A friend of mine named Forest is going to be leaving his home in Ann Arbor soon, for the west coast. I thought that I’d take the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his decision to go, and ask his thoughts on the arts scene that he’ll be leaving behind. Following are my questions, posed by way of email, and his responses. If you have follow-on questions, please leave them in the comments section. I suspect that he’ll respond at some point…
MARK: What’s your name?
FOREST: Forest Juziuk
MARK: How long have you lived in the Ypsi/Arbor area?
FOREST: In 2000, I moved to Ypsilanti with two friends: Brian Hunter and Coney McGillicutty. Coney was almost immediately arrested for drug possession. We were friends for years but had no idea he was into that sort of thing and we never saw him after that. A couple years later, I owned a house under a subprime loan east of Depot Town. I didn’t sell it but I moved to Ann Arbor with Brian Hunter, Erin Nicole Bratkovich and our dog Chacho sometime in 2006 or so.
MARK: Not that it’s important to the story, but when you say, “I didn’t sell it,” should I assume that the bank did?
FOREST: Yeah, the mortgage company suggested I stop making payments & I gave up the house. A subprime loan is just about the shittiest thing you could buy into. I didn’t really understand it. And when you begin to understand what a subprime loan is, it makes absolutely no sense. It’s obvious that a complete and total asshole came up with it and I was an idiot to buy in.
MARK: Is Coney McGillicutty a pseudonym? It sounds like what you’d call a hotdog rolled up in a boxty, with some cabbage.
FOREST: No, Coney was a really sweet kid and… man, the whole thing was heartbreaking for Brian and me. After Coney’s arrest, Brian and I went through a rough patch. He started making paper mache sculptures with newsprint and got black smudge-y fingerprints all over the walls and I freaked out. I yelled at him, and he vomited.
MARK: Where are you moving?
FOREST: Erin Nicole and I are moving to San Francisco, CA. We call it “San Fran-frisky.”
MARK: Will you be taking Brian Hunter with you in a knapsack or something?
FOREST: Brian Hunter and I are very close. We met in 1987 and talk every day. If he wanted to move to California, I would be ecstatic. But we’re always collaborating on projects in one way or another and don’t necessarily need to be in the same city to do so. Right now he’s helping with a comedy record and is a ghost writer on my Midwest Scene Report column. I will miss the holy fucking ghost out of him.
MARK: If you aren’t taking Brian Hunter with you, will you be looking to recruit a new Brian Hunter-type sidekick when you get there? Do you have posters already made up? (The reason I ask is, I just met up with Hollis from the band Manhole in Portland, and he’s apparently looking for new band members there who look like the guys who formerly played in the band here.)
FOREST: There is only one Brian Hunter.
MARK: Why are you moving?
FOREST: Having spent the majority, or, in my case, the entirety of our lives in Michigan, we’ve been chomping at the bit to leave the area for a spell and see what it’s like to live in one season. Beyond that, it gets complicated. We’re beginning to experience how difficult it is to leave our friends and community but there was a point when we realized something wasn’t working and we found an opportunity to experience something new.
There was a period of time last year that I was deeply upset by the city of Ann Arbor. The city spent something like $700,000 on 200 garish directional signs telling tourists where the Power Center is. At the same time, University of Michigan paid the city only $800,000 for fire department services. Meanwhile, they built a new city hall & laid off cops and firefighters every week. The parking meters? Chicago Reader did several great articles on the dirty shenanigans pulled by Mayor Daley and their meters. And Google? How many jobs did they actually create in the area to keep the real estate deals and otherwise that they scored?
MARK: When I met you, you were just a kid, right? I remember you coming up and introducing yourself to Linette and me in Borders. I remember because it was just the third time that anyone had ever recognized us from our magazine, Crimewave USA. How old were you then, and what had brought you to Ann Arbor?
FOREST: That’s hilarious! I was 20 or 21 and recognized you from The Book of Zines, specifically the infamous Geraldo appearance. Brian, Coney & I moved from Port Huron to Ypsilanti to attend EMU. Initially I wanted to move to Olympia, WA to attend Evergreen, but I let a friend talk me out of it to open one of those mall kiosks that sells miniature frogs and fighting fish. It was a fruitful venture but I got my ass kicked at an A&W and left town as soon as I got the acceptance call from EMU.
MARK: So, you were working at a kiosk in a Port Huron mall, selling miniature frogs before coming to Ypsi? You’ve had some interesting jobs. I also remember looking up one day and seeing you sawing a big chunk of something bloody behind the Hillers meat counter.
FOREST: It didn’t matter what you touched at the meat counter, you always went home smelling like bologna. But it was a union job and you could never get fired. You could eat an entire raw salmon without paying for it and the manager will surely “fire” you but you can go right in the next day and start your shift like nothing happened.
MARK: For those unaware of your many achievements, what is it that you did during your residency here in Ypsi/Arbor?
FOREST: In the last five years, Erin Nicole, myself and a really radical group of friends have put on a bunch of shows: screenings, concerts, DJ nights like Dark Matter and The Whip, spoken word and performance art things, etc. Very often, over 100 people would come to these things and that’s totally insane. It’s awesome. Also, many of us perform: Van Houten, Ted Kennedy, B. Thomas Hunter, Skate Laws, Blood Club. A few of us put out records and discs under a label called Hall Of Owls.
MARK: Are you going to try to move your Hott Lava film series to a venue in San Francisco? Will you ever be touring with films, and, if so, might you stop here?
FOREST: Yeah yeah. Actually, we’re working with a group of people in town to continue to do HL events here. For the most part, we think it will be sponsored screenings like what we did with Eraserhead, Hausu, Enter The Void, Holy Mountain and El Topo but I hope it will work out that we can put on a variety of screenings here and in California.
MARK: A lot of people seem to think the Ann Arbor arts scene will implode when you leave. How does that make you feel – bad, important, ashamed, aroused?
FOREST: I refuse to spend any time pondering my stature within the Ann Arbor arts scene. Someone told me that there are people waiting in the wings to take over the scene when we’re gone. That was baffling and significantly depressing because I imagined how cool it would be if these people “waiting in the wings” were putting on events too. Then I started to think about it and realized Erin and I started HOTT LAVA when Ann Arbor seemed particularly stagnant. The band Nomo had moved away and their house shows were pretty crucial — sweating basement walls! Lauren Hill, an exceptional party promoter in town, moved to New York. There wasn’t much going on so it might have seemed like we were kinda’ swooping in once they were outta’ here. At any rate, everything ebbs and flows. If there is a void left by us moving away, I imagine something will fill it.
MARK: I know that I’ve pissed you off in the past by referring to you as Ann Arbor’s “one man arts community,” which was kind of a purposeful misinterpretation of something once written on AnnArbor.com about you, but the idea that Ann Arbor’s arts community had atrophied to just one person kind of made me chuckle. Anyway, I’d like to apologize for that. On that subject, though, would you agree that Ann Arbor’s art scene has atrophied significantly over the past several years?
FOREST: Certainly, there are less venues and galleries in Ann Arbor than ever before. Even five years ago, there were more houses putting on shows and spaces open to the idea of hosting something a little bit peculiar. That might be the case everywhere though. Someone told me that they chose to live in Ann Arbor because the worst thing they wanted to happen to them was a dry cleaner pressing their pants wrong. Something about that clicked. When Mayor John Hieftje is on the radio insisting that Ann Arbor is still pretty “funky” and claims Rick’s American Cafe as a fine rock venue, something is up.
For Erin Nicole & me, it’s only become more difficult to put on events. In terms of values, we don’t like doing events in bars. You don’t have to worry as much about money when putting on an event at a bar, but it doesn’t mean they’re managed any better than the most disorganized DIY affair. For the type of shows that we put on, not using a bar means one space: Blind Pig. It’s a single venue but it’s a serious chunk of the scene. We did one event there and it did really well for all parties but at the end of the night I caught one of the staff members literally yelling at Erin Nicole because of something one of the performers said on stage. When I walked up, he stepped back and began speaking in a less fiery tone. How fucked is that? According to this guy, the performer complained about the price of a bottle of water. It’s fucked on so many levels.
Secondly, in a couple cases, because our events have done fairly well, the managers of various rental spaces have jacked up the rates, but only with us. Once we had a Monday event and were charged $100 more than the renters for the Friday of that same week — and we referred them. That burned. For the most part, we work with musicians and filmmakers that require a guarantee. Without bar sales and with increased rental rates, it becomes very, very difficult to work with these musicians and filmmakers.
Still, I spoke with the City Editor of Ann Arbor’s new A.V. Club about venues and came up with a list larger than I thought was actually available. But several of the venues are underground spaces A.V. Club can’t cover without busting them (much like the Golden Cat/MarkMaynard.com debacle a couple years ago!). But I like Canterbury House a lot. I like Name Brand Tattoo. I love Dreamland. I went to a great art show at Gallery Project recently. Also, Shelley Sallant is the best promoter in Ann Arbor right now. I know she feels a fair amount of weight trying to find venues.
But it’s Ann Arbor. If you complain about the situation, people throw up their hands and say that’s the way it is. You make do and make it interesting for yourself. This is a desert and these places I mentioned are oases. You can walk up and down State St. and wonder just what the fuck is going on. You can meet someone from Chicago on Liberty St. and they’ll ask you where downtown is.
MARK: It’s a small point, but I’m not sure what you mean when you say, “For the type of shows that we put on, not using a bar means one space: Blind Pig.” Isn’t the Pig a bar?
FOREST: Normally, we would not choose to host a show at Blind Pig. In this case, the show was too large (Flying Lotus + Mahjongg), rental spaces fell through, timing was of the essence because it was tied into the Ann Arbor Film Festival… it was the best decision we could have made given the circumstances. The Bang! crew, who dearly loves Blind Pig, really came through for us there. Jeremy Wheeler and Mariah Cherem of The Bang! are two of the most amazing people on Earth.
And since the smoking ban and gaining a new soundman, I’ve started to really enjoy going to Blind Pig. But that culture and entertainment are so entwined with liquor is a total bummer. One thing we do take pride in is being able to pay acts high guarantees without relying on alcohol sales. But that usually means we have to hold a dance party after a film event. And then we got a strong reputation for throwing raging, “art-y” parties which… is fine. Haha. It’s not exactly the rep we were going for.
MARK: I missed it, but I heard that, when you made the introduction to The Ballad of Genesis & Lady Jaye at the last Ann Arbor Film Festival, you kind of called people out for not being involved enough in the local arts scene. What was it that you said?
FOREST: I hope it didn’t have the vibe of calling people out because it was more of a call for advocacy — actually attending events rather than saying you “support” them and then staying home to drink beer and watch TV. Although now that I’m thinking about it, it was a little bit soap box-y. It was maybe a little bit of Ian MacKaye style “Out of Step” talk, but I did it with a kind of southern lisp to lighten it a bit: Stop taking photos of food to post on your blog. Stop talking about mainstream beers over something really weird you saw or experienced. If you want to live in a genuinely interesting city, you have to do some work. You have to go to things and talk about them with other people. Don’t treat things like you’re a consumer that needs to be entertained by every experience. Get out of your comfort zone, break things, and watch them catch fire.
MARK: Why San Francisco?
FOREST: As my friend Daniel said, “You’ll be living the best quality of life. You’ll be up to your neck in avocados. A bad taste will not touch your mouth the entire time you’re there.” I work on State St. in Ann Arbor. The idea that I won’t experience bad food tastes anymore is REALLY appealing. It’s painfully beautiful in San Francisco, I have friends out there, and there are lots of venues and DJ gigs waiting. I want to spend some time living in an area with lots of people doing a lot of things. To imagine that I might have to choose between which film thingamajig or weird show to go to… it boggles the mind. New York is not my speed. SF isn’t a big city like New York. It’s closer to what I know but with more going on. And I’d like to try living in a place with one season for a while.
MARK: Not to dissuade you from your premise, but isn’t it possible that the same percentage of people are actually doing interesting stuff in San Francisco, but that the population is just a lot bigger?
FOREST: Yeah. That sounds great.
MARK: What’s the first thing you plan to do when you get to San Francisco?
FOREST: Kiss my folks goodbye and take a nap in the park.
MARK: Why did you get your ass kicked at that A&W?
FOREST: If I I told you…. Brother, I have A&W stories that could make your dog run in circles. That particular story is legally bound between the owner of a roller rink and myself.
MARK: So, when you come back to visit… let’s say in five years… what would you like to see going on here?
FOREST: City Hall in rubble. Starbucks in flames. Buffalo Wild Wings as a bookstore. No frat houses. Concerts in the streets. Anonymous alleyway film screenings. Respectable wages for terrible service positions. Lower commercial rental rates. Perhaps most of all: University Of Michigan paying a fraction of the tax on property they own.
And, here, for those of you dying to see what Forest looks like, is a brief interview I did with him at the 2009 Summer Shadow Art Fair, in the men’s room of the Corner Brewery.
As for my purpose behind conducting these exit interviews, I’m not so sure. I thought, at first, that perhaps we could learn something of value about our community, and why it is that people – especially people who contribute in significant ways – are leaving. While I still think that’s the case, I’m not so sure what we can realistically do about it. So far, of the friends I’ve spoken to who are in the process of leaving, many have commented on the weather in Michigan. While I do think that we can work on certain things, like increasing the number of venues for events, I’m not sure what can realistically be done about the lack of sunshine, or our access to ripe avocados. Still, I think that this “exit interview” project will yield some interesting, actionable results, and not just depress the hell out of us… If you know of other people who are leaving the Ypsi/Arbor area, let me know, and I’ll talk with them as well.