Monday, December 30, 2002

Same Old Same Old

10) Bob Dylan Summer Days Berkeley, CA, In the Summertime St. Paul, MN: The version of Summer Days played on the last tour featured a chaotic three way guitar battle between Dylan, Charlie Sexton, and Larry Campbell. The three seemed to be going in different directions threatening to pull everything apart at the seams. The playing got crazier and crazier and finally Sexton did this cool descending run ending with Dylan stepping to the mike to finally sing again. Divine, simply divine. A month later Dylan pulled out an obscure sublime tune from 1981's Shot of Love my favorite of all my favorite Dylan LPs. The version was nothing like the wistful recorded remembrance. Dylan sang the refrain "YEAH in the summertime, when YOU were with ME" with such exaggerated aggressiveness it bordered on being silly. Still I think that maybe was the point as I couldn't stop smiling. Gosh bless Bob.

9) I Am Trying to Break Your Heart Wilco: Badly in need of a recharge I currently feel the entrepreneurial energy of a grub worm and that is why seeing this movie was so inspiring. Seeing the creative process of one of the better (albeit one of the most overrated yet still overlooked) groups around created some flicker of the embers inside.

8) Tadpole- I made a great friend this year. She's bright, talented, and has the world in front of her and I think the world of her. That I'm closer to her parents' age than her own didn't mean she couldn't offer me some of the wisest advice whenever I asked. We had a pretend date going (appropriately it seems) to Tadpole a movie that had a lot to say and said it in an intriguing way. The highlight of the evening might have been our stop at the local neighborhood Cheapo store where I was treated like a rock star. My friend was impressed.

7) David Sedaris at the Ordway St. Paul, MN: He is the writer I want to be and I decided to share that little fact with a still great friend who had never read Sedaris' work or attended a book reading. She laughed at all the right spots and it was one of the most enjoyable evenings of the year.

6) Paul McCartney Here Today St. Paul, MN: Nothing could possibly be worth what Macca was charging for his tickets but this touching live version of his touching love song to John Lennon came close. Goose bump inspiring enriching stuff that even those who are Beatled out should take the time to listen to- if only to be a better person.

5) St. Paul Saints beat the Duluth Dukes or the Sioux Falls Sioux or somebody: I went to my first Saints game this summer. The game was nothing special but I had a nice memorable time. It was the evening of an all day softball tournament and my legs and feet were absolutely aching and feeling all of the 37 years old that they were. A friend (who was also on the team- we were both irregulars) scored the Saints tickets and kindly asked me to go. I told her we could save money by walking from my house. It was a longer walk than I remembered and I think she thought we'd never make it back. Still it was one of the nicest walks of a life that is filled with believe it or not, nice walks.

4) Lucinda Williams Essence Minneapolis, MN: T'was a hot simmering summer evening in First Ave but this sweltering version of a sweaty sexy song made me fall in love for the first time since the last time that was supposed to be the last time forever (and may still yet be?- nah...).

3) The Twins season- I never believed in contraction but it was still somehow fitting that the Twins' had a most marvelous season while the commissioner's Brewers sucked big time.

2) Warren Zevon Mutineer on the Late Show with David Letterman: Dave gave the recently terminally diagnosed Warren the entire hour. Zevon's heartstopping version of "Mutineer" was stunning and transcendent. For those who should ever happen to question whether or not it is worth being here in this harsh unforgiving place this performance was the perfect answer. Every last breath counts and is not to be taken for granted.

1) Mr. Max's many trips to the vet St. Paul, MN: Max has had a rough year physically. Enduring several trips to the vet he knows if I put him in his carrier and into my rusting car where we are going since we no longer go anywhere else. Mr. Max isn't shy about expressing his displeasure in being taken again against his will. By the time we arrive at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Clinic he seems resigned to the upcoming poking and prodding. We sit in a large waiting area surrounded mostly by large dogs the size of Cadillacs and Max sits in the back corner of his carrier trembling like a bunny occasionally letting out an audible meow calling attention to himself from all in the room. I try to tell him that he might want to lay low but that never has been his once in a lifetime style. Two trips back they put him on thyroid medication for a condition that caused him to lose two pounds (to a skin and bones frame) in seven months. This latest trip it was determined the medication was the culprit behind why he had very few white blood cells left. When the vet called me with the results of the tests I was more than a tad concerned. When I got home I told Mr. Max there was good news and bad news. The good news was he didn't have to take his pill anymore. He then turned around and walked away seemingly not wanting to hear, or not needing to hear the rest. Bless the little fellow for all we have shared.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Two Weak Notice

The first movie review I ever wrote was while serving as the editor of my high school newspaper. I don't remember what movie it was about but I remember I got it in my noggin that it would be side splittingly clever to write a review where the reviewer allowed the fact that movies are shown in a public place to distract him from what movie reviewers usually base their reviews on- the actual movie. So I devoted most of the review to being annoyed with the running conversation of the people behind me, the sticky floors, and the tasteless refreshments. My final sentence got around to mentioning that the movie was OK.

When the newspaper issue hit the hallways I overheard someone asking a friend if she saw the review and how stupid it was- that the dork who wrote it didn't even write about the movie. It was then I realized my sense of humor is lost on some (maybe even most) people.

I wasn't in the best of moods, or the holiday spirit going to the latest Sandra Bullock movie (a quirky ritual for me). Having seen the previews for Two Weeks Notice I must admit it looked like a dreadful romantic comedy, another underwhelming Bullock picture. I had to drag myself to the theater- fighting the holiday traffic and the notion that I had other places I much rather wanted to be- most notably my living room couch plopped down in front of my TV.

And ominously things didn't go well even before the movie started. I went up to the ticket window and said, "One for Two Weeks Notice please," and the young woman behind the bullet proof glass huffed into her tinny microphone, "Ten dollars." I gasped. Ten dollars? But I didn't protest too much and handed her the money and got back two tickets in return. Sheepishly I silently confessed to myself that yes I am a loser and I do go to a lot of movies by myself but that wasn't worth swallowing my pride and eating five bucks. So I pointed out her error and she apologized and I went to get my popcorn.

Interrupting a conversation between two employees I asked for my medium popcorn and small Sprite. The guy behind the counter didn't miss a beat and continued telling the other guy how he had found some of the old medicine they gave him when he got his tonsils out and he was glad because he was in some serious pain. I don't know about you but the last thing a fellow wants to hear while some pimply youngster is pouring a buttery like substance on an order of popcorn is that the youngster is loopy on a narcotic.

I then proceeded on to the ticket taker. He tore my ticket and told me the movie was in the theater immediately in front of me. I looked up and noticed the marquee said Star Trek Nemesis so I wandered down the hall to the next theater figuring that is what the guy meant. I heard him call out behind me. "Sir! Sir!" So I turned around and he pointed to the theater with the marquee that didn't read what I expected it to read. I walked back and started to go inside but changed my mind. "Are you sure?" I asked him (echoing one of my Dad's favorite sayings). He looked at me as if I were daft. Yeah, maybe I am but I am from this country and I know the marquee to a movie usually reflects its actual title. He looked at my ticket again and pointed me to another theater.

Three for three in customer/service representative exchanges.

Oh and what about the movie? I liked it. In my Sandra Bullock pantheon of films this one would rate in the top three or four. Yes you know where it is going from the start. She plays a liberal lawyer trying to make the world a better place. She gets hired by one of the people she has spent a lifetime fighting- a billionaire land developer played by the always charming Hugh Grant. They don't see eye to eye and somehow don't see what we the audience see- that they are attracted to each other.

Even though it appears they won't, that it can't possibly happen- they end up falling in love and ending up together. It is a story done by a zillion different people in a zillion different movies and yet because both Bullock and Grant are easily likable it is a nice little movie. Breezy and at times witty (I especially liked Grant's line while visiting a house where the host asks him if there is anything she can get him and he replies, "A Milk Dud." I think I'll add that to my own repertoire. I also liked that Bullock's character helps Grant pick out a new line of stationery between two choices by tasting their envelope glue. Granted these aren't the moments that most people in the audience laughed at. The movie is obviously meant to be crowd pleasing.) For anyone who has ever left one job for the other- that awkward time spent finishing out the old job, not wanting to do the work, anxious about what is ahead wondering if one is up for the challenge while battling the nostalgia of all that has gone on at the old soon to be departed workplace- this movie somehow really gets that feeling down pat. Thus if nothing else it's accurately named.

Monday, December 16, 2002

From Beneath It Devours

"I could tell you what's happening here but I don't know if that would really tell you what's happening here..."
-Jeremy Davis in Solaris

I experienced a startling moment of clarity while watching Steven Soderbergh's film Solaris (a thoughtful little movie that provokes such introspection). As the movie slowly unfolded I found myself thinking that it was nice watching a quiet movie with big ideas but it was all rather mediocre in the way it was being done in comparison say to an average episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Indeed given the themes presented in Solaris (whether or not it is possible for people to truly "know" another person or whether what we think we know is limited to our own personal memories and the values we attach to them) I couldn't help but think had Buffy's Joss Whedon directed and written the movie it would have been much more moving and enlightening.

Soderbergh's work is weighed down (way down) by its unrelenting solemn mood. We are constantly reminded (especially through the grim performance of George Clooney) that this movie is deep if not a little beyond pretentious.

Clooney plays a psychologist who is sent out to a space station near the planet Solaris. Seems something has gone terribly awry on the space station and Clooney is sent out to investigate. What he discovers are some dead bodies and two survivors who aren't exactly forthcoming as to what exactly has gone wrong. Clooney's character decides to snooze on it and when he awakes he is surprised to find his wife lying next to him in bed. He's surprised because his wife committed suicide several years before.

And this is where the movie raises some mind bending questions. Clooney knows that this wife really isn't his wife. But even more peculiar is this wife also begins to realize she isn't really his wife. She's composed only of his memories of her yet she has self awareness that that is not all there is. The crew of the space station want to destroy these 'beings" from Solaris because they don't know for what purpose they have been sent- yet Clooney refuses to destroy his "wife" maybe because he isn't really sure she is not his wife and craves a second chance but probably because the woman is self aware- a prerequisite of anyone with a soul.

This is where my Buffy moment occurred- and the moment means of course that I have reached the end of my ability to participate in any worthwhile pop culture discussion. When Buffy becomes your barometer it probably means other people won't understand or won't want to understand any of your remaining perceptions. I think it's no coincidence that early in the week I was feeling off my game and ill first suffering chills and then a fever. It was if my internal thermostat (or barometer or whatever) was defective. The TV show is deeply emotional, perceptive, insightful and great but it is (and it is not) about young people battlin' vampires. One can't/won't be taken seriously if Buffy speaks louder than Shakespeare, Magritte, Bergman, or Beethoven.

While Solaris doesn't entirely succeed it is noteworthy to mention that it is nice that a major Hollywood director and actor chose to make a quite little contemplative movie especially since just about everything else out there is full of loud action, loud and dumb characters who do loud and dumb things. It is nice to walk out of a movie contemplating the deeper meaning of things rather than trying to remember because it's all so forgettable yet another humdrum action scene, or love scene, or the latest wacky antics and offerings from a former Saturday Night Live alum that passes as inspired comedy.

Solaris has been compared with Stanley Kubrick's great 2001: A Space Odyssey mostly because it's science fiction that relies more on the cerebral rather than dazzling special effects. Indeed look up information on the internet about the original Russian film and it is inevitably referred to as the Russian 2001. Yet Soderbergh's version reminded me more of another film released the same year as 2001- the Beatles' swan song Let it Be. That film documents the disintegration of the group. It was the movie that gave meaning to my senior year of high school- I watched it over and over fascinated by the group dynamics it displayed (plus the wonderful music involved).

Let it Be opens with Paul sitting at a grand piano with Ringo at his side. He is playing a classical piece that sounds like a lost Erik Satie composition but likely is a McCartney original (maybe even made up on the spot). The somber tone sets the mood for the rest of the movie that seems to be about Paul trying to rally the group to get back to touring like they did in the old days. And it's not as if he just wants to recapture the past- he seems convinced that this time it will be different and by taking a sad song and making it better it will bring them all back together again. In the end Solaris makes a similar argument although it is unclear what side the movie finds itself on. It's all lyrical and beautiful- just not as good as Buffy.

Monday, December 9, 2002

Deanna's Wiener Story

And then I came home with someone else's socks on. There isn't really a coherent story there, it just sounded like a good way to start.

I would say the bulk of it began when my friend gave me new curtains. To be truthful they weren't exactly new to her since she replaced them with newer ones but they were new to me because the torn ones they were to replace looked like they were hun(g) in about 1950 the year my house was built. My friend (the kind curtain giver with newer curtains and Max's official photographer) was quick to point out that han(g)ing the "new" curtains was probably the biggest home improvement project I'd undertaken since buying my house six years ago. When it comes to Trading Spaces imitators I'm not exactly the example you want to follow.

Some have dubbed my modest little brick abode as the "ice palace" since to afford to live in such a palatial estate I have forsaken heating it. Poor shivering kitty. About the second week I lived in my new home I broke the doorknob from the outside door into my kitchen, one of only two ways in and out. I have yet to get around to fixing that little problem. My home decor is comprised of stuff people have given to me free. It's a mixture of some really crappy stuff and some stuff I would keep even if I had the dough to replace it. Comfort is what I strive for and comfortable is what my life never seems to be about. And the fight against cat hair? I gave up on that a long long time ago.

The "new" curtains make the rooms they adorn take on a completely different mood: not quite stately but certainly more adult like and a bit of a disguise that a bachelor (quite the catch ladies!) male lives mostly alone in the house. The non-shades almost made as much of a difference as the day not too far before where I finally got tired of having just one working light bulb in the entire house and splurged by buying a bunch of light bulbs. Halogen, fluorescent, standard filament I spared no expense to illuminate things again. "I can see clearly now," I sung merrily to myself.

If there is but one person in this world I wanted to tell this story to it was the girl next door. But you see we don't exactly talk much, just sort of awkwardly smile and minimally greet one another. The day before we all were to be thankful I walked into a break area and saw said girl next door sitting with several other ladies and I just wanted to obscurely walk to the back of the room and heat up my daily bowl of oatmeal. The girl next door looked up at me and sort of did something with her lips, maybe it was a smile, maybe she just had some gas. One of the other ladies was holding court. She told them all on her drive home the night before she stopped at a Holiday service station and after filling up her car she decided to fill herself up with a Holiday hot dog. Nobody reacted to this news but I couldn't stand it any longer so I blurted out an, "ewww, you ate a gas station hot dog?" And the girl next door guffawed and joined my side and told us she used to work at an Amoco station and the hot dogs there sat all day. We shared a common bond, something I've sensed all along.

What does all this have to do with socks? Bundles my friend. Next my foot warming friend with and most recent home purchaser invited me over to see, if not smell, the hyacinth. We also resumed our old mission days by setting out to save $130 by renting out a carpet cleaning device rather than pay professionals to do the job. This marathon friend, the one who when told I was driving to a meeting next to the nuclear power plant told me to look at the stars. She has perhaps the most wondrous personal decorating taste (if not the best although entirely different from my own, go figure...) of anyone I have ever known. She hasn't had much of a chance to move into her new place let alone enjoy it yet the work she has managed to somehow complete made me feel ashamed at my recent good feelings over my new curtains (and light bulbs). Her place looked great other than the black spots in her carpet caused because the previous owners didn't believe in furnace filters (against their religion I guess and did I tell you the time I read up on Seventh Day Adventists just so I would know?).

We worked our arses off from nine until six (or a little past sundown and newsletter time) only taking breaks to enjoy her mother's homemade tort (oh man) and her own peppery and most tasty turkey salad. Her dog Kurbie was a bit frightened by all the commotion and noise but he kept looking up at me with those bright and alert rat terrier brown eyes as if we shared some similar vision thing. Moving the furniture around to get as much of the carpet as we could, my marathon friend and I did our best to get the darkest spots out. The mixture of carpet cleaning shampoo and water that turned from water color (or clear) to a disgusting black (that fortunately indicated our hard work was accomplishing something) markedly moistened our socks. So she was kind enough to give me some of her clothing to wear home.

Hearing all this the pigeon psychologist, tending to be more calculating than spontaneous, might reveal some simple lesson about seeing the light and always having at your disposal the proper material to move forward. Nevertheless now you know the rest of the story.

Monday, December 2, 2002

Humbert's Leftovers

"She says, 'You can't repeat the past.' I say, 'You can't? What do you mean, you can't? Of course you can.'"
-Bob Dylan

I may be a lot of things, or I may be nothing, but one thing I don't remember hearing someone/anyone describe me as is "nostalgic." I certainly can lean that way on occasion (especially when it comes to holidays and also thinking about a certain leaky kitty described in painful detail last week who has been around for the past eleven remarkable years) but I'm usually the type of fellow who likes a clear line of demarcation between periods of his life and has made it a point to try his best not to blur the lines between those periods.

Yet more than any other holiday I think I miss my Mom most on Thanksgiving Day. It was one of those days I so shamefully took for granted over the years. The pattern had been waking up, grabbing my newspaper and reading one of my favorite writers, Patrick Reusse's pick for Turkey of the Year, and then heading over to my parents' house before most of the rest of my siblings, to the wonderful smell of a baking turkey (and the stuffing involved at that point), and knowing that my Mom knew I had read Reusse's column and together chuckling at his most recent anointed one. Christmas I may have come away with more loot and New Years the meal may have been even better, but there was always something about Thanksgiving that I was well, thankful about.

Thanksgiving these past few years has just been another day. My siblings are mostly married tending to spend the day with their inlaw's families. My dad and I have usually been invited to my one sister's family who lives in my grandparents' house and I have mostly drifted into the background, self chuckling at Reusse's Turkey of the Year.

This year the blue eyed former House Public Information Office writer like intern told me her mom had expressed surprise that we had remained in contact after the internment was complete and if I would be interested in coming over for Thanksgiving. I was quite touched in hearing this bit of information and agreed to try something a little different this time around.

It was a delicious meal (the effort of turkey grilled outside- yummmm) and it was nice finally seeing and meeting the close family that I had heard so much about. Talk about an example of a stellar Midwestern (Apple Valley) family. The parents are employed by two of Minnesota's largest companies. The oldest daughter is attending a prestigious institution of higher learning; the eldest son is attending another fine college. The two youngest children aren't quite sure what comes next for them but both seemed to be fine kids. I arrived and the family was sitting around the kitchen table playing a game of Rack-o. The eldest daughter, my dear friend, gave me a tour of the nicely built and clean home and I finally got to see the famous comforter she painted her bedroom around this summer.

My favorite moment/memory? Going down to the messy basement to hear Eminem's theme song for his movie, 8 Mile with the big howling dog Sophie yapping along. The blue eyed former intern told me it was a brilliant song and hers is an opinion I've learned to listen to with close attention, and one of my favorite music critics (Greil Marcus) confirmed her opinion. The song ("Lose Yourself") shook me to my core.

"'Lose Yourself' begins to play under the closing credits, and in an instant it blows the film away. The music dissolves the movie, reveals it as a lie, a cheat, as if it were made not to reveal but to cover up the seemingly bottomless pit of resentment and desire that is the story's true source. Again and again the piece all but blows up in the face of the man who's chanting it, lost in his rhymes until suddenly people are shouting at him from every direction and the music jerks him into the chorus, which he escapes in turn. The piece builds into crescendos of power, climbing ladders of refusal and willfulness step by step, rushing nothing, never reaching the top because it is the music itself that has put the top so high. "
-Greil Marcus

What makes Eminem's "Lose Yourself" such a great song is that he demonstrates the clear difference between art and entertainment (and commerce). It's a song he has to sing not because the movie dictates it- but because he needs to purge and share the deep feelings inside. Maybe someone will hear and understand and maybe many won't. But it doesn't matter. The art of sharing is what matters. And I probably would have never really listened had my friend not made it a point to point it out. If you want to know why I spent this past summer and Thanksgiving with a person whose parents I'm closer to in age than her- well it all has to do with THE very meaning of life. If there is one thing I've learned about that subject it is how very important it is to keep an open mind, keep learning, keep on being curious. The moment you stop exposing yourself to things you are not used to or are familiar with or uncomfortable with- is the moment you start getting old.

The prior few days I was wrestling with the type of questions I can't wrestle with in public (that the intern was so uniquely good at listening to) for fear of being locked up (again?)- what exactly is the purpose of music? And why does it seemingly mean so much more to me (and my closest {secret} acquaintances) than other people? These questions were on my mind because two of my favorite artists/icons, Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan had on the same day released new concert CDs that were about as different as green mint cake (spiced up with some alcohol) and the more traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

McCartney's disc Back in the U.S. is a faithful document of his recently completed tour (which included a stop in St. Paul that I forked over $75 to see). Dylan's disc is a document of a most interesting period of his career- the mid-1970's tour dubbed as the Rolling Thunder Revue (that sounds nothing like his stop last month in the same venue as McCartney). Could things be more different? McCartney and company provide what I'm sure they thought their audience (and from the gross profits and critical acclaim from the tour demonstrated they knew what they were doing) were seeking: nostalgia wrapped around faithful recreations of a lot of the Beatles' best music. One can be amazed (and maybe I'm amazed) at how the band manages to match note for note the original songs as they appeared in their recorded form. McCartney's voice may have lost some its power over the years but still he does a quite remarkable job in hitting most of the same notes.

I love the way the disc (and the concert I saw) opens with a loose version of a Beatles song I've never particularly cared for, "Hello Goodbye." It's the perfect concert opener serving as some sort of ironic greeting.

But the other live McCartney recordings (1977's Wings Over America, 1990's Tripping the Live Fantastique and 1993's Paul is Live ) contain so many of the same songs performed in many of the same arrangements that by the end of disc #2 of the new one one has to wonder if one has gotten one's money's worth. Yes it's great to hear live treatments of some really great music but does one want to hear a great song like "All My Loving" enhanced by some of the exact same wacky triplet chords strummed by John Lennon or Rusty Anderson?

But it's not so all easily dismissed. The loving tributes to John and George are quite heartwarming. The Lennon tribute, the sprightly acoustic "Here Today" is a great song that not only captures McCartney's love of his songwriting partner but does so in a way that would have made John proud: in the quaint tradition of Lennon's love songs sung directly to Yoko. (It's as revealing and honest as Eminem's "Lose Yourself.") The equally as intimate cover of George's most famous song "Something" covered by Paul on the ukulele is a treat to behold and at the same time captures George's most endearing quality- his sense of humor- in a tear dropping fashion.

Ultimately however the CD just comes to demonstrate how McCartney in his solo career/quest has always been about how little he can get away with rather than how much he is capable of creating.

That's not quite the case with Dylan. I got Dylan's newest Live 1975 a day after Cheapo's own Pat Wheeler was kind enough to mail me a CDR of Bob's concert in Atlanta this past February. The contrast between the two concerts could not have been any more distinct- and that is what makes Dylan such a still vitally creative artist. Listen to Bob then and listen to him now and you'd be hard pressed to say that this is the same artist. And yet both periods of his career are so rich and revealing.

The Rolling Thunder Revue was Dylan's idea about traveling with a huge group of artists who would show up unannounced in town to town as some sort of minstrel show that would leave the local townsfolk with something different night after night. An idyllic hippie idea at its best and it helped inspire some of Dylan's most accessible and interesting work of his career. Listen to Live 1975's version of his best story song (rage against the justice system) "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" and dare to tell me this guy isn't breathtakingly brilliant. And listen to his desperate plea to his ex-wife Sara appropriately named "Sara" "...don't ever leave me, don't ever go..." (they got divorced shortly after the song was released) and Dylan shows that he is no slouch when it comes to that old artful need to express for expression sake.

Listen to a much later night's performance of the sardonic "Things Have Changed" 17 years forward with some of the most idiosyncratic singing imaginable and tell me this guy still doesn't have more to say than anyone that has come before or since. The difference between the two most famous artists boils down to this- Paul wants to blast his audience back to the past- back to another day (yesterday) and the feelings his songs originally invoked. Bob on the other hand wants the past to somehow disintegrate instead rather wanting to focus on what can come next, living in the moment instead of longing for what used to be. Both men are quite effective in delivering the contrasting messages.

Thankfully those unintentionally listening and living between the two can somehow enjoy all the newly purchased new music. And don't get me started on the Buffy the Musical disc that I finally got around to purchasing. That disc is all about the conflicts of those who have souls and those who feel dead inside. Egads, this is all so much to digest and please pass the leftovers...

Monday, November 25, 2002

Sniffin' Post It Notes

The human mind has the remarkable capacity for avoiding thinking about the inevitable until the last possible moment. Having had a feline roommate for the past 11 years I must sheepishly admit I'm not smart enough to know whether the same ability applies for kitties as well.

Mr. Max had his annual physical and we both had our rabies shots updated (you can never be too careful). Actually the term "annual" isn't entirely accurate since Max was in earlier in the year for ailments that were diagnosed as involving his kidneys, liver, thyroid, and eyes. And he's arthritic on top of it all. Yes the aging teenage kitty is showing the affects of the many years. I kept putting off a return visit to the vet telling myself that perhaps that his many ailments were somehow temporary, and that he'd check out this time as perfectly healthy. Ah, not quite.

The most alarming news of this visit is that he has lost over two pounds over the course of the year. That's 22 percent of his overall weight for those of you scoring at home. And he's about half the weight he was in his heyday. Dr. Boynton said part of that weight loss could be attributed to his thyroid problem and thus he will soon go on medication to help address that condition. Of course nothing is free in life and the side effects of the drug Max is being prescribed (oh boy I get to "assist" him in taking two pills a day!) is that it might adversely affect his red blood cell count. This is particularly alarming in his case because his white blood cell count has been off the past few years anyway. Another potential side effect is that the thyroid problem might actually be helping the kidneys function and addressing one might have a detrimental affect on the other.

I have tried my best this past year to spoil the little guy knowing darn well that our time together might not be the forever that I had always hoped for. Still we haven't been able to spend as much time together as I really want to (one of us has to find the way to pay the bills) and that has more than kind of depressed me. But thankfully I had an enlightening discussion with a woman in the waiting area of the veterinary clinic that helped me gain some perspective on it all.

The woman sat scrunched up with a sad forlorn look in her eyes (that I tried hard not to reflect the same in my own eyes) revealing to me that her cat, Smoke, was in for what sounded suspiciously like Max's ailment: general and unusual lethargy and alarming loss of weight that the doctors had diagnosed was related to a malfunctioning thyroid commonly found in older cats. The woman told me she was taking time off from one of her two jobs and that the pile of bills was staring her in the face but she was going to do all she could for Smoke if only to spare the devastation her granddaughter was bound to feel when told of the cat's condition and ultimate prognosis.

She didn't need to tell me the rest I could just tell by the reaching tone of her voice- how Smoke was there with an expectant face every night after the longest day of work; how Smoke was there with a familiar greeting during the saddest of life's moments; how Smoke was there to help celebrate some of life's few true triumphs.

We wished each other the best.


What do you do when you are faced with your own imminent death? George Harrison's posthumous CD Brainwashed answers that particular question for one particular caring soul. The disc is full of songs that reaffirm George's belief that this life is but a transitionary stage for the greater something that is to come next. "Never been so crazy/But I've never felt so sure/I wish I had the answer to give/Don't even have the cure..." Harrison was well aware of the severity of the cancer eating away inside when he wrote most of these songs. While the disc is pretty typical of much of George's later post Beatle work, there is something really special in hearing the love and care put into the new songs released all these months after his death.

Two of my all time top thirty favorite songs are George Harrison songs- 1969's "Here Comes the Sun" and 1976's"Beautiful Girl." Both songs share similar traits- sterling guitar work, distinctive lyrics, and sublime singing. None of the work on Brainwashed (and by the way the cover art featuring some dummies watching TV is true to the underlying message of the songs) quite lives up to either one of those songs but it is nice to see how Harrison's own spiritual beliefs shared through his music grew over the years. His early 70's post Beatle work was dogged by the dogma and preachiness of the sermons that served as songs to enlighten those buying whatever Beatlesque stuff was put out. At the height of his popularity George released two of the most unlistenable LPs of all time- Living in the Material World and Dark Horse that weren't so much full of bad music as they were full of an excess of solemn excess. It's hard if not impossible to make it through either LP.

But thankfully he learned (from his dwindling fan base?) that he needed to show the positive aspects his faith provided more than he needed to preach to the unconverted (and non-believing). His late 70's work was full of peace and tranquillity and some of the best music of his career. Never a great singer he made do (and excellent) use of his voice while more and more featuring his terrific guitar (specifically slide guitar) playing. And the songs were full of contentment and humor- an important life lesson.

I me mine I say. Theologians have debated what exactly (if any) is my most endearing personal quality. One voice in the back (that sounded suspiciously like Emmanuel Lewis') said it is my sense of humor. I appreciated that and maybe it can even explain why if you are to pass me in the hallways these days you will likely be puzzled by the disturbing smile plastered on my noggin.

When Al Gore invented the Internet I'm sure little did he know the spiritual enlightenment it could provide for some. I for one never imagined a day where one could download otherwise unavailable music from sources located who knows where in this world. I've had a smile a mile wide plastered on my face the past few weeks because of this now taken for granted phenomenon- that weird still not sure what to do with it Internet. The first inducement was provided by our own Pat Wheeler who was kind enough to give me a copy he downloaded of one of the Bob Dylan Berkeley concerts I was lucky enough to attend last month. I can't stop listening to that night's version of the rockabilly "Summer Days" that features a bizarre and rollicking three way guitar battle that lifts the tune towards the heavens.

I also can't help but smile at something available on Dylan's official web site a one off version of Harrison's most famous song "Something" performed recently by Bob at a Madison Square Garden show. Bob dedicates the song to George and then proceeds to positively croon the first few verses in a voice not ever heard before. Music in the ether- what a gas!

Someone said that proof of God's existence is the existence of humor within us. And from where I am I can believe that. The best thing in listening to Harrison's swan song is that despite being so related to his soul searching early 70's work his humor in the end comes so shining through. It may have been a mirage but he appears to have been somewhat at peace with himself, looking forward to whatever comes next (if anything at all). The best two tracks- the opener "Any Road" (featuring the hits all to close to home line- "If you don't know where you're going/Any road will take you there") and the Harold Arlen cover "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" featuring some sterling ukulele work(?!) are George at his best. The first two tracks sound like lost Traveling Wilbury's outtakes but that is OK by me. Yes it would be nice if more music was forthcoming- the sheer insight involved is so much needed- but Brainwashed is a fitting exclamation point to a wonderful lifetime's work.

The end result is a reminder that it is in our best interests to do stuff like cuddle with the nearest kitty- this isn't a bad time to be listening and alive and still kicking.

Monday, November 18, 2002

L.A. da C-quil

I never thought I'd ever be where I found myself being, eating my second meal in a row at Dinah's Chicken in Culver City, CA when I swore I saw Kami Cotler, the actress who played Elizabeth on TheWaltons stroll in with her daughter and husband. A plain looking red head with freckles in a city of millions might be a dime a dozen but believe you me I saw enough episodes of The Waltons to know one when I saw one. But no one in the restaurant reacted least of all the group I was seated with.

I let it go without speaking to a soul because I'm but a simple man so I don't like to clutter my mind with complicated thoughts like how a group of people might react to my observations. That is why when I think of Los Angeles I think of a great big spa. One of the first times I was in the big city was the January of my senior year of college. To say that I was in a bit of a funk is about as accurate as saying that J-Lo has had just a few long term commitment issues. I desperately needed some time away from things to recuperate, rejuvenate, and regurgitate.

And in the years since whenever I have flown out to see my sister it seems there is something going on in my life that I just need to get away from. The sun and surf and substantial size of L.A. usually provides the proper tonic if only temporarily. I'm nothing if not the pop culture I've digested over the years and if pop culture is your bag L.A. is certainly the place to be. The woman I saw may or may not have been Elizabeth Walton but I can tell you the chances of seeing such a celebrity in the Twin Cities are pretty small (although I recently did help former Twin Roy Smalley absentee vote live and in person).

When the Cheapo contingent was visiting Amoeba Music in Hollywood, there was an in store performance featuring the moody vocals of some young blonde singer with pale puffy calves. At times the volume was tad annoying (the singer even mentioned that the band had been expected to play an acoustic show but decided to switch game plans and plug in) so it was nice that the store was giving away free ear plugs. People on the coasts think the universe revolves around them and everything in between might as well be invisible. And maybe they are right. I doubt you could find any music store giving away free ear plugs in Davenport Iowa.

There is something about Los Angeles that just oozes mellow. That senior year trip I took all those years ago in retrospect reminded me of the Roseville tornado of '81 where all the homes around my parents were leveled but my parents' house just sustained roof damage. I think that can accurately be dubbed the "sensible center." When all around is full of pain and destruction I guess someone somewhere can always find that refuge that provides a modicum of shelter.

We flew in during a storm. The ride was bumpy and I was a tad apprehensive (William Shatner Twilight Zone apprehensive) that even as we were clearly descending the ground was nowhere to be seen. If I learned one thing from past experience I know the city of angels is well lit and not being able to see any of those lights made me say a quick silent prayer to my maker whoever that might be.

On yet another trip to L.A. I remember sitting on the balcony of my friend, the car detailer Eric Patterson, with my soulmate (note to self, repeat as often as necessary: she's not Sandra Bullock) and we sat silently listening more than watching some kids below us play a pickup game of basketball. The lack of communication was finally more than she could seemingly stand and in betweens drags on a cigarette she coolly said to me, "You can talk at me if you want." Somehow the statement was the most offensive thing I had ever heard. Bucking the mellow atmospheric vibe I vented about how I didn't want to talk "at" anyone but rather much preferred talking "with" someone particularly her. After all this time that wannabe conversation rings above the rest and unlike most I wish I could relive that one and tell her things I should have. If nothing else this most recent trip reminded me of that.

Monday, November 11, 2002

The Importance of Eating a Sandwich

The last time I cared in both my heart and my mind about the outcome of an election was in 1980, which ironically was the last election before I was first eligible to vote. I was following the presidential race quite closely. My man was John Anderson who was running as an independent against challenger Ronald Reagan and then President Jimmy Carter. I liked Anderson's straightforward intellectualism but even more I liked the notion of a viable third party candidate changing the way we elect our leaders.

I was convinced that if Reagan won it would pretty much mean the end of the world what with that empty actor, reading his fed lines look, spouting off about the evil empire Soviet Union. I cried as the results came rolling in and Anderson got about 10 percent of the vote and Carter was sent home packing. Maybe it was the end of the world but here we are 22 years later and from what happened last Tuesday it appears the majority of us want to return to the glory days of Reaganism. Friends have expressed shock and concern at who got elected and the overwhelming results of the election and I even heard a few who thought that yes indeed, this again might just be the end.

I gotta admit, with some trepidation, that I don't really give a kabootie about who got elected. Let 'em do whatever they want. The people have spoken. Having fallen far past the point of exhaustion (oh yes I remember the good old days when I was merely exhausted) helping in preparation of the election and then helping try to make things run smoothly in the precincts on election day, and with things on my mind, I'm just glad nothing visibly exploded that day. I was worried that it might. I have come to a point where I have seen it all. I've seen relationships crumble and wise men fall. I've been in love with an image, an idea, and a concept and all three broke my heart.

I'm not an insightful guy but I do play one on TV. For the past several years I have crammed two diverse jobs into something resembling a life. One has to do with politics and the other has to do with entertainment. For a long while I thought they were different enough where I could balance my sanity between the two. I don't know what lessons will ultimately be drawn from last Tuesday night. Maybe it will result in World War III. Maybe we will all have that extra dollar or two in our pockets from paying less taxes. Maybe we all will be able to carry our concealed weapons just a little bit easier. Maybe none of it matters. And while I don't align myself with any particular political party I must admit absolute confusion about who the 60+ percent of people out there are who believe GW is truly a visionary leader. But then again the week of the election the number one movie at the box office was Jackass. There's a message or a link or something in there somewhere.

I've become a firm believer that the best thing you can do for another (and after all isn't that why we are here?) is to inspire them. Thus it's been a tad difficult to digest because it has never happened to me before but there have been events the last few years so overwhelming and stunning that not even the greatest piece of art can make any of it make any kind of sense. Fortunately Tuesday night wasn't one of these events. I don't know how many of you were lucky enough to see a few nights before, a rare and special jewel of a moment where a beacon of light shone brightly even as its originator's life was/is slowly dimming. Politics can kill you slowly long term over many years. Life can kill you in an instant. Television isn't usually the place (thankfully) where we get to see in such clear terms the connection between this breath and our very last.

Warren Zevon's appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman was heartbreaking but soul affirming stuff. When the news first came out a few months back that Zevon had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer it didn't have the national impact of the sudden tragic death of Sen. Paul Wellstone but in its own way it was just as terribly sad for those of us who appreciate the wisdom from a superlative wit and acerbic humor of a great writer. A few weeks later when it was announced that Zevon was going to appear on the Late Show (a show he has been on many times in the past even filling in for bandleader Paul Schaffer) it really was no surprise as Letterman has clearly been a big fan over the years.

Zevon performed three songs including a heart stopping "Mutineer" in which he struggled with shortness of breath to hit the high notes. But it was more than just a poignant moment from a man probably making his final public appearance. It was a graceful human showing his heart, reaching out, comforting both himself and his audience. "I was born to rock the boat/Some may sink but we will float/Grab your coat - let's get out of here/You're my witness/ I'm your mutineer..."

During the interview Letterman asked a self depreciating but keenly aware of weight of the moment Zevon if in facing his imminent death "is there anything about life that I don't know?" And Zevon raised his eyebrow and gave the best answer ever, "Well, no, not unless you count the importance of eating a sandwich."

Revenge of My Youth

It's always raining in Los Angeles. The group I was with arrived early Friday night and it drizzled both lightly and moderately from the moment we got off the airplane until 24 hours later. A guy who wears glasses might just have a vision problem or two in such conditions.

But let's back up some shall we? I had a note in my drawer at the warehouse from Al a couple weeks back asking if I wanted to go to L.A. November 9 and 10. My immediate reaction was 'sure, I'm game' even though I knew that it was the weekend following what promised to be a long hour work week and it meant doing the newsletter (that you have in your grubby lil mitts right now!) well into a Sunday night before the Veterans Day holiday that I get off from my other job. I didn't have any other details of what the trip was about other than Al had also left a note telling me that we were going to stop in at the In 'n Out Burger restaurant, a California icon.

So a few days before the trip I call the warehouse and Al told me Carl would fax me directions to Sam's house where we were all going to meet. Who "we" were at this point wasn't even clear. So after my favorite blue eyed ex-intern (and dear dear friend thank God) bought me a birthday pad thai lunch in downtown St. Paul Friday afternoon I hopped on into my car and headed out to Highland Park to meet up at Sam's house.

Oh yes it was also my birthday weekend. 38 freaking years old. And I have always questioned whether or not I'd ever make it to 40. Knock on wood (which hopefully is not immediately encasing me. Never mind- it happened to Buffy once).

So I drive up to this specified location and see Pat talking with a guy that I assume must be Sam. And sure enough it is and they are. They don't know much more about the trip than I do making it all seem rather secret spy, Mission Impossible-ish. Having been accused in the recent past of not being spontaneous enough I wanted to scream to the skies (or at least to Mr. Max) that this here might be proof that I'm not always what I might seem to the discerning eye (il est special, il faut aimer). We wait for Carl but Carl is late. We wait for as long as we deem prudent and then take off to the airport, which is located a few mere minutes from Sam's house.

Pat and I don't have to check luggage so we head to the gate after passing through security. A few minutes later Sam and Carl appear together. Then it's a few minutes more until we're off into the wild blue yonder. Carl also gives us the itinerary that reveals it is a summit of some of Cheapo's most powerful and creative minds (and me) with the intent of visiting as many CD stores as we can in a one day time frame.

Can I digress a bit further? When I was a kid and my family would take vacations my parents and my siblings were kind enough to indulge my desire to go to as many record stores as we could in whatever strange town we found ourselves in. A successful vacation to me was returning home with as many records that I couldn't seem to find in the Twin Cities, as I could. So as we spent all of Saturday traveling in a mini-van (the blue team) and a SUV (the red team) around Hollywood and Beverly Hills looking at CD stores I was more than glad I had been asked along. I was part of the blue team (Carl, Johnny, Jeff, Ron, Derek, and Gary) that was by far the cooler of the two teams if the contest was to be tallied. We strutted, we led the way, we traded barbs.

There were two stores (diverse in nature) that stick out from the many we visited. Hear Music was a tidy little place in a outside strip mall that had a lot of little written descriptions of artists next to the product. I loved reading the little blips. I also loved that the store had compilations from artists like Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle that included songs from artists that those particular people considered major influences- a veritable mix CD put together from people I would love to receive a mix CD from. What a fine fine idea...

Like the rest of the traveling group the store that impressed me most was Amoeba Music. I had been in that particular company's Berkeley store less than a month before and the L.A. store was even bigger and better. A true music lover could spend hours and hours in the place and come away wanting to come back. I of course left with a used Buffy season two DVD collection for a really good price but didn't want to tell anyone because I already was coming off dorky enough. I scored and it was my own lil secret. Tee hee. But I had to put back that used Sinatra disc I can't even find new in most other places.

We had dinner at Todai's, a Japanese buffet that featured some really good sushi and teriyaki chicken. The staff came over to sing Al a happy birthday (which is a week away) and I was chucklingto myself, glad that no one knew it was actually my birthday and all the tambourine playing was dedicated to someone else. Whew. It was a great meal and a nice way to celebrate the beginning of my 38th year on this here confusing little planet.

I got home Sunday evening and quickly unpacked my bag of newly bought goods including the aforementioned DVD purchase and a neat Hank Williams bobblehead. Max bellowed upon my arrival and I had 95 email messages (84 of them SPAM). Yup I'm home.

Monday, November 4, 2002

Warm Sake that Doesn't Even Make You Sleepier

For a history major I sure don't know much about famous dates and events. I can't tell you when Aphrodite invaded Lebanon nor can I tell you when Cecil B. Demille served as the Vice President. This gap in my education occurred to me the other day as I was standing in line to buy my morning extra large latte at Caribou Coffee. The more annoying than most woman in line in front of me was holding all us others up as she was engaging the clerk in a not necessary conversation.

As I finally stepped to the register I heard her saying something about when the United States boycotted the Olympics. She wasn't sure of the year so I chimed in, "1980." The woman and the clerk both looked at me and thanked me for my trivia knowledge. I really don't know much about anything important in history but just ask me what year Supertrain aired (and quickly derailed) on NBC and I'm most definitely your rare man.

Not knowing what I should about history perhaps the only justification I can give about the degree I hold (with my 3.3 grade point average) is that I truly love witnessing historic moments. I chuckle and behold my fortune every time I participate in a first for humankind. Such was a moment the other morning when getting ready for work I stepped on something that clearly wasn't carpet but rather was cold and slippery. Since Max has had a increasing vomiting "issue" I just figured I as usual had lived up to my knack for stepping in the exact wrong spot at the wrong time.

So commonplace has this particular discomforting event occurred I didn't even think twice. Yes it's gross and yes a part of my heart drops to my ankles every time it happens but I've learned not to get upset and to go over to Max, pet him and reassure him and then eventually get around to cleaning up the mess.

This particular morning however I happened to finally turn on the light and look down and what I stepped on. It wasn't kitty urpings but rather it was a penny. I thus made history by saying something that likely has never been uttered by another soul in the history of civilization: "Hey Max, it's not vomit it's currency!"

History indeed. When I heard Bob Dylan was playing at the Xcel Energy Center I quickly got on the computer and ordered me up two tickets. There was little doubt in my mind who the person was that I wanted to attend the show with. Having attended a Dylan show with just about everybody and anybody who is important enough in my life to share what I consider to be one of life's greatest pleasures I must admit some shame that none of those people has ever asked me to go to a second show with me. I dragged my sister to a couple of Dylan shows, and she enjoyed them but she ain't exactly ever going to fly across the country to see the man perform like her eccentric brother would possibly consider doing.

Last year I went to a Dylan show with a new friend, an important friend who earned a double major in college (French and Mass Communications), along with a 3.95 grade point average, who is one of the writers and opinions I admire and trust most and who after seeing Bob for the first time actually mentioned some interest in seeing him again with me.

I love this friend's laugh. That I have the ability at times to draw out this delightful sound from her will always mean the world to me. That Mr. Max absolutely loves her too says as much to me as my favorite Bob Dylan song. This friend came along in the recent past and she was the first friend I made after my Mother's death that made me feel like I may someday, somehow move forward just a little bit again.

"I'm forty miles from the mill/I'm dropping it into overdrive/Set my dial on the radio/I wish my mother was still alive ..."

Just like we did last year before the concert we had dinner at our favorite Japanese restaurant where we ate a delectable meal of sushi. My friend, the soon to be Masters student ordered some warm sake with her meal. I never cease to disappoint her with how not Japanese I truly am but I have never had that particular beverage. She asked me if I wanted some but with the extra long work hours I've been putting in and the constant lack of sleep I figured if I partook and let the devil's drink touch my lips I would be rewarded by falling asleep right as Mr. Dylan pulled some obscure favorite out of his bag of tricks. So I politely declined but was talked into it later in the meal. Ummmm, warmed up rice wine (served in the most perfect little serving apparatus and cup).

Our seats in the arena were quite good- off to the left of the stage (guitarist Charlie Sexton's side) eight rows up. When the band tore into Seeing The Real You at Last it was great fun from our wonderful vantage point to see the real Bob at last after having attended many a show where he looked about the size of a bobblehead doll.

I absolutely hate people who say so but can I say that it was clear from the first notes that the band was really cooking this evening? Bob's keyboard playing seemed much more confident and aggressive from just a few weeks back when I saw him in Berkeley. And his singing? Just tell me this guy isn't one of our greatest. He growled. He snarled and most importantly he gave up the annoying habit he displayed earlier in the month when he would begin a line in his lowest register (his most effective register at this point) and end the line at the top of his range. He did that a couple of times during the evening (most noticeably on "Girl from the North Country" and the annoying "Blowin' in the Wind") but most of the time he really seemed to make an effort to put some wasabi like bite into his singing.

A couple of weeks back in these pages our very own trainer extraordinaire Pat Wheeler wrote something kind about me being a "disciple" of Dylan. I'm really not so sure if that term applies but I will admit there has been no other artist among the many artists that has tripped me up a time or two, that has reached me in such a profound way. There are just certain times I need to hear a particular Bob song for its insight, its wisdom and wit and because it makes me smile while revealing something new over and over again.

The second song of this evening's performance completely ensured that it would be a night I will never forget (even if somewhere down the road that's what I wanna do). The song was from my second or third (depending on the day and who I have spent time with) favorite Dylan CD 1981's Shot of Love. The recorded version of "In the Summertime" has one of Bob's most moving harmonica solos ever. This live treatment was an absolute ear to ear smiling rollicking delight.

"Fools they made a mock of sin/Our loyalty they tried to win/But you were closer to me than my next of kin/When they didn't want to know or see..."

I looked next to me at my friend and it was one of those rare indescribable moments in life where it is just so clear, just so right that you can say without any uncertainty that you are in the right place with the right person (even if she or he wouldn't take a bullet for you the gray hat wearing worrying neurotic). I could live to be seventy (a figure that doesn't seem quite realistic) and I don't think there would ever come a moment when I would have thought "In the Summertime" was a Dylan song I'd be fortunate enough to hear live. It reminded me of my own past summer, and the discovery of a friendship with a blue eyed and kind intern that has made me think twice or a time or two about what I am doing and where I am going.

"I was in your presence for an hour or so/Or was it a day? I truly don't know/Where the sun never set, where the trees hung low/By that soft and shining see/Did you respect me for what I did/Or for what I didn't do, or for keeping it hid?/Did I lose my mind when I tried to get rid/Of everything you see?"

It made the papers (coincidentally or not the very one my fellow Dylan show attendee is employed by) and created a buzz when Bob dedicated a song ("The Times They are A-Changing") to Sen. Paul Wellstone both when performed in Denver and Kansas City. I was kind of amused by the media coverage of it all. Yes Bob usually doesn't speak much during his performances (if ever a rock star's music says all that needs to be said...) but this ain't exactly Greta Garbo going from silent movies to talkies. My friend and I made a bet whether or not Dylan would acknowledge Wellstone's tragic death during his St. Paul performance. I said no, knowing Bob's stubborn trait of avoiding what is expected of him. My friend answered "mu" and reluctantly took the dollar bet. When the band broke into "Times...." my friend handed me a buck. But the bet wasn't to be mine. In the darkness he dedicated "High Water (For Charlie Patton)" for "my man who came to the end of the road in Eveleth." It's bad out there... high water everywhere...""

I've never heard Dylan sing better particularly on "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" and a nice cover of Don Henley's "End of Innocence." He made some noticeable lyrical flubs particularly on "Forever Young" and "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" but his ability to give a unique cadence to a line, to hold back the words and then spit them out all at once reinforced what a delightful singer he can truly be. And the band? They were a-smoking specifically on "Cold Irons Bound" and the last song of the encore "All Along the Watchtower." And let me finish by how much I must smile at the way the band takes its bows. Obviously under orders of the one who pays they bills the gentlemen stand at attention and dare not crack the smallest of smiles. Any heights achieved during the current night's performance in the current city isn't to be acknowledged by the performers. This is what they do. This is what is expected. It's time to move on. How cool exactly is that? I wish I could be that way. And one day I'll try.

Monday, October 28, 2002

The Saga of a Man in a Very Cold House and His Oatmeal Supplier

It was just after lunch Friday afternoon and I was headed over to a popcorn place through the Minneapolis skyway system. For the past month this has been a ritual for me, a treat I've afforded myself for taking vacation time from my job and working a 60 hour week to help Hennepin County prepare for the upcoming election. On this particular day I was walking with a sense of urgency and a little more pep in my step as I was about to take the advice of my friend/boss who had recommended I try a smoothie with my popcorn rather than the usual popcorn/pop special offered by this nearby popcorn place.

On my way to the store I pass a glassed in area that has a big screen TV that is constantly playing even though you can only see the picture and not hear the sound. A group of people was gathered around the set and I could see the set was tuned in to FOX news and figured it was merely more on the sniper story. As I got closer to the crowd I could hear some people crying. And then I saw the caption that read, "Sen. Paul Wellstone Killed in Airplane Crash." I blindly found myself walking briskly back to my work area my own eyes welling up with tears.

You didn't have to like the man's politics or his personality or share in his belief in government's ability to have a positive influence on people's lives in order to admire his passion. The rarest and most beautiful and worthwhile people in this world are those who are passionate about something/anything. To truly care about and to devote your heart and soul is to risk sticking out from what is safe. That what Wellstone was in particular passionate about- trying to make other people lives better- was something very special indeed.

With the amount of media coverage and the many tributes to Sen. Wellstone and those who lost their lives in the crash I know I can't possibly add anything terribly insightful other than the couple of times I was in his presence I was amazed at how a man of his (and my) size had the ability to light up whatever room he was in (most people, myself included, tend to darken things when faced with a similar situation). Whether he was speaking in a low key manner or worked up in one of his trademark frenzies, people stopped and listened and paid attention because he was the rare soul who had the courage to speak from his heart and with undeniable conviction.

Having to work the rest of the day in an absentee voting area was a tad surreal. People approached and thought we had some insight not being reported elsewhere. And they had questions about what the tragic news meant for the election. All we could say was that we were waiting for some direction from the state as to what was to come next. It reminded me a bit of the M*A*S*H episode where Henry Blake is sent back home. At the very end Radar comes into the operating room to make the startling announcement that the colonel's plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan "... it spun in. There were no survivors..." There is a gasp but the surgeons have no choice but to keep on with their work. It's a crutch to work your way through without having to deal with the grief but at the same time there is no way you can possibly concentrate on the details of the work.


As a kid getting ready for school there was the rare occasion that mom would fix my brother and I oatmeal. We'd sprinkle some brown sugar and milk into the mysterious mom made mixture and it sure beat that bowl of Cap'n Crunch or toasted Pop Tart we usually had. My aforementioned friend/boss recently re-introduced me to the delight of oatmeal. Who knew that it now comes in an individually wrapped package that you can pour into a bowl, add a little water, and microwave into a most satisfying lil' breakfast? Believe me it is the little reminders, the rewards of a one of the best friendships I've ever had that makes me glad that I did take time away from my job to do something else for a while. Never has someone been so in need of the extra hour (of sleep?) that comes along with falling back, but I have seen first hand that no matter what obstacles are thrown your way (professional wise, personal wise or otherwise) you just have to once in a while remind yourself that something little like a heated bowl of acumen offered from a true friend can even make a most difficult week seem worthwhile in the end.

Monday, October 21, 2002

It's Cold Out There

As if the precipitous drop in temperature wasn't enough of an unneeded indication one only take a look at the state of my house- in desperate need of a fall cleaning- to realize that as the man sang, "summer days and summer nights are gone..." And like a house in disarray the newsletter too has a few leftovers to use or lose. We have after all if nothing else on this page week after week proven that no life detail is too small or too trivial to print.

First a few unused notes from last week's trip to California: Before the first night's Dylan concert my sister and my friend Spunky were chatting. When the conversation turned to me both agreed that the term "eccentric" fits me well. When I got back home and was telling Max's catsitter (who was conned by the combination of irresistibly sad yet charming eyes and amusing yet annoying howl of the little guy to be fed canned cat food) about my trip she made the comment that my friend Spunky seemed even more "uptight" than I am. I may be wrong, I'm often known to be, but I don't exactly feel either term is an accurate fit.

I will admit that while working in downtown Minneapolis for the month that I have noticed I tend to stick out among the typical crowd that wanders through the skyway. I'm not exactly one of the beautiful people sharply dressed. Nope I'm the guy with the odd looking month and a half growth of hair on top of my noggin and bright red hooded Cheapo sweatshirt. I also have noticed that the kindly Minneapolitans don't exactly share my love for Homer Simpson. As I get off the elevator I leave everybody with the classic Homer signoff: "So long suckers..." I have yet to find a group of boxed in strangers that finds that funny.

Another thing I noticed while out west: Law school students sometimes don't even have the time to buy toilet paper. 'Nuf said.

Speaking of Homerisms one leftover complaint from the remarkable Twins' season was having to try to follow the team through its radio coverage. I don't have cable television and trying to keep track of what is going on in real time on the Internet via a slow modem connection was not very convenient. So I returned to the radio home of the Twins for the past 42 years, WCCO-AM (830- the Good Neighbor). I stopped listening years back because like my mother, I couldn't stand announcer John Gordon. The man blabbers on and on about everything except for the game going on in front of him. Tune in during the middle of an inning during the middle of a game and try to figure out what the score is- go on, I dare ya. But thankfully we are constantly kept informed of the Double A matchup between Beloit and Durham.

Plus Mr. Gordon and his sidekick Dan Gladden seem to think their listeners are also watching along on TV as they often groan over a play or an umpire's call, then stay silent as they apparently watch the replays all the while leaving us blind listeners clueless as to what is going on. Arggg!!!

Driving home listening to the Twins' post game shows I could have, would have, forgiven Gordon if only he had followed my lead. He signs off every night with a most enthusiastic "So long... everybody!!!" If only he was a Simpsons' fan and correctly completed the phrase just one time.

So my return flight from Berkeley landed a half hour early. I learned this was not a good thing as we sat on the plane waiting for our gate to open. Just as we were finally pulling up to our gate the pilot announced he had a score to game five of the Twins/Angels' series- the Twins were up 5-3 in the seventh. Oh boy, I thought, I might get home in time to watch the end of the game. But as I walked through the airport I was stunned (sort of) that every TV at every gate was tuned in to a football game. And it wasn't even the Vikings but the Rams! What is with this town?!

Turns out I was lucky not to witness the end. And now I only have eleven days until Mr. Dylan makes his way to the Twin Cities (but who's counting?). I may be the only one with this particular affliction (a symptom of uptight eccentricity?) but does anyone else notice that the days following attendance at a particularly inspiring concert or movie or Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode that things seem a bit discombobulated and trivial and a shade meaningless? Is day to day life about getting by, doing what we have to do to afford to attend other enlightening or inspiring moments? And if so, pray tell me why that is so?

But enough about me. A kitty beckons and craves attention so I predictably leave you with the appropriate sign off: So long suckers...

Monday, October 14, 2002

Breaking the Fall (It's Nice to Get Away Once in a While)

Picture this: a starry Bay Area night in the crisp autumn air sitting in an outdoor 8,000 seat theater built in 1903. The University of California Berkeley's Greek Theater resembles the Roman Coliseum with its stately architecture including large white pillars (as a kitty sitter typically wittingly said when she saw a picture of the venue: "Holler when they bring out the lions and feed the slaves to them...") and the place is shaped exactly like the half moon that shines in the sky above. Three members of the versatile four piece band are dressed similarly (burgundy colored suits the first night, black suits the next). The lead singer is the center of attention not only with his different attire (black suit for night one, gray suit the second night) but also his distinctive swagger. The stage lights go down to the din of an Aaron Copland piece that is mostly drowned out by the whistles and yelps from an expectant crowd.

The band begins with a bluesy rock number. On the left hand side of the stage lead guitarist Charlie Sexton rips off several high arching rhythmic riffs. On the right the other guitarist, Larry Campbell answers Sexton with a less flashy but more melodic stream of notes. Bassist Tony Garnier provides a thumping foundation under the wailing guitars and drummer George Receli is pounding his kit with such force that one fears the fellow's fillings might fly out.

The first surprise of the evening is that the lead singer- who will provide his usually quirky vocals throughout the performance, is half seated, half standing behind an electric keyboard rather than the acoustic and rhythm guitar he usually plays. He pounds chords out simultaneously with both hands looking just like a young boy in Hibbing in the saccharine 1950's shocking an audience of high school students and teachers with his very best Little Richard imitation.

"Well, I'm gonna quit this baby talk now/I guess I should have known/I got troubles, I think maybe you got troubles/I think maybe we'd better leave each other alone/Whatever you gonna do/Please do it fast/I'm still trying to get used to/Seeing the real you at last"


It's all about Jennifer. It has been for quite a while, something that will never be explainable, never be understood just like Anya's, the vengeance demon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, fear of bunny rabbits. If pressed to say what you mean you'd probably stammer and stumble but failing to do so, failing to explain ultimately says much much more.

In the fall four years ago I was scheduled to go to a Bob Dylan show at Midway Stadium (within walking distance of my house) with my friend Jennifer and another friend. I was a bit anxious about mixing these two particular friendships Lord knows why. But Jennifer stood me up. Walked away. So I was minus $32.50 for the ticket, $5,000 for a home improvement loan, and much much more. Things did forever change.

There are times in life when you just need to hear a particular song whether for inspiration, introspection, insight, distraction or mere entertainment, a familiar song can reboot your inner hard drive every now and then. Last week as I was packing a duffel bag for a three day trip to Berkeley I just had to hear Bob Dylan's Oscar winning "Things Have Changed." I couldn't say why, and I didn't feel I needed to. My CDs are currently in a rather disorganized state so finding one particular disc is sometimes a futile exercise. Unfortunately this was one of those times. And for a minute or two there I thought I was going to unravel if I did not find my Wonder Boys CD. If forced to choose the song would make the short list of my all time favorite Dylan songs- not because it has any of his most unforgettable lines- but rather because of the mood it invokes. The singer has seen quite enough and as he wanders through absurd situation after absurd situation he admits his state of mind- he used to care but things have changed.

"I hurt easy I just don't show it/You can hurt someone and not even know it/The next sixty seconds could be like an eternity/Gonna get low down, gonna fly high/All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie/I'm in love with a woman who don't even appeal to me"

Years later as I found myself serenely sitting at the West Coast venue (within walking distance of my sister's apartment) with my friend Spunky I couldn't help but think about Jennifer. I wouldn't have found myself where I was if not for another Jennifer. When Dylan announced his summer tour schedule and it didn't include the Twin Cities I was a bit disappointed having seen the man perform every year for the past ten years. The closest he was coming was Fargo and Sioux City certainly makeable drives. But one thing working at the Legislature has taught me is the necessity of a legitimate balanced budget- meaning not only should revenues at the very least compensate for expenditures but also that the many areas needing funding receive their fair share. In state terms that includes areas like transportation, health and human services, governmental services, public safety, etc. For me it includes mortgage and insurance payments, utility bills, feeding the dying kitty, and necessary entertainment needs. Already having spent another year's amount for Twins' season tickets as well as an outrageously priced seat for a Paul McCartney show I couldn't justify the traveling costs of going to one of the Dakotas to see Dylan.
I knew my fellow Twin Cities resident Bobfan Jennifer (2) was going to go to the Fargo show with her sister. Keeping my options open I asked if I could hitch a ride with them. Jennifer (2) kindly said yes. But common sense (not always such a good thing) prevailed and I decided to bite a difficult bullet and not see Bob in 2002 (this was all before the announced St. Paul show).

But the relative ease of my decision might have come from knowing another option did exist: he was playing two shows in Berkeley where my sister is going to law school and my old college roommate the irascible Spunky lives within an hour's drive. Having not yet visited either one in their new location I thought it might be the perfect excuse to get a few tickets and fly out and spend time with some important people.

But I couldn't pull the trigger until Jennifer (2) said her experience has always been that once you're standing there watching Bob perform, it always seems worth it in the end (she flew out to see him in Seattle). Turns out she couldn't have been more right. I was convinced.

On our walk to the Greek Theater for night one's show Spunky and I walked past a college building where the notes of someone practicing piano scales floated into the air. I kiddingly remarked that I wondered if that was Bob getting ready for the show. Spunky got the joke (one of the few that most often does). We then encountered a rather large line of people waiting to get in. By the time we were frisked and entered the general admission only event there was scarcely a seat to be seen. We wandered to the far left side and sat down on the now cold cement bench like seats.

The usual introduction ("Please welcome Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan") was embellished (somewhat mockingly) to include references to being rock and roll's "poet laureate" and donning makeup and a substance abuse problem in the 70's, finding Jesus and 'becoming relevant' again with some of his best work in the past few years. It was remindful of Dylan's wicked sense of humor- from his interview with a Time Magazine reporter seen in the documentary Don't Look Back ("I can sing as well as Caruso"); to whatever the LP Self Portrait was supposed to be; to the fake beard he wore this fall at his return concert to Newport where he was booed off the stage in the 60's for having gone electric (a sacred no-no in the serious folk world) to the Traveling Wilburys.

Bob's keyboard playing style was fun to watch. He plays the piano like an aging kitty awoken from a nap stretching his spine as far as he can towards the ceiling not only to feel better but to strut his stuff. Night one's highlights included a terrific "Tombstone Blues" where he sang the line "the sun's not yellow... it's... CHICKEN" like a gleeful grade school child who can't wait to reveal the punchline to a recently learned riddle. There was also a sad and mournful yet confident "Positively 4th Street" and a great great country blues version of "It's All Right Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" that of course got the hippy crowd cheering lines like "even the President of the United States must sometimes have to stand naked..." and "advertising signs that con you into thinking that you are the one/that can do what's never been done/that can win what's never been won/meantime life outside goes on all around you..."

My favorite moment however was a sterling version (the best I've ever heard) of "Things Have Changed" where Bob's weary and sardonic vocal was enhanced by a band that got behind the heart and soul of the observational current state of things (mind) so effectively that even those Berkeley residents (remnants) who smelled of funny herbs seemed to appreciate a newer song.

Bob also did some crowd pleasing covers including the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar" and my favorite Neil Young tribute to dads "Old Man." He also included two Warren Zevon songs both nights ("Accidentally Like a Martyr" and "Mutineer") that while not reaching the heights of a Dylan original certainly were quite touching (I cried when I heard about Zevon's terminal diagnosis).

The undeniable highlight of night two was a quiet and reflective "Every Grain of Sand" that usually, unlike most Dylan songs, doesn't match the studio version but this night somehow came quite close. The triplet arpeggios of the song that create such a hypnotic hymn like quality were recreated live by Bob's keyboard work and Larry and Charlie's subtle electric guitar playing. What usually translates live into an awkward ballad was on this occasion a reminder of what a great great intuitive writer/performer Bob is.

He closed both nights with several songs from his last CD Love and Theft, a piece of work that should have changed the world and still might. There were smile inducing jazzy versions of "Floater" and "Moonlight" as well as an apocalyptic "High Water." The swinging "Summer Days" almost fell apart both nights due to the wordiness of the song but I swear the band was swinging/rocking so hard by the end as Bob tried to spit out the words that I was afraid the whole place was going to launch skywards.

Monday, October 7, 2002

Missin' Case o Beer

Most people like to spend their vacations in some sunny faraway exotic location like Mexico, the Bahamas, or Florida. As if further proof is needed I'm really not hooked up like most people I prefer to spend my vacation in scenic downtown Minneapolis helping with preparations for the upcoming election. It's the second year in a row I've done this and I've heard an earful from folks who have to deal with a person who tends to get a little crabby because he chooses not to sip mimosas on a beach but rather work another job for the additional income it brings in and as a result has become more than a little burned out.

Let me just begin by making the following observation about working downtown in our state's largest city: parking sucks. I usually park in a lot that charges four bucks a day that is about a five minute walk from the Hennepin County Government Center. The other day as I was pulling in to pay the attendant, the guy was kind enough to inform me that the next day rate was going up to $12 due to the Gopher football game and $10 the next day due to the Twins playoff game. Now when I'm struggling to save every penny I can to ensure that kitty is well fed those rates seem a little more than even I can digest. But I was really grateful the guy warned me in advance.

The next day I parked at a meter and plugged it with eight hours worth of quarters. I ended up saving a whole two bucks (I'm a regular Martha Stewart). The following day, since I was going to attend the Twins' game, I decided to bite the bullet and pay the $10. As I was pulling in the guy recognized me (this ain't exactly a small feat- the lot is very large and he must see hundreds of different people every day). He asked me if I found somewhere cheaper the day before and told me things should get back to normal next week. I've become so accustomed to accepting poor customer service that this guy remembering who I was truly touched me. I made a downtown friend!

And this is the second week in a row I've made a friend with a parking lot attendant. Last week I was looking for a place to park for the McCartney concert and when I found a reasonably priced lot the guy informed me that my car was the same make and model as his car. When I told him I was going to the concert he asked how much I paid for my ticket and shook his head when I confessed.

Friday's playoff game was a bittersweet experience. To echo what has been written elsewhere in this newsletter by Stoo and Pat this has been a rather remarkable season by the local club. As written to death in our local dailies it began with the owner willing to accept a $150 million check from Major League Baseball to eliminate his(!?) team. No matter that there are several other franchises (including the commissioner's) arguably in much worse shape than the Twins; having survived that and having survived a first half of the season where the team stayed in first place despite a series of injuries to key players there was the concern that the owners would force a player strike thus ruining the season.

But none of that came to pass and the Twins found themselves (deservingly so) in their first post-season action since 1991. It has been a long time coming for fans who stuck around. We deserve this having had to sit through seasons of watching the Rich Robertsons and Scott Aldreds and Jerald Clarks and Danny Ardoins of the world try to keep us out of last place. It has been a grueling and often times hopeless effort to continue to follow the team over the years.

But baseball really is a game of cycles. In the 80's the team seemed destined to move to Florida when a wealthy banker saved the day and purchased the team. In the spring of '87 (my senior year at Macalester) I bet my former freshman roommate now dermatologist a case of beer that the team would finish with a .500 record or better. Having lost 102 games just five years before and having been a rather pathetic club for several seasons, the dermatologist with bad skin thought the bet was a lock, just a naive Asian lad dreaming that the team could turn it around. But I knew with the acquisition of Blyleven in '86 and the additions of TK, Gladden, and Reardon that the team added some very valuable pieces to the mix. But even I, the jaded optimist, couldn't have foreseen the forthcoming World Series championship.

'87 was like today and entirely different at the same time. I camped out overnight that year with my friend the car detailing Eric Patterson, when playoff tickets went on sale. I was in the beginning of my notorious "blue period" and was so heavily medicated that I actually slept through the televised broadcast of the only game the Twins lost to Detroit (Pat Sheridan!) in the playoffs. The only memory I have of attending the games at the Dome was high fiving Eric's lovely girlfriend Anna D'Andrea after a Gary Gaetti home run.

Flash forward to watching Torri Hunter misplay the first batter, Ray Durham's first inning liner into an inside the park home run I somehow wasn't too disappointed. The wait has been well worth it. The only constant (literally) between? I thankfully worked for Cheapo then, and I fortunately work for Cheapo now (lack of time off not withstanding).

Monday, September 30, 2002

I'm Just Like All Those ARound Me

I'm nothing if not a football fan. I'm one of those that knows the game involves more than just hitting the person across the line from you as hard and as violently as you can. Yup I know stuff about cover two zones and cut back running and the most exciting part of the game when the head coach throws a red flag on to the field and we sit and watch the referee go to a TV monitor and examine an instant replay stopping the game for what only seems like fifteen minutes. I love the game so much I even participated in a fantasy football league last year with a bunch of other people who really passionately cared how many yards Mike Alstott got against the Carolina Panthers.

Two weeks ago on the weekend the Twins clinched their first playoff birth in eleven years I was as outraged as everyone else in town that the Vikings kicker missed two extra points that led to the second of our three open the season losses. Bench Dante, give the ball to Moe more and gosh doesn't that Biekert stabilize the defense? We're doing such a wonderful job of stopping the opposition on at least three of the four downs. Believe me I may be the first, but I won't be the last to lead the 'it's time to bring back Denny chant.'

Yeah it bothered me for a minute or so the news that former Pittsburgh Steeler center Mike Webster died last week from brain injuries he sustained performing like a hall of famer for those terrific Super Bowl winning teams. Webster spent the last few years of his life a destitute sometimes homeless man but I'm sure he was comforted knowing the pain he was in was merely a sacrifice for playing the game so many of us whittle away the weekends watching. But that's yesterday's news- I'm focusing my attention on the pass blocking play of Lewis Kelly. It's about time he got back to work. Who needs that greedy Bryant McKinnie? If he isn't willing to play for less than market value than we can find someone else who will.

And the latest escapades of Randy Moss leave me with mixed emotions. As a guy who lives and dies with each Viking victory and loss I know it's important that we keep Randy on the field with his mind focused on football. I've become a firm believer in the Randy Ratio. He may only play hard when he wants to play hard but there is no doubt that half a Randy Moss is better than two Kelly Campbells and three or four Troy Walters.

The question after the latest brush with the law was, of course, was Randy receiving favorable treatment because he's a big football stud or was he getting harsher treatment because of the same status? Who amongst us haven't wanted to nudge a traffic cop because the wannabe law enforcer is hindering our ability to get to where we want to go as fast as we want to go? If I had played bumper tag with a traffic cop would it have made front page news for three days? Would I have been charged with a felony when said cop hit the pavement? I really don't know. Thankfully Randy seems to be an expert on the law.

"I've been in a situation before. So I know the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor," he said.

When I first heard of the incident I thought it was merely the latest example of Randy not being the brightest bulb on the planet and having the emotional maturity of a twelve year old. Now I know better. I'm not being facetious when I admit he knows things I'll never know and I'll admire him for that as long as he averages 12 yards per catch this season on at least 40 percent of the balls thrown his way (at least the ones he is trying on). The media coverage of the whole thing was only as obnoxious as the amount of talk it generated around town. I'm glad people care so passionately about football and not that boring baseball or even the politics of a guy who was never even elected leading us into a war even though it seemingly will cause a lot more harm than good. We have our priorities in place- this is the stuff people should be worried about.

In the wise words of our great leader, George W., who will soon lead us into battle against the evil Iraq just like Steve Spurrier leads his Redskins into battle against the dreaded Dallas Cowboys, "Fool me once, shame on... shame on you. Fool me... you can't get fooled again."

From a Lover to a Friend

When I entered the fourth grade my Mom made me take piano lessons. Made might be a tad harsh a description- I had heard my sisters play the piano when I was growing up and always kind of wished I could do the same. But with the skills of a newt I knew I didn't have my sisters' natural talent (they've grown up to be college professors and soon to be attorneys and writers with masters degrees) so I sometimes cursed my fate underneath my breath as I was learning to play those grueling scales that I was told I had to learn before I could learn any actual songs. Driving me home from lesson and frustrating lesson Mom told me that once I learned how to play well enough to sight read and play the songs I wanted to play I would be glad I stuck with it. I don't know if she ever knew how right she ultimately was.

The disappointment continued on for a bit longer however as I found myself practicing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," and a painfully slow rendition of Beethoven's "Fur Elise" when I really wanted to be playing "Mandy" and "Rhinestone Cowboy." Then one day I pulled out a book of Lennon and McCartney sheet music and tried to teach myself "Yesterday" and "Michelle." Soon my forays into practicing the Beatles in place of Bach and Beethoven frustrated my teacher, Mrs. Good, who somehow could tell I wasn't spending the necessary time on my lessons. Learning the Beatles songs inside out added to my enjoyment of my discovery of their wondrous music.

I don't know how I would have made it through high school if I hadn't found the Beatles. For every rush of invading intense emotion and heartbreak I endured and the discouraging soap opera I had somehow found myself involuntarily right in the middle of there was a Beatle song to offer encouragement. "Your day breaks/your mind aches/you find that all her words of kindness linger when she no longer needs you..." or "Many times I've been alone and many times I've cried/Anyway you'll never know the many ways I tried..." could have been my senior yearbook quotes (and maybe they were I just don't remember and don't care to look them up).

I remember a sunny spring day late in my junior year when Paul McCartney's Tug of War came out and I bought it the day of its release. It was Paul's first solo record since I had become a Beatles fan and his first music since the death of his partner John Lennon. I plopped the LP on my turntable and lie down on my bedroom's green shag carpeting studying the liner notes and lyrics. I liked the ambivalence (something not usually a part of McCartney's songs) of the title track and the way it neatly segued into the second song the sublime "Take it Away." I remember looking at the picture of Paul writing on notepad while seated at a coffee table and for the first time thinking to myself that the paralyzing personal decision facing me, where to go to college, didn't seem so overwhelming anymore. I'm not sure why.

By the time my record player's needle hit the fifth track, the Lennon tribute "Here Today" I realized I had never been so moved by any music I had ever heard before. Aspiring/dreaming/fantasizing becoming a writer myself, it was one of the finest examples of a writer using something intensely personal and creating a universally inspiring message- expression not as a task but as a necessity. Instead of writing about things in the Lennon/McCartney relationship that all Beatle fans were familiar with, Paul wisely chose to write about little personal moments and sing the song directly to John (with a bit of a wobble in his voice). It's one of the rare moments in McCartney's career where he really nakedly opens his heart and because it is so rare it makes the song all that more touching.

To this very day whenever I pull out my Tug of War piano book and play my rendition of "Here Today" it fills me with memories of that sunny spring day (crystal clear palatable feelings of how the warmth of the weather was only equaled by the warmth the music made me feel inside) and the added feelings of remembering friends and others who I've somehow lost along the way.

When I heard he was playing here I really wasn't looking forward to seeing Paul perform. The cost of the show, having a seat in the upper regions of a hockey arena, and the fact that at this point in his career he has all the artistic significance of Ringo, made me lukewarm in attending. But I knew I'd kick myself if I didn't go. Quite honestly I was much more looking forward to the season premiere of Buffy scheduled for the following night.

As the lights went down in the Xcel Center around 8 p.m. the spotlights shone on several of the aisles of the arena as a dance troupe dressed in 18th Century garb meandered into place backed by some pounding eastern accompaniment. You had your prim and proper females in their bonnets along side some Asian geisha looking gals and a strong man with a bar bell and several tall geeks on stilts. Others were bouncing on balls and then to top it off some people came in the back with a bunch of really big balloons. It looked like a few of the members of Cirque du Soleil had accidentally stumbled into the wrong venue and the ballet/circus presentation went on for what only seemed like forever. The overly lubricated guy a couple rows behind me yelled, "We want Paul!" and although he was the only one drunk enough to say it, I think the rest of us in the section secretly agreed.

Not soon enough Paul appeared behind a screen wearing a dark suit coat (which he quickly shed) and a red long sleeved shirt. The band pranced into a jaunty "Hello Goodbye" and I was immediately reminded of my Macalester roommate Masashi's (the man from Japan) much better version that went something like, "You say goodbye and I say goodbye..." But it was fun to hear this song and I've always adored the coda (the heba heba part). A noticeable drop in energy followed with the Wings' hit "Jet" that I always liked simply because it uses the word "suffragette."

Paul looked good for a man in his 80's and his boyish good looks, charm, energy and enthusiasm were quite remarkable. The man always seems to be having a good time. At least I think it was Paul. From where I was sitting it might have been that guy in Beatlemania. He ended up playing 35(!) songs (37 if you consider he melded "You Never Give Me Your Money" and "Carry That Weight" into a medley as well as "Sgt. Pepper" and "The End" to appropriately close out the festivities). He played for over three hours which is kind of remarkable. That comes out to be something like $1.93 per song for those of us way in back and counting.

He played nearly everything you would expect him to play from "Let it Be," "All My Loving," "Can't Buy Me Love," "Lady Madonna," "Band on the Run," "Live and Let Die," and "My Love" (somebody call the better business bureau). And a few you probably wouldn't expect him to play including "She's Leaving Home,"(!) "Something," (dedicated to George and played on the ukulele which apparently George was a huge fan of- who knew!?) and the aforementioned "You Never Give Me Your Money/Carry That Weight" that was a highlight of the evening even though he flubbed the lyrics. (He also thought Minneapolis/St. Paul was in Wisconsin.) I guess it was a bit much to hope that he would play something more obscure like "Junior's Farm," or "Little Lamb Dragonfly," or "Spies Like Us," or "Why Don't We Do It In the Road?"

He did play four new songs from his latest CD Driving Rain including a wonderful version of "Loving Flame" which he dedicated to his lady Heather who was somewhere in the building. "Lonely Road" also benefited from its live treatment with some driving guitar work from the lead guitarist whose name I didn't catch (it might as well have been the late great Wings guy Jimmy McCulloch). But the show came to a screeching halt with the dreadful title tune and the equally insipid wannabe anthem "Freedom" (no cigar for the lad there- and memo to Paul: this whole terrorism thing may not exactly be about freedom other than we seem to be sacrificing some in the name of national security).

Highlights of the show (and there were many and I'm sure just about everyone in the crowd had their own personal favorites due to the consistently high octane efforts from Paul and the band) included an acoustic "Blackbird" (with some awesome guitar work and playing with the tempo by Paul); a scorching "Maybe I'm Amazed" (with some really nice bluesy vocals); and stunner to end all stunners- a solo acoustic "Here Today" that really got to the heart of a great great song. As the saying goes, "worth the price of admission."

Before the two encores he closed the opening/regular set with a singalong "Hey Jude"- the greatest song in the world that I also happen to consider my favorite song in the world. To hear the composer belt this one out in a passionate way, well any of the constant companion cynicism melts away in goose bumps. Yes I was nah nah nahing with the rest of the sellout crowd.

As he sang "Yesterday" I sat there remembering I'd gotten the attention of my heart's first love by screeching Beatle songs at the top of my lungs on the bus ride home from a band trip in the ninth grade. As we were closing out our senior year and I knew I'd never see her ever again I found myself at a pool table at a party with her and a friend and it was awkward and all I could think of doing was breaking out my version of Paul's "C Moon." "It would be L7 that I'd never get to heaven if I filled my head with gloom...." The friend of the person who broke my heart for the first time turned to me and said, "You don't say." The perpetrator herself, who had smiled at me years back with my go for broke, dark bus primal scream Beatle performance just kind of gave me a knowing glance.

On the morning of the Xcel Energy show I found myself quoted in the local paper about the price of going to see McCartney in 2002. All summer long I have pined over the girl next door and have spent way too many moments in silence in the same room unable to say a word. On this particular day I walked on over and spoke my first sentence to her- "I'm famous," I said. She was reading the newspaper and I showed her the story I was a part of. The reporter had quoted this pearl of wisdom from me, "When I heard he (Macca) was coming, I thought, 'There's no way in hell I'm going to pay to see him..." I explained to the girl next door that my Dad probably would disapprove of my cursing in the newspaper. The girl next door giggled. It was ninth grade all over again.