Marc Eisen finds musicians who nail the Zeitgeist and its Parade of Masqueraders

Marc EisenMusic journalist Marc Eisen, a former editor at Isthmus newspaper, released his wonderfully idiosyncratic list of the best concerts in Southern Wisconsin.

Marc Eisen keeps on truckin’, wearing out his car tires to cover the Southern Wisconsin musical “waterfront,” which typically extends across the bone-dry 85 miles between Madison and Milwaukee. He ought to be riding a high-speed public rail system the state received federal funding for, until Governor Scott Walker nakedly rejected it in a fit of anti-Obama, anti-public politicking that would be petty tyranny if it weren’t so damaging.

But Eisen keeps rolling down the highways, and the neighborhood byways, to some relatively obscure venues like Kiki’s House of Righteous Music in Madison or The West Side Conservatory in Milwaukee. So I look forward to Eisen’s yearly assessments of our region’s best concerts. He’s a self-described “obsessive” who denies being a critic, for lacking formal musical education. But Marc’s got a ravenous and intelligent passion for music in many of its weird permutations, and a great nose for who’s holding down sanity’s fort while many voters wave white flags at the brute power-mongerers masquerading as empowerers.* Such targets are what many formal music critics swing at, and miss.

The notion of our Zeitgeist’s masqueraders brought to mind the closing paragraph of Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man: His Masquerade, a brilliant fictional spoof of The Gilded Age of America in the 1800s:

“The next moment, the waning light expired, and with it, the waning flames of the horned altar and the waning halo round the robed man’s brow; while in the darkness which ensued, the cosmopolitan kindly led the old man away. Something further may follow of this Masquerade.”


The Gilded Age is back with a vengeance. And as contemporary analogues, the Republican masqueraders in the presidential primary come to mind, as does Russian President Vladimir Putin, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, NRA President Wayne LaPierre, Michigan Governor Rick “Love-That-Dirty-Water” Snyder and more than a few others.

Eisen also included some good, tough reporting. I was disheartened to read his report on the incident where a state government lackey accosted Madison’s brilliantly trenchant jazz pianist, singer-songwriter and truth-teller Ben Sidran — because he had the temerity to exercise his free-speech rights by publicly critiquing Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker, another great masquerader of our times.

ben Sidran

Ben Sidran, who has performed annually at Madison’s popular free concert series Jazz at Five, incurred the wrath of Gov. Walker’s political operatives this summer. Courtesy

Sadly the threat compelled Sidran to cancel his future performances at the free Jazz at Five concert series he’s played at for 15 years on the Capitol Square. Sidran noted sadly, “It was a watershed moment for me. The moment when I discovered jazz [in Madison] no longer belonged to the people but was a vanity project by the monied class.”

The scourge of Scott Walker continues to plague my economically-ravaged and battered home state. But artists and reporters like these give us hope and courage to continue the struggle.

“If there is no struggle there is no progress” — Frederick Douglass

Here is the link to Eisen’s round-up, originally published January 1 by, the online site of Isthmus, Madison’s weekly alternative newspaper:

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