Monday, July 29, 2002

The Story of Arranging a Chance Encounter

The summer my Mom died a sapling began growing in my parents' neighbors' yard. The little tree was the same as the one I played under as a kid and thus the neighbors did something I thought was more than a little nice and more than a little poignant- they let the tree grow in memory of my Mom. In three short years that tree really shot up- from a little shoot that you see growing all around carefully and not so carefully manicured yards, to something that clearly was a tree.

A couple of weeks ago the neighbors decided to dress the tree up a bit by surrounding it with one of those circular brick decorative borders nicely spruced up by flowers. Unfortunately I was over at my Dad's the other day and noticed the tree was gone. Turned out it wasn't a sapling but an offshoot from the original tree's root system. Thus the work around the root accidentally killed the tree. Some things as nice as they seem, more perfectly timed than can be planned, symbolically uplifting, just aren't meant to be.

It's that kind of bittersweet melancholy that is at the heart of one of the most beautiful cinematic love stories I have ever seen, Chinese director Zhang Yimou's gorgeously told (and shot) The Road Home (Wode Fuqin Muqin). The movie features the startling star debut performance of Zhang Ziyi who became known in this country for her next movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

The movie begins with a Chinese businessman returning home to tend to matters after he learns that his father has died. He discovers that his mother has requested that her husband's body be returned to town not by car but rather honoring an old tradition of having the casket carried by hand so that the spirit doesn't forget the way home. Since most of the town's young men have left for the city, the task of carrying the body over the mountains seems like an impossible wish to fulfill for those remaining.

Most of the movie is a flashback of the mother and father's meeting. Ziyi plays the young wife to be and she gives a subtlety hypnotic performance. Some of you may have heard of an old American actress from the 1950's known as Marilyn Monroe (believe it or not she was even before my time!). I doubt any of you have watched her movies but those of you who have probably wouldn't argue with me when I say we really haven't seen an actress quite like her since she died.

I think most red blooded males would agree that Marilyn was an attractive and sexy actress who was easy on the eyes. But beautiful Hollywood actresses are (and were) a dime a dozen. What made Monroe such an American icon went beyond her looks- there was something transcendent that leaps off the screen. Watch one of her movies, and as bad as some of them are, you just can't take your eyes off of her. There's the vulnerability thing going but beyond that there is someone who is so open, both joyful and sad, that makes her absolutely captivating.

Call Ziyi the Chinese Marilyn. There isn't anything you can pinpoint in The Road Home that would make you say it is a brilliant performance in a simple little love story but through her expressions, her body language, she absolutely melts one's heart. The narrator/son informs us that in China during that time arranged marriages were the norm and that no one got married based on falling in love (and that is what makes his parents' story worth telling). At the heart of the movie is the wonderful way Ziyi expresses that wonderful rush of falling in love- how she shyly tries to arrange a moment when the man she has fallen in love with at first sight, will just have to notice her. After catching his eye she tries to determine his interest in her through a cooking ritual. The town's men are building a new school building and the town's women fix the men lunch every day. If he chooses her dish it means that his heart shares in the same feelings as her own.

The stunning Chinese countryside provides the backdrop for the wonderful little love story. There aren't any major revelations, no earth shaking insights in this movie. It is unabashedly sentimental and the plot device of telling the story through the eyes of a son burying one parent while worrying about the heartbreak of the other parent gives the movie a sad arching overview that reminds us that as inspiring as it is, love ultimately is the saddest feeling of all.

Monday, July 22, 2002

My Life as a Trucker

The one who made me a whole lot cooler (she loaned me a window air conditioner unit and gave me fragrant candles) asked me if I would have room to store a love seat at my place now that she has moved into a new space. Being the amiable albeit easily frightened chap that I am, I heartily agreed. A few days later she asked if I would be willing to help rent a truck because she couldn't find anyone with a pickup (truck that is). Again I articulately (with my college degree) said, "no problem" and asked her to make rental arrangements which she did renting us a 10 foot U-Haul cargo van that she asked me to drive.

Thus I found myself tooling across town in a vehicle much larger than the one I'm used to- a 1990 scratched Honda Civic with 127,000 miles on it. I'm not a bad driver just one that doesn't like to drive because there's a whole lot of people out there that I don't belong amongst and believe me I know it's much more my problem than it is theirs. The drive seemed to last forever (and a day) and it didn't help that I had to go through some narrow construction sites with a truck wider than the hips associated with someone seriously addicted to White Castle hamburgers. It also didn't help that every slight turn on the freeway made it feel like the whole truck was going to tip over. I was tipsy and there was no whiskey involved.

Arriving safely at her place the next challenge was loading the love seat into the truck. She's a petite young lass and I won't say this very often but I'd estimate I had twice her strength despite a build that hasn't exactly been enhanced by steroids. The drive back across town was equally as white-knuckled as the one before. The next and final step of trying to angle the piece of furniture into my house turned out to be absolutely futile as well as comically entertaining for the neighbors. She kept having to put the couch down to rest and I have no concept of geometry or physics or any of that. So now my garage is the home to a nice smelling flowered love seat.

But back to this driving thing (and we're not talking about making others crazy). Recent local news suggests that the roads are bursting with raging drivers. And if there was another example needed to show how out of the mainstream I've drifted it is this: I'm the type of driver who feels when driving next to, or behind, or around a student driver it is my duty to obey every bit of the law from driving the speed limit to signaling the smallest turn, to driving six lengths back just to set a good example. Others may race around us or toot their horns but I wanna show the youngsters there are those out there that believe that when it comes to driving a large steel deathtrap, paying attention to the law may be a splendid idea.

I encountered a student driver on my way to work the other day and though I was running a bit late I didn't alter my normal state of things. Rather than become agitated at the growing line of cars behind me, and worry about getting in a few minutes late, I decided to focus on the best thing about my morning drive- the billboard on the corner of Rice Street and Como Avenue notifying everyone that Buffy (along with the rest of the UPN lineup) is moving to Channel 29. It's nice to see the face of my second favorite ass kicking demon defeater greet the morning rush hour traffic rather than the larger than life face of a Faith Hill or a Garth Brooks.

Unfortunately the sudden turn from happiness to devastation, so indicative of my favorite TV program, occurred as I checked out the morning news on the web. Buffy has been continually (and criminally) snubbed by the Emmy Award people but this year something even worse happened. The show got nominations in the "best hairstyling" and "best make-up" categories. This of course means that whoever is responsible for the nominations actually saw an episode (the hair and makeup nods both were for the same episode) and the best thing they saw was not the stupendous creatively rich writing and acting nor the unmatched emotional texture of the show, but rather that the good guys and bad guys sure had nice hair. Argggg.

I've given up trying to figure out why Buffy the Vampire Slayer doesn't astound everyone like it does me. It's far more clever and captivating and unpredictable (thus life like and affirming) than any television show I've ever seen (and I've seen quite a few). I mean I watch shows that do get oodles of attention and acclaim like West Wing and 24 and while those shows are well written and well done, there's nothing particularly uniquely outstanding about them. (Perhaps it's the Erica Kane effect- the show will perennially be overlooked just like Susan Lucci was because Sarah Michelle Gellar used to be on All My Children.) A few weeks back in this space I wrote a completely incomprehensible piece that I know no one read but it was probably the most honest (as opposed to truthful) thing I've written in a long long time. In the piece I was asking a simple but elusive question that is at the heart of whatever is bothering me these days: what exactly is art? What qualifies and what is its purpose?

Since asking that question my friend Spunky forwarded me a New York Times profile on American Beauty and Road to Perdition director Sam Mendes. The article touched on the concept of artistic choice. I also watched the divinely recommended Ghost World a terrific little movie with a perceptive attitude. Then a friend loaned me Ike Reilly's CD Salesmen and Racists that just blew me away (and the roof off my lil Honda). All these pieces of work gave me some more insight into a possible answer to my question. Whatever gets through, whatever sheds insight, whatever opens a world or a view of the world that is slightly different and yet familiar enough to comprehend even if you don't quite understand it- that's what art is.

Unlike anything else on television Buffy is all that and more. And just like Picasso or Skip James maybe its timelessness/being so visionary and differernt is just why the show is so terribly overlooked in its own time. The mixture of intellect and emotions evoked by the best episodes of the series are as astute and insightful as any piece of music, any painting, any great book, any great movie I've ever seen. I keep wondering why I let it bother me so that the show is snubbed annually by the Emmys. Who really cares? Buffy gets decent enough ratings, particularly with the age group advertisers are seeking, young people with money to spend, but it isn't just a young person's show. Given recognition by the establishment like the Emmys would perhaps expose the show to the wider audience it deserves and should have (TV Guide did recently list it on its top 50 shows of all time as the 41st greatest show in television history). Good art can change us and the world around us but what good is art if no one sees it?

The Continuing Saga of a Boy and His Bobbleheads

The first time is always special. I was at a Twins game the other week, feeling pretty confident that the boys would pull out a victory with LaTroy throwing nothing but peas at the hapless opposition. Behind me I heard two parents trying to explain things to their daughter. Evidently it was her first game as the couple tried to simply but comprehensibly express the rudiments of the game- simple rules like what a strike zone is and what a batter is supposed to do once they hit a "fair" ball. I tried remembering back when it was all new to me and my Mom tried to impart her knowledge of man's greatest invention to me.

Once I understood the rules there was the history of the game to learn. Specifically I remember Mom telling me about one of her favorite Twins, and his role in two of their heartbreaking seasons. In 1967 the Twins went into the last weekend of the season a game in front of the second place Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers. They needed one win in a two game series with the Red Sox to eliminate Boston. On Saturday Jim Kaat was on his way to getting that victory for the Twins when he left the game injured. The bullpen couldn't hold the lead and the Twins lost the game and dropped into a tie with Boston (Detroit split a doubleheader with California meaning that on the season's last day Minnesota and Boston led Detroit by a mere half game).

On Sunday Jim Lonborg outpitched Dean Chance and the Red Sox later found out Detroit had lost meaning they were on their way to the World Series. Mom told me had Kaat not been injured the Twins would have won the pennant.

In 1972 Kaat was off to his best season ever going 10-2 as the team approached the All Star break. A superb hitting pitcher he hit one to the outfield and tried to stretch a single into a double sliding into second and breaking a bone in his pitching hand. Again, Mom said had Kaat remained healthy the Twins (who finished 81-81) might have had done better than a third place finish.

Of all the baseball facts and trivia I've memorized over the years, of all the memories I have from 30 years as a fan I'm not sure why I remember those two specific Kaat moments that Mom shared with me. I know she liked him a lot as a player and as the Twins struggled through a miserable decade of the 70's there was something about the history of the team that Mom shared that is a lesson all baseball fans eventually learn- the rich tapestry of the game is one reason that going into spring training you always have to have hope that the local team will have a special season. I was surprised when the Twins announced last off season (after contraction talk quieted down) that one of the four bobblehead giveaways this season was Jim Kaat. Even though he is perhaps the best lefthander in the team's history he isn't exactly well known by this generation of Twins' fans. Having collected all the other bobbleheads through some hard work, hard cement sitting, and a dollar or two bid on eBay I knew I had to get the Kaat doll.

This one was personal.

The game happened to be the second after the All Star break. The fiasco that occurred two days earlier in Milwaukee (there are two truisms in the game- baseball players don't cry, and baseball games aren't supposed to end in a tie) didn't seem to bother me as much as some of the people around me. The day after the game people in my office (and on talk radio) seemed to treat the decision to not risk injury by playing extra innings as if it was another sign of the impending apocalypse. I enjoyed the game- the great Torii Hunter catch; Eddie Guardado's two strike outs of the two batters he faced; Jimmy Rollins' missing Cristian Guzman imitation; the continuing national stage meltdown of Arizona's closer Byung -Hyun Kim- I couldn't say I was all that disappointed when Mr. Selig called things off and was heartily booed by his hometown fans.

I met my annexation surviving friend down at the Dome around 1:30 p.m. a mere four and a half hours before the gates were to open. Someone in line estimated there were around 200 in front of us at that particular gate. Having fought some larger numbers for previous bobbleheads we were surprised that there weren't more people there and happy that we apparently were going to get a Kaat doll. When the gates did open to relieve some of the unrelenting heat from the sun we indeed got our dolls. And the Twins won the game in extra innings. I got home and showed my nodding Kitty Kaat to my own hungry kitty cat. History was made that night as I uttered a sentence never before said in the many years humans have walked the planet. Mr. Max having lost an alarming amount of weight over the past year has been put on an all he can eat mixture of both dried and canned food. The canned food is mixed with an all natural nutritional supplement and a few drops of Tasha's herbs- a mixture I refer to, due to its not exactly appetizing aroma, as "goop." As I fixed myself some chicken noodle soup I uttered the historic line, "Would you like some goop with my soup Mr. Max?" I'm sure Mom would have smiled.

Monday, July 15, 2002

It Sometimes or Always Ain't the Way it Seems

There have been times over the past few years when my friend, the now more than ever buff non-buffy (but still quite the blessed demon fighter in her own right- THANK GOD) has frustrated me more than infuriated me either with something said or done or something not said or not done. This no doubt is more of a reflection on my often times overly sensitive and paranoid and always moody nature, but it has at times helped me gain perspective and a greater appreciation for her as an actual person rather than some ideal dream figure made up by a flickering imagination. I like her for her faults rather than in spite of her faults.

Long before I met her I developed a theory that the number one sign that there was something terribly askew with our society was that people not only were paying money for the sole purpose of being tan, but worse yet people were actually plunking down large sums of cash to buy the equipment needed to create and maintain a tan without ever having to spend a second in the sun.

The first time I ever saw the then not as buff non-buffy was towards the end of a winter and her impressive golden tan made her stand out in a room otherwise filled with typically pale looking Minnesotans. I couldn't take my beady little eyes off of her yet years later I learned it wasn't the tan that held my attention. She in return looked my direction but more through me than at me.

She maintained her tan over the entire beginning of our friendship and the first time I was over at her place on a Pebbles and Bam Bam day (she has a sunny disposition but likes to moon people) I saw she had a tanning bed in one of her rooms. So for the times over the years when I felt like I liked her a little too much, I merely had to keep reminding myself that she was one of those people that years before I had railed against and that was definitely a strike against her.

I found out Tuesday that the tanning bed wasn't hers. It belongs to her sister who didn't have room in her own home to store the contraption. My bad. (I was man enough however to apologize for my presumption even though she had never heard my presumption before.)

But as was recently pointed out in another circumstance I am not exactly a model of consistency in life. I was reading my morning copy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (only 25 cents!) and looking closely as I am wont to do at last week's Nielsen ratings. I was dismayed to see my least favorite Sandra Bullock movie (well besides Ms. Congeniality) Time to Kill (co-starring Matthew McConaughey who is described by the person who scares me as "the cute boy who sweats so well") actually finished as the third most watched show of the week while at the same time a far superior movie Sling Blade finished 31st. I was outraged. "This is what is freaking wrong with America," I declared to no one but was overheard by the Ike Reilly lovin' blue eyed intern who sits next to me. I guess she can't help but listen to my increasingly disturbing lunatic rantings every once and a while.

She was surprised that I didn't like Time to Kill a Sandra Bullock movie that people actually seem to like. I explained that it always disturbed me that the movie's message tried desperately to justify that sometimes murder is OK. She looked at me deeply for a moment and said, "Isn't the message of Sling Blade the same?" I thought about it for even a briefer moment and realized she had more than a point... she was right damn it. Oops, my bad again.

But that's OK because I'm going insane. The other night I had a dream where I was a contestant in the Miss America Pageant (I think I was still a guy but I'm not entirely sure). All I do remember is that I finished second which surprised many people and was a great disappointment to myself. I woke up with an overheated moaning kitty beside me and thought to myself, "Well that was rather disturbing. I wonder what that meant?"

The only other thing I remember about the dream is that there was a cameo appearance by a recently departed co-worker, the one who actually used to laugh at my jokes once in a while, the one smart enough to list Ted Williams' book of hitting on her all time favorite books even before he became a sad frozen stiff. I'm not sure what she was doing there and I'm not even sure what role she played in all this. After not sleeping for the rest of the night (of course) I thought about something this co-worker and I discussed during the legislative session, an idea others might think another typically forced spitting into the wind by me, but she thought was rather amusing if not clever. It is my goal for the state of Minnesota to secede from the union and form its own country after annexing the Dakotas for more land. The name of my new country? East Dakota of course. In East Dakota there would be no taxes while you live, but everything that's left when you die goes to the government. In East Dakota we would only fund K-11 because everyone blows off their senior year. In East Dakota everyone would live in peace and harmony even the hypocrites and heartbreakers.

Monday, July 8, 2002

Heart's Not Broken. It Just Wasn't Right in the First Place

"If you want to write a song about a face/Think about a photograph that you really can't remember but you can't erase/Wash your hands in dreams and lightning/Cut off your hair and whatever is frightening"
-the ever erudite Paul Simon

If you could really take a taste of Minnesota Tomas German guessed that it would probably taste a little like an undercooked Asian waffle. German regularly offered that type of insight to his friends, his colleagues, his co-workers and anyone else who cared enough to try and decipher his mumble, most of whom tended not to stick around very long. He recently noticed a trend of people asking him a question and then leaving the room before he could offer up an answer. Thus it was and was not unusual that on a sweltering July day Tomas found himself alone sweaty (more from the intensity than the heat) with a thought, a question that was preoccupying his mind and just wouldn't leave him alone: what is art?

The germination of the question had been planted months before while he was on the phone talking to an amateur gardener who had once mattered a great deal, who he had lost contact with over the years even though she was the face that he to this day looked for in every crowd he faced. Towards the end of their unexpected phone conversation he asked her what music she was currently listening to because years back when they spent a brief moment of time together it was music that sealed their friendship. "Nothing in particular," she now said. "Music isn't all consuming the way it used to be." Her words took a while to sink in but somehow their meaning made German very very sad. Upon lingering reflection he wondered if he felt sad because it made him feel that somehow he hadn't changed as much as he thought he had since the day when the timing belt broke and everything seemed to go askew and her knees shook all the way home when they had accidentally run into each other without a word spoken? Or was he sad because he sensed his so called soul mate had changed significantly?

The sting of a bite of red pepper snapped him into the current moment as he found himself sharing a Pad Thai lunch order with the office intern (reflexive BJ snicker), Tina, a senior at Duke University, who sat in the cubicle next to his own. Tomas had already enjoyed the recent conversations shared with Tina, things two people assigned to work next to each other for a brief while might talk about: things that happened after work the night before; things that were hopefully going to happen after work that evening; an occasional thought, a glimpse, an insight, an interpretation of their lives' paths that had somehow managed to cross each other this particular summer.

Tina had just finished re-reading his favorite book, the lyrical story of a man trapped by his past and unable (or at least unwilling) to accept his present as he desperately tried to shape his own future- F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Tomas appreciated the fact that the story that had come to mean more and more over the years in his own life and the beauty of the writer's language and emotional expression was having a similar impact on Tina. After they finished their lunch they both worked quietly at their computers digesting it all, thoughts somewhere both far and near. She left for home to make a mussel-less paella before he was able to ask her opinion of the question that the more he thought about the less he thought he really knew an adequate answer to.

No matter German actually had some rare plans for the evening going to a movie with one of his favorite newspaper reporters, Joy Deific, a friend who had been of particular importance during a time of a life changing moment that had happened nearly three years to the day. The two had planned on seeing the movie the critics were raving about, a collaboration between Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg, Minority Report, about the future where mere thoughts (feelings?) could get you arrested. The two waited for Joy's brother to show up at her house but he was late. They decided to go without him and she sped away in a red Triumph with a determination not to miss the previews. About half way to the theater he felt her hit the brakes and looked up ahead to see a cop at the side of the highway (no less monitoring their thoughts). He asked the driver how fast she was going. 83 in a 55. The cop took no action.

Image wise the movie was another that struck Tomas as something that might be considered art although the story seemed to have a hole or two. He thought about recent movies that had cut through his own personal clutter and had impressed him as much as they had changed his own way of thinking: Mulholland Drive, Vanilla Sky, and The Princess and the Warrior. All three had complicated swirling nonlinear stories with ambiguous meanings pulsated forward by the vision of a director with something that seemingly needed to be said, the message of which was more intuitive than perceived where the characters ended up questioning their own identities and realities and beliefs. Perhaps art was the space between imagination and memory, the difference between a thought and a feeling.

It was these types of movies that now made the most sense to Tomas. Maybe it was a pretentious distraction of a convoluted narrative but it was as if day to day life was now making too much sense and he realized that the whiskey soaked demons still existed only they were just being bored to death. Over the years he had learned the lesson something that probably was apparent to everyone else about life in a nutshell (me shell): that once life is gone it means the same thing as dying.

He had tried to convey the message to his young lover CB Jones when she told him she was thinking of selling her soul to the devil for revenge and that she was starting to lose belief in God. She loaned German her window air conditioner as they watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Buffy is stung by a demon and ends up oscillating between the world she has always perceived- that of demons and vampires and HUGE responsibilities- and a world where she is in a mental institution with her parents trying to convince her all that she has come to believe is a delusional fantasy. The episode scared Tomas, like great art might, into remembering a similar situation in his own past and he couldn't unwind.

He once worked in a record store had recently rediscovered his love of playing the piano: insomnia battled with a plunked out midnight tune, not meant for human ears but meant to somehow reconnect with the piano player's own heart. His own rather large collection of CDs lately had grown by five or six as some of his favorite artists(?) had come out with new work (but who knew or cared?). Yet none of the music mattered, none of it sunk in. Fighting the tide, the all too near but should be somewhat over by now gnawing reminiscence in his brain (or was that his heart?- it was his own personal theory that unlike others he was hooked up so that his brain was responsible for feelings and his heart controlled the thought aspect of things thus a sudden lack of spontaneity in his life- he needed something dependable and familiar) he remembered far back to his final months in high school when he would day after day get ready by listening to John Lennon's first post-Beatle album whose penultimate moment was a rejection of all that had come before. "The dream is over and what can I say?" It was an intimate declaration from an artist(?) that German could and could not relate to- from the deathly pale apple green album cover to the stark songwriting to the primal scream laced yet delicate singing- it was the most personal music the listener had ever heard- and that was what made it such a great piece of art.

He was reminded of Lennon's album while trying to work up a similar ear for Lauryn Hill's second CD, Unplugged 2.0- a similarly personal testament from an artist(?) trying to distance herself from her past while suffering from the benefits of the success brought on by who she once was. The former Fugee's first solo CD was a wondrous mixture of hip-hop, R&B, folk and blues. The follow up effort was the singer alone with her guitar singing about how hurt and betrayed she felt by those that expected something, that thought they knew something by who she was before.

Was this art or was it just a few pages that more properly belonged in some spiral bound notebook serving as a journal- a place to vent as much as express (and not share?). The music was difficult and angry and uncomfortable but above it all immensely (and admirably) personal. If one thought they cared about the creator of the music, if one thought they cared about what was once previously shared couldn't one at least try to care that this was where the artist(?) is currently at and that the straightforward songs themselves were probably as significant (if not as accessible) as anything that particular writer has ever attempted to do? Or was it more arty to be ambiguous like the Nashville group Lambchop whose recently released CD, Is a Woman contained dense and jarring lyrics that didn't seem to make any literal sense but still managed to convey a deep emotion. "The last thought that you think today/has already happened/the link between profound and pain/covers you like Sherwin Williams."

It was that last line that got to Tomas and wouldn't leave him alone. He went out and commissioned yet another painting from his favorite local painter, Deanna Renelt who had already painted several pieces based on photographs of the last woman to break Tomas' heart. At the same time he looked at the most famous room in his house, his pink bathroom that accurately suggested he had bought his house from an elderly woman, and decided it was time to repaint despite the conversations the previous hue had inspired. German called his recently out of work writer friend, the green belt Tae Kwon Do kicker Lisa Hilton who spent all of one day diligently turning the room into something he could live with. After she left he stood in the middle of the tiled room and noticed the different mood that the fresh coat of paint invoked, a similar feeling to the commissioned paintings.

One thing he never meant to do (and asked those around him to kill him if he ever did do) was to deliberately repeat himself. He wanted (almost desperately so it turned out) to keep moving forward, keep on keeping on as it were. For the most part Tomas was successful in that goal- he had come so remarkably far from the time he had run across the seamstress he had run across in Australia who he had unmercifully criticized for taking a leak when they pulled off to the side of the road (his German sensibility just got the better of him just about the time they were both leaving) to the time he had become a proud homeowner- a proud professional dream chaser downer. A decade before when he was far past throwing in the towel he looked at those who thought they knew him well (and probably did more than they ever knew) and they looked back with a not knowing quite what to do, what quite to make of him, what quite to say, look in their reflective eyes. Having just escaped a diagnosis of needing electro-shock therapy to right himself (or at the very least- least indeed- to live in some group home type situation where he could be properly if not medicinally monitored) he decided if everyone thought he was a tad unstable the least he could do (and never let it be said he didn't do the least he could do) he would f%*k with their minds and do something they would wonder about, shave his noggin; normal people didn't after all, just go out and cut off all their hair in one moment. He was glad he did. He later met a voice on the phone who had suffered a head trauma and had righted herself by cutting all her possessions to pieces right before she walked away from him on a gray day because of his racial face. With his (somewhat) new look, he thought he looked good, that if nothing else his head was shaped right even if it were to never again quite feel right, and that in the hot weather things would seem a bit cooler. Practicality he said. "What's that about?" somebody dressed as Liz muttered.

Now nearly a decade later the German Tomas decided he again needed some sort of change to mix things up in a mixed up state of mind (and world). He could change his glasses (but it wasn't exactly "that type" of vision problem) or he could do something more radical. This time would be different Tomas said to himself noting that at the very least he was living in a different place and that too the seamstress was mostly a fictional memory (a far off, long distance voice that seemed as far away and near as the space between Duluth, MN and the Twin Cities). So he once again shaved off his hair in lieu of Botox treatments not so much as a "hope they notice this is an artistic statement" type of action but more of a self-necessary nothing too think about change of pace. If there was something wrong they could always just ask.

Art is inspiration.

Monday, July 1, 2002

Am I Too Blue?

Why should I listen to . . . whatever when I can listen to John Coltrane?"

"I like rock clubs, big clubs like First Avenue in Minneapolis or the Fillmore. Any place people can stand up and have a drink."
-Lucinda Williams

No one hates my writing more than I do (although the race for second would be mighty populous, close, and perhaps even electoral). My friend Spunky had it right on the money when he said I know how to write things exceedingly well but I have nothing really to say.

But that's OK at least I'm smart enough to know that writing is about reading, and more specifically reading great writers. And that's why I endured stifling heat on the smothering dance floor of First Ave., shoved against a staircase railing, after a night where I got a quality one freaking hour of sleep after having a friend over who told me she no longer believes in God (and the best I could do was to hug her and send her home with a picture of Max the Cat), to see the writer Time Magazine last year called America's finest songwriter, (a title I wouldn't dispute if you don't count anyone named Bob), Lucinda Williams.

And what a marvelous show it was. I was a bit worried going in having just read that four days prior Williams had a show in Vegas where she came out 75 minutes late, played three songs and then announced she wasn't feeling well, turned around and left her band to face a not too pleased crowd. Now since I'm at least as temperamental as any hissy fit prone but up to this point always gracious celebrity I can hardly call someone on any prima donna like behavior . In fact somehow it made me relate to the artist on a level I'm not sure I'm qualified to relate on. There are moments in life it's just best to realize things are not going to go well in the near future and the best bet is to pack it up and try some other time.

The place was packed to the gills and she came out looking way too slim but a bit too cool to be forgotten dressed in a black tank top (that made her almost look as good as another favorite writer who recently visited me in her Liz Phair T-shirt). The band immediately fired up a fiery and moving "Drunken Angel." 16 songs later the highlight of the evening was the five(!) new songs performed, all five which point to a must hear next CD. Included in the five new songs were "Ocean of Love" ( nice little ballad that provides a nice response to Dylan's epic "Highlands"), "Righteously" (a funky song that explains all the music we need in this world was played by John Coltrane), "Minneapolis" (which was an obvious crowd favorite- "I was wasted, angry and sad when you left Minneapolis..."), "American Dream" (which sounded ripe for a Johnny Cash cover with it's sardonic but appropriate refrain, "Everything's wrong"), and "Little Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings" that she dedicated to Paul Westerberg ("a brilliant songwriter). The new songs were a reminder (and at the same time a revelation) that there is a difference between death and failure no matter how closely those two roads sometimes intertwine. Those that can keep that in mind are those that are probably able to somehow "Get Right with God" in some small manner and in some internal sense.

Other highlights of the evening was a blow the roof off the dump rendition of "Pineola" the best rocking song about a suicide ever written; and "Essence" which may have held an extra special place to my heart seeing it was the only song that I had an uninterrupted sight line to the singer and her ever expressive voice and uncanny ability to write a line that cuts through the divide between the heart and the brain, the imagination and a lingering bugger of a memory.

I had arrived about a half an hour before the doors opened after giving serious consideration to skipping the show altogether- "ying yang" indecision Lucinda might call it. I at first thought I didn't want to endure the crowd, the heat, the traffic, and all else but this was a performer I was so impressed with when I saw her last summer and whose CDs continue to peel away some of the clotting around my own heart as she opens up her own. I was too late to get a table or a seat on the ledge off to the side of the stage. Instead I staked out a spot by the stairs (where I figured I could step up if Manute Bol were to stand in front of me) and where I could also sit down clearing enough space and a clear view to the stage.

I was soon joined by a couple from Hudson (he being the president of the Wisconsin ACLU and she being a dental hygienist who reminded me enough of my former wife to be, Stephanie Jane). She asked what I did for a living and I told her (at least for the next few weeks). She seemed genuinely interested and told me she had meant to get into journalism but turned to creative writing and later to working with little kids that led her to pediatric dental work. Over the next few hours (with an opening act we agreed we enjoyed, featuring Bob Dylan's ex-drummer, Winston Watson) we ended up pressed up against each other close enough that when the lights were raised and the crowd began to exit and we were separated I felt bad that I didn't have a chance to hear how she enjoyed the show. The whole tale could probably make a decent Lucinda Williams song.