “Mama, I’d give up every dime I own and go back to digging ditches, just to have you back,” he told her body while it lay in repose the night before the funeral. At the service, according to biographer Peter Guralnick, "Elvis himself maintained his composure a little better until, towards the end, he burst into uncontrollable tears and, with the service completed, leaned over the casket, crying out, 'Good-bye darling, good-bye. I love you so much. You know how much I lived my whole life just for you.' Four friends half-dragged him into the limousine. 'Oh God,' he declared, 'everything I have is gone.'"

From Silver Lake to Suicide: One Family's Secret History of the Jonestown Massacre

How the People’s Temple tore one family apart, told in part via letters:

We have at long last opened our hearts to you, expressing the sorrow and agony which we have restrained over six long years. Any time you express the wish to resume normal relations and exchange with us, the past will be forgotten. For after all we do love you and the children more than any other persons. We shall continue to cherish you to our last day on earth. The peerless joy of raising you from childhood to youth is a unique life experience, indeed. Your father and mother

A One-Man Market

A look at Andy Warhol’s enduring popularity and power in the art market.

Warhol’s art was not supposed to be a matter of emotion, introspection or spiritual quest; it was to be an image, pure and simple. “During the 1960s,” he wrote knowingly in 1975, “I think, people forgot what emotions were supposed to be. And I don’t think they’ve ever remembered.”

Moving The Obelisk

A rumination on an ancient relic.

"At its apex there was a chamber that might have contained relics. Some say it preserved the ashes of a great conqueror. Others believe it held the bones of a crucified rebel. But troubled times came, and the barbarians swept through our lands. The obelisk toppled over, and for a thousand years it lay in an abandoned field."

Excuse Me, Weren't You in the Fall?

Tracking down 40-odd members of the British band.

It's a Tuesday morning in December, and I'm ringing people called Brown in Rotherham. "Hello," I begin again. "I'm trying to trace Jonnie Brown who used to play in the Fall. He came from Rotherham and I wondered if you might be a relative." "The Who?" asks the latest Mr Brown. "No. The Fall - the band from Salford. He played bass for three weeks in 1978." "Is this some kind of joke?"

The Schleppers: Stale Gags & Stale Food in Mid-Century Manhattan

Midtown Manhattan. The highest concentration of showbiz havens and hangouts in the whole entire world. The Chorus Girls. The Drunk Newsmen. The Jazz Hepsters. The Mob. They converge with the force of a fly against a windshield. This is where American popular culture is born. Its influence permeates the nation. Walk the streets and weave through the hustlers, the gangsters, the bookies, the rummies... and somewhere among that crowd - you'll walk past a nondescript artistic genius or twelve, indiscernible from the dregs, biding time until they transform the American landscape. And high-above the loud, syncopated beat of Midtown you can hear... The Comedians.

American Everyman

How Warren Buffett’s public image has aided his success.

As a successful investor, he merely moved markets; but as the charismatic, reassuring, quotable prototype of the honest capitalist (a sort of J. P. Morgan with a moral sense), he's capable of influencing elections, galvanizing rock-concert-size crowds, and in general defining how we Americans feel about the system that underlies our wealth.