Monday, June 28, 2004

Dr. Dylan

Dear Jennifer,

Got your beautiful postcard from Madrid today. Sounds like you are having a fabulous time. Wish I could be there with you sharing a bowl of ice cream to cool down.

Did you see that our friend Mr. Dylan made all the newspapers this week? He got an honorary doctorate degree in music from the University of Glasgow. The pictures of Bob at the ceremony were rather amusing. Never has a more dour look appeared on someone looking so dapper. (Although a similarly sour look appeared last week on the face of your favorite local election official being awarded by our Secretary of State in a photograph printed in the Laker, a community newspaper serving the Osseo area.)

What struck me about Dr. D's degree wasn't so much whether he was deserving of such honor (of course he is) but rather what an unpredictable path his career has taken over the years. I just picked up a copy of his latest CD Live 1964 featuring the Halloween concert he gave shortly before the soon to be released and seminal Bringing It All Back Home forever changed American popular music (in the very year I was born). I don't know why I didn't rush out and buy the new CD when it came out last month. I think this is the longest I've waited to buy a new Dylan CD since I became a fan all those years ago. The delay was a mistake.

Live 1964 features another side of Bob Dylan that hasn't been heard from since. He is positively in a giddy mood throughout the show as his banter with the audience is full of silliness and warm humor. Before he breaks into a high spirited "If You Gotta Go, Go Now," he chuckles when he tells the audience that he is wearing his Bob Dylan mask for Halloween. Before he sings "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" he says the song is a funny song even though the heretofore unheard lyrics are dripping with blood.

I don't know if I told you, Jennifer, that I saw Prince last week. What kind of surprised me about that other Minnesota music legend is how warm and engaging he was throughout the whole show. Having become accustomed to seeing Bob's silent and aloof stage demeanor it was rather jarring to see how Prince flirted with his crowd (especially since he shares the reputation of being somewhat inscrutable). Plus I must say that Prince's bass player Ronda had much better legs than Bob's bassist Tony Garnier.

What Live 1964 shows is that things have indeed changed. To hear Bob joking with his audience is quite a treat. And the performances are thus somehow different than anything Dylan has ever released before or since. The version of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" blisters along and the hurting humor of lines like "I'm thinking and wondering walking all the way down the road/I once loved a woman, a child I'm told/I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul/But don't think twice..." are made equal parts sad and cutting because Bob sings the first part of the stanzas at the upper range of his register like he is at some camp town Hootenanny finally letting something go that he's been keeping inside far too long.

When he brings Joan Baez on stage to sing a duet on "Mama, You've Been on My Mind" his phrasing throws her off (and probably quite intentionally so) as he holds notes, starts and stops lines at unexpected times. Contrasted with a similar duet they did a dozen years later of the same song, it is proof positive what a spontaneous and in the moment performer Dylan is. The message of the song is the same despite being delivered quite differently, yet the deviant colored tone is like finally getting a whiff of a scent both unique and comforting in its hardening delight.

I'm sure you've listened to the new disc many times already Jennifer, yet I'll bet you reacted in a similar way as I did at the freshness of hearing old performances brought to life in such a delightful way. I picture in my head you traveling around Spain, in boots of that country's leather, drinking it all in with the music of our hero playing in your head, making it all the better, as it always does.

Your pal,

Monday, June 21, 2004

And When it Comes to Love He is a Junkie

OK so I get it now. There absolutely is a God. Bee4, I intuitively understood God was love and inspiration and all things we deem beautiful. The realization that came to me this week is God is that special ability existing within, granting us the grateful ability to appreciate all things beautiful and inspirational and despite the pain so often involved, worth loving in the end.

Prince's show at the Xcel Energy Center Wednesday was nothing short (insert your own Napoleon complex and high heel joke here) of uplifting and astounding. I've been called a lot of adjectives over the years but I'm not sure anyone has ever accused me of being funky in any way, shape, or form. Yet coming home after the show I for one was proof positive that Prince lived up to the promise he made at the beginning of the show- that all of us would leave the place changed people. I indeed had been funked.

He rocked, he rolled, he rhythmed and blued, he danced, and above all he quite charismatically made the point (exclamation at that) that he is one talented little M.F. Opening with a tight pristine version of "Musicology," the music and energy never stopped from the beginning of the night until the end. The joy of music making seems to ooze out of him like a heavenly bodily fluid and he was rather engaging all night, acknowledging several times being "home" (although he sometimes indicated he was in Minneapolis and not its Twin City). In one song he recounted a conversation with a telemarketer and he said he would do his best Minnesota impression, taking a message that ended in a convincing "U Betcha!"

Over the years I've probably admired Prince just as much for his attitude as much as I have for his music. For me he hasn't always had a lot of interesting things to say but he's always had the knack of saying what he needs to say in an interesting way. His stubborn defiance at constantly striving to be inscrutable has probably cost him professionally over the years. But his talent remains undeniable- he's a great musician, songwriter, singer, entertainer and performer quite deserving of the self proclaimed moniker of being an Artist.

Case in point: the non stop funk of the first half of the show ended with a magnificent extended jam coda to "Controversy." Always the showman Prince stopped his dancing, walked to a plank between two edges of the cross shaped stage, sat down in a lounge chair and picked up a copy of a recent Rolling Stone with his picture on the cover, and an article entitled, "Burning Down the House." As he rejoined the band with a virtuoso guitar solo he nearly lived up to the billing of the article. And the smile/slight smirk on his face indicated he knew exactly what he was doing.

The second half of the show opened with a set of songs performed soulfully solo and acoustically. Prince's sly humor shined brightly throughout as he led the crowd through sing-song versions of some of his best known hits like "Little Red Corvette," "Raspberry Beret," (perhaps my all-time favorite Prince song), and "Cream," (perhaps my second all-time favorite Prince song). "Alphabet St."? Get out!

The absolute highlight of the show however was when he plugged his guitar back in and proceeded with a powerful, eclectic, and electrifying version of "Sign o' the Times." The intensity of the lyrics were matched by the vitality of the performance. I loved his vocals on the song- deep, resonant, and provocative. (He added a local reference ad-libbing the line, "Let's fall in love, get married, have a baby/We'll call him... Kevin Garnett.")

Other highlights were a tribute to Ray Charles (beginning by singing a little of "Georgia on My Mind," segueing into a heartfelt "What'd I Say") and "Call My Name" a song from his current CD Musicology. I couldn't help but breathe in the irony of the lyrics, "I can't stop writing songs about you," that rang rather true following a conversation I had earlier in the day with the Dime Piece Beauty with a Bangin' Booty who told me she didn't want me writing about her in the newsletter. (So of course I had to Puffy Lip and all.)

The encore featured a crowd pleasing version of "Purple Rain" that touched me in another uniquely personal way. Prince wanted people to do the one hand slowly waving about the head like they did when he performed the song in the movie. The move of course is quite reminiscent of what my cat Thompson does as he stretches out and rolls around the ground. To see so many people doing the Thompson was quite amusing. At the end of the performance of "Purple Rain" Prince left the stage by pointing towards his heart and shaking his head and pointing up above. The gesture indicated his highness astutely knows for sure where all that came before ultimately comes from. God bless him, I say, parenthetically so.

Monday, June 14, 2004

It Ain't a House, It's a Little More of a Home

This week the newsletter asks the question, "What in hell is that big ball of bright light up in the sky that peeked out on Saturday?" Because if nothing else, this spring's unrelenting stormy weather has proven that it not only has been raining a lot recently in my soul, but it's raining just about everywhere else within spitting distance. So thank God there's shelter.

I was 32 years old when I bought my first house. I'm not sure this was a good age to buy a house. I don't know if it is an average age to buy a house. I don't even know if it was a wise age to buy a house. All I know is that after years of apartment dwelling, I had had enough with noisy neighbors, quirky landlords, and throwing rent check after rent check away into the wind.

My house is a modest house and deliberately so. I don't want to call attention to it, both for security reasons and because quite frankly I don't know nothing about home repair, or home renovation, and I don't really need to call any more attention to all the things I don't know.

I think I frustrated my realtor during my search for a home. (Am I the only person in history who has never gotten a holiday card from his realtor? Isn't that mandatory per the job description?) We looked at place after place but nothing matched the vision I had in my head. I of course couldn't communicate that place in my head (it's been a life long affliction) because I'm still not sure what home really is. What eventually did appeal to me about the structure I ended up buying was its "potential."

The basement was unfinished and I could picture it one day holding a family room where the kids (little Placido and Thurogood) could play floor hockey like my brother and I used to do in my parents' house dinging up the walls and ceiling after an especially impressive stick handling maneuver leading to a goal or crunching body check.

The backyard was big enough to hold a batting cage or gazebo or maybe both though you can't have it all because where would you possibly store it?

Most importantly the attic was big though unfinished, and in the end that was the determining factor in me making an offer on the house (well that and the Como Park location). I pictured myself, home improvement book open in front of my Kubo nose, hammer in hand, teaching myself how to sheet rock. A couple of years later a friend was all set to move in, and the plan was to make the upstairs attic a nice little room for her. But she walked away in silence and the loan I took out went towards easing my ensuing depressed unemployment.

Eight years later things (of course) just don't feel right and there is a sense of growing urgency in the wanderlust that has forever existed in my heart. This is the longest I've lived in one place other than my parents' house. So this spring I finally got serious and began looking into finally doing something with the attic. Getting bids, lining up financing, deterrents in the past, were an obstacle overcome this time around. Looking at potential floor plans has actually been kind of fun. One might argue that a diabetic can't cure his disease with a new hypo, or that you wouldn't throw a starving man a piece of gum but I think adding a new wing to the house might feel at least a little bit rejuvenating.

Construction work begins in a few weeks and I dearly hope it passes quickly. I met my contractor at Home Depot the other night to pick out things like carpet, paint, doorknobs, towel racks and the like. I must say I almost wanted to in all cases go with the cheapest choice possible but part of me constantly reminded myself that this is an investment and though it may not seem like it now my decisions may pay off whenever I leave this house. I hope the time passes quickly though, the cats I share the house with may need therapy if the soon to be ordinary out of the blue commotion gets too severe.

Monday, June 7, 2004

The Human Touch or Getting the D.T.'s

It was just only a little over a year ago when the suddenly strangely silent hallways of my modest little brick-sided abode were filled with the pitter patter (and the occasional KER PLUNK) of seven splendid paws scampering all around.

Adjusting to my new housemates has at times been an exasperating experience. Likewise earning their trust that the rules I long ago tried to establish exist for a reason, has been a stifling challenge. Still, not a day has gone by when I don't marvel at something my current cats, Thompson, and Diego-san do. Watching them explore, share common experiences, and learn about life has been about as gratifying as anything I've ever experienced.

I still grieve the loss of the boys' predecessor, the one and only, late, great Mr. Max. A twelve year friendship is a rare thing in my life after all. But just the sheer energy of having two childlike cats in my house is both new and a needed shot in the arm. They both have such different personalities from Mr. Max. I have to admit when I adopted them I wasn't entirely sure I was ready and doing the right thing- a feeling shared by a friend who likely knows me better than most. But I don't regret a moment of our time together and when that friend, the boys' babysitter, left me a message after taking care of them awhile back- about how special she thought they were- it was our best shared feeling in a long, long time. (I think Diego-san's unabashed adoration for her might have swayed her opinion on the matter.)

Diego-san admittedly is an impressive teddy-bear of a guy. He has silky soft long black fur that is impossible not to stroke, and he represents all that is unequivocally inscrutable about his species. He can be fearless. He gets into things, goes places that Mr. Max didn't dare. He can be as aloof as he can be needy and friendly. Diego-san loves to crawl under my covers at night, nose right there next to mine, pawing at me and purring about as deeply as his impressive frame allows.

He is the very definition of mischievous. There isn't an empty bag or box that he feels he shouldn't climb into. Turn on a faucet and he'll plunge right on up, sticking is face right into the flowing water. He greets all my female friends personally and eventually his curiosity overcomes his fear when my male friends stop on by.

We've had our moments. My furniture is starting to look like it's been given a specific Fawn Hall regimen, with threads shredded and hanging by the aforementioned proverbial said thread. After a brief time of sitting on my chest (he's a busy boy after all) Diego-san inevitably will swagger over to my hard earned couch, stretch out and scratch at what he shouldn't as the cardboard contraption that is made for just such activity lies right nearby.

Likewise Thompson has won over my heart just in the nick of time. My introduction of him to others always has to mention his unique physical trait- he's missing a leg after having it amputated after he got it caught in a trap. But it is his very handicap that makes me marvel at how he has grown to trust things over the past year. Loud noises and quick movements still (and rightfully so) make him jumpy. He doesn't like to be picked up but when he chooses to lie on me, he does so endlessly and eternally. It's me that ultimately me will have to get up after an hour or so, as Thompson slumbers deeply and contentedly in a place of unquestionably deserved comfort.

I've really tried hard earning his trust and getting him to believe in life (even when I don't) just a little bit more from the time he arrived in his new home. When he first moved in Thompson wouldn't sleep in the same room as Diego-san and I. Then he began sleeping on the cat tree I placed near my bed. Not too long ago he began to sleep on the foot of my bed (right on my feet).

Thompson still isn't sure of our visitors. Lately after I'm done with my morning shower he'll be waiting for me and he plops his 16 pound frame right at my feet and squirms around, just tempting me to rub his belly. His lone front paw dances out above his face as he licks the top of my feet.

At various points in the day the boys have playtime together. They'll recklessly chase each other throughout the house, up and down stairs, in and out of rooms. Often they'll lie together, Thompson licking Diego-san clean as Diego-san places his big black paw across Thompson's torso. This all feels so much like a different phase of my life but the boys don't allow me the time to dwell on such thoughts too much. Every day still seems so fresh to both and that inspires me at the very time I'm beginning to feel so old and worn out. Yes we are still adjusting to all that is new but we all seem to be in agreement that our current living arrangement is beneficial to all involved.