Monday, January 21, 2019

Birthday Party!



Wikipedia turned 18 the other day. A very loosely organized event, with a wide variety people from around the Twin Cities meeting at The Common Roots Cafe in South Minneapolis:



People of all ages and genders:



As the gathering wound down the group split up into small conversations with exchanges of information between participants;



And there was even some “swag”:

By Professor Batty


Comments: 2 




Friday, January 18, 2019

Blair Witch Project

The girls were looking their best for the party:



Downstairs the fun and games were only beginning:



Style points were tallied:



Good, clean, fun:



But a knock at the door ended everything:

By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 




Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Running Blind

A Thriller
By Desmond Bagley

I had read a mention of this book when I was researching a mysterious building in the old harbor area of Reykjavík. Desmond Bagley was, at his peak in the early 70s, probably the top spy writer in the UK. His 16 novels have been in and out of print many times since then, but his reputation has faded somewhat in recent years. Running Blind is notable for its use of Iceland as a backdrop for a tale of international intrigue in a complex plot that includes UK, Soviet and US government agencies, both overt and covert. It is considered the first Icelandic thriller. I ordered a copy and when it arrived I read in a day.

The main character, Alan Stewart, is a former UK spy who had been dismissed for a botched operation four years previous. He had been living as a sleeper in South Africa when he was recruited for another mission.  Upon his arrival in Iceland he is immediately thrown into an extended chase through the country that lasts the length of the book.

This is formula writing inspired by Ian Fleming (who is also name-checked in the novel) and it has all of the tropes: double-crossing agents, a sexy but tough love interest, iconic vehicles, fetishized weapons, gunfights, lots of spilled blood and even a MacGuffin worthy of Hitchcock. To get the most enjoyment from this story, however, one should leave logic out of the equation.  To Bagley’s credit his use of Icelandic history and culture is done in a mostly respectful and accurate way. Nothing about it seemed grossly inaccurate or condescending. There was a TV miniseries based on it that has all but disappeared into VHS-limbo; it was evidently nothing special. It reminded me of Arnaldur Indriðason’s Operation Napoleon; it is unsurprising that Bagley’s novel had inspired him.
This book’s follow-up, The Freedom Trap, was made into a major motion picture starring Paul Newman and James Mason titled The MacKintosh Man.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 




Monday, January 14, 2019

Murph


Willie and the Bees, Southern Theater, 1982: Joe Demko, Willie Murphy, Maurice Jaycox 

Willie Murphy died the other day.

He was truly a legend in Minnesota Music, his various incarnations in R&B bands, his solo work and numerous other collaborations (he produced Bonnie Raitt’s first album) never quite polished the rough edges off this unique character. I had the good fortune to work with him for a few months in 1983, Willie offered me a job, but the music of his hard-core band just wasn’t a good fit for me.

His most joyful noise, however, was the 1969 Running, Jumping and Standing Still album that he made with John Koerner:

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 




Friday, January 11, 2019

First Avenue

Minnesota’s Mainroom
by Chris Riemenschneider
Minnesota Historical Society Press

By far the most famous Minnesota concert venue, First Avenue has hosted thousands of performances in a wide variety of genres, including the early visits of many artists who would later become iconic (i.e., U-2, Björk, Nirvana, Metallica, REM.) This book is a history of the building, the acts that performed there as well as the people behind the scenes. I had a personal history with the place as well, having attended some of the shows that were mentioned in the book so, naturally,  I was interested in how the story of the venue played out on the page.

The biggest act to break from First Ave was, of course, Prince. His Purple Rain movie featured performances shot there, as was the live recording of the title song. It is impossible to overstate how important First Ave was to music in Minnesota. Until Purple Rain broke there was almost no airplay of local artists on pop music radio, and certainly none whatsoever for a mixed race or black group. The 1980s outbreak of Minnesota punk and post-punk (The Replacements, Husker Dü, The Suburbs) was nurtured on the venue’s small stage—The 7th Street Entry.

Riemenschneider’s book also covers the venue’s earlier incarnations as The Depot and Uncle Sam’s. The Depot started life with a bang in 1970 with Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen (featured in the film of the same title) followed by Poco, The Kinks, Jethro Tull, Alice Cooper, Al Jarreau, Frank Zappa and the Mothers (opening act was The Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram Parsons!), The Small Faces (with Rod Stewart), The James Gang (with Joe Walsh), Iggy Pop and the Stooges, and even Ike and Tina Turner.

By 1972, however, the club was in financial straits and was purchased by American Events which turned it into a dance club—several years before disco became big. There were local bands playing once a week, but its layout (featuring an elevated lighted dance floor in the center of the room) made it hard to hold regular concerts. By the end of the decade, disco was out of fashion and a “new wave” of music, kicked off with a concert by The Ramones, began to be featured in the venue. There were also new DJs, including a young Kevin Cole, who played a hipper and more varied fare.

The 80s were arguably the heyday of Twin Cites music. That story, including the rise of Prince and his cohorts, has been told numerous times. First Ave has gone through reorganization a couple of times (and the collapse of the ceiling in 2015), but is now part of a well-run multiple-venue organization that, barring a downturn in live music attendance, should keep it running for years to come.

This an extremely well-done book, The Minnesota Historical Society Press has long been one of the preeminent specialty publishers in the world; the layout and photographs are excellent and Riemenschneider’s un-fussy writing style is also an asset.

Overall, the saga of First Avenue left me with a sense of sadness, some of the brightest stars in it burned out too soon while many of the smaller players were left with little or nothing after the numerous failures of management left them in the lurch. I personally worked with some of the bands that played there (most notably Steve Kramer and The Wallets) but by the mid-eighties my days in the Minneapolis music scene were coming to an end. I wasn’t enamored of the new music and was just about bankrupt from my rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of the previous ten years. I did attend a few shows at The Ave, but the grungy nature of the space and the hassle of being in downtown Minneapolis made it my least favorite of the large clubs.


The Wallets, First Avenue, circa 1984

By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 




Wednesday, January 09, 2019

It’s a Party!

The midwinter blahs have arrived. I’m finally recovering from my holiday cold and I need a change from a life filled with chamomile tea and kleenex.


What better way than to turn back the hands of time to the era of hep cats and bongos, cool chicks and berets:


THE FABULOUS FIFTIES!


I’ll call up some of my groovy friends and we'll get this ball rolling:



Then, we’ll need some music:



And some cool kittens:



Everybody will be dancing:



And the party will get wilder and wilder:



Crazy man, CRAZY!





Images via image search "Beatnik"

By Professor Batty


Comments: 2 




Monday, January 07, 2019

Trios

From Iceland Airwaves and elsewhere:









By Professor Batty


Comments: 0