A Convergence Project by Journalism Students at Roosevelt University

This "chaos" is "musical"

By Taylor Massa
Sid Yiddish, 51, playing outdoors
for a public performance.
Strange happenings hide in the most normal of places. A lonely violin whines in the background, as a man smokes a cigarette on the rusty fire escape stairs. A cracked floor and a maze of hallways is decorated with everything from mannequins begging to be graffitied, to an anarchist library gifted from the disheveled Occupy Chicago movement. The back room is a vast corner filled with windows displaying the city skyline. Here, at 1000 N. Milwaukee Ave., sits what appears to be an abandoned office building.  The weather is greyscale and the smell of fresh sawdust and drywall fill the first floor, as contractors have begun the long process of construction. Most who frequent the space MuliKulti are more colorful than the next. This is where Sid Yiddish, 51, practices music with his band The Candystore Henchmen.
            “I think to a lot of my teachers, I was so weird. I was already out there,” Yiddish said. “I remember singing these songs backwards, we discovered later that I was dyslexic, but I was singing these songs backwards and the teachers would get really upset because I was singing these beautiful songs backwards.”
            Yiddish, born in Chicago as Charles Sidney Bernstein, is a self identified 'accomplished weirdo.'  A love for music that started early on never seemed to flicker, and today he is the lead conductor of his own mismatched band. Currently he is in Columbia College's graduate school program studying performing arts.  However, he cannot read music...and has no interest in learning.
            “I'm sure theory is good if you have the brain for it. I'm not necessarily a trained animal per say, I prefer my sort of 'wantonedness' to do what I want to do.”
            Every member of The Candystore Henchmen seems to be more colorful than the next. Art Pitkin, 67, a violinist in the band,  met Yiddish at their former place of work Manufactuer's News.  They were both fired (amongst others), or 'graduated from' as Pitkin likes to describe it, due to a general distaste of oppressive authority and throwing impromptu concerts on the company lawn.
Sid Yiddish and Jason Page deliberate
their next moves during band practice.
The West lawn of the office building is typically a quiet and well kept space.  Being outdoors, musicians need speakers.  Both Yiddish and Pitkin followed suit of a co-worker and created what they dubbed “The West Lawn Concert Series.” 
            “To our credit, the neighbors did have the police come over to tell us to be more quiet. So I guess our amplification was adequate on that particular date,” Pitkin said. It was here that Yiddish and Pitkin formed a bond, both having an affinity for the obscure.  “I describe my place in music in one sentence: 'I play several instruments...badly,” says Pitkin.
          A huge aspect of The Henchmen's live shows is performance, specially centered around improvisation.  Yiddish has created his own mode of conducting based around a list of 75 different hand gestures, all signifying musical cues of an orchestra. “I try to take the basics.  The language we speak. I study it a lot, I'm always watching people. And I think they think I'm staring at them,” says Yiddish.
            A Henchmen show is an experience .  The band is a revolving door of musicians; young and old, strange and clean cut, keyboards and hand drums.  Yiddish's costume consists of traditional Jewish dress complemented by a wide smile . While conducting, his mannerisms vary, including middle fingers to the band members signifying, “High E.”
            “You could even say that we don't play music, but rather that we make a performance.  It's wacko and intentionally clashing,” says Pitkin.
            Jed Oelbaum is a 30-year-old freelance musician in New York.  Having worked with all sorts of people in the business, he commends Yiddish for his conducting abilities: “I personally prefer working by myself.  It's ambitious of Sid to create a structure for improv. As a concept, it's certainly as legitimate as what maestros do to an orchestra.”
            “My study has been the world.  You know, I have depression and anxiety and I work that stuff out through my art.  So if I seem spastic or extreme, I'm just trying to work through it in my art. It's kind of how I do things,” says Yiddish.
            Wes Heine, 30 (aka 'Cousin Bones') has known Yiddish for almost 10 years working with him on different projects.  He is a Chicago cab dispatcher and blues poet who believes music should be raw and emotional, and that Yiddish had created just that: “Everyone knows Sid is crazy. Also, this the most common feedback I receive as a performer,” Heine says.  “The difference is that Sid is not just artist that makes manically intense art...he is a manic-depressed person who makes art.”
            The fury and happiness can be heard in the banging of the Henchmen's songs.  While it might not sound beautiful to the traditional ear, there is something to be said about the feelings it invokes.  Those attending Henchmen shows are unable to hide their opinions: “Watch the audience.  You will see laughter, rolled eyes, disgust, joy, nods and defensive silence.  Yet this is a characteristic of any real art: polarizing the audience,” says Heine.
            Jason Page, 34, plays keyboard in the Henchmen and relates Yiddish's music to the scientific principle, Benford's Law; referring to the frequency in distribution of digits. “Conducted chaos.  There is something to be said about chaos: chaos is not random, chaos is musical in it's complete form,” says Page.
            “Art is dangerous. Art can be interpreted as such. But there's people who just take art so fucking seriously and they shouldn't,” says Yiddish.
            Creativity oozes from the practice space at MultiKulti.  In the middle of conducting, Yiddish leaves the room as the band continues to play and returns with a piece of broken window shutters.  Promptly handing it to the percussionist, he says “I want you to play this too.” 
            Questions aren't asked and the banging begins.  Every instrument is not what it seems.  When only the right side of the band is instructed to play, the percussionist takes this as an ideal opportunity to chug a can of off brand beer.  Yiddish holds his hands strongly in total focus, facing the keyboard in a boxer stance, the sign for 'rest' in his band.
            “The Henchmen is democratic in the sense that you don't need to have qualifications in music. You don't have to have a degree, a certain amount of experience, a resume that says you played with all the greats,” says Pitkin.
            Yiddish treads uneven ground in the music industry.  Everything from his aesthetic to his theory would seem bizarre to most, he admits.  And he likes it that way. “Something I say in in all of my bios is 'I may not always understand what I'm doing, but I know you will,'” says Yiddish.
            As the out of tune keyboard tings on, it mixes pleasantly with the strings of the violin.  A synthesizer plugged into a plastic recorder screams.  Louder the music builds. 
            Then suddenly, the pandemonium stops suddenly on the same note, at the same time.

A panoramic shot of The Candystore Hencemen practicing.