Volume 23, Number 1

Making the World a Better Place Through Obsession

Fred Schepartz

ob·ses·sion |əbˈse sh ən|
1. The domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.
2. The idea, image, desire, feeling, etc., itself.

Thought I’d lighten things up a bit and discuss a neurosis.

Well … let me phrase that differently.

Yes, obsession is a neurosis. It can be a powerfully debilitating mental illness.

But it also can be something that makes the world a better place. So let us today discuss what I might call Beautiful Obsession.

Specifically, I’m talking about how there are beautiful, obsessed people who truly make the world a better place. Their obsession does not manifest itself in destructive cul-de-sacs of thought but rather intense creativity that adds color and light to what sometimes can be a drab world.

Especially if they share.

A case in point: this winter I ate, drank and made merry at the third annual Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest. I can’t miss this event. It is a must, especially given that it occurs in late January, right in the teeth of the ever-cheerful Wisconsin winter.

The Beer and Cheese Fest is an absolute celebration of beautiful obsession, featuring the best of what Wisconsin has to offer from its great tradition of beer-brewing and cheese-making.

And we’re not talking Miller, Pabst or Schlitz. And we’re not talking the store-brand cheddar either.

We’re talking food and drink made with love. We’re talking about an extremely strong proof of what Benjamin Franklin said: “Beer is God’s way of saying that he loves us.”

Extreme beer. Extreme cheese. Lake Louie’s Mr. Mephisto’s Imperial Stout. O’so’s ever so hoppy Hop Whoopin. Pearl St. Brewery That’s What I’m Talkin’ ‘bout Organic Rolled Out Stout. Titletown’s Kurty’s Hop Monster Imperial IPA.

Extreme beer. Extreme cheese. 10-year-old cheddar from Forgotten Valley. Upland Reserve spread. Artisan flavored butter. And my favorite, Seymour Dairy Ader Kase Reserve Blue, which made me exclaim, “It’s like there’s a creamy explosion in my mouth!”

Haven’t blushed like that in a long time.

Granted, some of the vendors are big time operators, but most are just small-timers, in it for love, not money. These beautiful, obsessed people are an updated version of the back to the earth movement of the 1960s and 1970s. I often joke that many of Wisconsin’s artisan cheese makers are former lawyers who got fed up with the rat race.

This is their obsession. Brewing beer. Making cheese. And we are so fortunate that they are willing to share the products of their obsession with us.

Food is an obvious example of beautiful obsession, but I’d like to add another while I’m at it.

Music. Musicians. People who play music on the radio.

Yes, for some it’s a job. For some it’s about making lots and lots of money, but then there’s the musicians who forgo careers, prosperity and even their health just so they can play music and produce art that possesses the utmost in integrity.

But let’s not forget about the people who play music on the radio. They used to be called disc jockeys. Now they’re called programmers. Sad to say, in the wasteland of commercial radio, if you even hear a voice on the radio, it’s a mere segue to a commercial, with a tease for the Katy Perry song coming up in the next set.

Just last week, I was driving back from Chicago. I set the radio on scan and pretty much ended up letting the radio scan and scan and scan.

The choices were utterly dismal. And this is Chicago!

No wonder the bands on Saturday Night Live suck so much! It’s because these days pop music totally, totally sucks.

But then I crossed the state line, and I was saved!

I was able to pick up the local community radio station, WORT, 89.9 FM on your radio dial!

Talk about beautiful obsession.

The programmers are all volunteers, though many of them find work around town as DJs. Talk about a labor of love.

And I would have to say that each and every music programmer at WORT is a beautifully obsessed person. They all know a ton about music. They all live to listen to music, to see live music and to share their music with their listeners.

However, there is one programmer I really have to single out as a shining example of beautiful obsession.

Jenni hosts the “Leopard Print Lounge,” Tuesday nights, 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. As she explains several times each night she is on the air, LPL is: “all the best in modern & classic international garage rock, rockabilly, 50s & 60s, psych, FUZZ, freakbeat, mod & ted, Mersey & Medway, Northern soul, power pop, trash blues, R&B, and primitive rock-n-roll.”

Essentially, this all falls under the heading of primitive rock-and-roll. While some programmers go all over the map, Jenni has a very specific idea of what her show is about. Essentially, she digs a hole that’s maybe five feet in diameter, but is upwards of a thousand feet deep.

The time period of music she plays covers close to 50 years. And the bands she plays come from all over the world. For instance, during this week’s show, Jenni spun one particularly amazing set that included bands from Canada, Latin America, Japan and Italy.

Jenni travels all over the world to see bands. And I can only guess what her record collection must be like. I remember hearing stories about the great history professor Harvey Goldberg, that his collection of books was so voluminous that he stored them in kitchen cupboards and cabinets. One has to wonder where Jenni stores her pots and pans.

We cannot live on bread alone, but to an ever-increasing degree, our lives are dictated by the desire of billionaires and corporations to maximize profits.

What we eat, where we live, how we entertain ourselves is determined by somebody else’s greed, by somebody who could care less whether we live or die, let alone whether we experience any semblance of joy in our lives.

On various occasions in this space I’ve written about Neo-Syndicalism and the need to create liberated zones within the Capitalist system. This is how we can create a new economy that better serves our needs. But it’s not just about economics, and it’s not just about needs. It’s also about wants and desires.

It is our absolute right to live in a world of beauty, full of color and light.

And for that reason, I have to say thanks to Jenni, thanks to all the programmers at WORT, thanks to the brewers and the cheese makers, thanks to all the beautiful, obsessed people who provide the color and the light that makes our world livable.

By the way, and this is just a coincidence, WORT is currently conducting a pledge drive. The station is listener sponsored, which is why it’s so great. It serves, nourishes and nurtures us because we serve, nourish and nurture it: http://wort-fm.org/