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...