The Train Kept a Rollin'
She caught the train, in Seattle,
She was a hipster, and a real cool dame,
She was pretty, from Dublin City,
And she trucked out on the Empire line.
With a heave, and a ho,
She really really had to go,
Get along, sweet little Annie, get along,
Better be on your way,
Get along, sweet little Annie, get along,
Better be on your way,
With a heave, and a ho,
She really really had to go...
The train kept a rollin' all night long
The train kept a rollin' all night long
With a heave, and a ho,
She really really had to go...
She made a stop in old Montana,
She must have thought, the west would never end,
She got off the train in St. Paul, oh!
Lookin' so good, we couldn't let her go.
With a heave, and a ho,
We just couldn't let her go,
Com'on, sweet little Annie, com'on,
Up Anoka way,
Com'on, sweet little Annie, com'on,
Then be on your way,
With a heave, and a ho,
To Chicago and Obama she must go.
Kennedy and Obama
Our phone conversation was polite even though we were discussing politics. There is little need to rehash the particulars, it's not the topic I wish to cover. There were differences, to be sure. She was somewhat younger, she had been born after Kennedy was assassinated.
She had never experienced a politics of hope.
The day Kennedy took office was the day World War II ended. Not in any political sense and certainly not in a historical one. It was a mind-set of new possibilities, replacing the old ones of warfare, hot and cold. It was a change that threw off a lot of old baggage, a change that offered people hope. Eisenhower, perhaps the most brilliant general in the history of the world, was keenly aware that the war-machine of the forties and fifties, the "military-industrial complex", had to be throttled down and made subservient to the greater world national interests. After years of war, the country had problems at home that needed to be addressed. Kennedy's "New Frontier" suggested that all domestic problems could be alleviated with a concerted national effort, led by his team of "The Best and the Brightest." Along with his brother Robert, who was perhaps the only attorney general we've ever had that was truly concerned about the equality of our civil rights, JFK spurred numerous programs that actually improved the quality of life of millions of Americans: Medicaid, the Peace Corps, the Space Program, the Civil Rights Act of 1965- all these and many more had their roots in Kennedy's vision.
We are now at a similar watershed point. The differences in the two parties, hidden for many years, has started to emerge again. McCain's party of war, of division, of criminal immorality, of thinly disguised racism and class warfare is wallowing in its own crapulence. The reborn Democrats, under Barack Obama's charismatic leadership, have, at least for a short time, quit their self-destructive infighting. If Obama wins there will be a dramatic and immediate improvement in international relations. He understands that there is no "US and THEM" anymore. The recent financial crisis has proven that beyond any shadow of doubt. If McCain wins, his "Maverick" approach will be the exact same path that Dubya has been using, with the same disastrous results.
Domestic issues will be much harder to solve. Once the economy is fixed, other problems will improve slowly. In the last eight years the working class has been relentlessly pushed towards poverty by all sorts of political malfeasance. McCain's insistence upon pre-emptive war as a first resort ("Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb,bomb Iran") will only further weaken the economy. Obama's plans, which will certainly be tested and modified, at least recognizes that a strong economy for all will make a strong country. McCain's "Trickle-down" economics by its very name is an insult to every working American.
And then there is the unthinkable. John Kennedy's assassination killed the man, but not his ideas. Robert Kennedy's and Martin Luther King's assassination killed the ideas. Let us pray.
Coming of Age
Setting the path for one's life can start quite young, but in practical terms the first sustained employment one has often sets the tone for the rest of one's life.
Barack Obama- organized communities.
John McCain- bombed communities.
Past history is no guarantee of future performance.
The Unorthodox Candidate
Al Franken, Minnesota State Fair, August 2007
This year's election for Senate in Minnesota is the most expensive in the history of the United States. It is also among the most intriguing. The incumbent, Norm Coleman, won his position six years ago after his opponent, Paul Wellstone died in a small plane crash, Wellstone's replacement was the elderly Walter Mondale. After his election, Coleman boasted that he was "99% better than Wellstone." Tactlessness aside, this remark was the seed that started Al Franken, the noted writer and performer, on his quest to replace Coleman in the US Senate. It has not been an easy task. Franken's past humorous writings have been held against him by Coleman and his operatives, specifically a satirical Playboy article about Internet sex sites in 2000 (described by Coleman as "juicy porn.") while Franken's two #1 best-selling books about political deceit in politics and the media have been ignored. His outrage against what he considers an immoral war in Iraq (and other abuses by the Bush administration) has been used against him as an example of his being "unfit" to serve in the Senate.
Norm Coleman, who started out his career as a Democrat, became a Republican when it was fashionable, is now touting his independence. His support for the war, for putting all Social Security funds in the stock market (?!), and voting for prohibiting competitive pricing for Medicare drugs, all seem to have been motivated by no great personal principle, but merely as a way to be a "team player" in the Bush administration. His refusal to have even one hearing on questionable payments to war contractors when he was the chair of the Senate committee on appropriation oversight speaks volumes about his integrity.
A third candidate, Dean Barkey, Independent, is also a factor in the race and will get a sizable percentage of the vote. He was the main force behind Jesse Ventura's successful bid for Governor of Minnesota in 1998 (when Ventura defeated Coleman), and briefly served in the Senate as Wellstone's interim replacement. His appeal is not limited to any ideology, but rather to those disenchanted with both major parties.
So. What is a voter to do?
There is another side to Franken. He is a dedicated supporter of rehabilitation (his films Stuart Saves His Family and When a Man Loves a Woman cover this subject humorously and seriously, respectively) and a dedicated family man. If this counrty needs anything, it needs rehabilitation. His heart lies with the people of this country, not vested interests. His only "unorthodoxy" is that he believes good government works for the common good, not a popular idea in the Bush era. That era is dead. Let's allow Norm Coleman to join Bush in leaving public office, Norm's only consistent political ideas have been concerned with his own personal advancement.
The first snow is usually a tease.
A few flakes, harbingers of the winter to follow, perhaps a thin layer of accumulation on the still green grass of late autumn. We had that visit Sunday morning, along with a bracing wind coming down from the Canadian high plains. Just a snap, it should be back near sixty degrees by midweek. Then Halloween, with the election the following Tuesday, and followed by what appears to be shaping up as a long, hard winter- regardless of who is the new president.
In the northern latitudes, snow and winter is sometimes viewed as a cleansing, the necessary first step of renewal. I'm cautiously optimistic about the elections, in the same sense. I'm usually not too political here, but in the next few days I'll be posting some thoughts about the candidates from the Flippist perspective. In ten days the elections will be over, and a new world- not a brave new one, but new just the same, will emerge from the ashes. The satirical publication The Onion printed a headline in January 2001 that stated: Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'. Satire, when done properly, contains more truth than does objectivity. Here's hoping that the next eight years will be more rewarding than the very bad joke that the last eight were.
It was if she had just floated in from the night-mist which hung over the lake. The band I was working with had been booked for a weekend at a club in Cross Lake, Minnesota. The pay was OK, and we got the use of a cabin that was right next to "Swede's Oar House." Not exactly the Riviera. After performing we would relax in that shack with a bottle of whiskey, just a sip or two to take the edge off. She was French and claimed to be a writer for a European music magazine. Petey had evidently invited her to come up, his interests weren't exactly literary.
We started in with some stories, Jimmy would play an tune on his Martin and I strummed along on old zither with one separate single string that was set up to be used with a steel, in the fashion of a Dobro. As we played she wrote and wrote (in French) in her little black Moleskine. After a while it was as if she wasn't there. After a further while I noticed that she really wasn't there, neither was Petey. We played again the next night but she didn't return.
As the years went by I would occasionally hear people talk about her: she was living in a houseboat on the Mississippi River down by the Bohemian Flats across from the University, she was seeing so-and-so, stories with no real point. I never did hear of her actually publishing anything. The houseboat "community" was an insular and intimidating group.
The very last I thing I read about her was an oblique obituary in one of the local music papers. A veteran performer and noted writer in his own right wrote a paragraph about the "writer from Paris", who somehow landed in the middle of the Midwestern prairie, burned brightly and then had her light extinguished, one of the earliest AIDS casualties.
They said that Louise was not half-bad
It was written on the walls and window shades
And though she'd act the little girl
A deceiver, don't believe her, that's her trade
Sometimes a bottle of perfume,
Flowers and maybe some lace
Men brought Louise 10-cent trinkets
Their intentions were easily traced
And everybody knew at times she cried
Ah but women like Louise they get by
And everybody thought it kind of sad
When they found Louise in her room
They'd always put her down below their kind
Still some cried when she died this afternoon
Louise rode home on the mail train
Somewhere to the South I heard them say
Too bad it ended so ugly
Too bad she had to go this way
And the wind is blowin' cold tonight
So goodnight, Louise, goodnight.
~Paul Seibel, Louise
Love on the Rocks
And sometimes all the kings horses and all the kings men can't
put it back together again. And then all of your genes start
crying at the same time, but didn't they start it all?
You'll make it alright and there's no sense in weeping.
Get up from that couch and start anew. Or at least start a pot
of coffee. Better stay away from that liquor cabinet though.
It would be so easy to slip into sweet oblivion, but you'd
only wake up tomorrow in a situation that was exactly the same,
except for the hangover. Just put on a little sad music, let
Julie London say it for you:
Love like red wine must have time to age
It mellows in flavor with each passing stage
But even the best of a vintage goes bad
And whether its wine or love that's sad
I won't answer love the next time it knocks
I've had my fill of love on the rocks
A jigger of lying garnished with fights
Some bitters for crying long unhappy nights
A dash of lost dreams then stir with regret
Shake well and pour then drink and forget
A teaspoon of teardrops, seemed like a phase
But I cried too many long unhappy days
Good riddance to love it's too much to bear
After this drink I won't even care
Love on the rocks time to get high
I'll drink to love here's love in your eye
Pop goes the bubble make it a double
This is my last toast to love on the rocks
~Forest and Hughes, Love on the Rocks
In elementary school we were both a "Jenny Lind" kid- and she attended same schools as me throughout our childhood. In junior high she grew into a subtle beauty, in high school she was simply stunning. I felt her to be unapproachable in someway, that was just one of my many hang-ups. After forty years, I realized that it was finally time to break the ice. Our conversation was pleasant and unforced. The usual topics were brought up: kids, career and marriage. She had been recently divorced, but she didn't seem bitter, I sensed that it was something of a liberation for her.
It occurred to me that in any successful marriage there is a big element of chance that helps to shape the final outcome. I'm not talking about abusive relationships, there are plenty of those that fail, but the union of two honest, well meaning individuals. What is the chance of getting a certain color of gumball in a gumball machine? What is the chance of getting two in a row? Or three? Multiply that chance by a hundred (or a thousand) and you start to get in the vicinity of the number of variables in a marriage . So many things, internal and external, can challenge the bond. And when the bond is broken? It can be repaired, but the chances go down even further.
Nevertheless, most of us still fall in love, get married (in some form or another) and life goes on. For many of us it works. No one has a secret formula, you just try it. To try and fail is better than not to try. It can work, and if doesn't work the first time, or if it doesn't work for a lifetime, that is alright as well.
All is full of love.
Like Making Love
A few years till retiring, and you?
Retired, some health problems, I'm doing all right.
You were in the stagehands union for years, right?
Yes, I started in sound at the Guthrie, moved on to lighting, then worked everywhere.
You did the Nimoy one man show, right?
Yes, he really developed that show here, the regular lighting guy was sick, so I filled in. I ended up on the road with him for three years.
Were there a lot of cues for that show?
Yeah, a few sound cues but mostly lights. After awhile I ended up doing it without cues, he changed the show every night. It was really a blast.
That's a great feeling, I did that when I was working with bands. It's like making love, isn't it?
Yes, that's what is it.
Skinny Legs and All
An unexpected surprise in a plain white envelope.
A pair of snapshots, from another dimension.
Beatle bangs and a black guitar.
Skinny legs and all.
Photos by Dan Bourgeois, 1967
As a finale to my "Reunion week" here are a few thoughts on my experiences in high school Drama class. Led by Gary Bowman, a "young turk" just out of college, all of those things emasculated in the other classes were explored in depth here: The war, politics of fascism, alienation and despair, comedy and tragedy, and of course- young love. The class itself was rather free-form, with an emphasis on improv and student-written material. And the discussions! Mr. Bowman was always in trouble with the administration (or maybe he just needed a smoke) and was out of the classroom so we had a lot of time to converse with each other. Nevertheless, I managed to learn, mostly about girls. For some reason, perhaps because we were "acting", the usual male-female routines that kept us divided had been disrupted just enough that some real interaction took place. Not quite full-blown psychodrama (although psychodrama was hot at the time), but close enough for sixteen and seventeen-year olds. Ionesco, Brecht, Shaw (GB and Irwin), field trips to the Guthrie Theater and, what was even more thrilling, field trips to Sir Tyrone Guthrie himself!
The instructor encouraged me in a way that I had never previously experienced. Writing skits, making sound collages and radio plays, film making, painting (that big white thing on the wall behind his face in the photo above), exploring photography and, of course, acting. A few years after my graduation, "Art magnet" schools opened and these offerings became part of the regular curriculum. He bailed me out of my underground newspaper mess by arranging that my student assistant work would count as that final credit I needed to be able to graduate. I really think my life would have taken a turn for the worse without his support- or rather, a much sharper turn for the worse. He was a champion for all of us, a fighter. He grew disillusioned with education and left teaching altogether after the next year.
I'll spend tomorrow night with many of those drama classmates. I've seen the list of attendees, it really is quite remarkable how many of them will be there. My joy at seeing them again will be no act.
Whew! I am really obsessing/regressing about that upcoming reunion. Today's topic- The High School dress code, or "Shape up or ship out." The stated purpose of the code was to insure an orderly and safe environment in which to further our education, its real intent was much murkier.
Enforcement of gender stereotypes was the number one issue. The wearing of pants on girls was forbidden (even on -20° days) except for cheerleaders on sports days, when they could wear culottes- a skirt with half legs. I think. Mini skirts were banned, although that became a challenge for some girls- although micro-minis were taboo. I think. Jeans made of blue denim were also forbidden for boys (although black or white were OK), that might have been a class-warfare thing. I think. Really, I had no clue as to why the lines of demarcation in the dress code were drawn where they were; thinking about it now makes me wonder even more.
Of course most kids wanted to wear cool clothes, and the clothes that were popular then were rather "preppy." The excesses of the Hippie era started a little later. So, on a whole, we looked "nice." We could all wear pretty much the same clothes* this Saturday at the reunion and while they might be seen as a little corny they would hardly stick out- unlike those of the horrid seventies.
*of course I mean the same style of clothes. Not many of us could actually fit into the clothes we wore in high school.
The worst of high school, at least for this scrawny "weeb", was gym class and the dreaded locker room. The first thing one was aware of when entering that sanctum was the infernal incense from the mixture of scents from old gym clothes and cheap cologne. English Leather, Jade East, and Canoe (but never Old Spice- that was what your dad wore.) There was some unwritten rule that unless you were on a varsity team, you were never to be caught carrying a gym bag home from school. Once a semester the lockers were cleaned and the potent garments were stuffed in a brown paper bag and brought home for cleaning (burning.) I remember taking showers in junior high, but not in senior. I don't remember doing any physical activity in senior high either- except for taking laps. We didn't have a budget, and no equipment except for a few lop-sided basketballs so it didn't matter anyway.
The locker room was where the older guys held forth on the fine art of courtship- or "getting some" as it was known in the vernacular. Bases- first, second, third or "all the way." "The fifty-fifty club", and that romantic ideal date- "Put out or walk home." Creepy. By the time I was one of the senior boys my gym days were long over.
Now that would be a memorable reunion- everyone to the the locker rooms to don gym clothes and then to the gym, play a little co-ed basketball, and then back to the showers. Maybe for our fiftieth?
Younger Than Yesterday
The countdown begins. Five days until my 40th(!) high school class reunion. Now those thoughts of regret begin to creep in again, and not just in the middle of the night during a bad dream of the past. There are a million things to regret, although most of them, taken separately are too inconsequential to matter much. It is the combined weight of all of them which can be summed up as: "Why were we so mean to each other then?" Not necessarily overtly cruel or hurtful, although there was plenty of that. Rather it was the little snubs and put-downs, the cliques and castes, and the fear of being different which kept us apart.
We were just kids.
And living in a dream world, which changed dramatically in April of our senior year, when Martin Luther King was assassinated. And then it was Bobby Kennedy, right after our graduation. Nixon's escalation of the war, then Kent State shootings, and the dream was dying. With Nixon's reelection, cynically playing on class divisions, the dream died. And so it goes, right up to the current political scene.
So, in looking back at high school through that 'glass' darkly, I guess it wasn't so bad. We did, for the most part, get along, although a virulent streak of sadistic sexism was, as it always is, present. We were even becoming racially integrated, albeit imperfectly, until the King assassination, but at least it was something. And we did rise above our backgrounds, if only a little.
Saturday night I will see many of my classmates again. Not the widest representation, but those who will attend want to be there. And now, in our late middle age, the differences we once found so dividing have lessened. "I went to my reunion but there were just a bunch of old people there..." is how the joke goes.
That joke is on us and I, for one, will laugh.
A self-ordained professor's tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
Equality, I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.
~Bob Dylan, My Back Pages
In a fit of melacholy, I watched the Sigur Rós DVD Heima again Friday night. I've posted about it before, seeing it again with the events of the last few weeks in mind, I had an even deeper appreciation for what it was- a vivid portrayal of their music played out on a background of the country and the people who had nourished it. If you would like to broaden your cultural horizons please do; it's available on Netflix.
I've been distraught these last two weeks concerning the crisis in Iceland's financial system. In a world of increasingly more homogenized culture, of compromised artistic visions, I've found (as regular readers will note) liberating voices from this isolated rock in the northern Atlantic. A vibrant and eclectic music scene, challenging movies, and a mature and provocative literature have all enriched my life.
Now, with the collapse of their banking system, this magnificent flowering of the human spirit is threatened, indeed, as the malaise spreads it seems as if all western civilization is on the verge of shutting down. This situation begs the question: "What is the value of Art, performing or otherwise?" Kurt Vonnegut put it this way:
"They (the arts) are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or how badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something."
Sigur Rós, Björk, Halldór Laxness, and many other Icelanders have created something worthwhile. That the world's economic system is failing them (and it is the system that is failing), is another matter altogether. Let us sit tight for a bit- there should be, after all of the clouds have dissapated, a new, brighter day.
Somehow, and this may be a bit Pollyannaish of me, I'm not feeling quite so melancholy now.
Highway 41 Revisited
A waking dream
Cruising into town on the flybus
Am I still asleep?
A thousand points of light dance
Looking for a missing puzzle piece
In the town of the smoky bay
Lost youth, my own
Lost youth, a new generation
Two years on, and now
The dream is over?
Weightless and impotent, powerless
In the face of the monsters
Gunnvor the devourer and
Kolumkilli the sorcerer
But they too, will fall
The dream remains
I shall return
Lots of news lately, with lots of people getting hurt. Iceland's financial woes are even making news here in fly-over-land. Now the Russians are expressing an interest as well. Altruistic generosity? Think about these things (which the Bush Administration obviously has not):
- Recent discoveries suggest a potential "North Sea" sized oil reserve off-shore from Iceland's North Coast.
- Russia has become a major player in the world's oil markets, supplying the far East and Europe.
- A large Russian base/oil port in the North Atlantic would insure that shipments to Europe and even Canada would not be subject to pipeline disruptions.
- The US base in Iceland was closed two years ago, the US military is currently over-extended with most of its budget going to the occupation of Iraq.
- The Russians (and Soviets before them) have always taken an interest in Iceland.
- The prestige coming from a successful "partnership" could be used by Russia to pressure other small countries to join in the Russian circle.
With the advent of "Uncle Vladimir's" sudden interest in Iceland's welfare, the possibility of deeper ulterior causes for the crisis is always a possibility. The abandonment of Iceland by the U.S. government over the last few years has reached an inevitable tipping point. The lack of interest in and support of the USA's traditional allies may well end up being the worst blunder (of many) by the Bush Administration.
Spheres of Influence
The Draining Lake
It isn't often that a mystery novel illuminates current affairs. In this, the fourth Inspector Erlendur book, the action shifts between the cold war in mid 1950's Leipzig and a present-day investigation of a body found in Lake Kleifarvatn in Iceland. This is more of a why-done-it than a who-done-it. As with any good mystery, you don't want it to end, but when it does it reaches a satisfactory conclusion.
But it was the context of the story which really caught my interest. In it, Russian and East German spies, Icelandic and East German Socialists, youthful idealism and utter political depravity clash, with a backdrop of Stalinist totalitarianism. This book presents the idea of Icelandic students and the country of Iceland itself as unwitting pawns in a massive, covert struggle for influence and domination by the Soviet Union for the hearts and minds of the the Iceland populace- helped along by a few hard-line, if somewhat naive Icelanders.
This context made today's news concerning a Russian bailout of the Icelandic banking system even more sinister. Since the departure of the U.S Navy Base in 2006, Iceland and the US government have drifted apart, while reports of Russian bombers violating or approaching Icelandic airspace have become more frequent. The Russians would love to have a base in the North Atlantic, and with the US in no position to reestablish economic or military ties, they may have a "golden" opportunity. Check out Alda's most excellent blog, The Iceland Weather Report for a look from the inside of this developing situation.
Of course, any group wanting to dominate this nation of "Independent People" will need a lot more than a bail-out to turn that fantasy into a reality.
The door has been shut for years.
Behind it, nothing.
But if one were to think about it,
Really think about it,
There might be something.
If one were prone to alarmism,
Might be bad.
Might be dangerous.
Might be evil.
Did you hear something?
A faint creaking,
As if a rusty hinge had moved
Ever so slightly.
It happened again.
The chain moved!
Can't you see it?
Something bad is happening.
Glacier, by Seth Cowdery
"During several of the summer months of the year 1783, when the effect of the sun's rays to heat the earth in these northern regions should have been greater, there existed a constant fog over all Europe, and a great part of North America. This fog was of a permanent nature; it was dry, and the rays of the sun seemed to have little effect towards dissipating it, as they easily do a moist fog, arising from water. They were indeed rendered so faint in passing through it, that when collected in the focus of a burning glass they would scarce kindle brown paper. Of course, their summer effect in heating the Earth was exceedingly diminished. Hence the surface was early frozen. Hence the first snows remained on it unmelted, and received continual additions. Hence the air was more chilled, and the winds more severely cold. Hence perhaps the winter of 1783-4 was more severe than any that had happened for many years..."
~ Benjamin Franklin, 1784
The eruption of the Icelandic volcano Laki starting in June of 1783 caused widespread havoc in Iceland and severe effects throughout the world. A large cloud of toxic fluorine and sulfur dioxide gases killed most of the livestock in Iceland and thousands of people there and in Europe. A reference to "The Mist Hardships" (translated from the Icelandic word Móðuharðindin) was brought up by Icelandic blogger Kristín in reference to the current Icelandic Fiscal Crisis, and like that calamity of the 18th century, it appears that the fallout of the world's financial crisis will also be widespread. A crisis of confidence, more specifically a crisis of liquidity, seems to be spreading all over the world. Because it is smaller, it is easier to see this develop in Iceland, but the situation exists throughout all markets.
We may be in for a cold winter.
One Heartbeat Away...
Joe six-pack. Hockey mom.
Bless their (Exxon, Conoco, executives) hearts, they’re doing what they have to do, but they’re not my fans.
(Cute Nose Twitch)
Commanders on the ground will tell us when to end the war.
My Permanent Record
When I was a child and attending school the worst thing that could befall a student was (according to the teachers and administrators) getting one of your misdeeds on THE PERMANENT RECORD! This secret record, stored in a fire-water-bomb proof vault, would haunt you the rest of your life, any stain upon it could prevent you from landing a coveted white-collar job- leaving you with only the career options of ditch-digger or beggar. I discovered this message in a stack of my old report cards. It should have been signed and returned, presumably for my permanent record. It was written by my third grade teacher, Mrs. Narverud, a kindly woman who left teaching after a couple of months, falling ill and never to return. Her kind remarks seem eerily prescient- it's almost as if she could foresee my future blog with remarks such as "... inquisitive mind...", "... likes to know the 'why' of things..." and "... should be encouraged to broaden his interests.."
Now that I stop and think about it, all of my
elementary school teachers left the profession
after having me as a student.