Monday, August 30, 2004

How I Yearn to Grow Up to Someday be a Chick with an Attitude

I was driving to work early Wednesday morning thinking that it was way too soon to return to the office feeling like I had just been there not that long ago. Here I had left late the night before, burning memory cards and the midnight oil with the repressed actress and original chick with an attitude. Now here I was returning, making what just about felt like a soul sucking loopy U-turn. Not that I'd ever complain.

Quite deliberately my choice for music for the don't want to do it this one more time drive was a Liz Phair compilation I burned for the blue-eyed editor last summer. In the moment the particular song that thankfully perked up my ears was "Red Light Fever" from her not so new now but feels like it was new way back then, CD, Liz Phair. Maybe it was my sleep deprived state of mind but the song hit me like never ever before- a catchy little ditty that asks the musical (and most accurate and pertinent question imaginable) "How are you going to make it through the year?"

A mere 14 hours later I found myself with the wise blue-eyed editor standing at our seats, 20 feet away from Liz listening to her sing that very same song at the Orpheum. I swear Liz looked right in my eyes when she sang, "Lying awake in the dark/Trying to figure out where you are/Always going nowhere/Afraid of going somewhere/And somewhere's a place in your heart..."

Liz was the closing act of a show billed as "Chicks with an Attitude." The first two "chicks" were Charlotte Martin who added a new dimension to the word pretentious, and Katy Rose who the blue-eyed editor turned to me after the set was over and said exactly what I was thinking. "That was what I imagine sitting through an Avril Lavigne show would feel like." Granted, both Martin and Rose lived up to the show's billing. The third act, the Cardigans, proved to be a major step up, delivering a tight set full of catchy little tunes (tho' the only one with an apparent attitude was the bass player who was in a cool place all by himself).

Liz Phair, original as she still is, put the capital C&A in the term "Chick with an Attitude." She entered to the pounding buzz saw power chords of "Flower" where she persuaded us all she still wants is a "fresh young jimmy ramming slamming jamming in me" and closed her performance assuring us that a certain white bodily fluid is indeed the fountain of youth. In between, she gave a better performance than either the other two she's given in this town the past year. The band was tighter (better bass player) and her confidence was evident in the grin she wore all night along with a nice snug outfit.

The crowd was shockingly young- the blue-eyed editor was born in 1980 (the year I got my driver's license) and even she was probably on the upper edge age-wise of all the overall ticket buyers. (I swear the kid in front of us was no more than eight or nine- and he scored a Katy Rose autograph program). And yes maybe it's because with age comes a necessary nudge toward nostalgia but what was apparent to me throughout the evening was that Liz's older songs (like "Never Said" and "Divorce Song") are still heads and shoulders (and all other body parts) above her newer material. Hard as they rocked (or as hard as Liz tried to make us) songs like "Bionic Eyes" and "Love/Hate" just don't resonate with the impact as "Fuck and Run" or "Polyester Bride."

That said the highlight of the evening was the juxtaposition of my new favorite Liz song, "Extraordinary" (serving as a personal little theme for a variety of reasons- "I am extraordinary/If you really get to know me/I'm just your ordinary, average, everyday sane psycho..." -go ahead and sing that at the top of your lungs on your drive to work and tell me it isn't cathartic, or attend a Twins' game and hear it blaring over the way too loud Friday night speakers and tell me you'd ever thought you'd live to see the day where Liz was played in the sterile Metrodome) with one of her best songs ever , "Mesmerizing." The mocking tone of the former raises a smile but the sentiment of the latter still oozed out from every tiny inch of her frame throughout.

During an early song, the scratch yourself "Rock Me," Liz jumped down from the stage and danced with some of the patrons. Though I wasn't fortunate enough to personally participate I must say she did eventually get me out of my seat (like she stated was her overall goal for all during the evening). She is one of the few women remaining that has the ability to do that.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Why Everybody Thinks You're Looking Out for the Other Guy

In the day I play an elections official and this isn't exactly the profession one might necessarily choose this year if given all the options.

In a seemingly close presidential election year there have been numerous accounts in the media about security concerns with voting equipment. There also have been stories about the possible, and we can't go there again, return to the historic practices in this country of disenfranchising groups of voters with unfair administrative procedures- procedures that place a burden on some but not all, making it difficult for some to vote.

I thought I had heard it all when I picked up my phone upon arriving at work Wednesday morning and I got cussed at by a guy in Norway who wasn't happy I wasn't going to allow his son to vote because his son happened to not meet the requirements to receive a ballot from me. Things have gotten so bad that now I'm even disenfranchising Norwegians.

And quite frankly I'm tired of it all.

I'm tired of people who don't let others off an elevator before they attempt to get on.

I'm tired of driver's who don't signal their turns.

I'm tired of cats clawing my furniture to shreds.

I'm tired of slow internet connections and receiving multitudes of spam.

I'm tired of those who don't listen to others because of a person's gender.

I'm tired of people who don't listen.

I'm tired of selfishness.

I'm tired of people who don't respect the Minnesota Twins.

I'm tired of living in a football town.

I'm tired of indifferent customer service.

I'm tired of not having time to read a newspaper let alone a book.

I'm tired of growing tiny tomatoes.

I'm tired of not being able to find my DVD copy of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

I'm tired of lacking a poet in my life.

I'm tired of longing for the former poet in my life.

I'm tired of wishing Lester Bangs was still alive and writing.

I'm tired of waiting for the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to come out on DVD so I can complete my collection.

I'm tired of mowing my lawn.

I'm tired of high gas prices.

I'm tired of owning too much coinage and not enough paper money.

I'm tired of listening to my portable car CD player on scratchy speakers.

I'm tired of waking up in the dark and feeling like I remain there all day long.

I'm tired of not being able to sleep at night.

I'm tired of feeling tired.

I'm not tired of gazing into her eternal heart softening soothing blue blue eyes despite an occasional skunk eye or two.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Would You Rather Be Regular or Normal?

The most depressing thing of all is coming home after a ten hour work day during a 70 hour work week looking forward to watching the local first place baseball team take on the suddenly hot second place team only to find out that the local team is behind by six runs and it's only the third inning. That is of course unless you consider the ramifications of perpetually being in love with one who will never love you back.

Or maybe the most depressing thing is to hear the ache in Lucinda Williams' voice as she sings about longing during a great version of "Side of the Road" in front of the animals (some in cages, some closer in proximity) during a concert at the Minnesota Zoo.

Then again it's awfully depressing watching first hand your own softball game starting to show the creaks and ravages of growing old. You're a step older, and the drives you used to hit over outfielder heads now land safely in gloves and the grounders you used to beat out you now find yourself out by just a step. The glove is less steady and the arm less sure. And what's even more depressing is that you realize that you will one day (perhaps sooner than later) be unable to play the game anymore as much as you still love playing. There is a limit, hard as it is to accept, that playing a young person's game is not always going to be a place for a prematurely old man.

This year's softball season has been the most frustrating of all. Playing for a team that outscored its opposition during the season only to end up with more losses than wins can take its toll. Missing more games than you got to play was unfortunate to the extreme. Last weekend was the annual end of season double elimination tournament and for the first time ever your team lost its first two games making it a very quick day.

But just as sad was getting home and seeing a young cat familiarly watching the world from a bedroom window. His head is rested (oh so cutely) on his lone front paw as he takes it all in. When he sees you arrive home he calls out. He used to wander freely in the outdoors only to get caught in a trap and have the world that he knew and grew comfortable with, suddenly gone forever. As he hobbles around his house on his three remaining limbs he alternates between extremely affectionate and frustratingly untrusting.

But in the end (40 years later) it all is made a little less depressing when one comes home and plops on the best CD of the past couple of years, Shelby Lynne's heartwrenching Identity Crisis.

Lynne is at the age where it would be a twilight of a softball career but the beginning of an artistic career only her career hasn't exactly been of the overnight sensation variety. Just when you think you've had it rough try watching one parent murder another and then commit suicide right in front of your sister and you. That's bound to turn you into one hell of an artist or basket case or both.

After gaining Grammy notoriety for her "best new artist" (after years of trying) CD, This is Shelby Lynne, Lynne recorded a disappointing follow up, Love,Shelby that sounded like every other country performer ever born. But that's what made the ensuing Identity Crisis sound so fresh and inspiring. One gets the feeling it is the CD that Lynne has always wanted to make but was never able to because she either didn't sell enough to call her own shots or given some recognition she was made to do what she was told in order to really have some say in the matter.

Identity Crisis opens with the jazzy, soul soothing, and intuitive "Telephone" and never lets up from there. This isn't the blues, it's a color all its own. Go ahead and try listening to the cathartic climax on "Gotta Be Better" and then try and tell me that you don't understand things better in this unrelenting and unforgiving world. Depressing as it all can seem, nothing seems quite so bad after listening to someone like Shelby at her best.

Monday, August 9, 2004

Yes I'm Going to Be a Star

It was in junior high when I still believed in trying to make some sort of difference that I decided that like every red-blooded Japanese American kid with wavy hair growing up in Roseville, Minnesota, I wanted to become President of the United States. Given that every President this country has ever had has been a white male, I realized I had a lot of work in front of me.

Thus I sat down and calculated the first year I would meet the constitutional requirements for being the President of the United States (the historic document doesn't exactly say you have to be a white male after all). Seeing you have to be 35-years-old to be President and knowing that my November birthday usually falls after the general election I discovered that I'd first be eligible in 2000 but I decided to give myself a few extra years and make my run in 2004.

Figuring it was never too early to start campaigning I printed off a bunch of flyers in 1980 to hand to my classmates alerting them of my candidacy 24 years into the future. Precocious as I may have been, little did I know that once the other candidates did actually join the race that I probably would make as good a President as at least two of them.

Unfortunately as much of a head start as I had on the others, my campaign stalled oh around 21 years ago. That was until the last couple of weeks when I came out of my shell, and like the groundhog, actually saw (or at the very least felt) a shadow. In my current position as a high-ranking government official, I granted an interview with a reporter from one of the three major newspapers in Thailand.

She had a translator with her so I'm not quite sure she appreciated fully the wonderful nuances of my winsome personality. And quite honestly I didn't go to my "A" material and tell her really what was on my mind about this year's election instead trying my best not to say anything controversial even knowing that if I did it likely wouldn't make much of a splash in this country. Election official decries the end of a democracy...

This past week I continued my media blitz (albeit with another baby step) when I did a half an hour TV interview with a woman from the Minneapolis League of Women Voters for a Minneapolis public access cable station. Again there was a whole lot more I could have said but like a good Presidential candidate I chose to take the safe route and not really speak my mind.

I was a bit surprised that in the days leading up to the TV appearance I wasn't at all nervous. I didn't give much thought (or eventually effort) in what I was going to wear let alone say. I didn't care if I ended up looking like a dork (quite the norm) or foolish (I've been called much worse the past few years). I didn't care if I knew what I was talking about or whether I was going to have to resort to making it all up (I do that weekly here after all).

The studio was located in St. Anthony Main so I was able to stop beforehand and enjoy a sushi dinner at Kikigawa. I wandered over to the studio where I had a pre-show meeting with the host and the other guest (a city councilwoman from Shoreview and a member of the League). We talked about what we were going to talk about.

Under the glare of the bright TV lights I reminded myself of the reminders I have heard others say: to sit on my suit coat so that it doesn't bunch up in back and not to wave my hands like a crazy man when speaking. The half an hour flew by and reviewing my performance afterward I'm struck that no one in my inner circle of advisors has ever told me what a goofy grin I have on my face when I'm talking. I almost look lifelike and friendly on the boob tube. Who would have guessed?

Monday, August 2, 2004

It's All About the Capo

"Go find a jukebox and see what a quarter will do..."
-Lucinda Williams

Last winter I took a creative nonfiction writing class with the Blue-Eyed Editor at the Loft. As part of the class we were all allowed (or required depending on your point of view) to read two pieces aloud that the rest of the class would then comment on.

My week to read was fast approaching and I had no idea what I was going to write and share with my classmates. It wasn't as if I was afraid of what the others in class might think of my writing. That obstacle had long since out of self survival, become a non-issue. It also wasn't as if I thought any feedback offered would suddenly make me a better writer. If there is one thing I know I can do pretty well these days it is evaluating the things I do OK and the things I need to work on. Nope I was just having a difficult time coming up with something worth sharing.

So I found myself one day at my day job in an endless meeting with my thoughts everywhere but in that particular conference room. Lucinda Williams' song "Fruits of My Labor" bounced around inside my head just as it had for most of the week and I really wasn't sure why. In a moment of clarity I began furiously jotting down notes for my essay. It was going to be about how my work seems a little less than inspirational these days and a lot of that is a confessed self inflicted wound of wanting to keep my professional and private lives completely isolated from each other.

My classmates weren't quite sure what to make of my piece. I quoted lyrics from the Lucinda song throughout. And it took me weeks to figure out why that particular song was involuntarily permeating my soul. She's singing about how her hard work and her relative fame has allowed her to own things like velvet curtains yet that wasn't exactly what she had in mind when she began her career all those years ago.

The same feeling relentlessly washed over me as I sat watching Lucinda play at the Minnesota Zoo last Wednesday. It was a "glad I made the effort to go" show as she continues to grow as a performer. The same Blue-Eyed Editor/Classmate accompanied me to the show, her first time in seeing Lucinda, and at one point my friend astutely remarked how charismatic Lucinda was and how it was difficult to take one's eyes off of her.

As if it wasn't enough to be the creator of so many stellar songs, I must say Lucinda is about as an attractive woman as any in this hemisphere. She possesses in excess the two most appealing traits (as far as I'm concerned) of any woman- creativity and lots of soul. She is a writer who drives me crazy- both because her songs penetrate the deepest parts inside and help make some sense of this place, but also because I'm insanely jealous of her ability to express something I'm feeling far far better (and more simply) than I ever could.

The show's song list was dominated by songs from her last two CDs, Essence and World Without Tears. The lack of songs from her most popular CD Car Wheels Down a Gravel Road, clearly disappointed some of the people around us. (She did only one song from that CD- a ragged "Joy.") The guy behind us kept shouting for her to sing the title cut of that CD- only he and the woman he was with had a little joke about the song title-he kept yelling, "Hot Wheels Down a Gravel Road." That was kind of annoying and not even as funny as my best friend's misinterpretation of the song she calls, "Cartwheels Down a Gravel Road."

Yet I was somewhat satisfied by the song choices. In preparation for the show I had made my friend a Lucinda mix and the first nine songs of the show were included on that disc.

The early part of the show featured several piercing versions of slow sad songs like "Ventura," "Reason to Cry," and "Out of Touch," where Lucinda's slurred southern drawl was made even more heart pounding by the occasional crack of her voice. A few people began dancing during "Joy" but the oddest moment of the show came when the band followed up that guitar driven song with the bluesy dirge like "Atonement" perhaps the least danceable song of all time (though the dweeby devoted kept trying.)

The absolute highlight for me and the one I was with came during the encore. Lucinda returned to the stage to surprisingly play two older songs from her great 1988 CD, Lucinda Williams. The first, a heart stopping version of "Side of the Road" was performed accompanied only with her own strumming acoustic guitar and the subtle embellishments from her lead guitarist. The second was one of all time favorite songs, "Am I Too Blue?" that not in my wildest dreams was I expecting her to play. Cool beans.

By the time we got to the closing "Get Right By God" performed in an convincing religious revival style, one couldn't help but understand things just a little more clearly if only for a frustratingly fleeting moment. As we walked home under the stars the future once again seemed for the moment, full of possibilities.