Here’s a step-by-step guide to how Faythe Levine, the co-owner of Paper Boat Boutique and Gallery, founder of craft fair, Art vs. Craft, director-producer of the documentary “Handmade Nation: The Rise of D.I.Y. Art, Craft and Design,” and performer of the saw for the Wooden Robot, became a star in the world of art and crafts.
Jah went to Milwaukee to visit relatives without us, so we tried to keep busy. We bought our tickets to the Philippines, got old computers fixed, cleaned out closets, got massages, watched a movie (Moneyball) in a real theater and went to the Prospector for karaoke. I sang “Suedehead” by Morrissey and it’s been in my head since.
Last month, I saw this t-shirt, “Support Broke Rappers” worn by MCs everywhere. I love that thought (buy CD’s, go to shows, yo), but I’m so much more amazed that Margaret Stutt, better known in Milwaukee as the singer-songwriter/accordionist Pezzetino, has the chutzpah required to be proactive and take YouTube video requests to help fund her tour. You gotta admire this girl’s drive. Apparently she did this earlier to pay for her car repairs last month after it sustained wear and tear from touring as well. Request a song, then give her money here. You could be rewarded with a YouTube video of acapella goodness like the one below:
This year proved that what I am really best at is either a) looking on the bright side or b) deluding myself. Because despite getting laid off (RIP, MKE), I traveled a lot, developed new relationships, discovered what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. At the very least, 2008 was waaaaay better than 2007. Or even 2006!
1. I see Poland, I see Prague:
Going to Europe with Kathy, Justin, Marla and Carrie was pretty life-changing. Not because I got to go to Auschwitz or ÄŒeskÃ½ Krumlov(aka Chesty Kumquat) or the Bone Church or Austria, although all those places were amazing. It was life-changing because after the 10-day trip I made my Milwaukee keepers. We had fart-offs, meat sweats, jumping shots, cartwheel shots, amber infusions…it was fun. The only non-fun was having to hold Justin’s hand while Kathy was in the bathroom or something, while waiting to board airplanes. That hurt.
2. Food Night
What it is: Sunday nights, Justin Shady & Co. (we called them the Ohio crew) would buy ingredients for a yummy meal and cook dinner for the masses. Then we’d all sit around drinking booze and talking.
How it works: Basically whoever was hosting (Justin or Marla or whoever) would buy the ingredients, plan the menu, and cook. The guests would start trickling in while the cooks were preparing, and sometimes help, sometimes just drink booze. Then we’d sit in a circle and eat everything. The cooks would tally up the cost of the ingredients and divide it by the guests, and it would usually amount to $5 or less. You had to bring your own booze.
Who goes: People who knew the TLC crew, lovers, dreamers, musicians, yogis, bicyclists, painters, illustraters, writers, copy editors, comedians, actors, dogs, photographers, drummers, guitarists, etc etc etc.
Why it was a highlight: Food Night in Milwaukee made all of us feel that we were part of a family, one of our choosing. Other than my sister’s house, the Shady-Bryja-Scott household was the most at welcome I ever felt in the Midwest. And it also inspired me to start cooking. And do household chores. And I got better at picking booze. And drinking it. So, you know, it also made me appreciate Milwaukee so much more.
3. Staying in Riverwest
There were reasons I didn’t want to get my own place in Milwaukee long term. I knew winter wasn’t my thing, so I didn’t know how long I was going to stick around in the Midwest. I was saving a ton of money living with my sister, and I loved being around Zach. Plus I always thought my sister would be sad if I moved. Subletting Marla’s place was a good idea though; I had alone time, I made my own food, I wrote a short story, I wrote a few songs. I found out about the Reservoir, I took care of dogs, I felt more responsible than I had in YEARS. Okay, ever. So that was pretty cool.
4. Getting Laid Off
On one hand, it was the biggest ego blow I’d ever experienced in my life. On the other, it seemed like I was getting paid to finally do what I really wanted to with my life. Getting laid off paved the way for me to do everything else that made 2008 one of the best in recent history. I miss working with people from MKE, but I love what I’m doing now (i.e., partying).
5. Going to Alaska with my family
Total chaos, but fun. I flew from Milwaukee to Seattle early so I could explore the city a little bit by myself. When my family arrived (from Manila and California) we boarded the NCL cruise ship thenÂ hit Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Prince Rupert in Canada. In Ketchikan, we toured various totem poles. In Juneau, we rode a float plane to look over a bunch of glaciers and have a salmon bake…we also saw real bears eating salmon leftovers at the barbecue! In Skagway, we biked around town. We were too late to book a whale watching tour in Prince Rupert, so we all just hung around the small, non-descript Canadian town.
I’d never been on a cruise before, and to go with 13 members of my family (cousins, aunts, grandma, mom, baby nephews) was pretty awesome. I KNEW my family was fun, but group vacations are always a nice way to prove it.
6. Burning Man: More than a “drug-fueled desert artfag epiphany.”
Regardless of how passe Burning Man is perceived (so passe that even ragging on it is passe), it probably the most amazing thing I did last year. Random notes from my journal; none of them really concrete. Also all mentions of mind-altering substances and real names will be hidden under words like “unicorns” and “rainbows” and “roses.”
Day .25 – flight delayed, got to chico really late. j*sh and i did wizards and smoked. they had half an oz. of unicor s. went to walmart. would’ve forgotten i was at chico except for teh ‘chico state u’ t-shirts. bought water jugs, camelbak, stole a little girl’s bike by accident. it was pink, but there was no bell. luckily i am very short. also groceries (not stolen)
Day .5 – more walmart, picked up the uhaul from a dude who was fired but rehired and used to be meredith’s neighbor…who ended up giving us free shite from uhaul…we drove to nevada……was in line to get in Black Rock City 12 hours, worst thing ever
Day 1: set up camp in a dust storm. slept at Hookahdome, all wasted on rainbows…it was awesome. for some reason burning man felt really really like home, it was amazing, everyone so nice and friendly and weird and so much magic…i felt like just being there was sacred space…
i think we took roses. i don’t know. it was great, even though i was alone i had a whole city to explore. i felt kind of intimidated in the beginning.
Day 2. – 6. took two sugar cubes of griffins. then explored the city on my bike, at dawn. it was constantly, like, 100 degrees, and i couldn’t process any of the shit that was happeninng properly. a cubicle in the mmiddle of the desert? sure. a cheshire cat truck trundling across my tent? of course. a magic carpet ride and a disco that people danced on while it moved through the city? why not. But by the end of the trip I was burnt out, burnt and tired. We left before the man burned. Still, it was AWESOME.
More hippie bs, but time with MamaSu and Lia was priceless. I met Su’s family from Humboldt, I camped out some more (but only for three days!) i got to smell a lot of hippie bullshit sage, and also, there was more available unicorns here than at burning man. there were angels and dodos and peacock feathers. one night i took peacock feathers and Neko Case saved my life. I did not bathe for three days.
I also had a great time just BEING in Sebastopol. The yoga studio was walking distance, so I would take ashtanga classes daily. It got me back into the practice. I drove around San Francisco, went to see Michael Franti, spent time with my cousin Rosanna in Berkeley and B + Karla in Oakland — all in all, a very productive NorCal sojourn.
8. Driving to Cali from MKE
It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done — three days in a car through eight states, just driving, driving, driving. The whole one foot in front of the other is great in theory, you know? I really enjoy going to different cities, like notches in my belt. Or something. Plus, I always wanted to be able to say I drove cross-country. (Also, I saw my odometer hit 666.)
But when you’re on the road and just listening to music, seeing cornfield after cornfield turn into snow turn into rain turn into the desert, you just have an amazing amount of time with your thoughts all swirling around in your head, loop-de-looping in your brain.
I’m glad I didn’t need to follow a map; instead, I just convoyed with my friends Justin Shady and Kathy Bryja + the fab Mr. Fabulous, who were moving to LA. It helped give me a focus, plus Kathy learned to drive stick (fast learner) and helped me out during the moments I got really sleepy. Here was my view for most of the trip:
I’m not very good at being with other people, and I always have to apologize for that; it’s like something in me is locked into alone mode. Sometimes, though, I get lucky and do the right thing at the right time, and just live in that moment.
10. Going to the Philippines
When in doubt, go home. Best idea I ever had.
Moonlight over Milwaukee River
(apologies to Easy Fagela)
Negotiating the last call for alcohol past 2 a.m.,
Post-drunken ramblings in a bar in Riverwest
I take your hand, tucked into a jacket, through a walkway
Of latent shrubs and marked up fences
Until we face an opening above the city,
A full moon cracking the skyline open like an egg.
Buildings short and long, stopping and starting
in streets that begin and end on Water.
In this hour, only cars and headlights are moving
Drunks are falling down evenly on their beds
Drug dealers thumping out fading beats as
Police cars patrol the streets into an illusion of safety.
If we could get into your car and drive west to the ocean
Morning would find us welcomed by freeways to Santa Monica
The sun beating down bright onto our faces
While we wiggle our toes into the heat of the sand
All to the tune of a pop-punk cliche.
Maybe if I tell you all this you’d come with me.
A truck pushes inches of snow to the side of the road.
There are mountains of white to clamber over
One might lead another to Los Angeles.
I’m not going to lie: Martha Wainwright and not headliner KT Tunstall was the reason I went to the Pabst for the second night in a row. I’ve been in love with her voice, her impassioned delivery and her obscenity-laced confessional songs since her self-titled album was first played on my iPod three years ago. I always dreamt of seeing her live, wondering how she would compare to her melodramatic brother Rufus, her funny actor-dad Loudon III and her mother Kate McGarrigle, both folksingers. I would watch videos of her on YouTube on repeat constantly.
I haven’t had a chance to digest songs from Wainwright’s latest release, “I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too.” All I knew was that there was more instrumentation on those songs than the eponymous record. But I knew she wouldn’t disappoint on Friday night.
Armed with just a guitar, and dressed in simple blouse and short skirt, Wainwright literally kicked up a storm with her raspy voice –alone.
“I inherited it from my father,” she said, of the rhythmic, syncopated stomping she would use to accompany her songs. Apparently, amazing live performances are genetic — and Wainwright does her family proud. She played oldies like “Factory” and closed with a rushed version of “Bloody Motherfucking Asshole” (I think maybe because the show was all-ages, and it seemed she was slightly uncomfortable singing it.) But there were also renditions of “Bleeding All Over You” and “Jesus and Mary” — stripped down, unproduced and beautiful.
I was fully prepared to leave the theater by 9 p.m., but tiny KT Tunstall, ultra-charming in a ponytail, a silver, glittery tank top and a Scottish accent, knocked the wind out of me. I didn’t know any of her songs except for “Suddenly I See,” made famous in the movie The Devil Wears Prada. I figured it was all going to be poppy schmaltz. Instead, Tunstall hit the crowd over and over again with ballsy rock and roll, never once losing the crowd, and getting everyone to their feet dancing more than once.
Martha Wainwright’s Web site
KT Tunstall’s Web site
Actually, I’m kinda miffed that I had to share Justin Vernon with 100x more people than the last time I saw him. A bunch of people braved the zero-degree weather in January to watch that Mad Planet show, which was also sold-out.
Back then, Bon Iver definitely was just Justin Vernon’s nom-de plume, and his backup musicians were only there to help him along. It was a sparse, lonesome and starkly beautiful performance. I remember the bottom of my stomach falling out, and then listening to his album — written up north after a bad break-up — the rest of that desolate winter.
But last week, at The Pabst, that Bon Iver performance was a whole different band. The performance was warm, joyous, and suffused everyone with a golden glow that they took home.
I’d read interviews where Vernon said Bon Iver has solidified into a real band now, with its members contributing equally to the songwriting and performances, and it showed. On the songs, from For Emma, Forever Ago, song parts that used to be silent were filled with bouncing percussion and deftly-woven harmonies. There were steady bass parts holding up the melodies; there was energy and strength behind the songs of heartbreak and pain.
Of course, there were some parts that faltered — a Talk Talk cover made me feel like dozing off, and “Lump Sum” had some prog-rock bits that seemed forced, like unecessary jam band noodling.
The Pabst crowd was great for the most part, except when buffoons would yell out random things during the songs, which I hate. I also don’t get the audience participation for Bon Iver songs because they’re terribly sad, but in this instance, they worked.
But those were tiny glitches in a beautiful night, which included a cameo by Collections of Colonies of Bees’ Jon Mueller on drums, and was capped by a cover of “Lovin’s For Fools” by Sarah Siskind.
A lot of people have been asking me that question, especially because I’ve announced to all that I am leaving Milwaukee. I don’t know where I want to go, but as much as I love my friends in Milwaukee and the city itself, I know for sure I can’t handle another winter in my life.
Maybe I’ll be braver in the future, but in the two winters I spent in Wisconsin, I witnessed about 180 inches of snow altogether. That’s a lot of ice and snow and slipping and gloves and down jackets and layers and thermals and grey and clouds and cabin fever for a girl who was raised to be suntanned and slippery, swimming happily in pee-warm, turquoise-blue waters, squinting at the sun in wide open skies.
Luckily I don’t believe I need to look for a regular job ASAP — nor do I really want to at this point. What with the turmoil in the newspaper industry (the LA Times, Chicago Tribune and the Journal Sentinel announcing layoffs and/or buyouts), I may leave journalism for good. It’s tough to set your career path in an industry that you don’t know will exist before you’re 50. Not that I’m thinking that far ahead, either.
All I know is this: I love writing, and print media is what I’ve done since I was 18. I love the process of newsgathering. I love writing ledes and shaping stories. I love putting packages together — with sidebars, photos, timelines, quizzes, whatever. But I want my work’s value to be recognized; readers/editors/publishers should know journalists like me put in a lot of care and energy into a story that is worthy of our byline. That we sometimes dream in ledes and story angles, and that reporting and editing IS sometimes tantamount to rocket science. And I guess I’m just not seeing that value in the industry right now.
So, my options. If I died tomorrow, my only regret would be not finishing my book. So that is #1 on my list. I’ve always wanted to go on a yoga retreat. I’ve always wanted to live in a Spanish-speaking country so I could hone my language skills. I’ve always wanted to go to South America and India. I’ve always wanted bum around in the Philippines and surf all day. I’ve always wanted to go to Cambodia and Vietnam. I’ve always wanted to live in New York, but I’ve been missing California A LOT. I’ve always wanted to do a project related to my dad’s work.
I suppose I could try and figure out how to do all this now that I have all this time, but our severance package isn’t THAT big. Also, I’m at a point in my life where I NEED good friends around me. I don’t think I can stand to make new friends in a new city and then leave them again. Like I did in Milwaukee. Or Orange County. Or Manila. It’s too heartbreaking.
So it’s boiled down to this: my options are ultra wide-open, but wherever I end up living will be a place where the weather is mild and I have a lot of friends. It could be New York, because most of my best friends live there now. It could be LA. It could be Manila.
And I will always be writing, and creating, and hopefully I will make music again. So you’ll see my byline when I send the pitches I’ve been dreaming about to various editors. And that’s what’s up with me.
Not that there was anything wrong with a post-rock duo at Summerfest’s Briggs stage. It was just odd that the Benevento Russo Duo stage was PACKED. And it wasn’t old Rush fans, or hipsters, or music nerds — it was a lot of bro-ey college and high school kids who seemed to know what they were listening to.
(Seemed to being the key word here: three kids up front kept trying to get me to take their picture. “Our faces — this is Summerfest right here!” one jock in a Hollister t-shirt declared. Then he turned to his friends behind him and asked, “Oh my GOD, how big are my pupils right now?!?”)
Set time was 8 p.m., but keyboardist Marco Benevento and drummer Joe Russo didn’t start playing til past 8:30. The set up took an inordinately long time; with good reason — there was just so much gear. (Was Benevento manning five keyboards or four? Did that Wurlitzer count? And the drum machine, was that plugged in?)
And when they finally started, the retarded person manning the sound board didn’t turn off the house music. So for most of the crowd, the first two songs (my favorites from their second album Play Pause Stop, “Soba” and “Echo Park”) weren’t even audible. When a fan finally told the sound guy that THE CROWD couldn’t hear the band playing, and the sound was turned on, then everything was good. Surprisingly, even though it’s under the bridge, BRD sounded awesome live.
Benevento and Russo set up their instruments facing each other — which makes sense, because they’re all about improv, watching each other for cues, adding extra time measurements for fun. Listening to BRD is like seeing math rock brought to the masses with a fresh spin. I always used to say BRD was like the post-rock version of the Black Keys, but I am wrong. Sure, they’re a duo and have an awesome drummer, but while the Black Keys are about grit and rhythm, BRD is about songs taking flight, then being tethered and taken back in, then released again. There was a great version of “Play Pause Stop” performed, as well as a searing finale that, well, sounded like a finale.
The set was only 30 minutes long, if that — but it felt like the best show I’d seen at Summerfest so far.