The Milwaukee Music Scene™: The Final ChapterNovember 1st, 2008 |
By Matt Wild
If you’re a frequent victim of the Milwaukee County Transit system, you’re faced with countless indignities while riding the bus: hostile passengers, inane and never-ending cell phone conversations, a smell that could only be described as a mixture of B.O. and quiet desperation. Yet it seems to me that the most insidious evil one encounters is Transit TV, a dumping ground for cringe-worthy “moving entertainment” (I’m looking at you, Clever Cleaver Brothers), as well as a warm, fuzzy blanket for mouth breathers who like to play along with the Pat Sajak puzzle games. Mostly, Transit TV is nothing more than a series of out-of-context quotes from such luminaries as Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther King, Jr., and, um, Steven Wright. Recently, one caught my eye.
“I think knowing what you cannot do is more important than knowing what you can do. In fact, that’s good taste.”— Lucille Ball
Putting aside the fact that I’ve never cared for Lucy – placing her in the “Just Don’t Get It” category along with hardcore animal pornography and John McGivern – it’s a quote that really struck a nerve. For the past 18 (!) years, I’ve defined myself, in one way or another, by my band, Holy Mary Motor Club. Though I never really admitted it out loud (talking about your band is never in good taste), it’s defined me just the same. But in the last few months or so, I’ve taken the former Mrs. Desi Arnaz’s advice and owned up to the fact that being in a band is something I’m not very good at: I’m a terrible singer, a hopeless guitar player and a mediocre songwriter at best. So instead of subjecting myself (and others) to further torment, I recently decided to put my band aside and concentrate on things I’m actually good at, like, I don’t know … needlepoint?
All of this is a long way of saying that here we are at VITAL’s annual music issue, and for the first time in three years, I find I have little to say. Looking back at my past “Milwaukee Music Scene™” columns, maybe I never did. If I could offer up any sort of analysis, however, it would be this: the MMS™ is fine, just as wonderful and lousy as it’s always been. The recent rise of Turner Hall and the Pabst Theatre has been something of a mixed blessing, bringing in top-tier indie bands that normally would have avoided Milwaukee while at the same time leaving local joints like the Cactus Club and Mad Planet booking the same local bands every other week (I’m looking at you, John the Savage). At any rate, the scene seems to be in need of a big change, as a lot of the old musical mainstays – as well as the folks behind the scenes – are getting a little long in the tooth. Put simply, things seem to be running on fumes. Or does it just seem this way because I’m getting old?
This month’s guest music editor, DJ Hostettler, knows a thing or two about getting old while still playing in a band. His longtime group, IfIHadAHiFi, has a song (and an excellent accompanying video) called “Success! Success! Success!” that touches on the very subject:
“Opportunity is winding down/no one hears you when you’re in your 30s now
This gravity can only pull you down/There’s no shame in desperation”
I suppose they’re right: there is no shame in trying. So rock on, Milwaukee, keep up the good work, and don’t let the things you can’t do pull you down. That is, after all, the definition of good taste.
You know what? Fuck all that. You want to know my take on the state of the scene? It sucks. What’s more, I’m glad I’m out of it. And that HiFi lyric? Oh, it’s true all right, though I would argue that in Milwaukee, no one hears you, period. It doesn’t make a lick of difference whether you’re 20, 30, or 48, because the only people that are going to give a shit about your band are your friends and girlfriends, and even they’ll piss and moan if you don’t put them on the guest list. Is the idea of a bunch of slowly graying adults playing basements and barely-attended clubs inherently ridiculous? In a world of few absolutes and rampant relativism, let me just come out and say it: Yes, yes it is. Give up now. Feel the shame.
So here’s to you, Milwaukee Music Scene™. Thanks for nothing. Take good care of yourself and look ahead to that bright, shining future that almost certainly doesn’t lie ahead of you.
My younger brother recently called me from his new home in Scobey, Montana. It’s in the middle of nowhere, ten minutes from the U.S./Canadian border, population 1,000. Faced with little in the way of entertainment, he joined a local dart league and named his team the Holy Mary Motor Club. My band, he told me, would live on, albeit in dart-team form.
I’m still not sure what to make of that. VS
VITAL’s Editor in Chief, Jon Anne Willow, would like to counter that, from a purely existential standpoint, pretty much all effort is futile. In the end, we each die alone and take nothing with us. Jon Anne has also known Matt for many years and has believed for a while now that he was heading for that aspirations-vs.-reality wall most young artists collide with eventually. This piece confirms her suspicions. So rather than beat the snot out of Matt next time you see him, buy him a drink and tell him about your own failed, forestalled or otherwise unrealized dreams. Misery loves company.