Monday, December 27, 2004

2004+10 = 40

10) Wilco at the Orpheum- The guy behind me kept saying in an overly loud voice, "This is the best f%^king show I've ever been to." He may have been exaggerating a bit but the band, so hopelessly obsessed by studio trickery proved that it could rock with the best of them. I didn't like Ghost is Born so much but after hearing the live version of "Spiders" I was reminded that Wilco is a band I'll always listen to no matter how much they may initially annoy me.

9) Brian Wilson Smile- Finally finishing and releasing the long awaited (over thirty five years after it's scheduled release) lost masterpiece we finally got to hear what all the fuss was about. It's a great piece of music- a song cycle that takes us all across America, through time and through the heart of a great songwriter. Seeing Brian perform the entire thing live at the Orpheum was a magical thing.

8) Lucinda Williams at the Minnesota Zoo- She had recently canceled a few shows on the tour due to the death of her mother but Lucinda seemed in terrific spirits as she joked about playing in such close proximity to the animals. When she sang one of my all time favorite songs, "Am I Too Blue?" I almost fell out of my seat. So simple, so beautiful, so true (and blue too).

7) Prince at the Xcel Energy Center- Good lord almighty the little fellow can put on a show. From his searing guitar playing to his fantastic singing to his eye opening dancing he ran through most of his hits in his catalog. At times stunning at all times terrifically entertaining, it's a show/night that I'll thankfully never ever get out of my system . I only wish I had bought tickets for the other two shows at the same venue. That I got to go to the show with the still most beautiful soul I've ever known was an appropriate linking to Prince's inspired performance.

6) Creative Nonfiction Class at the Loft- When the fairly recently graduated Blue-Eyed Editor mentioned that she was interested in taking a writing class at the Loft with me I jumped at the chance. For me it was an opportunity for some structure in a never relenting nagging hobby. When the instructor asked us why we were taking the class I said something about writing this newsletter for the past ten years and how that meant I was pretty much writing the same thing over and over. My classmates chuckled. I wasn't exactly joking and the class did afford me the opportunity to stretch some muscles that were in the need of working some kinks out.

5) Bob Dylan's Chronicles Vol. 1- I must admit I sorta cringed upon hearing that Bob was writing his memoir. Despite all the astounding music he has written and performed in over 40 years it remains doubtful how much we truly know about who he really is. Dylan seemingly knew from the start that the best way to avoid failing to meet expectations was to continually leaving those paying attention wondering what to expect from him next. This autobiography is perhaps the best auto biography I've ever read (even better than Miles Davis' or Charles Mingus'). Dylan takes memories of his past, that may or may not be entirely accurate and follows them wherever they lead. It's like dropping a big glass ball on to the floor and following each and every chard wherever it lands. His mind is so unique and his writing ability is truly something to behold no matter the medium.

4) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind- I loved this movie because it explored why we remember the things that we remember no matter how much they bother us. I loved this movie because it was also about how the things we forget can ultimately be the things that hurt us most. I loved this movie because behind its visual beauty it was ultimately about holding on to the things that may long be gone because they are what bind together the fabric of who we are and will forever be.

3) The Upper Wing- I finally got around to finishing the attic of my house into a master bedroom and bathroom. It's something I've wanted to do since buying my house eight years ago. My contractor did a great job and as I lie night after night under the stars that peep out from the skylights I can sometimes even allow myself to marvel at the wonder of it all.

2) Ike Reilly Sparkle in the Finish- I waited a long time for this CD to arrive. When Ike's website went online in early 2003 it said that the CD would come out in the fall. Two falls later it finally did and the wait was well worth it. Ten terrific songs from a terrific songwriter that rock and roll and are just as great to listen to as you wait in traffic as they are when you finally hit the long lost road.

1) Turning 40- It was in grade school when I began having a recurring dream/vision that I wasn't long for this world and I wouldn't make it past 40. So this was a rather big year for me. That I'm still chugging along surprises me and I'm even able to occasionally admit that where I'm at now is a good thing now and again.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Nothing Lasts Forever in the Cold December Rain

"A bad writer is just a good writer with writer's block."
-Bucky Katt

After giving me my airline snack of apple juice and buttery pretzels the stewardess looked at the book I was reading, Bob Dylan's memoir, Chronicles Vol. 1. She asked how it was. I said good although it later occurred to me that she may have been talking about my apple juice. If I had known I would have said the whole thing was sticky. The ride was nearly over and we were preparing to land. I always read with amusement those personal ads in the independent weekly newspapers, the ones that list a person's turn on's and turn off's. I'm not sure what I would list if forced to do so. Bad hygiene perhaps. Rude behavior probably. Landing in the dark- bingo! I hate being on a plane at night when the weather is bad and you can't see the ground until the last second. I like to know where I'm going. I like to see that there is something down below.

For a guy with a growing case of agoraphobia I sure do get around. This year alone I've taken trips to Portland Oregon, Auburn Alabama, and now Toronto Canada, sort of the Sunni triangle of North America.

This would have been nothing in past days as I used to love the freedom and adventure of going to a place I had never been. As lost as I often felt at home in my own skin the feeling of seeing some place new was quite appealing.

But now even if the trip is scheduled and booked by another, even if all I have to do is step on to an airplane and follow a mapped out route it seems to be daunting to the point of being paralyzing. I'm not sure exactly what's changed or how I've gotten to this point nor do I know where the line is between irrational fears and the people on the streets of any big city you visit who are mumbling to themselves living from day to day.

I had troubles. I found myself in the office of a minister telling him that after having seen a boatload of psychiatrists and psychologists with their cures of medicines and electrical currents I had decided my problems seemed to be more spiritual than psychological. He listened intently. I asked him if there were relevant passages of the Bible I should be reading which of course is a bit akin to unfolding a roadmap and asking someone to point to relevant places to go.

I had stopped writing, which for me was like the disease, but for those I spoke with was merely an annoying symptom. But it wasn't a writer's block it was the absolute terror of what I needed to write even if I wasn't sure what that exactly was. It just seemed like I shouldn't be writing what I needed to write. That voice that had always guided the words on paper was gone and when I mentioned this to the doctors they were alarmed at the confession I heard voices. When I mentioned it felt like God's voice was gone the minister seemed more like a clinician, another expert with a degree.

My writing wasn't merely an outlet for emotions or a canvass for expression it was part of who I was. Losing my writing was like cutting off a limb an analogy with now serious consequences as I watch every day with growing and loving admiration, a special soul, a cat who is getting by in life with only three legs. As important as something may be to surviving sometimes you just cut it off so the rest can remain and you can go on.

I left the minister's office feeling more lost than ever. And that's when I took a trip out west. I had been there before. My sister lived in Los Angeles but this was different. There was no itinerary or purpose for going. I wanted to write and I knew that the world was bigger than any problem that was wearing me down. It wasn't a matter of digging deeper within it was a matter of looking further out. I knew that, even if I was sure the minister and any of the doctors would have suggested I was running away.

Out west I went here and I went there. I didn't make it everywhere. But I did some writing. I would drive to a secluded area and sit for a while and then write whatever was on my mind. It mostly was all about stuff back home but I didn't care. Someone had to get it down. When I came home I fell in love and I carefully showed her some of what I had written. Her reaction was to tell me that my writing personal as it was couldn't ever mean anything to anyone who didn't know me. She eventually broke my heart so I headed out east to the other coast. Took a train this time. Philadelphia, Washington DC, Boston and everywhere in between. Went south far enough to see some historical Civil War stuff. Wrote a poem that was the best thing I had ever written. Wrote it on a train as the words rolled out of me faster than the tracks underneath.

Crickets grow silent whenever she's near/was it from comfort or out of fear?/A lucky rock a break or two/leaned on her crutches as good as new/A moth flips and flutters to its light /mended wing restores its flight/A walker in spirit the nurturing kind,/gentle friend with an original mind./She draws the map to all ahead/gave him a place to rest his head/Her knee had a screw, broken and scarred/the lone accident to which she starred/Her limp he saw before in a dream/Vitamin B ointment for self esteem.

Came back home and was comforted by the best friend I had ever had. Her daughters gave me bandages for my feet after I had tried to walk from work to home in a terrible blizzard one grave night tearing up the souls of my feet in the process.

Since then the trips have come fewer and farther between, slowing to a trickle, a mere crawl. Years back I did take a trip across the world (and back) but it was more of a trip to remind me where I came from not where I was going. As I got more serious about my job, about my life I guess, the option of just taking off and going somewhere had to be cleared by somebody else. I had to accumulate the needed amount of vacation hours and with the growing fear of leaving my home it just never seemed worth the effort. But perhaps the biggest difference about hitting the road between now and then is you can now connect to the Internet, the super information highway, from just about anywhere and read your emails and hometown newspaper. I used to just write on a rock. Now days you can't ever really get away.

So these days where anyone who is someone is going south to Mexico this winter, I decided to buck the trend and head the other way, north to Canada. And like trips past there really wasn't much of a plan. My boss was kind enough to pay for my ticket and hotel room and he plopped me down right in the heart of downtown Toronto with plenty to see.

Of course first came the incessant worrying. Who would take care of the kitties? Their favorite person in the world bar none. Could I afford to take time away from work when we remain ever incredibly and hopelessly busy? I'm not taking much time off anytime else so don't I deserve a few days now? How would I make it to the airport? I'd park my car in my 24/7 secure location downtown Minneapolis and take the light rail to the airport. How does one ride the light rail? The little redheaded girl and I took a long break one day and did a trial run. What if I don't make it through airport security what with my always-guilty look? They didn't look twice.

On the practice run to the airport with the little redheaded girl our return trip had us seated in seats facing away from the front of the train. I told her that when I was a kid my parents bought a station wagon that had a back seat where my brother and I sat. My parents thought that since the seat faced backwards it would give us a little area we could play and have to ourselves. It wasn't until the past few years that I revealed to my Dad that my brother and I hated that car because we couldn't see where we were going, just where we had been.

I arrived in Toronto late morning and took a cab to my motel. It was disorienting that the cabbie's accent was French rather than one of the Middle Eastern accents I've grown accustomed to hearing from that profession. It was also a little weird that the guy was wearing a limousine driver's outfit. On the ride I made a point to look for interesting places to visit. I paid particular attention once we got closer to the motel since I knew I would be doing a lot of walking. After checking in I decided to grab a bite to eat. Right outside my motel room window was a Japanese restaurant. A reasonably priced one at that. (I would only eat three out of my eight meals at Japanese restaurants despite that there were two within walking distance of the motel.) I also checked out the immediate vicinity but spent the evening in my room trying to draw a mental map of the next few days.

The next day the primary goal was to figure out the subway system and to find our CD store downtown. I looked up the address of the store and figured out where the nearest subway station was located. Once there I decided to buy an all day pass figuring I'd be riding the subway throughout the day and I didn't want to bother figuring out how to purchase the correct fare along the way. It turned out not to be an economically sound decision since when you are riding the subway you can't exactly spontaneously see when there is someplace that looks interesting to visit. Not knowing what I wanted to do or see necessitated that I do most of my traveling on foot.

The Yellow Pages ad to our store said it was within walking distance of the Bloor Street Station. I just hopped on to a train figuring I'd figure things out as I went along. Surprisingly the conductor called out Bloor Street two stops down from where I hopped on. I got off and walked up to street level. A light cold drizzle filled the air and with the address in hand I headed off. Of course is my nature I immediately headed the wrong way. The store's address was on Bloor Street West and the subway had dropped me off on Bloor Street East. I headed the direction that felt west but once I walked a few miles and was now out of any business type district as the numbers grew more and more out of range, I decided it was time to head back the other way. With the hood of my sweatshirt pulled up tightly around my head I thought I might look a little like a less than grown up Holden Caulfield, a somewhat average Cheapo customer.

It was quite the walk the other way so it was kind of comforting once I found the store to find somewhere that felt a little like home. It's a nice space in a nice area.

Much of what I had seen of Bloor Street was the typical big city chain store alley- The Gap, Pottery Barn, Pier One, etc. Closer to Sonic Boom were independent shops and even a piano bar. There were some colorful names like Spotted Dick's and FCUK (French Connection United Kingdom) but once inside the CD shop things looked familiar. It's a nice store and atmosphere. I browsed through the recent arrival bin and found some stuff I wanted to buy but I felt it was my duty seeing where I was to buy something Canadian either Leonard Cohen or Shania Twain, maybe Gordon Lightfoot or Celine Dion or perhaps kd Lang or Alanis Morissette. Anne Murray? I could only be so lucky. I almost settled on a Neko Case CD but I figured she was only an honorary Canadian having gone to college there.

Instead amongst my other purchases I grabbed a Gabrielle Destroismaisons CD. She's from Quebec and the French titles of her songs caught my attention. I wanted to tell myself that the reason I chose her CD was that she mentioned one of her favorite artists to be Bob Dylan but honestly really it was her looks reminded me of the girl who sat across from me at breakfast that morning who I embarrassingly couldn't take my eyes off of. She looked like a combination of Elisabeth Filarski and Judi Dutcher and the girl next door I used to work by. She had to be at least the second most beautiful woman I've ever seen. As I browsed the store I couldn't help but wonder if all the United States produced CDs shouldn't have been filed in the International section rather than in the main bins of the store.

When I was a junior high school kid a new kid, Ted, moved to town from somewhere in Canada and I thought his Canadian accent had to be an exaggeration. "Hey did you see last night's owkey game?" I thought Ted was putting me on. But those speaking English in the establishments I visited really talked that way. And the whole country (at least all that I saw on TV) seemed to be in mourning about the National Hockey League's player lockout. The thing I remember most about Ted was he was the first person I met who had actually smoked a joint. I remember he offered me one but I didn't take it, although I did inhale. The sweet smell of the weed surprised me. I expected something much more poisonous. As I left the store on the street in front of me was a young man who looked blue collar and like he had a plan. He was puffing on a cigarette and every now and then he'd glance back at me as if he was afraid I was sneaking up on him. Some of his smoke wafted back to my nostrils and it wasn't tobacco he was smoking. Suddenly I was in Amsterdam or at least wondering what ever happened to Ted.

I headed on back towards the subway. The drizzle had turned into a light rain. The drops from the rain clouded my glasses as across the street I saw a big sign for the Bata Shoe Museum. The sign was too tempting to pass by so I stopped in looking something like an Asian Travis Bickell. The elderly ticket lady wasn't sure what to make of me and she sheepishly asked if I wanted to see the museum. I did. I did indeed. The first display featured the tiny shoes (though bigger than my own) of Monkee Davy Jones. Right nearby were the somewhat larger shoes of Michael Jordan.

I also got to see shoes worn by Marilyn Monroe, Tiger Woods, Winston Churchill and Elvis. Shaquille O'Neal's shoes could house my entire leg. The shoes of the Chinese women who had their feet bound were frighteningly tiny. What seemed like a goofy idea for a museum turned out to be great visit. The displays showed that throughout different decades and centuries how tastes changed to reflect the times. I decided the ornate beauty of the 1700's best captured my taste in things. My friend Spunky once told me he first judged people by the shoes they were wearing. It never had occurred to me up to that moment that such a thing was possible. And I'm not even sure how it is to be done. But a person in a good pair of shoes says something. The museum proved nothing if not that.

There's a box at the club I curl at full of what's labeled as "lost shoes." If I was in charge of the club I'd change the label on the box to read, "lost soles." That joke would never get old. The shoes are of all size and styles, not only all stripes but some swooshes as well. It would be interesting to decipher the story behind how each landed in that box. (If only shoes could talk- they do have tongues after all.) I doubt many people leave the curling club in their bare feet so it must have something to do with that most of us change shoes when we take the ice. We don't want to drag anything from the street on to that fresh sheet of ice. That would make it difficult to do the necessary sliding, make things a little too bumpy to play the game.

I could have walked around the streets with the music from my new iPod serving as some type of soundtrack, a musical backdrop to the sites of the city. At my disposal I had just about any relevant song in my collection at my fingertips available to color my thoughts like I was in some cinematic story. But I didn't want to do that. Whenever I'm in a different place I like to experience the place relying on all my senses. I needed to hear the sounds of the streets and the people as much as I cherished the smell of fresh fruit as I walked by an organic market. Toronto is a nice sized international city. It looked a lot like it does in all the movies shot there. Overcast skies and the constant drizzle gave the city that certain Midwestern industrial feel although the diversity of the faces was like opening up a broom closet only to find a spice rack full of flavors you'd never tried.

My first official acting job was as a pussy willow in a second grade play. My Mom sewed me a brown cloak that was supposed to have balls of cotton affixed but before that step I got sick and missed the performance. Gone was the chance to sing about shivering in the cold waiting for Jack Frost to arrive. I cried because I missed the big moment, my chance to shine. Mom comforted me by telling me there'd be other chances as she served me some chicken soup.

Walking the streets of Toronto I must have looked like I knew what I was doing. Two people approached me at different times and asked me for directions. I had to turn them away because I didn't know a thing. When I got back on the subway to head towards Queen Street, what was described as the bohemian part of town, I of course headed the wrong way and had to double back. Once I got to the right stop the rain was starting to freeze so I decided to cut my adventure short and go back to my room.

The next day I set off in the other direction where I found an interesting music store called Sam the Record Man's. They had an intriguing Japanese Bob Dylan import but the price wasn't right. I just kept walking. I saw signs for the Hockey Hall of Fame. I haven't been a fan of the sport since the late 80's and early 90's. What changed my mind about hockey I'm not quite sure as I spent many a wintry day ruining the ceiling of my parent's basement picking up a high sticking penalty or two playing my brother in a ferocious game of floor hockey in a much too small space. I remember being terribly disappointed in visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth on a family vacation. Turned out it was only the American Hockey Hall of Fame so I was not too impressed by the many names and faces of unrecognizable stars. Seemed to me like you should be recognizable to appear in a Hall of Fame. I think I gave up on hockey because it only reminded me of how much I hated winter. And Mary Meek. Besides a sport that takes place on a slippery surface seems to be trying too hard. But then I took up curling.

I was surprised by visiting the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame at how much of the sport's history I already knew. It was great fun seeing and touching the actual Stanley Cup but it was equally fun seeing a video clip that had a snippet of an interview with Gump Worsley, the Minnesota North Star goaltender who happens to hold the distinction of being the last goalie not to wear a face mask.

Just about everything else I know about Canada came from watching SCTV. The show mocked the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC). Even though I knew nothing of that station I still found the show's spoofs of the slower pace of Canadian TV (fishing shows, Doug and Bob McKenzie, Count Floyd, Floyd Camembert and Bobby Bittman) that tried hard to imitate American TV to be endlessly entertaining. Little did I know how on the mark those spoofs were. As I sat in my room at night surfing the Toronto stations I couldn't help but enjoy the real deal. I just hoped that I would come across a televised curling match. Leave it to the last day and I did. (Though in all honesty it was shown on NBC so it likely was broadcast in the States as well).

Long ago my friend Fernande (who used to torture me with all things French even though she knew it was the last nail) asked me if I wanted to take ballroom dancing lessons with her (she also knew my worsening aversion to being touched). I considered the idea quite seriously for awhile, kind of always fancied myself as a song and dance man, but ultimately couldn't do it. In my mind I still pictured the still black and white photos my parents took off the black and white TV when I squared danced at the halftime of the state high school boy's basketball tournament back in grade school. My partner that day, Shelley Loomis said I was swinging her much harder than normal. I do know the adrenaline of being in the spotlight was causing me to dosey doh much more energetically. I told Fernande that I wasn't sure how my square dancing experience would effect my ability to learn to ballroom dance. The concepts were similar but the moves were entirely different.

Wandering around downtown on a Saturday afternoon the sound of bagpipe players (dressed in their requisite knickers) competed with the homeless looking who felt it in their best interests to put on some type of competing show. One guy tinkled on a toy-sized xylophone. Another caterwauled in a tone that sounded so inhuman I wasn't sure it was until I passed him by. The faces of Toronto were the diverse faces of a big city. Mine blended in quite well I'm quite sure.

In 1995 on a trip out East I was visiting my friend Alex in Washington DC. We were in a Baskin Robbins seated at a table at the front of the restaurant with seats facing toward the street. As we were enjoying our ice cream a homeless guy sat in the bushes in front of the store in front of us. If he had moved down a few feet he would have sat on a ledge but he chose instead to mush the plants. Still I was a bit surprised that Alex criticized his actions. I'm the type of guy who often time drops a coin into a cup. It's hard to look at the homeless like you're supposed to act like there is nothing unusual about seeing someone lying on the street trying to stay warm in a ratty blanket. Still more often than not that coin has probably been more for my own conscience than any real relief it could possibly provide. Alex's unmatched skill and ability to get to the real heart of the issue thus eliminating the otherwise cloaking sentimentality was one of the things I admired most about her.

I passed a woman in the hallway of my Toronto motel and she was wearing a fragrance similar to the one that Alex used to wear (and I do wonder if she still does). It's funny how far the sense of smell can take you. I miss Alex's scent. I almost felt like turning around in the hallway and following the woman for a while just to keep the fading scent in my nose for just a while longer. If smells could be seen, her fragrance would be a combination of something between a vivid flash and a multi-colored pastel. The pattern would be as precise as it is bright like the lingering image you see when you close your eyes after looking at something intensely absorbing and brilliant.

One penetrating impression I thought about in Canada is this psychological notion of borders. Somehow being a Minnesotan makes us different from being a North Dakotan. Somehow St. Paul residents are different from their neighboring Minneapolis kin. But being in Canada did feel different than being in the United States. Maybe it was the accents, maybe it was watching Canadian television with Canadian focused news, maybe it was the currency. I never did figure out on my purchases if I was getting a good deal. It struck me that in my day to day life the people I see in the Minneapolis skyways or on the streets of St. Paul may recognize me out of familiarity but don't know a thing about me. Looking into the gazing eyes of the people I passed in Toronto I wondered if the people knew something about me that I didn't know about myself. I've often been told that it is hard to read me by looking at my facial expressions (or lack thereof) but the reflection in the mirror I see is rather transparent.

Occasionally a Canadian would look at me funny and I thought back to a few months before when in my job I had managed to piss off more than a few residents from up North. There is an election law that allows a United States citizen who has permanently moved from the country to cast a vote for federal offices in the jurisdiction that they last resided in the United States. The issue I ran into was many of these people now had voting age children who had never lived in Minnesota but still were United States citizens yet were ineligible to receive a ballot from me. So I got to be the lucky one who told these soon to be angry people that they didn't get to vote. As I wandered the streets of Toronto and got a sideways glance, or as I received less than friendly service at an establishment I thought about letting go of my standard zinger, "I've stopped people just like you from voting!" I declared in my head. Funny what power does to you.

The last place I visited on my trip was a warehouse sized book store appropriately named "The Big Book Store." The bright florescent lights couldn't have contrasted more with the gray moist heavy air from the outside. A cheerful twentyish woman with pony tails and dressed in one of the store's smocks smiled at me as I entered the store. She was carrying around an empty shopper's basket and I thought she might like me until I noticed all the employees wore the exact same smile. Their chirpy banter with the customers seemed both forced yet natural as if this was how the interactions had been prescribed and preordained. The store was huge- one floor full of nonfiction subject books like computers and business and humor and war. The upper level had fiction and music and poetry and more of the stuff I'm used to reading save for the self help section. The prices seemed about right- lots of books on sale and discounted but I didn't need anything I had to then drag home. I had already packed my bags. I stayed longer than I wanted to in the sterile store but I had time to kill. It was a little spooky the way the employees acted- like they were in some kind of cult just waiting to brainwash you into joining their cause, their church.

The longest conversation my entire time in Toronto was with the cab driver on the way to the airport. I asked him how much snow the city usually got and got a five-minute monologue about Canadian weather. He mentioned it doesn't get much colder than ten below Celsius and I asked him what that was Fahrenheit and he really wasn't sure. As he continued telling me about weather patterns across the country my mind flashed back to one of the last cognitive discussions I had with my Mom. I remember when I was a kid and we were all being exposed to the metric system because America was finally going to join the rest of the world (we're still waiting for that to happen) we were taught the conversion formula for Fahrenheit to Celsius and vice versa. I brought the information home and my Mom showed me another way to do it, an easier simpler way. It was something her advisor had shared in college. So during her illness we were watching the TV weather and I asked her again how to do the conversion and she pulled out a sheet of paper from the crossword she had been struggling on for days (she was a cross word puzzle expert) and tried to show me. She had forgotten though and I could see her frustration and not being able to remember something so ingrained. It was the morphine that dulled her eternally sharp mind.

I asked the taxi driver what the weather was like in Vancouver. He said it was warmer than Toronto but it rained almost all the time in the winter. He also said that the traffic there was horrible, the road system just wasn't designed to deal with the tremendous population growth the city has seen. Plus he added, much of that growth was due to the large Asian immigration and "no offense" Asians tend to be poor drivers. He was from Mississauga just northwest of Toronto, sort of the St. Cloud of Canada. It's the seventh largest city in the country as more and more people are moving to the outer rings of the Toronto metropolitan area.

I arrived at the airport three and a half hours before my flight home. I grabbed a bite to eat and then headed towards my gate. The line at the customs area was incredibly long- a room full of people wound around and wound around again by those ropes you see at banks. People were antsy that they would miss their flight but there was no way to speed up the process that involves having custom officers ask each traveler questions about their visit and where they were heading. After several minutes in line, a little boy in a skullcap standing behind me told his father, "I love you." It seemed like a strange thing to declare in the customs line. The svelte woman standing next to me was reading a book about breast-feeding.

When I got to the front of the line I said a cheery hello to the customs officer who looked a little too much like Dick Cheney. He asked me the purpose of my trip. This time it really didn't have as much to do with writing as it did searching. I told him I worked for a music retailer and was visiting our store in Toronto. He looked at the form where I was required to declare all my purchases. "What does your store sell?" he asked. I said compact discs. "Then why did you buy some here?" He asked. I told him our stores back home didn't have everything. I was going to point out my attempt to buy Canadian artists' music but figured that was more information than he needed to know. He let me go on.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Kids in the Hall or What 2004 was Really About

T'was the month before Boxing Day and all through the house, not a creature was still not even a juiced louse.

In a small (but expanding) abode in St. Paul three boys lived and this night was only different because all three were present and one of the boys (the one who was now beyond his expiration date) decided in the middle of the night that he no longer wanted three couches in the living room and the logical one to move was the sofa bed since there was room in the spare bedroom and the spare bedroom does need a bed after all.

Throughout his life the boy had a history of trying to execute decisions not fully thought out and often times he paid the price (that often times was more akin to a FAO Schwartz price than a Kmart price). Moving the couch because of its size and weight, was probably a multiple being job but since not all involved had all their limbs let alone opposable thumbs, the big boy gently led the other two feline sized boys into a section of the house where they would be out of the way and quickly shut the door that barricaded them from the moving activity.

The idea was to tip the sofa onto its side so that it would slide on its cloth upholstery through the opening of the living room into the hallway towards the bedroom. The boy was working on faith that the couch would actually fit through the bedroom door. Somehow, he figured, things would just work themselves out in the end.

The act of tipping was the first clue that the undertaking might be a tad more challenging than expected. The couch was heavy, even heavier than the burdens the boy had been carrying for quite some while. Pushing the couch was doable but maneuvering around corners was a chore. The boy got to a point where he could push no more so he decided to stand the thing up on end. Pushing it upright took all his might and as he held it in mid air he tried to in one motion guide it around the corner of the wall that was serving as an obstacle more daunting than its appearance. The boy pushed and pushed harder and the resulting noise indicated (though he didn't want to look) the scraping of paint from the wall and the scratching of his beautiful wood floor.

With determination and the skinning of knuckles and fingers he finally got the sofa into the hallway but there was nowhere left to go so he stood it up and decided to take a breather. He could hear the other boys rustling on the other side of a closed door, curious at what all the commotion was about and wondering why they were not involved. Hoisting the sofa up on end he knocked a carbon monoxide detector off its wall. "Oh well," the boy thought, "If I die tonight it probably won't be from an undetectable gas anyway."

The boy cooled down and caught his breath. Then he looked at what needed to be done. And there wasn't much to be done. The sofa couldn't move forward and wouldn't move back. He tried turning it. He tried twisting it but it just seemed to get further stuck in place. At this point he felt like crying. But he didn't. The lateness of the hour suddenly was a factor and sleeping on his problem became a tempting option. Instead he let the other boys out of their homey cage and they immediately went over to the sofa that they had never seen in that exact place in that exact position. One of the boys, whose nature caused him to constantly get into everything, immediately climbed his way to the very top of the couch a mere inches away from the ceiling. It was there he perched himself as if this was what all the work had been about. The other freed boy sat with a look of concern on his face as if he wasn't quite sure what to make of the new arrangement.

The option of sleep wasn't going to happen so the decision making boy put the others away again behind the closed door and contemplated what to do next. He decided it might be easier if the metal bed inside the sofa was detached so he got out his screwdriver and tried unscrewing from awkward positions. That was new.

Once the bed was removed the sofa was movable but the angles of the hallway and the narrowness of the bedroom door indicated there was no going forward as much as that was prayed for and desired. Instead the boy became content at trying to get the sofa back to its original position. With further scratching of the floor and nicking of the wall he managed to end up almost where he had begun. Only the bed wouldn't go back into the sofa so now it was useless. It had to be destroyed.

After putting its pillows back in place the sofa looked somewhat worse for the wear, now abnormally shaped. The boy opened the door and the other boys scampered out and again went straight for the object of the commotion. Together the three of them checked out and looked at what was and what was now in front of them and together they knew things wouldn't be quite the same ever again.

Monday, December 6, 2004

A Portrait of Everyday Eddie

Great art often times is born out of pain. Likewise great art can also inflict pain with its insight and eye (and wound) opening familiarity.

A good example of both is one of my all-time favorite CDs, John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band. The music portrays Lennon's feelings about the Beatles breaking up, the need for the Beatles to break up, his alienation about the world's rejection/revulsion of his relationship with Yoko Ono, and the after effects of his recent Primal Scream therapy where he literally tried to scream out the demons of hurts past- going all the way back to the death of his mother in his childhood.

It's an emotionally searing CD, difficult to listen to in life's lighter moments and as deeply personal and painful as the music is, it ultimately always leaves me feeling like I do after a long cry- sad, drained but somehow refreshed at finally letting out (and go) of some of the pain. Lennon screams and whimpers (and whispers) his way through music used as a cathartic device. The songs aren't as universal as say Lennon's best Beatles work like "In My Life" or "I Should Have Known Better" yet it is a fascinating study of an artist using his art to painfully express himself.

I kept thinking about this while watching Mike Nichols' new film Closer. The movie is not a pleasant viewing experience. It's basic purpose seems to be to make the viewer feel uncomfortable as we watch four not so nice people manipulate and hurt each other in malicious ways.

These people know the concepts of love and intimacy yet they don't seem to believe in the benefits of either.

I went to Closer with the New York Bound Blue-eyed Editor and she of course was the most appropriate one of my friends to go with since one of the great things about our relationship is the ability to talk about the relationships in our lives. After a tasty sushi dinner at the impressively refurbished Sakura in downtown St. Paul (where she made the observation the restaurant was full of very old people and very attractive young women) we were off to the movie.

Closer isn't exactly a date movie, more of a cinematic portrayal of what Liz Phair sings about in her "Divorce Song." "It's better to be friends than lovers/And you shouldn't try and mix the two/Because if you do it andyou're still unhappy/Then you know that the problem is you..." except one could argue that none of the characters in the film is a friend of any of the others.

Just like the state of the fish I had just eaten- the movie is full of raw emotion as two couples (played by Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen) screw with each other both literally and figuratively. Based on a play by Patrick Marber- Nichols' doesn't quite successfully transfer the story on to film- it feels staged and the dialogue driven story makes it feel like these actresses and actors are acting their brains out making us care even less about utterly unlikable characters.

But Closer is well made, thought provoking and ultimately a movie that etches its way into your psyche and irritates as it enlightens. Maybe none of us is quite capable of behaving as cruelly and selfishly as these characters yet there is something ever so recognizable about our ever present ability to hurt (and devastate) those that care about us most (and vice versa). Closer clearly cements the point that some people tell the truth in difficult circumstances despite the fact it will hurt another, others do the same precisely because they know it will hurt the other. And the consequences can be equally severe. Any revelations gained by the characters comes way too late. Or as Roger Ebert accurately writes in his thumbs up review of the movie, "Is there anything more pathetic than a lover who realizes he (or she) really is in love, after all the trust has been lost, all the bridges burnt and all the reconciliations used up?"


A better example of art as a painful experience is the BBC television series The Office. The 12 episode show is a devastating portrayal of human behavior in the workplace setting of a paper merchant.

Having heard and read great things about the series (including glowing recommendations from the Reporter and her husband The Attorney and also David Letterman who said that after having watched the show he didn't need to watch any more TV since nothing could ever be better), I have to admit my high expectations were not met by the first few episodes.

My measuring stick for television excellence of course is Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Office as clever as it is, doesn't have the emotional layers of the best Buffy episodes. The humor of the show (brought out effectively by the pseudo-documentary style) is based on how unaware human beings can be of the way others truly view each other. Ricky Gervais plays the manager of the office, David Brent, note perfect as David who thinks he is beloved by his staff couldn't be a bigger putz. The rest of the cast of the show is equally stellar, particularly Mackenzie Crook who plays the militaristic Gareth Keenan, Brent's assistant manager who is perhaps the most likable TV creep of all time.

The Office isn't exactly situational based comedy as the storylines are organic and subtle. Rather the plots are character driven often times based on the childish observations of David and Gareth. Yet it isn't exactly humor based on stupid behavior; instead the show makes you uncomfortable at how utterly clueless the characters are about their own behavior. The show doesn't seem to want to make you laugh comfortably but rather laugh nervously as you cringe at the dynamics of the interactions of the workplace.

The heart of The Office comes from a not to be, and at times painfully mis-timed romance between the two most sympathetic characters, Tim and Dawn. Tim sits next to Gareth and spends half of his time egging on his co-worker's worst tendencies and the other half of the time astounded by Gareth's sometimes rather psychotic thoughts. Dawn, the receptionist seems at a loss at what to do about her life, her relationships (she's engaged to an obnoxious warehouse worker) and her feelings for Tim.

The show's funniest moments are when David does something he thinks will make him more liked, but his behavior is absurdly inappropriate and the others in the office just stare at him in disbelief. The show is good at bringing the viewer into a familiar place htat exists in a thousand other places yet turning the situation on its head and deriving laughs from how painful human interaction (and the lack thereof) can be.

My favorite of the twelve episodes (not counting the superb finale) is an episode where David is hired to be a motivational speaker for those looking to get ahead in business. He says all the same mumbo jumbo business speak that is spoken at every business seminar held anywhere in the world but as he tries to work the stunned audience up with his brand of humor and entertainment he just leaves everybody's mouth agape at his ever so terribly misplaced energy.

Yet the serie's big payoff is extremely effective because the humor is so deeply rooted in pain reminding us of the close relationship between tragedy and comedy. We laugh because the alternative is to squirm. Thus in the final moments as a light bulb illuminates in David's heretofore clueless mind, it truly is a touching thing to watch and feel.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Growing Up to Be Just Like Thompson

I'll admit that I live in fear these days that someone will call the SPCA on me. It's gotta be considered some type of animal abuse that the only time my cats, Thompson and Diego-san, see me now days is when I'm asleep. I come home at night, plop some food into their dishes and go upstairs and get ready for bed. A few hours later the alarm clock goes off and after a shower and a pot of coffee (that is a poor substitute for actual sleep) I'm off to the office.

And yes the boyz are acting out showing their displeasure with my dropping the ball on being a vital third wheel in the household. My couches have been shredded, and many of my screens bear holes from claws ripping through the mesh. When they do see me they are as cuddly as can be but I have to think they're thinking, "Where's that goofball to entertain us with his annoying banter and odd behavior?"

But it's not like I don't look out for my Boyz. Diego-san has an annoying habit of swatting all the water in the water dish on to the kitchen floor (ruining tiles in the process). Part of me sees this and sez, if he doesn't want to drink and he just wants to play, let him do that. But it seems a tad unfair to Thompson to have to live with an empty water dish because of the actions of another.

So I was reading one of the many advice columns in the Star Tribune and a question that was asked was about a cat who displayed the same water dish swatting behavior as Diego-san. The expert responded saying the cat may be far-sighted and thus was pawing at the water to find the top and thus avoid dunking its head in the bowl. The suggestion was then made to float something in the bowl so the cat could determine the level of the top of the water.

I finally got around to testing this with Diego-san. I placed a plastic ball in the bowl. He promptly spent the entire evening batting the ball around the bowl, emptying water on to the floor in the process. Thompson just watched, as he often does.

Diego-san does enjoy drinking straight from the tap (running water seems to fascinate him) so every time I go near the bathroom it's a race. He leaps on to the sink and squeals until I turn on the water. You would think he runs this household.

The times I actually get to be home I must admit how I continually marvel at Thompson and how he gets by with his handicap having one leg amputated after getting it caught in a trap. Yes he has trust issues (and probably always will) running away and hiding on the rare occasions we have a visitor, and jumping at every semi-loud noise that occurs. But he is a great napper (an outstanding one at that) never leaving my chest when we nap together until I move. He loves to lick and it is during those times where his affectionate nature really comes out.

Getting around is hard for him. If he doesn't keep moving the lack of a front limb causes him to lose balance. But he does what he needs to do to get by and I haven't found a thing Diego-san can do that Thompson hasn't found a way to do also. (Thank God Thompson is willing to drink water from a dish.)

The other day the Photographer was over to snap some pictures for a holiday card. Diego-san who is so affectionate towards the Photographer whenever she visits that she has threatened to slap a restraining order against him was his usual suave self. But it was Thompson who really got into the spirit of the project this sunny afternoon.

He primped and posed and the end result were a couple of remarkable photos that truly caught his charismatic presence even though it is on rare display from anyone other than me. The record will thus show (for the future archives) what a sweet sweet boy Thompson really is. And this fellow boy is extremely happy about that.

Monday, November 22, 2004

How to Grow Old and Stay Hip OR How to Avoid Having Your Hip Replaced

Last summer my family helped my niece Megan turn 21 by giving her an iPod for her birthday. This past week, Megan made me chortle aloud when she sent me a thank you card. "Thank you for the iPod. I love it!" she wrote. "I can't believe that you can put 3,000 songs on it and it still weighs the same!" Megan clearly demonstrated that she got the sense of humor in our family.

Likewise for my 40th birthday my family helped me celebrate by buying me an iPod (and proving Megan is 19 years ahead of me). And like my niece I gotta say that I love the device. It has already changed my life.

I will say that having read all the glowing accounts of the iPod over the past few years I was skeptical. I remember when I was in high school and Sony came out with their first Walkman, my parents were kind enough to buy me one to keep me hip to my generation. It was the size of a Bible but it was so cool to be able to walk around outside the house and listen to MY music. Thanks to Sony the dreariness of my senior year of high school was punctuated by my own personal soundtrack playing in my ears.

The iPod is to the Walkman what the telephone was to the telegraph. First the thing looks damn cool. It's a little bit smaller than a baseball card and it's got such a sleek light look that even my over abundant dorkiness quotient is minimized by my carrying it around.

I've already downloaded (or is that uploaded?) over 100 of my CDs on to the iPod and to have that much of my personal music collection at my fingertips at all times is great. It even makes the 70 hour work weeks not so overwhelming to be able to dial up one of my favorite songs whenever I want to.

Of course Megan's joke doesn't quite work in my circumstances because how to best begin using the iPod weighed me down in moments of sheer panic. First, I had to decide what CD would get the honor of being the first on my new treasure. After much thought I chose Ike Reilly's new CD Sparkle in the Finish simply because prior to receiving my gift it was the CD that was getting my constant attention. Next, knowing that it would take me some time to fill up my iPod I had to figure out what order I was going to follow in transferring my CDs. This was where things really got tricky.

My listening habits over the years have developed thusly: there are about 50 CDs in my collection that get played all the time. There are another 10-15 that get played a lot but don't quite qualify as highly as the first group. There are then those new purchases that get a play or two a day for a week as I decide whether or not they mean anything to me. There are another couple hundred that get grabbed once in awhile just before work mainly because there is a song that I just need to hear that day.

Of course my music collection is skewed towards a few favorite artists: Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Liz Phair, Lucinda Williams, etc. Their music eventually was the first batch I put on the iPod. The process itself became great fun as I somehow managed to rediscover my love of Sinatra's music in particular. Yes I'm an old man but I dare you to listen to Frank's version of "It Never Entered My Mind" and try to feel things quite the same ever again.

The other thing I re-discovered is what a great songwriter John Hiatt is. After downloading my collection of his CDs, I marveled at how even how when his lesser known songs come up when I hit the shuffle option on iPod how glad I am to hear that particular song again. The man simply has a marvelous way with words.

I did decide that as I enter the era of a looming AARP membership that I will continue to try and stay in tune with what the kids are listening to. And it doesn't hurt the matter any to listen to their music on the forum that is the latest technology. Yes the iPod may already have become my latest obsession but I'm not alone. Not this time anyway.

Monday, November 15, 2004

What It's Like to Be Forty

"They say life begins at forty/Age is just a state of mind/If all that's true/You know, that I've been dead for thirty-nine"
-John Lennon

The story goes like this (so I'm told): the parents of four just had visited the doctor where the expectant mother was told that even though she felt the twinges of labor that she had plenty of time to go back home get her things and come back to the hospital. The father drove the mother homeward stopping first to pick up dinner for the rest of the family at Chin's Kitchen on the corner of Larpenteur and Snelling in St. Paul (Falcon Heights).

It was there where the expectant mother told the father that they had better hurry because she didn't think there was that much time. So after delivering the Moo Goo Gai Pan and Egg Foo Young at the couple's newly purchased four bedroom, three bathroom house in Roseville the father brought the mother back to the hospital where she soon afterwards gave birth to their fifth child, a second son.

That child, forty years later turned a prematurely old man, lived a life that constantly sought some type of not quite there meaning, seeking poetic symbolism that would give tune to a melody that often times seemed at least a half a key flat. And on the night of his 40th birthday, still missing his late mother the boy returned to Chin's Kitchen, now located across the street on the other corner of Larpenteur and Snelling in St. Paul (Falcon Heights) close to his house. He ordered sweet and sour shrimp because that was the type of mood he was in.

The meal was tasty and fitting for a who would have thought, certainly not he, he'd ever make it to this night. The boy, now old man, almost too deliberately returned to the Chinese restaurant because he still missed his Mom too much and wanted to feel some kind of celebrated connection, even if it was 40 years way beyond removed, for just this night.

He got home too late to celebrate much of anything and ate his meal in front of the latest episode of NYPD Blue. The show is fittingly in its final season- a show that the 40 year old boy has persistently watched even if it would not ever quite make his list of favorite TV shows. He remembered how during his Mom's too sudden yet horribly brief illness how when he was visiting her they watched an episode of the ABC drama, the one where Jimmy Smits' character died, and all the boy could think of was that by the time the repeat of the tear inducing episode aired, his mother would be dead (and he was right).

The NYPD Blue episode on this evening, enjoyed with an order of Chin's sweet and sour shrimp, featured the return of the ghost of Smits' Bobby Simone. Bobby's partner, Andy Sipowicz has endured a string of hard to take losses and on this show he needed to see his late partner, his guardian angel, and asked what was to come next. And Andy asked if there really was a God.

The boy bawled his eyes out. Ever since his mother's death there has been a certain feeling of feeling dead inside, the feeling that nothing can ever be the same again yet life as it is must continue. That's what Mom would have wanted.

Forty is an age that one shouldn't be living the way one was when he was 20, should be just a tad more grown up, yet it is an age where one isn't quite eligible to join AARP. And that is the reason the boy decided to awkwardly try his best to acknowledge this fragile bubble. He spent much of the rest of the night downloading songs on to his new iPod that his family gave him as a special gift to commemorate reaching 40. He also had gone out and bought some flannel pajamas- his first pair of pajamas since he left his parent's house for college. There couldn't be better symbols of where he was at- technology meets music to try and feel young, and some comfortable sleepwear to admit that the constant desire these days is a good night's sleep.

So the aging boy found himself upstairs with his most recent of loves, his kitties. For the record, Diego-san loves to hop up on the vanity in the newly completed upper wing of the house and lap up the water from the faucet. The big vanity mirror caught the black cat's attention this night as he saw the other cat, the three-legged Thompson's image scamper into view. Diego-san not quite understanding the concept of a reflection swatted at the mirror image, in the rear, of Thompson only to draw air (and glass).

Amusing or not, this is what it is to be 40. The taste of all that was sweet and sour from Chin's Kitchen and beyond went down smoothly yet the order wasn't quite right and seemed a bit too forced to be what one should spend one's 14,600 night on the planet fixating on.

Monday, November 8, 2004

You Do the Math

There may be a very good reason why one name I'll never be called is a pundit. Hours after the election was apparently over lessons were being drawn by those who saw a clear cut message from the results even as I sat in silence in the wee small hours of election night thinking to myself I hope no one tries and do that over the next few days.

I heard it suggested that since Mr. Bush received more votes than any other person who has ever run for President that he has a mandate to push through his agenda. Never mind that Mr. Kerry received the second most votes ever for the office and therefore Mr. Bush also received the most votes against him of anyone who has ever won the office. A mandate? You do the math.

Having said that, after spending the past few days tallying write in votes for a Soil and Water Supervisor race that no one ran for, I do think I have some insight on the minds of the voters in 2004.

Living with the discouragement in the fractures in our democracy that I witnessed first hand throughout the past year I must say as I was counting the write in votes I saw a glimmer of hope. Early returns had Twins' pitcher Johan Santana ahead of Viking receiver Randy Moss in this godawful football town. Just as I was beginning to think I just may be made for these times Moss made a late run (bad hamstring and all as the Auburn-haired election manager might say) and overtook the American League Cy Young Award winner. That sucked.

For the thousands that wrote in fictitious names I have a message: "IF YOU'RE GONNA TRY AND BE CUTE AND FUNNY LET'S TRY AND BE A BIT MORE CREATIVE SHALL WE?!" How clever does one think one is by writing in the name Mickey Mouse? God almighty why bother? And those that wrote in Snoopy, Elmer Fudd, or Ronald Reagan weren't much better in my book.

The influence of the Simpsons was quite clear as Homer, Marge, and Bart got many votes. Even Ralph Wiggum got a vote. But what I found discouraging about the Simpson votes was that no one in the entire county wrote in Lisa. She's the smartest, the most politically astute and the one family member who would live up to the environmentally conscious element of the job.

Of course someone found it funny to write in I.P. Freely and Turd Sandwich. And to tell you the truth I did too after counting name after name of all those who seemingly voted for themselves.

I did have to give props to whoever wrote in Malcolm X and the same to the voter who voted for Karl Marx. And Mr. Kerry might not find much to console himself with in this election but he did get more votes than Mr. Bush for the Soil and Water office. I also found it interesting that Jesus Christ won in a landslide over his father God while George W. may not have even beaten his father if you count all those that voted for George Bush as votes for number 41 and not number 43.

As I was pouring over sheet after sheet of the names written in by the election judges from the names written in by voters on their ballots my favorite throughout was Mattress Tester (I want to meet whoever came up with that) until I got to the vote for Sun Ra. The vote almost was enough to restore my faith in humanity. That was until other votes for musicians were for the more predictable Jethro Tull, Ted Nugent and Gene Simmons. I will go to my grave wondering if the vote for Bob Zimmerman came from a clever Dylan fan.

Though it's been a pain in the butt to count all the write in votes from voters who thought it was a lark to try and add some humor to the electoral process I must say I'm glad that such an option is available to voters. Having read that the winner of the mayor's race in San Diego is likely a write-in candidate it's a reminder that it does give people the option to say that if they care enough they can do something not voting for a candidate that fails to inspire them. It may not be the same thing as having a "none of the above" option available on the ballot but it's close. And having options in this process seems after this election, a diminishing luxury.

How I Took Up a Winter Sport to Avoid Having a Kirby Puckett-Sized Behind

Those who know me well know that if there's one thing I wanted to get done before I turned 40 it was to learn how to be a first class curler. Thus you can imagine how happy I felt to be out on the ice of the St. Paul Curling Club last Wednesday, getting it done under the gun. I couldn't imagine a more slippery surface I would have rather have been on than that sheet of ice especially since I was coming off of a 22 hour work day. Yup there's nothing like the constant danger of falling on your ass, this time literally after months of doing it figuratively, that really gets your attention especially when you're operating on a mere two hours of sleep.

Several weeks back when Cap'n Lisa Anne Marie asked me if I was interested in being on the curling team she was putting together, I jumped at the chance. What I knew about the sport I pretty much knew from watching a few minutes on TV. But just from that little exposure I knew that any sport that involved that much crazy sweeping was for me! I didn't know what it was all about, didn't exactly understand the object of the game, but I knew if it was such a big thing in Canada then it had to be something I needed to check out.

A few weeks ago Cap'n Lisa Anne Marie invited me and our other two teammates to attend a seminar at the club. Unfortunately my work schedule has been rather busy so I missed that opportunity and I also missed the practice that Lisa arranged. Thus my first exposure at actually attempting to play the sport that I didn't know the rules, didn't know hardly anything about, was to be live at our first game (match/scrum?).

So I showed up early before our first contest and Lisa tried her best to explain the rudiments of the game to me. The game seems to be a combination of shuffleboard and bowling- the object being to get your team's biscuit as close to the basket, or is it pea nearest the wicket?, or is it rock closest to home? while denying your opponents the choice real estate on the ice. The team's skip, stands at the other side of the ice and first points to where he/she wants your rock/biscuit/pea to end up. He/she then moves a few feet over to the spot that they want you to aim at.

The pitcher, or hurler, or curler, then guides the rock/pea/biscuit down the ice using momentum caused by gliding one's body down the ice and attempts to get the thing in the home target. Two teammates then follow the object down the sheet of ice staying just in front and sweeping with brooms as the skip calls out orders. If the rock/biscuit/pea isn't going fast enough in the right direction, the skip calls out to sweep like crazy to cause it to move faster. If the rock/pea/biscuit is moving too fast the sweepers don't do a thing but pray that things slow down and straighten out.

Thankfully the other team didn't show up for our first game and I got a crash course lesson and plenty of practice time. I concentrated on tossing/pushing/guiding the rock down the ice. This part of the game reminded me a lot of bowling. The most skilled players know how to spin the rock just enough to get it to end up just where they want it to end up. One of the most important aspects in achieving this is to have a uniform form of delivery. That's what definitely is lacking in my bowling game and was clearly a weakness in my first attempts at curling. I never seemed to have the same form twice and thus my consistency was somewhat lacking.

I did make a couple of nice throws/tosses/pushes where the rock ended up in a damn good place. Yes part of me really just wanted to be curled up in a warm bed but there was something exhilarating about trying to learn something new- and it definitely gave me something to look forward to this winter.

Monday, November 1, 2004

The Difference Between Red and Blue

artistic License gives one a lot of Freedom since by its very Nature there aren't a lot of Rules and the One rule of expressing something can be done on a variety of platforms without anyone saying anything like you can't do that like painting a picture where everything Blue turns red just like writing without heeding the normal punctuation and Grammatical rules that everyone expects and just like Music where the conventional pop song structure is tinkered and played with and made new or attempted to make new in an apparent attempt to create art by not only in what is being expressed but also in how it is being Expressed! and can only be topped by the auburn haired underestimated media friendly beauty who knows the only thing worse than working a 90 hour week is working an hundred hour one...

And for me that's why I've long had a problem with Wilco's music. I thought Being There was great but that was back in the days where everyone thought the group was going to assume the crown of alt-country conquerors from groups like Uncle Tupelo or Son Volt or the Jayhawks. Then Summerteeth came out and I can count on one hand I've listened to that disc from start to end. Strong songwriting gave way to studio trickery and noodling as singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy's penchant for self absorbed, moody, and too clever by a half wannabe poetry became more annoying than inspiring. There's something about the second song on that disc, "She's a Jar" juxtaposed with song three's, "A Shot in the Arm" that just has always rubbed me the wrong way. What does it mean (and do I care?) that she's a jar with a heavy lid? And the line "The ashtray says you were up all night"- I can just see Tweedy thinking he had come up with something clever the masses would either eat up or idolize him for singing such profound metaphors.

The story of how the group's record label refused to release Wilco's Yankee Foxtrot Hotel because the label thought the disc wasn't commercial enough has been well documented. That disc has grown on me a lot- the feedback, the noise, and other studio enhancements that I originally took as a way to cover up weak songwriting now seem a bit intriguing.

And even more so after seeing Wilco's Tuesday show at the Orpheum. Ironically it was the night that Yankee Foxtrot Hotel turned gold (500,000 units sold!). The show featured most of the songs from that disc as well as the group's brand new CD A Ghost is Born.

I'm not sure the new CD will ever grow on me as much. The constant droning of the electronic doodling demonstrates that the group unfortunately somehow wants to be more like Radiohead than Woody Guthrie. But somehow the new songs came alive performed live. It was amazing to try and figure out how the band was recreating some of the screeching and gurgling sounds of the CD on stage. One of the absolute highlights of a well paced show was the overly long song "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" that has a lot of stuff going on that brings to mind Lou Reed's pile of crap LP, Metal Machine Music yet amongst all the rhythmic electronic noise came the cathartic release of the band pounding out notes together and it was quite the head boppin experience.

What really won me over however was two songs from the aforementioned Summerteeth where the intensity of Tweedy's vocals was dutifully enhanced by the cacophony of sound the rest of the band produced- the truly prophetic (and sad) "I'm Always in Love" and the scary "A Shot in the Arm" where the singer says maybe all he needs is a shot in the arm, something in his veins bloodier than blood. Egads, I bopped, a drug song transformed into a I know there is something wrong inside of me that even you can't fix- song.

Throughout the show images were projected on to a big screen behind the band like when they broke into the impossible to dislike "Hummingbird" a fluttering shot of the bird was displayed as Tweedy sang the wonderfully inspired lines, "His goal in life was to be an echo..." and "She appears in his dreams..." And what I didn't understand lying in my newly constructed upper wing of my house listening to A Ghost is Born for the first time I now got. You gots to accept the entire package for what it is- accept the warts with the intoxicating scents just like the line from the Yankee Foxtrot Hotel song "War on War" (another highlight from the show) sez, "You've have to learn how to die if you wanna wanna be alive..."

And though the guy seated behind the blue-eyed intern and I in our very near the stage seats, the one who kept yelling "This is the best f*&king show I've ever been to" and who booed when Tweedy told us we had to vote against Bush, may not have been contemplating the meaning behind it all like I was, he sure got something right- Wilco's performance was pretty darn impressive throughout.

Monday, October 25, 2004

The Reilly Factor

I was on the Channel 4 news this week talking about how tired I am. No lie, it's not a good thing when you make the local news because you are so damn tired (OK the news story really was about how incredibly busy election officials are throughout the state).

There have been a lot of disappointments recently so maybe the most telling sign of how tired I feel is how dejected I felt when I asked a co-worker to bring me up a late night snack from the downstairs vending machine. I wanted Milk Duds. I had to have Milk Duds. I craved Milk Duds. I told my co-worker if the poorly stocked machine didn't have any Milk Duds left to get me something close. What was sent up was a Three Musketeers candy bar and I just about lost it. How is a Three Musketeers anything close to being a Milk Dud? You tell me.

Yup, I have spent so much time at work the past couple of months that I've unfortunately had to miss a lot of things I otherwise wouldn't have missed for the world (I think I remember what it used to be like to have a life). At the top of that long list was having to miss both Ike Reilly concerts last week. I got good reports about both shows, Friday night at the 7th Street Entry and Saturday night at my neighborhood Turf Club. The Ike Reilly Assassination apparently put on their usual stellar live show despite the frontman being a bit ill.

The shows celebrated the release of Reilly's long awaited brand new CD, Sparkle in the Finish. I got my copy in the mail after a long work day and though the routine has suddenly become hopping into bed immediately when I get home, this night I plopped on the CD to listen to as I lie in bed.

I must say it was great hearing new Ike Reilly songs. It's been two long years since his debut CD, Salesmen and Racists came out and the blue-eyed editor turned me on to the CD. It remains the all time crank it up in yer car and sing at the top of your lungs music that I've ever heard.

In between the two CDs was a terrific four song EP. All four of those songs appear on Sparkle in the Finish albeit in different arrangements (much less raucous).

Reilly's music is a combination of tough yet sensitive guy lyrics, catchy guitar based melodies that sear through you like a breath of crisp autumn air. Reilly's vocals top off the in your face rock- one of the best rock and roll singers since John Lennon.

My favorite of the brand new songs is "Holiday in New York" that contains the apt line, "Beautiful girl do the government hustle/Got your job in the fix with big city muscle..." The song seems to be about a trip through New York City but it comes off as a sardonic lament about people with lots of troubles. "It's starting to look to me like a con game now..."

Cohesively Sparkle in the Finish doesn't hold together as well as the songs on Salesmen and Racists nor does the energy of the songs sustain themselves throughout. Yet Reilly's skill as a singer and as a songwriter shine through without question. Typically the songs are impressively complex. The moody "It's All Right to Die" shifts tempos quicker than a leaf tumbling in front of a blistering wind. The refrain "It's all right to die everybody, it's all right to die..." is sung with so much conviction that it probably is all right to do just that.

This is the third really good disc released in the past three weeks joining Brian Wilson's Smile and Tom Waits' Real Gone as music that would make any and all personal music collections infinitely better. "Cars and girls and drinks and songs make this world spin around," Ike sings. And for once no one has to vote on it to know it's true. If nothing else with so much wondrous new music available to anyone who wants to listen, the long hours, the struggles with not having enough time in a day to get all that needs to be done, done, can actually make some sort of senseless sense because nothing can hold down a spirit uplifted by a great song or two.

Monday, October 18, 2004

My Last Fall

My Last Fall

U am bull

More of a stumble

Than a big bumble




I am truthful

At potlucks I usually

Bring paper dishes

Or chips

Because I can't

Make stuff up

We am weary

See what I love

And love what I see

But I can't touch

What I love

Loving isn't seeing

It's feeling

Tired now

Didn't see it coming

I said I am

And there's no choice

Fill in the oval

is the sole goal

Like Korean soup

to get to

the right answer

and it's all that's

on my mind

and it's all that

I've ever wanted

from you

They am

exercising a choice

thinking with their

heart rather than

their head

As if the difference

between the two

doesn't add up

to a jumble

a frickin rumble

An endless

partisan battle

What you said

hurt me so

because it was

meant to

Minneapolis looks

the same at 7 a.m.

as it does 1 a.m.

on the same day

and I've seen it all

today mumble mumble

Monday, October 11, 2004

Elderly West

In introducing singer/songerwriter Tom Russell's appearance on his show, David Letterman made an ever astute observation about Russell's new CD, Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs. "You'll listen to this CD once and you'll saddle up, and you'll ride up to Babb and knock off a liquor store. Honest to God that's what'll you'll do..."

Russell went on to give a rousing performance of the CD's opening track, "Tonight We Ride." The song, an old western opus that is really new, sounds like it has been around forever and that it belongs on some scratchy 78 being discovered by a curious music lover somewhere in the vast Midwest.

The CD indeed is all Letterman said it is and much much more. The songs, both covers and Russell originals, spin yarns of a country long lost, songs about the foundation of what once was and has somehow seriously been jarred off its pillars as we all sit and watch, semi-innocent bystanders.

"Tonight We Ride" contains some great guitar licks as Russell sings about hunting down Pancho Villa and visiting whorehouses while dying the preferred cowboy death- drinking oneself to death.

Almost all that follows are old west ballad/song stories. Included are two great covers of two great Dylan songs- "Seven Curses," with its tale of woe of a young woman being abused by a lecherous judge, and "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts," where Russell has a rollicking good time trading the witty lines with Eliza Gilkyson and Joe Ely in such a way that the story of love lost, jealously, and murder unfold in a new way even to ears that have listened to the song many different times over the many years.

The CD that hits the ground running really hits its stride with a cheeky cover of Marty Robbins' "El Paso." The song is perhaps one of the saddest tales ever written and in Robbins' version is made even spookier by the vocalist's choice of weirdly odd gleeful singing of stanzas like: "But my love for Felina is strong and I rise where I've fallen/Though I am weary, I can't stop to rest/I see the white puff of smoke from the rifle/I feel the bullet go deep in my chest."

Russell's version is a bit more mournful but maintains the spirit of Robbins great song. What is revealed is that not only is something wrong about a love gone way wrong but that the time that has passed in the song has now passed in real time. This country isn't nearly in the same state as it was when "El Paso" was a hit long long ago in 1959. Then the story of a love gone wrong seemed to be about what it feels like to die for someone, either from a broken heart or from a bullet to that all too weak organ, when that someone loves someone else.

Given the wars that this country has since seen beginning in Vietnam and now in Iraq one can't help but hear something else through Old West nostalgic ears. There exists in this very place where one deals with one's perceived being wronged with a eye for eye, tooth for tooth revengeful justice. This seeps, this pours through the wounds and that is why so many in this country (at least half) want to believe so badly that we are justified to respond to a "homeland" attack by attacking someone else even though it was clear from the start that who we are attacking isn't even who attacked us in the first place. Go figure. And capture the leader of this tangential oil full land while killing those who had little to do with him and that's somehow OK because we all saw those towers tumble.

Russell's music covers all this and more maybe not explicitly but in a this is a disc that must be played over and over to truly appreciate its many charms and insights, way. The musicianship isn't perfect, isn't overly produced yet it gets its job done in its seemingly off the cuff spontaneity. Likewise Russell's vocals sell the stories with a heartfelt passion. Disintegrating country? Perhaps. Survivable series of events? Probably.

Monday, October 4, 2004

Smiley Smile

It was one of those times as a young lad in love where you rehearse what you're going to say and do many times over but the only difference between this time and any others would be that all the words and all the nervous nights lying awake thinking about what I had to do, what I couldn't do, I actually somehow found myself saying to her.

It was the last day of 9th grade band class and Mr. Kelley gave us the period to sign each other's yearbooks. I looked at the girl who meant everything, who taught me the difference between inspiration and love and where the two intertwine. She somehow (sadly) remains the only person who I ever found myself writing to, for, and about. And I remember vividly there she was sitting in her familiar but soon never to be sat in by her again, first chair clarinet seat, two rows down from my middle of the last row first chair trumpet seat.

We had spent many a day making music together, making eye contact at key moments in key passages of key songs (though listening to the tapes later we weren't always so in tune). My knees were shaking because it had only been in the last month or two when she reached out and had said anything to me. She liked me singing one night on a bus. She liked some of my writing. She seemed to want to get to know me better. I of course just stammered and stuttered whenever I had tried striking up an actual conversation. But somehow I knew she just knew.

It was with and without great effort that I somehow felt myself getting up, walking down, and thrusting my yearbook in front of her. "Will you sign this," I said though I had said it much more wittily in rehearsal. "Sure, if you sign mine," Susan said.

I don't remember what I ended up writing in her yearbook. Something not too revealing. I do remember exactly what she wrote in my yearbook. "You're kinda strange but a lot of fun to be around. Have a great summer. Keep smiling! Sue Weiss." I remember her words exactly because I spent many days in the following years reading and re-reading those words and wondering if there were any hidden meanings, something that wasn't all apparent in what she wrote. "She's a great writer," I thought to myself. How could I be in love with someone who was not?

Keep smiling was Sue's advice. She liked my smile. Or she didn't think I smiled enough.

Sue ended up (of course) breaking my heart. She holds the distinction of being the first of four. In fact a human heart has never been splintered into so many pieces. There wasn't anywhere to turn when I happened to hear the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds LP for the first time. And that music, perhaps the saddest ever recorded, spoke volumes to my heart. Most importantly it conveyed the message that as much as I thought no one had ever felt as heartbroken as I was feeling, the songs spoke to me and convinced me that at least one other person had felt the same depth of things at least once in human history.

When Brian sings about sometimes feeling SO SAD and guessing he just wasn't made for these times and how he just wants to go home, I knew exactly what he was singing about even if I had never ridden the Sloop John B or nor did I know Caroline.

I discovered and fell in love with the music nearly 20 years after it was written and performed, years after a lot of people had declared it the greatest LP of all time. I wasn't exactly a Beach Boys fan but this wasn't exactly Beach Boy-like music. And I didn't know anything of the legend of the LP that was to follow (and supposed to top the pristine effort of Pet Sounds) an album that Brian ultimately was going to simply name Smile.

Lots has been written about the greatest LP never released. It was to be Brian's effort to write a "teenage symphony to God." It was experimental, taking snippets of music, of sounds, of whatever it was that stuck in Brian's brain and soul and ear enough to inspire his heart, from church music to marching band blasts to everything between and far beyond. Yet the legend became too much. The more people that heard the new music the more that was written how astounding it was the higher the ante became on what Brian had to produce. And his already fragile psyche broke, never quite to be the same again.

Reading about the Smile sessions and hearing subsequent releases of songs recorded during that period I was curious but not enough to buy the many bootlegs out there. It was well known Brian was well under the influence of mood altering substances throughout the writing and recording of the Smile sessions contributing to his breakdown. And I've heard enough drug induced music/doodling to know that often what one thinks is significant under the influence (not that I'd ever know) often in retrospect is just pure unfiltered pap.

So in a year when a fellow could easily slide from "could have" to "has" been one discovers that things don't always work the way they used to and that's just a hard lesson of life one thinks about walking in the dark in the dusk to work. It was the morning I had waited for since it was announced Brian was working hard at completing the project. Thirty-seven long years after the project began Brian finally got around to releasing Smile. He isn't nearly the same person he was back then. His current seemingly delicate self is both sad and inspiring. And thus completing his masterpiece is not only a wondrous miracle but also a natural monument to the resiliency of the human spirit and an unmatched example of the healing power of music. Nothing more, nothing less.

Hearing the Smile song cycle for the first time is a magical experience (though I must admit after having bought it during lunch during a work break I couldn't stop playing it over and over). Like Pet Sounds there is so much to hear and repeated listenings just reveal more and more. Peel away the many different sounds and notes and crazy words and what you are left with is a spirit as large as the largest human heart that ever existed. Teenage symphony to God? This goes way beyond that.

Thus it seemed appropriate as exhausted as I feel these days both physically and emotionally to be listening to the music that finally cracked Brian's spirit and wiped that sideways smile right off his face. Burning candles at all ends and feeling certain flames flicker (or perhaps snuffed) out can give one a certain perspective on life and leave one peering perilously way too close to the edge. The most famous song on Smile is "Good Vibrations" and probably the best is the astounding "Surf's Up" and yet both those songs ultimately pale in comparison to all that surround them. And a lot of the tracks aren't really songs, more a collage of different musical fragments skillfully combined to convey something really lovely. This is more than a mishmash of pop and choral songs, it's beyond harmony and melody, it's something that really defies words and must be heard and experienced to truly appreciate.

And for those who hear (or is that more accurately listen to) "Good Vibrations" and think that is what the Beach Boys are, and think of a Sunkist commercial, or thoughtless Reagan flag-waving Americana without hearing how crazy the music is (and thus how crazy the music maker must have been) you don't know what you're missing. Listening to this music conjures up the same heart pounding sensation, good vibration, falling in love with the first chair clarinetist once did once upon a long ago. Elsewhere I love how Brian weaves in snippets of two standards "You Are My Sunshine" and "I Wanna Be Around" and makes them fit snuggly with all the rest of the brilliant and bright music.

The music left my mouth agape. Yet somehow my vanishing voice rediscovered itself.

In the end, my dear sweet friend, My Dear Dear Susan I'm compelled to call out to you all these years later and reveal once more that I have indeed kept Smiling after all these years...

Grinning Year to Year

Bob's Quote of the Week: "Creativity has much to do with experience, observation and imagination, and if any one of those key elements is missing, it doesn't work."

After the Show

Ever live through a period where the phrase, "if this is the last thing I ever do," feels like a question more appropriately pondered as, "since this is the last thing I'll ever do I better get it right just in case somebody's paying attention?"

In my post college swoon all those years ago, the creativity I had once felt seemed all but cracked and evaporated. I was consciously trying to feel and spark something that used to just bubble up naturally or mystically through the self-conscious. I just wasn't the same and no one seemed to pay any notice. My life's goal had always been to write a novel so what better time to try then when you are at a complete and utter loss for words? My roommate, Pistol Pete, had just bought an Apple Computer so what I did was I started collecting all the pieces I had written over the years that I considered representative of my best writing. There were childhood stories, essays from junior and senior high, newspaper stories and columns I wrote for my college newspaper and the newspaper I wrote for during an internship in college. There were poems and a few short stories. There were copies of letters I had written to people and snippets from the journal I had kept since the 9th grade.

As I was struggling with a new narrative to tie all the work together so I could give the collection to friends and family (as if it was the last thing I'd ever do) it occurred to me that I could write a piece about a struggling writer who was beginning to feel like he could write no more, like he had nothing left to say even though he hardly had said anything at all.

At this point I was out of work so I stayed up day and night just writing and re-writing. One bleary eyed night I decided I'd turn it all into a novel but not a straightforward novel. Nope I was going to tell a story through multiple narrator's eyes, weaving bits a pieces from the past present and future so you never quite knew who was telling the story and what point in time the story was being told. The idea was to write a piece like a painting where you had to look at the small corner just as thoughtfully as you did the larger picture to understand and appreciate it all (and at all).

OK so in retrospect it wasn't the brightest idea on the planet in an attempt to write one's first novel to take on such a complex concept. But I was in a put my head down and plow ahead mode so I just kept typing away- cutting and pasting, writing and re-writing and re-writing some more because I was racing against demons both visible and invisible, both felt and sensed- and I knew the personal importance of what I was doing even though I knew at the same time I had lost perhaps my one redeeming quality along the way- my sense of humor.

And the irony of feeling like I had lost control of the project somehow- a project that started as trying to come up with something to collect all my best writing in one place was now a flowing example of how I couldn't write much at all. By turning inwards so deeply (inside out, outside looking in I liked to say at the time) I was feeling things more deeply than ever before but feeling hardly anything at all. And the scary thought was that it would never change and even if I did, this wasn't necessarily a place I would never again return to because now that I found it I had confirmed its existence.

My relationships with my friends were splintering and that's why it was in an extreme act of kindness when former Cheapo employee Johnny Baynes came home one night and gave me a copy of Brian Wilson's newly released first solo LP. For those who had long written off Brian as being a basket case (and that was most everyone) it was of great interest that he was now releasing new music for the first time in over a decade. And though the music wasn't entirely satisfactory, simple songs with far too many hands involved, far too overproduced- one could overlook that because here was new heartfelt music from one of the few who can be accurately called a musical genius (no matter how far his state of mind had fallen).

I was touched by Johnny's gesture. And I was inspired by Brian's new music. The opening track, "Love and Mercy" is as honest as an astoundingly honest artist has ever been. "I was lying in my room when the news came on TV/A lot of people out there hurting and it really scares me/Love and mercy that's what you need tonight..." And pardon me if my self inflicted wounds allowed me to relate to this music far beyond your average moping wannabe somebody's friend.

One of the songs on Brian Wilson with great intuition foreshadowed the love of my life, my all too brief time with my soul survivor and novel inspiration and also the only person who made me laugh during this life defining time when laughing was a rather rare commodity and thus so much more appreciated (and dare I say loved?). "Melt Away" remains in my upper echelon of favorite songs. "The world's not just waiting just for me/The world don't care what I can be/I feel just like an island/Until I see you smiling..."

So in a much later year when a fellow could easily find himself sliding from "could have" to "has" been one discovers that things don't always work the way they used to and that's just a hard lesson of life one thinks about walking in the dark in the dusk to work on the morning when one is tightly gripping tickets to see Brian Wilson's show at the Orpheum that very night.

On the night when much of America was listening to the latest Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum dance their version of a debate (although doesn't the definition of the word necessarily include some give and take between the participants?) half tired, half weary, I wasn't sure what to expect from the show. The curtains lifted to a loud ovation and there was Brian seated casually on a chair surrounded by his 18 member band as they did a we're here in your living room version of "Surfer Girl." The harmonies were crisp and Brian's stiffness was countered by the sheepish grin on his face. The first half of the show was comprised of music both new and old, familiar and as much as they can be, obscure, with great arrangements and performances of the Beach Boys' "Sail on Sailor," "God Only Knows," and a raucous "Marcella." Three new songs from the new CD Gettin in Over My Head held up well, particularly the title track that Brian dedicated to his wife Melinda who he painstakingly made the crew at the Orpheum turn up the house lights for so he could find her in the audience.

Brian also led an impromptu round of "Row Row Row Your Boat" that demonstrated if nothing else that people will do whatever they are commanded by a celebrity and also that one of his forever greatest personality traits is his ever prevailing wicked sense of humor.

As much as the first half was tightly arranged (most of the songs were performed acoustically as the band surrounded Brian in a group-singalong) the second half was what some of thus were really there for- a live performance of the Smile song cycle- song for wonderful song.

The apparent purpose of the music of Smile seems to be to live up to its title and Brian and company did just that.

Throughout the show Brian didn't move much from beyond the comfort of his electric piano. He barely played the instrument instead mostly waiting for his vocal parts in the swirling and tightly arranged harmonies and spending most of the evening wildly gesturing his arms just like a short-haired lunatic Asian election official seen in public but far beyond sleep deprived to the land of the lost just like, for the first time, those icky novel inducing experiences that coincidentally mirrored the release of Brian's new music. It once seemed evident that wasn't something that would ever spill out of his guts again.

The live music of Smile went far beyond smile-inducing to something gratefully hypnotic. Brian labeled it a "teenage symphony to God" and during this live performance one really began to understand exactly what he meant in the first place.

Smile opens with an inspired liturgical like prayer and quickly segues into the very old western (complete with player piano embellishments) "Heroes and Villains." Whenever this music is called symphonic one begins to understand a little better what exactly is meant by that. Reoccurring melodic and lyrical motifs keep running throughout, tying together 17 songs. Throughout the songs (and the live performances of the tracks were intricately connected to that which has been recently recorded) one can't help but wonder about the purpose of it all. One man's guess is that it all is supposed by be at symbolic tribute to the history of American music- from the church based foundations, to the wild wild west, to Jazz and all things that gurgled up in our country's history taking us from Plymouth Rock to the Grand Coulee Dam and back again.

The lyrics can be nonsensical yet the overall music makes more sense than can be known. While the lyrics on Brian's other complete masterpiece Pet Sounds all contain hints of inner torment and melancholy, the lyrics of Smile are hard to decipher. They seem to make the effective point that it isn't always what the words mean but sometimes it's about certain words' sounds as if by repeating specific yet nonsensical strings of words together that a feeling can be conveyed by the mere sound of the syllables. I sat there transfixed by the music coming from the stage down two levels from my upper balcony seat and let it all just wash over me and overwhelm me in its path.

If a current and artistically acceptable artist (like say Wilco) were to release music like Smile for the first time ever, we'd all be sitting around pouring in the accolades. As it is many will dismiss this as music from a failed never tried yet still wrote about it surfer and fans might dismiss it as not being like the many other songs that the same artist has created that can actually get one off and on to one's feet to wiggle and waggle and remember how it all once felt.

The absolute, no doubt highlight of the evening came before the profoundly goofy "Vega-Tables" where Brian pulled out an electric toothbrush for sound effect purposes and simultaneously broke into a grin wider than the Grand Canyon. He knew that this was all such wonderful stuff, and he knew where it came from and he was allowing himself to enjoy it all despite the place that may or may not exist reminding him that completing his lifelong dream may be nothing more than an afterthought, a footnote, at this point though it will undoubtedly be noted as something historic by someone somewhere down the road.

The show closed with quick and punchy run throughs of many of the Beach Boys' best known songs like "Surfin USA," "Help Me Rhonda," and "Barbara Ann." Brian strapped on an electric guitar for "Fun Fun Fun" and actually did some deft Chuck Berry like duck steps that were as delightful and joyful as they were goofy.