Your Trusted Identity in Cyberspace, Redux
This article from Wednesday's paper (The Minneapolis Star-Tribune) has brought a flurry of visits to this site. Has the world of media "flipped" so completely that people read a story in the paper and then come here from further information and confirmation? The story concerns The Ensculptic House in Minnetrista, Minnesota which I wrote about over a year ago. That post has already received a lot of attention, with comments from the current owner and the original architect.
It is truly a magnificent and unique place, and I am sad that it is no longer lived in. It is being sold for the value of the land, no bank will underwrite a mortgage for a place that is still 40 years ahead of its time, 40 years after it was built.
The house today:
Photo: Don Olson
The Concrete Park, Revisited
The town of Phillips, Wisconsin, is home to this masterpiece of Primitive Folk Art:
Over two hundred sculptures fashioned from concrete on wire mesh, adorned with shards of glass and other cast-offs, are situated in a pleasant park on the south side of this small town. Fred Smith, a tavern owner, constructed these over a period of years in the 50's and 60's for reasons unknown ("I don't know why I make 'em") out of concrete and empty beer and liquor bottles. Walking among the sculpture took me back not 50 but 50 THOUSAND years - the same feeling as viewing prehistoric art. The impact of the work was strong, but its meaning was elusive. With Indians, Cowboys, Animals and Pioneers as subjects, you could sense what was important to Fred in his life.
While there, I thought of my own attempts at "art" and of classical Greek and Roman sculpture. Every artist is trying to state something, trying to externalize a perception of existence and make it into a physical reality. Fred succeeded, to a degree. But there is just enough mystery in these figures to give them an added dimension of spiritual resonance, of totemism, as if they were keys to the doors to his primordial subconscious.
First published Sept 4th, 2006
There was a time when football was something we did- not something we watched.
We didn't need a stadium- just a patch of grass.
We didn't need uniforms, cleats or padding- some of us didn't even need shoes.
We didn't need money- which was a good thing because we didn't have any.
We never made it onto any real team- but that was OK because we could fly.
Sprite, Definition: 1. supernatural elfin creature: in folklore, a small supernatural being like an elf or a fairy...
Pensive and silent
Inscrutable in cement.
Not This Time
Iðno Audience, Iceland Airwaves, 2009
Received an email today with a link to the 2010 Iceland Airwaves Festival schedule. More bands, more venues (although some are smaller), and all the more I'll miss them. There are some tough choices, the schedule has some of my favorite bands playing in the same time slots (Amiina and Pascal Pinon- right across the street from each other!) Perhaps it is just as well. I'll be somewhere in the wilds of northern Minnesota while 250 (!) acts will be performing over five days. They haven't posted the off-venue schedule yet, hopefully The Nordic House will have their excellent afternoon series again (I've been getting hits on my site-meter from and about there lately.)
As teaser for those lucky enough to be going, I'll sign off with this shot from last years Airwaves:
Daníel Bjarnason and Orchestra, Iceland Airwaves, 2009
My China Doll
You can take all the tea in China
Put it in a big brown bag for me
Sail right around all the seven oceans
Drop it straight into the deep blue sea
She's as sweet as Tupelo honey
She's an angel of the first degree
She's as sweet as Tupelo honey
Just like honey from the bee
~ Van Morrison
0030 hrs- Delta flight 638, flying out of Hong Kong to Narita, dodging typhoons on the first leg of a 18 hour flight.
She's finally coming back.
0830 hrs- Delta flight 620, from Narita to MSP, second leg starting.
She's almost home.
1231 hrs- Delta flight 620, from Narita to MSP, The Weaver has landed.
Welcome home, honey.
Paul Scher, Jimmy Derbis, Minneapolis, 1979
Playing mid-week usually allowed a more informal and intimate experience. The frantic excesses of the Friday and Saturday night shows were fun, but a Wednesday or Thursday gig in a small University-area club gave the opportunity to stretch out, to explore musical ideas, to have some breathing room. And when the crowd was into it, Jimmy would lay out. You could hear Paul's breathing as he played his silver alto sax and carried you away.
In an Airport, 11:43 PM
She was in her mid-40's and appeared agitated, yet happy.
"When will they land? It says the flight is on time, but it hasn't landed yet!"
"Well, there was some bad weather in Seattle- you are waiting for the Seattle flight, right?"
"Yes! My childhood sweetheart's coming - I haven't seen him for 27 years!"
She was literally jumping with excitement. She tried to explain something about why they parted, but I couldn't really follow the story. It didn't really matter; evidently young love never dies. Whether her reunion was all that she hoped for, I'll never know, my son came in and we left her behind, still in a tizzy.
I do know that I still think of all my youthful "crushes" fondly. The reasons we drifted apart, while valid, can never change these feelings. That said, even if I were single, I don't think I'd care to restart any of those relationships.
Venus of Willendorf, Miss World 1951
Some things never change? Desire is imperative for the continuation of the species, but is there a need for sexual display? Many otherwise repressive societies have no trouble reproducing. With modern media, this imagery is pervasive, seductive, and all-encompassing- but not really any different today than it was 25,000 years ago. Some societies, notably the Shakers, have gone without such stimulation, only to fade, wither, and ultimately disappear.
Beauty pageants still exist, although not with the broad appeal they once had. I was always fascinated by them as a child, but paradoxically lost interest with puberty. I think that I learned early on that a woman consists of more than the sum of her (private) parts.
Miss World image via Another Nickle in the Machine
Best in Show
Blogging is a funny thing. From its early days in the late nineties, to its explosive growth in 2004, to its current eclipse by Facebook and Twitter, it has always been viewed (and rightly so, in most cases) as suspect. Not really literature, not really journalism, home to dilettantes and egoists. I'm guilty of all these things (and more) but hopefully my enthusiasms resonate with a handful of readers. I can't even begin to express my gratitude for those bloggers who have expanded my horizons and touched me personally. There is a high burn out factor in these enterprises- the more personal and heartfelt the blog, the more draining it is.
When I was a teen I was in various rock bands, but was always a fan of jazz music and its legendary performers, many of whom who were still active at the time. As I grew older, I worked in the music biz in various roles, with musicians of various levels of ability. None of these groups were strictly "Jazz" bands, but all of the players knew of and studied jazz and blues music intensely. I also followed the "Jazz Scene", and usually had magazine subscriptions to Down Beat, High Fidelity and Stereo Review. We all knew who the true heavyweights in modern music were.
Last year I discovered (or, more accurately, I was discovered by) Chris Albertsson, distinguished music producer, critic, author, disc jockey and true son of Iceland. His blog Stomp-Off has consistently been a wealth of information- not just writing, but photos, artifacts and sound recordings of jazz music and musicians. Chris is sharing his most interesting life in jazz with us, it is a labor of love and an unparalleled resource for anyone interested in the development of America's most vital contribution to musical history. It is truly "The Best in Show" for this kind of blog.
The Banana Tree
When I brought it home, there was laughter and rolled eyes. She always knew I was a sucker for kitchen gadgets, but really- a stand with a hook on it to hold bananas? She thought I was bananas. I don't even eat bananas.
But the Banana Tree proved useful, and it gained a place of prominence, right between the napkins and knives.
Since she's been away, the banana tree has stood empty.
I finally broke down and bought a couple.
The kitchen just didn't seem right without them.
Listening to Sgt. Pepper's in Mono
My personal mono copy, with insert and sleeve
I was home alone on Saturday night. NPR was playing a show featuring The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The radio was in the kitchen and I was just on the other side of the open door, sitting in the dark in the screen porch. The show had a group of commentators: critics, musicians, songwriters, fans- each of whom sounded off with reactions to the album as a whole and the music in particular.
The host tried to insert a bit of controversy into the proceedings by having some contrarians on who pooh-poohed the notion that Pepper was a great album. (albums thought better: Rubber Soul, Revolver Radiohead's OK Computer). I'm not going to rise to that bait. People have different tastes, it is a question better left unasked.
The show did play the whole album, track by track, including the two songs cut from it, which were released as a double-sided single- Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever. Imagine the reaction if those two had been released with the others! (I would have rather had them than Within You, Without You and Lovely Rita, but then, that's just my taste!) They also augmented the album with studio outtakes, demos and backing tracks.
As the show went on I got deeper into the music, and I became aware that I was hearing it in mono. It wasn't the mono mix that the Beatles personally spent 40 hours on, it was the "modern" CD stereo mix, but reduced to one channel. My Kloss radio, while musical, is mono-only. It sounded good, actually a little clearer than what I remembered of my vinyl LP, but different. The drums sounded better- and despite what some people may think, Ringo may have been the best instrumentalist of the group. His playing is expressive, at times brilliant, and never in the way. He never sounds like he is laboriously laying down tracks. The album is obviously heavily "produced"; it would be fun to hear some of these tunes played live, as Jeff Beck did with A Day in the Life.
Taken as a whole, Sgt. Pepper's was a tremendous artistic achievement, an international cultural event, and in a way that is hard to imagine now. The individual songs have their own appeal, but the album in its entirety becomes far greater than the sum of its parts. The show touched on that fact, one college professor who teaches a unit on Pepper bemoaned the fact that her students didn't appreciate it as whole- the songs were shuffled into "tracks", and the cover art and lyrics were shrunken or non-existent. None of them seem to have the time to sit and listen to a whole album, in the way the artists intended it.
In my screen porch reverie, all of Pepper came rushing back- The Beatles helped define what music could be for me and many others. Their earlier and later albums were good, with arguably better songs, but this album stated that music (and life) could be great, that life is full, and a splendid time is guaranteed for all...
Postcards from the Fair #5
Postcards from the Fair #4
Postcards from the Fair #3
In 1964, probably in response to The Beach Boys, The Beatles and the "English Invasion", the Minnesota State Fair set up a "Teen Fair" with exhibits aimed at teen-agers. The first year was pretty lame- the highlight being a "smash a car" booth, where you could, for a dollar, get three hits with a sledge hammer on a junk car. The next year was a whole different story. There were several stages set up where amateur and pro bands could play. My band, The Others, played twice, once at a music store's small stage, and once at a department store's big stage. We were awful, but the experience was fantastic, if only for being in the same place as local legends The Underbeats and Suzie Q. and the Originals or really good teen bands like The Jaguars. The teen fair went on for several years, but teen music changed and became not nearly so innocent.
In 1969 I returned to the fair, where a few of us thought it might be a good idea to partake of an illicit substance to enhance the fair going experience.
Everything was ever so much more colorful! Even the sugary beverages had a new sensory dimension. The simplest of stimuli became somehow more meaningful and intense.
There was lot of giggling that day.
After the fair, while we were still pretty high, we went to a movie, Linsday Anderson's If.... which was (and remains) pretty mind-expanding in its own right.
A year or two after that the fair authorities decided against further hosting a playground for trippers and converted the whole area into "Heritage Square", with a big emphasis on "Square" and this brief but intense bit of fair history was gone forever- to be replaced by faux western and pioneer booths, selling faux history, booths which remain to this day.
Postcards from the Fair #2
A lot of people go to the fair to buy stuff, or, more accurately, to be sold stuff. There is a definite seduction/surrender dynamic going on here, with the pitchman selling the experience of selling as much as the products.
Resistance is weakening...
And like an experienced street hustler, the pitchman's never ending patter insinuates its way into the mark's brain until resistance is futile.
This is a long-standing tradition, as old as history, and still thriving in spite of The Shopping Network and Amazon.
Postcards from the Fair #1
In remembering the dozens of trips to the fair in my lifetime, I must start with my childhood. Those early memories were dominated by the Midway, of course, for the freak shows were a true novelty, it was real in a way TV and other forms of media which lacked the immediacy of these tacky diversions were not. At the fair one could see real Siamese twins, a "fat" family, giants, alligator women and pop-eyed hucksters, showgirls(!), black showgirls(!!), and even a fading movie cowboy or two, all "performing" to small crowds of wide-eyed youngsters and their indulgent parents. The thing that tied it all together was the banner art for the various acts. Perfectly awful, yet undeniable in its tawdry appeal:
The idea of pain and suffering as an attraction was hardly new, much of my religious instruction was based on that, but here it was, presented as an entertainment (with a little titillation thrown in for good measure), even though it was really just part of a long tradition of circuses and morality plays. You just had to respond- whether in horror or fascination (or both.) This Art, outside of a few preserved examples, is long gone.
There were other childhood attractions, the livestock, along with their owners, created a world just as removed from my own as was the carny's. Those animals offered us a glimpse of grace, as did the young people who handled them:
This remains the same as it ever was, and remains just as beautiful.
The fair is also a little mini-history of Minnesota, each building and construction reflecting the times in which it was built. With almost nothing ever getting demolished, one can walk through the fair and simultaneously through the decades, with the grand buildings of the twenties and thirties still glorious:
Even their details bespoke a higher aesthetic sense:
Postcards from the Fair Week
This week I'll be featuring impressions from the
Minnesota State Fair, in a mash-up of images and
rambling, possibly unrelated personal stories;
I've come to the conclusion that it would be
almost impossible to make a coherent narrative
out of this kaleidoscopic experience.
Santa Claus Town, Minnesota, 1953
A child's mind will retain things in unequal measure. Multiplication tables and confirmation lessons- not so well. Cheezy roadside attractions- perfectly. Running across these snaps of a short-lived tourist trap which used to exist outside of my town, I was transported to a childhood state of despair, tinged with hope. I kept waiting for my dad to stop at Santa Claus Town. I hoped that someday I'd be allowed into its hallowed confines, a place where all dreams can come true, and it is Christmas every day of the year.
From the looks of Santa's house, I think Halloween was thrown in too, just to insure that it was the mostest, bestest place for kids in the whole wide world.
I missed that opportunity, how have I been able go on living without it?
In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening...
The Dubliner, Saint Paul Minnesota, 2010
... Tell 'em I'll be there
In the cool, cool, cool of the evening
Save your pappy a chair
When the party's getting a glow on
And singin' fills the air
In the shank of the night
When the doin's are right
Well you can tell em I'll be there
~ Johnny Mercer