Distilling the Process: Ann Arbor creatives R.J. Fox and Heidi Philipsen are working to bring "Love & Vodka" to the big screen

Love and Vodka

This story was originally published on April 25, 2019.

R.J. Fox doesn’t wait around for something to happen -- the Ann Arbor author goes out and creates his own opportunities.

Filmmaker Heidi Philipsen likewise makes things happen for herself. So perhaps it is kismet that these two talented and hardworking artists found each other and are making art together as they turn Fox’s book Love & Vodka into an independent film. 

Fox knew he wanted to be involved in filmmaking since he was in high school, and he currently teaches English and video production at Huron High School. “Everyone tells you that the odds are stacked against you, that it’s like making it to the NBA … so you have to have a mindset that you will find a way and get your work in the right hands of someone who wants to make your movie.”

Fox knew he found that person when he met Philipsen.

Black Thought: Ann Arbor hip-hop artist Jamall Bufford addresses life's daily opera on new LP

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jamall Bufford

This story was originally published on November 8, 2018.

Jamall Bufford is one of the most influential hip-hop artists from Ann Arbor. He has influenced many MCs in town with his quick wit, lyrical wordplay, and open-minded stances on social issues.

Previously known as Buff1, he rhymed with the hip-hop collective Athletic Mic League and later helped start the performing arts group The Black Opera. For those unfamiliar with this hometown gem, The Black Opera calls itself "rap’s first performing arts group" and the duo dress as different characters each song during their live shows. Bufford is also a solo artist and his latest album, Time In Between Thoughts, continues in pushing past the typical boundaries in usual hip-hop subject matter by exploring themes like colorism and the dangers of social media.

Bufford, who has performed with Eminem and Mos Def, performs at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch on Friday, November 16, at 7 pm along with fellow A2 hip-hop artist DaG. We talked to Bufford about how Ann Arbor has influenced him as an MC, whether he’s an activist, and more.

Songs for Everyone: Joanna & the Jaywalkers project universal emotions with a powerful voice

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Joanna Ransdell

Joanna Ransdell's voice is an audible red light that commands you to stop whatever you were doing and just listen to her sing.

This story was originally published on April 23, 2018.

The 28-year-old Ypsilanti resident's gorgeous vox is dark but mellifluous, swinging from the edge of vulnerability to the side of quietly defiant, using slight inflections and lyrical twists to tell her relatable stories. Ransdell's timbre is located in the Stevie Nicks / Natalie Merchant / Patty Griffin solar system -- a full, pure, powerful projection of beauty injected deep into the universe and straight into all your feels.

The Ann Arbor-raised, Community High School-graduating Ransdell recently released The Open Sea Before Meher debut album with Joanna & the Jaywalkers. The record is filled with lovely, low-key chamber-folk pop and it's quite a bit different from Ransdell's 2014 solo LP, Open Fire, which fits squarely in the piano-centric lineage of Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and Regina Spector.

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.

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:

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.)

All the Small Things: Rick Bailey's essay collection "The Enjoy Agenda" is a humorous and touching look at some of life's little moments

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rick Bailey and his book The Enjoy Agenda

Author photo by Tiziana Canducci.

With warm and inviting prose, Rick Bailey takes us through life's hilarious and melancholy moments in The Enjoy Agenda: At Home and Abroad. 

“Part of the pleasure in writing these essays is capturing moments that go flying by and would otherwise be forgotten," says Bailey. "Every moment is potentially reverberant. In the essay 'iSmell,' after a not particularly successful home repair event, the scent of WD40 on my fingertips causes me to remember my first experiences wearing cologne in seventh or eighth grade, and then to recall the smell of Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan, and tobacco in Durham, North Carolina, where I spent some time in graduate school, leading to some thoughts on possibilities of digitized smell and the chemistry of smell in outer space. Reverberance is cool.”

These sorts of memories resonate through this charming book which includes stories of Bailey’s recruitment to a high school wrestling team, attempts to use mindfulness as a way to control blood-pressure results, and a long path to find just the right kind of milk. 

A Night of Fiction: Bookbound Bookstore hosts Elizabeth Ellen, Juliet Escoria, and Mary Miller

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

juliet-escoria-elizabeth-ellen-mary-miller_0.jpg

Left to right: Juliet Escoria, Elizabeth Ellen, and Mary Miller.

While other towns struggle to maintain bookstores and aren’t able to host author events, Ann Arbor hosts myriad events featuring the writers behind the pages.

Bookbound Bookstore is hosting a night of fiction on July 10. But what isn't fictional is Ann Arbor's dedication to independent bookstores and author events.

“We are very lucky to be in a city with so many avid readers and folks who make an effort to shop local," says Bookbound co-owner Megan Blackshear. "Each local bookstore has their own areas of specialty and programming, so we complement one another to provide something for everyone. After the loss of Borders, Shaman Drum, and plenty of other great shops, we are grateful that Ann Arbor is proving that it is still Booktown.”

Bookbound's triple bill of celebrated authors on Wednesday evening features Elizabeth Ellen, Juliet Escoria, and Mary Miller