One Hanson Song at Summerfest Held a Mirror Up to Milwaukee

By | July 29, 2017

The Squeaky Curd

The Hanson brothers, that glorious blonde trio of preteens, is indeed still around some 25 years later making wonderful new music (and babies) and touring the country on their own label. As I dive back into the second weekend of the 2017 Summerfest, I can’t help but reflect on Hanson’s act during the previous weekend and how a lesser-known song off their first album, though at the time overshadowed by hyper-hit Mmmbop, was the rightful closing encore song this past Thursday night. Man From Milwaukee is more than a goofy throwaway track: it’s a lyric-by-lyric explanation of how one city can better love itself.

It started at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere
Sitting beside me was a man with no hair
From the look on his face and the size of his toes
He comes from a place that nobody knows

Milwaukee’s a surprisingly compact city, yet we still can’t seem to get our public transit system down pat. Though the streetcar is being installed as we speak, and a possible bus rapid transit system is being bandied about, most Milwaukeeans still don’t find themselves at a bus stop very often.

And both the very first line and the last line of the first stanza of “Man From Milwaukee” explain that our city is the “middle of nowhere” and “a place that nobody knows”. Although we may personally disagree (vehemently), there’s no denying that (nationally) the Brew City sits in the shadow of the Windy City to the south.

Maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating
Letting this big-toed bald man sitting here tell me about the sky
Maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating
If you asked me now then I couldn’t tell you why

Yet here are these wide-eyed young Hanson Bros, sitting down and listening to a stranger talk about the sky, of all things. How do they know he has big toes? Or is it an observation that we all have a big toe, so in fact are all “big-toed” people, binding the entire audience to this follicly-challenged man.

Though a sizable portion of the crowd at this Summerfest Hanson concert was in fact female, while I panned with my camera I locked eyes with a bald man (who I assume has big toes) and we both nodded our Milwaukeean heads to each other in brotherhood.

I’ve been sitting here too long by a man from Milwaukee
He’s been talking too long on his yellow walkie talkie
He’s been talking to Mars but I think he’s wacky
He says they’ll come get him, come get him some day

It’s probable that either “Milwaukee” or “walkie talkie” was chosen first, with the other phrase being used simply to rhyme. But I like to think that each serves a distinct and deliberate purpose, yet unknown.

It’s at this point in the song where I assume Hanson is trying to bring to light Milwaukee’s struggling mental health system and the residents who could benefit from better resources. The last line is a haunting one, leaving the listener to wonder if this man is eager or frightened of the Martians on the other line.

He says where he’s from is called Albertane
There they use more than 10% of the brain
But you couldn’t tell it from they way they behave
They run around in underwear and they never shave

Albertane is the fictional capital of Mars (according to Hanson on their first tour). Why would a man from Milwaukee make up a capital city of another planet? I like to think he’s implying that Milwaukee is this magical city of above-average intelligence, though residents choose to “run around in underwear” and never shave.

Evidence that Albertane is in fact Milwaukee includes:

  1. Milwaukee has the 33rd highest percentage of residents with college degrees.
  2. Milwaukee does happen to run around in our underwear on occasion.
  3. Milwaukeeans often don’t shave, to the point where we have competitions for not doing it.

Or maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating
Letting this big-toed bald man sitting here tell me about the sky
Maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating
If you asked me now then I couldn’t tell you why

Hans’n’Co. repeats this line to again stress how taken aback by this man and this city they are, and allude to the fact that the uniqueness of Milwaukee is starting to take over their minds.

[Repeat Chorus]

Because it’s still a pop song, after all.

This is Mother Bird calling Baby Bird
Baby Bird come in, come in Baby Bird
For the love of Pete come in!

This is Baby Bird…sorry I was watching Court TV
Do you copy? Do you copy?

Of course we copy…24 hours a day…in color

What at first listen seems like a nonsensical stream of consciousness could in fact be a commentary on Milwaukee’s Rust Belt status (behind the times, “watching Court TV”), and connection to the rest of a nation (“Mother Bird”) calling for Milwaukee (“Baby Bird”) to begin its (now ongoing) renaissance (“in color”).

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you the rest
The man sitting by me who was barely dressed
Flew off to Milwaukee or perhaps Albertane
And left me at the bus stop just barely sane

This final verse describes both Hanson’s and the rest of the nation’s surprise at Milwaukee’s uniqueness, resulting in disbelief and even insanity at the fact that our city is what it is.

I’ve been sitting here too long thinkin’ about Milwaukee
I’ve been talking too long on my yellow walkie talkie
I’m talking to Mars you may think I’m wacky
I know they’ll come get me, come get me someday
I know they’ll come get me and take me away
I know they’ll come get me, come get me someday
If not tomorrow then maybe today

The man from Milwaukee is now gone, yet Hanson is still sitting, thinking, singing. It’s a testament to how magnetic the city of Milwaukee is: once you experience a taste of our city or our people, you want to be one of us forever. You’re more than welcome to stay, Hanson.

Photos and video by Joe Powell for The Squeaky Curd.