The best Microtones of 2020

Our newsletter-first column covered everything from Facebook drama to muskrats.

Our newsletter-first column covered everything from Facebook drama to muskrats.

This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.

We created the Microtones column in 2016 to give our email newsletter subscribers something extra each week. It hits inboxes on Thursdays (if you’re reading this and haven’t subscribed, please do) and runs on our actual website on Fridays. Microtones is a catch-all for whimsical misfit story ideas, tangents, rants, and reflections that emerge as we’re writing and editing other pieces. It reminds us at Tone Madison to stay flexible and curious, and hopefully gives our readers something fun or thoughtful to close out the week. At best, we hope to surprise you and maybe even surprise ourselves. We published 40 editions of Microtones this year, skipping some weeks for holiday breaks and pandemic-related crisis/terror/exhaustion. Here were a few of the standouts.

My personal favorite this year is John McCracken’s interview with Tenement’s Amos Pitsch about the scrawlings and mementos Pitsch found in a collection of used cassettes. It’s a strange, goofy story, but what mostly emerges is the sense of wonder Pitsch brings to all his pursuits as both a musician and a listener. John, who is one of our fundraising coordinators and is in charge of making sure the newsletter gets out, also delved into the drama that inevitably ensued when administrators of a local music group tried to ban political talk.


Microtones owes its very existence and its playful spirit to Ben Munson. A lot of the column’s very first iterations drew from Ben’s odd experiences and observations as a father and settled-in east side resident. In the column’s founding spirit, Ben introduced us to his ferociously loyal little dog, who needs a break from getting ornery at everyone who isn’t Ben or his immediate family: “Moses may only be the size of an expensive prosciutto, but he’s just as salty. If he gets off his leash, he’ll tear your ankles to shreds.” Another dad in our ranks, Alan Talaga, noticed that stratospherically popular kids’ entertainer Blippi was coming to town and pointed out that it wasn’t the actual Blippi guy. Once published on our website, this column got kind of insane traffic, maybe because a lot of people out there are Googling Blippi but definitely because Alan is an awesome writer.

Our writers also often use Microtones to step outside of their regular areas of focus and explore their other passions. Film editor Grant Phipps interviewed UW-Madison grad student Anna Meier about her vegan food Instagram, even getting Meier to provide a few recipes. (Meier later wrote a guest column criticizing the failures of UW-Madison officials in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.) Music editor Steven Spoerl detailed the positive role skateboarding can play in our community, and the benefits of skateboarding well into adulthood. Just about everyone at Tone Madison loves records, but as writer/illustrator Shaun Soman discovered, sometimes a seller sends you too many records.

Just before it became impossible/reprehensible to go out to bars, Jess Haven soaked up the odd charms of The Lounge, aka the bar inside the Labor Temple on Park Street. Mourning Alex Trebek in quarantine, Chris Lay fondly recalled the joys of catching Jeopardy! at the Crystal Corner Bar.

Often a Microtones idea is born when something odd or delightful happens to one of us. For my part, I got to help a painter friend transport a very long painting, indulge another friend’s fascination with birdwatching near the Dane County Airport, and make new friends in the local muskrat community

If you have an odd idea for a Microtones idea, get in touch with us this coming year. Here’s looking forward to more tangents and everyday wonders in 2021.

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