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Political punk / folkie Billy Bragg played a deeply satisfying set for a roomful of fans Thursday night.
Political punk / folkie Billy Bragg played a deeply satisfying set for a roomful of fans Thursday night. (Photo: Royal Bonde-Griggs)

Bragg rocks Turner

Billy Bragg performed a political and romantic two-hour set tonight at the Historic Turner Ballroom. Before his second song, "The Price I Pay," he spoke of Minneapolis public radio describing him as "sensual, sexy and Socialist," words that well-describe the 52-year-old Bragg.

He opened the show with oldies "To Have And To Have Not" and "Greetings To The New Brunette." He asked the audience what they thought of the line, "I'm more impressionable when my cement is wet." Funny, considering the line stands out to some fans as both obscure and sexual.

"Ever wonder about that line?" he asked the audience. "I sing it every night and it leaves a nasty taste in my mouth."

Could he be referring to similarity between the words "cement" and "semen?" Who knows.

The banter between Bragg and the audience was lively and yet, when he spoke, the audience was all ears. He went on to speak of conservative radio and television host Glenn Beck and of fundamentalist pastor Terry Jones' plan to burn the Quran.

Bragg declared a "war on cynicism" that became the theme of his performance. The once-cynical Bragg said he was now a "glass half-full" person.

Bragg offered a rendition of Woody Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home In This World" and a spoken ode to Guthrie. He then played "Sexuality" from Bragg's 1991 release, "Don't Try This At Home." The juxtaposition of sex and politics in these two songs was classic Bragg.

Again, Bragg filled the hall with humor when he recalled that he had played at Turner Hall before.

"A long time ago, I played in this hall's inauguration. It was 1896," he said, poking fun at his age.

He continued the folly, talking about going to a Cracker Barrel restaurant earlier in the day in Wisconsin Dells.

"You have to understand," he said. "The Cracker Barrel is a horror show for us Europeans."

But despite the lightness of his comments, he followed up with commentary on racism and declared that "although there are a…

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Midlife Isis: Sucker punched in the privates

Last week's blog explored whether or not my kids could be happy with divorced parents. I hacked up a few hundred words of ruminated rumblings, and ultimately came to the conclusion that yes, they could be something that -- at the very least -- resembles happiness despite the fact their parents live across the street from each other. So that's it: we all live happily and non-nuclearly ever after, right? Not quite.

Just when I think things are chugging forward like Thomas the Tank on a particularly Useful Day, I get flattened like a penny on a rail.

Yesterday, my son came home from the first day of school and seemed his normal self: excited but a little unsure. Luckily, he's in class with his best buddy, his teacher is a family friend and, best of all, he got a pin with his name next to a bumble bee. I asked him a few questions, and although he was brief in his responses, I decided it was a Good Day.

And then the teacher called.

She told me the kids were asked to draw a picture of their family, and then they went around the room, sharing their work and introducing their stick-figured family members. However, when it was my son's turn to share, he passed.

I felt the blood drain out of my face or the blood rush into my face or maybe both at the same time. I wanted to disconnect the call. I wanted to cry. Instead, I thanked her for telling me about it and asked for her to continue to report anything -- anything -- that suggested my son might be struggling with our transformed family.

For the record, his teacher couldn't have been kinder with her words. She told me that she, too, has a "different" family because she is both a mother and a stepmother and that she is very supportive of our family structure. I appreciated this immensely.

After the call, my son and I started to make soup for dinner, and while he was rolling out the matzoh balls, I asked him about the family picture.

"Don't want to talk about it," he said.

So I…

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It's tax deductible to donate a bike to DreamBikes.
It's tax deductible to donate a bike to DreamBikes.

DreamBikes wants your two-wheelers

DreamBikes opened last March and since then, the non-profit organization has sold hundreds of refurbished bikes to kids and adults all over the city. Now, the group is hoping to restock its supply with more donated bikes, perhaps even the one lurking in a corner of your garage or basement.

"We accept any bike, but are in desperate need of mountain bikes," says DreamBikes manager, John Hines.

DreamBikes -- located in Madison and Milwaukee -- sells and repairs bicycles at affordable prices. Kids' bikes range from about $50 to $95 and adult bikes range from $75 to $150.

Trek Bicycle Corporation president John Burke partnered with the Boys and Girls Club to start the organization in 2008.

DreamBikes hires teens ages 14 to 19 who have participated in the Club's Career Launch program. The students learn basic bike mechanics and business skills through their employment.

Stefhon Hubbard, 16, has worked at DreamBikes since the shop opened. "I'm learning a lot about bikes that I didn't know," he says. "And I'm helping my community."