pat mAcdonald’s Long Game

Posted June 26, 2017 by meisen
Categories: Music, TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

For years, I’ve thought pat mAcdonald (that’s his idiosyncratic spelling)  is a musician of lasting merit. The kind whose recordings will be played 50 years from now and whose songs are a good bet to be revived decades from now by musicians not yet born.

Last summer, when I was having a casual drink at the Weary Traveler in Madison and chatting with bartender Josh Harty, who’s a stellar singer-songwriter in his own right, I learned that mAcdonald  had a bad case of cancer.

That’s when I decided I had to profile him. I wanted to shine a light on his work.

Here’s how my story started in Isthmus:

Oh, he’s lost a few things during 40-plus years of living the Bohemian life of a musician. For instance:

— That Mussehl & Westphal musical saw, the renowned Cadillac of musical saws. The young Pat MacDonald bought it in 1974 in Fort Atkinson from Clarence J. Mussehl himself, then a nonagenarian and long-ago vaudevillian, who tossed in a free lesson.

— That autographed album the great country tunesmith Billy Joe Shaver gave him in Nashville in 1973 after hearing MacDonald’s demo songs at singer Bobby Bare’s music offices: “To my friend Pat MacDonald: the last of the great songwriters.”

This scrawny long-haired troublemaker from Green Bay was all of 20 at the time, knocking around Madison, making music to survive after an unsuccessful try at drug dealing. His future was not yet clear.

At some point in the intervening decades of countless moves — including his 1984 journey from Madison to Austin with wife and musical partner Barbara Kooyman in their soon-to-be celebrated band Timbuk3, and later his sojourn in Barcelona, to lick his wounds, after their marriage and band broke up — he lost the damn saw and his records.

But not much else, it turns out. “I’m kind of a pack-rat,” mAcdonald says over coffee recently in Sturgeon Bay, in picturesque Door County on Lake Michigan. “Who could throw out a Christmas card that was sent with love?” We’re at his 18-unit retro cool Holiday Music Motel, an improbable but genius choice as a base camp for a cultural shaman like him. And, yes, note the typography of his moniker. Tired of the habitual misspelling of his last name as “McDonald,” he now labels himself pat mAcdonald.

Who’s to argue with this single-minded artist? Especially when in the space of 24 hours I meet three musicians who, trusting their instincts, packed up from good lives in San Francisco, New York City and Madison to be part of mAcdonald’s creative circle in this out-of-the-way port city.

These artists — and a whole bunch more from across the country — will be front and center at the Steel Bridge Songfest June 8-11 that mAcdonald puts on annually in Sturgeon Bay. (For details see page 18.)

“This place is like a dream incubator,” bassist and longtime Madison blues stalwart Tony Menzer tells me. It’s late night, and he’s packing up after backing a powerful blues singer named Cathy Grier at the Stone Harbor Bar across the street from the motel. Menzer put in 10 years with Clyde Stubblefield and 15 years with the Westside Andy-Mel Ford Band. Three years ago, at mAcdonald’s invitation, Menzer bailed from Madtown and moved his music equipment business from a Madison storage facility to a rambling warehouse showroom that mAcdonald and his investors own next to the motel. But I digress….

It’s legacy that weighs on pat mAcdonald’s mind, and we eventually get around to the spook in the breakfast nook. It’s not just that he turns 65 in August, but that 2016 found him confronting Stage 4 cancer — non-Hodgkins large B-cell lymphoma — and 10 months of on-and-off chemotherapy that exacted its own toll on his body. He’s now in remission and getting stronger.

That face-off with cancer — “It’s hell going through that shit,” he says matter of factly — has compelled him to not just put his creative work in order but to advance it, while there’s time.

To read more, please go here. Alternatively, the story can also be found on the No Depression website. I also wrote about mAcdonald in a recap of my favorite concerts .

 

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Segregation’s High Cost

Posted June 2, 2017 by meisen
Categories: Education, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Tags: , ,

“Housing policy is school policy.” That lesson has stuck with me over the years.

In 2001, I was one of the organizers of a land-use  conference — “Nolen in the New Century,” named for pioneer city designer John Nolen — that brought David Rusk to Madison. Rusk, the former mayor of Albuquerque, was a leading voice in advocating for a metropolitan vision for cities.

In particular, he drew a clear line linking high-poverty neighborhoods and the academic failure of poor kids. And–this was critical–improved performance when poor kids were raised in middle-class neighborhoods.

Rusk’s Cities Without Suburbs, the Congressional Quarterly proclaimed, was “the Bible of the regionalism movement.” A subsequent book, Inside Game/Outside Game, argued that regional land-use and tax  policies were more critical to turning around failing neighborhoods than anti-poverty programs.

As for housing patterns and educational success, he wrote in the Nov. 23, 2001 Isthmus:

Why should you be concerned about concentrated poverty in Madison and Dane County rather than just poverty in general? High poverty neighborhoods breed crime. Property values typically fall in high poverty neighborhoods. However, the greatest impact is on the education of children.

Over the last 35 years, educational research has consistently shown that the greatest factors affecting student outcomes are the income and educational level of a child’s parents followed closely by the same factors for the parents of a child’s classmates. “The educational resources provided by a child’s fellow students,” sociologist James Coleman wrote, “are more important for his achievement than are the resources provided by the school board.”

Skip ahead 16 years. Rusk’s insight has been mightily bolstered by the groundbreaking research of Raj Chetty and other economists now associated with the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality. In  a nutshell, they found that the earlier poor kids moved from high-poverty neighborhoods into middle-class surroundings, the better they fared in life.

This prompted me to argue in an opinion column in the Journal Sentinel,that the hyper-segregation of  Milwaukee’s poor has had a ruinous impact on children and undermined not just the metropolitan economy but the Wisconsin economy. I wrote:

Yet in Milwaukee this research — the concrete finding that expanded housing choice can ameliorate poverty — is largely ignored. My take on why: The poverty discussion in Milwaukee has been stunted by the decades-old battle that pits powerful conservative advocates of school vouchers against the once powerful liberal defenders of public education.

Both sides seem satisfied with keeping the focus on the economically and racially isolated high-poverty neighborhoods. Barely a word is voiced about the social, educational and economic benefits of spreading affordable- and subsidized- rental housing throughout the metro area.

You can find my column here.

Here’s an explanation of why the Chetty research is important.

This is the breakthrough study by Chetty.

And here’s what Rusk wrote in Isthmus.

When Clyde Met Karl

Posted March 7, 2017 by meisen
Categories: Music, Tone

Tags: ,

That would be the great funk drummer Clyde Stubblefield sitting in with jam band leader Karl Denson at the Majestic Theatre in Madison on March 29, 2009. Stubblefield’s death prompted me to rummage through my musical archives to find an audio of their meeting. It’s killer.

I wrote about it for Tone Madison, the online arts chronicler:

When the jam ended, Denson’s band of young African-American players gathered around Stubblefield to shake his hand and hug him. They were in the presence of their hero. “That was a big deal for me,” a blissed and happy Denson told the cheering crowd. “If anybody recorded that, I need a copy. Throw that up on YouTube right away. You know what I’m saying?”
I don’t have the video, but here—eight years later—is the audio of that perfect moment in the late Clyde Stubblefield’s extraordinary life in American music.

You can read the post and hear the jam here.

You Must Remember This, cont’d

Posted January 22, 2017 by meisen
Categories: Tech, TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus

Tags: ,

In December 2013, I wrote about a Madison biotech company facing an investigation from the Food and Drug Administration over a dietary supplement that supposedly bolsters memory recall. Three years later, Quincy Bioscience has been sued by the Federal Trade Commission and the New York attorney  general on a related complaint.

My Isthmus story begins:

Quincy Bioscience, a Madison biotech company that has struck gold in the dietary supplement business, is facing a potentially ruinous lawsuit filed by government regulators.

The Federal Trade Commission in conjunction with the New York state attorney general is seeking to shut down sales of Prevagen, which is a costly over-the-counter supplement the company says improves brain function, including memory.

The supplement’s key ingredient is a synthetic version of a jellyfish protein called aequorin. Quincy has patented it and promoted aequorin as supporting a sharper mind and clearer thinking.

“A clear-cut fraud” is how New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman described the supplement in a press release. Through its advertising and TV infomercials, Quincy was preying on vulnerable senior citizens, he said, adding: Prevagen is a product “that costs more than a week’s groceries, but provides none of the health benefits that it claims.”

The FTC and Schneiderman want the court to issue a permanent injunction against the sale of Prevagen — which is Quincy’s core product — and to order the company to refund more than $165 million in Prevagen sales to consumers.

To read more, please go here.

A Fan’s Notes: 10 Years of Great Concerts

Posted January 19, 2017 by meisen
Categories: Music

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I started logging notes on concerts when I was hanging out with Clark Anderson.   He was a childcare worker, union organizer and a dear friend from the old days in Kenosha. Talking music was easy because I was a fan and Clark was a  gifted slide guitarist. I started taking notes.

Clark died in 2010. You can read about him and (hear his music) here. This ten-year retrospective of favorite concerts, written for my old paper Isthmus,  is dedicated to Clark.

The story begins:

Yeah, I got a music jones. About 500 concerts and shows’ worth over 10 years.

I love being caught up in the moment of live music. Swept away and transported. Lost in the shared sway of the cosmic boogie. In jaw-dropping awe of masters like Yo-Yo Ma and Leonard Cohen. Melting before Cassandra Wilson. Transfixed by Shelby Lynne. Glimpsing the abyss with the fearless Jon Dee Graham. Zoning out with Philip Glass. Stunned by Greg Allman’s howl of pain. Brought to tears by Beethoven’s 9th and Gorecki’s 3rd.

I’m there. I’m all in. It might be jazz. it might be country. It might be opera or classical. Or even freaky-deaky electronica. For 10 years I’ve written a year-end summary of my favorite shows for Isthmus. A critic I’m not: These year-end perambulations are a fan’s notes.

So here are my favorite shows and artists in Madison from 2006 to 2015; at the end, I toss in a few more from Milwaukee and Chicago. They are in roughly descending order of my liking. My original comments (lightly edited) are followed by italicized afterthoughts and music links.

I will ’fess up that I seem to be drawn — how to delicately put this? — to guy music, alt-country division. Am I telling a secret here? That all guys know deep down that temptation, chaos, despair and ruin are always lurking around the corner. Yep, even if we live the most proper lives imaginable, those bad-boy songs resonate with us. Like the compelling and scary songs of Jon Dee Graham.

To read about Jon Dee Graham and lots more great musicians, please go here.

Favorite Concerts of 2016

Posted January 1, 2017 by meisen
Categories: Music, TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus

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Well, hey there, here’s my 11th annual roundup of favorite concerts for Isthmus.

I got around in 2016. Upwards of 80 shows in Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and beyond. I listened to jazz, alt country, rock, classical, experimental — none of it was the stuff that dominates the music charts.

And sometimes I just I stumbled into a felicitous and serendipitous musical moment:

Harris Lemberg’s weird but enjoyable surf/instrumental band, Compact Deluxe, at Tempest (Jan. 22). Jim and Mike Blaha of Shadows in the Crack raising the roof at Mickey’s late one night (Oct. 28) with their noisy twin guitars. Madison’s grande dame jazz singers — Gerri DiMaggio, Jan Wheaton and Lynette Marguiles — trading choruses and killing on “Summertime” at Genna’s (July 23).
Or walking through Atwood Fest (July 31) with my dog Blue and hearing keyboard monster Jimmy Voegeli with horns and thinking: I gotta see this guy more often. Or 15 minutes earlier, breaking into a big smile hearing Jane Lee Hooker — an all-female southern soul band out of New York — rave up, howl and seize the music that may be the last redoubt of male privilege in the music world: southern boogie.
Or poking my head into the Harmony Bar music room (Dec. 8) during a fundraiser for a sick musician at the exact moment “Westside Andy” Linderman unloads a perfectly sculpted harmonica solo that stops me in my tracks.
There’s a lot of good music out there.

You can read about my favorite shows at the Isthmus website.

My older roundups are here: 2015, 201420132012201120102009200820072006.

Death Of A Friend

Posted October 28, 2016 by meisen
Categories: Divertissement, TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus

Tags: ,

Memory is mutable. It fades. Grows fuzzy. Plays tricks. Disappears. Writing is one way to hold on to meaning. Sometimes for dear life. I wrote this remembrance of David Medaris in a red heat after learning of his death.  I could close my eyes and see and hear David. As if he was there. I’m glad I got it down. The piece begins:

Isthmus has always been a collection of odd and compelling characters. None more so than David Medaris, who began writing for the paper as a West High student and who spent almost three decades as the listings editor and then a staff writer.

I was editor. David was David, which is to say he cut his own path. As the arbiter of listings, he functioned like a human algorithm. He precisely sorted and summarized hundreds of disparate and often recondite events that poured into the paper each week. No monk in a priory had a more exacting system of categorization.

David lived and breathed by his rules. Yet, paradoxically, he was also an exuberant, free-range thinker. He spied life’s complicated facets like a jeweler with a headlamp. Here was the reporter who would ponder endless questions for a story. David had to know. He had to understand. He was immensely curious about life and people. There was a sense of wonder and pleasure in comprehending both the mundane and the profound.

He also had a little sign on his desk: “Just tell the story.”

That was David: Painstakingly diligent, yet the faraway flutter of a butterfly in the Amazon might set him off on an intellectual ramble in the Isthmus lunchroom. He took delight in it.

His death Oct. 18 at age 57 after many years of beating back brain cancer was like a kick in the guts to his friends. His love affair with his wife, Michana Buchman, Isthmusassociate editor, was something any of us would want in this life. He always spoke of her with a tone of awe and respect. If only all of us could be so considerate of our partners. Now he’s gone.

To read more, please go here. The layout includes a marvelous portrait of David by the great photographic team J. Shimon & J. Lindemann.


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