Martin Bandyke Under Covers: Martin Torgoff, author of "Bop Apocalypse: Jazz, Race, the Beats, and Drugs"


Martin Torgoff, Bop Apocalypse

From the author of the acclaimed Can't Find My Way Home comes the gripping story of the rise of early drug culture in America.

With an intricate storyline that unites engaging characters and themes and reads like a novel, Bop Apocalypse details the rise of early drug culture in America by weaving together the disparate elements that formed this new and revolutionary segment of the American social fabric.

Drawing upon his rich decades of writing experience, master storyteller Martin Torgoff connects the birth of jazz in New Orleans, the first drug laws, Louis Armstrong, Mezz Mezzrow, Harry Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, swing, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, the Savoy Ballroom, Reefer Madness, Charlie Parker, the birth of bebop, the rise of the Beat Generation, and the coming of heroin to Harlem. Aficionados of jazz, the Beats, counterculture, and drug history will all find much to enjoy here, with a cast of characters that includes vivid and memorable depictions of Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jackie McLean, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Herbert Huncke, Terry Southern, and countless others.

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Kickshaw Theatre and AADL team up for a staged reading of the award-winning "Lungs"


Lungs, Kickshaw Theatre

Kickshaw Theatre actors Dani Cochrane and Bryan Lark will participate in a reading of Lungs at AADL's west branch on May 19.

On Friday, May 19, the Kickshaw Theatre is collaborating with the Ann Arbor District Library to put on a staged reading of Lungs, a new play by Duncan Macmillan. Lungs tells the story of a couple weighing the pros and cons of deciding whether or not to have a child in modern America, knowing all the current societal and political problems in the world.

Lungs premiered at Washington, D.C.’s Studio Theatre and has since been performed around the world. It was nominated for a Charles MacArthur Award for Best New Play or Musical and the British production won the Off West End Award for Best New Play. This reading will feature the actors Dani Cochrane and Bryan Lark.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to ask the Kickshaw Theatre’s artistic director and founder Lynn Lammers a couple of questions about the upcoming performance.

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Shades of Gray: Lori Rader-Day discusses "The Day I Died" at Aunt Agatha's


Lori Rader-Day

Lori Rader-Day photo by Iden Ford.

“This is a book that will get under your skin and stick with you,” said Aunt Agatha’s co-owner Robin Agnew of Lori Rader-Day’s psychological thriller The Day I Died. “It’s a book that shows multiple sides of the story, not in terms of black and white but shades of gray.”

On Thursday, May 18, at 7 pm, Rader-Day joins Aunt Agatha’s monthly book club to discuss her novel. The author is the recipient of the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. The Day I Died tells the story of Anna Winger, a handwriting expert who is called into an investigation of a missing toddler. Anna has tried to keep her secrets hidden in the past as she moves along in life with her teenaged son. But everything comes spilling out when her son disappears and she is forced to confront painful memories from a past from which she is still trying to hide.

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Temptation: Yale prof Richard Prum on “The Evolution of Beauty" at AADL


Richard Prum

For the birds: Richard Prum's new book documents his avian studies on mate choices in the animal world.

Yale ornithology professor Richard Prum did his graduate work at U-M in the 1980s, but the two places where he spent much of his leisure time no longer exist.

“The Del Rio was a great place,” Prum said of the beloved bar that stood at Ashley and Washington for more than 30 years. "And I went to Borders, back when it was the only one in the whole world. It was such a great bookstore. I remember going to Borders and deliberately leaving my wallet in my office. Not that I ever had much money in it, anyway, but I didn’t want to be tempted.”

Temptation, as it happens, plays no small role in the former MacArthur “genius” fellow’s new book, The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World -- and Us, which he will discuss at the Ann Arbor District Library Downtown Branch on Thursday, May 18, at 7 pm. The book argues that mate choice in the natural world is often driven by a subjective desire for beauty instead of more pragmatic considerations, thereby complicating the long-held notion that natural selection explains every branch on the tree of life.

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Slow Tide of Decline: Lauren Hulthen Thomas reads from her debut at Literati

Lauren

Lauren Hulthen Thomas, States of Motion.

Laura Hulthen Thomas' reading from her debut collection, States of Motion, at Literati on Wednesday, May 17, will be special to her. “I was one of the last authors to read at Shaman Drum, the iconic indie bookstore that was the last downtown seller to shutter," said Thomas, the head of the creative writing and literature program at the University of Michigan’s Residential College.

"Honestly, I didn't think another bookstore would ever take a chance on a Midwestern downtown, even a literary city like Ann Arbor," Thomas said. "Thank goodness [owners] Hilary and Mike [Gustafson] have the vision and passion to make such a success of this marvelous store. And having a beautiful reading space to showcase authors and even host student readings and other community events is just incredible. ... I would love to thank Literati for hosting me, and for being downtown’s literary light and gem."

States of Motion is published by Wayne State University Press, whose press release said, “[T]he stories in Laura Hulthen Thomas’ collection take place against a backdrop of economic turmoil and the domestic cost of the war on terror ... these stories follow blue collars and white, cops and immigrants, and mothers and sons as they defend a world that is quickly vanishing.”

Thomas is thrilled that Wayne State University Press (WSUP) released her book and "for publishing and supporting so many Michigan authors through the Made in Michigan series. We're able to talk about regional literature and Michigan's place in it because of the work WSUP is doing to bring our state's literature to readers."

We chatted with Thomas about how Michigan is reflected in her stories, how that’s shifted in the recent political climate, the Midwestern voices that have inspired her writing, and more.

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Crime novelist Steve Hamilton returns to AADL for his second Nick Mason novel


Steve Hamilton

Exit Strategy is U-M grad and Michigan native Steve Hamilton's second Nick Mason novel.

Last year Steve Hamilton took a u-turn.

The award-winning author of the popular Alex McKnight detective series introduced a new series with a very different main character in The Second Life of Nick Mason, a New York Times bestseller and multi-award winner that is being developed as a major motion picture.

McKnight was a straight arrow ex-Detroit cop, who left Detroit after his partner was killed and he was seriously wounded in a confrontation with a mentally ill man with an Uzi. McKnight escaped to rent cabins in tiny, isolated Paradise on the shores of Lake Superior in the U.P. But soon he was reluctantly being drawn into one case after another as a private detective.

By contrast, Mason is a tough kid from the south side of Chicago, a career criminal. He and two of his buddies began stealing cars as teenagers and then moved on to a series of minor crimes. Mason tried to give it up for his wife and daughter, but he and his pals became involved in a dock heist that went seriously bad, leaving one friend and a policeman dead. Mason took the rap and refused to rat on his associates, one his best friend. He was given 25 years without parole.

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String Theory: Jas Obrecht is “Talking Guitar” at Nicola’s Books

Jas Obrecht, Talking Guitar, Eddie Van Halen

Jas Obrecht and some guy in Van Halen.

Longtime professional music journalist Jas Obrecht regularly tells his Washtenaw Community College creative writing students a story from early in his career.

Obrecht was sent by Guitar Player magazine to a music festival to interview Canadian rock guitarist Pat Travers, who, flanked by two young women while snorting cocaine off a mirror in his dressing room, sent Obrecht away. Obrecht stumbled upon a basketball hoop and ball, and after a few minutes of taking shots, a wiry young guy approached and asked to play.

That guy was Eddie Van Halen, who’d recently released Van Halen’s debut, self-titled album; and Obrecht found a new subject for his article.

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Ann Arbor Youth Chorale celebrates 30 years and new auditions


Ann Arbor Youth Chorale

Ann Arbor Youth Chorale celebrated its 30th anniversary with a concert on May 6 at the Bethlehem United Church of Christ.

To evoke Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, music was in the air in 1987. Two major children’s choirs were founded in Ann Arbor that year and both are celebrating their 30th anniversaries: the Boychoir of Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor Youth Chorale (AAYC).

“There was a boom in children's choir development in the U.S. at that time,” said Shayla Powell, who's directed the AAYC’s preparatory Descant Choir for 25 years. “The European boy choir is a significant piece of choral music history and in the early ’90s English cathedrals such as Salisbury were beginning to launch girl choirs.”

While the Boychoir of Ann Arbor followed the European tradition for youth-choir membership, the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale charted a path that welcomes boys and girls. “The mixed gender treble choir has been a somewhat unique American tradition,” Powell said. “The Indianapolis Children's Choir, founded by Henry Leck, was the model that our founders looked to for inspiration.”

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Songs of Endearment: Jeff Daniels at the Chelsea Alehouse


Jeff Daniels by Chuck Marshall/Lifeinmichigan.com

Jeff Daniels. Photo by Chuck Marshall/Lifeinmichigan.com.

It was a sunny afternoon in late April, and as I sat across from Jeff Daniels in the room above his Chelsea recording studio, the sounds of a band practicing below drifted up the stairs, permeating the room with the intoxicating sounds of a particularly tight jam session. (Perhaps it was son Ben's band?)

Daniels is a busy man, but on this day he looked relaxed. He just wrapped-up a series of three sold-out, word-of-mouth concerts at the Chelsea Alehouse, each one drawing a bigger crowd than the last. For loyal patrons of the popular Chelsea watering hole, it was an irresistible opportunity to experience another side of a renowned local talent in a cozy, intimate setting.

For those unfamiliar with the musical side of Daniels' career, there's a distinctive streak of Americana to it -- or as he put in on that crowded Saturday night, "Whatever it is that I do up here." A self-taught musician with a playful sense of humor on stage, the actor-cum-musician fuses folk, blues, and country with a talent for telling particularly vivid, often hilarious, tales.

Though his formidable guitar skills give him the distinction of being a musician, his well-honed talent for holding an audience rapt reveals him to be -- as his other endeavors on stage and screen suggest -- a natural-born storyteller.

As is the case with his play and film Escanaba in da Moonlight, there's an unmistakable aspect of cultural preservation to Daniels' music. Songs like "Big Bay Shuffle" and "Michigan, My Michigan" display a deep-rooted desire share his personal experiences with the world at large.

Meanwhile, his distinctive fingerpicking style -- perfected with years of practice and occasional lessons from talented friends like Keb' Mo' -- can range from delicate and unobtrusive in his more introspective songs, to outright rollicking when he decides the room could use a bit more energy.

Though focused intently on editing a video when I first arrived, Daniels was quick to change gears once we sat on opposite ends of his fluffy studio couch. With the songs from the Saturday night show still ringing in my head, I was particularly eager to learn what inspires the esteemed actor as a musician and discover his secrets for engaging an audience when there's no safety net or script to follow.

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"Remnants" uses survivor stories to educate about the Holocaust


Henry (“Hank”) Greenspan

Henry (“Hank”) Greenspan collected survivor stories for his one-man play Remnants.

U-M professor Henry (“Hank”) Greenspan likes to talk -- and thank goodness for that.

Greenspan has spent 40 years interviewing (and re-interviewing) Holocaust survivors, and from that trove of oral histories he compiled a radio-play-turned-one-man-show called Remnants, which he’ll perform on Monday, May 8, at the downtown library. He put together the radio play in the early '90s, using material he first started collecting for his dissertation in the 1970s.

“The first thing I did was call rabbis who had congregations in the Southeast Michigan and Toledo area,” said Greenspan, who noted that doing survivor interviews was an uncommon practice at that time. “They’d tell people, ‘This guy from U of M wants to interview survivors.’ So initially I’d used the rabbis as matchmakers, but that quickly became unnecessary because things snowballed. People would say to me, in the middle of an interview, ‘You have to talk to my friend Zoli.’ … So I’d make an appointment to talk with Zoli, and one person led to another.”

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