Behind the Book

Behind the Book | Just Kill Me & Lillian Collier

August 29, 2016
Adam Selzer
Author of Just Kill Me
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Get a behind the scenes look at Adam Selzer’s Just Kill Me as he gives you a look at a real life ghost tour stop featured in his new book!

Take a look:

 

Now, here’s a story that I couldn’t wait to tell…

Some years back I was doing research for a planned book on the beatnik scene in Chicago in the 1950s; you still run into some original beat generation guys around town. Just recently I got to read “Howl (For Mayor McCheese),” my parody of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl (for Carl Solomon)” (“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Grimace / starving hysterical purple…” — read it in it’s entirety below) in front of a guy who was IN the Ginsberg poem. The Beatnik Party’s Vice Presidential candidate from the 1960 election is still around. Ken Nordine, the voice over actor who pioneered “Word Jazz” in the 1950s, still lives in town.

I found some delightful vintage articles about the Beat scene, including one sneering 1950s article that said “In Los Angeles, a beat mocha parlor may go, but not in Chicago, where men are men!” (For the record, there were 165 Starbucks locations within the city limits as of 2015). But the story I ran across that REALLY hooked me was the story of Lillian Collier, from an earlier generation of bohemians.

Lillian Collier was a very early flapper – a young woman of the jazz age – who ran a bohemian tea room called The Wind Blew Inn. She gave delightful interviews to the press about “the gospel of high art” and held what sounded like really awesome parties. But the cops raided her place regularly, and she and her “aid” Virginia once had to go before a judge and say “Your honor, there is no snugglepupping at the Wind Blew Inn.” He sentenced them to read a book of Fairy Tales to cure them of their radical ideals – which, as you can probably expect, didn’t work.

A couple of years after the court case, Lillian gave a widely-printed interview about flappers and the way women were changing in the new century, then vanished from the record completely. I obsessively pored over records trying to figure out what had happened to her.

When I started work on JUST KILL ME, I still hadn’t figured out what became of her, but I knew I wanted to write Lillian’s tale into the book.  By then, I’d already written about her in The Smart Aleck’s Guide to American History and several Chicago history books; I’d shoe-horn references to her whenever I could, hoping that it’d attract the attention of someone who knew more about her. Other writers started to cover her now and then, too, though other articles about her almost always revolved around the fact that the Wind Blew Inn was in about the right location to have been an early LGBTQ hangout in Chicago (it was near Towertown, where most of them were in those days) and speculating about the nature of Lillian and Virginia’s relationship.

In the course of working on the book, I managed to solve the mystery, and it turned out to have a happy ending. The video above tells what became of her, which ends up being a plot point in the book. So consider this your spoiler warning!

Hope you’ve enjoyed the videos! I’ll be running actual Mysterious Chicago tours, just like the ones in the book, all through October. See mysteriouschicago.com for details if you’re in town!

Howl (for Mayor McCheese)
by Adam Selzer
(Parody of “Howl (for Carl Solomon)” by Allen Ginsberg)

Part I:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by The Grimace.

Starving, hysterical, purple, it dragged itself down into the
town from Mcdonaldland like a thief who’d come to steal the dawn

Looking like a bloated Zorro in the hat and mask he had begged borrowed
stolen from the Hamburglar.

He crept into our town gurgling rhapsodic jazz, making noises like a
biker being violated under the streetlights in the great field of stars

And all of the homemakers shareholders and sidewalk sliders crept out
of their Little Boxes and came out into the morning, drawn like
lemmings into the old Rockwellian town square

Eyes ablaze like sparkling diamonds, crushing the flowers that had been
planted by the Ladies Auxillary last year, it’s mouth a mass of
glowing gelatin framed by an evil grin

Was this the face that had launched a thousand happy-meals? That burned
the topless towers of Illyium on a sesame seed bun? The smiling
visage that had poured off of every television set for thirty numb humdrum
years?

“Bring me a Shamrock Shake!” he boomed, in a basso voice that belonged
to the thunder, as he laughed like the river below the Brooklyn Bridge
and wickedly demanded that we “supersize it.”

But April had already sprung forth with all of it’s false hopes, March
had withered like a rose at the gates of hell, and where were the snows
of last year?

….et ou sont les neiges…et ou sont les neiges…ou sont….

They were gone, gone into the sweet grandfather goodnight, and with
them the last of the seasonal Shamrock Shakes.

Our mayor stepped bravely forth to tell the beast that they were gone,
and the Grimace grabbed his velvet lapels and thrust him forth toward
the volcano of his red mouth screaming

And his head vanished between the great teeth, and then his arms and
torso, and all at once his screams were extinguished like the weeping
flame of a candle in the sweet December rain until all that was left was
a purple bourgeous blur dripping red

and in a sudden blinding flash we all knew the answer to a question we
hadn’t even thought to ask. We knew why we hadn’t seen Mayor McCheese
in years.

And the Grimace wasn’t finished yet, it moved forward and grabbed
Mrs Carlson the kindergarten teacher in her nightgown and devoured
her, too.

And he then devoured the old lamplighter, laughing as the blood poured
from his mouth like ketchup from a stomped-on neglected foil packet. And
then the minister, and Mr. Stiches and Mr. Thomas crying holy to the
Burger King for help

And somewhere in the back the angel-headed hipster pinkos cried “we
told you this would happen! We told you so! We told you!” and the streets
flowed red with their blood, too, and now the revolution wouldn’t be coming
after all or maybe this was it

And the vegetarians laughed too, laughed even as they were thrust into
the purple jaws, laughed even though there was no meat in the
Grimace, at least as far as any of the screaming victims could tell.

They bled, they bled, they bled.

Part II: 

Howl! Howl! Howl howl howl robble robble robble. It ate up their brains and imagination for want of a Shamrock Shake!

Mcdonalds! where he graced the face of a thousand cookie boxes

Mcdonalds! Solitude! Capitalism! Extra-Value Meals! Mcdonalds the Cheap! Mcdonalds the plentiful! Mcdonalds the clean, oh what can it mean that McDonald’s is clean?

Mcdonalds! where the mourners gathered in the wake of the Grimace, trying to call mayday mayday to Ronald, who had packed off and gone to India.

Mcdonalds! where the $5.15 an hour nonunion heros dug in the back for the last surviving package of Shamrock Shake mix.

Mcdonalds! whose stock fell several points as the shareholders were gobbled.

Mcdonalds! where Grimace was arrested at high noon, broke the handcuffs, and slithered off laughing on his way to your town.

Mcdonalds! where the plaque on the statue in the playland read:

“My name is Ronald Mcdonald, King of Kings See my food, ye hungry, and despair!”

And despair
and despair
we
did!

Part III: 

Mayor McCheese, I’m with you in Mcdonaldland where you counted the money you made off of the Muppet Babies Happy Meal

I’m with you in Mcdonaldland where the battered corpse of Captain Crook lies tangled in the arms of the corpse of the Professor, and the Early Bird flies circles above

I’m with you in Mcdonaldland where the hamburgers are sliced to the thickness and glimmer of a Roosevelt dime

I’m with you in Mcdonaldland Where Mcdonalds Pizza is more than just something I was once tried when I was in Minneapolis or was it Cedar Rapids

I’m with you in Mcdonaldland Where Officer Big Mack and the Hamburglar finally sit together for Lox and Bagels on Sunday morning, and the Fry Guys also sit

I’m with you in Mcdonaldland where still you forge the yellow signs, the glowing Capital M’s, the beacons that signify the presence of the Quarter Pounder with some Cheese, the glowing idols that light the highways of the Plutonian American western
night!

Adam Selzer lived in Des Moines back before it was cool, then tried out a series of small Georgia towns that will probably never be cool before settling in Chicago. In addition to several books on Chicago history and ghostlore, he’s the author of several young adult and middle grade novels, including How To Get Suspended and Influence People (which is part of the ALA’s Banned Books Week packet), I Kissed a Zombie and I liked It, and Sparks (under the name SJ Adams, a Stonewall Honor book for 2013). He has seen Bob Dylan in concert more than forty times, holds a world record for “Most Richard Nixon jokes in a Children’s Book,” and often performs music, both solo and with various bands, at science fiction conventions. Visit him online at AdamSelzer.com.

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