And then there was the “People’s Flag of Milwaukee” aka “The Flag of Anything”. Glad I’m not the only one incensed by this non-sense. The kind fellows of The Disclaimer, a talk radio spot on all Milwaukee scene related things, gave the campaign to change the flag a thorough treatment… for the past year.
Who anointed hosts Ryan Schleicher, Matt Wild, and Evan Rytlewski to offer commentary on such important issues? Their names should look familiar. They stint at Milwaukee’s most stalwart and relevant local media outlets WMSE, A.V. Club Milwaukee (R.I.P, which gave rise to Milwaukee Record) and The Shepherd Express.
A Trivial and Timely Controversy
The Milwaukee Flag debacle couldn’t have come at a better time. The ultimate symbol of geopolitical autonomy and identity under scrutiny at the same time as the City itself faces its post-youth lost ‘look in the mirror’ years. Milwaukee has always been the country’s underdog, its cultural conscious; its hardworking, hard living, slightly dysfunctional, majorly quirky, OCD little cousin.
Every major city’s rabidly obscure little cousin, Kentucky Fried Movie was born here. We’ve never given too much care for textbook learning or lavish opulence that now seeps its way into the water supply, a water supply that there was never even a question on whether we’d sell.
Milwaukee natives are so stubborn. We have 5 types of sunscreen in the house and don’t bother to put one of them before going to get the 12 noon can-good hand-stamp at Summerfest. We cut the legs off bluejeans before we’d buy shorts; smoke cigarettes at all hours of the day and drink warm can-beer right with it too, at whatever time that may be.
We risk life and limb just to make our shoe laces match the stitching in our jeans, and we would rather be late than have a wrinkle on our t-shirt. Our cars don’t need power steering, license plates or a muffler as long as it has 22 inch rims and heat.
We spend hours getting all gussied up to go out on the weekend, to look worse than we did before getting gussied up. Some of us have given up all together and wear sweatshorts with buttoned-down oxford shirts.
We happily work for the man and talk shit about him all-day long. We so cheap, we are cool with paying taxes just to have the peace of mind that things like street painting, public deep well pools in the Parks, weekly recycling pick-up and the Domes are there even if we don’t use them as much as we’d like too.
We don’t take ourselves seriously, we been wearing ugly glasses on purpose since the 90’s. Most of all we know the difference between crap and quality. On top of all that, we are principled as all get out, which is the main reason the original Milwaukee flag suits Milwaukee best.
A Vexing Context
The baffling thing about the criticism of the Milwaukee Flag is that it doesn’t matter that the flag doesn’t fit some arbitrary flag design criteria that wasn’t even invented when the Milwaukee Flag was designed. It doesn’t matter that some people might think the flag is ugly, or doesn’t follow some new academic body of knowledge. A City’s or Countries flag is one of those rare things that should not change.
Now, is it novel to discuss a new flag? Yes. Is it a interesting design project topic? Yes. Is it okay to do a civic pride campaign centered on flag design that you will commercialize and sell all kind of chotchkies based on? Yes. Should I have to accept this Colonial nonsense as my official flag? No.
A geopolitical flag is not merely a formulaic design, its the primary institution that visually represents a geopolitical area. The appearance of a flag is merely an artifact of the history of the area it represents, not a matter of aesthetic principles. Should a kid be able to draw the flag from memory? Not necessarily. A kid should be somewhere figuring out how many different ways they can use a graham cracker other than for food.
Vexillology, while an intriguing field of study, is not the Law of Abraham. Vexillology actually makes a lot of sense for nautical flags or racing flags that by function a have to convey a specific meaning or action; the observation of which I suspect Vexillology’s founder drew most of his design principles.
New Colonials, Milonials
When a foreign legion of individuals want to disregard the local population and its history, take its natural resources (in this case our Milwaukee-ness) and make money off of it, they make a couple local friends, show up with a flag and stick it in the ground yell “waag waag wahhh wagg wah wagwa wagck!” We can’t undo the past but we can stop using these archaic means of power and control. This New Milonial mentality is the only thing that could benefit from a redesign.
I’ve heard talk of what young twenty somethings, and old twenty somethings (people in their early 30’s), can’t find in Milwaukee, like “venture capital” (some to give them money for their haphazardly planned ideas), and I heard of this “Creative” or “Maker” class that is shaping things here (both appropriated concepts).
When I hear “Creative class” I hear “possible college graduate that is pretty good at using Technology and bullshitting their way into more responsibility than they can handle”. Designing psd files at 500 pixels per inch doesn’t automatically mean you’re creative. Constructing a robot does not mean you’re “Maker” (although it would mean you are a Programmer, Fabricator or Inventor, and all very cool things to be).
This flag redesign piece is really an extension of these archetype misnomers. This new flag, soul-less history-less as it will be, will be damn good flag, but not the City’s flag. Take nothing away from the designers in the flag competition or their ideas, as they just responded to the opportunity and the guidelines. The campaign itself however is horse biscuits.
The people behind this campaign couldn’t really care less about the design of the flag, they just want to say “yeah I got the flag of Milwaukee changed” and get notoriety for a successful media campaign. The flag design is so secondary to the organizers of this whole thing it’s shameful.
Since, Milwaukeeans and their leaders are so good spirited and frankly naive in a lot of ways, there is a good chance these flag campaign organizers will get what they want. The people of Milwaukee will get no benefit and we will be left with a meaningless flag (although one lucky Milwaukee resident will get to be the flag’s designer. “I designed the Milwaukee flag…” good for a job maybe, or maybe a ‘yeah right’.)
The only way to change the flag of Milwaukee legitimately requires a civic process. It’s that serious. Have a flag referendum on the next General election ballot. If the majority of City of Milwaukee residents say change the flag, then go ahead change the flag. As it stands now, all the People’s Flag competition designs , while well done, could be any City’s flag. Likewise, most flags using Whitey Smith’s vexillology guidelines could be the flag of anything.
The New Milonials have actually helped us realize peak-everything Milwaukee. I mean you got New Milonials Columbusing Columbused ideas left and right. When you start hearing about microbreweries popping up out of nowhere on the Eastside riding multi-million dollar start-up investment, you know people are missing the point. After seeing a piece on 8 new breweries opening this year, I’ll just use the microbrewery as the best example of peak Milwaukee.
The difference between a microbrewery and business venture that makes and sells beer at quantity statutorily considered “micro” in production scale, is that a true microbrewery begins with a person that has a passion for drinking beer of different varieties and who then learns about the process of brewing beer from bound books found in moldy corners of bookstores or another more experienced brewer.
This person then rigs up homemade equipment to make obscure beer recipes and gives beer away to his or her friend until they stop spitting it out. They join a beer brewers group, and maybe enters a couple of competitions. After that, the person finds a sub-standard and affordable place to brew increasingly larger quantities of personalized beer batches until finally enough friends, family and strangers start asking you for beer. It’s the difference between 3Sheeps and Lakefront Brewery, or that damn Badger/Brewer/Packer logo abomination and Wiskullsin.
And the connection to the flag? Well Milwaukee pride is like microbrewing beer, its not about the beer or brewery tours its about the desire to learn about something and experience it deeply. I’m all for commercial endeavors, but commodifying civic pride is about the biggest poser thing you can do. Instead, “capturing” civic pride and informing it with genuine and immersed experiences should be the goal.
Just like any pop culture moment, the minute someone showed up with some safety pinned patches and spiked hair and said “I’m Punk” it was over; Just like it was over when somebody showed up with a flannel and pre-ripped jeans from Boston Store, or a throw-back jersey and grillz from a suburban mall, or a damn beanie sliding off the back of their head they got as a Christmas gift from Old Navy.
In with the Original
Now back to the Milwaukee Flag. Let’s give credit where credit due, Fred Steffan indeed delivered something special. After spending some time analyzing the flag, notice it embraces the tradition of photo collage and has a layout that is absolutely incredible for the year it was authored.
From a technical standpoint, the Milwaukee flag deserves praise. Anyone who has ever dabbled in graphic design can appreciate the extreme difficulty and care Steffan used to draft this flag without digital assistance. It has remarkable symmetry, the 4 quadrants are generalized by the “Gear” symbol that anchors the design. The vertically aligned barely stalk and year of incorporation counterbalance and confine the circular focal point of the gear. Since the flag is designed in 4-D, the barely stalk actually represents a keep out fence to discourage people from Waukesha from waltzing over here. The gear in an inadvertent streak of brilliance, may even create a double entedre referencing the Sun over Lake Michigan.
The font is serviceable. What makes it classic though, are the all caps and double outline effects. Steffan breaking this style out in 1954 is quite visionary, and most likely unintended genius. The historical elements on this flag are its real strength however and present a counter paradigm for flag design. Should a flag be replicable or should it be a historical document? In my opinion it should be a historical document, and in Milwaukee’s case it not only represents heritage but, in a lot of ways, what we still are.
Out of Obscurity
This obscure blog titled Borchert Field pointed out (among other fascinating historical tidbits) that although the current flag might be busy and there have been various attempts to unseat it, the flag holds an immense number of symbolic and historical gems. The representations contained by the flag bizarrely mix highly stylized illustrations and literal cut and paste: County Stadium, The Mecca, The Basilica, The Civil War standard, and even a damn Milwaukee spaceman (and we have many) levitating in his bubble ship because he was reading a book by oil light in the Central Library. Of course the cargo ship, and of course as seen in the original flag, Seagulls. There is no telling what other esoteric wisdom Steffan buried in our Flag.
The Disclaimer pointed out that the Milwaukee flag contains a well-intended visage of a Native American, the flags primary weakness. With some input from affected cultures, the flag can easily be updated to acknowledge Native American heritage essential to Milwaukee’s existence.
I was going to rip on some of the proposed flag designs, especially the one that looks like a straight rip off of the Minolta logo, but alas I’ll just leave it at what Eye Dart said in reference to the Milwaukee flag, “with every rule, there’s the exception, that pivotal moment when a rule established early on is broken in a dramatic way — when the forbidden technique must be used. That moment when you “cross the streams,” destroying the big bad villain, and inevitably triumph.” Rock on Alderman Steffan, Rock on.
P.S. If by some misguided misfortune Milwaukee loses its flag on flag day 2016, I’m flying this one from here out.
In the depths of Milwaukee’s DIY music scene, a renaissance germinates. Classically trained brass and string musicians, pleasantly cross-pollinating rock genres of all types, continue their bloom. These virtuoso rosin their bows and swap out their reeds to spite traditional concert halls. They have carved places and musical structures of their own to express visions of musical aesthetic and composition yet conceived by the casual listener. Most of all, they create a marvelous experiences.
Company Brewing buttoned-up their image compared to the old Stone Fly, no worries though. On this night, like most others, the quality of the show stayed the same. New Boyz’ mystic river of loping, soul gripping stanzas had my live music jones covered, pleasantly. To get downstream though, I slipped into rushing rapids.
Fervently, Sista Strings sent classical phrasing swiftly rolling along the banks of conventional string family expectations. Their set carried gormandizers against their will to a troublesome place they subconsciously want to reach anyway; somewhere between technicality and uninhibited.
Gracious performers, they grated their attendants with an edge of focused rage, occasionally releasing us from their grasp gently, as they surprised each other with subtle wrinkles in their sections, setting coy smiles on each others faces.
They should be featured as soon and often as possible.
Over a year ago now, Public House lovingly thought to do a Valentine’s Day show. The scraggly line-up put Mississippi Sawyer, an old time roots and Americana jazz band that earns most of their keep busking Milwaukee street corners, in the opening spot followed by whimsical rock enthusiasts Holy Sheboygan. The bill wrapped with these two spin-off projects from a couple known and respected bass musicians on the indie scene, Bo Triplex and New Boyz Club; my first experience with either.
The most auspiciously concocted day of the year dedicated to fond emotions came through for once. This show would add further spark to Milwaukee’s growing love affair with bass-lead oufits and deep genre fusion backed by classically trained string and brass musicians.
Bo Triplex in its own regard, single handedly made R&B Soul, (like 70’s style with back up singers and everything) fun and musical again. New Boyz Club since then has gone intergalactic.
They matured quickly like a wild baby zebra, developing the markings of a seasoned adult, confident, aware and at ease. Their February show at the Public House this shows what familiarity and chemistry can do for musicians in a short amount of time.
Light Cannot Escape
An invocation from Johanna Rose calls their performances into being,
It in ends in a cacophony of voices, chords and scales escorting everyones attention to the immediacy of life and the battle of wills contain with in it, to live, to control,
Gracious in all ways, New Boyz Club occasionally shares this moment with guest performances from friends, frolickers and family, sometimes all at once.
Good Times for Good Land
Speaking of cameos, good timer D’Amato serves a bit of soul succotash to compliment New Boyz’ song menu on occasion too.
Together they tap that thick layered orchestrated BT Express-era soundscape that needs more play these days. D’Amato a solid solo artist in his own right as a guest chef make it that much more f*cking delicous.
In other pieces, New Boyz wisk in melodic variations on classical salsa, allowing room for improvised dashes of crushed pepper, bring their performances to a slow simmer.
In the their grandest moments, New Boyz disappear into one another. We All Go to Heavan on a Sinking Ship will always be their gypsy ballad, a beautiful lament that captures the unsettled and unjulating pace of uncharmed and cynically yourning lifeforces.
A few rising and notable local musicians, saxaphonist Jay Anderson, violinist Ernie Brusubardis, Katie Lyne, Will Rose, Palmer Shah and Josh Backes complete the New Boyz Club formula, a mixture epitomizing why we recognize Milwaukee Day.
I looked back at what I wrote after hearing Meleni Smith’s first full length album My Heart in Focus. It started like I almost started this post, with a metaphor about a road, her road. If it’s a road she on, her personal mix tape must play over and over, a day dream come true.
Meleni Smith n.k.a Polly A, has roots in the Good Land, raised during the old guard era of culture and consciousness few know, fewer remember. She’s written for J. Cole and Alicia Keys. Her destiny now plays on an Okay Player web exclusive, her new single Brookyn Sun released on 222 Records/Interscope Records, says it all between the lines. Seeing is Seeing, check the Brooklyn Sun video on Vevo.
Her composition m.o. makes the original fun, fun again; dramatic and expressed in an extremely varied manner, always poignant.
If it’s not already, add Pabst to the list of brewery tours you are planning to do in Milwaukee this spring. It starts in the Best Place gift shop, which shows off more drinking culture kitsch than you can shake a can full of beer tabs at.
The tour’s home base is the Best Place Rathskeller, the oldest in Wisconsin, held up with heavy wood beams cut from ancient forests. The place even has a fresco celebrating brewing heritage wrapped around the upper quarter of the wall.
For the past 10 years, the Pabst Brewery complex has been part of a major urban revitalization push in East Town that finally got its anchor to east solidified with announcement of the Milwaukee Bucks arena. It’s amazing that these old buildings were left shuttered for over a decade after Pabst closed its doors in 1996, and were still salvageable; so much so that it basically spawned a new neighborhood.
In the post-hipster era the world will look back and say ‘wow how many uncool things could become cool in 15 years’. Of all the accomplishments this era can boast, none may go down as emblematic as the meaning that 21st century youth brought fiery red neon sign that burns P-A-B-S-T that defines the western view from Juneau Avenue and Cass Street; forever stamping Milwaukee hipster Mecca.
Pabst, while maintaining it’s shitiness, comes out as the only year-round swill, imbibed with a deeper meaning. It defined an entire scene for over a decade, cooler than thou, indifferently; it mashed up Eastside tattoo parlors’ brand identities, f-it get it tattooed on a sweaty neck. In Milwaukee in particular, it allowed you to know who you’re dealing with.
There was a time when you heard, “Tall Boy”, it and it meant unambiguously, me and my friends hate everything including people who order brew by its given name (no offense New Glarus you have a lovely brewery, and a rocking woman brew meister).
A Salubrious Tale
The story of Pabst, makes Pabst’s “cool” make common sense. Jacob Best founded Best Brewery before nearly the same year Milwaukee was incorporated. When he died his son Phillip took over. Phillip Best was the original ‘people’s champ’ of Milwaukee a good german social democrat, believe in making money, sharing with his employees, and giving back to the community, but he didn’t have a male heir, but he did have a attractive and capable daughter.
Best was a business man and road steam ships. One day he boarded a ship with his daughter along. This steam ship happened to be navigated by a young man named Captain Pabst. When he laid eyes on Best’s daughter, Captian Pabst set his mind to marrying her.
A hard worker and a loyal man Joseph Pabst, eventually earned Best’s trust and his daughter’s hand, they had a son Frederick and the rest is history. Frederick Pabst was so beloved by Milwaukee that it was said his funeral was larger than President Lincoln’s.
Back to the Tap
The Pabst Brewery tour guide will hit you with a bunch of folksy jokes and more brew innuendo that you can resist, especially since Pabst unearthed some of its old experimental brews. Old Tankard Ale proves that the original big guy of brewing still has taste.
You’ll also get a ton of tidbits and factoids about the brewery’s history and pop culture significance, like a nice list of other good shitty beers like Hamm’s that were adopted by Pabst and one point in its history or another; or that Pabst, believe it or not, is the unassuming biological father of Miller Brewing.
You’ll see the ultimate basement drinking hole, modest, a little creepy, but functional. The kind of place where you could get tipsy undetected by the vice squad in the 1920’s or settle a debt with fisticuffs with out the worry of muffled screams or loud mouths extolling instigating superlatives alerting the neighbors.
You’ll hear about how the Feds got pissed when during the lean prohibition years Pabst went into bread yeast business. The box didn’t have some old settlers bread recipe though. Instead it carried a warning that if you boiled hot water together and malt syrup and added the Pabst yeast it would make an intoxicating elixir; what a pivot!
The refurbished beer hall has a spectacular wood inlay of the Best Place emblem set in the floor. The hall has a restaged office that takes you to gaze a upon the desk that Fredrick Pabst actually sat his hard working ass. The hall is a lovely rentable space event space.
To top it all off you’ll get to pose with a life size statue of King Gabrinus, the patron saint of beer. Why? Because he helped his entire kingdom stay loose, even the old abbey monks, by making sure there was enough beer around.
The King consolidated his thrown by beating a whole town of men in a test of strength, one that challenged the men to carry a giant barrel of beer the furthest. With a feat of good spirited humor, he beat all the strongest men town. A statue of King Gabrinus has been a part of Pabst’s tribute to beer since the 1850’s.
Why would anyone not snap at a chance to rivive the Brewery? Especially one with such an enduring marketing ploy: the blue ribbon. Pabst Brewery tours take place Monday, Wednesday and Thurs at 1:00 and 3:00p and Friday, Saturday and Sunday hourly between 11:00a and 1:00p.