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Old School
They don’t make ‘em like Bill Faust anymore. Two hours with the late drum technician whose 70-year-old store in Bay View was both a Mecca and a labyrinth of ... unexpected challenges.

As an aimless explorer sort of person, I first wandered up to Faust Music late one afternoon in early 2010. The store's lights were on, but the door was locked. This was during one of the long, snowbound weekends that test Milwaukee's willingness to get out of bed at all. But Bill Faust, the sole employee, from what I could tell, let me in. I tracked in a little snow, and the two of us stood in his showroom for a second. He seemed to want something from me.

Faust was a small, spry old man, a former gymnast, boxer and swimmer prone to sudden gesturing. He had the easy smile of a salesman but, when provoked, the eyes and aspect of a mugger.

“I'm just browsing,” I said.

were moments (and this was one) when he exploded in a squall of anger and set about pacing the room. “I'm just browsing!” he yelled, the third or fourth words he’d spoken since I’d walked in. “I'm just browsing!He gestured at the drums on high shelves in one room, the guitars hanging in the other, and an L-shaped display case. He's a sought-after instrument repair professional called daily by nationwide musicians, is paid hundreds for his services by customers who travel across the country and know when they call what they want and why and who can do it best. “I'm not a clerk!” he shouted. He doesn't go into a store unless he knows what to buy, how much money he needs, and he has the cash there with him, ready. Everything today is waste.

I tried to rally.
I said I had just moved back to Milwaukee for a new job at a magazine. “Oh, I’m a reporter!” he howled, as if, instead of describing an entry-level editing job, I’d just produced a gold-plated business card that read: Sea King of the Mediterranean. Immortal Force of Nature. Past President of the Tide Council.

Somehow, with the sun going down, I lied a bit and said I was interested in buying a banjo. Faust shook off his old, belligerent feathers and became mellow and charming.
This is a wonderful brand, he said. One of the best, and a very low price.

thanks,” I said, too quick. Boy, did I come in on the wrong beat. I’ve still got some looking around to do.” He asked me what I normally paid for a hamburger. “You’re paying for nothing,” he said. That’s how it comes out in the end. Nothing. That’s all you’re left with. And what I can only describe as an unspoken death wish kicked in, and I asked to buy a plastic kazoo from the cardboard display resting on the L-shaped case.

I expected more. But before Faust could respond, a knock came at the door, and the shop-keep pulled out the screwdriver he’d inserted to hold it shut. Two ruddy
young men in winter coats, neither much older than twenty, stood on the sidewalk below.

One said he was shopping for a cheap saxophone.
“Go to the shopping malls!” Faust yelled and pointed into the night.

The two men chuckled for a second, until they realized he wasn’t joking.

Faust Music is located in the city’s Bay View neighborhood, once just another south side, working class neighborhood but now something hip and resurgent. A younger crowd has opened a number of small, experimental theaters, coffee shops and well-designed bars on Kinnickinnic Avenue, the main drag and the street Faust looked out on from the building he owned. The 1882 structure contained both the store itself and an essentially unknowable network of warehouse space positioned up and around and behind the main show floor. It was secret space, and few people had ever seen all of it. Faust would make reference to rooms full of some of the best musical equipment on the planet, and you just had to believe him.

He didn’t recognize me when I came back in 2011.
At least he didn't say anything. His hair was a little long, a little thin and coming a little loose, and he gestured for me to come in with a hand sticking out of a rolled-up sleeve.

I explained I was researching Kinnickinnic. Also known as “KK.” But of course he knew this.

“Oh, we don't need coffee shops,” he said, waving at the door.

“People say there's a renaissance in Bay View,” I said.

“They call that progress, tearing down beautiful buildings to build coffee shops. Coffee is bad for you.” He glowered at me. “It's killing us.” He had patronized the Maritime Savings Bank, he
explained, until developers tore it down to build Alterra’s new bakery headquarters. “This used to be Milwaukee,” he said, “but now they call it Bay View to get more money out of you.”

We talked about a few more things, and I mentioned in passing that I was a part-time student
at UW-Milwaukee. “Oh, I thought you were from Marquette,” he said. “I'm doing you a favor. I'm saying you're from Marquette when you're from UWM. What kind of students go to UWM?”

“College students?” Always skating on the edge.

“You go there, and you don't know?” He turned around. There’s one thing that matters, he said, and it’s the source of all power. “Money! If you don’t know that, I don’t know what to say to you. The Vatican is the wealthiest country in the world. Did you know that?”

Go over here, he instructed, pointing out the door and lowering his voice, to the Basilica of St. Josaphat on
Sixth Street on Christmas Eve. “Oh, it's the most beautiful sight you'll see in Milwaukee,” he said and shook his head.

“Milwaukee’s Drum Center,” as Faust called it, is the city’s oldest music store, dating to 1939, when Bill’s father opened it under the name “Faust Music House.” The son, a capable percussionist, served in the Air Force and took over management of the store sometime around 1955. On the wall that divided the showroom for drums from the one for guitars, he’d affixed several square feet of business cards, many now yellowed or creased, from past customers.

“Those are nothing,” he said. “You should see the new ones I have.” Also covering the wall were many signed, black-and-white photos of famous drummers. When I asked about these keepsakes, he ran down a list of big-name customers, including Max Roach, a legendary jazz drummer, and Jimi Hendrix.

“He was in here?” I asked.

“Yes! I'm known internationally for this room and this room,” he said,
referring to the drum room and a display case filled with expensive-looking guitars. “This is the B.B. King model, the Les Paul model, the Jimi Hendrix model, the Paul McCartney model.” In back of the case hung a 1987 award from Milwaukee Magazine naming his the best drum store in the city. “They brought me up on stage, and everybody was clapping. The idiots!” he said. “The best drum shop in Milwaukee. I'm the only drum shop.”

He pointed to drum-brand stickers on the door. “The best. The best. The best. The best.
Beautiful American made. I had a woman in here, and she wouldn't even pay the discount because, she said, This is the best.’”

Later, he maligned hamburgers and bratwurst and wieners and fast food as trash. “They brag about how quickly they can give it to you,” he says.

“But what do you eat?” I said.

The same as Jesus, he said. Fish, bread and wine. And not even the big fish, sometimes only a can of sardines. He told a story about a military superior who praised his body as a model of physical fitness for other soldiers. “He’s the same weight today as when he was eighteen!” the officer had said, and Faust asked how much I weighed today, versus eighteen. Two-hundred thirty both times, I said. “That’s good,” he said. “Maybe keep it around 225, but that’s good. You don’t have a potbelly coming on, do you?”

I shrugged, not wanting to tell the truth.

During these topics, the svelte Faust would run over to the door to count the passengers on passing buses. Kinnickinnic serves as a major leg on a particularly busy route. “There goes another one, nobody on it,” he would say. “There's waste!” As the afternoon wore on, the counts began to rise. “Look,” he said, running over. “That one’s got four people on it!” Eventually, the number rose too high to count in time, and he asked for help. “Yes, here’s a dump truck,” he said as one carrying concrete rumbled by, “carrying the garbage.”

When a middle-aged man rode by on a bike, Faust grumbled, “Oh look, he's got a bicycle.”

“What wrong with that?” I asked.

“It's pathetic!
” he shot back. “He’s an old man. Bicycles are for children.” He pointed at the floor and told me what his father had explained to him, when he was a little boy. “Billy, between this white line and this white line, you don’t belong. Do you know how you look walking in the street? Imagine a car driving down the sidewalk.”

On the other side of
Kinnickinnic, a woman in her twenties got out of a car and started up the sidewalk but stopped and turned around. “She doesn’t even know where she’s going,” he said. “Is that a cap or a helmet? Do you see that?” I did: She was wearing a round, warm-looking hat with a small brim. Sort of fashionable, I guessed.

If you try to talk to her, Faust added, make sure that she treats you with respect. “If she doesn’t respect you,” he said, “break it off.”

Yet another woman in a hat passed in front of the store. “That honey’s got a yellow hat,” he said, smiling this time.

After a while, we sat down in two chairs positioned in front of the case that held the store’s priciest guitars. “The man is first,” he said, holding up a finger. “No, first is God the Father, then man. Today, the woman is first in everything.
Look at the shopping malls. They're built for women.” It’s not like this in Europe, he said. There, the man is first. “All societies decline. Read history. I have lost faith in the educated people,” he added. People used to say, I work for Allen-Bradley,’ or Allis-Chalmers. Now, it's all waste.”

Not long before I left, he stood in front of the door and held forth one last time, on labor conditions.
“The Chinese work,” he said. “They make four dollars a day if they're good, two dollars if they're not so good, and if they're no good, they get sent to the prison camps.”

I said that sounded terrible.
“Because this is what you know!” he yelled, shaking his arms at the street.

Online message boards for musicians sometimes veer into “Faust story” threads. “I leave shaking. He's a horrible man,” says one poster, who claims the store owner struck him with a ruler and pointed repeatedly to a sign, “Ask, Listen, Learn.” Another poster says he went into Faust Music looking for a job but was told to “get trained somewhere else then come back.” A drummer says Faust told him to “get out” but was “all smiles and handshakes and business cards” after a sale. A former apprentice to Faust says, “I have heard all the stories and even experienced them myself,” however, “I really love Bill.” The apprentice says Faust would introduce him to bandleaders in town and other musicians. Another drummer who rated the store five stars out of five says it's “not just a shopping experience but a life experience.” Faust shared wine and anchovies with the customer, a woman. “He has some amazing stories,” she says.

Hostettler, a music writer and drummer for the popular Milwaukee band IfIHadAHiFi, says he walked into Faust Music in 2003 with his then-girlfriend and IfIHadAHiFi's guitarist to buy a new cymbal, and Faust launched into a rant about the Japanese walking around the U.S. as if World War II had never happened, the problem of liberated women and how everyone calls it the “United Nations” now instead of the United States. He barely made it out.

About a week later, a “Thank You For Your Business” card arrived in the mail, a pleasantry I never enjoyed because I never actually bought anything at Faust Music. “You've pissed me off!” was how Faust finally suggested that I leave his store, on the day we counted bus passengers. Now I'm going to put up this sign,” he said. It was a little piece of paper that listed his phone number and said, “Call for appointment, William Faust.” He taped it to the door, and then he smiled a bit. “I wish you luck,” he said, shaking my hand.

It’s hard not to remember or point out that Faust is a recurring character in literature and other art dating back centuries and originating in German legend. He’s an ambitious scholar who, by collaborating with a demon and the devil, damns himself for eternity. “Faustian” is an adjective referring to someone who betrays closely held morals in pursuit of some success.
But, Faust was not actually Bill Faust’s name. Nosing around after my last trip to Faust Music, I learned that his legal name was, in fact, William P. Regalado, as his obituary confirmed on Sunday. Being the resourceful (Sea King) journalist I am, I based this conclusion on property records and city directories dating back to the 1930s.

Bill’s father, founder of the original
Faust Music House, was named Fausto Regalado. Regalado is a Spanish name, and “fausto” happens to be an adjective in three languages. In Italian, it's “auspicious”; in Portuguese, it's “luxury”; and in Spanish, it's “splendor.” But the industrious Fausto Regalado, opening a store in Milwaukee in 1939, lanced a vowel from his first name and produced a new surname that his son would also take on.

In German, Faust is “fist.” 


Also see the recollections of Faust Music the A.V. Club has culled from local musicians.

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