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March 2014 Archives

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If you’re familiar with the Milwaukee music scene, you’ve heard of Dogs in Ecstasy. Comprised of Molly Rosenblum on synths and vocals, Tony Dixon on drums, and Willy Dintenfass on guitar and vocals, the group is known, not only for their driving pop-culture-infused songs, but for the band’s cagey use of persona. On April 4th, Chicagoans can head to The Empty Bottle and find out what all the fuss is about. In the meantime, DIE spoke with Our Town about their influences, writing process and the odd characters who’ve hijacked their twitter feed.

Our Town DIE--intentional acronym?
Willy Dintenfass Stroke of luck.


OT What’s DIE’s writing process like?
WD We collect concepts for songs and lines that could potentially become lyrics in a text file called "song ideas.rtf" (it doesn't have to be called that -- we just liked the way it sounds). We sit at the computer and stare at the file for five or six hours, dicking around variously on guitar, fretless bass (it does have to be fretless) and synthesizer, trying to come up with some music that doesn't make us want to kill ourselves. Maybe we give up and watch Netflix. No! We persevere. 


OT You write about everything from drag queens to googling. What’s the band’s relationship to pop culture?
WD Like most people, we're into it, generally. It also makes for good subject matter for songs because, like emotions, pop culture artifacts are "universal," -- you can count on people knowing what you're talking about -- but unlike emotions, they're not that difficult to describe with some precision, which is useful if you're not that good at writing.


OT Who are the band’s influences?
WD The Breeders, RuPaul, the USAISAMONSTER, Melt-Banana, Sparks, Eugene McDaniels, the Rentals, Shigetaka Kurita, Floor, and Shigetaka Kurita.
How would you describe your sound?
Wild n Wacky Rock n Roll.


OT DIE’s social media presence is legend. What inspires your eclectic and odd variety of tweets and updates?
WD Just to clarify, it's not legend in the sense that it doesn't exist: our social media presence is very much real. And the odd variety is actually out of our control. We'd like a more focused, professional voice for our brand, but we made the mistake early on of sharing our account information with a fourth member who we then had to kick out of the band. Ever since, we've been unable to shut him out, and so not only does he update as he sees fit, he's also posted our login info across the web, inviting creeps and weirdos of all stripes to post as us. It's a bit of a nightmare to be honest.

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Photo by Peter Yang


If you like your comedy edgy, smart and served by a bawdy blond, Amy Schumer is your comedy dream girl. She hits Chicago, Friday to perform at the Auditorium Theatre, but first she spoke with Our Town about Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models, developing her comedic voice and why Chicago is the perfect comedy town. (Apologies to Schaumburg.)

Our Town How has your comedic voice evolved over the course of your career?
Amy Schumer There’s less of a difference between who I am off and onstage now. There’s still an element of me saying the exact opposite of how I feel, but I’m more myself onstage. I do more storytelling and fewer short jokes.

OT That’s interesting. Often performers talk about developing a persona over time. Why do you think for you the distance between your off and onstage selves has narrowed?
AS I’ve never made a calculated decision to develop a persona. It happened naturally. I’m playing this character, this deranged, Stepford Wife-looking character that would say irreverent, awful things. As I’ve gotten older, I feel more of a responsibility to actually say something. I think all comedians try to communicate their truth. There’s also me just wanting to make people laugh but often there’s an injustice I notice and I want to call attention to it. I want to give the crowd a more authentic experience of me. The audience can sense if you’re being real.

OT Do people ever assume from the irreverent things you say on stage that they can say anything to you on the street?
AS Honestly, people are pretty cool with me. They can tell I’m in on the joke. No one thinks my persona is me. No one ever says anything really racist or lewd. I mean, I would think they would, but I can’t think of any experiences where people ignored my boundaries.

OT That restores my faith in humanity.
AS Don’t get me wrong, once in a while there’ll be someone I wish was a little more intelligent. I was just in a Starbucks and a guy came up to me and was like “I thought you’d be taller.” Interactions where it’s just a dead end and you don’t know what to say. They look at you like, “You’re a comedian! Go! Do something!” I’m not a windup doll.

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March's Honest Parent Claudia Pyne


Fill in the blank:

My great parenting strength is: improvisation. One needs to wing it quite often as a parent.


My greatest parenting weakness is: I don’t know how to ask for help… also a personal flaw.


What have you learned about yourself specifically because you became a parent?
It’s really scary to be responsible for another human being. I can’t believe I survived it. I found that I was stronger than I realized.


What do you wish someone had told you before you became a parent?
Get the drugs, right off.


How often do you compare yourself to what you think other parents are doing--or what you "should" be doing? All the time. I have always been a people watcher so when I was pregnant I made a list of do’s & don’ts of parenting. It’s always being updated, even though I am semi-retired.


Describe your worst moment as a parent.
The early days… It was a rough transition into single motherhood. I didn’t realize how much support I would need. When I asked for help from my mom she said she would take Ayana for the summer so I could find a better job in Chicago & sort out the daycare situation. She kept my kid from May-Oct. & was threatening to take Ayana away from me. It was a really rough time & ruined our relationship for 3 years.


Is there one thing you give yourself a pass on? The time I lost when Ayana was with my mom. (My mom died 4 years later. She was able to have that time with Ayana. And I grew up a lot.)


How many hours out of each day do you feel like you’re being a good parent?
That’s a tough one. Some days you don’t feel like a good parent at all. Others it’s a 50/50 split. Other times you are kicking ass & taking names.


How has having a kid affected your sex life?
Dating was far more difficult as a single mom lezzie. I think that was the area that was the most affected.

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March's Hot Writer: Naomi Huffman


My genre: Is e-mail a genre? These days, I spend more time in my inbox than in my notebook. But when I do have time for my own work, I'm usually agonizing over a personal essay about my life, which is to say, being young and exceptionally broke, and trying not to talk about my cats all the time (They're so funny! They yawn and drink water and run and stuff!). I'm also working on a collection of short stories.


My literary influences: Joan Didion. Joan Didion. Joan Didion. And also: Zadie Smith, Amy Hempel, Peter Orner, Lorrie Moore, Rebecca West, Ethan Canin, Cheryl Strayed, John Steinbeck.

My favorite literary quote: "That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it."
— Joan Didion


My favorite book of all time: TOTALLY UNFAIR QUESTION. For now, I'll choose "Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson. That book possesses such a quiet power -- it's both beautiful and savage. I remember reading excerpts aloud to my ex-boyfriend, to my boss, to friends over dinner. Lorrie Moore's "Birds of America" is another book that I shared like that. I was so consumed by it that I stuffed that book in a teeny tiny leather bag and took it with me to a bachelorette party, just in case there was an available moment to step away from the penis straws and lingerie and read a paragraph or two. (Attention, brides-to-be: invite me to your bachelorette parties. I'll bring all the fun.)

I’m currently reading: I always seem to be in the middle of several books at a time -- my jobs require that I'm reading constantly, which feels very lucky. I'm very close to completing Bill Hillman's "The Old Neighborhood," which we're publishing at Curbside Splendor in April. I'm also almost through with David Stuart MacLean's "The Answer to the Riddle Is Me," which is terrifying and hilarious and such a joy to read. I've just begun "Esther Stories" by Peter Orner, who is seriously a goddamn master, and just this morning I picked up Emily Gould's forthcoming "Friendship," which I've been excited about for months.

My guilty pleasure book: The Harry Potter series. I wasn't allowed to read them when I was growing up -- my parents had very strict rules about what I could read and didn't like that the books were about "witchcraft." So of course I borrowed them all from my friend Jamie, who stood in line for each book as it was released, devoured it, and lent it to me to read, which I had to do beneath my blankets with a flashlight (in case Jesus was watching). I even hid the books behind all my other parent-approved books on my shelf, which is probably the most genius idea I've ever had. All the hiding and staying up late and spending my allowance on AA batteries was worth it.

I can’t write without: A beverage, typically coffee or tea. When my mind feels really closed up, I'll have a glass of wine.


Worst line I ever wrote: "We didn't let go until our cigarettes burned out, the last ribbons of smoke curling over our heads like sadness." Clearly, eighteen-year-old me needed a lesson on similes.

Brief Bio: Naomi Huffman writes and edits and writes and edits. Sometimes she sleeps, designs, binds books, and bakes pies. She's the Managing Editor at Curbside Splendor and the Assistant Literary Editor at Newcity, where her reviews and essays appear regularly. She's also an editor at Bookslut and a co-host of Reading Under the Influence. She blogs infrequently at naomihuffman.com.

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Even the polar vortex couldn't ice my loins, so I present March's Crush.


Alberto Ramón Gutiérrez a.k.a. Mr Junior


Hometown: Santa Fe, New Mexico


Profession: Glamour aka Mister Junior, aka Burlesque star, stylist, designer, choreographer and dance instructor


Hobbies: Bicycling, cooking, manicures and pedicures, reading, coloring outside the lines in coloring books, and listening.


Our Town Why burlesque?
Alberto Ramón Gutiérrez I was granted special access into the wonderful and treasured world of burlesque, now a primarily female, lady power, femme-dominated world and found it to be an open place for expression and inclusion as a gender non-conforming individual, due in great part to the grace of Red Hot Annie.


OT Is Burlesque political?
ARG Burlesque is political because bodies are political. The way one chooses to use their body and showcase it is the most political act; from whom one chooses to share their body with to what one chooses to feed it and put inside it. Sexuality, sensuality, gender, size, skin color all become political tools for the burlesque artist to address personal and societal perceptions of a given body.


OT How do you conceptualize gender?
ARG Gender is a spectrum, a range of expression, how one relates to oneself and others, a personal identity, and something that can be fluid. Boy/Girl or Man/Woman are "guidelines" that may make it helpful to categorize and make sense of certain expressions, behaviors and presentations and they are not rigid, defined by body parts nor sexual orientation.


How has your relationship to your gender evolved as you’ve grown?
My gender is Glamor/neither. I found that trying to live up to unnatural pressures to act and present a certain way did not serve me, and I've suffered greatly for going against the grain; facing hate, bigotry, discrimination, and extreme violence. finding the strength and communities to showcase my deep personal expression of who I am inside this body and as a person have helped me move beyond the binary. In trying to explain the concept of gender to others, I've found that putting to rest the binary and including the option of "neither" in conversation makes it more understandable to people trying to get a handle on the spectrum of gender.


What's your favorite thing about Chicago?
Deep dish pizza, bike lanes, and public transportation. 

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From writing to comedy, performer Tracy DeGraaf’s journey has been both organic and inspired. She spoke with Our Town about inspiration, God and Phyllis Diller.


Our Town What route did you take to comedy?
Tracy DeGraaf It wasn't my idea. I wanted to be a writer from the time I was 12. I did everything one would do to pursue that dream. I met my husband, Ron (I call him Muffin) and we got married in 1989 and proceeded to fill the Earth as we had our five sons (we call them the mini-muffins). My writing career was put on the back burner for 20 years. I
refer to the 90s as my "Silent Decade,” not because my world was silent but rather because living in a home with 6 males was deafening and I seriously was incapable of putting two sentences together let alone writing a book! It wasn't until I turned 40 that I got back to my dream.

OT How did that come about?
TD It was two weeks before my 40th birthday, and with a giant laundry basket hiked up on my hip, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror of my dresser. A picture of my husband
and I along with our parents on our wedding day was on the dresser. My mom died only 4 short years after the picture was taken. She was only 51. She died of bone cancer. If you've ever lost someone who was too young to die, you know that they remain the age they died in your
brain. So while everyone else in the photo had aged, my mother was still 51 in my brain. So here I was about to enter my 40s and as I caught myself in the mirror and looked at that photo, it hit me, I look way more like the mother of the bride than the bride. That was when I decided to be a writer no matter what. Muffin bought me a laptop for my birthday and I started a blog. No one read it. It was just for my therapy. I told my friends to read some funny stories and one of them
said, "Tracy, you want to write a book and you have all these hilarious stories.....there's your book."


OT And comedy...?
TD I had a blast writing it but when I finished the manuscript I had no idea what to do with it so I hired a publishing coach to walk me though the process. He read the book and said, "Tracy, your book is funny. If you could do stand-up comedy along with it, you might really have something here." I paid this guy big bucks for his advice. Muffin
had to sell a tractor so I could consult with him. (Muffin is a heavy equipment operator.) So, I hung up with the consultant and dialed up The Second City in Chicago and they had just started a Stand Up course. I signed up and took a giant horrifying step. It's one thing to be funny when you write or when you are having a conversation with
someone....it's a totally different thing when it's you and a microphone and the crickets if you're not funny. I did open mics and mostly free performances around the city and suburbs for two years.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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