Time flies when you're having fun, right? Here are some highlights of the old year before we ring in the new one.
I was lucky enough to have some great company while seeing some great gigs this year. The highlight was likely Iron & Wine at Thalia Hall in Chicago in October, because of the gorgeous venue, the company and because of the music, since the latest disc – "Beast Epic" – was the soundtrack of my year. Also, up there were Paul Weller at the House of Blues the night before Iron & Wine, Elvis Costello at The Riverside – for my kid's first concert – and seeing the legendary Harvey Scales at Summerfest. I guess I went south for a lot of shows because top gigs by Paul McCartney in Tinley Park and by U2 – whose records I don't spend much time with these days but whose concerts are pretty ace – at Soldier Field also stand out (despite my lack of passion for stadium shows).
On record, I also liked the new Deer Tick sets. The rockier "Vol. 2" caught my ear first, with its nods to the likes of The Replacements," but the more acoustic "Vol. 1," with its hints of "Exile"-era Stones grew on me more and more. I also enjoyed records by Sylvan Esso, Strand of Oaks, Craig Finn and Jim James. Weller's latest is among my favorites from his solo era. Speaking of which, a box set – called "1977" – dug deep into the first two records by The Jam and how could that be anything short of brilliant?
I read constantly – except when I struggle with thankfully short-lived reader's block – so there's a lot I could say here, but I'll limit it to just a few. Dan Egan's "The Death and Life of the Great Lakes" is not only engaging, informative and interesting, it should be required reading for anyone living along the shores of the Third Coast. "Border Country: The Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene 1906-1916" is a beautiful volume of notes and rare early photographs of Wisconsin taken by a Milwaukeean on his jaunts up north.
Jeremiah Moss' "Vanishing New York" also held me tight for its look at how New York City is changing. Mike Wallace's imposing "Greater Gotham" – a history of New York from 1898 to 1919 – is on my to-do list but there's no way it'll happen before the ball drops in Times Square. It's 1,196 pages long and weighs 4.6 pounds. Surely it will be as magisterial as its predecessor, the award-winning "Gotham," but ... did I mention it's 1,196 pages long and weighs 4.6 pounds?
The book I'll likely close out the year reading is Adam Rutherford's "A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes" which looks at the advances in DNA research and what they tell us about ourselves and about humanity. Gripping stuff, if you ask me.
These days I don't see too many films in theaters – except ones my kids take me to ("Coco," anyone?), so I rely heavily on Netflix and Amazon Prime. I admit I'm in an ebb phase of my movie connoisseurship, but three recent films I enjoyed are John Scheinfeld's "Chasin' the Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary," which inspired me to write about Trane's Milwaukee appearances (it's coming soon, stay tuned) and the even better "I Called Him Morgan" documentary about trumpeter Lee Morgan, who died too young. I watched "A Man Called Ove" – which, I know, is from 2016 – and liked its mix of darkness and light. I hear Tom Hanks is remaking it, and I wonder why Hollywood always has to mess with everything.
I don't watch much TV but when I do, I watch travel shows, because what I'd always rather be doing than most anything else is being on the road. This year I did what is looking like it might become an annual baseball trip to Pittsburgh, which was a blast. It's a great town, and we did a family Eclipsapalooza road trip through Springfield, Illinois, St. Louis, Louisville and Lake Geneva that was super fun. We saw incredible Frank Lloyd Wright houses, went up in the arch and scaled the City Museum again, explored Lincoln sites, drank bourbon, ate amazing food, visited a gummy bear factory and lounged at Grand Geneva. I'd say that was unbeatable but the adults in my house spent a week in Tokyo over spring break and that had everything you'd think – unspeakably delicious food, sensory overload, peaceful vistas of Mt. Fuji – plus more Frank Lloyd Wright.
So much construction, including installation of streetcar rails, is a sign of a booming Milwaukee. The growth in the Park East corridor on both sides of the river, plus at The Brewery, is quite amazing, to say nothing of developments in other parts of Downtown, Walker's Point, Bay View, the East Side, the Third Ward, at Marquette. Recently I drove past the Coakley building in Walker's Point and pointed out the water tower sculpture to my kid, who wondered what its purpose was. When I said it was simply to look nice and provide enjoyment, it seemed a symbol to me of a Milwaukee that's shaking off its old rust and enjoying life more. More than ever in my lifetime, Milwaukee is alive and booming, and that ought to provide us with the foundation to get together and work out the issues that still dog us.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.