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Monthly Archives: November 2015

Allen Toussaint enjoying some food.

Something I neglected to mention here last week was the recent passing away of New Orleans music staple Allen Toussaint, a sharp dresser and talented pianist whose influence on RnB and funk cannot be overstated—though he worked in country, pop, and other genres as well.

As a songwriter and producer Toussaint made an exhaustive number of fine records, many of them hits that climbed the charts. His well known work with Lee Dorsey, The Meters, Ernie K-Doe, and Dr. John et al is top-shelf music and no doubt worth revisiting, but I’d like to take a moment to plug some of his lesser known work that’s just as great.

Allen Toussaint enjoying some food.

While I’m not an authority on RnB, funk, soul, and the like, I’ve spent countless hours listening to it, and for my money one of the best compilations of it I’ve ever heard is the now-defunct Grapevine label’s Northern Soul of New Orleans, Volume One (which was sadly never followed up by subsequent volumes). In addition to featuring fine songs that weren’t penned by Toussaint (like The Jades’ “Lucky Fellow” and Pat Brown’s “The Good Got to Suffer for the Bad”), this disc includes some of his best lesser know work such as Curly Moore’s “You Don’t Mean It” and Ray Algere’s “In My Corner.” It also includes the more popular “Mean Man” by Betty Harris. From start to finish Northern Soul of New Orleans, Volume One is a warm, slightly gritty, and endearing listen. One would have to be pretty uptight to hear it and not be moved.

Also of note, off the top of my head, is the excellent 2006 BBC documentary Originals: The Allen Toussaint Touch, which framed Toussaint’s life and career while he was living in New York in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It can be viewed on YouTube HERE.

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Dave Monroe as a child.

Dave Monroe in high school.

Dave Monroe in one of his bands, The Prevailing Westerlies.

Dave Monroe being interviewed on the news in Milwaukee.

A few days ago, Dave Monroe of Milwaukee, Wisconsin passed away. He was 49 years old.

Dave was a friend of mine and a friend to many—a beloved, highly cultured fixture of Cream City who frequented record shops, night clubs, book stores, movie theaters, cafes, restaurants, museums, and bus stops from one side of town to the other.

To know Dave at all was to be aware of his deep knowledge of music, literature, and film, and the goodnatured, at times hyperactive manner in which he liked to talk shop. Whether it was with hardcore enthusiasts of one of his pet subjects, or so-called laymen who were curious (or even staunchly incurious), Dave always shared his interests with others and his fervor for art was contagious.

An avid collector of music, Dave developed an inextricable fondness for old 45rpm records. Indeed, one of his catchphrases was “Have records, will travel” and nothing seemed to summon warm and fuzzy feelings in him quite like laying down a Mod soul, boogaloo, Hammond jazz, doo-wop, Sixties French pop, or freakbeat 45 and letting it rip—preferably in public. As DJ Flavor Dav he spun records in Milwaukee countless times—at recurring events like the Soul Hole (his main endeavor), Rave You in Bay View, the Rhythm and Brunch, 2 x 2 4 Tuesday, various regional soul summits, and guest spots at local mainstays like Mod Night (R.I.P.) and The Get Down. My good friend Will who used to work with Dave at the Milwaukee Art Museum recalled how a woman Dave was once trying to court said to him, “When I look into your eyes, all I see are two records spinning,” and it’s easy to imagine Dave feeling flattered by that to no end. Even on his deathbed in a hospice Dave managed to have a small turntable present with various 45s strewn about. And word has it he was still trying to acquire “new old records” (as he liked to call them) while haggling about their prices up until his last few days. (You can witness the late Flavor Dav spinning some of his recent favorites HERE.)

The expression “voracious reader” has become a bit of a tiresome cliché to describe a bookish person, but Dave was nothing if not a bibliophile. Even Milwaukeeans who didn’t have the privilege of being acquainted with him would probably recognize Dave as the ubiquitous bespectacled “man about town” who never left the house without a stack of books under one arm, and, later in life, a cane at the end of the other. While Dave did graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in Comparative Literature and Mathematics in 1990, the cut of his jib was much more closely allied with that of an autodidact than an academic. To that end he absorbed numerous compelling reads in his adult life—everything from top-shelf novels by authors like Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, and his all-time favorite Thomas Pynchon, to scores of non-fiction books pertaining to cultural analysis and critical theory, to science and math texts, to fun and colorful comic books old and new. Among other things, Dave used to email his other friends and me PDFs he’d found of curious film theory titles, the most recent being The Feel-Bad Film, which I plan to get around to soon. And just revisiting his Facebook page today I noticed dozens of promising books he read and recommended that will be worth looking into in the coming months.

But while music and literature were touchstones, being a filmmaker I probably related to Dave most when it came to cinema. The early to mid Aughts, while I was enrolled as a film student, were a great time to be a moviegoer in Milwaukee. If one was so inclined, every week he could see a treasure trove of movies ranging from old domestic classics by directors like Nicholas Ray, to bad-ass foreign “art house” titles, to esoteric avant-garde works—all via celluloid prints. I was so inclined and happened to see Dave at a ton of screenings all over town. He was there at a screening of the newly restored print of Le Circle Rouge at the Times Cinema (back when they screened more adventurous selections), and he was routinely present at the UWM Union Theater for showings of great movies like Elem Klimov’s Come and See and Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels. Dave was an adamant fan of mainstream hits like the Star Trek and Planet of the Apes movies, but he also absorbed a lot of cinema that many fans of such fare would find intimidating or perhaps hard to understand. One of the many humorous things about Dave is that since he had a sleeping disorder, he would often fall asleep during movies, so sometimes he would attend a showing of a movie three or four times in order to effectively see it once. It was not uncommon to hear Dave snoring at the back of a movie house if he was in attendance, and when he did just that at the Milwaukee premiere of Robert on his Lunch Break, I considered it an honor. I tried to get a picture with him that night but, ever photo-shy, Dave wouldn’t comply.

I had really hoped to see Dave the last time I was in Milwaukee, but he was too sick to make it out. Subsequent attempts to hang with him fell through. But we managed to keep in touch via the magic of the internet. And even though I could tell he was in a lot of pain and exhausted and frustrated by his illness, he still maintained a lot of dignity and wit. Which brings me to the last item — Dave was quite skilled at the internet! Yes. Sometimes social media seems like a really bad idea given the huge potential for misunderstandings, the inevitable trolling, people using it for cross purposes, the sheer amount of “noise” one has to endure in order to get to the good stuff, and the way entropy seems to win out more than half the time. But Dave’s presence on Facebook was always a welcome one, even among people who never met him. Sometimes in the “virtual world” rifts arise between people, but I got along with Dave 100% of the time. Dave was kind of like a big kid who’d endured a lot of hardship but was still able to keep his groovy interests at the forefront in spite of everything. He was fun to be around and judging by the hundreds of people paying tribute to him this week, he had a big impact on a lot of lives.

There’s a late-period Tom Petty song in which he boldly declares “I’m the king of Milwaukee!” and in my mind that title belongs to no one other than David Michael Monroe, one of the most unique people I’ve ever met.

Dave Monroe toward the end of his life.

Dave Monroe as Fred Flinstone.