Frances Kai-Hwa Wang reaches for poetry “when argument fails, when there can be no objectivity, when things have become personal”

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A portrait photo of author Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is next to her book cover for You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang’s new book, You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids, begins with desire and dreams and concludes with anger, love, and home. In the pages in between, the expansive lyric essays travel broadly from Kathmandu, which is “the ancient city of my youth while I am disappearing into summer, fire, and sea,” to the basement of the Detroit Institute of Arts where “we discover the museum’s stash of old film reels.” The essays consider how to have one’s own dreams, embrace identity, experience violence against identity, and engage with family (not to mention ex-family members). 

Leaving a place and leaving a marriage become both a backdrop and an integral part of the essays. In “Texting Nostalgic for Kathmandu,” Wang writes:

Tasty Times: Mercury Salad Explores Delectable Life Experiences on “Volume 3” EP

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Mercury Salad's Kurt Bonnell, Brooke Ratliff, and Kyle Kipp include folky and funky flavors on "Volume 3."

Mercury Salad's Kurt Bonnell, Brooke Ratliff, and Kyle Kipp include folky and funky flavors on "Volume 3." Photo courtesy of Mercury Salad.

Brooke Ratliff says she’s no good at writing traditional love songs because “they’re either really mushy, or they’re really sad”—so she doesn’t even try on Volume 3, Mercury Salad’s latest EP.

Instead, the Ypsilanti folk-rock trio of Ratliff (vocals, guitar, percussion), Kurt Bonnell (guitar, harmonica), and Kyle Kipp (bass) explores the uncertainties of a promising relationship on “Best Guess,” the EP’s spirited opener.

“To me, this song could go either way. It could be that it’s unexpected, or it could be that the person is being overly optimistic,” said Ratliff with a laugh. “I wanted to do something sweet-natured and slightly romantic, but I couldn’t go all the way there. That’s why it’s my ‘Best Guess’ this is gonna work out great.”

Business Casual: Crossword Smiles Fashions Classic and Experimental Sounds on “Pressed & Ironed” Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Crossword Smiles' Tom Curless and Chip Saam share a compelling assortment of semi-autobiographical and character-driven tracks on Pressed & Ironed.

Crossword Smiles' Tom Curless and Chip Saam share a compelling assortment of semi-autobiographical and character-driven tracks on Pressed & Ironed. Photo by Madeline Curless.

For their debut album, Crossword Smiles brings a “business-casual” sensibility to the indie-pop world.

The Grand Blanc-Dexter duo of Tom Curless (vocals, guitars, drums, keys) and Chip Saam (vocals, bass, guitars) strikes an optimal balance between classic pop-rock song structures and experimental college-rock textures on Pressed & Ironed.

“We want to show the duality of our lives,” Curless said. “We work day jobs, and then we put the pressed shirts away and put on our Converse [sneakers] and play rock ‘n’ roll.”

With button-up shirts cast aside and well-worn sneakers in place, Crossword Smiles fashions 10 artful, melodic tracks on Pressed & Ironed that remove the wrinkles of the past and provide a smooth outlook for the future.

“Tom and I both take our lyrics somewhat seriously, and I don’t think either of us writes something just to write something because it sounds good,” Saam said. “We both put some thought and work into our lyrics, and it’s awesome when people really pay attention, especially if it makes some kind of impact.”

Friday Five: A look at The UP, forgotten contemporaries of The Stooges and MC5

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

The second lineup of The UP: Bob Rasmussen, Scott Bailey, Frank Bach, and Gary Rasmussen, in the basement of 1520 Hill Street. Photo by Leni Sinclair.

The second lineup of The UP: Bob Rasmussen, Scott Bailey, Frank Bach, and Gary Rasmussen, in the basement of 1520 Hill Street in Ann Arbor. Photo by Leni Sinclair via AADL's Freeing John Sinclair project.

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

This week, we have a special edition focusing on The UP.

*****

As Ann Arbor creeps towards its bicentennial in 2024, residents can be proud of a history rich in accomplishment, with achievements in medicine, politics, and sports that mark this city as a force for progress in human endeavor.

But who cares?

For millions of music fans around the globe, the only reason to discuss A2 is its role as an incubator for two bands whose uncompromising sounds proved an important step in the evolution of punk rock and heavy metal. The MC5 and The Stooges spent formative years here in the late 1960s, experimenting with volume and energy in our basements, living rooms, and public parks while perfecting distinct approaches to raw, aggressive rock 'n' roll.

September 23 is the 54th anniversary of the University of Michigan Union Ballroom gig that got both bands signed to a major label, and it's a cultural moment worth celebrating. 

Elektra representative Danny Fields was in town to evaluate the MC5's viability, but after watching this show, he saw the future and offered both The Stooges and the MC5 record contracts the next morning.

The third act on that bill, The UP, did not get a big break that night—or any night, since no record label ever signed the band. But the Ann Arbor group's dedication to revolutionary rock 'n’ roll was just as savage as that of its peers.

Sweet and Dour: Ann Arbor's Seaholm mixes pop-punk with dark lyrics on "It's Raining Outside"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

The three musicians in Seaholm standing under an umbrella.

Rain brains: Austin Stawowczyk, Pat Ray, Kris Herrmann are Seaholm. Photo courtesy of the band.

If there was any doubt that a good pop-punk/power pop band can still cut through the musical clutter and make a powerful statement, Ann Arbor-based Seaholm proves it with style.

For example, check out “Cough Syrup,” a terrific single and video from the band’s new album, It’s Raining Outside. In just 2:11, the band offers a tremendous burst of musical energy, memorable visuals, and an earworm (“Can you please tell me what’s going on?”) that will stick with you for days.

It’s Raining Outside is a short, sharp album that displays the band’s talent for combining dynamic musicianship with thoughtful lyrics. On “Weatherman,” the album’s keystone, they sing: “What’s the weather like today? / I want the rain to wash me away / Cleanse me of my guilt and take me home / Say goodbye to the life that I’ve always known.”

Although an earlier lineup did some recordings, It’s Raining Outside fully introduces the current band, which consists of Pat Ray on guitar and vocals, Austin Stawowczyk on bass and vocals, and Kris Herrmann on drums and vocals.

Ray answered a few questions about Seaholm's history and new album via email. 

Human Nature: U-M prof Scott Hershovitz talks philosophy with his kids in the book "Nasty, Brutish, and Short"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A portrait of author Scott Hershovitz alongside his book cover for Nasty, Brutish, and Short

Author photo by Rex and Hank Hershovitz.

U-M professor Scott Hershovitz divulges conversations with his two young sons and connects those chats to philosophical concepts in his new book, Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy With My Kids. Among the topics are swearing, sports, racism, and religion.

Hershovitz delves into both questions that his children raise and questions that he and his wife, Julie, face as parents. What makes the book so approachable is that the conversations are set in humous, relatable, day-to-day scenarios. For example, the subject of individual rights emerges when one of the children, Hank, takes ages to decide what to have for lunch after being offered a quesadilla or hamburger:

Shirley Ann Higuchi tells her mother's tale and the bigger story of the Japanese American incarceration during WWII in “Setsuko’s Secret” 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Shirley Ann Higuchi and her book Setsuko's Secret

Shirley Ann Higuchi illuminates a dark time in U.S. history in her book, Setsuko’s Secret: Heart Mountain and the Legacy of the Japanese American Incarceration.

Through the lens of long unspoken family stories, Higuchi recounts how Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and businesses, then forced to live in one of the 10 concentration camps created during World War II as the result of unfounded security concerns. The memories and trauma of that time are still felt today. 

Higuchi, who grew up in Ann Arbor and went to the University of Michigan, will speak about her book at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library on Thursday, September 22, 6:30-7:30 pm. She is a lawyer for the American Psychological Association, a past president of the D.C. Bar, and chair of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, which operates a museum on the site of the former camp.

In Setsuko’s Secret, Higuchi writes of the camp where her parents met, Heart Mountain:

Friday Five: Formula 734, Cashmere + Casia, Luna Pier, Kiyoshi, Digital Ether

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Album covers for the artists featured in this week's Friday Five.

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

This week features hip-hop from Formula 734, Kiyoshi, and Digital Ether, country by Luna Pier, and bedroom hip-hop-pop by Cashmere + Casia.

 

Encore Musical Theatre’s Fats Waller tribute "Ain’t Misbehavin'" struts and swaggers

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore, Ain't Misbehavin'

Arielle Crosby sings as castmates Tammie Harris and Danté J. L. Murray listen in the background during Encore Theatre's production of Ain't Misbehavin'. Photo by John White.

Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was only 39 years old when he died of pneumonia but in that short life the effervescent showman, composer, singer, master pianist, and amiable comic packed in a lot of life.

The Broadway hit Ain’t Misbehavin’, conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horowitz, is not a musical biography of Waller but rather an infectious presentation of his music and a rollicking recreation of the pianist's uptown swing.

The Encore Musical Theatre Company is taking its audience back to a swank Harlem club to experience that other time and place. Director and choreographer Gerry McIntyre presents a polished, sassy, and moving production that swings from happy-go-lucky and downright sexy to a bit more reflective tone. That arc gives a portrait of Waller that explains his life more than a lecture ever could.

Ann Arbor musician and artist Jib Kidder conquered AADL's 2022 Summer Game

MUSIC PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

Jib Kidder sits in a blue fabric sling and on a gray yoga ball. He's in his basement, which has colorful puzzle mats on the floor.

He came in like a yoga ball: Jib Kidder hangs out in his basement. Photo by Io Schuster-Craig.

When the Ann Arbor District Library's 2022 Summer Game came to a close on August 28, one name was top of the leaderboard among the record-breaking 10,114 participants:

Jib Kidder.

That name might be unfamiliar to you if you're not into underground electronic music—or missed the 2013 episode of So You Think You Can Dance that featured a guy getting down to "Windowdipper," Kidder's booty-bass track built from samples culled from the Windows operating system.

But for the past 15 years, the man born Sean Schuster-Craig has explored the more esoteric and experimental side of electronic music with relentless vigor while never losing track of the beat. When listening to his music, I kept thinking of the out-there sounds of Aphex Twin and Autechre if they kept their love of hip-hop in the foreground, but Jib Kidder cuts a singular figure as a creative individual.

Whether as a musician, visual artist, video creator, or in the case of our email conversation below, a writer, Kidder approaches his creative endeavors with a slice-and-dice intellectualism that mixes collage, social theory, and humor. (A recent post on his sometimes inscrutable Instagram account features an image with the words "philosophy is just electronic music but words," which seems an indicator of his approach to the arts.)

Kidder cites Weird Al as an early influence, but I have to think avant-garde art and political movements like the anti-capitalist Dadaists and Situationists are right up there, too, alongside his professed love of 1990s Southern hip-hop and, as he told me in one email, "Lindsey Buckingham and Roy Orbison - huge influences." (Kidder is also a classically trained guitarist in addition to being a sampling savant.)