Monday, August 25, 1997

Bottomless Bunny that Bounced and Bounded Away

Slipping down that slippery slope or was it sloping down that sloppy slip? Just when you thought it would never end, it somehow did. To the naked eye it appeared as a fenced in pen full of a horde of happy hares. From east to west all you could see was the back to back bunch of bunnies, either resting, restless or grazing on grass.

The fence that held them back was constructed of wood with a broken down gate that lacked hinges to open and close but which still could be propped either way. Days upon days passed by uneventfully and for those who were aware of the hares there was a certain comfort in the familiarity of their routine. But the gatekeeper constantly kept a nervous eye on the proceedings, not wanting anything to disrupt his recently discovered comfort.

To the untrained eye all the little hares appeared to be identical. But to the especially observant, one bunny was special. Her coat was a little more colorful than the others and her eyes shone brightly, so brightly they could even illuminate a personnel sized office. She had a smile that could make the sturdiest of walls fall. Her legs were more powerful than the rest and once led to a special honor, an award for her athletic skills. Beneath the surface lie a unique poet, a caring soul with a heart as big as one could purchase.

Alas, the day inevitably arrived when the gatekeeper was amiss in his duties and he carelessly left the gate open and all of the bunnies hopped away, all but the special little hare. She gazed upon the horizon with a bit of trepidation in her eyes, turbulently contemplated her options and loyally decided she wasn't quite ready to go out on her own. When the gatekeeper saw what he had done he was horrified. Almost comically, and purely as an afterthought he dramatically placed the gate into the closed position. He looked at the lone remaining hare and wondered if it was worth keeping her there.

She returned his look with that one in a million light in her eyes and an irresistible smile. It was like she knew where he had been, like she had been there too and didn't at all mind and was even willing to help him make sense of the mess. The others had left but she would stay by his side. She even offered to help him mend the fence. She didn't seem to mind that he wasn't exactly hooked up right. He was the type of fellow who always needed to grow into his haircut and could be heard wondering why no one ever sold bubble gum out of vending machines. All that he revealed came after he unraveled. The places he traveled filled his mind with gravel. He stubbed his toe and hurt his sole. He towed his soul and hurt his stub.

They began going to lunch together, grabbing a bagel downtown. Once they even stumbled into a filming of a movie. In a contest they went to a local Blockbuster video store to count the movies they had seen. She had actually seen more than the gatekeeper who had spent so much of his life in the dark. Although they made an unusual sight no one seemed to notice. Her sense of humor rejuvenated him and her friendship energized him even more. He was the type of friend for her she felt comfortable enough to open up to and reveal her fears and anxieties. His experience helped her out. In return her youthful enthusiasm reminded him of another day. She helped him maneuver his way around crowded parking lots. Her keen bunny sense added a stability to his broken compass.

But he couldn't keep her there because it wasn't fair to this little hare. She was ready to take on the outside challenges of all that was in front of her. He would forever need the safety of his little world. So off she went to join the other rabbits. He returned to the empty fenced in area and the only things that had changed was he had a stronger fence with no bunnies to look after, and inside of him there was a hole that missed a friend that he never knew he needed before. Still he appreciated all she shared and had given back to him and how good it made him feel to see how far she had come, how much she grew while he knew her. Hard as it was he couldn't despair the loss of his hare and he would try his best not to care.

Monday, August 18, 1997

Sounds Inside My Mind

It was a SKRINCH, or perhaps it was a SCQUINCH, or maybe it was more of a SKUANCH but from the height of the arc of the ball to the solid sound of the softball against the socket of the eye of the man who misplayed the ball off his face, it was perhaps one of the most dreadful sounds those on the field could possibly hear. In that one moment lives can change, perhaps temporarily perhaps forever. Just a couple weeks before the fielder had revealed to the batter, almost a complete stranger, his reachable dream of building the land he had purchased in Northern Minnesota into a camping area and all the work that would entail.

The nose was broken as the blood drained into the eye causing a loss of sight and meaning an operation to alleviate the pressure in the eye as a possibility. The man spent a night in the hospital and the rest resting. The batter and the pitcher felt bad, one for hitting it solidly and seeing the serious results that can come from playing games, the other for pitching a smaller, more solid softball than that which was supposed to be used and being the fielder's girlfriend.

It was a YOWL, or perhaps it was a long YEOW, but at first from the next house's bedroom it sounded like an unhappy child either crying out of pain or hunger or both. The listener contemplated in the early morning hours, before the sun had risen, whether or not to get up and investigate the outside sound. His cat excitedly darted from window to window. The duration of the YELP led the listener to believe it wasn't coming from a human but from a wounded animal. Should he help out the source of the sound of distress? What help could he be whether that source was from a domestic situation or whether it was from a wildlife nature situation? His weariness was greater than his curiosity thus he managed to put it all out of his mind.

It was the dreaded THUMPA THUMPA sound that as a driver one never wants to hear along with the corresponding bumpy ride. As the driver pulled into the parking lot of the Dakota County Government Center he saw his back right tire was missing the necessary air to effectively do its job and function properly. He put off trying to figure out a solution to the problem however as he scampered inside to attend the meeting which was the very reason for him being in a strange place miles from where he usually was at that time of day.

Throughout the meeting he pondered whether or not to call Triple A, or put on the spare himself, or use the Christmas gift his parents had provided, an aerosol tire pumper upper that filled the tire with a material, enough to inflate him home. He decided to try the latter despite having to drive home on the unfamiliar country highway over the extremely busy Lafayette Bridge during the heart of rush hour. As he approached the bridge and traffic was at a complete standstill he began to question his decision. He had been lucky to get this far how much longer could that luck possibly hold out? He avoided getting on the interstate that would take him home, but rather cut through downtown figuring traffic might be a little lighter. As he made it home he let out an audible sigh of relief. He brought the car to a service center where a competent but quiet young man removed the tire, removed the aerosol gunk inside and looked for the culprit of the loss of air. In the middle of his checks the driver pointed out that he had the young man remove the wrong tire. The young man didn't say a word and went to work on the right tire that was supposedly flat not too long before.

The young woman came over and they agreed to take a walk. They had taken several long walks before which reminded the not so young man of other days when he was quite the walker and when he stumbled upon another who shared his understanding of how useful a good walk can often times be. This walk began awkwardly with the young woman pressing the young man to tell her what had been going on in his mind the past couple of uncommunicative weeks. He was unwilling or unable to share. Their pace quickened as they listened to the sounds around them, of the excitement in young children's voices as they approached the nearby zoo, of the mechanical interruptions of lawn mowers and automobiles, of the sound of the steps of their own feet hitting the hard pavement in front of them. The tension of the silence brought a dreadful look upon the face of the young woman and the not so young man thought he could hear the sound of his own heart beating. At an earlier than expected point the young woman said in a tense voice, "Why don't we turn around here?" And they turned around and carefully retraced their steps. As they approached their starting point he asked her to stay but she got into her car and drove away. The silence was all too familiar and revealing and far and away the most difficult sound of the week.

Monday, August 11, 1997

No One Can Sing the Blues Like Mr. D

An event of historical significance took place this past week and very few people seemed to have taken note. The event ranks right up there with the moment Van Gogh put the finishing touches on the Mona Lisa or when Orson Welles decided the editing was complete on Citizen Kane. In Montreal last Tuesday night Bob Dylan performed the first ever live version of the song Blind Willie McTell. This is akin to Beethoven sitting down at a piano and spontaneously banging out a version of Ode to Joy.

From all reports it was a rather ragged version with Dylan forgetting the words to the verse that begins "See that big plantation burning..." but for an artist who is notorious for pulling out just about any song from his vast catalog, it was still a moment that could not have been anticipated and must have been quite special for those lucky enough to be in attendance.

Blind Willie McTell is a song like the best of Dylan's work that is a masterpiece both in content and performance. The song was left off the 1983 album Infidels and its reputation grew from the bootleg versions that circulated among collectors. It was finally released to the general public in 1991 on the Bootleg Series. The version released featured Mark Knopfler on guitar and Dylan on piano and contains a stunning Dylan vocal, the type that proves him to be one of rock and roll's truly great singers.

"The beauty and expressiveness of his voice send shivers through us, immediately and repeatedly, every time we listen; he is so present it scares us, and yet this presence is so sweet we can't pull ourselves away. The piano is guiding him across a vast and mighty landscape, the land of his vision, full of images and sounds and smells, and his voice follows, bringing words and tune and the deep keening of his heart along with it. Every phrase is a voyage, filled with awareness and need and life."
-Paul Williams
Bob Dylan Performing Artist

There is also an unreleased version featuring Dylan with a full rock band behind him. The difference between a good singer and a great one is the ability to pull elements out of the moment to express what is going on inside the singer as the song is performed. Dylan's versatility as a singer is aptly demonstrated with the comparison between the two versions.

"Not that Dylan exactly throws the acoustic "Blind Willie McTell" away- it's just that the electric take explodes with surprises that in no way diminish the impact of the lyrics. From Dylan's cough on the second line as his voice strains to hit the note to the tap of a shoe counting the band in on the second verse, the way he sings "can strut" like "instruct" the delightful harmonica interludes, that classic way Dylan has of running the words in the first half of a line together just so he has time to bend the remainder of the line to the beat in his head- all work together to provide a breathtaking cut."
-Clinton Heylin
The Recording Sessions

So what is Blind Willie McTell about? It's a song where the narrator laments the fact that not only is America a country that has lost its way and lost its connection to its roots, but has also lost the artistic voices, the poets who can chronicle the journey and define meaning for those who will listen. It's a song about the waves of history and how the narrator is sitting looking out his window of the St. James Hotel wondering what is worse- the deadening of spiritual values or that no one is left like that great blues singer Blind Willie McTell to help raise the consciousness of those that are to follow and that without those artists the soul of the country is left to suffer. Of course the great irony of the song is that Dylan delivers a performance of a song that would make Blind Willie proud.

One wonders why Dylan decided to leave the song off his official releases. After years of criticism from critics and fans perhaps he was reluctant to share a song that he knew was so important that it had to be heard, yet couldn't be appreciated by the current marketplace. That he has now made the decision to share the song in performance, in concert is to be appreciated. One only hopes that it wasn't a one off performance and that a St. Paul version is forthcoming.

Monday, August 4, 1997


The rumor swirling around the elections biz this past week was that at the upcoming special session it will be decided to hold a statewide referendum election this November to vote on stadium financing issues. For those of you who haven't figured it out yet, the Twins need a new stadium the Vikings most certainly do not.

The Metrodome was built because the Vikings threatened to move to Memphis. It was built specifically for football with baseball seemingly an afterthought. The Vikings get all the suite money. Twins fans get seats that don't even face home plate, and a plastic sanitized bastardized version of the game of baseball. The Vikings signed a thirty year lease as part of the deal to alleviate fears that they would one day again threaten to leave. That they are now again threatening to do so despite that lease demonstrates the ethics of that organization. The Twins made no such similar deal. They were a dying franchise and figured their best means of survival was to follow the football team downtown. And while it's damn near impossible to develop a rational argument to devote public money to build a stadium for the primary benefit of a billionaire who has thus far offered next to nothing to help out, to a team that has been decidedly difficult to watch the past few seasons, in a sport that has been severely mismanaged and is in a state of disturbing disarray, the best I can do is say this state would truly suck without major league baseball.

Like anywhere else, Minnesota is its history. From Paul Bunyon to Hubert Humphrey, from Elmer to Richard Dean and Loni Anderson, from Cedric Adams to Barbara Carlson, from Bob Dylan to Prince, from the two fat guys shaking hands across the river to Oliva and Killebrew and Puckett and Hrbek, the storied traditions of the state make us who we are. To lose the Twins would mean a tear in the fabric of the state and would be a major loss. No, the quality of life would not suffer, but the identity of the state would. You take something for granted and one day you turn around and you realize it's no longer there and you feel for the first time how much you miss it and by then it's too late to do anything about it.

So we should build the baseball only stadium (preferably in downtown St. Paul by the riverfront) for $300 million, give the Twins all the parking and concession money (it is there job to bring people to the park by providing competitive entertainment). As part of the deal we make them sign a thirty year lease that binds them to Minnesota for that time. We charge them five million per year for that thirty year period so that by the end of the agreement they are paying half of what it originally cost to build the stadium. The interest lost is more than made up by the revitalization they will provide to the downtown St. Paul area.

This, of course, will not happen and the reason the legislature wants to hold the election is so they aren't held responsible for when the Twins do leave. So one of the things that makes this place a little bit better than most places will be gone. And all the people complaining that the money should be spent to fix the social ills of our state will wake up to find that those social ills are still as bad as ever. If this is solely about money, and that is how the issue has been framed thus far, the stadium should not be built. But although it is becoming more and more difficult to see, there are things in life money can't measure.

We sometimes do things because of the pure joy. During the recent heat spell I enjoyed a pint of cookie dough ice cream. Man, that cream was tasty. After I was finished I looked at the nutritional facts on the carton. My little treat had filled me with 28% of my daily recommended dose of cholesterol. For a guy who had his cholesterol measured in the stratosphere not too long ago, this wasn't exactly the wisest move. But for the brief pleasure and taste sensation, a little more blockage of the arteries was worth it.