Riffing with Dave Bangert

Dave Bangert, Opinions editor at the Journal & Courier.
Dave Bangert, Opinions editor at the Journal & Courier.

A few weeks ago, Journal & Courier Opinions page editor Dave Bangert conducted an interview with yours truly to delve deeper into how Think Lafayette fits into the new Community of Choice era. He honed in on the idea that we are a love letter to Lafayette, a celebration of what we get right and an attempt to highlight what’s great about living here. This month, Bangert wrote a love letter of his own to Lafayette, Favorite Riffs, a huge multimedia exploration of the Lafayette music scene, including 20 short interviews with knockout local artists about their favorite music.

At the time I offered a quid pro quo arrangement. Yes! We would gladly submit to an interview, if and only if Dave reciprocated. He was game.

You’ve been joking about getting a roundabout tattoo for months now. Something about the roundabout has caught your attention. What’s the appeal? 

DB: Because 1.) The “get a (Tone Loc/roundabout/Trader Joe’s/insert ironic reference here) tattoo” statements are totally idle threats. No tattoos for me, please.

And 2.) Roundabouts are such a phase around here. It won’t be long before every intersection has one and we’ll talk about them about people of a certain age talk about remembering when Teal Road was a gravel road.

How has your opinion of Lafayette evolved in this role since covering the entertainment and music beat in the ’80s? 

I’ve been the Opinions editor a bit longer than I’ve been other things at the J&C. I handled the Opinions pages from late 1998 until 2006, when I moved over to be city editor. I was moved back to the Opinions broom closet — actually I think it was an actual closet, but “broom closet” suits what I’m doing most days — in September 2011. That’s when I started writing a column for the news pages, too. So what is that, about a decade of doing Opinions?

I covered music and entertainment for a few years — 1992 or so until the mid-’90s. Before that, I covered Lafayette City Hall and whatever else was up on the news side. The rest of the time, I’ve been features editor and projects editor. I cleaned out the refrigerator once, but I mostly leave that job to copy editor Chuck Wineland, because he has seniority.

I moved here on New Year’s Day 1989. I lived in a house on Wabash Avenue. I could sit on my porch with my dog and wave to the firefighters cattycorner in one direction and to the dancers heading to Gage’s with their stewardess suitcases — those little square ones, the size of a hat box — heading in for their shifts, cattycorner in the other direction. Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” was still going. I heard that bass line about three times an hour that year.

In terms of opinion of Lafayette, do you mean overall? Or in some specific sense here at the paper?

I guess overall. I’m curious about what you think of Lafayette’s overall trajectory and where you think we’re going. You sometimes seem impatient with trendy development ideas, i.e. roundabouts and banana houses, and I was hoping you’d dig in and tell us what you really think.

I pray daily for things like roundabouts and banana houses and New Chauncey neighborhood tensions and Community of Choice surveys and anything else the opens the door to one fundamental question: What the hell’s up with that? I don’t really care whether Banana House survives. But I am interested in how Dan Teder or Joe Bumbleburg, two big gun attorneys on the biggest rezonings and land use plans around here, are thinking about using whatever decision West Lafayette comes up with about a house painted like a sign. (Come on, it’s a sign.) I’ve adjusted to roundabouts, though I think it’s a funny trend. (I actually go out of my way to include the stretch of Cumberland Avenue during rides so I can take them on my bike.) And Community of Choice has been a gift that keeps on giving. It’s been a good filter for any number of subjects.

On another note, I also want to probe your local music knowledge. Best local band from your music and entertainment era? 

I’m pretty low rent when it comes to being entertained. I came to Lafayette a single guy who wanted to play a lot of softball, go out for cheap beer at night, go to record stores and see a few shows. My habits have changed — less softball, fewer nights out, better beer, definitely not as many shows. Pretty boring, really. But I like watching the people way cooler and smarter than me — the LayFlats crew, the brewery guys, the guys behind the Mosey, the public art people, the whole body of work going on downtown — keep things churning. I love that Foam City has stuff happening that I just don’t get. Tells me somebody’s still working at it. The more they work at it, the more I have to write about. So I’m a fan.

As for best local bands, I’m really outside that scene these days. Even when I was hanging about the old Locomotive’s, I was no Tim Brouk — who was totally plugged into the scene in ways I wish I could have matched. I’m working on a project, due out June 23, that has put me out there with a lot of local musicians who are really good. And just about every time I see someone at the Mosey, I think that I need to catch more shows again. A lot of good players here in town. I’d say it’s a stronger scene now, because of improvements at the Taste and that monthly exposure at the Mosey and the ability to record and release on the cheap.

As for favorite bands, most of mine go back a ways: The Velmas, the Shindigs (featuring a pre BR5-49 Jay McDowell on guitar), the Nailbiters (now the Prannies). I’m still scared by what Michael Kelsey can do on a guitar. Loved all of Mass Giorgini’s projects — Rattail Grenadier to Squirtgun to all of those side projects. As cover bands go, I’d walk downtown just to hear Dr. Fine do “Compared to What,” be satisfied and then head home again. Regional act I loved best: The Vulgar Boatmen (I still keep “Please Panic” and “You and Your Sister” in rotation). The band I miss the most: the Lovemeknots, featuring a handful of Purdue grads living in Indianapolis. I listen to “Worlds Fair” cover to cover at least once a year, whether I need it or not. I listen to my music library in A-to-Z order, and I’m always happy when those guys pop up.

Photo via Lafayetteology.
Photo via Lafayetteology.

Are you absolutely certain you’re not up for a roundabout tattoo? It would make an excellent photo-op and enhance your #LafCoC cred.

No tattoos for me. I can’t land on anything I like long enough to etch it into my skin. A big trend when I was in junior high was for the burnout crowd to write the names of bands they liked on their jeans. I saw some kick ass Angel logos (read the same upside down or right side up) on jeans in those days. But by the end of the semester, who was listening to Angel anymore?

That, and I’m not a big fan of needles.

What’s your favorite story you’ve written at the Journal and Courier?

Favorite story? Usually the one I just put to bed. I’m not a big fan of the writing process, even though I do it every day. So I’m glad whenever it’s done.

As for a favorite, I’ll go with something relatively recent. Judge Loretta Rush kept challenging people to spend a day in her juvenile court to see what’s going on in the lives of kids her court sees every day. Or, the kids she saw every day — this was before she was selected to the Indiana Supreme Court. I figured the best way to take her up on that was to spend one day, start to finish, just seeing what came through. It was rugged in ways I expected and ways couldn’t have anticipated. Touching at times. Mean at others. Sometimes in the course of the same hearing. Like when a mother and 16-year-old daughter spent their time calling each other names — really nasty ones after the girl was accused of biting her mom after the mom took the girl’s cellphone — until Rush decided she needed to put the girl into secured detention. It was tough to watch — like I was butting into a family dispute I really didn’t mean to see.

The girl, as she was being escorted out and on her way to a facility in Muncie, stopped and looked at her mom. I thought it was going to explode again. She just asked her mom if she would bring her pillow and blanket. They hugged and the mom kissed the girl on top of the head for a good 30 seconds.

I about lost it. Judge Rush shrugged. Just another day. So that’s how I tried to write it. That was a day in November 2011. I went back and tracked the cases from that day for a followup that ran in November 2012.

Where is your favorite place to bike in Lafayette?

I’m a pretty weak cyclist these days. When I get out, I have escape routes in all directions so I get the wind in my face first. Once you get out of the cities, there are a lot of great roads.

What current local band name would you write on your jeans?

My favorite local song recently was Mike Reeb’s “Anything,” from his “Turn Your Ear” EP. Has a Vulgar Boatmen thing going on, which was a bit different for him. Mike’s a good friend, but writing his name on my jeans just seems awkward.

Favorite place to eat in Lafayette?

I like LaScala. Carol and I go to the Sparrow when we can. I like LBC. I’d drop by DT Kirby’s more often, if Don would just make the portions bigger and talk to the customers once in a while. I actually finished one of those thigh-sized burritos at El Maguey one time, so put that on the list, too.

Final question, before I cancel our tattoo appointment. If you got a chance to appeal to the mayors for something — anything — in the GLA that you think we’re missing today, what would it be?

I’m not sure the mayors are the ones I’d appeal to. I think the best thing they can do is to keep the place clean, the parks open, the police making rounds and all of those things that clear the way for people to come in and answer that question for themselves: What does this place need?

Like any good umpire or referee, the mayors do their best work when you barely even know they’re there.

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