DVD/LP Review: Rosie Thomas (with Denison Witmer and Sufjan Stevens)
All the Way from Michigan Not Mars(DVD+LP)
“My friends are having babies. You know, people are buying homes. … I never needed that foundation.”
It’s 15 minutes into All the Way from Michigan Not Mars, a concert doc that spans tour stops, set-list discussions, meditative car rides, and kite-flying interludes following the release ofThese Friends of Mine — a collaborative effort between singer-songwriter-producer Rosie Thomas and co-producers-multi-instrumentalists Sufjan Stevens and Denison Witmer — and Rosie is already launching into one of many contradictions: “There’s a part of me that hopes there would be a shift … that I would enjoy the foundation of a routine in life, because I’ve never really had that.”
Fittingly, this dichotomous quality is the most frustrating and delightful aspect of the film — a quirky, behind-the-scenes romp that’s more space camp than drunken debauchery. And it’s a defining feature of Rosie herself, a Michigan native (along with Sufjan, hence the title) who bookends bittersweet, honey-voiced ballads with self-conscious, squeaky stage banter and bizarre visits from her even-more-awkward, neck-braced alter ego, Sheila Saputo.
Born to musician parents in suburban Detroit in the late ’70s (the most amusing anecdote of the film involves a botched local Star Search audition), Rosie sang with Velour 100 in the late ’90s before heading west, landing in theater school in Seattle, where she befriended Damien Jurado and signed with Sub Pop. The film finds her at a crossroads, seeking a respite from the business side of the industry and a return to the simple joy of making music with close friends. The intimacy that unfolds draws a parallel (albeit on a smaller scale) with another recent doc following fellow ex-pats, the White Stripes.
The medium suits her well. While Rosie’s studio albums are lovely, they only scratch the surface of what this complex individual, equal parts sentimentality and hilarity, wants to express. Included in the package is an LP that collects relaxed apartment sessions, further pressing this desire to unleash something raw, uncut and spontaneous. And as we ride along, watching Rosie stumble as she tries to figure things out, barefaced in bunchy thrift-store dresses, it’s hard not to feel like one of her friends.