So 2011 is coming to a close. And General Thad has actually made it to the end of the year. That’s impressive. I started up General Thad back in May after spending some time in Germany and bumming around China. It was an exciting time for me personally, but it was also a time in which I felt incredibly lost. There’s that quote by Tolkien “Not all those who wander are lost”. Well that quote wasn’t true for me. I was lost as shit and I was wandering as far as I could.
In the middle of all that aimless roaming, I bought Steve Henn’s book of poetry Unacknowledged Legislations and read it cover to cover more than half a dozen times. The book reinvigorated a sensation in me that I had gradually begun to feel abroad. Why was I always labeled an “American”? Why not a “Hoosier”? Why not as a resident of Kosciusko County? There is something about the American identity that sucks up all of the smaller identities within it. But it is precisely these small and intricate identities that are the most interesting: the things that are easily overlooked and forgotten. Like the little black spec of sock fuzz under your big toenail, the macaroni and cheese noodle that fell down the crack between your stove and counter-top, the dirty coffee mug in the passenger’s seat of your car. So I started General Thad to try and find out what “Northern Hoosier” art was and to make sure I wouldn’t forget all of the fascinating little things.
So in honor of Northern Hoosier art and in honor of remembering the things that fall through the cracks, I proudly present to you the first ever General Thad Year-in-Review edition. I’ve included my favorite General Thad quotes of the year and also a section, in which several artists from the region have commented on other artists’ works. I want to sincerely thank everybody who helped with this issue for their time: Steve Henn, Jared Highlen, Jared Boze, Ryan Kerr, Ethan Bartman and Thomas Friddle. Hopefully we can do this again in 2012. I’m sure as hell gonna try.
Top GT quotes of 2011:
#1 “I guess when I was living in Warsaw I wrote more often. Maybe it was the boredom of nothing to do in such a small town other than hang out at Bob Evan’s, smoking cigarettes and writing poems on the back of placemats.” – Oren Wagner
#2 “The kids who aren’t at Pizza Hut are either smoking weed while laughing at that “METH IS DESTROYING OUR COMMUNITY! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?!?!?!” commercial on 107.3 or are sitting at the Boathouse Restaurant, dressed in skinny-jeans and a Christian-hardcore band’s t-shirt eating an 8 dollar French onion soup as an appetizer.” – Andrew Morris
#3 “I wrote an album for Titus Andronicus’ guitarist’s solo project that my girlfriend thinks is great.” – Kaveh Akbar
#4 “Morris is a former student of mine who has reviewed both a book of poetry I wrote and an album on which I played drums, here, on General Thad. You might assume I’ve got about as much journalistic integrity in critiquing his work as the 700 Club does in endorsing Rick Perry for President. Maybe that’s true; hell, I don’t know.” – Steve Henn
#5 “Luke Sirimongkhon is some dude who I don’t know at all. I just hope he’s not some 68 year old, chain-smoking dude who practices reverse psychology and promotes the greatness of the Pixar movie Ratatouille.” – Andrew Morris
Northern Hoosier artists look back on other northern Hoosier artists:
Steve Henn (poet, musician and Notre Dame fan) on Fair Fjola’s No One Gets Any:
I have discovered that if I put Fair Fjola’s No One Gets Any in the DVD player and play it through the television speakers, my children will start cleaning the house. I offered them a dollar per room too but I’m sure that has nothing to do with it. Nothing beats three children stepping around the room, picking up underwear (how’d that get in the living room anyway?) and listening to “walt’s.” And hearing Frannie sing along to the line “everything is keeping me SAFE!” – the best vocal delivery on the whole album – is good for everyone’s souls, even the Corias. But seriously, Chicago skyline on the album back cover? You guys are from Warsaw. The Invisible Robots album (that no one has bought online, yet, at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/invisiblerobots for only $6.75) has Pike Lake on the cover at least. As my dad (God rest his soul) used to say to my sister before she’d go out on the town on a Friday night in the long ago Warsaw late eighties, “don’t forget where you live.” We come from here whether we like it or not.
Jared Highlen (bassist/singer of JOWCO) on Andrew Morris & Friends’ The Great Corn Detasseling Album:
People often seem to like music insofar as it speaks to universal experience. Lost love, political dissidence, meta-cultural statements, what have you. I don’t know if The Great Corn Detasseling Album does any of these things. What I do know is that everything about it screams Indiana. Everything, the low-fi production, the folksy instrumentation, all of it pulls me back to dingy Walmart parking lots, pockmarked roads cutting through the corn and soybeans, spoiled Abercombie kids and ignorant editorials in the newspaper. But what it really has going is that it never turns its setting into an ideal, a nostalgic representation, rather Morris and friends capture all of the gritty ambivalence of this sort of place that demands a certain fondness and a certain scorn. This tension between affection and cynicism, always sincere, is what really made this album work so well. And, of course, perhaps even more than that it’s the novelty of listening to songs about such a familiar place. I heard a new one opened up over by the Kohl’s on 15, but when I hear Taco Bell show up in the first track lyrics, it makes me proud to know which one he’s talking about.
Andrew Morris (Singer/songwriter, critic) on Dylan Ettinger’s Lion of Judah/Baptism Single:
I remember meeting up with the Warsaw, IN native, Dylan Ettinger, down in Bloomington in the summer. He gave me some much-needed food and we discussed the challenges of artistic endeavors in rural northern Indiana. Now, looking back on all of the stuff I’ve gotten the chance to absorb on General Thad this past year, Ettinger’s Lion of Judah/Baptism Single remains the most peculiar. The two tracks are minimalistic and droning with oftentimes indiscernible lyrics and otherworldly atmospheres. The single stands unique among the rest of Kosciusko County’s art – it is an unsettling religious experience played out on synthesizer. But the idiosyncratic style of Lion of Judah/Baptism is something that should be embraced. In contrast to bands like Fair Fjola, Ettinger’s work will probably never grow to prominence in Warsaw, IN. You’ll also never find Lion of Judah/Baptism available for purchase at Courthouse Coffee. No. It will remain hidden in the crevices of the internet, played in lonely dark rooms by the few who dare to listen and dig into the peculiar.
Jared Boze (Funkmeister of Trombone, Didgeridoo and Bass) on Kristen Schwenger and Luke Sirimongkhon’s Claymations:
Schwenger and Sirimongkhon’s work makes me uneasy – not so much because the protagonists’ eyes are empty sockets that communicate both curiosity and despair, but mainly because the two films’ subjects die upon contact with the only colorful and lively objects they encounter. The life-giving resource of water is poison; the creative force of the crayon invades and ruins the creature’s uniformly drab world. On a technical level, I appreciate the difficulties of stop-motion animation and believe that their work is representative of excellence in an extremely time-consuming and frustrating medium.
I like the claymation and I like Morris’ angle of interpretation. I agree that the films’ world(s) can be seen as stand-ins for Northern Indiana, in that if you do something other than blend in you will be betrayed, then either melted, dismembered, or made to birth a neon death lizard through a hole in your abdomen. There is no third option in Schwenger and Sirimongkhon’s world, unless there is a third video I have yet to see, and unless Indiana’s character fundamentally changed while I wrote this review.
Ethan Bartman (the creative force behind Ethan & The Imaginary Band) on Invisible Robots’ Sunday Beer:
Sunday Beer, the recent release by Warsaw’s own Invisible Robots, is somewhat like the illegitimate spawn of Grunge Rock heroes and contemporary folk. It is a piece whose aesthetic sings in a gritty, high-end washout harmony with the smoked out and often indiscernible vocals. At times, the sound and lyrical content transport you right into the smoke-filled dives where the music was born and raised. Themes of disillusionment roll through the album, from bars, to the workplace, to the insane asylum. The influence grunge has seemed to have had on the band makes me ask myself the question, “What happens when the punk rock kids grow up and are forced to live like adults?” I believe the answer is found on a Saturday night behind the counter of Warsaw’s Service Liquor, and stock up, because they can’t sell beer on Sunday.
Ryan Kerr (singer/songwriter) on Laura K. Balke’s Rumors & Legends:
I met Laura K. Balke’s latest release, Rumors and Legends, with anticipation. I had the privilege of meeting Laura back in 2008 through our similar interest in the favorite internet hot spot and coffee hangout/music venue in all of Pierceton, IN, The Blue Lion, where I soon became a barista and was blessed with a job with the perk of meeting and listening to a plethora of incredible Indiana musicians. Since then, I have kept up with her releases and have had the pleasure of experiencing her live performances transform from a talented small town girl singing about small town things while finger strumming a purple acoustic guitar, to a gal with a full backing band to help her convey the observations of an artist who has grown in love, life and lyricism. The arrangements on her latest work are a big structural step forward, to say the least. The stand out percussive elements mix with a now tour seasoned guitar player to set the tone for the confessions of a songwriter who lets us see much more of her inner workings than on any previous release. With plenty of melodic and instrumental surprises to be had, I opened the packaging of my mail ordered copy of Rumors and Legends and placed it onto my Pioneer turntable, gently set the needle against the golden wax, and the first word that came to mind, the only one since, after seventeen or so listens, was maturity.
Thomas Friddle (Drummer, Percussionist and Architectural Student) on Steve Henn’s Unacknowledged Legislations:
Unacknowledged Legislations is an exquisite collection of poetry from Warsaw, IN native Steve Henn. Copious praise would be unjust to this particular collection as the words themselves speak true. Refreshing. Honest. Brave. All words which can partially describe the evocative content of this book. Personal. Conflicted. Divergent. Unorganized. Polished. Real. What Steve accomplishes is an unapologetically personal account of particular pieces of an existence in Warsaw, Indiana. It is not enough to call this book poetry, as it is in fact a somewhat historical and selectively journalistic account of a town, its people, and their culture. Henn is not afraid to document his experience while retaining his unique views of each of them. While the book contains topics including religion, home, vasectomy, and pant pissing, it seldom generalizes and demonstrates masterful translation of experience and emotion into written word. While the content is sometimes shocking, it never aspires to shock. Henn aims neither above nor below what he knows best: existence. Causes, movements, and issues are hard to wrestle when time, matter, and self are not certainties. Thus, as Henn portrays his experiences honestly – whether through biographical facts or his intuitive whims – he creates the most real collection I have read in some time. Without trying to perhaps, he has assembled a profoundly human work which will hopefully mark the beginning of similar works to come.