To a teenager, The Loop and the ACME grain elevators were two “Towers of Rock” that we were sure would never crumble. Solidly sculpted rock, they thrust local teenage boys into Review headlines back in 1980.
Mark and I hung a queen-size bedsheet, which read “The Loop FM 98,” from those grain towers early that year. Why?
“Cuz we were bored!” Mark would say. That’s why we did everything back then.
Also because The Loop (WLUP-FM, recently transformed into Christian rock), which was still fairly new at that time, transmitted “cool.”
Clad in black Loop T-shirts, the uniform of Steve Dahl’s Insane Coho Lip Army, 20 or so of us cavorted daily through the abandoned towers and adjoining warehouses, transforming it into our personal Teenage Wasteland.
No organized activities or Soccer Moms back then, just good old-fashioned, street-wandering mischief.
We climbed 110-foot ladders, pounded on pallets till rats fled, and bonked ’em in the head or popped ’em with pellet guns.
We tossed turkeys off 120-foot towers and laughed as they bounced off power lines then splattered the ground.
We built narrow 2-by-4-foot catwalks over 5-foot-deep basement water from blizzard snow melt and rain, filled with 30-year-old rotting grain and laughed as agents of local government fell into the putrid stew of stench while in hot pursuit of us.
We slid down 3-story steel elevator cables into the basement dungeon labyrinths and swung from overhead pipes to avoid cracking thin ice beneath our feet.
And we laughed as new members of our “army” also fell through into the foul moat.
Somehow no one in My Generation got hurt, though an older kid reportedly landed in a grain-padded chute and permanently injured his shoulder. Story was one life might have been lost, but no one knew who.
I guess some got high there and some got drunk there, though it was still a bit early for all that. However, it wasn’t too soon to take refuge there when things got too hot at home.
Our rooftop camping provided majestic, mountain-like hometown vistas. It also afforded bird’s eye views of those below while we sat silently sequestered, waiting out their departure. Inevitably, The Cop would never climb the ladder. A war veteran’s time was never wasted on tomfoolery.
Despite what the Review quoted at the time, at shift change, The Cop would leave. Had he come up the ladder, there was nowhere to hide on a flat 120-foot rooftop.
Which reaffirmed the Loop Rock credo to never to trust Institution.
“Won’t Get Fooled Again,” the Coho kids screamed.
We’d escape, only to encounter the worse wrath of being late for dinner and getting caught in a lie by The Old Man who inevitably knew The Cop anyway, and coached and drank with him, back when town employees had to live within the town limits.
“Cop-proofing” began when two brothers “borrowed” lumber from their father’s addition to the family home and hauled it across the tracks for two years, sealing off openings.
Since Vandalism was a far worse charge than Trespassing, and every Coho-lipped kid worth his Vietnam Surplus Army field jacket knew that and if caught graffiti-ing, his Old Man would tag his hide more colors than a graffiti-scarred CTA train car.
But the Loop Banner kept blowing onto the roof and the initial rooftop duct tape and rock surgery failed, so the second time we hauled it down the ladder, clear across town, back into Mark’s basement and built a frame of 1x1s, dissasembled it, and hauled it back across town to reassemble it on the Tower roof.
After the re-slinging, the bottom was battened by ropes through smashed glass block which gashed a hand several stitches deep. One-handing down the 100-foot ladder while dripping blood to the puddle directly below leads a person to the wonder: Are rats like sharks?
Christmas break allowed for easy glove concealment while long sweatshirt sleeves covered the dinner table. The unstitched scar remains, yet somehow, I got away with it. And that was the exact allure of the Loop to a teenage boy:
Disco Demolition got away with it …
The Loop’s “Bomb Iran” campaign was about not taking it.
Even Steve Dahl’s silly anti-authority parody songs spoke to teenage angst.
And there was only one girl who woulda been allowed in the Towers — Lorelei the Loop Rock Girl.
‘Nuff said. Google her.
Rock music was summing it all up in a brand new song released just before Christmas:
We don’t need no education,
We don’t need no thought control.
Rock has never been more succinct.
Yet The Loop was never played in the Towers.
Noise advertised. Like graffiti. And the best revolutions start silently.
In the age of transistor, there was no selfie of the boys in the Towers. Facebook was painting our initials on the banner’s lower left. And somehow we got away with even that.
But the wake-up revelation came the day Mark engaged a rusty power control arm on machinery submerged in basement water as we catwalked above. The shockingly still-live electrical hum put a face on mortality for a couple teenagers when a now-limp rat bobbed to the surface.
Life moved on and so did we, into cars. By 1982 the towers were demolished. The final fight came not from preservationists, but the Walls of Rock themselves which proved, like us, to be too thick to be broken by a wrecking ball and too obstinate to be dynamited.
Several blasts, so strong they shook Proviso East miles away, merely tilted the Towers of Rock in a slight Leaning-Tower-of-Pisa sorta way.
That failure, blew up the demolition budget like a stack of disco records in Comiskey Park. The Loop Army kids laughed. For years, They had called it a “treacherous” crumbling death trap that was going to kill us. And then it proved too solid to knock down.
Kinda like The Loop. Which can now still be streamed. But it ain’t the same. It’s like doin’ the cruise past the Community Center westbound on the Jackson bend and looking up and seeing what’s not there anymore.
The towers are gone. Gone like a 41-year car radio preset, which now serves up the Rock of Salvation rather than the Rock of Your Youth. The Rock Station and Rock Towers may be gone, but it’s all still in us. After all, “It’s the singer not the song that makes the music move along.”
The Review called us “machos” because we played in those Towers. They said we must have had rocks in our head.
They were close; it was in our heart.
Long Live Rock!
(For Ronbo, Jahopinaas, Joey D, Magic Bus, Drew, Dewey, Artis, JP, Dowds, Boone, Pollock, Pugsly, Devious Crud, Tan Man, The Dork, Fonzie, Little BigHead, Flinch Blutosky, and all other forgotten Coho reprobates of ’79-’82).
Rich Dalton was a frequent contributor to the Review back in the 1990s. This is his return engagement.