Salem Collo-Julin


Salem Collo-Julin performing for the OYO opening. Photo by Paul Gargagliano

Salem Collo-Julin is a performer and writer who strives to be a good neighbor and likes talking to everybody. From 2000-2014, she collaborated with the artists Brett Bloom and Marc Fischer in the group Temporary Services. Some of their accomplishments included creating and running Half Letter Press (a publication imprint), cofounding Mess Hall (an experimental cultural center in Chicago that closed in 2013 after offering completely free programming for ten years), cocreating over eighty publications, collaborating with a variety of people from all walks of life, and realizing projects in public spaces in cities all over the world. Salem is currently bridging her experiences in theater, comedy, and music with her daytoday life as a nonprofit worker and community volunteer to build a series of projects to solve all the world’s problems.

What Am I Doing Hanging Round?

I’m interested in examining the social lives of the historical people we laud. In the case of members of groups such as the Young Patriots organization, I am especially interested in the places and situations in which they might have found playtime, fellowship, and fun. Exploring country and western music of the late 1960s and early 1970s, along with my previous knowledge of folk and fock, led me to imagine a singing duo. Frankie and Todd are a fictional group that lived in the same buildings in the Uptown neighborhood of 1960s and 1970s Chicago that our radical activists would have. They are singers and musicians, but their very existence is a threat to some in the neighborhood. What Am I Doing Hanging Round? is conceived as a play with music and has a create-your-own element in that several of the pieces of dialogue and musical structure will be up to the performers to improvise or write themselves.


Here are some words from a brief performance of initial excerpts. While I performed solo for the Organize Your Own opening in Philadelphia, the finished version of What Am I Doing Hanging Round? could be performed by one to four people.


OK, this is an excerpt of a work in progress, inspired by the post-1971 atmosphere of the grittier neighborhoods of Chicago. We start in a contemporary college classroom, a familiar place for some of you.




All right. If everybody is here now?

I’m going to start the discussion today with some questions regarding last week’s reading and listening assignments—yes, Marcus . . . mm-hmm, it is the found cassette tape recording and transcription? No?


You’ll catch up. No, assignment two—from the interview with Frankie,

of the band Todd and Frankie, a sort of folk-rock-psych-should-have-been duo and a personal favorite which we are studying in our mid-American-’70s unit . . . great stuff. OK. First reactions to the material?


Any reactions to the material?


All right. Uh . . .  . Why don’t we just listen to part of the audio together and maybe it will inspire some—words from you?




Man, I don’t know where he is, he was supposed to be here an hour ago, is the thing on? Do you need me to test the sound or—(TURN) no, man, I just want to lay my parts down now, I can’t wait anymore. (TURN) Yeah, I called his Mom’s house; I stopped by the A&P, no dice. Yeah, I’m worried.




So as everyone should remember from the readings, this recording was attributed to Frankie—Can anyone guess who the man is that we hear in and out, especially at the end, pretty much ruining the recording session? Yes, Marcus, it’s not Todd. The coffee is kicking in.


Anyone else? Reactions? Brittney? Yes, it is a little more introspective and experimental as opposed to their *actual* demo record, which I played for you last week. And as you read, this recording happened after the damage was made to their apartment, so we can assume that some emotions are raw.


So, we can look into the lives of more famous musicians from this period and their disillusionment with the systems crashing around them—thinking of Phil Ochs here and his songs of protest being pushed away for one example—but I hope that the reading assignment helped to illuminate why we focus so much on this particular duo and their unfortunate turn of events.


In the spirit of our research into the emotional landscapes of living histories, why would we look at something as small as a casual recording session such as this one? Yes, James?


Yes, there is something great about hearing actual human voices from history, and in the spirit of that, we’ll listen in a bit to part of a 1987 interview with Frankie, from a public radio program shortly before her liver failure.


Ah, one thing I wanted to note is that I do appreciate the multiple journals I have read from those of you who were shocked and disturbed by the interpersonal violence we’ve been forced to look at when discussing this situation. S,o as I shared from the first class, I’m not *for* violence, especially against women, but it is impossible to understand Todd and Frankie’s brief, late work past ‘72 without talking about the beating incident.




Ok, you can sit down here with me. Don’t get excited. No reason to—no, I don’t know where he is. NO, I don’t think he said that to you. Listen we paid you—I don’t know where he is! We paid you rent and . . .  that doesn’t give you the right to go to all the shows, it was a meeting and I will entertain anyone I want to in my own home—just get out of here now. Just get out of here. Just leave me al–






Thanks for sharing that Marcus, yes, I agree. I wasn’t aware of the “trigger warning” term, but I would say—it’s an unfortunate feeling I have that many things in life these days are both a trigger and a warning. I-M-H-O as they say. But it is good to validate out loud for ourselves that in all time periods, the idea of the hood, the mask, shows an attempt to “cover” one’s identity—meaning, do the supremacists really believe in these racist beliefs or is just this a violent person drunk on power. . . . (BEAT) OK, in this particular situation we’re talking about an insane racist lunatic.


Yes. James. No, I’m not saying that all white people of the time were violent racists—of course, look at Frankie. Frankie was white, was she a target of this person because of a modicum of fame among musicians in Chicago at the time, or because of Todd and Frankie’s known “radical” ties? You’ll remember we discussed and debated the restructuring of the “radical” ideal in the symposium last semester—it’s possible that she was just targeted because of the interracial relationship. We can debate this endlessly, but let’s listen to the older Frankie for a second—




So the album never made it past a few tracks. Uh, which I have listened to because the parts that Todd was there for are maybe the last times he was recorded and playing in an aware and with it manner. (SIGH) I mean, we’re all responsible for what we decide to do when we try to comfort ourselves, but he just couldn’t ever reconcile with not being able to help me, and one thing led to another. And then, years later, he did some time, and then they found him dead in the halfway house. 1978.


I didn’t sing much during that time. I had already moved away a few years before. I didn’t really sing seriously in public until a few years later. Not until they started asking me to do the benefits. Which is funny, cuz in a way my fans can thank Reagan for that. I mean, I certainly think the movement has shifted in some regard, but there’s nothing like a blustering demagogue to bring people together. That one Rock against Reagan show was very strange but I was honored that they asked me to sing that hippie death knoll song—I was backed by that band, I think, MDC? Yes, Millions of Dead Cops, or Children, depending on the record of theirs, I think. Not a usual collaboration, but it was an excellent time. You know the worst thing about the early days, and even now I guess, is that it’s hard to feel like you’re in the right place in the world. Todd felt that as well and you get that spark of recognition when you’re young—you both realize that even though your families look different you come from the same stupid assholes, they’re just from different states, you know. But then we choose to move to neighborhoods in cities and there’s still stupid assholes there too. And it sometimes feels insurmountable, like there’s nowhere to live and everyone is fucked up. Even now, even without a lot of strife in my life, I’m still thinking sometimes “Who are my people? Who am I doing this for? Who am I supposed to be speaking to now?”