What do you do?
It’s what people ask when they first meet as a way to identify each other, yet our jobs do not have to define us.
When I asked Jeff Kass this question, he answered with three jobs: a full-time English teacher at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, part-time pizza delivery person, and part-time director of literary programs at the Neutral Zone for a year in 2016-2017. During that time, he also worked on drafting the autobiographical poems about this experience that form his new collection, Teacher/Pizza Guy (Wayne State University Press).
Teacher/Pizza Guy reveals Kass’ experiences in the classroom and pizza place, including issues with service industry jobs, challenges of aging, and relationships with colleagues, youth, and family. Despite the possible mundanity of work, Kass offers poetic insights on the situations. The first poem in the collection, “Oh, Splotch of Blue Paint,” not only addresses the paint on the sidewalk outside of the school where Kass teaches but also ruminates about its origins:
…were you trying to paint the sea? A place
for you to float in? The breeze a lovely, reassuring
friend who brings you cookies and iced tea
and listens to you without judging…?
This speculative question, in turn, raises a question for me: Isn’t that what we’d all like, a pleasant place, a friend who shares treats, and good conversation? Another poem depicts colleagues crossing paths in the night as Kass returns to home from his pizza-slinging job to see a fellow pizza slinger working his other job of delivering newspapers.
Amidst dishwashing, disastrous delivery runs, and the grind of teaching students in class after class how to write essays, Kass pulls out moments of clarity that describe the working life. One poem describes a break during which he makes a pizza for himself, one that’s not on the menu, and writes, “Believe / for a moment / your time / belongs / to you. / Savor. / Chew.”
Within the drudgery of going from job to job, Kass is not all work; he observes and shows parallels between his jobs and life, recognizing and taking ownership of those moments rather than letting work consume him, almost as if he is both living his life and watching it from the outside. Kass finds meaning in those fleeting moments of entering and exiting customers’ lives to bring them pizza and also seeks respect as he makes ends meet.
Kass, who lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, Karen Smyte, and their children, Sam and Julius, will read from his collection at Literati Bookstore on Tuesday, September 10, at 7 pm. I interviewed him about his poetry and work.
Brazilian mandolinist Danilo Brito returns to Ann Arbor with a new album and the history of choro at his fingertips
Brazilian mandolin wizard Danilo Brito is returning to the Metro Detroit area for what now annual performances in Ann Arbor (September 1 at Kerrytown Concert House), the Detroit Institute of Arts (August 30), and the GlasSalon in the Toledo Museum of Art (August 29). Brito (mandolin and tenor guitar) will be joined by Carlos Moura (7-string guitar) and Guilherme Girardi (6-string guitar).
Brito's new album, Da Natureza das Coisas (The Nature of Things), is bookended by two important works of Heitor Villa-Lobos, closing with "Melodia Sentimental" and opening with "Chôros No. 1 (Chôro típico Brasileiro)," which was composed for guitar in 1920 in tribute to composer Ernesto Nazareth. Villa Lobos grew up among choro musicians and said that the soul of Brazilian people is found in choro. Many classical guitarists play this work, but Brazilians such as Turíbio Santos play it with a distinctive verve absent in the others. Brito takes this a step further -- arranging the work for his mandolin in the lead voice with two guitars carrying the others. The bright, clarion sound of his mandolin riding the group's Brazilian drive leaves Brito thinking that it would make Villa Lobos smile.
"Chôros No. 1 (Chôro típico Brasileiro)" sets the tone for the album which journeys through composers venerated and new. Works of Garoto and Jorge Santos are mingled with newcomers Brito, Penezzi, and Arante.
Brito's U.S. booking agency, Musica Extraordinaria, is based in Ann Arbor and its leader, Michael Grofsorean, conducted an interview with the Brazilian mandolinist. (For even more Brito, Pulp editor Christopher Porter interviewed him before his April 1, 2017, appearance in Ann Arbor.)
But False Figures’ sound is anything but fake. The band is low-fi and low-profile (their social media presence is limited), creating a soulful, warm sort of Americana music that sounds like it might be played by friends around a campfire.
The core band has mostly consisted of Jim Cherewick, vocals, guitar, harmonica, and violin; Joel Parkkila, vocals, guitar and more; and Jason Lymangrover, bass and guitar. More recently, Stefan Krstovic has joined the band as the regular drummer. All the members have experience in other local bands including Human Skull, Best Exes, Congress, and Hydropark.
Their self-titled debut album is an accessible, engaging listen. The no-frills sound is well suited to the songs, which tend to be short and to the point -- one highlight on the album, “Matchbox,” gets the job done in just over a minute and a half. There’s a thoughtfulness to the lyrics, though, especially in songs like “Stay On” and “Out of Time.”
A second album is already in the works. And although the band has been primarily a studio project, they will play a live date at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti on Wednesday, August 28 with Simon Joyner, Raw Honey, and Idle Ray. The show is being produced by Fred Thomas' Life Like Tapes.
The band recently agreed to answer a few questions via email.
Kyle Hunter knows the power of music and songwriting in his life. He’s a rapper, DJ, and creative who likes to write in some form every day. To him, “not writing would be equal to not drinking water. If you don’t drink water, bad things are just gonna happen.” His creativity feeds his existence and adds balance in his life.
In 2005, a teenage Hunter began developing his musical skills as an MC under the name G.eneral P.opulation, or GenPop, and he became a notable member of Tree City, which was also formed at the Neutral Zone. The group has been absent for a decade but is now planning to release an album later this year entitled PURE LEVELS. During Tree City’s hiatus, Hunter and the other members of the music collective performed and released solo projects, and more solo recordings are in the works for this year. He also worked with the Branch Out Collective, which consisted of Tree City and the group Celsius Electronics.
Some may even know him under the alias DJ Silas Green, spinning or creating music that touches on hip-hop, funk, ambient, and noise. He has a biweekly residency, Big Mood Mondaze, at 734 Brewing Company in Ypsilanti, and he's spun at Ziggy's, Elks Lounge, and at Circ Bar as part of Shigeto's ongoing Ann Arbor Trax Authority night.
I spoke with Hunter about Ann Arbor as a hip-hop hub, the impact of the Neutral Zone, his musical influences outside of hip-hop, and Tree City’s plans for the future.
Pure Romance: Author and Wolverine State Brewing Company co-founder Liz Crowe brewed up some Summer Lovin’
The news is often negative -- sad stories that offer little hope, let alone a happily-ever-after ending. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that one of the top-selling genres of fiction books is romance, thanks to devoted readers who can’t get enough of their favorite heroines and heroes falling in love. On Saturday, August 17, Ann Arborites have the chance to hear not one but four local romance authors read from their books at the Summer Lovin’ Romance Author Panel at Nicola's Books.
According to organizer Liz Crowe, the event came about when August 17 was declared Bookstore Romance Day, “a day that was set aside to honor independent bookstores who appreciate the romance genre.”
After she learned of the date, Crowe contacted Nicola’s, which “responded enthusiastically.” That led to meetings about creating an event to honor the day. Crowe reached out to M.K. Schiller, the president of the Greater Detroit chapter of Romance Writers of America. Through her, Crowe reached authors Dana Nussio, Elizabeth Heiter, and Beverly Jenkins. “It’s a diverse mix of authors,” Crowe says. “They write about everything from romantic suspense to addiction recovery to the post-Civil War South.”
Through chapters alternating between characters’ perspectives, Michigan writer Caitlin Horrocks’ new novel, The Vexations, narrates the life of not just composer and pianist Erik Satie but also the lives of his sister and brother, Louise and Conrad, and the people in their lives. The siblings’ experiences diverge as they are raised with different family members and pursue their unique interests and desires. Hardship, pain, and loss mark their pursuits, yet, true to history and especially for Erik, they find success, too.
Originally from Ann Arbor, Horrocks lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and teaches at Grand Valley State University. She will read at Literati Bookstore on Monday, August 19, at 7 pm. She answered some questions for Pulp here.
It’s most inconsiderate of me, barging into Encore Records' new Kerrytown location mid-afternoon on moving day. Staff members labor over empty wooden racks, loading in and alphabetizing the thousands of vinyl LPs trucked over from their former Liberty Street store. A few have been at it since early morning, but all of them have been working overtime for weeks to make this move happen, and co-owner Jim Dwyer takes a break from the action to stand among file boxes and a pile of computer equipment and entertain my questions.
“There’s still a lot to do here, too,” he says. “We’re just unpacking records today, but we don’t have any CD shelves set and I’ve got to put my office together so I can do this month’s sales tax report that’s due in a week. It’s been weird, running a business that’s moving. It’s really like having two or three jobs.”
While proprietors have come and gone, the building at 417 East Liberty has housed a record store continuously for over 50 years. Dwyer and co-owner Bill McClelland are only the latest in a long line of music enthusiasts to keep the vinyl fires burning in that spot. As it turns out, they are also the last. The building’s ownership passed on to new landlords last year, and their vagueness about an upcoming lease renewal convinced the Encore partners that it was time to move, and quick.
Valencia Robin’s new poetry collection, Ridiculous Light, spans time, space, and seasons -- from Milwaukee in the 1960s to Ann Arbor -- and offers moments of distinct observations. The speaker invites readers into specific recollections and, within them, shares not just what happened but vivid descriptions and sublime reflections on the natural world, people, identity, and experiences.
A poet and painter, Robin is one of the founding members of GalleryDAAS at the University of Michigan. She now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.
She will return to Ann Arbor to read at Literati Bookstore on Friday, August 16, at 7 pm, and Pulp interviewed her before her visit.
Edward Renehan's "The Life of Charles Stewart Mott" traces the life of the philanthropist and General Motors icon
Despite what Shakespeare wrote, sometimes the good that men do lives on after them -- especially when that good includes a multibillionaire family fund that continues to do charitable works decades after the founder has passed away, which is the case with Charles Stewart Mott, the subject of a new book by Edward Renehan.
A former publishing executive, Renehan has written over 20 books including historical nonfiction for children and biographies of Pete Seeger and John Burroughs. Published by University of Michigan Press, The Life of Charles Stewart Mott came about because of a query Renehan received from the Ruth Mott Foundation, the foundation started by C. S. Mott’s late wife. “[They] asked if I would be interested in doing a book on C.S., as he was known. I did some research and realized what an incredibly fascinating individual he was. This is a man who was born 10 years after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and died two years before the founding of Microsoft.”
Mott earned a degree in mechanical engineering and “participated in the market economy and industrial expansion in a big way,” Renehan says. “He was one of the truly great innovators of the auto industry, along with his peers like Alfred Sloan, Charles Kettering, and Pierre DuPont.”
This story was originally published on May 3, 2018.
Dr. Irene Butter’s entire life has been dedicated to caring for others -- as a professor, a humanitarian, a storyteller. While serving as a professor of public health at the University of Michigan, Butter spent 30 years visiting schoolchildren to tell them her tale.
"I found out that the way students relate to me is that they have experiences in their own lives when they lost a parent or grandparent or their parents divorced or suffered illnesses … they really identify with my stories and that is what is rewarding to me."
And what a story it is, now in print: Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope, My True Story.
(Butter will be at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch on May 8.)