What we are really talking about when we ask people to talk about Milwaukee
Or: You like us, you really like us!
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I recently interviewed Will Sheff of Okkervil River, and at no point during our conversation did I ask him about Milwaukee. I didn’t ask him what he thought of our city, what his feelings are about our art museum, or if he has a favorite Milwaukee restaurant. I didn’t ask him about the Brewers, and I sure as hell didn’t ask him about the Bronze Fonz. Why? Because whenever local interviewers ask touring musicians those sorts of things, I want to die a slow, slow death.
Honestly: Is there anything more painful than a journalist asking an out-of-towner about Milwaukee, only to have the subject stammer back a generic, “Uh, it’s really nice here”-style response? Have we no shame? Am I the only one who thinks it’s amateurish, embarrassing, and makes us looks like the overeager rubes we continually profess we aren’t?
I realize I may be in the minority on this one. Bobby Tanzilo of OnMilwaukee.com recently penned a blog about how much he enjoys quizzing visiting musicians about Milwaukee. In a piece called “Milwaukee’s On Their Minds,” Tanzilo writes:
As I’ve talked to national bands and musicians of all stripes, I’ve rarely missed the opportunity to ask about Milwaukee. And I feel like more than ever, the responses have been surprising lately.
Previous years of asking have led me to think that many of them spend so much time on the road that a lot of cities, including ours, sometimes get lost in the shuffle as memories of images experienced through tour bus windows blur into one amorphous mass.
Apparently, that’s changing.
As examples of those surprising responses, Tanzilo cites his interview with Sara Bareilles, in which she admitted a fondness for Alterra coffee. He also mentions a recent chat with—guess who?—Will Sheff, whose band’s original drummer lives in town. Those are both interesting facts, I suppose, but is it worth embarrassing ourselves just to find out someone has a cousin who used to live in Whitefish Bay? Shouldn’t the title of Tanzilo’s blog be “Milwaukee’s On My Mind”?
I should note that I’m not trying to single out OnMilwaukee. This odious phenomenon happens everywhere, from print publications to radio, and from TV to amateur blogs. I weep every time a morning-show host asks a visiting celeb about Miller Park, and I cringe whenever a DJ asks members of a touring band if they’ve tried all the yummy vegan options Milwaukee has to offer. For me, these questions are similar to that hoary “lunch interview” trope, where a celebrity interviewer mentions what his or her subject was eating during the chat. Trust us, we don’t care what Gwyneth Paltrow was having for lunch, and we really don’t care what Pixies’ guitarist Joey Santiago thinks about The Safe House.
So what are we really talking about when we ask people to talk about Milwaukee? I think we’re betraying a deep insecurity, and fishing for compliments from virtual strangers. But like I said, I may be wrong. Maybe I’m the insecure one. Maybe I’m too obsessed with looking cool in front of the fancy rock stars to ask the real questions. Maybe I’m too concerned with appearing aloof and awesome to ask Matisyahu if he’d like to take a trip with me on the Sky Glider. I don’t know.
Tanzilo wraps up his blog with this piece of advice:
So, remember Milwaukee, the world’s rock and rollers are paying attention when they’re here. Be kind.
I agree, though it would be nice if we could do it without letting them see us sweat.