Monday, October 26, 1998

Local Boy Makes Good

I reached a place in 1991 after four years of floundering (or was it struggling? or was it drowning?) where I knew I had to make some changes before I could proceed forward. There were two defining events that helped me decide what I was going to do.

First I took a trip via Amtrak out east where I visited much of America's richest history in Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington DC. I did a lot of walking and writing on that trip. I would start off with a particular destination in mind and allow myself to drift into any area that looked interesting to me. By the end of the trip my knees were so sore from all the walking that I could hardly make it up a flight of stairs. Yet it was a liberating feeling knowing I could go anywhere I wanted, that I didn't have to restrict myself in any way other than to just go to where I felt safe.

The next summer Bob Dylan played five shows at the Orpheum in Minneapolis. Despite not having the kind of money where I should do such things, and still feeling a bit sheepish about being THAT big a fan, I bought tickets for all five shows. The performances at those five shows intrigued and inspired me. Dylan played fifty different songs over the five nights. It was if he was out to prove something yet at the same time the consistent quality workmanlike effort of all five shows was somehow comforting. None of the shows stick out in my memories from the rest but I do remember my favorite individual moments- there were breathtaking versions of Little Moses and Boots of Spanish Leather, a pensive Visions of Johanna and a truly eccentric Idiot Wind. I found myself each night sitting at the end of the show with an astonished goofy grin on my face.

It was at this point where I was beginning to understand a message in Dylan's, by then, constant touring. If there has been one constant in his career it is to expect him to do what is not expected of him to do. At times it's as if he wants to deliberately sabotage the lofty admiration his work has created with his fans. By hitting the road and performing night in and night out with very little publicity, Dylan found a way to maintain his own focus with what is apparently most important to him- expressing himself through his music. In other words he defused the hype by letting his music do his speaking for him.

This message inspired me. His determination to just be himself turned on a light inside. I realized instead of trying to constantly analyze what was and was not working in my life (and my own now painful immediate past) I had to just get on with doing what I knew how to do. There was also a feeling that if I was going to go down in flames, I had to do it on my own terms, which meant I had to stop listening to all the advice from well meaning friends, family, co-workers, doctors, clergypeople, politicians, analysts, writers, singer/songwriters and whoever else I had turned to for guidance. I had for whatever reason stopped listening to the one true voice that really mattered- my own.

Seven years later I have found myself at another crossroads of sorts and when it was announced that Dylan was playing his first ever show in Duluth where he was born and then the next night in the Twin Cities. I knew I was going to go to both shows if for no other reason than I had to get some time away from my routine to clear my head and decide what exactly comes next.

The drive to Duluth was rejuvenating in itself. It was a few weeks too late to enjoy the many colors of autumn, but the brisk fall air was mood altering and refreshing. Duluth of course is a pastoral city with its hills overlooking Lake Superior. I spent a few hours walking by the Lake watching the ripples of the water under a nearly cloudless sky. (Question: How come Lake Superior smells like apple cider? What is up with that?)

I went inside the DECC arena about an hour before the show. There was excitement in the air as people wondered how and if Dylan would do anything special to recognize the fact he was playing at his birthplace for the first time. The opening act, Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men gave a scorching, foot stomping countryish set (Brush with Fame- they stayed in the same motel as me- and I found myself having coffee alone with Mr. Alvin the next morning). Alvin is a talented guitar player with a booming baritone voice. (Another little sidenote here: Wednesday morning I was driving to work when I noticed something happened to my voice the night before- and it was now about an octave lower than usual. It sounded so funky I wanted to turn around and go home and record a new message for my answering machine. That's the type of voice Alvin has).

"Thought I'd shaken the wonder and the phantoms of my youth. Rainy days on the Great Lakes, walkin' the hills of old Duluth..."

My seat was to the right of the stage about a hundred feet from the band. It was the best seat I've ever had at a Dylan show. (Trivia fact: There have actually been two shows I've seen where I never even really saw Bob. At the Metrodome show we had seats behind the stage and every now and then we'd get a glimpse of him as he wandered backstage. At Riverfest in 1989 I was at the back of a throng of people and occasionally when the crowd swayed and parted the right way, I'd get a glimpse of the top of his hair.)

Two years back the World's Greatest Toothpaste Orderer asked me on our way to Mankato why I liked Bob Dylan's music so much. "He has it right about relationships," I said knowing that didn't nearly capture the exact reason. There are just certain artists that reach you- that express themselves in a way that lets you know you aren't always entirely alone; that capture what is inside better than you yourself can. For me Dylan is such an artist. Great art doesn't necessarily make life make any more sense but it gives one hope that there is a sense to life.

Dylan and his band strolled on to stage about 8:30 and opened with a searing version of Gotta Serve Somebody. It was a wonderful opening song, much different than the boogie arrangement used in the early '90's. This was sermonizing blues with Bob stretching out the words in a most playful manner. "YOU KNOW you're going to have to SERVVVVE SOMEBODDY. It might be the devil, it might be the Lord but you're gonna have to serve SOMEBODY..." Other highlights? A wistful Tomorrow is a Long Time, rocking acoustic versions of Tangled Up In Blue, and Don't Think Twice, and a determined and dramatic Masters of War. An example of Dylan's impressive performing abilities was demonstrated with a lilting version of Just Like a Woman. The recently released Live 1966 which features a phenomenal version of the song was nearly matched with this performance although the mood of the two versions could not have been any different. In the 1966 live version Dylan sings it with such a weariness, a resigned sadness at losing his girl to a world he never knew. In the 1998 version he is more scornful, blaming himself for letting the other get to him as much as she did.

All the Time Out of Mind songs (which I was hearing live for the first time) worked extremely well. Dylan snarled out the lyrics to Cold Irons Bound with such biting precision it was spooky. "There's too many people, too many to call. I thought some of them were friends of mine, I was wrong about them all..."Can't Wait my least favorite song on the CD was spellbinding with its hypnotizing riff. Til I Fell in Love With You expressed a sentiment I've felt a time or two better than I ever could. "I was all right 'til I fell in love with you." And Love Sick (the first encore) gave me goose pimples. "Just don't know what to do... I'd give anything just to BEEEE with you."

The trip back to the Twin Cities was full of anticipation. The second concert was to be shared with someone whose exposure to Bob's music was buying Time Out of Mind based upon my review. I so wanted to share my love of his music with her, and so afraid that she'd think it was all so silly. We bided our time through Joni Mitchell's set out in the Target Center lobby(?) where she educated me on what makes a good shoe (she determined there were many people wearing dreadful shoes). She also was the first to spot Norm Coleman riding up the escalator. Coleman was mostly left alone (and he was alone- what's up with that?) until some guys started chanting "Jesse! Jesse! Jesse! behind him. (Earlier I had spotted Chris Wright, Grassroots Party candidate for governor whose single issue platform is the legalization of pot.)


The song selection on this second night was disappointedly similar to the Duluth show. Dylan performed only three songs that weren't performed the previous night (It Ain't Me Babe, My Back Pages and Make You Feel My Love- the latter which I was strangely moved by like never before). My favorite moment was (of course) when my friend turned to me and said, "I love his voice!" She also was somewhat amused by my proclamation before the show that if he did Rainy Day Woman 12 & 35 (everybody must get stoned- indeed) I was going to walk out. So when the band blared into the opening chords, she giggled and sang along.

Bob has developed a set of impressive rubber leg moves since the last time I saw him. In Duluth he was having quite the time doing this heal toe- heal toe- half duck walking, half moon walking thing around the stage. At the Target Center he was doing more of what we called "marking time" in marching band (lifting up each leg in time). I made a mental note that I will have to add these steps to my own dance repertoire.

"There's some people that you can't forget, even though you only seen them one time or two..." In the middle of I'll Remember You I turned to my friend and told her that I was going to cry upon hearing the song again. She rolled her eyes most assuredly and I grabbed her sleeve and it was a moment I'll never ever forget. "In the end, my dear sweet friend, I'll remember you." It was a very special feeling to be with two of my favorite people.


I was paying close attention to my friend's reactions to the concert and the looks on her face were as usual, priceless (to the woman to our right who didn't bring a cigarette lighter to flash but rather one of those fire place starting ignitors; to the gentleman in front of her with five strands of hair standing straight up as if he had moosed them up for some reason).

She turned to me at the end of the evening and asked me (over the swirling techno music we were listening to) what Dylan song contained the lyric, "Don't know if I saw you if I'd kiss you or kill you..." She is such a good listener and I was so glad I asked her to the show with me. A blue eyed brown eyed girl who has all the right moves. She can crack me up with a simple look. She can finish my sentences correctly. The connection is wonderful. When I informed her we were to sing along to Blowin in the Wind her response was a great example of what I have wondrously found to be who she is. I sang the line "How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?" to her and she answered quite assuredly- "Four." Tee hee. Most impressive indeed.


Destiny is often a false idol. To believe that things always happen for a reason is to be deceived. Sometimes that storm door just shuts behind you and you don't have the key. You don't want to show your panic in front of those that would probably want to help out, but perhaps really cannot, at being locked out from your own home but you pray deep within that things will work out. Maybe the door is merely stuck and not actually locked. Things sometimes do work out.

One of the themes running throughout Dylan's work is the concept of stopping time by living in the moment (thus Time Out of Mind). During both concerts I sat there enjoying the energy of the moment and wishing it would never end. I made a conscious effort to try and remember everything- try my best to soak it ALL in so I could carry it with me wherever I end up next. Another lesson learned over the years? It's futile to run away from memories because there are always more just around the corner. At the same time to be able to share a moment with another is something we should never take for granted because it may never be again. Or in another's words: "So now I'm going back again, I've got to get to her somehow. All the people that we used to know are an illusion to me now. Some are mathematicians, some are truck driver's wives. Don't know how it all got started, don't know what they're doing with their lives. Be me I'm still on the road, heading for another joint. We always did feel the same we just saw it from a different point of view. Tangled up in blue."

A trip, a concert, a friendship, a piece of art, a song,- the long and winding path is often difficult to discern and distinguish. You don't want to make too much out of day to day events, but when something special happens along the way you just have to allow yourself to feel a little bit inspired. It's not always a bad thing.

Monday, October 19, 1998

Soup's On

In the six plus years we have done this weekly newsletter, I don't think we have ever published a restaurant review. Since we have covered just about every other subject imaginable we are way past due. And who better to do the first one than your friendly neighborhood editor, fresh out of work, eagerly looking for a new career?

Despite having limited experience in the field, I do come with some clout. It was me who helped determine Boston Market's fate. As I was driving down Division Street in St. Cloud looking for a place to eat dinner, I was being my usual wiener like indecisive self when it comes to such minor matters. Just as I was ready to throw in the towel and stop at McDonald's for a fish sandwich, I happened to see a Boston Market up a few blocks. I remember my friend Spunky once recommended their turkey sandwich so I decided that was exactly what my dinner was destined to be that evening.

As I got closer to the restaurant however, I noticed it was across the four-lane street and I would have to make a left turn, sans stoplights, across two lanes of busy traffic. I didn't need a Boston Market turkey sandwich that badly. Fortunately I seemed to come across St. Cloud's restaurant row and there was a Perkins right to my right. Later that night when I got back to my motel room I turned on the news and heard the Boston Market chain is facing serious financial woes. Ironic? I think not. If you ain't on the right side of the street, forget about surviving as a business.

I actually had two meals at the St. Cloud Perkins. For dinner that evening I enjoyed a delectable (although a bit too hot- I burned my tongue) fish sandwich. I ordered chicken vegetable soup with my meal. The soup was good but as a bonus one of my other options, french fries, also came with my meal. My server, a pleasant young lass, joked about my luck.

Later on in the week I ate breakfast at the same Perkins. This time around the service was slow. My over easy eggs were fine, but my hash browns tasted like well water. Quite frankly I was disappointed in the meal and the restaurant. Call me quirky but I am much more likely to eat breakfast at Perkins than dinner and my breakfast was nowhere near the quality of that mouth watering fish sandwich. This was merely a meal by rote, nothing at all unique to enjoy.

The ambiance of the restaurant was pleasant enough. I sat behind three young women (coeds?) who must have been on their way home from school (they were talking about having gotten up at 4:30 that morning to hit the road). They were talking math, triangles and such and it brought me back to those frightful days of college math when I didn't have a clue, unlike today. Not that I was eavesdropping but they were also talking about the classes they were planning on taking in the future on their way to changing the world. Oh to be ambitious again...

The best part of any Perkins of course is that gigantic flag. It's just plain big! I must admit the next best part of my experiences at Perkins (as has been in the past) is they put a whole pot of coffee on the table for you whether you are with someone or not. Put the combination of the two together and you leave Perkins a wired patriot. The background music was a tad annoying- mostly 1990's country music. I was beginning to think it would almost be preferable to have no music at all when the Traveling Wilbury's End of the Line came on and seemed strangely appropriate for the moment. "Well it's all right, even when you've got nothing to say- every day's a different day."

Being the connoisseur of fine foods that I am I must point out that the menu offered by this restaurant is enough to please most people. You want a hamburger, they got them. You want a salad? They have them too. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, Perkins aims to please. Sure you can get the same meal anywhere but that is exactly the point. When you go to a restaurant like Perkins you don't want each and every one to be different. What you are looking for is something familiar in a foreign setting. A big flag, eggs over easy, fish sandwiches, yes indeed, to go anywhere and have the same choices does soothe ones' soul just a bit. Overall my dining experience at Perkins was exactly what I expected: OK food, OK environment, fairly cheap and painless. That you can go into any Perkins in the country and find just about the same thing can be comforting during those homesick times.

Monday, October 5, 1998

Cloud Nine

I think it was television's Van Patten family that first said, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Generally I don't disagree with that belief but "old" and "new" of course are highly subjective terms. Take for example, our good friend Kurbie the dog who we were told last week has learned that the reason humans sleep with our heads outside our covers is to breath better. Seems Kurbie has taken to sleeping next to his best friend, little head outside the covers, little body tucked in warmly next to hers'. A lesson well learned and a reward well worthwhile I'm sure.

I must say that making the drive from St. Paul to St. Cloud and back again every day sure gives me time for such major contemplation. I've thought about buying some books on tape to pass the time but I'm rather content with my selection of music which I can enjoy while singing at the top of my lungs. Somehow screaming along to a John Grisham novel doesn't hold the same appeal.

The company I'm doing some work for has agreed to pay for a motel room a couple nights during the week for me but I haven't taken advantage of that yet. I was planning on staying in St. Cloud last Wednesday and Thursday and then I remembered that Thursday was Max's birthday (or more precisely the birthday I assigned to him when I first brought him in for his shots- and by the way that makes him a Libra, Mary). Since I have missed several of his birthdays over the past few years I figured I owed him the pleasure of my company for the evening. I am dorkiness defined. But he seemed to really enjoy the canned treat.

The absolute worst part of the drive is coming back home and crossing the Crow River where Wright County borders Hennepin County. As I see the sign for Hennepin County I think to myself, "I'M ALMOST HOME!" But it still is a good thirty minutes from Maple Grove to my house (especially during rush hour). Let your expectations get the better of you and the fall is so much harder. Someday I'll learn better.

I did take a day off during the middle of the week and went downtown St. Paul for lunch with my friend. We got some chocolate coolers and headed to Harriet Island. We sat by the river and enjoyed the sunny fall day despite our coolers having become warmers by the time we reached our destination. I think the afternoon helped me get my groove back- that and the season premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (sorry I have to disagree with you LeAnn- it was a swell opener).

As all of you know being such devoted fans of the show, last season ended with Buffy leaving her mother and friends behind in Sunnydale after having killed her boyfriend, the evil vampire turned good, turned evil again, Angel, to save the rest of us from the end of the world. The burden of being the chosen one, the responsibility of being the slayer, had gotten to be too much. Buffy wanted a chance for a quieter, simpler life where she was merely responsible to herself and no one else. So she winds up in a small town working at a truck stop as a waitress under the pseudonym "Anne" in a restaurant that has peach pie. Could there be a better, a more accurate mirror for the past half year of my own life? It's as if the producers of the show had pulled a Linda Tripp and wired one of my friends to put my life story on television.

The notion of what comes next for me is a fresh start somewhere else crossed my mind recently. Heck I think the seeds were planted during my trip to Japan. The strange feelings of a foreign familiarity cut as deep as the feelings of for once in my life not feeling so different from everyone else while at the same time never having felt quite as different ever before. Japan is a country where loyalty and honor are deeply rooted. To do something such as leave your job (and your company), especially without something else lined up, wouldn't be considered. I remember how when Al and I would ask our guides their views on America, each of them admired the "freedom" of Americans. One fellow mentioned feeling he already was with the company he would be with the rest of his life.

For those of you who haven't seen the Japanese movie, Shall We Dance, I suggest watching it for a taste of what the Japanese society is like. The movie is about a man who on his way home from work on the train spots a beautiful young woman at work in her dance studio. He becomes obsessed with her, and they have an affair, not one like our President, but one where they learn to share the same passion- for ballroom dancing. The movie is about taking chances and following one's heart; something that the Japanese don't normally do.

Getting back to Buffy, her quest was appreciated but not as much as another quiet moment with my friend. As we were leaving Harriet Island she reminded me of the importance of not giving up on dreams. Then she looked at the clouds, with the most wonderful look on her face. She loves clouds. It reminded me of another day with a certain person who saw puppies in cloud formations. I saw the potential storms that lie ahead. The perspective you allow yourself to take does make all the difference in the world.