The End of General Thad

Unfortunately due to the large amount of time I have to give to my new project (http://thematchsellers.wordpress.com), I won’t be able to continue General Thad. It was a great year and a half. Thanks to everybody and I hope the Kosciusko Area arts continue with vibrance.

SIncerely,

Andrew

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ETHAN & THE IMAGINARY FRIENDS – A Light Tree (in the Key of C)

I’ve been working on getting together a new album for a while now and the other week I was showing my progress to a friend in my kitchen. We listened all the way through my album and then I put on Ethan and the Imaginary Friends’ A Light Tree (in the Key of C). My friend said something along the lines of “dude let’s listen to something else. I’m tired of your vanity parade here. Put on something that’s not made by you.” I was surprised that he couldn’t tell the difference between my album and my old buddy Ethan’s… This was actually what pushed me to write this review – The fact that a casual listener confused Ethan Bartman’s work with my own. It was the first time in a while that I pondered over the existence of a coherent Warsaw, IN sound. Maybe there is some kind of sound that connects Fair Fjola to Pink Balloon Band or Laura K Balke to Ethan Bartman. Maybe there is some kind of faint Kosciusko County music identity. Groups like The Midwest’s Finest are importantly helping to support this community and are actively creating this identity. A community is one of the most important aspects of art and I’m glad the Northern Indiana scene is continually recreating its own.

Now to Bartman’s album. Local legend tells a humble tale of how Bartman’s “A Light Tree” came to be. After spending time working selling corn dogs at county fairs throughout the Midwest, watching over a horse farm somewhere in West Virginia (I think) and working in fast-food, Ethan, one day, came across a spinning tree that shot out beams of multi-colored lights. This little discovery was the starting point of what would eventually become A Light Tree (in the Key of C). Over the course of a few nights Ethan wrote in a dream-filled frenzy the majority of the material that is now on the album.

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There is something about this story that is remarkably rural and Midwestern. I think it’s safe to say that the rural Midwest is not really a place known for its vibrant culture. Because of this lack of vibrancy, artists have to go to unusual places to get inspiration. Ethan found his muse in this small “Light Tree”. The sources of creativity in rural northern Indiana are of a different sort than in an urban setting or in other rural places. In urban areas, the sheer number of people and the constantly changing scene create vibrancy. In other rural places, let’s take Southern Indiana for example, things are different. In southern Indiana, artists can draw on the Jazz history of Richmond, IN or the university in Bloomington or the artist colony in Nashville, IN, etc. Rural Northern Indiana also has these kinds of cultural heritage, but they appear to be more difficult to find. And because of this the northern Hoosier’s mind needs to find other sources of inspiration. One begins to notice the small, the overlooked objects. It took nothing more than a silly little spinning “Light Tree” to inspire Ethan to complete his first album. In a place like Warsaw, Indiana, an artist has to play the hand he’s dealt. And with “A Light Tree”, Bartman played his cards well.

The album A Light Tree (in the Key of C) begins with a rather calm track, “(The Ingenious Gentleman) Don Quixote”, it’s tempo is slow and it’s chorus consists of a soothing glissando. And the album goes out with a bang – the last track is a maddened, Delphic, free-form, wailing farewell. Somewhere in between lies the root of what the album captures. At times it is a maddened, surreal experience bordering on insanity and at other times it has concrete figures, places, objects. In this mixture of the dream-like and the reality, any person from rural Northern Indiana finds himself at home. We know at times what Ethan is writing about – i.e. 1) we recognize a small-town hyper-sexual woman in Flashy Flashdance, 2) we accept Bartman’s critique of Warsaw’s attitude towards new, underground music in Miss Mushroom: “They only like old rock songs, just going to get milk and eggs in the town”, 3) we all know the McSpinnies who close out the local bars in a great, stumbling and slurred fashion – but at other times we have no idea what Bartman is talking about. And it is exactly this mix between reality and surreality that makes “A Light Tree” work so well.

Ethan subtly comments on several aspects of Warsaw culture in A Light Tree, but one of the most interesting references he makes refers to what I would like to call the Internet-Age-Rural-Artist dilemma. Yea, I know that name is a bit stupid, but hear me out. Ethan makes a few references to a musician sitting at home alone trying to make music. The first of these references is the opening line of the album “On the bed and strumming loud, a tune that I was humming out to an audience of no one”. And later on in Red Light Syndrome, Bartman notes, “At home in front of a microphone just a bag of bones”. These two quotes to a certain extent represent what the rural musician has become. In a culture where people seemingly only want to listen to “old rock songs [while] just going to get milk and eggs in the town”, where does the new artist fit in? Musicians find themselves with a great number of tools at their disposal (cheap recording equipment, bandcamp, affordable ways to print physical cds), but the question still remains, who are we writing music for? It is unrealistic to think that we will be able to compete with Rihanna on national radio. We can’t relive the bygone Classic Rock days. Are we then only writing and recording to fulfill our own vanity? Do we believe that “there is just something inside that needs to come out”? And if so, who gives a fuck? There are a million videos on youtube that are more entertaining. I think these are questions that each artist must answer for himself, but I encourage all artists stuck in this Internet-Age-Rural-Artist dilemma to write for an audience. Write songs for your brothers, for your friends, for Warsaw, Indiana. But most importantly, write songs for other artists. And let other artists write songs for you. I don’t think this whole art thing makes any sense if we do it in any other way.

I don’t know where you can pick up Bartman’s A Light Tree (in the Key of C), but he’s a friendly guy and you can get a hold of him via his facebook site. Also, Ethan’s a working man, so naturally he’s already got another project underway and it comes out this friday… So be sure to check out his new album Songs of the Dead – “Folk songs for the Zombie Apocalypse” that drops this Friday, December 21st, 2012 on his bandcamp site: ethanandtheimaginaryfriends.bandcamp.com, I know I’ll be checking it out.

Ethan - Songs of the Dead

December 19th, 2012

Andrew Morris

A Reasonable Guide to Horrible Small Press Poetry Reviews

Last week I posted my impressions and analysis of Pink Balloon Band’s “Tomorrow We Sleep” E.P. The article stirred up a bit of discussion with many admirable PBB’s supporters, which is a good sign. It not only shows the strength of PBB’s fanbase but it gives me some hope that General Thad has a place in the Kosciusko County art scene. However, in a place as small as Kosciusko County, criticism walks a fine line. On the one hand, it can create counter-productive discord within our very small artistic community. On the other, it can lead us to over-praise mediocre art simply because we are friends with the artists. GT hopes to find a balance between honest criticism and encouraging exchange.

So, In light of the Pink Balloon Band discussion, I’ve decided to republish the following relevant article from the Fall 2007 issue of a short-lived Northern Indiana small press literary magazine entitled Fight These Bastards. The article, Steve Henn’s “A Reasonable Guide to Horrible Small Press Poetry Reviews”, critiques amateur and small press critics for overly embellishing artists and inadequately analyzing their poetry. It provides important observations of localized, underground art communities and it is something that we need to consider before we praise or defame the art of Kosciusko County.

My thanks goes out Steve Henn for letting me republish it here. “A Reasonable Guide…” was first printed in Issue # 5 of Fight These Bastards in Fall 2007.

Andrew Morris, June 5th 2012

A Reasonable Guide To Horrible Small Press Poetry Reviews

By Steve Henn

When a reviewer says a poet…                              he means…

Writes from the gut                                                            the poet doesn’t revise

Has a proletarian consciousness                                  the poet writes a lot of Damn-the-Man poems

Is in the school of Bukowski                                           is not as good as Bukowski

is yet another Bukowski clone                              I’m a reviewer with an MFA who’s pissed                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       that a drunk who never took a                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       creative writing class in his life outsells                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      me and 98% of my MFA peers

has a razor-sharp wit                                                a) compares Bush to Osama Bin Laden

–                                                                                  b) casts Jesus as a homosexual

–                                                                                  c) F-bombs rock!

When a reviewer says…                                                 he means…

You must buy this book!                                             a) My friend’s book is really neat.

–                                                                             b) I’m too lazy to offer any real critique.

–                                                                                  c) This actually is a great book, but I     –                                                              say that about everything, so I have no credibility 

It’s time to bring up the obvious. Reviews don’t sell books. People might be reading little magazines like Small Press Review, but that doesn’t mean they’re getting online or to the post office in hordes to buy any of the books they read about. In fact, if my experience as an editor and a poet indicates anything, it indicates that personal effort on the part of the poet sells chaps and books – doing readings, sending out email announcements, sending out postcards, hawking your chaps at open mics . . . so what good are reviews, anyway?

If small press poetry reviews have any value, they do not have value as promotional items. In most cases, they don’t translate into lots of sales. They are valuable as criticism. In fact, the more the reviewer is willing to critique the poems, the more value the review has for the poet and for the reader of the review, not to mention the reviewer. Out with fluff. Out with buy this book because it reminds me of the sixties. Out with meaningless and questionable praise-heavy reviews from review writers who do nothing but praise every new book that comes by.

I use the word critique mainly in the sense of examination. I’m not suggesting reviewers drag every book that comes across their desk through the mud. Examine the poet’s choices. Question the poet’s use of cliché. Question the poet’s tendency to arrive at the quick and easy conclusion, or, conversely, to use fresh language to take the reader places they didn’t expect to go to. Place the poems in the reviewed book in the context of poetic history, or in the context of one of a variety of theories on what poetry is, ought to be, ought to do. Allow the poems to enter into a conversation with other poets, other poetic theorists, and, where you feel it is justified, be willing to suggest where the poems fall short – or where they excel.

PINK BALLOON BAND – Tomorrow We Sleep

So it is General Thad’s one-year anniversary. In May 2011, I started up and we’ve since been able to put together 14 articles on Kosciusko County art in the forms of reviews, analysis and interviews. I hope to keep going. Thanks to everybody who has supported us so far. Now without further ado, I present to you my 2-Part discussion of Pink Balloon Band’s E.P. Tomorrow We Sleep:

Part I: Impression, soleil levant

Steve Henn once said on this blog, “I can’t stand it when critics criticize music, poetry, fiction, whatever, for what it is not rather than for what it is”, and, my brothers and sisters, I can’t stand it either. I try to analyze pieces for what they are. That is what I will do in this article. Now, keeping this in mind, there is something that must be said.

There is a way of singing that does not belong in Warsaw, IN anymore. There is a way of singing that should die off, in the same way certain dialects of language do. Do you know what kind of singing I’m talking about? Some might be thinking, “Oh yea, he’s talking about that faux-Bob Dylan style! Today we don’t respect men who write protest songs only to back out of the very same protest movement for a bourgeois existence! People today can’t flip-flop! Stubbornness is strength! Consistency is King!” Others may exclaim “No! It’s Daniel Johnston! Men who sound like 5-year-olds don’t exist in Northern Indiana!” or “Actually it’s Kanye West! What does rap from middle-class Chicago have to do with rural Indiana?!? Led Zepplin YES! Now there’s a good, white, English band that speaks to the Kosciusko County Conscience with their legend of a Mudshark sexual encounter!”. But I say no!

There is only one type of singing that nurses the nipple of annoying suckiness as if it were an infant. You know what I’m talking about – it’s that pop-punk-emo nasal-sound that Jordan Pundik of New Found Glory and Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance made 15 minute-careers out of. That kind of vocal styling, ladies and gentleman, is the centerpiece jewel on the crown of suck and doesn’t need to exist… Ok, guys, I’m exaggerating a bit here for effect. Please understand that. But truth be told I do find this kind of singing nearly unbearable. It is a style that has too many associations with High School for me.

Pink Balloon Band’s newest EP “Tomorrow We Sleep” has that dreaded whiney-make-me-wanna-punch-a-pop-punk-dude-in-the-face vocal style. When I first put on the E.P., I almost turned it off immediately. A whining voice singing “With just these lies in my pocket, I’ll buy you the world / crown you my princess and call you my girl” is not the way you kick off an E.P. if you want me to take you seriously as an artist.

But alas I didn’t turn off my speakers, because I remembered what Steve Henn wrote many months ago.

The wise sage Steve Henn shown here in his wise cap

Saying “I don’t like all of this, just because of the whining vocals” is as silly as somebody who dislikes all bluegrass because of the crooning, all rap because of the rhythmic emphasis or all rock because of the loud guitars. I try to be a patient listener. I really try to understand art for what it is.

So there I was eating lunch, appalled by the sheer 16-year-old-ness of Pink Balloon Band, but as I kept listening to the record something happened. Skeans sung a sentence that began to redeem the record in my eyes, in the eyes of a man who is obsessed with Kosciusko County cultural identity. Skeans sung: “I’ll die in this dead-end town I’ve grown to hate”. That line saved “Tomorrow We Sleep” from being thrown away. At that moment it started to become more than just another hackneyed power-pop 6-song E.P. It became more interesting, with a particular setting and connection to the other art around it. I continued listening and Skean’s chords became more complex and through the ubiquitous whining timbre of his voice, I surprisingly noticed some very nice melodic work going on. Tomorrow We Sleep does, surely, at times sound like a 16-year old’s failed love relationship (i.e. whining voice, “One time you made me so sad, you made me so sad one time”, etc.) but this fact does not mean the E.P.’s is without truly shining moments, like for example when Skeans breaks into the beautiful falsetto in “Keep it Together for the Cats”. Tomorrow We Sleep has truly passionate parts that are as good as anything I’ve heard, but at the same time the E.P. struggles to contain a wholly original concept. After a few listens you’ll find yourself singing along with the hooks and impressed by Skean’s musical innovation, regardless of whether you like or dislike the style.

Part II: Analysis – Humor and Small-Town Identity

If you listen to “Tomorrow We Sleep” on the surface, it recounts the story of a man, who falls in love with a girl who is “something different”. Their relationship begins falling apart due to the nothingness of small-town life among other ambiguous factors until they are finally separated. Concluding the E.P., the narrator sings of how he should be happy whether she takes him back or not, while still accepting the fact that he needs “help” and is “messed up”.

That’s the basic plot of “Tomorrow We Sleep”. But when you take this rather honest and sad tale of a relationship’s destruction and look at some of the titles of the tracks, you see some peculiar humor arise. Track names like “Sam Neil [of Jurassic Park fame] vs. The Warsaw Tigers” and “Keep it Together for the Cats” don’t really seem to fit the somber feel of the E.P. This is one way, in which Skeans aesthetically creates nice lightness with a heavy topic.

But this humor can also be deceiving. Take “Keep it Together for the Cats” for example. Instead of simply being a humorous wordplay on the cultural status quo of keeping marriage together for the benefit of children (exchange “cats” with “kids”), it could also imply that the couple’s only reasons for staying together are merely house pets. A sad, but perhaps plausible problem for some of Kosciusko County’s underground art community.

Also the E.P.’s earnest pictures of Skeans alone in a home studio, passionately singing and playing, don’t seem to fit a few of the humorous song titles. I still, after having listened to Tomorrow We Sleep over 20 times, don’t quite know how to interpret this humor. Does the humor of these titles mock the entire love-story or does it rather randomly try to escape the pain? I’d be curious to know if anybody has a better interpretation of this (type in the comment box below… please… somebody… anybody?).

Aside from the peculiar humor of the E.P., one of the most interesting aspects of Tomorrow We Sleep is the role that Warsaw, IN plays. Warsaw, IN is only implied twice in the lyrics of the E.P. (3 times if you include the track title “Sam Neil vs. The Warsaw Tigers”) but it can be safely assumed that it is the background. The two times when Skeans mentions the town lyrically, “I’ll die in this dead-end town I’ve grown to hate” and “This town is taking it’s toll – these people never forget”, don’t just mention a place, but also two interesting small town ideas that exist underneath the location.

The first idea is that Warsaw is a “dead-end town”, void of many artistic opportunities. This idea has been expressed in many other works featured on General Thad. Earlier this month Jenelle Bickel noted how few places there are for artists to publish human-interest pieces. Invisible Robots sing of “Boring Bars” and dysfunctional diners. Oren Wagner talked of alleviating boredom in a dead-end town by “writing poems on the back of placemats”. My song “Barstool Prophets” also explores this idea. It seems that many artists from the area have tried to work their way out of the “dead-end town”. Caleb Vogel’s project Kill and Eat and Dylan Ettinger both attempted to escape the town via the Internet. Steve Henn, Oren Wagner and Kaveh Akbar sent their work to New York to be published. Fair Fjola went to Chicago and then New York. We have to notice that most lasting artists in Warsaw who produce original material, leave Warsaw. Warsaw is not a self-sustaining artistic community, unless you’re a classic rock cover band. And even then you usually need a day job. This is exactly what makes Pink Balloon Band so interesting. Is that Ian has been in the “dead-end town” at least since the days of the old Maple Leaf Grille open mic night. Instead of trying to escape Warsaw, like so many others (myself included), he is one of the few brave souls (like Ryan Kerr) who remains in the area. He plays an important part in the music culture of Warsaw by playing around and DIY-releasing E.P.s. These attempts are nothing new, but they are a crucial part in keeping the Warsaw art culture moving.

The second small town idea comes from the line “these people never forget” and has to do with the repetition of faces and ideas in a town like Warsaw. The same names come into conversation and the same musicians play the same songs on the same stages. Perhaps one could argue this causes stagnation and can be detrimental to an art culture, just as it was detrimental to the narrator’s relationship in Tomorrow We Sleep. But seeing the same faces and hearing the same bands can also create unique artistic circles, where honest criticism is easier to come by and artists are allowed develop at their own pace. This is something that should be understood and embraced by artists from the Warsaw-area. The small-town as a place does to a certain extent provide this and one should try to take advantage of it.

Pink Balloon Band’s Tomorrow We Sleep, is a free E.P. worth checking out, particularly for those in the Warsaw art scene. It raises interesting questions: Should the power-pop vocal styling be in the underground scene? How is a love story set in Warsaw fundamentally different than one set elsewhere? In what ways is destruction humorous? How do we find reasons as artists and as lovers to keep going?

Download the E.P. here: http://pinkballoonband.bandcamp.com/album/tomorrow-we-sleep

Check out Pink Balloon Band’s Facebook Page here: http://www.facebook.com/pinkballoonband

Finally, I hope I didn’t tick off anybody singing along in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=iC-61MVoDcE

May 28, 2012,

Andrew Morris

JENELLE BICKEL – A Conversation

by: Andrew Morris

Jenelle Bickel is from Warsaw, Indiana. In sunny weather, you can spot her because of the Norman Rockwell painting “The Runaway” tattooed onto her arm. But there is another aspect of Bickel’s style that is just as permanent as her tattoos – her camera. It’s always with her, either around her neck or in her hand. I’m not exaggerating here. It has probably been a solid three years since I’ve seen her without her camera. In fact, the last time I was with her, five of us were sitting around at a house north of Wal-Mart in Warsaw and we were discussing topics from politics to art and sex to culture. Every few minutes we heard a click as Bickel took a photo. Jenelle practices her craft with meticulous frequency.

I had gotten a hold of Jenelle several months ago, wanting to do a story on her for General Thad. I decided that an interview would be an appropriate avenue for discussing her work, so we had talked over the phone and I recorded the whole conversation, hoping to upload it on here. But as I sit here going back over our recorded conversation, I see that our discussion was so long and in depth that I doubt the General Thad readers will have the patience to listen to all 25 minutes of the recording. Also, the recording itself is pretty crappy. And it was the first live interview I’ve ever done. As a result, I’ve decided to pull out the highlights from the conversation and transcribe them in written form. If any reader has huge objections, let me know in the comment section and I might post the audio.

Bickel is currently studying Photojournalism at Ball State University, where she has shot for magazines, musicians and private events. She recently finished an Internship with Ireland’s notable music magazine Hot Press in Dublin, Ireland and is an alumni of the non-accredited and non-existent Sincroft School of Photojournalism in Warsaw, Indiana.

General Thad: It seems like a lot of your work is focused around music. When and why did you start photographing music?

Jenelle Bickel: In High School I was in the music scene. My friends were in bands that played in the venues around town [Warsaw, IN]. So when I got my first camera, I was using the cameras from [the WCHS] Journalism Department, I would use those and take them to shows. I would go up to the front and take pictures; I found it really fun. When I decided to do photojournalism I started thinking differently, so I got involved with the student newspaper and the yearbook. I started going to sporting events and theater events and everything else, so I wanted to go across the board to see what it was like to be a Photojournalist.

GT: Did the bands you photographed like that you took their pictures? 

JB: Absolutely. I’d go to shows all around Indiana and people loved getting the attention. Everyone enjoyed the atmosphere and documenting fun shows that you can look back on and be like, “oh ya! My sophomore year in high school, we were in this band. We were really shitty, but there’s photographic evidence of it!”

GT: And what sort of bands did you see? Where did you go to the shows?

JB: My best friend at the time, her boyfriend was in the band AXP, so I would go to a lot of hardcore shows, especially in Elkhart at The Post. It kind of was a blur. I saw so many bands. It wasn’t something I really kept track of… But it was definitely in the hardcore scene. I got to see The Devil Wears Prada and other bands I never thought I’d see at such a small venue in Elkhart.

GT: What did photography bring to these shows? Were you out there to portray something or document the youth culture or back then was it just about taking pictures and having fun?

JB: I think it was definitely about fun, but it was also about me coming into my photography. I got into photography late, because in high school I was a floater and didn’t know what I wanted to do. But then in my journalism class, my teacher Mr. Sincroft lent me a book called Shutterbabe and it was about a war photographer and I fell in love. Now, I know it was war photography not music photography, but it was still amazing to see how passionate somebody was about what they were doing with their life. So I decided to try that out… So when I would go to shows I was trying to find my niche. I took my camera with me just to experiment. I’d think “well this photo looks stupid” so I’d try it different the next time. Back then it was a trial and error period for me.

GT: Let’s look at two pictures we have on the blog. One is of Tiara Thomas, an Indianapolis native who was recently in a music video with the band Wale (pronounced “Wall-A”). When we juxtapose this music press shot with the coke-ad photo, a question arises. What are you, as a photographer, doing differently in each picture?

Tiara Thomas

Brittany Hearth

JB: With the coke shoot, a friend approached me to do a photo-shoot for her website, which had a vintage coke ad section. We brainstormed together and planned a lot out. We had hair, make-up and a studio for that photo shoot. The Tiara Thomas photo on the other hand was for a profile piece for Ball State’s student run magazine Ball Bearings. Thomas came to the interview really distraught and she didn’t let us do anything until we listened to Elton John. So we were just kind of sitting there… So the photos I got of Thomas were after listening to Elton John, so she was being calmer with the guitar.

GT: This next picture is of Janelle Monáe. Wow! Talk about somebody really big. Was that exciting?

Janelle Monáe

JB: It was phenomenal. That was taken this past summer when I interned at Hot Press Magazine in Ireland. That wasn’t even the biggest name I got to shoot. My first assignment was Johnny Rotten. And I saw Blondie… Monáe’s whole show was very fun and energetic. They had a ringmaster come out at the beginning.

GT: You really capture that energy in the photo. How long does it take to get that shot?

JB: It was a different experience for me because I’m used to going to shows where I can stand up front as long as want. Almost every show I shot in Ireland was at a venue where you were only allowed to take pictures of the first two or three songs. Then after that they kicked you out, because you had photography equipment. And that’s that… When you go to a show and you haven’t seen a performer before, you don’t know where they’ll be or what they’ll be like. But when I got to Janelle Monáe’s show, I knew I wanted a picture where you could see that she was singing her heart out.

GT: Moving on to this last picture, what is the story behind that?

 

Harpist on Grafton Street, Dublin, Ireland

 

JB: Well the story… This past summer in Ireland, this was in the first week I was there. It was right in the middle of the city center of Dublin, right on Grafton Street. This street is just lined with performers of all kinds… It’s a very big tourist attraction and basically the biggest shopping part of Dublin. We were just down there walking around and she caught my eye. The harpist, she was the first performer we saw before we got onto Grafton Street. She was on the very edge. At first, she wasn’t looking at anyone, just playing her music. And the photo that I got, she had just realized that I was taking photos of her. And when she looked up, I just clicked the shutter… You could tell she was interested in seeing who was watching her and who was enjoying her music. It was more of walk-by experience that created such a powerful photo.

GT: That’s incredible because it seems like the photo is so well constructed. Her hair color matches her harp, she’s looking right into the camera and she’s a little left of center, but still the center of focus. She’s out in public, but it feels like you’re the only one there. It seems like a really well crafted photo and it’s interesting that it just happened to come out in such an opportune way. Does that happen often?

JB: I definitely take into consideration composition and lighting and all that stuff is always going through my mind when I’m taking a photo. But when I’m in a situation like that I guess it is kind of lucky. And photographers are lucky if they get the shot. You can’t plan everything that is going to happen in a photograph. Once you click that shutter and look at the photo, it could be completely different from what you saw through the viewfinder… It’s some skill, but with some of those photos it just so happens that everything is perfect at the right time… And it happens. And I think that’s great.

GT: In photos like these or others is there a particular message you’re trying to get across? Or is it more about documentation? I mean what are you trying to do with your photography? 

JB: Well it’s changed a lot. When I first got to college I thought, “I’m going to work for the newspaper. I’m going to be a sports photographer.” But after getting through freshman year, I hated sports photography… So I changed to Ball Bearings and I liked it so much. They do a lot of human-interest pieces, so you have a lot of time to work on a project. It’s more than just one day for the next day’s newspaper. So with these stories, I’ve gotten to know my subjects and their stories and how to portray that through a photograph… I love knowing people’s stories and what they do. I’m working on photo-stories right now, using interviews, photos and Final Cut Pro. There’s actually a story I’m really passionate about right now. We have a coffee place in the village [in Muncie], called the MT Cup, which closed down in December. Everyone was sad when it closed… We found out recently that they are reopening. So I’m doing a photo-story about how the buyers gained the place, the renovations they’ve done and how they want to make sure they keep the Ball State atmosphere and student art in the MT Cup, now The Cup.

GT: I think it’s really good that somebody from Northern Indiana is going around getting down people’s stories. If you go abroad for example, there is this perception that Americans are self-centered and don’t listen to other people or cultures, etc. I think it’s good that you’re breaking that stereotype with the stories you do. You’re going out and listening to other people’s stories. People from Indiana… Do you think your photography has a place in a rural area like Northern Indiana? And if so, what role should photography play for the people of Northern Indiana?

JB: I believe that photography is becoming more prominent in Indiana. There are photographers that I know back in Warsaw, like for example Courtney Schmucker, who do weddings and senior photos and all of that stuff. So there will always be that market for photography. But she also takes phenomenal photos just walking around Warsaw. I mean she’s taken photographs, where I don’t recognize the place, and I lived there for 20 years. So I do believe it’s becoming more prominent. But I’d like to see more human interest. We have newspapers and magazines, but I don’t feel like we have that magazine that could show the interesting stories of people in Warsaw. Maybe that means starting an online magazine, where you could do photo-stories like the ones I was talking about, while integrating video, photographs, audio and all sorts of mediums. You could portray a story that could be really heart wrenching. You don’t know the kind of stories that are out in Warsaw until you go out looking for them… So I really do think that a bigger presence of photography is coming, in the way that it could be, potentially, human-interest pieces rather than senior photos. We do have studios everywhere for that kind of stuff…

GT: I think that’s right what you’re saying about adding more artistic and humanistic elements to what we already have. It does sort of feel like that kind of penetrating art is missing from where we grew up. And if it’s there we somehow missed it.

JB: Right.

GT: I hope in the future it gets better. I guess that’s part of the reason why we’re trying to do this blog, General Thad. Steve Henn’s working too. We just want to try and bring the community together and provide an outlet for things that would have been otherwise covered up in a print-age hyper-conservative 1970s Warsaw, Indiana. Tell about the art and the stories that get missed…

So what does the future have in store for you?

JB: Oh goodness. The age-old question. I’m planning on studying abroad next year at Liverpool Hope University. And so those will be classes, but I will be about a 30-minute flight away from Dublin! I still am really close with everyone I worked with… So I’m hoping to get back over there… But I don’t know. I have a journalism friend named Maggie who lives in New York, so I kind of want to move out there and room with her. We’ll see. It’s all up in the air right now.

GT: I think that’s kind of the way it is for all of us. Well, thanks Jenelle for taking the time to talk with us.

JB: No problem.

Check out Jenelle Bickel’s Website and feel free to contact her about any photographic needs. http://www.jenellebickel.com/

May 1st, 2012

Andrew Morris

DANIEL CROCKER – Like a Fish

[The following sentences are words from the wickedest wit to come out of Warsaw, IN since Ambrose Bierce: Steve Henn]

Near the end of the summer of 2005 my buddy Oren Wagner and I drove 4 hours into Michigan to ask Nathan Graziano to submit work to the new small press literary magazine, Fight These Bastards, that we were starting with the outstanding poet Don Winter. The drive was not memorable. It was hot. I may have been in the habit of smoking at the time. I probably griped about my wife (at the time).  Graziano was doing a reading at a Barnes and Noble in, I think, Ann Arbor, with his good buddy, Daniel Crocker. Despite reading to an audience of mostly blue-haired old ladies and one black guy wearing headphones who made crappy abstract art with markers, raising his head to look about like a cornered rodent and clap over the reluctant applause of the bluehairs, only to return to his pointless doodling and whatever he was listening to, Graziano delivered. I had already read some of his work and I expected it to be so.

Crocker tried a few poems, then said, “I probably shouldn’t, but . . .” and proceeded to read, with passion, a short story about the family dog’s beautiful balls. The story didn’t impress me much, but, looking back, giving the finger to so many Grandmas, many of whom might’ve bought a book for a grandson claiming to be working on some writing while he actually sold pot from his parents’ basement, took courage. That gesture was ballsier than the short story – which was all dog balls.  I’m sure Crocker would’ve taken care to pander to his audience more effectively if he was sitting on 17 poems about doilies and prunes.

Graziano sent poems, some of which found their way into FTB, and a story that we published as well. It was about a 20something guy who goes to the doctor to have genital warts removed. There are doctor and patient, in the examining room, freezing off the warts, a solidarity-inducing experience in which those “little bastards” implicitly stand in for whatever outside forces might be conspiring to keep both men down.  It was funny and moving. Really. That story was a winner.

Crocker sent in a story, too. The one about dog testes. After not very much deliberation, Oren, Don and I decided dog testicles were inferior literary material to a minor human sexually transmitted affliction. We ended up publishing Graziano in more than one issue, over our 8-issue, 3-and-a-half year run. As far as I can recollect, Crocker never sent in any other work after dogballs was rejected. Which is a shame, because his book of poems, Like a Fish, really kicks ass, and you should buy it and read it.

FTB is a ghost now. We were always proud of the quality of work we published, but it never quite made the splash on the small press landscape we were hoping for, regardless of any claim it has as part of “Indiana underground art history” (the words of Andrew Morris, ladies and gentlemen).  Editing a small magazine can be a pretty thankless task, when you hear so much from shitty writers questioning your editorial tastes, or trumping up their own “talent” without the work to back up their claims.  But like the poems we did publish in FTB, Crocker’s poems in Like a Fish deserve to be read. Even if one poem is entitled “Never Got That Dog Fixed.”

I am contrite. That’s what I’m getting at. I’m contrite to the point that Graziano’s blurb on the back of Crocker’s book, presenting Crocker as “a hidden gem in American letters,” contains, to me, only the faintest touch of overstatement.  Like a Fish contains poems that Don Winter would’ve included under the umbrella of what he called “Press of the Real.” Crocker will not get the recognition he deserves for such a fine book. He doesn’t have a prominent teaching position (although he’s taught at the college level, as far as I know he currently substitute teaches in his hometown), he’s not solidly middle class, he’s not middle of the road in any way. He’s a working class southerner who dares to write about lived experience, whose language is often not lyrical, whose subject matter cuts closer to the bone than the academically vetted McPoems of the workshop culture. His poems read like lost aphorisms pronounced by a regular at the bar to a barkeep half listening to her usual patron, half wondering what the night will bring when work is done. If you’ve got the image in your head of the white working class male obsessed with football, unattainable sex, and mundane obsessions that are neither lively nor creative, read Crocker’s poems. There are no sports in them. Sex, sometimes mentioned elliptically, is with real people, or expressed in Skeletor’s homoerotic desire for He-man. His obsessions give voice to the everyman but present an insightful, creative everyman – one who claims, as one section is entitled “Everything is falling apart but the McRib.”

I am not going to exhaustively deconstruct Crocker’s poems. Well, maybe at some point, but not here. But I do want to point out what he does especially well. There are two types of poems that hit the mark best in the book. The first is the poem that makes use of pop cultural material. “He-man, You Smarmy Bastard,” as I’ve mentioned, reveals Skeletor’s longing for He-man’s body and for inclusion into the brotherhood of Castle Grayskull. “Sestina McRib” is concerned with eating a leftover McDonald’s sandwich, imagining it taken from the rib of Ronald as the rib was taken from Adam. “What Spider Man Dreams of” is a list poem confessing, among other unrealized deliberate faux pas, the superhero’s desire to drop “one, just one, old lady.” Oscar the Grouch begins with this quote from Dave Chappelle: “Bitch, I live in a fuckin’ trashcan.”  The unreserved use of expletive in the last example is deliberate and necessary. Crocker is writing in the language we use, not in the language we’d hope to use if we were given a teleprompter and a cadre of speechwriters.

That is not to say that the poems aren’t carefully revised. You can’t reach the clarity and flow and stripped-to-essentials feel of so many of these poems without cutting out the unnecessary. This achievement is especially noticeable in the poems that don’t take pop culture as inspiration, but rather Crocker’s background and experience. The two pinnacles of this other type of poem are “Where We Come From (ver. 2.0)” and “Ashley’s Poem,” for Crocker’s daughter. The first is an inspired treatment of Crocker’s hometown: Leadwood, Missouri. I wrote my own where-I-come-from poem a few years ago to break a long writing drought. The poem, which took Ginsberg’s Howl as a model, purported to catalogue the experiences of my generation of Warsaw kids-turned-adults. I think every good poet has some kind of where-I-come from poem in them – some mishmash of the psychology and geography and ideology of the place or places that formed their identity. Crocker’s is as powerful as any. The poem about his daughter denotes both his love for her, distress at his own mortality, and a benediction for a baby boy who was in the hospital when she was born, who would never have a father hold him, like Ashley’s mother never had a father to hold her. Over the course of the book we learn Crocker is no orthodox saint – he has his faults and his demons.  But when he claims in “Cathedral: The Poem” that “it knocks me on my ass, the beauty / I’ve missed,” I believe he’s capable of both the guilt and failure the statement implies, as well as the transcendent ability to find the beauty in simple, real, flawed, lived experience.

Get a copy of Like a Fish here

Steve Henn

February 12th, 2012

DYLAN ETTINGER & MELISSA CHA – Wintermute

The German philosopher and cultural critic Theodor Adorno was once described to me as a bitter man, who sat alone in his room and denounced the world around him. For example, Adorno claimed that the Protest-Songs of the 60’s were unbearable, because they turned the horror of Vietnam into a consumable product.  For Adorno, protest songs also turned very complex issues into very simple ones and in so doing, they prevented the public from seeing truth. Adorno is a guy who probably would have gotten the shit kicked out of him at the Time Out Inn in Warsaw.

But in watching the new music video for Dylan Ettinger’s song “Wintermute” I couldn’t help but imagine Adorno’s battered and bloody body on the floor of the men’s bathroom there at the Time Out. Ettinger’s song, as well as the accompanying music video, is a very complex beast that doesn’t let itself be easily consumed. Like most of Ettinger’s oeuvre, you have to sit down and mentally tangle with it before you can start to appreciate it.

“Wintermute” is the first single off of Ettinger’s forthcoming album Lifetime of Romance on Not Not Fun Records and signifies an important shift in the Warsaw, Indiana native’s musical development. All of you avid General Thad readers will remember that Ettinger’s Lion of Judah/Baptism Single pushed Ettinger into much more of a pop direction with more concrete pop structures and melodies (See GT article). With “Wintermute” we see Ettinger continuing further into this direction. He has chosen to place his vocals and lyrics in a much more prominent position than ever before. Even the content of the lyrics follows more of a pop template with love becoming a central theme. This stands in stark contrast to his earlier works, which were dominated by cyber-punk metropolises and “baptisms in blood”. But Ettinger’s transition to more pop-based content does not mean that his work is now simpler.

“Wintermute” is in actuality a very complex piece. We hear in the opening seconds of “Wintermute” Ettinger as he takes apart synth sounds and finally drops them on a beat. Ettinger mutilates his yearning voice with reverberation, almost to the point of indecipherability. These aspects reveal, very interestingly, that Ettinger tries to musically destroy that which he had musically created. He tries to recreate a lost love, but also tries to destroy that love. In the final product, we are left with a song that is neither entirely created, because it has been partially destroyed, but also we are left with a song that has not been fully destroyed because it was indeed created.

The complexity of “Wintermute” continues further, when one looks at the alarm sound that unnervingly beeps out-of-tempo in the left speaker. The alarm beeps while the rest of the song seems to continue on, blind to the existence of this alarm. The sound forces the listener to understand the song in a very complex way. In order to tap one’s foot to the beat, one has to ignore the odd-tempoed alarm in the left ear, but by ignoring this one is not listening to the entire composition. Ettinger creates tension through this musical frustration. He therefore has not only produced a rather complex piece, but one that forces the listener to hear that complexity. The intricacies and the paradoxes of “Wintermute” cannot be ignored, and if they are, the listener fails to hear the “true” song in its entirety.

Even in the music video (wonderfully directed by San Francisco native Melissa Cha), frames are stopped, deconstructed and reconstructed again. A woman’s beautiful dance moves are taken apart frame-by-frame and male and female clothes disappear. Starting at 4:09 Cha does a great job editing the video to challenge the viewer’s focus. At this point, the viewer’s eyes are constantly being directed towards the left side and the right side of the picture as the video cuts between a black background with a white focus-point and a white background with a black focus-point. This constant, jarred style of video does a good job of interpreting the complexity inherent in Ettinger’s style of songwriting. There is no good or bad, no right or wrong, but instead there is only a complex constellation of both, and all shades in between. “Wintermute” comes at us all once: it is quick like our ADD-digital age; it is complicated like the PTSD-ravaged souls of American vets; its figures and style are beautiful like a crumbling barn on old 30.

As much as Dylan Ettinger’s work doesn’t want to be confined to the limits of Kosciusko county, the fact that the connection to Kosciusko county exists, makes the complexity that much greater. “Wintermute” is a song that was not created for the rural cornfields of Northern Indiana, but rather it is a song that materializes the angst of being a counter-culture kid working on a factory line or a skateboarding stoner, who traded in his days at Bogg’s Industrial Park for nights behind the kitchen doors of Mad Anthony’s. “Wintermute” delves into the issues informing our complex loves, complex lives and complex homes.

Now that you’ve made it to the end of this whole thing, I’ve got one bit of advice for you. Don’t go repeating this Adorno-style paradoxical analysis at the Time Out Inn in Warsaw, Indiana. Keep it to yourself. If you do wind up talking, don’t come blaming me if you wake up in a sowbarn somewhere out by Beaver Dam with nothing but a six-pack of warm beer and fifty cents to make a phone call.

Check out Dylan Ettinger’s Bandcamp and Twitter. Melissa Cha can be found at her website.

Andrew Morris

Feb 5, 2012