A Decade of FOUND

Six days on the road - the truck driver's anthem - is nothing compared to the My Heart is an Idiot: FOUND Magazine's 10th anniversary tour. 
FOUND founder Davy Rothbart and his singer-songwriter brother, Peter, are midway through a 37-state, 75-city rampage. The Ann Arbor homeboys began their cross-country odyssey September 4 in Midland PA and wrap it up on Dec 16 in Greensboro, NC.
How's it going?
"It went fast, I can tell you that. Eating in all the cities has gotten better. And the joy of meeting the people who have found the stuff: It's a great community that's spread all over the country," Davy Rothbart says. 
"On this tour, I get to see and visit with the characters in (my) book. Once a week, someone will show up at one of the shows. (Most recently,) it was Anna, a character in "Ain't that America?" To get to hang out with them is really fun."
Fans of FOUND know that the irregularly published magazine holds slices of life sourced from the streets: photos, letters, notes, shopping lists, threats, pleas, declarations of love - each a gem of a story. Think of it as voyeurism in the best sense of the word, a window into other people's lives that reveals absurdity, tenderness, ignorance and downright strangeness. Every one is a cri de couer, as is Rothbart's new book of personal essays, My Heart is an Idiot.
The sibs will arrive in Ann Arbor for two shows at 7pm and 9pm on November 16 at The Last Word, 301 W. Huron St. downtown. 
What to expect? 
Davy will read new submissions to FOUND and old favorites. Peter will play songs from his new album, You are What You Dream, inspired by FOUND items. Craft cocktails will be available for sipping. There will be at least one special guest and a new issue of FOUND. 
How to tell the brothers apart? Davy has a chinstrap beard and is seldom seen without a hat on his noggin. He lives in Los Angeles. Peter shows his hair and lives in Seattle, where he plays in two bands.
Rothbart invites discoverers of interesting random scraps to mail them to his parents' home, here in Ann Arbor. From there, submissions are sorted and filed for possible publication or discarded. There is a fascinating online archive of recent submissions.
Speaking of random, the Friday show's special guest was featured on the cover of FOUND Magazine #8. It was a promotional photo for an aspiring rapper, found in an old desk.  "I had it on my desk for years. When I tracked him down, to my shock, he is Randy Ingram, working at Hungry Howie's Pizza in Whitmore Lake, 10 minutes from my house," Rothbart recalls.
(Ingram) grew up in a suburb of Detroit. He's a fascinating dude, really a sweet soulful guy. So we put the picture on the cover, along with a long interview with him. He'll be there next Friday night, taking questions from the audience."
Part of the proceeds of the Ann Arbor shows will benefit 826michigan, the creative writing workshop for kids 6-to-18 and their writing teachers.  
"It's Davy's show - he's kind enough to give a portion of the proceeds to us. He has this amazing spirit about him that's a great match for our organization," says Amanda Uhle, executive director of 826michigan.
Tickets are $8; $6 for students - 18 and older only. They're available in advance at 826michigan's storefront, the Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair, or call (734) 761-3463.
The FOUND empire has come a long way in 10 years. Widespread media coverage, a meet-up with Ira Glass and public radio's This American Life program, a documentary film, and perhaps surprisingly, an off-Broadway musical based on the magazine. 
Producers of the musical-to-be have already held preview performances and Rothbart has heard they have an off-Broadway venue lined up for next spring.
"Their end goal is Broadway, which blows my mind. There's a bunch of talented people working on it," Rothbart says.
Even with all the collateral activity, the tour and the media attention, Rothbart still isn't sure about the business side of FOUND.
"I'm very grateful to Albert McWilliams - he has Quack! Media in Ann Arbor. He's my partner in FOUND and he's found ways to monetize it. I really just think of it as a community art project. I'm not the best at thinking of it as a business. That's not a priority - but it's important," Rothbart acknowledges.
With Found Magazine colleague Andrew Cohn, Rothbart is wrapping up a documentary film, Medora, about the Medora (Indiana) Hornets, a high school basketball team that never wins. Filming took several months.
"It was really powerful experience," Rothbart recalls. The townspeople really opened themselves up to us…the film is about how pretty small towns are fading off the map.  Every game is intense, dramatic because it would be the only game they'd win."
"Next year we'll get a chance to share it with people. We're planning on some film festivals. It isn't quite done yet."
Now that he spends three-quarters of his time in L.A., in a Los Angeles versus Ann Arbor match-up, who wins?
"Ann Arbor is a great place. I want to be back here as much as I can. In L.A., I've been meeting lots of filmmakers, writers, people whose work I've always been a fan of. Topher Moore, Mayer Hawthorne, Jackson Perry: those guys are great about building community in L.A. and also spending time in Ann Arbor, continuing to go back and forth," Rothbart says. 
What keeps him tethered to Ann Arbor? 
"My circle of friends. My book is dedicated to the townies - that's my Ann Arbor family, friends and acquaintances. It's really meaningful to have a home town," Rothbart says. 
"Beyond the people, the city itself, the quiet streets that you know, the Arb, the river, the guys I play basketball with at Virginia Park, Ultimate Frisbee with a Fuller Park group, the people in my home neighborhood - Southeast Ann Arbor. Every face is familiar."
"On the road, every night in a way is an Ann Arbor reunion," Rothbart says.
"We see people from high school and college. People who grew up in Ann Arbor work all over the country - in Seattle, in Denver. It's really fun to roam around and run into your friends who are far-flung." 
When he was a little boy, Rothbart wanted to be an author or a basketball player. Lack of an essential growth spurt precluded an NBA career.
"I try to focus my energies on writing. Writing's not easy," he observes.
Has FOUND ever been sued? 
"I worried…but no. We change the names if it's too embarrassing. You have to use common sense if it could be embarrassing to someone. No one's threatened to sue, no one's been unhappy," he says.
"It's also choosing notes that retain a tone of respect to people… making wisecracks, to me, would be the least interesting approach."
He's becoming mainstream. 
"Yesterday I spoke to a book club. The book was on my laptop for five years. It's been so exciting now people are actually reading it. I almost feel sheepish, because the stories are so personal - you know me really well. Now people feel comfortable sharing their stories with me. They open up about things in their lives. Book clubs are the same way…I'm grateful for anyone to take an interest in my writing," he says.

Constance Crump is Concentrate's Senior Writer. She's also an Ann Arbor-based writer whose work has appeared in Crain's Detroit Business, The Ann Arbor News, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard Magazine.


All photos by Doug Coombe