Well, folks, another year has come and gone, almost. As always, there was good music to be heard, and fine films and books, too, for those keeping their eyes open for them. There were some positive movements in public schools, too. Here are a few of my favorite 2012 things.
CDs: So much out there all the time. In 12 months, I've heard tons of great music. A few nods to: Milwaukee's own Field Report on its self-titled debut; Trapper Schoepp on the national release of its "Run Engine Run"; Tennis' sugary sweet "Young and Old"; The 30-year anniversary reissues of The Jam's "The Gift," one of the records that most influenced my musical life and my teenage-dom. But that's just a start ...
Concerts: I didn't get to as many concerts this year as I do in a typical year, but I saw some good ones. Though the show had an empty-ish vibe, I enjoyed seeing Elvis at the BMO Harris Pavilion in August, and the triple whammy of Sharon Van Etten, Tennis and Yellow Ostrich at Turner Hall this summer was pretty top-notch, too. Summerfest had some great performances, too, like The Head & the Heart, Nathaniel Rateliff and Fruit Bats.
Movies: The best films I saw in 2012 were all documentaries. At the start of the year, I enjoyed "Le Tre Distanze" (The Three Distances), mini-feature that clocks in at just under an hour by Italian director Alessandro Pugno. Pugno's quiet, pensive film looks at visual artist Mario Surbone at work and is an almost wordless meditation on the artistic process. I also really, really enjoyed "Knuckleball." (See "Sports" below.) Two others screened at the Milwaukee Film Festival and transported me back the New York of my youth: "I Want My Name Back" tells the story of the conflicts that beset Sugarhill Gang after their landmark success, and "A Band in DC" is about Bad Brains and their internal battles, too. Sorry to say I missed two docs at the festival that I really wanted to see – "Brooklyn Castle," about a champion middle school chess program, and "Bending Toward the Light," which looks at Milwaukee schools. I'll still seek them out.
Sports: Neither my Brewers nor my Mets came home with any team trophies, but the Brewers made a valiant effort toward the end of a somewhat disappointing season. And, despite a poor finish, the Mets had some super highlights for this 40-plus-year fan. When Johan Santana threw the team's first no-hitter, I literally leaped around the room like a hyperactive child. I know it's sad for a 40-something dude, but I admit I had to force myself to keep the water works turned off. Then, all season long I thrilled at watching the modest and extremely talented R.A. Dickey – who was featured in the great film, "Knuckleball" – and when he won the Cy Young Award he totally deserved, I felt pride and satisfaction for him. Did you see the video of him teaching New York Wiffle ball pitchers how to throw a knuckleball, and because he's R.A. Dickey, asking to learn some of their secrets? As my colleague Colleen Jurkiewicz would say, "awesome sauce."
Books: Much of my year was spent working on a book, "Historic Milwaukee Public Schoolhouses," and while I don't pretend it's among the year's best, it was definitely the book I spent the most time with this year. From the other side of the ink, I really enjoyed some great Wisconsin interest books, like my former co-worker Paul Hoffman's "Murder in Wauwatosa," Michael Perry's "Visiting Tom" and Milton Bates' "The Bark River Chronicles." I've definitely come to appreciate small, focused local history over sweeping, sometimes generalized, broad works.
I read and really found a lot to digest and to cheer in "Montessori Madness," which I read in advance of author Trevor Eissler's appearance at MacDowell Montessori in October. I read – nay, devoured – David Nasaw's 1980s book, "Children of the City," which was reissued because it was the inspiration for the hit play and film, "Newsies."
Event: There were some good developments in Milwaukee Public Schools that give me hope. First, the district seemed to listen to communities that said they wanted change. The South Side got a new Montessori program at the former Tippecanoe School in record time; the neighborhoods surrounding 68th Street and 81st Street Schools demanded a merger and got it and began the arduous process of creating a successful neighborhood school. One of the district's best schools, Golda Meir, asked for an expansion and got it, and the oldest public Montessori in MPS, MacDowell, got a new building and an expanded program, too.
Sure, there's work to be done at all these schools, but groundwork has been laid for further success. A string of meetings about the future of Bay View Middle School and High School show that the community and the district are working hard to effect change at that institution, too.
I'm also pleased to see the district move toward the same kind of standards-based report cards that the Montessoris have used for a while now. They acknowledge that you can't sum up a kid in one of five letter grades, and I think in the long-term parents will find them much more useful in charting the child's progress.
Speaking of Montessori, the first Montessori summit, held at MacDowell Montessori in October, was a smash success with hundreds of parents, teachers, administrators and advocates from across Milwaukee – but also from across the country – in attendance, showing that MPS is really a mover and shaker in public Montessori. The nation is watching what we're doing here and the successes our Montessori schools are having. It was, for me, the "event of the year."
Finally, while they were a shock to the system for some, most who have been paying attention knew the new Common Core-based cut scores would change the numbers for all schools ... and not in a good way. In the short term, it's a tough pill to swallow, but in the long term, higher standards are key. They tell our children – and remind us as parents – that all kids can do well and we expect nothing less.
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.