Answer Me This: U-M lecturer Phil Christman explains it all in his new essay collection, “How to Be Normal” 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Phil Christman photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography

Author photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography

Phil Christman takes on the problem of How to Be Normal in his new essay collection by interrogating broad categories of life. Like his earlier book, Midwest Futures, the essays are wide-ranging. For How to Be Normal, Christman tackles topics including “How to Be a Man,” “How to Be Religious,” and “How to Care.” Christman takes unexpected turns by bringing in references including Star Wars, Mark Fisher, and Marilynne Robinson. 

One of Christman’s essays, “How to Be Cultured (I): Bad Movies,” begins with a reflection on watching such films as a shared hobby his father. He analyzes Mystery Science Theater 3000, failings of adults seen through a child’s eyes, Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, among others. The issues in the films can be generalized, as Christman writes:

Wherever You Are: Geoff Sobelle’s experimental theater piece explores what it means to be "Home"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Full stage of actors on stage in a production of Home

Photo courtesy of UMS

Among the many, many things that have changed over the last two years is our sense of “home.” 

While traditionally associated with comfort and family and love, our homes became claustrophobic prisons of a kind during the pandemic as we holed up to protect ourselves and each other; and though home provided many of us with some semblance of safety, we were nonetheless terrified of being with others and of this dangerous thing that was out in the world that we didn’t yet understand.

So although the UMS presentation of Geoff Sobelle’s Home—a genre-defying hybrid of theater, dance, and interactive performance art that often has the feel of a live silent film—had been originally scheduled for April 2020, seeing it instead this past weekend during its two-day run at the Power Center inevitably meant the audience watched it with COVID-era eyes.

That’s not to say we collectively arrived at the venue with a jaundiced, wary perception filter firmly in place. But for many of us, the abstract idea of “home” as an emotional palette has expanded to include some darker hues, right alongside the more conventionally bright, cozy, warm ones.

Time is punctuated by motherhood, the pandemic, and a family rupture in poet Carmen Bugan’s new collection, "Time Being"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Poet Carmen Bugan and her book Time Being

Carmen Bugan’s new poetry collection, Time Being, shows how the coronavirus has meant many different things to many people and also that it put us into our own bubbles. Bugan’s isolation includes her children, garden, home in New York, connection to Michigan, and eventual divorce. Her poems chronicle the months of isolation, motherhood, the excessive losses to the virus, and the ways that the pandemic, despite upending everything, was nevertheless not the only thing happening in 2020 and 2021. 

Bugan turns her outlook inward in Time Being. Part I serves as foreshadowing with the poem “Water ways” when the outcome of making footsteps on sand is that “the ocean erases them impatiently” as a parallel to the later repetitive, near-daily baking during the pandemic. In Part II when the pandemic strikes, the poems question, “But who could have imagined our / new lives six months ago?” and “Who would have known we’d be staying home / Nearly a year, the house growing around us / Like a shell, shutting out the life we knew?” The situation could not have been anticipated, as “Water ways” alludes:

(Not Quite) A MoodSwing Reunion: Jazz all-stars electrify Hill Auditorium despite missing a key member

MUSIC REVIEW

Brian Blade, Christian McBride, Joshua Redman, and Brad Mehldau by Michael Wilson

Brian Blade, Christian McBride, Joshua Redman, and Brad Mehldau—a MoodSwing reunion. Photo by Michael Wilson.

Joshua Redman comes across as surprisingly shy for one of the best saxophonists in the world. Instrument held slightly off to the side, he addressed the immense crowd at Hill Auditorium on Thursday night from behind his reading glasses and with an endearing timidity, almost apologetically searching for the right words as he gave titles for the night’s first two pieces and introduced his band. Never once did he betray even a hint of the fact that a minute before he’d delivered the kind of virtuosic performance only a handful of people in the world could give. 

The saxophonist and composer was joined onstage by talents no less ferocious than his own, almost a full reunion of the Joshua Redman Quartet lineup from the ‘90s. Bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade—Grammy winners both—grounded the ensemble as its rhythm section throughout the night, occasionally breaking out for breathtaking solos, and the only absence from the old days was pianist Brad Mehldau, who was originally slated to appear but called in sick at the last minute.

Friday Five: Kat Steih, The Biscuit Merchant, Evan Starr, Chirp, Good Mother

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five album covers for 04-22-2022

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

This week features jazzy electro-pop from Kat Steih, melodic death metal by The Biscuit Merchant, hip-hop pop by Evan Starr, a funk-prog mashup by Chirp, and a mega-funk mix by Good Mother.

 

Encore Theatre premieres a new musical based on the life of silent star Lon Chaney

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

A stage scene from The Encore Theatre's production of A Thousand Faces based on the life of Lon Chaney

Photo by Michele Anliker Photography

In addition to presenting classic American musicals and lively cabaret shows, The Encore Theatre in Dexter is also doing its part to expand the musical theater repertoire with premiere presentations of new musicals.

This month, Encore is presenting the world premiere of A Thousand Faces, a musical bio on the life of silent-screen star Lon Chaney. 

As with any new theatrical production, the first presentation is an opportunity for the creative team to make adjustments and test run the audience's response to the new material. The book writer, the composer, the lyricist, and the director will tweak this show as the weeks go on. 

They’re off to a good start but audiences might be a bit surprised by the show’s approach to telling the Chaney family story.

Along with the great silent comedy stars, Lon Chaney's name and films still resonate with audiences. He was the man of a thousand faces. He was an actor who hid himself in characters that were both physically and psychologically damaged. Chaney was famous for his performances in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, The Unholy Three, Laugh, Clown, and He Who Gets Slapped. He did his own shock-producing makeup and twisted his face and body into a dozen different contortions. But he could also show his own face and give a tough performance in the contemporary war drama Tell It to the Marines.

After a scene of Chaney adjusting his Quasimodo makeup and trying on tortured facial expressions, A Thousand Faces takes us back to Chaney’s youth, because this isn’t a story about making horror movies, it’s about family.

Happy 75th Birthday, Mr. Osterberg: Rare Iggy Pop and The Stooges photos from the Peter Yates collection

MUSIC

The Stooges at Fifth Forum in Ann Arbor, July 1969. Photo by Peter Yates.

The Stooges at Fifth Forum in Ann Arbor, July 1969. Photo by Peter Yates via AADL's Old News.

There are probably more than two great things to come from Muskegon, Michigan, but I want to focus on two: Brunswick bowling balls and Iggy Pop.

The former wasn't born in Muskegon, but the latter was on April 21, 1947.

In honor of Pop's 75th birthday, Pulp's highlighting a few photos by Peter Yates, who moved to Ann Arbor in 1969 and was soon chronicling the Southeast Michigan cultural scene. Last year, the Ann Arbor District Library's Old News team digitized numerous Yates photos, which you can peruse here.

The photos shown here are all from July 1969, soon after The Stooges had recorded their self-titled debut, which came out August 5, 1969. 

Transcontinental Travelogue: Country-pop singer-songwriter Katie Pederson recounts her solo journey on "Limitless"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Singer-songwriter Katie Pederson balances on a fallen tree as she walks through a forest

Former Ann Arbor-ite Katie Pederson finds a sense of renewal within nature on Limitless. Photo by Sarah Schade.

In November 2019, Katie Pederson embarked on a solo, transcontinental road trip.

The monthlong expedition allowed the pop-country singer-songwriter and pianist to process past sorrows and reconnect with herself before relocating to Tennessee from Michigan.

“When I left Michigan, I knew I was gonna move to Nashville, but I didn’t quite know … so I just left,” said Pederson, who hails from Ann Arbor. 

“I wanted to go to the mountains to get some perspective, so I went out to Alberta, Canada, and stopped at hostels along the way in North America. I did a lot of hikes in different areas, read a lot of Mary Oliver’s poetry, and met a lot of really wonderful people.” 

Those therapeutic experiences provided the magical inspiration for Pederson’s new sophomore album, Limitless, and helped her explore a sense of renewal within a nature-rich landscape. 

Pederson will recount her Limitless journey during an April 24 album release show at The Ark with special guest Grace Theisen, a Kalamazoo blues-Americana singer-songwriter.

Tracey Snelling's "How to Build a Disaster Proof House" constructions contemplate displacement and disenfranchisement

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Tracey Snelling's How to Build a Disaster Proof House

A vibrant installation at LSA’s Institute for the Humanities Gallery asks viewers to contemplate the utility (or lack thereof) of building a “disaster proof house.”

Tracey Snelling, the current Roman Witt Artist in Residence at the gallery, returns to LSA after previously exhibiting Here and There in 2017, which addressed “challenges of economic inequities, racial biases, and imposed class divisions that often limit the options available to so many people.” Her new exhibit, How to Build a Disaster Proof House, curated by LSA's Amanda Krugliak, “contemplates the uncertainty, displacement, and disenfranchisement that frames the present day” and asks, “How do we find a safe place, protected from bad weather and circumstance, in an era of floods, fires, violence, abuse and pandemics?”

Friday Five: Lily Talmers, simulatent, Paper Petals, Russell Tessier, COMFORT KIT

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 04-15-2022

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

This week features two singles from two forthcoming albums by singer-songwriter Lily Talmers, isolationist ambient by simulatent and Paper Petals, jazz fusion by Russell Tessier, and flannel-y punk by COMFORT KIT.