Monday, December 30, 1996

1996 Top Ten

10. Lyle Lovett's Road to Ensenada: Wit humor and charm can go a long way- even get Julia Roberts to fall in and out of love with you. Four great songs, That's Right You're Not from Texas, Long Tall Texan, I Can't Love You Anymore, and my personal theme song, Don't Touch My Hat. "If it's her you want, I don't care about that. You can have my girl but don't touch my hat."

9. Joan Jett's Love Is All Around: Mary comes to the big town, all on her own now. She conquers that town with her pluck and charm ("Kid you have spunk... I hate SPUNK.") The energy in Jett's performance of Mary's theme makes this the song of the year. A cry of defiance, of independence and of self reliance all from a 1970's TV theme song.

8. Bob Dylan and Patti Smith Dark Eyes: An exquisite duet from December 15, 1995 in Philadelphia from two of music's most intriguing artists. Their voices intertwine and dance around the enigmatic words, "...oh time is short and the days are sweet, and passion rules the arrow that flies. A million faces at my feet and all I see are dark eyes..." Not exactly a polished performance but anyone wanting polish from either of these two is missing the point.

7. Mike, Kim and Alex: Our favorite family and they're merely a cartoon. Mike Doonesbury, whose wife recently left him to pursue her career in performance art, starts dating a young coworker. The person in control of it all however is his young daughter Alex. The best Doonesbury bit in years.

6. Frances McDormand in Fargo: A lot of people I talked to didn't like this movie. They didn't see the point and certainly we in Minnesota aren't the rubes portrayed. Well there have been many times over the years during the coldest moments of the winter, slip sliding around and having to deal with terminal cheerfulness and its sometimes cousin, ignorance, where I just wanna scream, seriously questioning my own sanity for living in this state. Frances McDormand was absolutely hilarious as the sheriff. Beneath the "you betchas" and "oh shures" was a patient, competent if not brilliant Minnesota public servant. Good enough for me.

5. Murder One: The end last year was a disappointment as a bit player was found to be the guilty party. Then they really sold out by firing the show's soul, Daniel Benzali, and revamping it not to be just about one case but three or four. Still the show has its wonderful pacing, writing and a good new lead in Anthony Lapaglia. Sometimes it is so good it makes you realize how bad most of the rest of network television is.

4. Barry Manilow's Live By Request: Looking back to my so called life back in junior high everything seems like a big blur. And the blurriest moment of all was during gym class and the swimming unit. To pass we were required to swim nine laps. Not exactly being the buoyant type I absolutely dreaded the thought of jumping into a pool of freezing water, not being able to see two feet in front of my face and trying to get from one end of the pool to the other nine freaking times. The only stroke I had any confidence in was the backstroke so it took me all period to finish my laps as the others darted around me as if I was swimming in jello. The only comfort through this nightmare? In the background Barry Manilow belted out Can't Smile Without You. Now I know it ain't exactly cool to be a Barry Manilow fan, but somehow that song saved me from drowning in more ways than one. Barry had a recent A & E special where callers could phone in requests and he would play them. It was like being in a bar with a he's so bad he's good performer. The caller would request a song and Barry would say to each and every one, "That one's so special to me... it's one of my favorites..." I can't think of a better job than being a lounge piano player and playing Barry Manilow songs all night. Another career change?

3. Kirby Puckett's retirement press conference: I got home after a stressful drive, turned on the TV, saw Kirby sitting behind a table with a bunch of microphones and an eye patch. It was classic Kirby and it made me cry. "I don't want all you kids who prayed for me to think that this means God doesn't answer prayers..." A bitter sweet good-bye, a big loss of cheerful exuberance for baseball.

2. Paul Westerberg's Eventually: They say this guy used to be in a band that was pretty good. Well I don't know about that, but this CD showed the guy has a career in front of him. Love Untold is a classic. "Does anyone recall the saddest love of all, is one that lets you fall... nothing to hold." Can someone please tell me if his old band created music this good?

1. Suzanne Vega's Nine Objects of Desire: I never used to like Vega's music, too studied, sounding more like an English major than a song writer. Her last CD (1992's 99.9F) changed all that however. As strong a song cycle as there is, that CD still gets plenty of time in my music rotation. Nine Objects of Desire isn't quite as consistent but it shows a pleasant continuing growth of an artist who has much to say in such a different way. It's one of the few concept CD's that works completely, examining the many different sides of love. The second song kicks in with the great opening line, "The sign said head shots..." and goes on to create a mood and atmosphere seldom strived for in popular music. "It's strange how a shadow can fall across the wall, and make the difference in what you see."

Monday, December 23, 1996

Newspaper of the Twin Cities

If there is something that we must be in the business (and when I say the business I mean the industry), it is consistent and reliable. Each and every one of our customers comes into our stores with some type of expectation. If we don't meet those expectations, and in some cases exceed those expectations, that particular customer may go to another store to buy their music.

Sometimes those expectations are unrealistic. Other times the expectations are what we should automatically provide: good selection, good layout of product, excellent service, competitive prices and a clean friendly atmosphere. That's not to say providing those things is a take for granted, easy task. It is to say that if we fail to provide those things we won't be very successful. The same holds true with all kinds of businesses. When we are dealing with somebody for the first time we do have some sort of preconceived basic expectations. When we are dealing with the same person or company for a second or third time, those expectations begin to rise.

I have a bet with my sister that by the year 2000, newspapers as we know them will no longer exist. With rising paper and production costs and declining readership, I am predicting by the turn of the century to get a newspaper you will have to go on-line or get your news through some other form of technology. At the last apartment complex I lived in there were twelve apartments and only three of us got one of the two daily newspapers. My apartment complex prior to that consisted of about thirty different units and there were five or six of us who got newspapers.

Coming from a journalism background and having read a newspaper for just about as long as I can remember, my prediction sort of saddens me. I enjoy waking up early to get my two newspapers, pour myself a cup of coffee and catch up with the prior day's events. When I visit another city one of the first things I check out is their newspaper to see how it compares with others I have read.

We are blessed to live in an area that does have two major metropolitan dailies. While the quality of each has slipped a bit over the past couple of years (too much USA Today television style summary reporting with more flash then substance), there still is no better way to get your daily news then to pick up either the Pioneer Press or the Star Tribune (although Channel 2's NewsNight is fast catching up).

These days I have less time to read both newspapers before I leave for work. I usually page through the Trib and then just glance through the Pioneer Press for anything that looks interesting. I've thought about stopping service on one of the two but herein lies the dilemma. At this point I think because of its resources, the Star Tribune puts out a superior product. They obviously have a bigger staff and it seems often that the Pioneer Press is just a training base for the Knight-Ridder empire, sending its quality writers to other newspapers in the chain when they complete their apprenticeship in St. Paul. However, the delivery service I get from both newspapers is like night and day.

My St. Paul paper is always there for me when I awake at 6:00 a.m. It is put in the cylinder next to my door so I never have to search for it. My Minneapolis paper is almost never delivered on time. Over the summer I almost developed a safari like approach to trying to find where my carrier delivered the paper that day. Because it is important to me to read my newspaper before I leave for work, when I cancel one of the two papers it will probably have to be the Tribune despite their superior product. It ain't any good to me if it ain't there to read.

Now I 'm just guessing at how they came up with the word "news" but it probably was back in the days when word of an event would spread from town to town. Since these events were relatively recent, perhaps it was then they were dubbed news. Therefore once I hear about some event, and read or get into some discussion or other form of analysis on that event, it is no longer news, it's olds. I may get angry at something I read in the newspapers (i.e. the Pioneer Press' lame endorsement reasoning of supporting Rudy Boschwitz in the senate race) but being angry enough to think about something is better than being angry because the material isn't even there to read in the first place. People are always saying if we privatize more of our governmental services those services will automatically improve. Well, getting a good newspaper delivery person proves otherwise. My mail arrives on time. It gets delivered to my mailbox where I expect it. Is it expecting too much of the same for me to demand the same from my news carrier?

Monday, December 16, 1996

Shelter from the Storm

Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire is a movie that is sort of an anti-Seinfeld. Instead of being about nothing, it is sort of about everything. What starts off as a movie about a slick sports agent who suddenly develops a moral conscience, turns into a love story and covers a half dozen other topics along the way. In other words, it is the perfect movie for viewing on a cold gray Saturday afternoon on only your second trip to the Mega Mall with a friend who has just broken up with her longtime boyfriend.

The movie stars Tom Cruise, and it really could star no other actor. The part seems written with Cruise in mind, sort of an update from the character he played in his '80's defining role in Risky Business. Maguire may not be the quickest at catching on to what is going on around him and more importantly inside of him, but eventually the depth within overwhelms the shallowness that his exterior portrays.

The movie also has strong performances from Cuba Gooding Jr., as Cruise's only client, Rene Zellweger as Cruise's business partner and wife, and also Bonnie Hunt as Zellweger's "disapproving" sister. It is in these performances that the strength of the movie's writing really comes through. It is apparent that each of the three has their own "sad stories" as the Zellweger character describes it, but each has come to a self defined realization of who they want to be and who they currently are. Their relationships with Cruise allow us to follow the path that takes Maguire from a selfish and greedy yuppie, to a lost and searching still sometimes manipulator, who ends up discovering and reflecting upon his own weakness until he is complete.

The movie begins with him staying up one night after a confrontation with the son of one of his clients, and writing a new mission statement for his firm that calls for them going less for the money and more for what they all apparently got into sports to begin with, namely fun and love of the game. He is of course fired for his radical idea and new morals, and the only ones to stick by him are Zellweger and Gooding (who is constantly entertaining as the pampered star wide receiver).

In Risky Business Cruise played a high school student who learned the pitfalls of pursuing the Capitalism trap of making money without the corresponding reward that comes with a honest work ethic. In Jerry Maguire he learns much the same lesson only he is able to show others around him the need to put as much passion into their work as they do their own private lives. In return he learns the polar opposite, the reward that comes from developing intimacy with others, to get beyond the glossy lifestyle that comes with major league sports.

At times it feels as if the movie is trying to say too much; cover too much ground without getting beyond the surface. But as Cruise assails the cynicism of the world around him he gets engaged in a simpler world, through his relationship with Gooding, Zellweger, and Zellweger's young son (played by Jonathan Lipnicki). The movie unfolds like one of those white paper snowflakes we all made as children, where you cut out little patterns but it is not until you open it that you actually can see what you have created.

If Risky Business defined the '80's as an age of greed with the make money by any means mentality, Jerry Maguire paints a more optimistic portrait of the 1990's. This decade isn't so much about 12 step support groups that allow everyone to claim themselves as victims, it's more about taking responsibility for personally fixing what is wrong in one's life. There is a balance to be struck between the personal and professional. The message is about striving less for winning at all costs and more for finding that something or someone which will make you complete.

Monday, December 9, 1996

Dear Friend

Dear Friend, what's the time? Is this really the borderline? Does it really mean so much to you? Are you afraid, or is it true?

During those stressful moments during the day when chaos is buzzing all around, I'll often take a quiet moment to look at a picture that my friend gave to me that she took during her family's visit down to the Florida Keys a few years back. The photograph is of a magnificent sunset over the ocean, a perfect picture from a perfect eye.

It always comforts me to look at the picture because it calms me as I can almost hear the ocean waves, and it reminds me of far away places and all that is out there away from cubicles, beeping phones, pagers, computers and staff meetings. It also calms me because I am seeing things through my friend's eyes, the way she sees, her unique way of looking at things, and like she often does when I am around her or talking to her, it reminds me of what our relationship is about, a shared sense of what is truly important.

That the picture means so much to me is rather ironic. I'm not exactly what you would call a picture type guy (or picturesque type guy for that matter). I won't get into my theory here about photographs creating false memories for people. Whenever I hear that a picture is worth a hundred words, I always say I'll take the words. A couple weeks back the Stillwater Gazette ran an article I wrote about the election. Along side my article they ran a photo of me. Mixed emotions? My backwards journey into the world of journalism juxtaposed with the memory of having spent the past few years plotting on how I could destroy all photographic evidence of my existence so all that remained behind were the words...

Still it wasn't too surprising to me that the people who read my article commented more on the picture than the story. Others talked about how my experiences either did or did not match their own and wondered why I didn't mention them personally in the article.. People only can read things or understand things on their own terms. In many ways that is the most difficult thing about writing; the process requires solitude and it is a task to get the words to express or convey something inside that you're not even clear what it is. Good writing straddles the line between thought and emotion. Fall on one side and you get into sentimentality. Fall on the other and you get sterile analysis. If you are a good enough writer the reader will look past your ignorance and your insecurities and appreciate your insight or the images and emotions the words convey. To share that with another means to hope they understand on some level what you have written and often being disappointed because they may have had the same experience but never the same emotion.

Tell someone else your troubles or triumphs and they will inevitably tell you of an experience that is supposed to be similar or in relationship to whatever it is you have told them. A good writer is like a good friend. Good writing requires good listening- listening not only to how people talk, but to what they share with you. None of us individually have experienced what collectively we all have experienced. But it is not an equal tradeoff. To write is to write about what you know. When you write you have to filter it through your own experiences and knowledge. In return you know that most people probably won't respond to the ideas or emotions but you only can hope you can get through to someone out there even if that someone is thousands of miles away.

You learn to get around this by understanding that getting the writing out is often more important than the piece itself. My writing does not define me, it defines a part of me. Thus whenever someone asks me if it is hard to share my writing with others I try to explain that no, because what I write isn't me it is something separate from me and letting others see it is often times the very point.

I've seen people cry because of my writing and I've seen people chuckle at something I wrote. I've written myself into trouble and written myself out of trouble. When I read some of the stuff I've written for this publication, the pieces I like are not the ones that are necessarily well written or even informative; rather it's the few that convey honestly somehow something that was there when I wrote it. That's always a difficult accomplishment. It is frustrating to be unable to express something you want or need to express. Words can fail you at the worst moments. So this week even if the words aren't there, our thoughts truly are with a friend who is facing a difficult time. A good heart survives.

Dear Friend, throw the wine. I'm in love with a friend of mine. Really truly, young and newly wed. Are you a fool, or is it true?

Monday, December 2, 1996

What the World Would be Like With No Raisins

Buckle down the hatches brother, winter is here. Though the sun will still rise once a day and set once a night, it's the dawn before the early mourning, the dusk signals a nightly wail.

Back where I came from Thanksgiving was the HOLIDAY of the year. Oh you could have your Labor Days, and you could have your Arbor Days, but we would go all out on Thanksgiving and PARTAY! Oh, the fun we would have as Ma, Pa, and all my brothers and sisters would gather in the warm glow of the oven's light and wait until the Great Turkey would pay us our annual visit. The importance of this holiday was that it was one of the few days of the year where the whining stopped, and people actually took the time not to look at all that's wrong in this world but instead be thankful for all that is right. It is after all, as the cliché goes, easier to tear something down than build something up.

Yes if you sit down and think about it, each and every one of us truly does have much to be thankful for, and taking a few minutes before we stuff our faces full of food isn't that much to ask. Me personally am thankful for the foundation that was present before this year came to be and all that has gone by in the past 365 days that has brought so much more. Traveling all the way from the girl whose mother used to send her albino white raisins, to the girl who feeds her goldfish, Murray and Dionne, with a straw. Here's a partial list: I'm thankful for two jobs that provide challenges, growth and opportunities. I'm thankful for a family that has seen me through some tough times and have shared in many memorable moments. I'm thankful for a kitty who sometimes urps up his dinner but never hides his delight in another meal and even looks at me sometimes as something other than the warmest pillow in the house. I'm thankful for my friends who tolerate my eccentricities and flakiness and take my good moods with my bad. I'm thankful for the next cup of coffee in the morning.

So now we turn the corner towards the BIG holidays, the ones that have become days of commercialism mixed with melancholy and wistful once a year good cheer. Turbo Man? Christmastime and New Years tend to bring me down a bit. Is it the stressful hustle and bustle of trying to find gifts and all that comes with the celebration of the season or is it the constant reminder of the passing of time of the time when Christmas Day was the most exciting day of the year and New Years meant something other than reflecting on another year that has somehow escaped our grasp? To think of where we are now as compared to just a short time ago and to think that we are so different than then and that a few years from now we will be even more different than now... makes you want to go out and mash a few potatoes.

When I was in school, my mother would gently wake my brother and I, and push us into getting ready for another school day. She would get our breakfasts together as we got ready for the day ahead. Breakfasts consisted of a glass of orange juice, a glass of milk, and either Pop Tarts, cinnamon toast, or raisin toast. These days as my alarm clock buzzes and I drag myself from underneath the covers, into the cold house with Max snuggled besides me irritated that I'm interrupting his sleep, and as I hear the coffee brewing and as I put the toast into the toaster and bring in the morning papers and try to wake myself, and the last thing I want to do is go out there again and face it all, I remind myself of the potential of the new day, and well, you never know. It takes time to cultivate a raisin. Turn around and you might just find yourself in the right spot at the right time. Who can say what tomorrow will bring? Last November who would have thought I would have renewed diplomatic relations with a woman with a new name? Or spend a memorable evening driving south with a star and running into the only other person we knew at the Hardees in St. Peter? When you've been there before, often times you will get there again if you give yourself the chance. If you are outside the W.C. you are an American, if you are inside, European. Jingle all the way.

Hey cadre of padres, it's no time to spend shadow boxing during a solar eclipse when a picture becomes more like a memory than a memento. Even olives have their pimentos. And thank the good Lord that we do have raisins.