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A Wedding, A Small Town, and New Old Friends
By Mick Polich - 07/10/2008 - 10:54 AM EDT

This story is probably less about music and more about some humanity that connects us all – it’s an experience that’s made me confirm how our lives interconnect and the common thread we share with nature, societies, and ourselves.

On June 13th, 2008, I was best man for Joe Pisanelle - a fellow musician, spiritual partner, friend, and brother. The wedding was held in the tiny hamlet of Green Bay, Wisconsin (population slightly over 102,000 – thus being able to fill up Michigan Stadium – a.k.a. ”The Big House”- on a good football day) – home to paper mills, cheese, beer, the Green Bay Packers, and other old-world, upper Midwestern, institutions. Green Bay holds true to a lot of those old - world, eastern European values – the work ethic, the perseverance thru tough times, not-glamorous-enough-to-be-anything-but-Middle-America. If you’ve lived thru it, well, you get it – you haven’t lived thru it, there’s not enough glamour, romanticism, or sparkle to attract you to it. But small cities such as Green Bay helped as the small cogs in the big machine that got America established in the Industrial Age, spreading the message of to-the-letter manufacturing and product across the globe.

The streets of Green Bay are laid out in typical fashion for a northern - most city – grid-like and squared, like the cornfields and farms that dot heavily throughout Wisconsin. It’s an easy system that gets ingrained early in life (during our Atlanta stay, their road system drove me slightly batty – built on old Indian trails, winding aimlessly round and round, three names for one avenue every three miles – ‘Peachtree’ is used QUITE a bit…). What struck me as breathtaking and ironic – the organic integration of a world – recognized product smack dab in the middle of a forest – was taking the Lambeau Field tour. When you mention the National Football League, one team that inevitably springs up in conversation are the Green Bay Packers (this is like not mentioning the Vatican when you mention Italy – in fact, Lambeau Field IS the Vatican of the NFL…). When our tour group entered one the $30,000 rent -per-game sky boxes in the stadium, I was struck by the panoramic view of the vast, telegenic piety of woods surrounding the north end – good Lord, it was gorgeous, and it was just meant to BE. It was one of the coolest moments in my life – I just thought, well, here it is, smack dab in the middle of what could be my wife’s hometown in northwest Iowa - the subtle, unassuming being of a blue-collar city that just happens to have an historic NFL franchise and stadium surrounded by a vast forest of fresh pine and oak trees - marvelous. Throw in the history even before the renovations, and the players and coaches that helped build and rebuild the teams – Lombardi, Starr, Kramer, Holmgren, Farve - and it’s not unlike visiting the Pantheon in Rome, I suppose……  

Paper mills, cheese, beer, the Packers, summer tourism (fishing, hunting), a depressed economy that’s closed a good many downtown businesses – one can get a bit solemn as they witness and sum up a city like Green Bay. Having grown up around the farming industry downturn in Iowa in the 1980’s, and seen the devastating effects that had on friends and family, I can empathize when a once-vibrant community turns grey and bleak. But not only is Therese, my buddy Joe’s wife from the area, most of her family still lives around the city (nine kids total, with two priests and a nun – Monsignor MaCalhon, head of my old parish and grade school, would be doing backflips in his grave – in fact, the fiery old Irish cat IS!!!!). In fact, from what I witnessed, Therese and her family THRIVE on their roots, religious and civic – I’ve never seen a large family that devout.

And it is that sort of steadfast devotion that gets you thru some tough times – certain things are worth keeping. You would like to think that most people have a certain amount of consciousness to how they are, what they do, and how they interact in the world – that everyone keeps the same b.s. barometer in check so that we’re aware of being part of the solution, not the problem. This isn’t so, and thusly, we’re forced to make decisions on who we hang with, who our children hang with, and if it’s worth it in the end. My wife has told me, ”You don’t need to be everyone’s friend”, and I finally let it sink it more and more (especially when it comes to your children, believe me). In fact, my old man used to tell me this during my teen years – be good, be yourself, respect what you have in the moment (this is in-between changing the tire spread on our Ford tractor in our garage back in Carney, Ia. – that’s when ALL the philosophical stuff comes out, baby!) The people that remain close to you will sift out of the salt shaker at the critical points of the meal – this has happened to us, especially in the past year when our family has had a few things on our plates that have been trying. Again, referring back to the concept ‘Midwest family’ – not flashy, not always the hip, cool family to hang with (although that’s purely a matter of observation), but damn, when you need ‘em at critical moments, we are here to help. Food, a beer, a hug, an open ear, some prayers – there is nothing better.

Like I said, this article is less about music, but hang with me, and you’ll hopefully see it’s more about a BOND of music and love, as I continue to chat….  

So, a small circle of old friends meet and bond again – everyone takes up like it was yesterday. Our group is participating in a spiritual ceremony again, as in line with the many that solidified us thru our years together at St. Benedict’s in Atlanta. The common glue that brought all of us together was music, both inside and out of church. Jordan “Brother J” Coletta, John “Johnny Eldorado” Zibrida, Joe “Brother Joe” Pisanelle, and myself, ” The Brother Mick”, started and completed a few bands and gigs, traded playing instruments like shirts, and generally put a few twists in everyone’s musical pasts and present. Two common themes – religion and music – brought us together, and in part, brings us BACK together….

Yep, we’re all good little Catholic boys (with some broken halos, but hey, what else would you expect?). Jordan and Joe are probably in my Drummer Top Five – great groove masters. Jordan also is a writer, and plays guitar, and bass – he took lessons from me for a time back in Atlanta, and it is a unmitigated joy to say that I hear those minor 11th and major 9th chords in his tunes that I helped hip him to. Johnny Z. is just an all-around good player – mandolin, acoustic guitar and bass, piano – roots rock to bluegrass.

Between all of us, probably three bands that we had – Cadillac Tattoo, New Heart, and the Groove Kings (all three continue to survive).

 I started the Kings with my wife, Mary Beth – I think our lasting achievement was a continuing spring gig that the band plays for the Alpharetta Arts Fest. I wanted (and still want) a band that could cover a myriad of stuff – roots rock, blues, funk, country, jazz, and jamband. Probably our two best gigs – of course, when we knew we were taking off from Atlanta to Texas – were the Arts Fest and a gig at St. Benedict’s, our old parish.

In retrospect and time, I really dug the spirit that those gigs were played in.

Each morning, I hit the streets of downtown Green Bay with a run. It clears the head, and clears out some of the food and beer from the night before from one of our outings (oh, believe me, they were calm affairs.). What strikes me ironically –and, unless you’ve been down this path, it might not register, but the hell with it, because I’m writing the damn thing – is how old-school the town, social structure (down to Therese’s brothers –TWO of them are priests, can’t believe it – drinking some Leinies and talking about the Packers –oh yes, the Packers are in the food pyramid here….), and the economy is. I mean, I knelt  MORE between the wedding rehearsal and Mass than I have since 2001,  and if St. Francis could go back to pre-Vatican 2, they would probably do so in a heartbeat and a rimshot……

But we are all here in Green Bay gathered for the marriage of Brother Joe and his lovely bride-to-be. As I stood on the altar of St. Francis Cathedral, I felt this layer of spiritual calm envelope me as I thought about my best man duties: where else would I want to be except right here, right now, for Joe and Therese’s ceremony? And how lucky am I to be with a wonderful group of comrades, friends, and brothers-in-arms?

You get my reflections, dear readers, and it will probably be like this for a few articles towards the fall and my start on the next half century of my life. Sappy? Perhaps. Off-course and unneeded as a music-related article? No – no, not at all. As we pursue whatever dreams we have in making music, I don’t think we can forget that music is part of a life that continues to happen, good or bad. Again, I’ll take the Lennon quote – “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”. We’re always busy making other plans – on a grand and small scale. None of this existential thought is new – go to your Barnes and Noble and pick up a “90 Minutes” book on Nietzsche, Descartes, or Spinoza – of course, we all think we’re on some new enlightenment (man, do we have short memories, us humans - especially when it comes to war, the economy, food shortages, and floods). Things change, things remain the same – if anything, just remember to live your life no matter what comes up. Believe me, it can get a little hard going, but if I’m writing this article, and you’re able to read it, we’ve got in spades, kids…… 

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