Empty Mug helps U-M student musicians find a sense of community

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Gravy Train band

Gravy Train photo by Lila Turner.

Despite the pandemic, music organizations on the University of Michigan’s campus are thriving. Students are yearning to hear music over loudspeakers, dance in sweaty houses, and produce their own songs, and organizations like Empty Mug are here to provide, whether through having concerts, recording live videos, or releasing music.

Fia Kaminski, one of the presidents of the organization, sat down with us to talk about Empty Mug's present, past, and future.

Ann Arbor Gallery Crawl: Catching up with recent exhibits and new art spaces

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Double Goddess: A Sighting in the Abyss by Ayana V. Jackson at A2AC Gallery

Double Goddess: A Sighting in the Abyss by Ayana V. Jackson at A2AC Gallery. Photo by K.A. Letts.

COVID-19 has wrecked plans and canceled events for nearly two years (and counting). It has sabotaged the momentum and slashed the incomes of Ann Arbor’s small community of visual artists and galleries, leaving a cultural landscape greatly altered in ways large and small.

But the creatives here are nothing if not resourceful and, well, creative. 

My recent tour of the art spaces and non-profits in Ann Arbor and environs left me encouraged—and impressed—by the resilience of the city’s art community. Here are some of the changes I came across while reintroducing myself to the local art scene in early December 2021: 

Conversation Starter: Chuck Marshall Unites Local Music Community on "Fans With Bands" Podcast

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Brenda Sodt Marshall and Chuck Marshall from the Fans With Bands podcast

Chuck Marshall with wife Brenda Sodt Marshall. Photo by Chuck Marshall.

For Chuck Marshall, a regular morning routine inspired a new creative pursuit.

The Ann Arbor live music photographer and Life in Michigan blogger started listening to different podcasts during his daily pandemic lockdown workouts with wife Brenda Sodt Marshall.

“I really wasn’t on the podcast train until the pandemic came," said Marshall, who works in IT at Michigan Medicine. "I started thinking about how I couldn’t go to shows and how it was fine for me to be talking to a band and asking them questions, but wouldn’t it be fun if fans could chime in with questions or be there and listen?

“The pandemic kinda helped with that because we were using Zoom, and I was like, ‘Oh, I could do a Zoom with this person.’ I realized Zoom records separate tracks of audio, so I could clean it up and get it all nice.”

Stamps Gallery's "Envi­sion: The Michi­gan Artist Ini­tia­tive" celebrates creators who are inspiring the next generation

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Stamp Gallery's Envision logo

Based on my direction of approach to the University of Michigan's Stamps Gallery, I didn’t see Michael Dixon’s large-scale sculptural alligator head with one sharp, gold tooth before entering—though it's visible in the gallery’s large front windows.

Inside the sculpture’s large open jaw, children’s toys rest as if inside a toy box. Among them, a selection of brightly colored balls, dolls, and books we might recognize from a modern store, but also amidst the display are racist toys such as a mammy doll, which remind viewers that these harmful toys are still collected and sold, holding a space in contemporary American culture that often escapes criticism.

This idea is further enforced by the inclusion of problematic Dr. Suess books, which became a topic of national conversation this past March.

Dixon is among five artists represented in Envi­sion: The Michi­gan Artist Ini­tia­tive, a new program focused on promoting the careers of Michigan-based artists.

This awards initiative “rec­og­nizes the cre­ativ­ity, rigor, and inno­va­tion of Michi­gan-based artists and col­lab­o­ra­tives—and hon­ors their role in inspir­ing the next gen­er­a­tions of artists in our state.”

Friday Five: Towner, Scary Steve, Comma, Cory Sibu Tripathy, John Hughes

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 12-10-2021

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features power-pop from Towner, ambient by Scary Steve, vaporwave weirdness via Comma, experimental electronica courtesy of Cory Sibu Tripathy, and worship music by John Hughes.

 

Ann Arbor writer Zilka Joseph shares two poems and an excerpt from her new book, "In Our Beautiful Bones"

WRITTEN WORD

Zilka Joseph and her book In Our Beautiful Bones

Zilka Joseph resides in Ann Arbor, but the poet's work is inspired by her Indian and Bene Israel roots and traversing Eastern and Western cultures.

Her latest book, In Our Beautiful Bones, was published this fall by Mayapple Press. It was nominated for a PEN America award and a Pushcart, and it's been entered for a Michigan Notable Book award: 

In Our Beautiful Bones traces various stages in the poet’s journey as an immigrant from India who makes a new life in the US, and her encounters with racism and otherness. In it she explores her Bene Israel roots, the origins of her ancestors, her life in Kolkata, the influences of British rule and a missionary education, her growing knowledge of what racism and marginalization means, how Indians and Indian culture is perceived and represented. While delving unflinchingly into the violence and global impact of colonialism, the weaponization of the English Language, the evils of tyranny and white supremacy, and the struggles of oppressed peoples everywhere, she creates powerful collages from mythology, folklore, fairy tales, Scripture, world cultures, literature, music, food, and current events. Traditional and experimental forms, historical information, sensory riches, wit and word play, and an unwavering and clear voice make this book a compelling read. In Our Beautiful Bones is a multi-layered, sharply ironic and sometimes pathos-filled critique of the world, and at the same time it is visionary and a triumph of the human spirit.

We asked Joseph if we could publish a poem from In Our Beautiful Bones and she was kind enough to send us two poems and "two short extracts from a long and significant collage poem. I chose these three as I think they offer a glimpse of various complex aspects of my book," she said in an email.

Also, Joseph spoke with Nancy Naomi Carlson and Nawaaz Ahmed (who we interviewed recently) about In Our Beautiful Bones on October 6 as part of Literati's At Home series and we've included that video below as well as three previous Pulp pieces on the poet.

Giving 'Em Hell: Fred Grandy captures the complex character of Harry Truman in a one-man play at Encore

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Fred Grandy as Harry S. Truman

Fred Grandy served four terms as a Republican congressman from Iowa. Grandy is an actor who quit his role as Gopher Smith on the popular television series Love Boat to enter the partisan and always contentious world of politics (and sometimes governance?).

In these particularly partisan times, Grandy is touring in the one-man play Give ‘Em Hell Harry as that most Democrat of presidents Harry Truman. 

Encore Theater is taking a break from musicals to present this surprisingly relevant look back at Truman’s crucial and politically charged presidency in his own words.

Truman didn’t seek the presidency, it was thrust upon him. He had been plucked from his seat as a senator from Missouri to run with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was seeking his fourth term. 

When Roosevelt died just four months into his new term, Truman took office while the United States was still at war. He had never been taken into Roosevelt’s confidence and he hadn’t been informed that an atomic bomb had been developed, and the decision on whether to use it or not fell on him.

Truman had a reputation as a blunt and honest man. As a senator, he led a committee to investigate waste and corruption in the war effort. He even challenged his president on several issues. But he was dedicated to the New Deal and Roosevelt’s transformative presidency. He was not FDR, but he brought a common sense, down-to-earth approach to an overwhelming position.

Harry Truman never minced words. He was blunt, uncensored, and proudly partisan. But this people’s president was also a good storyteller, slyly humorous, and tried with some success to work with those on the other side of the partisan divide, while also zinging them and their conservative views.

Factsheets, Funny Folks & Freaks: Christopher Becker recalls his DIY days in the '80s and '90s zine scene

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW

Factsheet Five issue 54

This essay is related to the Ann Arbor District Library exhibition "'Sorry This Issue Is Late...': A Retrospective of Zines From the '80s and '90s," written by curator Christopher Becker, former editor of Factsheet Five and now a library technician at AADL.

Let me start at the end.

I was living in San Francisco in one small room of a shared apartment. Piles and piles of zines—self-made, usually photocopied publications—surrounded my bed and computer so that they were the first and last thing I looked at every day.

And every day there were more, threatening to spill into the narrow walkway I had created in the room.

I worked at Factsheet Five, a magazine that printed reviews and contact information for over 1000 zines every issue, and a year earlier I had taken over the day-to-day operations of the magazine and moved it to my bedroom.

In the mornings, I rode my bike to the post office to pick up the mail, sometimes up to 50 pounds. Through a combination of multiple messenger bags, panniers, and bungee cords, I brought the mail back, looking like an overburdened caricature of a tuktuk driver from Thailand. All the mail—the zines, so many zines, the letters, the issue requests and subscriptions, the packages of books and CDs, had to be sorted and then the day’s work began: reviewing.

It was a dream come true to work at Factsheet Five and I’m sure I’ll never have such a rare experience again in my life. It felt thrilling and important to be at the heart of so much creativity and live vicariously through all the lives of the zine publishers.

But lately, staying on top of the flood of zines and the reviews was overwhelming and I was exhausted.

I began to understand why Mike Gunderloy had left the magazine he had founded, why Hudson Luce had only published one issue after he got it, and why R. Seth Friedman, who then took over, had handed the daily operations to me after several years.

Race, Class & Miscegenation: Jean Alicia Elster fictionalizes family history in her new young adult novel, "How It Happens"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Jean Alicia Elster and her book How It Happens

Jean Alicia Elster’s new young adult novel, How It Happens, chronicles the hardships and inequality faced by Black women from the late 1800s through 1950 and beyond. The story she tells has a personal note. It is the fictionalized account of three generations of Elster’s family, starting in Tennessee with maternal grandmother, Addie Jackson, and continuing in Detroit with her daughter, Dorothy May Ford, and granddaughter, Jean. 

The book begins with a prologue that defines “miscegenation,” meaning the marriage, sexual relation, or other intimate affiliation of a person who is white and someone of another race. This topic has a lasting effect on this family when a prominent white man becomes the father of Addie’s daughters. The events that happen to the characters illustrate how race and class work against the women of this family in those eras. 

May Ford describes how it happens to her daughter Jean: 

Theatre Nova celebrates the season with song, dance, and silliness in "An Almost British Christmas"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Monica Spencer, Dan Morrison, and Bryana Hall in "An Almost British Christmas" by Carla Milarch and R. MacKenzie Lewis, directed by Carla Milarch at Theatre NOVA. Photography by Sean Carter Photography.

Monica Spencer, Dan Morrison, and Bryana Hall in An Almost British Christmas by Carla Milarch and R. MacKenzie Lewis, directed by Carla Milarch at Theatre NOVA. Photography by Sean Carter Photography.

‘Tis the season to make jolly. ‘Tis also the season to be silly.

British music halls celebrate Christmastime with pantos (short for pantomime, but not really about mimes). A panto is a play based on a fairy tale that provides a framework for slapstick, satire, song parodies, dancing, clowning, a touch of bawdiness and lots of good cheer to see out the year.

Several years ago, Carla Milarch, founding director of Theatre Nova, and R. MacKenzie Lewis introduced the panto to Ann Arbor with An Almost British Christmas. Every Christmas season since (except for last year, of course) Nova has presented a new panto. This year Nova is reviving the original show, more or less, with some topical humor to fit this particular year.

But it’s really the silliness that counts.