Innovation & Education: "Welcome to Commie High" documents the history and influence of Ann Arbor's legendary school

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Welcome to Commie High

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing teachers and administrators to improvise ways to serve their pupils academically, mostly through virtual learning and online academies. Other imaginative approaches will be introduced as the pandemic drags on, spotlighting the skills of educators and showing how resourceful they can be when not stuck on a treadmill of prepping kids for standardized tests.

But one school in Ann Arbor has been using innovative educational approaches for nearly 50 years.

Ann Arbor's Community High School started in 1972 with a "school without walls" concept. A handful of other schools across the country adopted similar approaches, where structured curricula were abandoned in favor of flexible programs that best fit individual students' needs, with a focus on real-world education.

But the Community model never expanded deeply into the mainstream. 

Until now. (Kinda.)

A heavily modified variation of Community's wall-free education approach is being tested during the coronavirus pandemic, and it seems inevitable that some of these outside-the-box ideas will be incorporated into schools once this over and society deals with our new normal.

Welcome to Commie Higha new documentary by Ypsilanti-based filmmaker Donald Harrison, shows the school's unique approach to education, from its hippie-era beginnings to its place in the modern landscape, talking to students and teachers from the past and present about what makes Community special -- and effective.

The movie was to premiere as part of the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF). But with the entire event being moved to a livestream on Vimeo due to the lockdown, Harrison and the AAFF are are offering Welcome to Commie High as fundraising rental. The movie will be available to rent for $9.99 from 10 am, March 30 to 10 am, April 1; each rental will be active for 48 hours. The rental fee will be split two ways: 50 percent of the proceeds will go to the AAFF to help offset costs and the rest will be put toward the distribution of the documentary. Click here to pre-order the rental.

Harrison answered some questions via email about Welcome to Commie High.

Ann Arbor Film Festival moves online, includes works by Ann Arbor- and Michigan-based filmmakers

FILM & VIDEO

On March 13 when the Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) canceled all in-person events for its 58th edition due to the coronavirus, the organization stated that it's "committed to finding an alternative means to present the 58th AAFF online, which honors the filmmakers’ rights and integrity and fulfills the mission of the festival."

With remarkable speed, the AAFF has done just that: starting at 4 pm on Tuesday, March 24, the festival will be streamed at vimeo.com/annarborfilmfestival. The films won't be archived; the fest is being run the same way it would be in the flesh, with each film or program being screened on a certain day and time (albeit at different times from the calendar published when AAFF was to be its usual in-person event). The difference is there's no ticket fee for the viewing the virtual version of the festival; all films will be streamed for free, as will the various moderated Q&As with the filmmakers following certain screenings.

Click here to see the full streaming schedule for the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Welcome to Commie High, the documentary about Ann Arbor's Community High School, is the one film previously scheduled for the festival that will cost money to watch. The film movie will be available to rent for $9.99 from 10 am, March 30 to 10 am, April 1; each rental will be active for 48 hours. The rental fee will be split two ways: 50 percent of the proceeds will go to the AAFF to help offset costs and the rest will be put toward the distribution of the documentary. Click here to pre-order the rental. (Check back to read our interview with Commie High filmmaker Donald Harrison.)

While Welcome to Commie High is the highest-profile film in the fest with local connections, numerous short entries by Ann Arbor- and Michigan-based moviemakers are part of the festival. Below is a list of those films, their screening days and times, and AAFF's descriptions for each work:

One Time on Bandcamp: A partial list of Washtenaw County bands and musicians on the site

MUSIC

Bandcamp logo with Michigan map

Bandcamp is already independent artists' favorite way to sell their music, but acts like this deepen the love:

To raise even more awareness around the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere, we’re waiving our revenue share on sales today (Friday, March 20th, from midnight to midnight Pacific Time), and rallying the Bandcamp community to put much needed money directly into artists’ pockets.

With that in mind, here are all the Washtenaw-area acts and labels on Bandcamp we could gather before the internet went glitchy. (Bandcamp is being slammed today, so the embeds below might take a while to load; we'll try to update the post as the WWW settles down. You can also search for Washtenaw-area artists if they tagged a town in their profiles. Here are links to Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti artists.)

Art in the Time of Coronavirus: Washtenaw galleries and museums offer virtual visits

VISUAL ART

Miriam Brysk's Twilight and Vanished Culture

Miriam Brysk's Twilight (left) and Vanished Culture.

If you'e looking to indulge your quarantined senses with virtual art, Google has collaborated with more than 500 galleries and museums to digitize their collections through the megacorp's Arts & Culture’s collection. The only Washtenaw space to partner with Google is the University of Michigan Museum of Art, leaving smaller galleries and museums to figure out if they have the bandwidth -- human resources and digitally -- to post virtual exhibits of their permanent collections or canceled exhibits.

Here's what we found so far:

Quaranstreams: Blue LLama, Erin Zindle's The Bird House, MEMCO, and others post calendar of livestream concerts

MUSIC

COVID-19 music

With everything being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, musicians are turning to video livestreams to perform concerts. We'll be looking for these sorts of events by Washtenaw County artists and then posting the videos on Pulp, along with any ways you can help these musicians financially. If you are performing a remote or virtual concert, let us know by emailing pulp@aadl.org.


Since last weekend we've been posting livestreams during the quarantine by Washtenaw musicians. These concerts have happened somewhat spontaneously, but now that the whole world knows it's on lockdown for the foreseeable future, musicians and venues are actually booking livestreams well in advance.

Erin Zindle has been broadcasting concerts out of her Bird House, including two concerts by her band, The Ragbirds, one by her brother's group, TJ Zindle and The Power Lines, and another by Peter “Madcat” Ruth. Upcoming shows include:

Interlocking Parts: Hi Potent C and Dyelow's "War Medicine" highlights the KeepItG Records collective's creative bond

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Hi Potent C & Dyelow, War Medicine

Hi Potent C (left) and Dyelow at WCBN-FM. Photo by Herb Read.

The Ypsi-Arbor hip-hop collective KeepItG Records isn't just a rap crew with a tight handle. The various MCs, producers, musicians, and filmmakers treat KeepItG like a band, with scheduled practices, interlocking their skills and lifting each other up to create audio and visual art.

"The entire KeepItG Records meets and rehearses weekly, and each individual sets up their personal studio time around what’s going on for them at the time being," said rapper Hi Potent C, who has a new album, War Medicine, with KeepItG producer Dyelow. "A lot of the music gets made on the spot, but everyone is always cooking up something on their own time, too. For this specific project, we did a lot of the outlining in person in order to make sure we were sticking to the theme and storyline. From there it made it easier to fill in the blanks separately because we both knew what was needed and expected."

War Medicine is a loose concept record that takes some cues from Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and Prodigy’s 2017 LP, Hegelian Dialectic (The Book of Revelation). Lamar's album recounts his rough teenage years in Compton and Progidy's record is named after the philosophical model that posits thesis, antithesis, then synthesis -- or problem, reaction, solution -- is the way to determine "truth" or "the way."

"The personal ins and outs of living and not only the 'good side,'" is how Hi Potent C describes War Medicine's theme. "At the same time, keeping familiarity with people by showing them how to keep your head up no matter how unfavorable things might be going, because we all need that motivation from time to time."

Before & After Scents: Smell & Tell explores the fragrant world of Brian Eno

MUSIC PULP LIFE REVIEW

Brian Eno

In addition to being an ambient-music pioneer, superstar producer, and cutting-edge visual artist, Brian Eno also likes to exercise his sniffer.

This account of a previous Brian Eno-focused Smell & Tell was originally published February 23, 2018. Michelle Krell Kydd hosts another Eno-themed Smell & Tell on Wednesday, February 19, 6:30-8:45 pm, at AADL's Pittsfield branch.


The temple bell stops --
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.
--Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)

“This one smells like stinky feet!” is not something you want to hear at a perfume-smelling event.

But considering the spikenard essential oil in question was used to anoint the feet of Jesus, perhaps it deserved another whiff.

As the 40 people gathered in the fourth-floor conference room at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library took another hit of spikenard, something akin to turning water into wine started happening. As the molecules of oil on the sampler strips began to evaporate, people began describing the oil as having elements of licorice, red hots, mint, wintergreen, cough medicine, camphor, turpentine, violets, and fruit.

Welcome to Smell & Tell.

Cover Your Heads: Angélique Kidjo and others interpret Talking Heads

MUSIC PREVIEW

Angelique Kidjo

When Angélique Kidjo first heard Talking Heads' 1980 LP, Remain in Light, she instantly recognized the music's deep debt to Africa. That was in 1983, the year the singer had moved from her native Benin to Paris to study music. It was there that Kidjo began to absorb the city's confluence of Afropop, jazz, Latin, and rock, which she has turned it into a 40-year international career touching on all those styles.

That memory of hearing an American band apply African rhythms to art-rock stuck with Kidjo to such a profound degree that in 2018 she released a song-for-song cover of Remain in Light, which has received raves.

Kidjo turned to another inspiration -- Cuban singer Celia Cruz -- for her 2019 album, Celia, which won a 2020 Grammy. But when Kidjo performs at the Michigan Theater on Sunday, February 16, as part of UMS's current season, she'll highlight the Remain in Light project.

While Kidjo was the first artist to reinterpret all of Remain in Light in the studio, Phish's 1996 Halloween concert featured the jam band playing the album live in its entirety. Covering entire records like that is rare, but interpreting Heads tunes has been happening almost since the band debuted. One of the first was by German pop singer and actress Debbie Neon, whose version of "Psycho Killer" came out in 1979, two years after it appeared on Talking Heads: 77, the band's debut. 

The next year, Massachusetts' The Fools released a parody version, "Psycho Chicken," and Heads covers have been nonstop since.

Popular groups such as The Lumineers ("This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"), Smashing Pumpkins ("Once in a Lifetime"), Florence and The Machine ("Wild Wild Life"), Umphrey's McGee ("Girlfriend Is Better"), Widespread Panic ("Life During Wartime"), Car Seat Headrest ("Crosseyed and Painless"), Yonder Mountain String Band ("Girlfriend Is Better"), and Phish again ("Cities") have had no fear of Talking Heads music.

The long-running Ann Arbor/Metro Detroit band Frontier Ruckus even recorded a special version of "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" for a fan's wedding.

That song and "Once in a Lifetime" are among the most popular covers, but the clear number one is "Psycho Killer," which has been played by Velvet Revolver, Jason Isbell, Barenaked Ladies, Cage the Elephant, Local H, and more.

The "and more" is what we'll concentrate on below: the five quirkiest Talking Heads covers that I found on YouTube, starting with The Fools' fowl take. Plus, check out Kidjo's videos from her Remain in Light record as well as a special bonus Heads cover by a Chicago vocal legend who is also playing the Michigan Theater on February 15.

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. 

"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.