Let’s Get Dressed
I’m going to kick this column off with an earnest discussion of Milwaukee, both in terms of its music scene and the city itself. Recently, a debate was waged between Milwaukee rapper Dana Coppafeel and Onion city editor Steven Hyden. In an interview that ran March 11, Coppafeel makes some general assertions about the Milwaukee hip hop scene, and in particular expressed frustration at the type of coverage Milwaukee hip-hop receives from local newspapers. That kind of frustration is perfectly understandable coming from someone who’s been performing since 1995, yet is only releasing their first solo album this month. Making music is easy; getting people to listen to it is usually pretty difficult. I empathize with Coppafeel, but at the same time, it’s what you do with your disappointment that matters. Complaining in an interview with a cultural magazine that cultural magazines ignore you is, on its surface, more than a little contradictory, and sets him up for an easy dismissal.
Hyden’s editorial reply seems to miss the point. He makes a couple of cheap stock jokes (including a Leno-esque TOYOTA joke!) about lazy writers and somehow ties band Myspace pages into the discussion. I apologize if it’s asking too much of an editor of an Arts/Culture magazine to actually research the city’s performers beyond rudimentary Google searches, but, well, it’s your job. There’s a difference between “writing about music” and “posting a concert calendar with band bios”. A good cultural publication should be able to document what matters, and show why those things should matter. Neither side deserves all the blame, both sides deserve some; playing at Stonefly or wherever once a month without touring/releasing new material isn’t going to get you anywhere beyond being a big fish in a small pond, but the kind of press we produce shapes people’s impressions of those cultural contributions. It all ties back into why both people that live here (and, for that matter, people that don’t live here) make assumptions about this city and what it can do. It’d be nice to prove people wrong but few seem to be willing to step up to the plate, and those that really want to make a serious cultural contribution often leave.
Obviously, the Midwest operates at a severe cultural disadvantage compared to either coast (yes, even you, Chicago). It’s not the kind of thing that’s going to change overnight, or even in a generation or two. I recently spent a long weekend in New York City visiting some old friends. Some were unable to even figure out what state Milwaukee was in (one, in particular, kept asking me what I did in Minnesota.) Others who knew I was involved in the music scene here asked me how it compared to the New York area. My answer was that Milwaukee’s music scene is like that kid in college who goes to all his classes in his pajamas; comfortable, sure, but not getting anywhere. You can see it in the bands of 30-somethings playing at Cactus Club for their friends (who always make sure to leave before the touring bands start), or the fact that the most nationally well known Milwaukee artists are the ones that few care about in town and spend most of their time performing elsewhere (here’s looking at you, Juiceboxxx.)
Really, it’s up to all of us. You can’t stay in those pajamas forever; at some point you have to get dressed.