I started using the stage name Milton not long after I began playing music professionally, a little over 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve been asked about my name more times than I ever imagined I would be. As a self-promoting musician, I play in different towns as often as I can. When I’m able to, I often do an interview for a local paper or radio station to talk about one of my gigs or my latest record. Countless times, I’ve received a lead off question in those interviews about my name. Usually, some reporter who has never heard of me, reads the Bio page on my website and whatever else he can find on me in a Google search. He then hits record on his recording device and starts right in with with “So… Your name is Milton. Is that your real name?” or maybe even “So… Why Milton?” Lots of people have come up to me during the intermission at one of my shows and introduced themselves by saying “Hi. Milton isn’t your real name. Is it?” I always wonder if people do that to Sting or Elton John.
If I’ve ever been hesitant to talk about my name, it’s not because I’m ashamed in any way of the fact that my given name is Marc Joseph Rosenthal, 3rd son of Elizabeth and Samuel Rosenthal or that I was born in Boston, Massachusetts and grew up at 85 Colonial Avenue in Larchmont, NY. I just really want to promote my record and/or my show and talk about the music. I chose Milton as an artistic name for a number of reasons, sound or otherwise, that I’ll say more about. But for whatever reason, I chose to put Milton as the name on my work and I therefore want a listener or reader to check out the music, see the show, hear the interview and remember “Milton”, not “Marc Rosenthal”. My old friends and family members know me as Marc and still call me Marc. My music colleagues and more recent friends know me as Milton. Some old friends just like calling me Milton or Milty or Milt because they think it’s fun. I certainly don’t mind anyone knowing that my name is Marc. I know that Ringo Starr’s real name is Richard Starkey. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t go up to him and say “Hey, Rich!”
The short answer is “I don’t know”. Here’s the long answer…
First of all, there was the saturation of the name Marc or Mark Rosenthal. When I was growing up, my orthodontist had two patients named Marc Rosenthal and one named Mark Rosenthal with a K. That seemed like plenty of Marc Rosenthal’s to me. Let me give you some other better known members of the club.
1.There’s a rather famous editorial illustrator named Marc Rosenthal.
2.There was a writer for Punk Magazine, rather prominent on New York’s original punk music scene, named Mark Rosenthal.
3.There’s a screenwriter who wrote the re-make of Planet of the Apes and several other movies named Mark Rosenthal
4.There’s a longtime TV weatherman in Boston named Mark Rosenthal. If you Google him, you’ll find that he and his wife called 911 last year when they got lost in an apple orchard.
5.There’s a zoo curator in Chicago, Illinois named Mark Rosenthal. He had an account at the bookstore where I worked in Chicago in 1997. We shook hands once when he was in the store.
6.There’s an actor named Mark Rosenthal. I remember seeing a photo of him in the Times when he was in Marvin’s Room on Broadway. One of my mother’s friends called her to congratulate her on my success. I was starring in High School plays at the time. Mark also had a bit part in the movie “Uncle Buck”.
7.There’s also an upper official of the Motor Vehicle Operators’ Union called Mark Rosenthal. He’s a big guy.
I guess we Marc/Mark Rosenthals have done ok out there .
…and now a word or two about this particular Marc Rosenthal…
I was named after my maternal grandfather, Marc Robbins. Grandpa Marc was the patriarch of my Mom’s side of the family. He was the second child of several born to poor immigrant parents on the Lower East Side in 1898. He died a successful retired doctor in a nice house by the ocean in Rockaway Beach when I was about 13. Grandpa was actually born Itzhak Rabinowitz. I guess he was a name changer too. I only knew my grandfather when he was far along with Alzheimer’s disease. I remember that he liked to drink a glass of Scotch in the evening, he liked watching sporting events on TV and he got particularly upset about us kids walking in the house without hosing off our sandy feet from the beach. Everyone in the family was fiercely proud of grandpa Marc. He was known to be smart and stubborn and a hard ass. I was proud to be named after him but I felt that it was a lot to live up to. I couldn’t imagine being a hard ass like him. I liked the idea but I felt far more soft-assed. Still, I went about my business being Marc Rosenthal in my first few years playing music. I even released an album or two as Marc Rosenthal when I started playing gigs after college. A friend from college who had moved to the Boston area got up early to see me on TV one morning, when he saw my name in the local listing. He was impressed that I had gotten a spot on the local network morning show at such a young age. He was a little disappointed to find that it was just an ad for Boston’s famed weatherman.
Don’t Call Us We’ll Call You
Just around the turn of the century, I had been playing with a rock band called Manhattan Heroes (named after a Cuban sandwich shop in Chelsea) and using my own name when I decided to go solo. I wasn’t feeling like making any more electric rock records at that time and I wanted to be my own independent artist. I had a vision of retracing my roots and showcasing my writing, making acoustic music with very little instrumentation. I recorded a few songs for a demo at a friend’s studio in Brookyln and printed up labels on my home computer. I started sending them to clubs and following up. I had my heart set on playing at a new little club on Allen Street called the Living Room where I had seen a friend play. After sending my CD and calling several times, I was told to please stop calling. They were “not interested”. I was pretty close to stepping on my hat. …Then I remembered good old Milty Rose.
At some point during my childhood, I learned all of my friends’ middle names. A few times at the beginning of the school year, the teachers might read our full names off the class roster. I loved learning all of my friends’ middle names: David Alexander Klagsbrun, Thomas Alan Pardo, Joshua Lansing Polk, David Harry Goodman. My friend Josh Moses was Joshua Milton Moses. I really liked his middle name. I liked the way it looked in print. Milton sounded like the Lower East Side to me. It sounded like someone my grandfather might have known. As a kid I had read books about the Marx Brothers (who were roughly my grandfather’s age) and I learned all of their real names. Samuel, Adolph, Julius, Milton and Herbert. Milton just always seemed like an old time entertainer to me and I very much wanted to be an old time entertainer. I imagined myself a Tin Pan Alley songwriter from the 20’s called Milty Rose, banging away at an upright piano in a tenement, turning out five standards a day.
There was a bit of cool around Milton too in my mind. When in high school I had discovered old jazz records with Milt Jackson or Milt Hinton on them, I couldn’t help but dig a dude called Milt. The fact that someone could be called Milt and play the blues in smoky clubs with John Coltrane and Miles Davis was just about the best thing I had ever heard of. I wanted to be so cool. There was a blues singer with a righteous version of “Stormy Monday” on a Chess Blues cassette I bought somewhere called Little Milton. I wanted to be Big Milton. In college, I learned about John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. When I was introduced to Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead one night a few years ago, he immediately assumed I was named for the great poet. I think a lot of people think I’m trying to say something about John Milton. I must admit I’ve still never gotten through John Milton’s epic poem in its entirety. But there always did seem to be some great combination of gravitas and good humor in the name Milton attached to a piece of art. Milton Glaser was the guy who made the world famous I ❤ New York Logo. Milton Berle was the Vaudevillian turned TV star who was known by millions of Americans as “Uncle Milty”. If I could somehow conjure up English Literature, smoky nightclub blues, Tin Pan Alley, New York City, entertainers of old, and my friend Josh, I would be happy every time I saw my name and I would no longer be Marc Rosenthal #48.
My best buddy Mike was a graphic designer (and still is a most excellent one). He knew about my alter-ego Milty Rose and actually might have been the first person to call me Milt. I called him up one day and asked him to try re-designing my booking materials. At first I thought to call myself Milty Rose. But when I saw the single word Milton in writing it just looked right to me. From that moment on, everything I did in music, I did with the name Milton. I soon got myself booked at the very club that turned down Marc Rosenthal and within a year I had signed a record deal as Milton and my songs were even being played on the radio. People who met me on gigs just started calling me Milton and I started liking it.
I’ve had some trouble with the name Milton too. It’s not the easiest name to search for online. Besides, the famed poet, there are many, many people, places and companies named Milton and I don’t use a last name that might help to narrow down a search. There’s a band from Wisconsin called Milton who played on the Warped tour. I know about them because I’ve seen their bio in the program of a show I was playing. Someone on the venue’s staff didn’t check his facts too well. There’s a Spanish Language singer named Milton. You can sometimes see his stuff listed as part of my discography on I-Tunes and other websites. If you’re looking or an album of mine and you hear some vaguely techno music with a Spanish speaking lead singer, chances are, it ain’t me. There’s also an album by the world famous Brazillian musician Milton Nascimento that’s just called “Milton”. It comes up a fair amount when you search for me online. Most of all, when you search online for “Milton”, you get any one of 100+ towns of the same name in this country and the UK. Maybe one of my Mom’s friends will call her to congratulate her on my having a town named after me at such a young age.
You can check out the brilliant design work of Mike Joyce at:
This blog post was written at the Brooklyn Lyceum Café and the Jefferson Market Library in Manhattan. I had my computer’s music collection on random shuffle. Songs were played by these artists, in this order.
George Harrison – Beethoven- Alan Lomax’s Sicily recordings- The Skatalites- Art Neville- Me – Ella Fitzgerald – Billy Joel – Jimmy Reed – Randy Newman – Herbie Hancock- Jimi Hendrix with The Isley Brothers- Al Green – The Beatles – Sly & The Family Stone – Benny Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra- Harry Belafonte – The Temptations- Dion- The Kinks – Howlin’ Wolf- Billie Holiday- Paul Westerberg- Lee Dorsey- ELO – Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band- James Booker- Bill Clifton- Them- Desmond Dekker – Etta James- The Beatles – Little Richard – The Skatalites- War – Thelonious Monk – Dave Tarras- Muddy Waters – Tommy Roe – Roscoe Holcomb – Howard Tate – Beck –Professor Longhair – Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto – The Staple Singers