Writer, poet, and funeral director Thomas Lynch examines life and death in "The Depositions," a collection of new and selected essays

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Thomas Lynch, The Depositions

Author photo by Joe Vaughn.

Essayist and funeral director Thomas Lynch writes, “By getting the dead where they need to go, the living get where they need to be.”

That quote forms the first sentence of “The Done Thing,” the last essay in his recent collection, The Depositions: New and Selected Essays on Being and Ceasing to Be.

For years, Lynch has been in the business of the former and has reflected on the latter, as well as the former, through writing. He stands clear on many things about death, including that funerals serve the living and that the dead don’t care. 

The Depositions: New and Selected Essays on Being and Ceasing to Be sifts through these subjects with pieces from his earlier four books of essays, plus new ones that consider the author’s state of affairs. 

Lynch’s philosophical insights and candid facts about death all orbit around a universal truth appearing in the last sentence of the same paragraph containing the earlier quote:

Unity of Purpose: "Taking a Stand" at Stamps Gallery features a range of multimedia works under a common theme of inclusivity

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Elizabeth LaPensée, Bitwork Beadwork Mega Man

Elizabeth LaPensée, Bitwork Beadwork Mega Man, 2019, 20” x 16”

Stamps Gallery's Taking a Stand offers audiences a glimpse at the works of five artists who engage with themes of solidarity and comment on social and cultural issues at the forefront of contemporary dialogues. They grapple with science fiction, environmentalism, social activismand the history and continuing impact of colonialism.

Executed in a range of media, the works in the gallery offer an array of involved experience and levels of engagement. Many works employ digital media, such as in Oliver Husain’s 3D film gallery and micha cárdenas’ interactive video game, while others, such as the art by Syrus Marcus Ware, appropriate traditional materials such as clothesline and clothespins as installation materials to hang letters on paper in Activist Love Letters.

Take Comfort: Jeff Daniels and Purple Rose Theatre's "Roadsigns" is like a '70s folk song come to life

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Purple Rose's Roadsigns

For more than a quarter-century, Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre has specialized in new plays that don’t normally require a music director.

That's why I was initially surprised to hear that a musical (or “play with music”?) called Roadsigns would have its world premiere there.

But then I quickly remembered the theater’s movie/Broadway/TV star founder, Jeff Daniels, has been performing his ever-growing catalog of original folk songs as an annual fundraiser for the Rose, and his son, Ben Daniels, is a professional musician in his own right.

Then the whole notion of a Purple Rose musical felt not just sensible but downright inevitable.

Hammond B3 player Chris Foreman and Soul Message Band are steeped in Chicago's swaggering jazz-blues tradition

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Chris Foreman of the Soul Message Band

When you hear Hammond B3 player Chris Foreman glide across the keyboard, you can all but hear Chicago's Saint James AME Church congregation shouting behind him. As a performing member of Saint James for 40-plus years, Foreman's music is steeped in gospel and blues, with the added energy of smeary bop lines that evoke fellow organ greats Jimmy McGriff and Jimmy Smith.

Perhaps the only reason Foreman isn't mentioned in the same breath as the Jimmys, or even a contemporary player like Joey DeFrancesco, is that he hasn't recorded a lot as a leader and hasn't spent a ton of time outside of Chicago.

But on Friday, January 31, the Soul Message Band with Foreman, drummer Greg Rockingham, and guitarist Lee Rothenberg will leave the Windy City for two sets at Blue LLama in Ann Arbor for an evening of greasy, feel-good jazz-blues. The group is performing in support of its recent album, Soulful Days (Delamark), which is filled with gut-bucket swagger and interplay so deep that it might touch the bottom of Lake Michigan.

Since Foreman is legit part of Hammond history, we asked him to name five songs by five fellow B3 players and tell us what he likes about the tunes and the musicians.

"It's difficult to exclude a lot of our organ greats," Foreman said, but there's no denying the five musicians he picked are among the top players of the instrument.

Check out Foreman's selections below, listen to Soulful Days, and see a live video of Soul Message Band before they take the Blue LLama stage.

But first, let's start with his beautiful solo-organ tribute to McGriff at his 2008 memorial service. 

Ann Arbor author Alexander Weinstein explores the human experience in the Computer Age with speculative fiction collection "Universal Love"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Alexander Weinstein and his book Universal Love

Author photo by Francesca Albert.

People spend too much time on phones. Kids are addicted to their screens. Technology is ruining how we communicate. 

But what if tech also forces us to figure out how to find connections even in the age of emoji-only text messages?

Some of these issues are at the heart of Alexander Weinstein’s Universal Love, a collection of short speculative-fiction stories about an eclectic group of characters, including a woman who becomes closely acquainted with a hologram version of her deceased mother and a man with depression who seeks electronic surgery to erase his troubled past. 

Weinstein, an Ann Arbor resident and professor at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan, says that he can see the addiction to the constant stream of information that our technology affords.

As wonderful as technology can be in connecting people with friends, or in supporting human justice, or in accessing information readily, I can see that my students are becoming increasingly addicted to technology. And it's not just them -- it's all of us. Right now, we’re in a kind of binge-drinking stage of technological addiction. There are emails to check, Facebook posts to like, Instagram photos to upload, Tinder/Grinder profiles to swipe, emojis to send, and endless text messages. At stoplights, I see other drivers, sending off one more message before the light turns green. Next to us in the restaurant is a family eating dinner in silence as they individually play with their smartphones. And at bus stops around the world, grown men and women are playing tiny games on their screens like children.

"The Believers Are But Brothers" explores the darkest corners of the internet

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The Believers Are But Brothers

The minimalist stage setup of The Believers Are But Brothers. Photo by Christopher Porter.

Last night it felt like Javaad Alipoor's The Believers Are But Brothers started in the lobby of U-M's Arthur Miller Theatre. I was asked by a stranger for my phone number so I could be added to a WhatsApp group chat with a couple of hundred other people I didn't know for a discussion that ran concurrently with the play, including messages from Alipoor.

I complied but instantly questioned my decision: I had voluntarily given up personal info with no questions asked, just as all of us do every day on the internet, and I did so on the same day it was reported that Amazon's Jeff Bezos had his phone hacked by malware sent via WhatsApp by Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Believers Are But Brothers, co-directed by Alipoor and Kirsty Housley, explores how technology and the internet can make people compliant, reactionary, or radicalized. But Alipoor didn't write Believers to slam our reliance on screens and the World Wide Web. Standing on a minimalist stage decorated by a plastic folding table hosting a computer-gaming setup, a large video screen, and the lurking presence of a headphone-wearing man (Luke Emrey) whose eyes were fixed on his laptop, Alipoor talked about how the internet has always been a part of his life and that he loves social media, even with all the caveats. 

“I try not to make work that is either negative or positive, but just to look at what we do,” Alipoor told The Guardian on the eve of the BBC showing a filmed version of The Believers Are But Brothers, which explores the 4chan world that birthed the Gamergate ugliness, the radicalization of young men -- whether brown kids from the U.K. or white boys from California -- and the rise of the alt-right.

Performance, Art: UMS's "No Safety Net 2.0" offers theatrical productions that challenge norms

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

No Safety Net 2020

Clockwise from left: images from As Far As My Fingertips Take MeWhite FeministIs This a Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription, and The Believers Are but Brothers.. Photos courtesy of UMS.

UMS's No Safety Net 2.0 series offers theatrical performances, of course. But it's the sort of theater that even avid theater-goers might not be able to get a handle on. 

After all, it's a long way from sitting in the audience and passively watching the singing and dancing in West Side Story to interacting one-on-one with a refugee as your arm is stuck in a wall during the experimental play As Far As My Fingertips Take Me

The 2020 edition of No Safety Net explores terrorism, addiction, racism, BDSM, transgender identity, patriotism, migration, and a whole host of hot-button issues through four unique theatrical works: The Believers Are but Brothers (Jan. 22-26), As Far As My Fingertips Take Me (Jan. 24-Feb. 9) Is This a Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription (January 29-February 2), and White Feminist (February 3-9).

But since a huge part of UMS's mission is education -- whether it's for young members of the community, potential patrons, or those already open to new works -- it always provides tremendous resources for people to take deep dives into the cutting-edge productions the organization throws its considerable weight behind.

This year's No Safety Net's ancillary assets include podcasts, videos, chats, essays, and blogs chock full of information to give you insights and contexts into these challenging works. Below is a selection of No Safety Net media, including the January 16 Penny Stamps lecture at the Michigan Theater by Oskar Eustis, artistic director of The Public Theater in New York City, which was the official kickoff of No Safety Net 2.0.

Augmented Realities: Stamps Gallery's "Taking a Stand" features multimedia, 3D, and interactive installations

VISUAL ART

Taking a Stand

micha cárdenas, Redshift Portalmetal, 2015 (installation view)

The Stamps Gallery's Taking a Stand exhibition opened on January 17 with a reception that featured a performance by Detroit artist Sacramento Knoxx along with Bianca Millar and White Feather Woman.

Photos from the reception show viewers engaging with 3D films, augmented reality, interactive drawings, and more through the works of artists micha cárdenas, Oliver Husain, Elizabeth LaPensée, Meryl McMaster, and Syrus Marcus Ware.

Taking a Stand curator Srimoyee Mitra writes:

The collectivist impulse of the projects recast the gallery as a catalyst, a site of action and possibility for urgent and meaningful dialogue on culture and politics. The immersive and interactive installations don’t just represent social concerns from our cosmopolitan present, they delve into playful and poetic exchanges with public audiences on empathy and decoloniality to imagine just and equitable futures. Drawing on the themes of science fiction, artists in the exhibition invite audiences to time travel, blurring fact with fiction, weaving fantastical narratives and desires with ancestral knowledge, collective memories, and stories from their natural and urban environments. They acknowledge the vitality of recuperating Indigenous, migrant, and LGBTQI subjectivities and practices to better understand how to heal our damaged planet.

The exhibition runs through February 29 and includes a number of related events:

See photos from the opening-night reception by Nick Beardslee:

Riverside Arts Center's "Insecurity: Not Enough Again" exhibit explores personal and social uncertainties

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Detail from RckBny's collage at Riverside Art Center

Detail from RckBny's collage at Riverside Art Center's Insecurity: Not Enough, Again. Image courtesy of the gallery.

Insecurity takes many forms and shapes: visually, culturally, personally, and within communities. But what is insecurity and how can it be cultivated to produce change?

Riverside Arts Center’s Insecurity: Not Enough Again suggests it is often “a gnawing at the pit of the stomach,” a series of nagging, persistent questions: “Am I enough?” Or, “Will there be enough?”

The Ypsilanti gallery asked artists to consider what insecurity means to them while also partnering with local nonprofits and organizations to address food and housing insecurities in the Washtenaw area.

Riverside’s exhibits frequently pair with broader community organizations, and the Washtenaw County Community and Agency Fair will take place on January 25 from 12-4 pm at the Arts Center and is free to the public. Additionally, on Friday, January 18, Keena Winterzwill will appear at the galleries for a book release and signing, with performances by Jameelski of Breathe Easy Music Group, BMC, Dope Ther@py The Poet, and Joey Crues.

Straight Outta Nairobi: Dr. Pete Larson's Dagoretti Records brings the sounds of Kenya to Ann Arbor

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Dr. Pete Larson

Dr. Pete Larson jamming on his nyatiti. Photo by Doug Coombe.

When Dr. Peter Larson found out he was going to Malawi in Southeast Africa as part of his graduate studies, one question came to his mind:

"Where's Malawi?" Larson said with a smile during an interview at the Ann Arbor District Library. "I didn't know anything about Africa."

Now an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan's Institute of Social Research, Larson later went to Nairobi, Kenya to work on public health issues. He lived there between 2014-2017 and immersed himself in the music scene.

That experience changed the trajectory of Larson's artistic life.

A longtime guitarist who played in numerous rock and noise bands since the 1990s, including 25 Suaves and Couch, Larson is also one of the people behind the experimental Bulb Records, which released the first records by Wolf Eyes and Ann Arbor native Andrew W.K.

But Larson was so enchanted the first time he heard a nyatiti -- an eight-string lyre/lute-type traditional instrument of the Luo people in Western Kenya -- he decided to learn how to play it. 

"In 2015, I received an instrument from a friend and had no idea what to do with it," Larson wrote in the press release for the Nyatiti Attack LP on Dagoretti Records by his teacher, Oduor Nyagweno, who he lovingly calls Old Man. "Sometime in 2016, I saw Daniel Onyango play with his band Africa Jambo Beats in Nairobi and approached him about taking lessons. He then introduced me to the Old Man, I haven’t looked back."