Monday, December 25, 2000


10) When Madonna appeared in her little girl cowboy outfit on the Late Show with David Letterman she looked tired- the kind of tired that comes from raising two kids (Lourdes and Rocco) and trying to rev up a professional career again. It had already been a good year for her beginning with a wonderfully subdued cover of "American Pie." The refrain of the song, "the day the music died" asked a question that her terrific CD, Music answered. On her new CD Madonna proves that despite the changes in her life, music is still what matters most to her and through its healing ability- it hasn't died. Music is in many ways a return to her dance days with a nod to a more contemporary sound- the French techno style so hip with the kids these days. On the Late Show however she agreed to perform an acoustic version of the new CD's strongest song, "Don't Tell Me." She said she was just beginning to learn how to play the guitar again and she brought out her guitar teacher and humbly asked the audience not to laugh at her if she flubbed things up. What followed was a very moving version of the simple song- and a demonstration of the artist's innate musical abilities. Yes she was a limited instrumentalist and yet somehow she used the lack of experience to bring out the powerful emotions of the song.

9) Tubby Esquire, the 2000 Minnesota Music Award winner for best polka band, opened their set at Mayslack's on May 26 to a rather unenthusiastic looking group of people. A couple of the band's friends sat at the table nearest the dance floor in front of the bar's cramped stage. I sat slightly behind the two and to the right. Behind me was an elderly couple that looked like they had been in the bar since the day it opened. A few stragglers came from the main area to the back room once the music started but they invariably didn't stay long. The country and polka music sounded good but unfortunately few were listening. The band began to take requests- everything from the "Beer Barrel Polka," to Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." When they struck up Hank Williams' "Dear John," a group of younger people meandered into the area and began dancing. They were joined by an obviously intoxicated young man that danced by himself doing some rather interesting if not obscene gestures. It was a scene straight out of the oddest novel and I can honestly say I've never had and may never have a better time listening to polka music.

8) My sister, who is in the process of earning her Masters Degree in writing with a focus on personal essays, gave me a high compliment the other day. She said she is impressed that I have been able to write this weekly column for so long. Truth be known the major lesson I've learned in trying to write something interesting every week for the past eight and a half years is that writing personal essays is about the most difficult thing in the world. Finding worthwhile material is bad enough but the process of openly sharing yourself and still connecting with potential readers can be akin to taking a fist in the gut every so often. That's why I was so impressed with Sarah Vowell's collection of essays, Take the Cannoli: Stories of the New World. Vowell, a regular contributor to National Public Radio's "This American Life," has a sardonic view of life that she shares with a razor sharp acerbic wit. Take the Cannoli is a constantly entertaining read, and the two essays on Sinatra are priceless.

7) In the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer a demon can jump out at you at any moment. The way to defeat the demon usually requires staking it through its heart. Rest be assured however that there will always be another demon just around the corner. Overnight your best friends can turn into the ones that drive you mad. And those that are dead don't always remain that way (Buffy herself was killed the first season; Angel's tormentor Darla returned this year having been staked by the big guy himself). Those that are apparently alive are often dead and without a soul. As the characters explore their darker sides they often see that the only way to get through is with a witty one liner. Maybe this has nothing to do with the world you see around you but it's a fairly fair reflection of my world (and we don't even have to mention that poor Angel lacks a reflection altogether).

6) The Minnesota Twins drift ever so perilously and sadly towards becoming not just a symbolic Triple A baseball team but an actual one and last season was yet another discouraging effort. Indeed the current state of affairs can be summed up by the fact that the undisputed highlight of the year, the thing that got the fans most interested was the giveaway of four porcelain bobblehead dolls. Through a lot of work and planning my friend and I were lucky enough to get all four. As they sit atop my desk those noddin' stars of the past mockingly bob their noggins as a reminder of better days.

5) Early in the year I stood underneath a speaker with tinny sound in a dollar store in the Burnsville Center. I was killing time waiting for my wardrobe manager to arrive to help me pick out some new work clothes. Out of the clatter and chatter and bumping and jostling came a familiar voice singing his new song that I had yet to hear. The song's jaunting melody and sardonic words were enhanced by that wonderful voice. "I used to care but... things have changed," Bob Dylan sang. It was a perfect moment coalescing anticipation and appreciation. I find it difficult to believe that one can say he doesn't care anymore yet still is able to write such a cutting, observant song. A few months later I was standing in the second row next to the stage watching Bob sing the same song. He was no more than twenty feet from me when he looked into my eyes. The artist whose work has touched me like no other was looking directly at me. In the immortal words of that Mike Judge character, "...uh... cool..."

4) The one-year anniversary of my Mom's death was dreadfully approaching. My friend had agreed to come over and go with me to the cemetery, the place I was finding it increasingly difficult to visit. Prior to our trip out I bought an Azalea plant. The plant had an abundance of pretty lavender flowers. I figured I could clip a flower a day and bring it out to Mom. Mr. Max being the vegetarian he is was quite curious about this new addition to our house. I put the plant out of his reach to squelch his curiosity. But every morning I moved it near a window so it could get some sunlight. I carefully constructed a blockade to try and discourage Max. One day I found he had skillfully maneuvered his way past the barricade and was contently munching on the dark pointed green leaves of the plant. I scolded him and chased him away. Later that night he was acting more sluggish than normal so I looked up information on Azaleas on the Internet. I was horrified to find out that the plant was listed as one of the most toxic for cats. I immediately called up an animal poison center (who knew such a place existed)? and was told to bring Max in to his vet. As I dropped him off after watching them poke and prod him, and seeing him shivering in fright I stepped out to the hospital's parking lot and called my friend. She thought I sounded so shaken that she came out to be with me. The next day I was told Max probably had about a 50/50 chance of making it. I visited him on my lunch hour and as the vet's assistant retrieved him and brought him out I saw my faithful friend had a tube attached through his nose. Not once during the half an hour I held him would he look at me. The smell and sound of sick dogs surrounded us. When I finally was able to bring him home, my perspective of our friendship, always held in the highest regard, was even more appreciative.

3) Looking back it was probably more insipid than I thought at the time and at the time I thought it was pretty damn insipid. But Survivor was also pretty damn compelling TV. How can watching a group of people put in a silly and contrived situation saying bitchy things about each other be compelling? In the same way that watching any group dynamic where people have to work together to achieve a goal that will most benefit one individual is. The silly tiki torches and solemn ritual of voting the others off the island added to the wonderfully over the top, we know this is silly but we are taking it seriously, approach of the show. The end result with the most conniving of the group winning by being the only one keeping in mind it was always a game, was perfect. So was Sue, the truck driver's scathing monologue against her former best friend, Kelly Wigglesworth. They couldn't write stuff this good.

2) Some of my closest and dearest friends are election officials. I'd trust them with my life. But when did we start following Stalin's rule of law, that it doesn't matter who casts the votes, it matters who counts them? It was astoundingly absurd and disconcerting the way we went about electing a President this year. For years people have complained about not having any choices to vote for. For years people have also complained about the dwindling voter interest and participation. Little did we know we'd ever reach a point where our next President would be chosen by a difference of one vote (5-4).

1) For 36 years of all the things I've learned and tried to unlearn, for all the things I have seen and heard and have tried to remember and forget- the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds is probably the single moment of expression that in many ways sticks with me most. And if somebody would have asked me along the way what is the one thing that you in your wildest dreams would never believe for an instant you'd ever see happen, I probably would have said seeing the writer of that wonderful song cycle perform those songs live. So last fall when I indeed had the privilege of seeing Brian Wilson perform the LP in its entirety it was with some trepidation. What if it didn't live up to what I thought it would be and how could it? But it did. I don't believe I've ever smiled wider than when Brian raised his hands in a football referee's touchdown signal at the end of "I'm Waiting for the Day."

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