Monday, June 24, 2002

Don't Touch Me

Who would have thought a decade ago that it would come to this? Loosely based on an idea from Cliff the first newsletter was produced in the basement of #80 ten years ago this week. It looked a little different, typed out on an actual electric typewriter, ten pages of one column copy slapped on ripped out paper from an old typing class practice book found while pricing out green tag junk sold at Landfill.

The editor at the time played by TV's George Takei was a little younger, a little more naive, a load less weary, a little less gray, and knew a little bit more than he knows today. He never could envision that ten years later he would still be doing the newsletter mostly done Saturday nights, developing a rhythm over the years, a routine: music carefully picked playing in the background, a load or two of laundry being washed out of sight, a kitty craving some attention wandering every now and then between his feet as the man struggled to decipher some scratched out handwriting.

Of course none of this would have been possible without all the wonderful often times amusing contributions made over the years, the voices come and gone (and those still remaining), and the paycheck (hey, just when do I get a raise?) provided by the man who has taught me more than just about anyone else I've ever known.

It also wouldn't have been possible had it not continued to be a kick working for a company dealing in one of the most joyous elements of life- music. That said with a spate of recent CDs that qualify as must listens (the two! Tom Waits, Lauryn Hill, Wilco, Gary Wilson, Elvis Costello, Paul Westerberg, Mason Jennings, Neil Young, David Murray, etc.) I must admit I was feeling a bit burned out and strangely emotionally distant from trying to digest all the new songs from some of our most talented songwriters (I've been in a Nick Drake mood as of late). Unlike usual, nothing much was seeping in until I came across a disc that came out a few months ago that I had been meaning to listen to but just recently got around to playing for the first time- Kasey Chambers' inspired Barricades and Brickwalls.

Chambers has been described as a young Australian version of Lucinda Williams. Such a label isn't necessarily fair- it's like calling Sandra Bullock a Hollywood version of our favorite purse sewing seamstress who went to Simley High in Inver Grove Heights. Like Williams the music is a mix of country, blues, and rock. And like Williams, Chambers' voice has a quirkiness that adds an emotional nuance to the solidly written self-penned songs (indeed Williams makes a guest backing vocal appearance on one track) though as a lead singer she sounds more like Iris Dement to these ears.

The songs themselves are about heartache, loss, and love. The title track strikes a defiant tone "I'll be damned if you're not my man before the sun goes down..." that works as a nice metaphor for a young songwriter trying to make a statement on her second major label release. My favorite song, "A Little Bit Lonesome" sounds like a long lost Hank Williams track. It's so sad that it makes your back hurt although the humor of the writer shines through and ultimately serves as some sort of redemption. "I'm gonna drink you out of my head." Perhaps the catchiest song amongst the bunch is the driving "Runaway Train" that somehow sounds sensuously sinister with a foraging no hostage melody accompanying Chambers' confident, almost menacing vocal.

The CD is admittedly less an artistic achievement than some of the aforementioned discs but it is the one I'll be playing more than any other this summer. Given her youth the 25-year-old Chambers has probably had fewer life lessons than those other songwriters but she ain't exactly Kylie Minogue either. It will be interesting to listen to her growth as a songwriter on subsequent records; indeed the development since her first disc The Captain is impressive enough. Chambers herself has said the first disc was more of an introduction while the follow up is a "many moods of..." disc. Who knows? Maybe the newsletter will even be around ten years from now to chronicle some of that growth.

Why u Wouldn't Want to be Stuck on an Island with D. Ma

Editor's note: I find it somewhat ironic that in the tenth anniversary issue of the newsletter we have a number of lists submitted. When I interviewed with former GM Scott Kuzma a decade ago for this job I was known for organizing top ten lists within my store. I joked with Scott that if we couldn't fill up the publication with articles I could always resort to lists. Scott scowled at me...Thanks for the idea Sam.

Beach Boys- Pet Sounds
Liz Phair- Exile in Guyville
Coleman Hawkins- Hawk Flies High
Frank Sinatra- Watertown
Bob Dylan- Street Legal
Lucinda Williams- Lucinda Williams
Tubby Esquire- Return of the Last Castrato!
Barry Manilow- Greatest Hits
L7- Smell the Magic
Lyle Lovett- Road to Ensenada
Paul McCartney- Red Rose Speedway
Cibo Matto- Stereo Type A

Monday, June 17, 2002

Blaze of Speed or Glory

There are two questions. One, how do you deal with the first major bobblehead disappointment of your life? And two, has commerce really killed the enjoyment of our greatest creation? At the sprightly age of 37 (tho' a very old 37) I think I discovered that the two questions aren't necessarily unrelated.

Last Sunday one of the state's leading election officials and I attempted to continue our impressive streak of being one of the few to have all the bobblehead dolls handed out by the Minnesota Twins. Per our usual routine we got down to the dome by 8 a.m., a good three hours before the gates would open. But unlike our previous experiences we saw a line wrapped around the dome far from our gate. There was no way either one of us wanted to sit on hard cement for hours and still most likely not get a doll. So we went and ate breakfast and walked around downtown Minneapolis instead.

Unlike the previous eight dolls given away the latest was of an actual current Twins player, the bubble blowing gold glove first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. And it was because of that bubble that I really wanted to continue my quest and was disappointed by my failure. If only I had woken up or at least gotten out of bed at 4 a.m.

Some of you might recall that last year I decided to be proactive avoiding future heartbreak by not going for the Kirby Puckett Hall of Fame doll. At the time I figured my streak inevitably would eventually end and I wanted it to end on my own terms. It felt funny not being at the dome that particular Sunday but I was proud that I had conquered a potential addiction. Unfortunately the end of that story was a successful bid on eBay to acquire the little fist pumping Kirby for a mere $75.

So to have my quest ended by 10,000 others, people like that annoying kid behind me that spent the entire game kicking my seat with an occasional screeching scream at the top of her lungs, indeed hurt much more than what I thought was an admirable self inflicted sacrifice. I wanted that one more doll for my collection dammit. When I got home that evening I tried to think of ways to take my mind off my disappointment. Watch the sixteen hours of Charlie's Angels I had taped? Nope, not in the mood. Traipse off to Cassettas for a tasty cannoli? Nope too fattening. Instead I went to bed like I do most nights, cranky and ornery.

Fortunately I had tickets for the following game featuring the return visit of the Atlanta Braves for the first time since the 1991 World Series. It was a wonderful game, eventually won by the Twins in the fifteenth inning. The game featured a five run first inning by the Twins against future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (a good thing). It also featured typical Maddux artistry (in every sense of the word) for the next six innings as he had the Twins batters off balance with his astonishing assortment of pitches, changing speeds and locations like a gypsy moth (another good thing). What a delight to watch. The Braves eventually tied the game off an increasingly ineffective Eric Milton (a bad thing).

In the 12th inning a loud clap of thunder rang through the plastic teflon covered stadium drawing one of the louder cheers of the evening. After that the constant din of a heavy rain hitting the roof echoed throughout the place sounding like artificial applause. When Twins catcher Tom Prince raced home from first on a Cristian Guzman liner off the baggie in the bottom of the 15th, fans seemed reluctant to leave their seats. Maybe it was the excitement of the win; perhaps it was the thought of going out into the Minneapolis monsoon, but I was one of the first to leave as I raced up the stairs and through the revolving doors alone into the downpour. Paul McCartney's "Band on the Run" played in my head as I ran faster than Lola to my car parked a mile away.

I had a few days before participated in my first softball game of the season subbing for an injured player. In my first at bat I beat out a grounder to short. (I'll never forget my favorite city planner's comment that she liked watching me play softball because it was one of the rare times she saw me happy and she liked watching me run. Just like the wind. Lyrical as a lark, like a gazelle on prozac...) My new teammates complimented me on my speed, which surprised me since my legs felt like lead and I was reluctant to go full speed in fear I'd pull a groin (most likely my own). But nights later I was glad racing through that rainstorm that I had gotten a little exercise beforehand. I may have keeled over otherwise. Instead I felt a certain sense of exhilaration.

Splashing through the puddles, drenched by the time I got to my car the thought of missing a bobblehead wasn't much in my mind anymore. Nope, this time my own head was bobbing as I turned on the radio to the soothing sound of my new favorite song, Norah Jones' dulcet "Don't Know Why" the perfect end to a topsy turvy life lesson.

Monday, June 10, 2002

Fried Green Magnolias

Anyone who truly knows me knows that if there is but one love of my life it is going to the latest "chick flick" all by myself. Thus when I noted a vacation day happened to coincide with the opening of the new film The Secrets of the Divine Ya-Ya Sisterhood, I just knew I'd be spending the afternoon in the dark.

"All by myself" may not be an entirely accurate term. My "date" for the two hours was my sweetie Sandra Bullock who plays Sidda Walker a playwright who is being slowly driven mad by her mother Vivi (Ellen Burstyn). When Sidda admits as much in a Time Magazine interview joking that at least her wacky upbringing gave her plenty of artistic material to work with, Vivi is livid. Between sips of booze and yelping and cutting up family pictures, she disowns her daughter.

That's when the Ya-Ya sisters step in. The trio of Vivi's lifetime friends decide to kidnap Sidda to convince her that behind her mother's wacky behavior lies a secret that makes all forgivable. The story, based on books by Rebecca Wells, is apparently a hit with women readers who have formed sort of a secret Ya-Ya like club amongst themselves. Indeed I may have been the only male member (so to speak) in the audience at one of the first showings in the Twin Cities. I wasn't exactly looking forward to the movie- the previews I had seen made the movie look absolutely dreadful. It was only out of loyalty to Sandra that I decided to give it a try.

It took me a while to warm up to the characters. At first it all comes across as another tired film featuring witty eccentrics that have a zinger for every occasion. But it turns out the movie isn't exactly a comedy. There are some dark themes dealt with including alcoholism and physical abuse (with even a hint of incest) and by the end there is enough depth that the emotional climax of the movie has been earnestly earned.

Ashley Judd (who plays a young Vivi via flashbacks that comprise half of the movie) gives a versatile and absolutely mesmerizing performance. Her wonderfully ever twinkling eyes mask the utter ultimate collapse of her character. There is a scene where she has left her family, checked into a motel and awakes from her depression to find out she doesn't even know what day it is. She stares into the mirror for minutes and her hard and weary features express more than all the one liners and wacky plot developments we have seen thus far.

Besides Judd's performance perhaps the best part of the movie comes right at the very end as the closing credits roll over a shot of twinkling candles. Out of the void, a light waltz begins to play accompanied by the last voice you'd expect to hear in a "chick flick" (I guess the movie earns that label because instead of action sequences we get a story about relationships and carrying the scars caused by others). It's a brand new Bob Dylan song, "Waiting for You." Dylan's voice is as expressively croaky as ever and his splendid love song sums up the emotions of the movie with wit.

"Happiness is but a state of mind/ Anytime you want, you can cross the state line/You don't need to be rich or well-to-do/I'll be around, waitin' for you."

Bullock by the way gives a nice understated performance that has a bit more emotional depth than we've seen before. Having lost her mother to cancer last year the story about a difficult mother/daughter love for each other no doubt must have appealed to the actress reading the script for the first time.

A movie spent with Bullock and Dylan and ironically another ended up on my mind and in my thoughts and heart. My favorite heavy breather recently has talked to me about difficulties she is having with her mother. A recent phone call in which she banged her knee on an open drawer reaching for the phone left plenty of pain but not as much as what else is apparently going on in her life. I doubt I'm the one to be discussing such matters with but it has always meant a lot whatever she shares with me. Not being able to offer much advice, I dearly hope she sees this movie with her mother. The ultimate message is a worthy one- that our scars often prevent us from taking the chances that we should take and there are some moments in life that define us and that can either make us a better person or weaken us in a way that we'll never quite recover from. You don't want to wait until it's too late to realize that those who hurt us most can maybe even be the ones we will miss most in the end.

Monday, June 3, 2002

Is This When Ebert Misses Siskel?

Anyone who truly knows me knows that if there is but one love of my life it is the German cinema. Thus I often spend hours contemplating what exactly my life may look like through the lens of a German filmmaker.

Contrary to popular belief my life hasn't always been about fleeing spontaneity at all costs, locked up in a safe environment where a burnt out light bulb can just add to growing days of darkness. Nope, there have been periods (granted brief in tenure like a sudden super nova) that would actually make some pretty good material in the hands of one of them strong black coffee swigging, Capri cigarette holding, effeminate young male Germans, decked in black with an equally bleak look on the nature of things.

I remember seeing a German flick once about a guy who had a bit of an emotional breakdown. All hope was gone. They locked him up for a while in a hospital and the only memories he would have of the place years later was the first time his doctor took him outside for a stroll and they ended up on the roof (of all places!) that was of course encased in a wire fence cage. Ultimately he left the place against the doctors wishes to try to figure his way out on his own terms (a much better way to die he thought than being zonked out on medications and zapped by electric shock therapies.) (Ironically by the way, I recently gave up my addiction to Sweet Tarts just as the news hit the wires that placebos are just as effective as anti-depressants in fighting the blues.)

The hero of this foreign movie ultimately stumbled across his Australian soulmate and the two of them hit the road on an unforgettable (and rather haunting) road trip. He ended up writing a novel about the experience. A reporter ends up asking him the story behind the novel and he reveals it is more interesting than the story in the book itself. The traveling partner ended up a purse sewing seamstress living off one of the Great Lakes. A decade after their trip he still wasn't quite over her and he missed the way she got his sense of humor to such a degree she actually encouraged him to smile whenever possible. He eventually died in a freak accident where he, entirely at random, got in the middle of a shooting in a downtown area. We see the scene over and over and that he dies wearing his favorite grey felt hat, the one he rarely ever wore just in special care free moments, seems to have some special significance.

I don't remember the name of that film if it ever existed. But this past week I saw another German movie that took my breath away equally as much as that other one. The Princess and the Warrior (Die Krieger und Die Kaiserin for all you German speaking people that literally translates "The Empress and the Warrior") is a fairy tale and a fable and a stunningly perceptive movie. It is the follow up effort of Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer and actress Franka Potente.

In its story the movie in a way reminded me of last year's fabulous French film Amelie. That movie was about a waif of a repressed woman who spends her life doing anonymously good things for people while searching for the person she thinks is her soulmate- a face that keeps showing up in various photo booths across the city. The Princess and the Warrior is about a similarly peculiar yet engaging young woman Sissi (Potente) who is a nurse at a mental institution.

Sissi becomes involved in an accident, ending up under a semi-truck with a blocked breathing passage. The man that caused the accident (a fact Sissi is never made aware of) crawls under the truck to escape the authorities and he performs a tracheotomy in a sequence that is difficult to watch and has an effective sexual overtone that makes it vital to the rest of the story.

The man disappears and after she recovers from her injuries Sissi devotes her time in trying to track him down. When she eventually finds him she learns that Bodo wants nothing to do with her. He is a sad man stuck in time, a moment when his young wife died in a gas station accident while he was in the men's room. His brother describes Bodo's situation as being "stuck on that toilet." But Sissi is convinced it is fate that brought the two of them together and refuses to give up figuring out the way forward for the two of them.

The movie is about coincidences and whether or not life is about random events or whether or not a greater plan exists. Potente is terrific in the lead role, giving a subdued performance that ties together the fairy tale elements of the story and roots it all in a bizarre reality. Like Amelie the cinematography is unique and stunning, unlike standard American fare. This is a movie to savor and won't leave you alone as close as it might hit home to certain Japanese Amercian types.