Supple Wrists: Vintage Flipper World, aka The Ann Arbor Pinball Museum, preps its quarterly showcase

PULP LIFE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Pinball Museum, Vintage Flipper World

Not old dolphins but rather rows and rows of pinball machines populate Vintage Flipper World. Photo by Jason Buchanan.

This story was originally published on April 5, 2017.

Strolling the aisles at Vintage Flipper World, aka The Ann Arbor Pinball Museum, is like talking a walk in time. As cascades of colorful flashing lights fire up your synapses, the frantic medley of familiar themes, playful taunts, and ringing bells transport you to a place where all that matters is keeping that shiny metal ball from slipping between your flippers.

Turn left, and perhaps you'll find yourself standing in front of a vintage game from the 1950s. Or round the corner and prepare to do battle with the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man on Stern's luminous new "Ghostbusters" machine. Stick around long enough, and eventually you'll cross paths with Clay Harrell, the gruff yet not-unapproachable proprietor of this wedge-head wonderland.

It was a chilly Wednesday night in March when Harrell welcomed me into Vintage Flipper World to talk about his passion for pinball and the fast-approaching Michigan Pinball Showcase the first weekend of May. From Friday May 5 through Sunday, May 7, pinball fanatics from across the country and around the world will descend on this secluded gamer's paradise to test their skills on over 350 of the best fully functioning machines around.

Times Past: Catching up with 1960s Ann Arbor psych-rockers The Beau Biens

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Beau Biens

Beau Biens rocking WCBN's April 1967 mixer.

This story was originally published on April 4, 2017.

The Beau Biens would have been entirely forgotten were it not for the single record they released: the "Times Passed / A Man Who's Lost" 7-inch, released in March 1967. While this Ann Arbor-based group didn't last long, and the single wasn't particularly popular at the time, over the past 50 years the record's status as a lost psychedelic classic has grown and grown.

"The Beau Biens 45 is considered one of the best garage band singles of the '60s," said Frank Uhle, media consultant for University of Michigan's Instructional Support Services by day, Ann Arbor rock encyclopedia by night. "A couple of years ago a book was published that listed just about every American DIY record that came out then, and a panel of experts voted 'Times Passed' number 427 of the more than 8,000 records included."

Though it's been bootlegged on several garage-rock compilations, the original 45 is nearly impossible to find. That's one reason why Uhle has reissued the record; another is because he located Joe Doll, the man who had the original master tapes because he was the one who recorded it at WCBN-FM during an all-nighter. Even the first pressing of "Times Passed / A Man Who's Lost" was pressed from a second-generation copy of the tape, so this new edition is even better than the real thing. The quintet consisted of Tom Kleene (vocals), Don Tapert (lead guitar), Tom Hartkop (rhythm guitar), Jim Masouras (bass), and Rick Fine (drums).

Originally a folk group, the Milk River Jug Band, the group's sound got turned on its ear when Tapert witnessed a Rolling Stones concert and only wanted to rock. After some resistance from his bandmates, the group changed its name to The Beau Biens and the train started rolling. The ensembles sound evokes a garage-ier version of The Yardbirds, powered by a fuzzed out Vox amp stomp.

We talked to Tapert about The Beau Biens' beginnings, seeing the Stones, Yardbirds, and The Velvet Underground and Nico, and Ann Arbor in '60s. We also tapped Uhle's bottomless well of local-music knowledge about the '60s Michigan rock scene and how the reissue came about.

GREY GRANT’S NEW OPERA PLAYS WITH THE FORM WHILE CHRONICLING THE JOURNEY AND TRANSFORMATION OF A TRANS-WOMAN

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Grey Grant, creator of the opera Michigan Trees

Grey Grant (left) leads the new Fifth Wall Performing Arts group, whose logo (right) was created by Tanner Porter.

Trees, folklore, Michigan places, Greek mythology, and the trans experience infuse the new opera Michigan Trees: A Guide to the Trees of Michigan and the Great Lakes Region, which is also the name of a guidebook that inspired it. This opera, written, composed, and produced by Grey Grant, depicts the journey of a trans-woman named Orna as she comes to terms with her identity.

Fifth Wall Performing Arts will present the opera as its establishing project, which premieres Wednesday, August 28, and Thursday, August 29, both at 8:30 pm at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse.

A preview of the opera, also paired with other operas and folk songs, will take place at Literati Bookstore on Friday, August 2, at 7 pm. 

In the 11-part libretto, Orna travels north to Chapel Rock on Lake Superior, where she becomes a white pine and connects with her womanhood. She also encounters the mystic character of Mother of Trees, which represents and protects the spirit of trees and encourages Orna’s transformation. During her journey and transformation, though, Orna separates into two parts -- Orna, As She Feels She Is Seen and Orna, As She Sees Herself -- which embody the internal disconnect and conflict that transgender people feel, Grant told Pulp in an interview. Then Orna, As She Feels She Is Seen leaves the other half of herself to trek back south, passing Gaylord, Flint, and other cities to reach Ypsilanti, only to realize that she has left her true self wilting on the shore. Again, Orna goes north and becomes one with herself. 

During these journeys, Orna communicates her desires, singing:

The Vietnam War and Modern Memory: Matthew Provoast’s “Dear Grandpaw” at the Argus Museum

VISUAL ART REVIEW INTERVIEW

Matthew Provoast's Right in the Middle of All the Smoke

Matthew Provoast, Right in the Middle of All the Smoke, encaustic photo collage.

Matthew Provoast’s Dear Grandpaw at the Argus Museum is part family history, part archival photojournalism -- and all viscerally imaginative ground-level art about of one of the most traumatic events in America’s 20th century.

The Grand Rapids photographer's exhibit, wrapped around the Argus Museum, consists of three groups of differing sized encaustic photo collage set in a salon style. These works’ colorful articulation lend themselves to a near-phantasmagoric re-creation of the war-era photographs taken by his maternal grandfather, Thomas Zimmer of Mount Clemens, during the mid-1960s in Southeast Asia.

As Argus curator Cheryl Chidester’s exhibit statement tells us, “Provoast explores his grandfather’s rites of passage and first-hand experience of the Vietnam War … telling the story of war on a personal level. Through his work, Provoast began to know and understand his grandfather in a different light -- as a young man thrown into traumatic situations -- and how those experiences changed his life.” 

What's Really Going On: Brooke Annibale brings her questioning progressive-pop to Ann Arbor for a free show at The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Brooke Annibale

Photo by Alyssa Gafkjen

Songs on Brooke Annibale’s new album, Hold to the Light, express desire for something that may or may not be there and then both yearn and hesitate to reveal those feelings. Throughout, lyrics question what is really going on and wrestle with admitting reality, voicing thoughts, and letting it all be. With synth, electronics, and both acoustic and electric guitars, Hold to the Light wonders about and wanders among the complexities and feelings between two people. 

Annibale is a singer-songwriter and guitarist originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Following her indie-acoustic focus, Annibale is evolving to write and play pop-progressive music. 

The Ark will host Annibale for a third time in a free show Tuesday, July 23, at 8 p.m. with donations of nonperishables accepted for Food Gatherers. Pulp interviewed Annibale for her appearance in town. 

Human Skull's instantly appealing jangle-punk doesn't "Take a Lifetime" to enjoy

MUSIC PREVIEW REVIEW INTERVIEW

The band Human Skull

Six songs strong and 12 inches wide, Human Skull's vinyl debut, Take a Lifetime, is a brief but engaging record that documents the latest developments from an Ann Arbor punk rock band that, as its website suggests, is “probably less punk than you think.” Indeed, their velocity and ferocity get applied to songs with genuine Midwestern hearts beating beneath the leathers, expressing yearning rather than rage and avoiding easy classification.

For two albums -- a self-titled, digital-only debut and the cassette release The Penny and the Ball -- Human Skull has honed a unique style rather than wandering, and Take a Lifetime distills that sound into its most potent, clear-eyed state. Melodies are challenged in interesting ways, each traditional choice countered with a harsh chord or sudden, whiplashing tempo change. At times Human Skull’s riffs can recall early REM if they weren’t bashed out at rollercoaster speed with the band in lockstep around every tight corner.

Guitarist/vocalist Joel Parkkila goes easy on the fuzztone, relying on cleaner textures except when making a point, and his solos are devoid of tired guitar heroics, fitting tastefully into the song rather than wailing above it. Rhythm section Stefan Krstovic on drums and Brent Barrington on bass don’t back him up as much as race him to the finish, and with Parkkila’s plaintive yowl as punctuation, it’s bracing and real.

We emailed with Human Skull about the production of Take a Lifetime, which you can here below.

Well-Read: A brief history of A2 libraries from the book "Vanishing Ann Arbor"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW

Ladies Library Association, 1885

In 1866, 35 women had put in $3 each to start the Ladies' Library Association and pledged a dollar a year to purchase books for the public to borrow. After moving from one location to another, the Ladies' Library (since demolished) was built at 324 East Huron, on the south side west of Division in 1885. Frame location: Corner of State and Huron, Northwest. This image may be protected by copyright law. Contact the Bentley Historical Library for permission to reproduce, display or transmit this image. Repository: Bentley Historical Library.

The following is an excerpt from the book "Vanishing Ann Arbor" by Patti Smith and Britain Woodman.

Just three years after Allen and Rumsey founded our fair city in 1824, a group called the Ann Arbor Library Association began meeting. This was not a public library as we know it; it relied upon the dues paid by patrons. Using the dues it collected, the association purchased 100 books by 1830.

Around the same time, the Ann Arbor Circulating Library sprang up at the office of the Western Emigrant (the first newspaper in Ann Arbor). Dues were $2.50 per year and were mainly used to purchase reference books. The following decade produced another Ann Arbor Library Association and the Working Men’s Library Association. Like that very first group, these were not funded by taxes but by private dues and donations. However, government-sponsored public libraries were coming soon.

In 1843, the state school superintendent decreed that all school districts had to set up their own libraries, earmark at least $25 for the collections, and share the books with local townships. Since these were to be public, non-dues-paying organizations, the state government announced two years later that various collected fines by local government units would go to the libraries. (The only exception was in cases where the monies were instead needed for the local poorhouse.)

Starring Ron Asheton: A rundown of The Stooges' ax maniac acting in horror films

FILM & VIDEO REVIEW

Ron Asheton

Destroy All Monsters: Rocker Ron Asheton (left) meets horror-movie actor Ron Asheton in Mosquito (top right) and Wendigo (bottom right).

July 17 is Ron Asheton’s birthday. He died in 2009 at the age of 60, but not before he and the band he helped make famous had one last run when The Stooges reformed in 2003.

The Stooges arose from the rich musical compost of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area in the late 1960s and while the classic original lineup (Asheton on guitar, his brother Scott Asheton on drums, Dave Alexander on bass and Iggy Pop as frontman) only lasted a few glorious, intense years, the racket they made proved durable. They were a quartet of teenage cavemen with four chords between them, amps set for aggression, gnawing at the deepest atavistic urges of the human animal. Like all geniuses, they were unappreciated in their day but went on to inspire generations of future primitives around the globe and made punk rock inevitable. 

After the Stooges, Ron Asheton enjoyed a long music career with bands such as Destroy All Monsters, New Race, and Dark Carnival. He passed away from a heart attack shortly after a high-profile Stooges reunion. The man’s legacy in the annals of rock history is secure, legitimized by no less an “authority” as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but that isn’t the reason we’re here. 

What is discussed less about Asheton is his acting career, which found him playing both major and minor roles in five low-budget, locally sourced horror films shot in Michigan between 1988 and 1995. From all reports a genuine fan of the genre, Asheton holds his own in these cheap, gory, and frankly ridiculous films, sometimes emerging as the most believable actor on the screen (the competition is hardly stiff). He’s unrecognizable as a former rock guitar mangler, opting instead for a somewhat schlubby onscreen persona, sometimes as comic relief or second banana to a more traditional lead. 

So in honor of Asheton’s birthday, let’s review his filmography:

Of Skin and Dirt: Ann Arbor Art Center's "Earthbody" explores the human frame's relationship to its habitat

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Eric Wakeland's photo Untitled, 2019

Erin Wakeland, Untitled, 2019

The Ann Arbor Art Center’s Earthbody features works from 11 artists whose works explore, in some aspect, the relationship between the body and the environment. The exhibit focuses on works of current and recent students at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan.

The Earthbody exhibition text is short and to the point: “How does our understanding of our bodies as earthly objects affect our ability to perceive and engage with the environment? Earthbody explores these relationships between body, self, and environment.”

As is typical of the group shows at the Art Center, there are a variety of approaches that engage with the subject of the exhibition. From imagery that appears grotesque or unsettling to those works portraying a sense of serenity, the artists pull from personal and shared histories to delve into the broad topics of the body and the environment. 

Love and physics commingle in Theatre Nova’s “Stargazers”

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Theatre Nova's Stargazers

Clockwise from top right: Kaitlyn Valor Bourque as Claire, Katelyn Wilson as Elaine, and Eddie Rothermel as Rupert in Stargazers by Reina Hardy at Theatre NOVA. Photography by Golden Record Media Company.

Playwright Reina Hardy has a lot on her mind: the Big Bang Theory, the course of true love, the waxing and waning of sexual passion, personality disruptions caused by social media, the difficulty of making contact at a party when you’re socially awkward, and so much more. 

These interests all come incongruously together in her play Stargazers, now having its Michigan premiere at Theatre Nova.

Three talented actors under the direction of David Wolber work hard to bring credibility to their characters and find the humor and a bit of poetry in Hardy’s cosmic drama. The play is a bit too artsy, the metaphors too forced, and the plot too thin. But the actors are engaging and in touch with the characters they play.