From left: Mark Greenberg, Rick Rizzo, Janet Beveridge Bean, Doug McCombs
Rick Rizzo credits his four-year-old twins with keeping his guitar playing loud and reckless. “When I pick up my guitar, it’s ‘Daddy, don’t play your guitar!’ because of course they want to jump on me,” he says. “But I think it’s a good thing. I enjoy being an idiot with my guitar. I don’t want to be better than I was in the eighties.”
In some respects, where he was in the 1980s is where he is today: the frontman of the rock band Eleventh Dream Day. Rizzo, drummer Janet Beveridge Bean, and bassist Doug McCombs have been at it since 1983, when Rizzo and Bean, his girlfriend at the time, first came here from Kentucky (the current lineup also includes keyboardist Mark Greenberg). On March 15th, Thrill Jockey puts out Riot Now!, Eleventh Dream Day’s tenth album.
But on another level, much has changed. Rizzo and Bean have married, divorced, and married others, and since 1994 the band has been decidedly part-time. “Months at a time, we’re not playing, we’re not practicing,” says Rizzo, whose days are now devoted to teaching 7th and 8th graders at the Albany Park Multicultural Academy. (McCombs and Bean both play in other bands: the former in Tortoise, the latter in Freakwater and the Horse’s Ha.)
Recorded in just a few days, Riot Now! is both raucous and unapologetically immediate. As grown-up rock ’n’ rollers—people with families and jobs and other interests beyond playing shows and selling records—the members of Eleventh Dream Day give off the same abandon they had in their 20s, with a sense of awe and gratitude that they still can play shows and sell records. “It’s not easy to be in a band for that many years, but it feels really easy,” says Rizzo.
Besides surviving the ups and downs of being on a major label in the early 1990s, the band has faced its share of challenges. Rizzo and Bean’s son Matthew suffers from GLUT-1 deficiency syndrome, a rare neurological condition, which ultimately prompted Rizzo to go back to college and seek a job with medical benefits. (Bean will soon complete a modern African studies degree at DePaul.) Matthew is now a 19-year-old college student, and though his parents divorced in 2001, Bean says the parental bond helped keep the band together. “We had to be close in order to be the parents Matt needed us to be with his challenges. Also, the band has always meant a lot to Matt. I think it would have been worse for him had the band broken up!” (Rizzo remarried in 2002; Bean, in 2008.)
The songs on Riot Now! have a get-off-your-ass-and-do-something theme, inspired by Rizzo’s disappointment with President Obama thus far, as well as the death of David Foster Wallace. What Rizzo brings to rock, he also brings to the classroom. “I absolutely love my job,” he says. “You know you’re alive. And you know you’ve worked a day when you come home, too.” And occasionally, the classroom comes to him, as when the band played Taste of Chicago in 2009. “A bunch of kids came out,” he says. “I was so happy.” He still remembers the first time his students found out that he was in a band. “The power of the Google,” he says. “[They said], ‘Mr. Rizzo, Mr. Rizzo! You’re on Google a lot!’”
Photograph: Jim Newberry