The Sick Muse (TSM) was first conceived of in 2015 as a place to publish song lyrics, which often get drowned out in the noise and mix of a live show. I guess the idea was to reinforce the idea that these lyrics mattered, and that by centering the words and meaning behind the music being performed, it could be a way of gravitating the people who listen to this music to sharing, discussing, and collaborating. The concept quickly expanded to a place to synesthetically combine lyrics with visual art, showcase art and writing of all sorts, and generally promote musicians and artists in the city of Chicago. We are interested less in telling you what is good and bad art, but more what we can learn from art. The how and why of it all.
Inspired by collaborative artist zines such as Shotgun Seamstress, TSM’s core mission is to provide exposure for underground, poor, experimental, or marginalized artists oft-ignored by larger media. There is surplus of passion and talent, only a fragment of which is good at making money or making headlines so we make a little more space here.
We publish as active participants in the worlds that we represent. We are committed to community-centered media. We believe in the power of print to demand deliberation and bring together diverse ideas and groups of people. We uphold a DIY ethos and celebrate it with beautiful graphic design and production.
We are focused on Chicago, but looking any and everywhere for passionate art and musings!
The Sick Muse (TSM) first nine issues were made as 8.5×11 saddle stitch stapled zines, sold for $3 to $5 in small runs of 500 copies, at local bookstores, records stores, music venues, festivals, and wherever plopped down a table. For our 10th issue, we released a real fine and glossy art magazine type edition.
After our first 10 issues, TSM expanded into a free distribution newsprint and digital publication newspaper, distributing 5,000 copies to 60+ locations across the city each issue. During the Covid-19 pandemic we will be entirely online publishing digitally, but took this opportunity to develop our webseries Bedroom Music featuring video filmed by musicians in their home, covering a sexy song from their bedroom along with an exclusive interview and tour.
Also, we like to party, so that keeps us working, because each issue release is accompanied by a show featuring local musicians, artists, poets, comedians, films, and participatory art installations. Come check the next one out!
The Sick Muse was kind of stumbled upon as a sort of silly flip on the word “music”. Mus+sic = sic+mus. Get it? But “nothing new under the sun”, and Public Enemy already figured that one out, titling their 1994 studio “Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age”. Aside from also using the mondegreen “Muse Sick”, the title turns around the typical statement “message in our music” get across the idea that the message is the art and heart and the music just happens to be involved and the medium of conveying said message.
The name stuck for us, especially in being the common translation of the title of a Charles Baudelaire poem “La Muse Malade” (1857). The poem, translated to English below, features a person talking to their muse about how frightening and mad they are and how they wish things could be a little more orderly and beautiful in a classical sort of way. I think the point is that our world is a bit different from that of the Greeks, and well first of all, our muses, even our beautiful ones, don’t need to be all golden ratio proportioned beautiful women in contrapposto. Our muses, those moments, people, places, feelings, that inspire us to create, to make new things borne of our imagination, are not always beautiful, or meet external subjective standards of beauty. We can take inspiration and learn from everything and learn to see beauty everywhere!
My Poor Muse, Alas! What have you this morning?
Your sunken eyes are filled with night visions.
And I see time again reflected in complexion
Madness and horror, taciturn and cold.
The greenish succubus and the pink imp
Did they pour into you the fear and love of their urns?
The nightmare, of a despotic and mischievous blow
Did it drown you in the depths of a mythic Roman marsh?
I wish that by exhaling the breath of sanity
Your womb of powerful thought would be a dwelling place
And that your Christian blood would flow rhythmically,
Like the countless sounds of ancient syllables,
Wherein reigns time again the father of songs,
Phoebus, and the great Pan, the Lord of Harvests
-translated by Isabelle Rew
Incidentally, Chicago musician Chris Schoen has an siiiiiick song adaptation of this poem!
“Since the title’s conception in 2015, The Sick Muse garners pieces from writers, artists, and photographers––many Chicago residents with little to no journalistic experience––on a pitch-by-pitch and submission basis.The zine accepts pieces that conceptualize art, theatre, and music that is hyperlocal and Chicago-specific. In written, illustrated, or photographed format, contributors strive to convey the authentic or unexplored side of the city’s “scene.”
“The Sick Muse covers sides of Chicago that may be slipping under a lot of folk’s radar who aren’t already active in this scene. It is a collective of musicians, writers and designers in Chicago coming together to make this publication that’s really a beautiful representation of artists in Chicago. The zine is a great place to learn about art, read lyrics, find out about musicians and learn about different folks creating and working together within the DIY community.”