Leading up to his Wednesday-nights-in-May residency at Icehouse, Ike Reilly has a good story to tell about the inspiration for his song “Took It Lying Down.” It was 1987, and the Libertyville, Illinois-based songwriter was working as a doorman at the Park Hyatt Hotel in downtown Chicago.
“I was working at the hotel one night and Donald Trump and his first wife Ivana came in,” said Reilly by phone from Libertyville. “They were staying in the penthouse suite for free because they were doing a deal with the Pritzker family, who owned Hyatt and owned most of Chicago. The bellman had gone home and they came in late, so I took the Trumps up to the penthouse suite and showed ‘em all around and hung there as long as I could looking for a tip and got stiffed. I was like, ‘That (bleeper).’
“It kind of stuck with me. Over the years, every time I’d see that guy on TV, being all arrogant, I’d be like, ‘Jesus Christ …’”
A couple decades later, the experience made it into a song, one of many high points on Reilly’s superb new “Crooked Love” album.
“I needed another song for the record,” he said. “I had a lot of songs that were recorded that will come out on the next record that didn’t exactly fit. So I thought back to my hotel doorman days. Whenever I’m in need of a song, I harken back to my doorman days, because it opens up a lot.
“I started the song with ‘It’s been so long time since I been stiffed hauling bags to the penthouse with Ivana.’ Then it’s about how I would come home from work after I would have these manufactured or fabricated conversations with guests, and would tell my wife all the witty and angry and rebellious things I said to people that I never really ever said. The catalyst for the song is Donald Trump stiffing me, but like the song says, I took it lying down.
“It’s about getting (screwed) over and taking it lying down, but I guess the song itself is my way of standing up because it’s such a rebellious kind of rock ‘n’ roll song. So it started with this memory of this (jerk) stiffing me, and then at the end of the first verse: If I’d known then what I know now, I would’ve killed you myself. If I knew that I’d be haunted by your mere presence and the disgust I feel when I look in your face … I wish I’d known then, I would’ve killed you myself.
“But I didn’t have to be personally stiffed by him to realize what a total disgusting, detestable human being he was. I hate everything about what he stands for. He’s a cheater, a liar, he represents greed and temporary pleasure — not that I’m against temporary pleasure.
“But I’m mad that he takes up so much of my time. I feel like the country needs to get a power washer and just get sprayed off of him and his whole (bleeping) rotten family.”
The idea of a Reilly-Trump meeting is poignant, no matter how short it may have been. Reilly has been a hero to his fans for his songs about the working class, looking out for each other, speaking truth to power and eating the rich. Meanwhile, Trump embodies the ugly American in new ways every day.
“At the time, that presidential suite — kind of ironic that it was called the presidential suite at the time — was the most expensive room in Chicago, $2,500 a night, and it overlooked the water tower,” said Reilly. “I was talking until I could get a tip. ‘Hey, here’s the shower curtain.’ I was the classic bellman, milling around until the guy reaches in his pocket — but he showed no interest in the historical aspect of the room, or in any damn thing.”
Trump’s perceived little victory over Reilly is like so many of Trump’s perceived little victories over (fill in the blank), and their meeting is par for the course from America’s Greatest Narcissist. Poetically, for the listener, “Took It Lying Down” poses the question: What am I doing to make the world better? In the face of this Trump presidency, do I speak up for my life and my people and the poor and disenfranchised? Do I stand up for what I believe in no matter how uncomfortable the conversation, no matter how cynical the times, or do I take it lying down?
“I met a ton of people at the hotel,” said Reilly. “I met Keith Richards, Bob Newhart, Milton Berle, Pat Summerall, the Dalai Lama, Bill Clinton — I can’t say a bad thing about anybody that I met that was either in the political or entertainment world. You might get stiffed if someone was frazzled or in a hurry, but coming in people usually have time to tip. But the song isn’t so much an indictment of Trump as it is of me dwelling on it. Or you can take it anyway you want. It’s a funny anecdote.”
Reilly promises to treat audiences to “Took It Lying Down” and more from “Crooked Love” at his May residency, the likes of which South Minneapolis is awash in these days — regular staples on the club docket that afford club-crawlers the opportunity to develop a routine of socializing and listening.
To be sure, weekly and monthly residencies have the potential to become churchlike affairs wherein partakers meet up with new and old friends, find a familiar weekly groove laid down by all and imbibe in the communion of live music, which is reliably terrific at many South Minneapolis go-to gigs, be it the Driftwood Char Bar (Lolo’s Ghost’s church ‘n’ brunch Sundays, the Shotgun Ragtime Band’s Grateful Dead Sundays, St. Dominic’s Trio Tuesdays); the Warming House (free music Thursdays); the Hook and Ladder (free music Wednesdays); the Schooner Tavern (open jam Sundays and Thursdays); Merlin’s Rest (Sunday pub sing); Studio 2 Café (Thunderheads and friends every first Saturday of the month); moto-i (open mic Tuesdays and artist showcase Wednesdays); and Icehouse (JT’s Jazz Implosion Mondays; Tina Schlieske every first Thursday of the month).
“There’s something about Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and a residency that makes me feel renewed and excited again,” said Reilly, whose Icehouse residency lands May 2 (with Laska), May 9 (with Mary Bue), May 16 (with Hannah Von Der Hoff) and May 23 (with Natalie Lovejoy; tickets here: bit.ly/2EVWgb8). “I played at the Icehouse for the first time earlier this year, and I thought it was a cool venue for this kind of a rap I’m doing. I’m excited to play all these new and old songs at this residency, because they don’t really happen in my head until I test ‘em live.”
In addition to the Icehouse residency, Reilly will take up Thursday night residencies in May at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music and in June at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall. Over the next two months, he’s scheduled to play 30 solo shows, the most of his career. And while The Ike Reilly Assassination remains one of the fiercest rock ‘n’ roll bands in the land, Reilly’s solo shows provide a rare intimacy and a chance for the barroom bard to be “more conversational with people” — though his between-song chatter may or may not directly target Trump.
“It’s so obvious that I don’t want to be patronizing to people,” he said. “I don’t want to be pandering. I say enough. Based on that song, he’s eaten up enough of my time. Things are rolling around now, and his time is going to end — hopefully before too much permanent damage is done.
“When I’m playing, I try to talk about things that people actually deal with on a more personal level. Not in the grand schemes, or the specifics of the Mueller investigation, or what a (creep) Trump is. That’s evident. I’d rather have people laugh their asses off than get too beaten down by how (screwed) up things are — at least for 90 minutes.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis and hosts/sings/shouts/resists at The Mad Ripple Friday Night Hootenanny every Friday at Studio 2 Café (6:30 p.m.–9 p.m.) until June 15 (last Hoot ‘til break). He can be reached at email@example.com.