ANN ARBOR– A beer at the Arbor Brewing Company is named after him. Dave Cicotte first mentioned him to me, and he felt like an urban myth. Till, on a cold winter evening while running to my Zumba class, I suddenly noticed the Violin Monster in Ann Arbor, at the intersection of Liberty and Main. Despite being late for class, I had no choice but to stop and ask him if I could get some time to speak with him. We quickly exchanged some social media info and I left in hopes of understanding this phenomena. Seven months went by, and unexpectedly one day, I noticed a small message in my Facebook inbox. It was from the Violin Monster himself. Werewolves don’t message you every day. This was special. I quickly found time and he recommended a sunny Diag noon for our calendars. My expectations were set.
As I waited, I opened my notebook to pretend I had some special thesis work like the students around me. I wondered how I would recognize the monster. Would he prefer coming with his mask on, or would he be in a regular guy mode? Naturally, I had assumed, there was one. We had exchanged numbers, so it didn’t take long to establish contact and share my chief recognition pointers. I messaged my rather regrettable choice of a black dress on a muggy summer day. Just as I was flipping through my phone (to look busy), the Monster came by in full Werewolf regalia. And then, this is what transpired:
“I wasn’t sure how I’d recognize you and if you’d come with the mask on. Who are you, Violin Monster ?”
“This isn’t a mask. I am a 495 year old Werewolf (an old soul) and I play the violin to keep myself calm, so that I don’t kill any humans. I like playing the violin, it’s what I do”, started the Violin Monster
“Oh at least, now I am sure that I won’t be killed,” I chuckled, still unsure.
“I started about 5 years ago and realized that I’d play the violin. I’ve always been interested in it, and I wanted to play it more. I knew that if I wanted to do this, I needed to get into it fully. I couldn’t do this part time. I had to be a street artist and play for a living. This is what I do. It’s like other people’s jobs too. This is what I do and who I am.”
“Did you always know you’d be a Werewolf? Is there a conflict between who you are and who you really are?”
“Oh, do you mean my human form?”, he questioned. “Yeah”. “I didn’t have a choice. This is who I am. When I began there was a separation between my human and Werewolf forms, but as I do more, and push the envelope, they’ve come closer and closer. I really did start with no goals. I wanted to play the violin and I wanted to make people smile. And when I am out on the street, sometimes magic happens.”
“I was on the street the other day playing and this family with two small kids were listening. I’m good with kids in general. Initially they’re scared and then I’ll wave at them, and I’ll play something like ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ and they start opening up. In the end, this one girl even managed to high-five me. The parents came to me and said this was such a big moment. They always had to change streets earlier because she was so scared of me. And now she had gotten over the fear finally.”
“For children it’s great right, we don’t need to tell them that their imaginations are untrue,” I said thinking of Santa Claus.
“Yes, exactly,” he confirmed.
“How do your friends who knew you before you made this choice deal with it?”, I insisted on more.
“Well, those people who can’t accept this reality have gone separate paths. This is such a large part of who I am, that if someone is uncomfortable with it, then it’s probably not going to work.”
“How do you inspire yourself to get out there each day? As an artist, isn’t it hard to constantly motivate yourself towards this?”
“Specially because this is your whole life, it’s not like a banker’s job where the money keeps flowing in each month,” I explained further. I do admit that at this point I was amazed by his consistency of being true to a Werewolf persona and not once appearing staged.
“Oh yeah, it is hard. Sometimes you have to really push yourself to get out there. And I know that this is what pays the bills, so I need to get it done. I always think that maybe some opportunity will come up in the future and I’ll make a lot of money. And maybe I would not, but I don’t need much. With this, I can travel and I know in a few hours of work, I can get enough for food. I don’t usually buy a lot for myself.”
I thought about my year long shopping austerity and the yearnings that it came with. “That sounds so evolved. But many people probably buy things to feel happy, and feel that they need things to bring about happiness,” I tried to reason.
“Yeah, some people like buying things because it makes them see success through those things. My goal was to create happiness and be able to play and create something different.”
It was getting hard to reflect and communicate at the same time. So, I just decided to let go of my own interview goals and have a good conversation instead.
“So is it fair to say that you’re doing this because it’s your passion, and because you want to create a new memory, and a legacy”, I chimed.
“Yeah, it is to create memories. Sometimes I go out there and play for a couple of hours on the street. And I meet someone and make them happy. I’d like to create meaning like that. Although, some people also blurt out mean things to me even as they pass by, and I wonder if they don’t realize that I have ears.”
“So many people say they’d like to travel but they have a lease, or something else, and they can’t do it. I know I can do that. I don’t need much else. In the winter, it’s too cold here, so I travel to Austin for SWSX or New Orleans and play there. I was recently flown over to California to shoot for America’s Got Talent.”
“Wow, I am going to look you up.” (This was the second talent contestant I’d met, since Munich. Maybe something about passionate, creative people was getting me towards them.)
“Does it feel lonely to create art like this? I mean, you don’t have a troupe. You’re all by yourself.”
“Yeah, sometimes it does feel lonely, in the sense that I don’t have co-workers. But down south there are groups of people I’ve come to know and we discuss new things and play together.”
“I’ve lived in Ann Arbor for 6 years now and the support I get from the community is amazing. I love being here. So many things have happened here that I thought were never possible when I began. ABC named a Beer after me, who would’ve thought? I play at the Beer Grotto each Thursday, you can find me there, and usually I’m working on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I get invited to weddings, parties and I go to Beer pubs and sometimes I just take a cycle and spend some time walking on the street. Like today. I’m trying to see what’s possible.”
“In this social media age, many performance oriented artists, share so much more of themselves and you’re behind this mask. Does that not feel weird?”
“I’m not always the best at responding to messages and emails. I try to remember that I need to follow up, and then my phone is somewhere and I loose track. I am not so organized. People who want to be stage artists do tend to share a ton and some people are really on top of the social media game. But I am a street artist. I feel there’s some merit to creating and playing music on the streets like I do. I don’t want to be on the stage. There’s something more than happens here.”
I went in to meet the Violin Monster to know who he was, where he came from and feed into the details of what makes a person shed his human forms and take up this new Werewolf identity. And I failed at understanding the exact details. I also realized that these were the wrong questions to go in with. But I don’t quite blame myself as I think about it now. It’s not everyday that you meet Werewolves, so I was a little flustered and I allow myself that anomaly.
But I did have a very prophetic feeling towards the end of our little conversation. It felt like this is what I needed to hear today. I had just had a deeply immersive experience with art that one could interact with. The Violin Monster was not just the creator of music and his own myth, but also autotelic. He was not just impacting what he created inside of him, but what others created through their interaction with him. It felt surreal that this should exist today. I wanted to wait for the lost arm of Venus Di Milo. I know it’s hiding there, somewhere.
As I said good bye (after the selfie, yes), two little UFM girls came to teach him the Surya Namaskar. While I had excused myself earlier, he readily jumped into it. Saying yes was a large party of allowing yourself a new creative experience. I thought about it, but went on to internalize what I had just experienced.
Oh and when you meet the Violin Monster in Ann Arbor, tell me what notes sing to you.