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  • NTSC 3:45 pm on May 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Thoughts on Appropriation and Polka Hip Hop 

    April 6th, Bremen Café

    April 6th, Bremen Café

    NTSC here, melodeon player for your November Criminals. What follows will probably be rambling and incoherent. I’ll do my best to structure it as best I can.

    Sometimes I need to take stock in how lucky I am. I play the melodeon—a diatonic button accordion—for a Polka Hip Hop band. For the only Polka Hip Hop band in the world.

    I get to mix two of my favorite genres and perform them at the same time. Besides feeling lucky about getting this opportunity to express myself musically, I also need to zoom my focus out of my own life and recognize where I fit into a larger history of music, the people who make it and the performers who benefit from it.

    I’m a white guy who grew up in an upper-middle-class family. I listened to a lot of rap growing up because that’s what the kids in my grade school listened to. I was fortunate that my parents raised me and my two sisters in one of the few truly diverse neighborhoods of Milwaukee, a city that is famously and depressingly segregated. The late eighties and early nineties were a boom for the popularity of hip hop groups, so that’s what I was exposed to.

    On the flip side of that, I’ve always been a huge nerd. I would listen to the polka and folk programs on the radio in my room and play along on my harmonica. Being of Polish and German descent, I feel the music of those cultures very closely in my heart. They resonate somehow and I couldn’t even explain why. I don’t speak Polish any more than I speak German, which is not at all.

    In high school I was introduced to Cajun and Zydeco music, which changed my life forever. I learned to play the Cajun style accordion (which is itself based on a traditional German style instrument) and I consumed a lot of Cajun and Zydeco music. A list of my biggest influences from those genres will reveal a trend, and point to the larger topic of this essay:

    Left to right – Boozoo Chavis, Dwayne Dopsie, Andrus Espre, J. Paul Jr. Step Rideau, Steve Riley

    Because the genre of Zydeco spoke so much to my musical tastes, I ended up emulating and worshiping primarily black musicians. The separations between traditional Acadian-influenced Cajun music and Creole/Black Creole Zydeco music run very deep in Louisiana, and have only recently begun to wear down a bit. The barriers still very much exist to this day. It’s a highly nuanced and complicated relationship, but a lot of it boils down to systemic racial bias and segregation, aka America’s entire history.

    That’s how I picked up the accordion and made it my primary intrument. I played along with every Cajun and Zydeco CD I could get my hands on. I practiced endlessly until I’m sure my parents regretted ever encouraging me to pick the instrument up in the first place. Hell, they even bought me a second one! Gluttons for punishment, my parents.

    Polish Immigrant with Concertina

    Eventually I acquired a three-row melodeon and began to learn some traditional Slavic and Baltic music, in keeping with my ancestry. It was strange, but I began to develop a sense of comfort with polkas and waltzes from Eastern and Central Europe. It felt like the music belonged to me. I knew unconsciously that I had no place performing Zydeco and Cajun music. I’m not French, I’m not Acadian, I’m not Spanish and I’m especially not Creole or Black Creole. I’m a Polack—a uniquely Americanized version of a Pole. That is my heritage.

    Cultural appropriation has run rampant in American society forever. I tried to do some research into when it began and was unable to find any high water mark. It’s been ever present. So long as there have been disenfranchised populations in this country, the privileged classes have taken every opportunity to steal their music, dress and language for entertainment. It can be argued that the most popular white bands in the nation’s history have all climbed to their positions of wealth and fame on the backs of black pioneers.

    Jump to 2011 and the forming of the November Criminals. We had no idea what we were doing. It started as a single song for a single album and nothing more—until it became something more. All three of us, Brümeister, Spade One and myself, really loved the sound we had discovered. We loved the energy, the melody, the rhythm. We loved the freedom it afforded us. We had literally created a genre of music and could do with it whatever we pleased. There were no guidelines, no tropes, no boundaries. There was no road map or definition for what we were doing.

    A few shows in, I began to struggle with the whole concept of us as a band. Spade One booked us on a series of hip hop shows at hip hop venues across the city. We were playing to audiences that expected an evening of pure hip hop, crafted and honed for their tastes. I can only imagine what they thought when I got on stage and plugged in my accordion. Needless to say, a lot of our audience took their smoke break while we performed. We played to a lot of empty rooms in those early days, and I felt it in my gut.

    Art Bar 2012 - I am clearly lost

    Art Bar 2012 – I am clearly lost

    I knew inherently that I didn’t belong. I felt terrible, not from a self-pitying standpoint, but because the audiences continued to be so nice to me. After every show I got handshakes and words of generous praise. “That was awesome, man.”, “You guys rocked it.”, “You really play that thing!” and so on and so forth. It might have been my own self-doubt preying on my mind, but I don’t think it was. I would have felt better if we had been booed off the stage, or hissed at, or blacklisted. That would have felt more appropriate. It never happened.

    We were nothing but accepted and thanked for our efforts. The hip hop community of this city gave us a stage and myriad opportunities, and never once told us to stop what we were doing. If anything, everyone emboldened us further! We would get pats on the back and offers of collaboration. It all made me feel even worse! I thanked my lucky stars that at least we were a Polka Hip Hop band. I’ll explain…

    Syncretism is the merging of two or more systems of belief and/or culture into one amalgamated blending. It happened a lot in colonized areas where the invading empires needed to instill their own religion onto the native population. Aboriginal deities and ceremonies got merged with Christian saints and traditions, creating something altogether different and unique in the process. I feel like our band follows that strange, organic trend. The thought keeps me going.

    Polka Hip Hop band with Concertina

    So long as we are a blend of traditional Slavic/Baltic/European music and Hip Hop, I feel a little less like I’m just one of many thieves who have taken what isn’t theirs and appropriated it for their own ends. It’s crucial that I always remember where Hip Hop came from, and who it truly represents. Yes, Hip Hop has opened its arms to artists of literally every race, sex, gender, creed and culture. That doesn’t mean I can interpret it in any way I want and ignore the ramifications of that action.

    Hip Hop is bigger than me. Its history is the history of jazz, and blues, and slavery and class struggle. I’m doing my best to make peace with my place in it now, and do right by every artist who made it what it is today. I know it will be an ongoing process. I’ll never be “done.”

    Recently we were invited to perform at Dontre Day, a commemoration of the life of Dontre Hamilton who was slain by Milwaukee police officers on April 30, 2014. Due to weather, it was held in the beautiful congregation hall of the All Peoples Church. I don’t know that we’ve ever been invited into a more open, welcoming environment of love and worship. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more out of place.

    A beautiful mural in the All Peoples Church

    A small group representing the Nation of Islam left just before our set, and I felt cowardly and grateful at the same time. We played our hearts out. I managed to successfully omit all the cussing in my verses (there is a lot) and we packed up quickly to make way for heartfelt and powerful words from the Hamilton family.

    As always, without exception, we were thanked and welcomed and appreciated after the show. Whether or not people were just being polite is beside the point. The fact that the community, every community we’ve ever performed for has always treated us with respect and care is simultaneously gratifying and crushing in just about equal measure.

    I’ll reiterate, I am incredibly lucky. I am privileged for so many reasons, one of which is that I benefit from this amazing opportunity. Yeah, we’re a weird band from a small city in a flyover state. We’ve got no audience to speak of and we toe the line of appropriate and ill-conceived every time we set foot on a stage. Still, I am ever grateful for what I have, for my brothers-in-arms and for the community that has nurtured us.

    I am going to do my best to find my place in it while honoring and amplifying the history behind the genres I love. I know I’ll mess up bad, and probably already have a hundred times. Hopefully I can proceed with the right amount of awareness and respect to make this whole endeavor worthwhile, because I truly love what we do.

    I’m a lucky guy.

     
  • Brümeister 8:47 pm on March 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: #2ndAlbum, #BremenCafe, #FranksPowerPlant, , #SpadeOne, #Studio200Milwaukee, #TheGreatWar, , #Wisconsin,   

    THE MARCH TO WAR: Brümeister Reflects and Genuflects 

    Blank walls are like  blank pages. #TheGreatWarIsComing

    Blank walls are like blank pages. #TheGreatWarIsComing

    I just got done listening to The Great War final mixes and I wanted to take a moment before all the…. whatever….to let you know that this is something I’m really proud of. Pride may be a sin that ages us silently or that reverberates as shame when we are self critical of another time in our lives but it is important to document our creative life or else blogs like this serve no purpose. I know what we had on our first album. It was good. It did not echo but it was a good try. This album could be just as poorly received/promoted/monetized or whatever as the first but I can say with honesty that this is, so far, the best thing I’ve done creatively. It gives me hope that I can still do something collaborative on this scale and deliver something that is also genuinely of myself.

    Solidarity with Standing Rock Rally from last Fall...pre-election I think.

    Solidarity with Standing Rock Rally from last Fall…pre-election I think.

    At this moment I am blessed. I hope we can all continue to say that even as we continue the fight towards a better future. I’m working on music. Not exactly leading the front lines. But if art and music serve any real purpose it can be to say to those in charge what it is we want changed in society. But sometimes it can just be about butts and stuff. So if anything maybe that’s why we still make music in Albums and not one track at a time. It all has to hit at once to some degree and if you hear one of our songs the hope is you’ll want to hear more and that you will hear something different.

     

    April 6th will mark the 100th anniversary of the US entering World War One. On that day we are honoring the sacrifices of those killed in that war and commemorating the ushering in of a new age in the Global politic…. by releasing a Polka Hip Hop album. Yes, I know.

     

    Actually this album took a lot more effort to get right than I expected. We were lucky to have Kevin Christenen and Michael Ritter join us on this project to help give it a sound that is closer to what we desire in a recording and we are grateful to Bill Stace for giving us space and helping navigate the mix. Bill’s first question was “what do you want it to sound like; a Polka record or a Hip Hop record?” My answer was both at the same time if possible. And then we went to work.

     

    2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. August 1914

    2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
    August 1914

    Anyone in a band knows how hard organizing studio time is and understands the challenges of getting everything as close to perfect as possible. During the recording and mixing of this album we lost friends to violence and we experienced the 2016 presidential election. We worked on this album through the fall and the winter.

     

    We have a number of shows coming up and I hope you can attend as many as possible to see us in as many different settings and company as Milwaukee can offer.

     

     

     

     

    March 24, 2017 we are at Studio 200

    Art and layout by NTSC

    Art and layout by NTSC

     

     

    March 30th help us celebrate Spade One’s Birthday!

     

    April 6th at Bremen the CD release for The Great War with AGNI and Ghost Mirror!

     

    April 8th at Frank’s Power Plant

     
  • Brümeister 12:42 am on November 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Troutski In Requiem 

    Saturday I was attending a wedding for a long-time friend and musical collaborator in West Allis. I had my phone off for the ceremony. As is the custom there was a few hours between the ceremony and the reception and so it was I found myself at a Taco Bell staring at a message from a friend telling me Troutski was gone which I confirmed the way one does on social media. Colin-Michel Demgé was shot in front of his own house at around one in the morning. It was a gut punch to me and I know it had to be to many people in the Milwaukee music scene.

    Guest DJ at the November Criminals CD release

    Guest DJ at the November Criminals CD release

    Troutski in his lab: Mastermind at Work

    Mastermind at work

    Somebody else will tell you all the wonderful things he’s done from Universal Minds to Kilgore Trout to Brew City Bandits AKA Bandidos to Fishpause he displayed his passions and knowledge of music in a way that made people want to participate as much as he did. He collaborated with people you would not expect and was always looking to hear something new as much as he was looking to make something new for you to hear.
    I was fortunate to work with him on a couple of tracks for the first November Criminals album. In fact a good portion of that album’s vocals were recorded at his house! He even threw us a bonus track with a crazy time signature and dropped a hilarious closing verse. We called it Sausage Fest.

    During the sessions I struck up a friendship with him as we discovered a mutual love of jazz. I played one of my favorite songs for him Red Clay by Freddie Hubbard and Colin’s enthusiasm for the song was hilarious “How have I not heard this?” It was what he was trying to do for so many others: make music that they’d never heard but needed to hear.

    Troutski busts on the mic  @ 2013 CD release

    Troutski busts on the mic @ 2013 CD release

     

    He also had a mind to help with his talents volunteering to spin during a Hip Hop fundraiser for WXRW. Of course my personal favorite memory of him will be performing with him at our album release. It gave us a chance to step back and allow Bandidos (Spade One & Troutski) to spit their song B-Boy Stance while NTSC and I stood behind in proper B-Boy stances.

     

    It will be a different music scene without him. So many DJs and MCs worked with him in Milwaukee you can bet the tributes like this one will be well attended and hopefully help us all heal from this loss. Milwaukee has a lot to overcome when it comes to gun violence. I earnestly hope this is a turning point in the awareness of those that worked with Colin and that from this we can have a discussion about where we as musicians fit in and what sort of stances we should be taking. I know where mine is. Let’s move forward together.

    Rest In Power, Colin.

    Better times with DJ Troutski

    Better times with DJ Troutski

     

     

     

     

     
    • Liz 4:01 am on November 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Thank you for writing this beautiful piece on my Colin. I’m filled with such happiness and peace knowing how many people’s lives he touched. He is irreplaceable, so it’s a damn good thing he is still with us. He is just in a new form now.

  • Brümeister 10:30 pm on October 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: #KarlOfAustria, , #Prost!,   

    The Shame Of A Poet 

    The Shame of a Poet

     

    What it feels like to ask for crowd funding.

    What it feels like to ask for crowd funding.

    Self perception is a beast. Taming this beast is life long task. Our creative lives can often be the last line of defense from the beast going mad, frothing at the mouth and taking a bite out of us.

    The purpose of collaboration is to do something that you could not otherwise do on your own. As someone who believes (somehow, still) that he is a poet I have to admit I can’t do this alone. My words have not meant enough to afford me the luxury of creating something the way I see fit. This is my shame. Of course it isn’t my only shame but I see that it is the reason we are stuck. Of course I am not alone in this fight to create something. My brothers NTSC and Spade ONE are with me as are KC and Mike as well as Bill Stace who is recording these sessions. But we have another goal in mind beyond merely recording a well produced record — we’d like people to hear us this time.

     

    Why now?

    It's a big party!

    It’s a big party!

    Admittedly, I pushed for us to have The Great War done this fall. So much is happening in our city, our state, our nation and our world that sitting idly by waiting was not an option for me. And holding back on our statement meant more would happen to change our minds and indeed during recording more HAS happened. Yet to sit and wait to see how history will play out means you will sit and wait for all eternity and that time is something we needed to realize we do not have.

     

    Why Should Anyone Help?

     

    Emperor stops to talk with the people.

    Emperor stops to talk with the people.

    Before going live on our crowd sourcing effort I asked for a lot of feedback and have even received some during it from friends who I trust and respect to tell me the truth of their perception. One point of contention I heard from a few people was that we are begging for money here for something that is not inherently valuable. I’m paraphrasing a bit and enjambing a few conversations but the basic idea is that we are asking for money to fund a vanity project. I counter that idea with the fact that we aren’t asking for free money, if anything we are selling a one time subscription. You can buy an album on the shelf or you can pay for it before it comes out and in doing so help fund its creation. There are reward tiers set up for people that donate. Think of it as Christmas shopping for the woke nerd/ hip hop head in your life that is looking for something a little different this year.

     

    But yes. I do feel a certain shame for not being rich by now and able to fund my own project. That is a symptom of capitalism.

     

    Another criticism I have heard since we started was that people don’t like the idea of Polka Hip Hop. Well that is what we are. We’re not a strict Hip Hop act and we definitely aren’t just a Polka band. The idea that we should just call ourselves one or the other for the sake of mass appeal is something you’d say if you didn’t really like our music in the first place. Why are you here?

     

    What is it about World War One? Why November Criminals? The Great War?

    TANKS A LOT!!!

    TANKS A LOT!!!

    Ok Ok Ok calm down. It has been established that this nation (USA 2016) is run by Oligarchs. A handful of elites are in charge of vetting who our leaders will be in order to maintain the current level of wealth distribution. It’s what has come to replace monarchy. The Great War was the event that rewrote the power structure in Europe as pointed out by NTSC. The original November Criminals were the people that decided to sign a treaty ending that war because for some reason when powerful people have a conflict it’s the rest of humanity that suffers. They were all assassinated over time by those that named them. They were men and women that wanted to see a better life for everyone in peace. They saw that peace was necessary for that better life to begin. Their enemies were focused on their own bitterness.

    The Great War is coming but this time The November Criminals are alive. Therefore things will be different. Hint: Just like we are not the only band named November Criminals we are not the only advocates for peaceful solutions. State Violence is a looming threat, open revolt is on the tongues of many and nothing seems clear but the poets, the polka rappers, and the people who would help them create… they have arrived just in time. Even if all we aim to do is remind people how to have enjoy differences.

    Written on Oct. 21st 2016 During The Feast of the Blessed Karl of Austria.

     

    COME SEE US LIVE AT NOMAD WORLD PUB OCTOBER 27th at 9PM

    ******FREE******

     
  • NTSC 4:05 pm on October 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    What does The Great War mean to me, NTSC? 

    As you may or may not know, we have started a campaign to help fund the creation and distribution of our second full-length album, The Great War. I wanted to take a moment to talk about what this album means to me, and invite my brothers the Brümeister and SpadeOne to do the same.

    The Great War—also known as World War I—marked a major turning point in the history of the world. It killed, literally, some of the oldest monarchies and empires under which the world has ever suffered. It redrafted the imaginary boundary lines of the Earth and redefined what horror truly was. Little did we know those horrors were only a prologue to what would follow.

    The album we’re currently making is named after that horrible conflict for a lot of reasons. For one, we as a band are just fascinated by WWI. The unrest caused in Imperial Russia led directly to the revolution which would topple the Romanov Tsars. The empires of the Ottomans and Austria-Hungary split apart at the seams, giving birth to new nations and reviving old ones. It was a major victory against the sovereignty of monarchs and oligarchs, but the sentiment was not to last long.

    Welcome back to the stage: Poland!

    Welcome back to the stage: Poland!

    Beyond our interest in WWI as an important turning point for the world, the theme of that conflict resonates with me very personally.

    I like to use the acronym POOP when I talk about this kind of thing. It stands for “Power Over Other People.”

    I don’t want POOP.

    I don’t deserve to wield POOP.

    Anyone who does want POOP, or thinks they somehow deserve it, is by their very nature a dangerous person. Yet we glorify, champion, support and endorse POOP-heads all the time. We have been doing it for centuries now. The Great War began with a loud and visceral attack against the very concept of POOP.

    PHOTO: REUTERS

    Gavrilo Princip statue, Sarajevo – PHOTO: REUTERS

     

    The young anarchist Gavrilo Princip fired the shot that would end the life of Franz Ferdinand and  set in motion the terrible gears that wound up the world’s war machine. That was not his intention, but that was the result. He had intended to set a fire beneath the butts of other revolutionaries and anarcho-syndicalists like himself. He had intended to show that the rulers of men, the wielders of power, were mortal and fallible. Nobody deserves to hold power over another human being. POOP is bad. We are not wild animals that need breaking, training or caging. The natural inclination of all humans is cooperative. We fight back only when we are controlled, and that is what spurred the events of June 28th, 1914.

    These Fucking Assholes

    Then there’s these fucking assholes. That flag look familiar to anyone?

    Especially in this election cycle, with fascist and nationalist parties winning more and more seats in governments across the world, the lessons of The Great War ring like a cacophony of bells in my head. We can’t let this happen again. We need to learn from history. In my mind, The Great War is going on right now. It’s happening again. It is in our hands to fight against nationalism, fascism, escapism, anti-humanism and all forms of POOP.

    That’s what this album represents to me. It’s a weird thing to want to convey in a polka hip hop album, I know. We’re a weird band to want to talk about these issues. We have no visibility. We have no notoriety. We have no power.

    We have an accordion and three mics and that’s about it. We can’t help ourselves though. When given the chance, we’re going to write about what’s on our minds. In the first album that was pirates and beer and fun and friends.

    This time, it’s The Great War.

     
  • NTSC 1:51 pm on September 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    I for one am not surprised 

    Recently it came out that the sugar industry has been manipulating data for decades to protect its financial interests to the detriment of the population’s health. This sparked the usual outrage, editorials, think pieces etc. etc.

    Dr. Cristin Kearns

    Dr. Cristin Kearns shed light on the sugar industry’s illegal actvities

    I don’t understand why people continue to react with such anger and surprise. Mainly surprise.

    This is how the system works. The structure of power and money creates an environment, a naturally selective ecology wherein it is and always will be more beneficial to cheat than to “play fair.”

    Consider a theoretical savanna. There is a semi-intelligent species of primate that gathers berries from the ground. Because there is a limited number of berries, the tribe has created a rule that simply states “Individuals may only collect and eat 150 berries a day.” So, some of the primates keep to the rule and only collect and consume 150 berries a day. Some even collect less to try and make up for those who can’t collect more.

    However, there are two other kinds of primates in this little theoretical savanna. They’re the cheaters. One cheater looks at the rule and learns how to twist it. They only eat 150 berries a day, but they collect way more than that, as many as they can possibly carry. Other primates may complain and gnash their teeth, but technically they’re following the rule, which clearly states “Individuals may only collect and eat 150 berries a day.” So for all intents and purposes they’re not actually cheating, but in reality they are definitely skewing the amount of berries the whole tribe can have.

    The second kind of cheater just ignores the rule altogether. They collect and eat way more than 150 berries a day. If left unchecked by their peers, they’ll eat all the berries. They’ll also have a completely natural advantage over their peers, since they will be better nourished, their young will have a better chance of succeeding and they may even gain positions of power over the other members of their little tribe because they have so many berries.

    So, it’s a dumb and overly simplistic illustration, but it proves the point. Cheating will always be the best way to succeed in a system of rules and laws. Oftentimes that cheating will lead to power and influence and the ability to change the rules of the game in the cheater’s favor.

    Let me clarify, the cheaters aren’t immoral. They’re not evil. They’re working in a system that has proven to benefit their actions. They are acting intelligently. I’m not saying that cheaters like Enron and the sugar growers should be applauded. I’m saying their motivation isn’t a big surprise.

    Lead in the water, illegal dumping, poaching, the devastation of the rain forests, spoiling of the Earth’s natural resources, are all caused by the system we’ve put in place as a species.

    Mayor asshole Dayne Walling

    Former Flint Mayor and gaping asshole, Dayne Walling CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PAUL SANCYA

    The answer isn’t more rules. The answer isn’t to kill or punish the cheaters. The answer is to fix the system. How do we do that?

    Well, the fact of the matter is this system has been grown and shaped and perfected for thousands of years. So long as power benefited a select few who understood how to wield it, they shaped the world and the economic ecology of it to suit them and their offspring. It’s been the manifestation of financial natural selection. Darwin would be proud.

    Darwin would be proud </sarcasm>

    “Good job assholes.” -Darwin

    To truly fix it, we would have to scrap the current system of power and money. It’s not nearly as difficult as those with power and money would have you believe. When one human being can no longer exert control over another, and everyone gets what they need without any exceptions, we will have moved toward the next stage of our evolution as a species.

    Rest assured, there will be no utopia. There will be no solution. It will be a constant experiment of trial and error. There is no “good” or “bad.” There is what works and what doesn’t. Right now, this way we’re living, doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for the majority of animals (humans and everything else) nor does it work for the planet we all live on together. It just doesn’t work.

    It doesn’t surprise me that this happened again. Guess what, it is happening right now. I guarantee somewhere a corporation or conglomerate is twisting the law, breaking the law or lobbying to change the law so that they can profit. So long as profit is the most important goal to survival, this sort of scandal will keep happening. It is happening. When we change it, when we finally join our voices together and say “Enough is enough. This doesn’t work.” then I will be surprised. Pleasantly.

     
  • NTSC 2:08 pm on August 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Milwaukee is Burning 

    Aug 13, 2016

    Aug 13, 2016

    I grew up in Sherman Park. I spent the first 14 years of my life in that neighborhood. My parents moved their little family there before I was born. The early years there were pivotal to me.

    I remember walking down to the local comic shop with my friend Eric. We would try to sneak peaks at the racier, adult comics with nudity in them. Inevitably we would be shooed out. I have good and bad memories of those days. Grade school was tough for me, and eventually the area got too dangerous for Eric and I to take walks anymore. Gang activity increased at an alarming rate.

    Shortly before my fifteenth birthday, my mother was held up at gun point one night in our alley. That was the last straw for my parents, who promptly picked us up and moved to the East side. They could afford to do so.

    After the violence which erupted in that neighborhood on the night of the 13th, you could be forgiven for thinking you know what my reaction would be today.

    When I was a kid, I hated gang members. They were violent, macho bullies. My grade school had a few of them, and everyone knew who they were. You just avoided them. It was easy for me to do so—I was a white kid who could stay out of the whole thing if I chose to. So long as I kept my head down, I would have opportunities awarded to me by the virtue of my upbringing.

    We moved, my parents enrolled me in a then-prestigious private high school and upon graduation I went to college from which I graduated summa cum laude. I have my parents and grandparents and society at large to thank for all of those opportunities.

    My opinion of gang members has changed a lot since I was a kid, which might surprise some to hear. Growing up I was always told to question things, to think critically and to look to the root of problems—to always ask “Why?”

    My mother, bless her heart, also told me to avoid engaging with the police. She taught her white, scrawny, nerdy son to be always mistrustful of authority, and never to give up too much information voluntarily. I don’t think she taught me that out of any dislike for police officers as people, but because she understood how the system really worked. The system inherently wants to find the shortest, easiest distance between two points. That distance can end up hurting people.

    This takes me back to the evening of the 13th, when Sylville Smith fought for his life and lost it. Why did that young man have a gun? Why did he have a criminal history? Why did he do everything that he did and why did it lead to his death and the destruction that followed?

    I don’t demonize criminals any more, because a criminal is an invention of our society. How do you make a criminal?

    You feed one while another goes hungry.

    You educate one while another goes untaught.

    You help one while another goes unaided.

    You give opportunities and representation and a voice to one, and in so doing take them all away from another.

    So long as there is disparity, and the rule of law to protect it, you willfully create an entire population of “criminals.”

    There is not a human being on this planet that will put up with that forever.

    On the flip side, I don’t demonize police officers any more either. Ask why. Ask how you make a police officer. Look at what they’re being told.

    They’re being trained to dehumanize an entire population of their fellow human beings.

    They’re being taught that breaking the law is inherently bad, even while their superiors fight every day to twist the law in their own favor.

    They’re being given complete control over the bodily rights of other people, and they are specifically rewarded for exercising that control.

    They are not taught to look beyond the crime to the source of the problem. They are not taught to question authority. In fact, they are trained only to protect the solidarity of the system for which they fight, although in reality it no more protects them and their interests than it does that young black man they killed.

    We are all in this together, and the very few in power do not want us to remember that.

    Nothing divides us but the imagined divisions of our own creation. Except the majority of is didn’t create those divisions. They were created for us, too long ago for anyone to remember why or how.

    Money is an invention. Class is an invention. Poverty is an invention. Law is an invention. Crime is an invention. Power is an invention. Freedom is an invention.

    They’re all tools, used for a specific purpose, and we don’t get to wield them. None of us really do. The hand of the police officer that pulled the trigger that killed Sylville Smith was controlled by the inhuman rights afforded him by the rule of law.

    A single, powerful man can order the sanctioned murder of thousands of people who live thousands of miles away, and will be applauded.

    A single poor man can choose to use the tools at his disposal to improve his standing in life, and will be murdered or caged for it.

    They are the same. They are born into this life with the same potential, the same value, the same birthright and natural heritage of all the Earth. Give one opportunities and he is president. Take opportunities away and the other is a criminal, and dead.

    August 14, 2016

    August 14, 2016

    Milwaukee is burning right now. It may no longer be on fire, but it is burning. The kindling has been built up over generations. What will we do? Will we fan the flames with further hatred, anger and knee jerk reactions? Will we let them keep dividing us?

    Will we work together to quench the fire finally?

    I will tell you what I saw on my drive to work the following day. I drive right up Burleigh, right past the shell of that burnt gas station on my way to work. I saw hundreds and hundreds of people all gathered with trash bags, bottles of water and open hands, cleaning up. The sidewalks and parks were absolutely full. Everyone was working. Everyone was helping. Police watched on. The atmosphere was tense and solemn.

    Cleaning Up

    August 14, 2016

    It was a balm on the burns, but not a cure for the root cause of the fire. Still, it gives me hope.

    What do we do next?

     
  • NTSC 5:27 pm on August 11, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Lessons from an August past – a stream of consciousness ramble 

    1945

    August 6th – The city of Hiroshima is the first target of any nuclear bomb used in warfare.

    August 8th – The Soviet Union declares war on the Empire of Japan.

    August 9th – The city of Nagasaki becomes the second city targeted by an American nuclear strike.

    August 10th – Imperial Japan accepts the Potsdam Declaration, contingent on the retained sovereignty of the Emperor.

    August 11th – America demands Imperial Japan’s unconditional surrender.

    August 12th – The Soviet Union advances onto the Korean Peninsula.

    August 14th – Emperor Hirohito of Japan surrenders unconditionally. The second world war is over, for the most part.

    1945 was a very different world from our own. People were different. Morals and values were different. Right and wrong were different. New cruelties never before suffered upon the world and its people were invented and executed, to terrifying effect. Over 2.2 Billion human beings were killed by other human beings, often in the worst ways conceivable. It was perhaps the most inhuman conflict in all history.

    For what?

    For fear.

    For hatred.

    For nationalism.

    In defense of the perceived differences that divide us.

    For power and money.

    Two Billion Three Hundred Million children of Earth, across every spectrum you can imagine, were murdered.

    Who were the bad guys? 

    Who were the good guys?

    Who are we?

    Let us never forget what transpired.

    War, cruelty, hatred and violence on that level is totally and completely unnatural.

    It is the ultimate expression of manipulative control exercised by the powerful over the powerless.

    Let us never again believe the lies of justified hatred against one another.

    Let us never again be so blindly convinced that violence is heroism, especially in defense of something as meaningless as the concept of a country or a race.

    There are many lessons to learn and remember from those days.

    Don’t hate one another. Don’t divide into groups. Don’t blame and accuse. Don’t scapegoat.

    Unite against power.

    Power serves only itself.

     
  • NTSC 3:58 pm on January 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    4th Place 

    My wife and I attended the Shepherd Express Best of Milwaukee 2015 Awards Party last night at the Turner Hall Ballroom. It was certainly an affair to be seen at, all congratulations to The Shepherd and all the folks that worked hard to make a great event.

    best of milwaukee 2015 logo

    What a Party!

    The menu was insane, with catering from almost 20 of Milwaukee’s best restaurants and hospitality groups. Needless to say, we all ate very well. As much as I enjoyed the food, and it was certainly a main focus for me, I went for different, personal reasons.

    november criminals plea for votes

    Holy Crap! We’re on the ballot!

    If you’ve been following us at all, you know that The November Criminals were actually nominated in our category of “best rap/hip hop group.” We were officially on the ballot, thanks entirely to the tireless support of our friends, families and fans. It was unheard of. We were listed among the ranks of Milwaukee’s most visible, most beloved rap acts – acts that had managed to achieve the unthinkable for a Milwaukee band: recognition outside of our local stage. There we were, in black and white with a little check box beside our name. It was unreal. I told myself I was attending the awards party for the awesome food, but there was a small part of me that wanted to go to see if it was possible, if we could really actually take home the title.

    I consider myself an optimist, but I fall short of that lofty goal pretty frequently, especially when it comes to my own personal success. Realistically, I told myself we couldn’t possibly win. We have incredible fans and followers, but their numbers – though staggering to me – are not nearly as large as the numbers of fans our esteemed competition enjoy. I use the term “competition” here very loosely. I’d wager 90% of Milwaukeeans have never heard of us, and that estimate is probably too low. So, yeah, I knew we couldn’t win. The numbers told the story. Yet, in the back of my mind flickered a small, fragile candle of hope. Maybe we had managed to creep by in the polls. Maybe our competition hadn’t cared enough about the title to promote their nomination. Maybe they were resting on their laurels and figured their name recognition would be enough to win. We, on the other hand, campaigned furiously on social media.

    we continue to pander

    Just one example of our tenacious campaigning.

    For us, this opportunity wasn’t just another award like it was to so many of the area businesses that win one every year like clockwork. For us, this opportunity represented a chance to gain real visibility, on a scale we could never achieve alone through our own network of connections. This was a real chance to get some recognition for the insane thing we’re doing musically. It would also represent a palpable admission that what we are doing isn’t so far from the mainstream that it will never be accepted. It would be validation and vindication that I, personally have been craving ever since we started this project.

    It was not to be.

    At 7:00  the winners were projected on a giant screen behind the band (shoutout to Wifee and the Huzz Band) one after another in order of category. First Milwaukee characters and representatives, then services rendered, restaurants, boutiques, animal advocacy groups, the list went on. There are a lot of categories. I clapped and cheered for the winners, especially businesses and individuals I appreciated and voted for. I fell silent when the Music category finally appeared. Best acoustic musician, best choral group, best female singer, etc. I held my breath. I could feel my heart pounding. I knew we couldn’t win. I knew it as a fact, but still, that glimmer of hope fluttered in my chest. Finally: “Best Rap/Hip Hop Group.” It was all I could do to bring myself to read the name below the title heading. WebsterX. Well, it wasn’t a surprise. I wasn’t shocked. It was exactly the name I’d expected to see. It made perfect sense, but no amount of logic can soothe that feeling of loss. We came in 4th among the runners-up. We came in dead last.

    A measure of hindsight has been a salve to the pain of losing. We made it on the ballot! There might be people out there who had never even heard of us before, who may have been curious enough to look us up after they voted for WebsterX. They might not become fans after they find us, but they had to look us up! There are probably at least a few people who never knew Non-Ironic Polka Hip Hop even existed before this competition, who now know undeniably that it does! We almost certainly got a modicum of exposure out of this whole thing, and that alone is a triumph, especially when you’re a band like us. Yes, the news is that we lost. The news is, we came in dead last. But maybe, for us, bad news is still good news.

    Maybe next year?

    Maybe next year?

     
  • Brümeister 11:01 pm on June 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Stanford Poetry Blues and Graduation for One! 

    So the last online class for the 10 PreModern Women poets happened the other week. It was a free online Stanford class and I signed up hoping to learn something new and I did. What I did not do was any of the assignments (feedback to questions prepared by the instructors). Essays like that were never my strong suit and questions that are supposed to be designed to illicit certain responses usually get the crickets in my head chirping. I’m like “You just said everything in the video, why do I have to repeat it?”  It’s part of the reason I excelled in creative writing instead of essay writing. I have no boundaries and I have no goals. Repeating a few lines from a text that everyone in class will already be repeating is the most fruitless waste of intelligence I came to know while in school. Instead I’d rather quote things deliberately and to make points as I see fit. My grades were only good where professors understood that I was intelligent and could not be motivated against my will.

    My sister is graduated high school a few weeks ago! She’s graduated with a much higher GPA than I did and will even be getting a scholarship! I am immensely proud of her, as any brother would be, but I’m even more impressed because I understand part of what she had to overcome. She had to deal with bullying at her high school and decided to take online courses from another high school to earn her diploma. Contrast that with the reality that I couldn’t even get my shit together for a few hours each week to write about Anne Bradstreet and Emily Dickinson (poets I admire) and you’ll understand why I think it’s doubly amazing. And while I can’t begin to fathom the dedication she had toward her own education to actually sit at a computer and not just play endless amounts of video games what I can appreciate is the desire to get away from the people who harass you and make your life a living hell out of boredom. Online school was not really an option when I was in high school and try as I might I could not get anyone to send me to an alternative school (even though I had friends with similar issues attending).

    We live in a state where education is under attack by our governor and we live in a society that cannot raise some children to be anything less than sociopaths. For many of these Lord of the Flies types there is little to no repercussions for their harmful words and deeds. And now it seems we are grooming a generation where many of us will have to cope with their thoughtless actions and misanthropic outlook. (but then again maybe that’s our natural state of humanity at all times)  What gives me hope is that there are people like my sister out there that are strong enough to deal with these people but also loving enough to continue to give of themselves. We could talk about how this culture creates the need for online charter schools and how there is a lack of respect for everything and everyone in public schools and that it feeds into the plans to fund private charters but that is another topic about which I don’t care to go into.

    The Stanford Prison Experiment was meant to examine what the roles of prisoner and authority figure did to people and how they reacted to a system of oppression.No similar experiment I am aware of truly shows the impact of oppressive learning environments, whether the oppression is coming from the faculty or fellow students.

    Line up kids.  Time for class.

    Line up kids.
    Time for class.

    To give you another perspective I attended the same High School my sister initially attended. Despite us being years apart, I was sad to see the culture had not really changed there and if anything had become more negative. The year I graduated was the same year Columbine happened. Our school had already brought in a police liaison (who ended up getting fired for messing around with a 16 y/o girl).  There was a great fear that any school would be next. My group of friends were outcasts and basically looked like and listened to the same music as the kids who shot up their school in CO. In response to the confusion of violence and fear that came from that moment I started to become more vocal in my anti-gun stance (If I die by a bullet I was killed by a coward) and in response to the kids use of Nazi imagry I began wearing my Dead Kennedys shirt that had a big swastika crossed out like the no-smoking sign which read in big capital letters: NAZI PUNKS FUCK OFF! and on the back ERASE RACISM.  A few weeks after graduation I wore the shirt to a buddy’s going away party. All night long people avoided me but would randomly shout things like “I hate Jews” and “Goddamn Niggers” to try to provoke me, me who was just another kid who spent his whole life growing up in the same town as them. We were all done with school, there was nobody left to impress, this is just how that place is. I don’t know what my sister had to endure but I am glad she didn’t try to sit around and let it bring her down.
    She graduated with HONORS and she even came into town to drive her no-car-having brother out to Madison on the shores of Lake Mendota (or was it Lake Monona? ) on a beautiful June afternoon to see her in cap and gown looking like the beautiful, strong sister I know her to be.

    Bru's Sister on Graduation day in Madison!

    Graduation day in Madison!

    I love this picture. Smile! You deserve happiness.

     

     

    (In case you didn’t click the hyperlink)

    “Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314)

    By Emily Dickinson

    “Hope” is the thing with feathers –
    That perches in the soul –
    And sings the tune without the words –
    And never stops – at all –
    And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
    And sore must be the storm –
    That could abash the little Bird
    That kept so many warm –
    I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
    And on the strangest Sea –
    Yet – never – in Extremity,
    It asked a crumb – of me.

     

     
    • NTSC 12:24 am on June 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      We’re all super proud of her. Your sis is someone who will surely improve the world, even if it’s just in her direct vicinity. That’s enough. Great job sis!

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