mind if I cut and paste.
Milwaukee rocker Rustle of Luv juggles music and caregiving for a handicapped person.
Russell Martocci, better known around Milwaukee by his stage name, Rustle of Luv, used to work in a New Berlin factory where he made bellows for bendable buses. "The job was sucking the life out through the souls of my feet," he says. He applied for a job as a caregiver through United Cerebral Palsy, figuring the work would be easier "and that it would give me time to do my music," he explains.
And then something surprising happened, something that rarely happens among musicians making ends meat from a day job: Luv fell in love with his work. He found a way to keep making his music while making easier the life of another man, Raymond Hernandez, who has cerebral palsy.
"It really did transform my life," the musician says. "Music is a great creative outlet for me, but caregiving has become the centerpiece of my life."
God's Pop Star
Rustle has played music on Milwaukee's East Side since the mid-'80s. At first his band was billed-after an old Alice Cooper album title-Muscle of Love, a handle its leader hated. Through verbal misunderstandings Muscle became Rustle. The Luv handle fits his lyrics. "I write about love gone wrong," he says. "You have to use universal themes if you're going to communicate with people. Love, and love not working, is the one universal-it's the root of blues and pop."
And Rustle doesn't write silly love songs. "I try to address other topics, a la Elvis Costello, under the guise of emotional relationships," he continues. "Doomsday," from his new CD The Complete Rustle, written at the height of Newt Gingrich, was a metaphor for what Rustle feared would be "a take-over by right-wing nut cases."
Although he certainly hasn't cracked the local music ceiling with his semi-acoustic pop-rock, his talents as a songwriter and vocalist have led a gaggle of well-known Milwaukee musicians to record and perform with his band-musicians like Plasticland's Rob McCuen, the Us Project's Scott Berendt, the Mosley's Mike Frederickson and Bill Stace of Walls Have Ears recording studio.
And each fall he participates in the notorious Trash Fest, an evening of musical parodies: A group of guys in Green Bay Packers' uniforms singing songs about football to the tune of Green Day songs is one of the event's highlights. His hard-drinking stage image is belied by the thoughtfulness and emotional resonance of his songwriting, and by his day job.
In the meantime Rustle made some changes in his band's personnel and decided to start fresh with a new name. Mickey Driver, the new band name, was inspired by the actress Minnie Driver and Mickey (and Minnie) Mouse.
The new band's impact hasn't been broad but Rustle's music has been deeply felt among hometown fans. Fellow musician and poet Sheila Spargur says, "I like to have Rustle play at my parties, but when he plays I dance all night and ignore all my guests. If I were God, Rustle would be a pop star."
South Side Kids
This December, Rustle will turn 40, but he now has a more solid footing in life than many long-time rock musicians. As a caretaker and companion he does much more than cook, clean and push a wheelchair. He's also a good friend. Rustle made the time to take Raymond Hernandez out for the Monkees-his companion's favorite group-when they performed at the Rave, and to a Star Trek convention where Hernandez got a kiss and an autographed picture from actress Marina Sirtis.
At Rustle's job interview with United Cerebral Palsy, Hernandez asked most of the questions. At that time Hernandez's stutter was almost continuous; he now stutters much less. "I'd like to think that the stability of his home environment has been a big part of his improvement," Rustle says. "I have what is probably an annoying habit of imitating 'Ray speak' around the house. I think when Ray hears his own lexicon of speech delivered without stuttering, it gives him a greater confidence that he'll be understood when he tries to say something."
Most of Rustle's fans assume he lives in Riverwest or on the East Side because he's been playing music there so long. That certainly would be convenient for Rustle, but he felt the handicap-friendly building they live in and their South Milwaukee neighborhood would be safer and would offer Hernandez a better quality of life. And it's true: Raymond runs into other guys in wheelchairs at Lake Bluff Apartments and makes friends. But there's one problem. The building's owners have been embroiled in legal battles with the city of South Milwaukee since the early '90s over zoning ordinances. If the city wins, the building may be torn down.
Growing on Each Other
Meanwhile, Hernandez and Rustle enjoy living in this clean, quiet building and hope that they won't face another difficult search for comparable housing. For now, Rustle drives to the East Side for his gigs with Mickey Driver and then home because Hernandez needs his help getting ready for work in the morning.
Though Hernandez is wheelchair-bound, he's been able to work through the assistance of United Cerebral Palsy at Brass Light Gallery doing light industrial work. Brass Light employs at least four other people with disabilities in its small factory.
Rustle says Hernandez supports his work as a musician. At first Hernandez didn't like Rustle of Luv's musical style, but the music has grown on him. And Rustle's job has its advantages for a musician: He never has to worry about paying rent or utility bills since the position is live-in.
"I think this is perfect for an artist. More musicians should think about doing this," Rustle says. "In serving each other's needs, your job is basically to be a good roommate."
And good roommates, as many musicians will testify, are hard to find.