Monday, December 26, 2005

2005 Top Ten

Here are ten things that made it through the muck of 2005 (they are in particular order):

10) The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame/British Museum- Usually when I visit another city I don't care much if I see the obvious tourist attractions. I'm just as happy to find some out of the way place restaurant or CD store or something that is somehow uniquely that city. That said, I must say I loved visiting the RnR Hall of Fame in Cleveland. I was highly amused to see how tiny the Rolling Stones outfits were and it was a quite a kick reading Leadbelly's correspondence. Equally impressive was the British Museum in London that was almost too huge to comprehend. Pottery from ancient Persia? Cool. Kitty artifacts from various cultures? Neato.

9) Paul McCartney "Too Many People" "I'll Follow the Sun" at the Xcel Energy Center- I guess my Paul McCartney nostalgia differs from most people. I didn't care much for the umpteenth versions of "Get Back," "Back in the U.S.S.R.," or "Yesterday." What I was glad to hear, smile from ear to ear glad, was the snarling "Too Many People" from 1971's Ram where Paul chides John Lennon about preaching practices. Equally enjoyable was the version of 1965's "I'll Follow the Sun," one of those catchy McCartney tunes that seem to flow from him effortlessly. I was so inspired I went home and banged out my own piano version for my cats. Thompson scampered away either in fear or merely to get away from the annoying racket.

8) Arrested Development- This FOX show just keeps getting better and better. Who would have thought that Ron Howard, TV's Opie, director of so many insipid movies could produce something this biting? Scott Baio's attorney character, Bob Loblaw, and Charlize Theron's British siren, Rita, were inspired additions to the already stellar cast.

7) Lucinda Williams at the Minnesota Zoo- She treated us to six new and still unrecorded songs intermingled seamlessly with her older songs (meaning they were all insightful and heart stopping/starting ). I can't wait for the next CD.

6) Shelby Lynne at the Cleveland House of Blues- Lynne was brooding, tender, and by the end of the show she was somewhat drunk. But hearing live versions of songs like "Telephone" and "Where Am I Now?" truly was a treat. The show made me buy all her back catalog- the many CDs that she recorded before she was awarded her Grammy for "Best New Artist" in 2000.

5) Seeing my friend Alex in her hometown of San Diego- We hadn't seen each other in ten years. We had a nice sushi dinner and I marveled at how comfortable our friendship still feels and how much I still admire her drive, ambition, and inquisitive mind and soul.

4) CERA Graduation Beverly Hills- Over the past couple of years I've flown to various parts of the country to take election administration classes taught by the faculty of Auburn University. It's the only election administration certification program in the country and as I finished up my work this summer, I became one of the first 300 people to earn the accreditation. Graduating at the fancy Beverly Hills Hilton (where they hold the Golden Globe awards every year) in front of family and friends was an odd mixture of show biz and the electoral process.

3) Theo- The decision to add a third cat to the household mixture was greeted with skepticism by some of my friends and family. Still once I was introduced to young Thelonious, the decision was a forgone conclusion. He's sweet, spacey, and watching him try to find his place amongst his housemates has been pure joy.

2) Ike Reilly Junkie Faithful- When the blue-eyed editor introduced me to Ike's music a couple of years ago by giving me his first CD, Salesmen and Racists, I was immediately won over. When I got to the ultimate driving song "Angels and Whores" and Ike wails, "Hey motherf*%@er kiss the ground- I not only kept hitting the repeat button and turning the volume up louder and louder, I almost drove by my destination and just kept going. His new CD not only is full of clever and inspiring lyrics- it's got as much kick as it does spirit. My current favorite line? "The things I do in the daytime should only be done at night/Like when I watch my neighbor's wife bend down slow to pull out weeds…" Junkie Faithful is the best CD I've heard in quite a while.

1) Bob Dylan's five shows at London's Brixton Academy- On my way to the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport I was walking to my light rail stop when out of the corner of my eye I saw my co-workers running toward me waving a banner that read, "Dylan in London or Bust!" I was quite moved. I was also quite moved throughout the 50 different songs he did in five nights. We were treated to the live debut of "Million Dollar Bash." Along the way there were terrific performances of "Desolation Row," "Positively Fourth Street," "Sugar Baby," "Shelter from the Storm," and "Mississippi" just to name a few. To hear Bob do an abbreviated version of the Clash's "London Calling" during a couple of encores and have the natives go wild- made the expensive and somewhat crazy trip all worthwhile.

Monday, December 12, 2005

May The Lord Have Mercy On Us All

My Mom was quite supportive of my precocious interest in journalism. When I was in grade school I started reading the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch cover to cover. Mom made sure that she read all my favorite columnists from Don Riley to Oliver Towne, from Patrick Reusse to Bill Farmer so that she could share in my delight in what they had written. She too shared in my love of comics like Buzz Sawyer and Bloom County and Rooftop O'Toole (drawn and written by the great local editorial cartoonist Jerry Fearing).

When I was in the 7th grade Mom gave me a copy of David Halberstam's book The Powers That Be. The book was thick- thicker than the lenses of my glasses, and it seemed a rather daunting challenge to a guy who was working his way through the Hardy Boys series. But I learned early on not to take Mom's recommendations lightly (she proved her critical eye to me by recommending movies like Friendly Persuasion and Spirit of St. Louis) and she never ever had given me a book I didn't end up liking so I wrestled hard with the dilemma of reading this Moby Dick thick book that appeared to be about big things, and having better other things to do like improve my hopscotch abilities.

Thus I didn't begin reading The Powers that Be until one year later and once I started I found it hard to put the book down. The book is about the rise of power of some of America's biggest media moguls from Time Magazine's Henry Luce, to the Washington Post's Philip and Katherine Graham, and most interesting to me, CBS' William Paley.

The section about Paley more than anything else, whetted my appetite in wanting to become a journalist. It touched on how in TV's infancy the network's news division was an after thought to the entertainment ability of the medium. That was until Paley made the fateful but thankful decision to try and make CBS a major player in the news reporting business.

Mom always told me that it was too bad that I couldn't have seen the work of the most prestigious CBS newsman, Edward R. Murrow- that I would have admired and loved his work. I've since read plenty about Murrow, seen clips of his shows See it Now and Person to Person. I've always been struck by this dark figure who seems a tad uncomfortable in front of the camera whether covering World War II in London, or interviewing Liberace. He's one of these guys you can't take your eyes off of- that seems to know more than he's willing to reveal- yet it's in the mystery that we are glad to be a part of the story unfolding.

Watching George Clooney's wonderful faux film noir, Good Night, and Good Luck that captures the period where Murrow took on Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, one can't help but draw some parallels with our current national situation. McCarthy used the culture of fear to go after what he perceived was the greatest threat to this nation, the Communists. He didn't care who he ruined in the process, he only wanted to rid the United States of all things red.

Reading about McCarthyism in my history textbooks I always wondered how people of the time could have taken him seriously, how they let his obvious paranoia let respectable people be ruined. What Good Night, and Good Luck makes abundantly clear with its beautiful black and white shots filled with swirling cigarette smoke, is when our government can get the media to go along with scaring the masses to believe there is an imminent threat to our freedom, we are more than willing to give up some of that freedom to protect ourselves.

It's hard to imagine that there's been a better performance this year than David Strathairn's Murrow. Strathairn doesn't really look like the newscaster but he has all his subtle mannerisms down to a T. There's a scene where Murrow skewers McCarthy and looks away from the camera and lets out a subtle smirk/smile. This is an actor who knows what he is doing.

The sad current disarray of CBS News is all about a news organization that wants to rock the boat only not that hard. I don't watch any of their newscasts much but still make it a point to catch the last five minutes of 60 Minutes to see what Andy Rooney has to say only because that part of the show reminds me of the last page of the Cheapo newsletter- the latest whining from a thick browed cranky old man.

I've never been one to buy into the company line that the "Golden Age" of television was back in the 1950's and we haven't been able to live up to that since. As long as there are such creative and insightful shows like Arrested Development and The Office on the airways one can't completely turn one's back on the medium. But what Good Night, and Good Luck thankfully demonstrates, is that TV news once mattered. Maybe it was only because TV journalism was willing to once uncomfortably challenge what many of us now probably don't want to challenge for fear of realizing we can all do much better.

Monday, December 5, 2005

My Turkey Day Leftovers

It's been a difficult month for all of us in the Japanese American thespian community. First George Takei (Mr. Sulu), the manliest, but most human of space travelers, came out of the closet (not that there's anything wrong with that). Then Pat Morita (Arnold and Mr. Miyagi) died. To make matters worse one of the Christmas season's biggest movies, Memoirs of a Geisha stars two Chinese actresses playing Japanese characters.

Maybe it only feels like the world has gone wrong. And it probably didn't help my equilibrium any that I saw Paul McCartney in St. Paul and Bob Dylan in London. Somehow that seems a little backwards.

So I may suffer from a vision problem that even a new pair of glasses can't correct.

If life is about, and it seems to increasingly be, about waiting in line, waiting for your chance and praying to somebody or something that your chance will come, then perhaps we can all take a cue from the Swedish. While waiting in line to see Dylan in London I arrived one evening and headed to the end of a fairly long line walking from the front to the back. Not long after I took my place as the very last person a woman walked the path I had just walked but instead of standing behind me, she chose to stand next to the guy in front of me. It was clear she wasn't with him- they didn't make eye contact and didn't say a word to each other.

Later on a group of people showed up and began talking to this woman in a foreign dialect. Turns out they were all from Sweden. It was then I realized that a Swedish line isn't so much vertical as it is horizontal. I may have to try that at Caribou next time I go and get my morning coffee.

Or maybe I'm just plain invisible.

One of my favorite nightly moments in all five London Dylan shows was toward the end when he was introducing the band. As he was telling where each band member was from he doodled on his keyboard. It was like listening to the man compose right in front of you, a small glimpse into how his mind works. His mind is a mystery beyond what even Sherlock Holmes could figure out.

But buck up, they say. News this week gave us all some hope. A French doctor performed the world's first face transplant. I've always wanted a new face and now it's possible. I hear that George Takei's might be available.

Walking around the misty streets of London, somewhere near Scotland Yard, I couldn't believe my own eyes I was where I was at. In my head I could hear Frank Sinatra singing about a foggy day in London Town and then my own personal soundtrack jumped to McCartney singing about ordinary people it's impossible to meet, holding conversations that are always incomplete.

A mere week later I had one whiskey water before the auburn hair pre-grad student and I went to see Derailed where Jennifer Aniston really does a number on Clive Owen. Halfway through the movie I spilled our popcorn all over the floor and the auburn hair pre-grad student looked at me and asked why I did that. I didn't want to admit it but I had nearly passed out. My head started spinning and I broke out into a cold sweat and suddenly the pictures on the big screen got all fuzzy and negative looking at and I just wanted to lay my weary head down. But it all passed. Only there was no more popcorn left. It was all on the ground.

There were no Japanese American actors to be seen on that screen and this time I wasn't acting. I guess if you go all the way around to the other side of the world there are going to be some ill side effects. It only seems natural. But you wanna know the odd thing? I can't wait to go back. I want to hop on the Victoria line going the other direction just to see where it might take me. I want to walk down a street that's brand new even though it's very old. But I have loyalties and I have carved out a certain comfortable place to exist. I hope they will still see me there.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Very Twee, Very Me

I went to London with one desired mission in mind. I wanted to be walking the streets and spot Madonna. If not that I wanted to fido Judas. Biblical canine humour can't get enough!

On my eight and a half hour flight overseas I sat next to a kid (probably around three years old) and his Dad. The kid seemed quite perceptive with his comments about the airplane and runway we were on. As we were taking off the kid went "whee" as if we were on some kind of safe but scary amusement ride. His Dad chuckled. Mid-flight his Dad gave the kid a plastic sketching pad and markers and the kid drew the best Sponge Bob I've ever seen only he labeled it, "Sketch Bob."

I wanted to lean over and say, "I'm flying to see "Song Bob" but I didn't figuring I should mind my own business.

At the very beginning of Gulf (and the gap is getting BIG) War One the Grammy Awards were scheduled to air. Some thought the ceremony would be canceled given the gravity of what was unleashed, but somebody somewhere decided the show must go on. So it did.

A night after I watched what looked like a fancy video game with the sky of Baghdad being lit up by missiles and bombs, I tuned in to CBS specifically to watch Bob Dylan get a lifetime achievement award. When the moment finally arrived, Jack Nicholson read a gushing introduction and then Bob appeared with his bandit band. Bob, never once opening his eyes, sang "Masters of War" in one very long sentence hardly ever coming up for a breath of air. His band accompanied him with a sound reminiscent of a mosquito, and as they broke away for reactions from the audience there were what seemed to be nervous smiles intermixed with looks of stunned confusion.

As Bob was handed his award, he turned from the podium and looked as if he was going to leave without speaking a word. Jack and the statue babes grabbed him and turned him around. As the orchestral backing music died down, Bob stood fidgety, looking at the award. He finally tipped his hat and said, ""Well, my daddy, he didn't leave me much, you know he was a very simple man... What he did tell me was this, he did say, son, he said… He said, you know it's possible to become so defiled in this world that your own father and mother will abandon you and if that happens, God will always believe in your ability to mend your ways. Thank you." It was the greatest acceptance speech ever.


I was supposed to meet my friend Jennifer at Gatwick Airport in London. She flew on another flight. Her last words to me on a phone call before we left the United States were, "I won't leave the airport without you." So when I got to the spot we agreed to meet and didn't see her anywhere in sight, my heart sunk right into my stomach. Having never been to London and knowing I was more than a half an hour away by train from our hostel, my anxiety in finding where we were staying without her was about as wide as the ocean I had just flown over.
The trip was Jennifer's idea when she heard that Bob was going to play a series of shows in Brixton. She emailed me the day before the terrorist attack on the London transit system so when I read the message I thought about the odd and dangerous timing of her offer. But I knew if I turned her down I'd always regret it so I quickly emailed back and said I thought she had a splendid idea.

Months passed and I barely heard another word from her even though I knew she had gotten the tickets. I kinda put the whole trip in the back of my mind figuring if I thought about it much I would wring all possible and potential enjoyment right out of it.

I didn't do much planning, didn't think about packing or any of the details I would normally think about in preparing for a trip. It almost felt like I was in a state of denial. About the only thing in my life that indicated the trip was on my mind was when I began letting my hair grow back after my annual shaved head summer look. I didn't want my hair to be too long when I was overseas since it is much easier to care for when it's short. I figured if I stopped shaving my head in September, two months growth wouldn't be too long. The night before I was to leave I finally grabbed my suitcase (freaking out the kitties) and threw some clothes into the bag.

The only thing scarier than going to a foreign land where I knew nobody, knew little about what I was to face, was the notion of landing at a busy airport and not being able to find Jennifer.

I waited for three hours, called the hostel to see if she was there (she wasn't) before I grabbed a train schedule, hopped on to what I thought was the right one and headed off into the unknown.

Dylan's second appearance at the Grammys came the year Time Out of Mind was nominated for a "Best Album" award. As the time came for him to perform a track from the CD, the camera panned to him behind a big old microphone that looked like it was dug up from an old radio show. The band began the harsh chord guitar intro to "Love Sick" and Bob gave a pretty straightforward (for Bob) vocal performance. Behind the band were a bunch of young people bobbing up and down as if transported from an episode of Shindig. Out of nowhere a guy with no shirt bounced on to the stage and took his place next to Bob. Painted on the wiggily dancer's chest was the word "Soybomb." Given the venue I thought this was all part of the bizarre presentation but quickly a couple of burly security guards grabbed the dancer and whisked him away. Bob looked at his bassist, Tony Garnier, smiled and then ripped into a wonderful guitar solo.


Navigating the London tube system is daunting because of the many lines, but it is logically organized. Like subway systems I have ridden in other cities, the tube's different lines are color coded. After leaving Jennifer a message back at the hostel telling her I wasn't going to wait at the airport any longer, I was on my way. After a half hour ride from Gatwick Airport to the Victoria station through the London countryside, I arrived at the station with map in hand looking for the District Line, or the green line. While waiting in line to buy a ticket I heard a message over the P.A. system saying that the green line was closed and riders had to take alternate routes.

So I asked the nice chap at the ticket window what my options were and he listed a litany of routes, train changes, and stations I should look for. I nodded hopped on what I remembered was the first train he mentioned, dug out my map and hoped I didn't end up in downtown Dublin. I dug out my street directions to the hostel printed off from their website. The directions told me I had three tube stop options. After a train change or two, I hopped on the line that I thought would get me to one of the three stops. It was a longer than the other rides, and it eventually took me above ground. I got off at my stop, was approached by another nice chap with a flyer boldly displaying the word "Erotica" and found a bench to sit on. I looked at the street directions that said, "10 minute walk. Hammersmith." Those directions didn't exactly point me in the direction I needed to go. I was happy to find one of the stops and was sorta sick of riding the trains, but I thought if I strolled around the area I could become hopelessly lost. So I mapped out an alternative.

When I finally found another stop, I read the directions and felt somewhat confident that I was finally headed in the right direction. It was supposed to be a five minute walk and there were only two turns I needed to make (a left from the station and a right down Gunterstone Road). I walked a suspiciously long distance and my suitcase was starting to feel extremely heavy. Once I hit a major street I decided I'd better ask someone for better directions. I stopped in a coffee shop and the owner had never heard of the street but when I showed him my printed off directions he sent me back in the direction I had just come from.

Feeling lost was bad enough- feeling scared of the traffic whizzing by added to the permanent knots in my stomach. I felt like I imagine my cats must feel like when I take them for walks and we have to cross a road. No matter how many times I looked to make sure no cars were nearby, the only thought in my mind was I was going to end up a splotch on somebody's hood. It was hard getting used to looking right first. I thought that if I just looked right, then left, then right again I would be fine. But somehow during my entire stay in London I felt like I was in imminent danger of being hit by a car. I also never figured out if slow walkers are supposed to stay on the right like we do in the United States, or if the faster walkers were supposed to pass you on the right. There seemed to be some inconsistency from the people walking. I guess there is in the United States as well.

Out on the street I asked a young couple if they knew where "Gunterstone Road" was and the young chap said it was the next block down. Al had told me before I left that the streets of London were highly confusing. The street signs are on the sides of buildings and it's not always clear what street the sign is meant for. I walked down Gunterstone Road looking for the address of 16-22. When I got to "24" I noticed that the name of the street changed. Hmmm. So I wandered back down the other way thinking maybe it started over at the other end of the street. No such luck. I finally found another nice chap and asked him if he knew where the Ace Hotel was. He said he did because he was staying there. He said that the numbering system could be confusing because when a building comes down and others go in its place they simply keep the same number. I was just happy to finally find my room.

I wasn't making a whole lot of money in 1992. But when it was announced that Bob was playing five shows at the Orpheum I decided I needed to go to all five. His popularity at the time wasn't at an all time high having taken hits from critics and fans alike so getting tickets to all the shows wasn't particularly a challenge.

By this time Bob was well into his "Never Ending Tour" having established the ability to pull just about any song out of his vast catalog and make it new again. By the third show I was so into the music that I wanted it all to go on forever. The second show he sang this goofy and eccentric version of "Idiot Wind" and it dawned on me that the Cheapo newsletter that had just started up was a perfect vehicle for me to do what Bob was doing. The editor corner column was my opportunity to produce something new every week by reaching back and casting something old from my life in a new light. It didn't so much matter if it was brilliant. Just writing every week, doing the keep on keeping on thing, was exactly what my writing (and by extension- my life) needed at the time.

After the last show was over I looked at my notes and was astounded that Bob had done 50 different songs in the five shows. The only three that were played at every show were a cover of the traditional "Little Moses," the closing "It Ain't Me Babe"- the last encore where Bob came on stage alone and played a heartfelt acoustic version, and my all time favorite Dylan song, "Boots of Spanish Leather."

"Boots of Spanish Leather" is as autobiographical song as Dylan has ever recorded. From all accounts it accounts the break-up with his then girlfriend Suze Rotolo blow by blow. She was off to Spain with her mother and her sister who were trying to keep Suze away from Bob. The song describes feelings of betrayal that the object of the singer's love would so easily leave him behind. Whenever I hear the song, and whenever Bob gets to the punchline- it never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

"I got a letter on a lonesome day/It was from her ship a-sailin'/Saying I don't know when I'll be comin' back again/It depends on how I'm a-feelin'/Well, if you, my love, must think that-a-way/I'm sure your mind is roamin'/I'm sure your heart is not with me/But with the country to where you're goin'/So take heed, take heed of the western wind/Take heed of the stormy weather/And yes, there's something you can send back to me/Spanish boots of Spanish leather."


For those of you who have never been to a Bob Dylan show the ritual now goes something like this: The doors open well before he'll hit the stage. Whether standing in line outside or waiting for things to begin inside- there's a great anticipation of what songs he might do a particular evening with the off chance that he might pull out some unexpected nugget making the wait quite worthwhile. The stage is arranged with Bob's keyboard left of center. His people come out to tune the instruments and soon the smell of incense waifs from the stage. Around twenty minutes before Bob hits the stage the rumble of the crowd is briefly interrupted by classical music playing from the speakers on stage. When Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" begins to play those who have been to a Dylan show before know the time is near and they begin cheering. All the lights then go down and the roar of the crowd goes up as the darken figures of the band take their place on stage. A deep booming voice fills the air with an intro written by a journalist recapping his version of Bob's career- including his period as a "has been" and his alleged drug abuse and subsequent finding of Jesus... and then comes the words that really set the audience off... "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Columbia recording artist, Bob Dylan" just as the band hits the first notes of the first song.

I was on a new anti-depressant medicine that was suppose to help me sleep better. It couldn't help me sleep any worse since I hadn't been sleeping at all. And it did do the trick. I spent days at a time in bed. I remember waking up groggy one Friday evening and turning on the TV. PBS had a special on celebrating George and Ira Gershwin's music. I was having a hard time staying awake.

A lone figure strode on to the stage. Dressed in a tuxedo and carrying his guitar with his harmonica rack sticking out from his chest, Bob began to strum some notes as the narrator announced him. It was a Gershwin song I had never heard before but it soon became my all time favorite Gershwin song. Bob's vocals were full of passion and sincerity. In a show wrought with pomposity and way too much polish Bob's performance stood out with it's authenticity. He looked so out of place and lost but that isn't something that seems to bother him at all. As he is wont to do he made the song his own by changing the lyrics just a smidgen.

"I've found the happiness I've waited for/the only girl that I was fated for/Oh soon, a little cottage will find us safe with all our cares far behind us/The day you're mine this world will be in tune,/let's make that day come soon, let's make that day come soon..."


To get to London's Carling Academy in Brixton from our hostel required us to hop on the Piccadilly line to the Green Park station. From there we boarded the Victoria train to the end of the line. Brixton isn't exactly the nicest part of London. One wouldn't want to flash his or her bling very loudly there. The venue holds around 5,000 and for the first show we were in the balcony overlooking the elegant stage that juts out on to the main floor. The British publication Time Out describes it thusly: "Bridging the gap between London's intimate venues and soulless arenas, the Grade 2 listed building is one of the capital's best live venues. Its sloping floor gives a decent view from almost anywhere and the slightly surreal interior (based on the Rialto Bridge in Venice) lends each show here a true sense of occasion."

The opening chords of the opening song were unfamiliar. Turns out it was a cover of "Rumble" from the recently departed Link Wray, the man who invented the power chord. Without a pause the band broke into a ragged version of "Drifter's Escape." Next came a favorite Dylan song, "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)." Whenever Bob sings the last line, "This place don't make sense to me no more, can you tell me what they're waiting for Senor?" like in many of his songs I know exactly what he means even if I'm not sure what he was thinking about when he wrote the song.

There were three high points to this show for me. The always glad to hear it "Queen Jane Approximately" with its mournful, pleading, and tenuous chorus, "Won't you come see me Queen Jane?" was sung with clarity and precision. Likewise the way Bob sang "Desolation Row" was spellbinding and particular. Each verse was sung differently and by the end of the long song Bob left us wanting it to go on and on. "New Morning" emphasized what is the strength of the current band's lineup- its rhythm section. Drummer George Recile bashed his two snare drums in sync with Bob's odd keyboard chords in a bluesy version of the hopeful song- and Tony Garnier's bass held it all together. I loved hearing this song live for the first time. Yes indeed just as the song says I did feel lucky to just be alive.

I was in the hospital for my depression. I had brought with me just one tape to listen to during my indefinite stay- it was a bootleg recording of a recent Bob concert in Australia. He was touring with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and this show's opener was a cover of Dizzy Gillespie's "Lucky Old Sun."

"Out in the morning, out on a job. Work like the devil for my pay, But that lucky old sun got nothing to do but roll around heaven all day."

I loved the sound of Bob's voice. I loved the Heartbreaker's keyboardist Benmont Tench's piano playing. There's something about this performance that just made sense as all my world was crumbling around me. I remember listening to it when a nurse came in to check up on me. When she heard what I was listening to she seemed impressed and asked who was singing. I said Bob Dylan. She had never heard of him. It was then I knew they couldn't help me there. They didn't stand a chance.


We had to retrieve our tickets for the second show from a guy in England that neither Jennifer or I had ever met. Jennifer had ordered tickets through a service that would not deliver to a United States address. So with the help of a Dylan friend she had found this guy in England who agreed to holding our tickets for us.

She called him and he was having lunch at an Italian restaurant near his hotel. We took the train over to that part of town. The restaurant was small but had a nice atmosphere. Tim, the guy holding our tickets was seated at a table with a group of people that included the owner of the restaurant, Rob DeMartino. Rob's grandfather was a gangster, a local legend. During a great meal full of splendid food and adult beverage was one of the threads to our conversation- trying to identify the son or daughter of a famous parent who had managed to become even more famous than his or her parent. The topic of discussion had of course started with talking about Jakob Dylan.

We were having a hard time finding even one example of an instance where the child had outdone the parent. Liza Minnelli? Close but no cigar. Julian Lennon? Frank Sinatra Jr.? Angelina Jolie? Arlo Guthrie? Martha Wainwright? Gimme a break. I did mention Barry Bonds but I was seated with a group of British so the name didn't mean much. I also identified Bonnie Raitt and Whitney Houston but by that time the topic had kinda died.

Rob told us a great story about attending a Green Day concert where some youth approached him and scornfully said, "corporate." He knew what they meant and tried to explain to them that Green Day wasn't exactly authentic punk so their comment was somewhat ironic.
Ironically the first song in the encore to Bob's show that evening was a cover of the Clash's "London Calling." Talk about a smile inducing moment. It was an abbreviated performance- just one verse and chorus. But Bob spit out the lyric, "Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust/London calling see we ain't got no swing/'cept for the reign of that Truncheon thing..." was such venom and conviction that it would have made Joe Strummer blush.

That performance would have been enough to push the show over the edge but how about the live debut of "Million Dollar Bash?" "Well, I looked at my watch/I looked at my wrist/Punched myself in the face/With my fist/I took my potatoes/Down to be mashed/Then I made it over/To that million dollar bash" indeed. There was also a lilting version of "Boots of Spanish Leather" that melted my heart. We also got a note perfect version of "Visions of Johanna" ("Madonna still has not showed...") The band also pounded out a heart stopping "Highway 61" that demonstrated as rudimentary as Bob's keyboard skills are- as he pounded out a three note riff that was echoed by guitarist Stu Kimball- and as the whole band soon hit the same riff- that this was spine-tingling stuff. A great great performance.

I had read nothing about the Traveling Wilburys so when their CD came out it was a complete surprise that there were some new Bob songs available. During a decade long slide into near oblivion it was frustrating that one of Bob's greatest strengths- his sense of humor- was nowhere to be found. That's why his contributions to the Traveling Wilburys were so greatly appreciated. Somebody was finally letting his curly hair down and having some fun again.

Fellow Wilburys Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, George Harrison, and Roy Orbison weren't exactly slouches but it was Dylan's participation that made the collaboration historical and hysterical.
I played the first CD over and over. Couldn't get enough. On a novel writing trip out west I was playing the tape somewhere in Kansas and singing my heart out along with Bob on "Congratulations" "Congratulations for breaking my heart/Congratulations for tearing it all apart" with so much conviction that my soulmate and traveling partner Stephanie Jane told me to cut it out.


It used to be that the only element to my Dylan concert going experience that I did not like was the presence of so many Deadheads. I've never understood the connection between the artists- how fans of the noodling, doodling, hemphead band saw any relation to Bob's music. Over time I just got used to the distraction of the swirling dancing of the tie-dyed t-shirted crowd- put up with them to hear Bob play one more time.

I now think I'm starting to get it. Bob's fans tend to be fanatical- eating up every scrap he throws our way. Those newest over the top fans aren't unique- obsession has been part of the game long before A.J. Weberman started digging through Bob's trash to find clues to Lord knows what. Going to a Dylan concert now days I tend to see some familiar faces that I always see at every show. There's Francesca, the woman who strolls up and down the line of fans waiting to get into the show- carrying a sign pleading for someone to give her a free ticket to get in (and weirdly she always does), to the scary looking people whose eyes appear translucent and depraved. There's also a group of Dylan fans who want to be in the first row and will stand in line for many hours in order to do so. These fans have replaced the Deadheads. Their erratic spastic dancing at the show shows they have no concern about those around them. It's all about making a spectacle, how every Dylan concert is meant strictly as a mechanism for them to get closer to the Almighty Bob. A couple of Jennifer's friends fell into this group. They were willing to forgo any sightseeing in the terrific European city to sit on the hard concrete next to the venue all day long.

So the third show Jennifer went to see these friends and I ended up involuntarily holding our place in line having not eaten a bit of food all day long. (Back home I get paid plenty by the hour.) This might have clouded my vision of the third show- a show I thought lacked any trace of inspiration at all.

There were two highlights of the show for me. Bob's version of the ravages of war song, "John Brown" was note perfect. I loved how when he sang the line, "he stood so straight and tall" Bob stretched out his legs at his keyboard just as tall as he could. I also loved hearing the terrific "Mississippi" live for the first time. Every time he got to the chorus of the many wonderful lyrics of the song, how the only thing the singer admits to doing wrong was staying in Mississippi a day too long, my memory of standing in line to see the show made a humorless situation seem downright funny.

Bob's 1995 show at the Target Center was just another arena show except for one stellar moment. It came during a performance of "Mr. Tambourine Man" a song I've heard so many times it has ceased to mean anything to me at all. After a nothing special run through of the song Bob began a harmonica solo that seemed like more this is what we are doing every night dreck. But he kept blowing, kept trying to make this something memorable. And he did. As he blew note after note the whole thing crescendoed and built upon itself. I've never much liked Bob's harmonica playing but as his solo ebbed and flowed I couldn't believe my own ears. By the time it was finished I felt like the top of my head had been removed the insides had replaced by a brand new brain. It was like Bob had started lost and not knowing where he was headed and by the time he reached his final destination the journey had come to mean the meaning. It didn't matter where he ended up it was how he ended there that was the brilliance.


I was on my own to find my own way. And I was thankful for the chance. It was my fourth day in London and I finally had the chance to see things through my own eyes. Jennifer had joined her friends in trying to secure a spot that would ensure the "rail position" right in front. So I went to explore the government side of town. Buckingham Palace and the House of Parliament and Scotland Yard, I suddenly felt at home in a foreign land, suddenly felt like I found my voice at the same time that I hardly said a word to anyone all day long.

It was this day that I found the things in London that I absolutely loved. I loved the sign that declared "Humps in the Road- Next 250 yards." I loved passing a shady looking group of youths on my way to a train station that reeked of reefer- reminding me of a scene from To Sir with Love. I loved passing places with rows and rows of scooters. I loved passing geeky guys that all sounded like Rufus Wainwright or Giles from Buffy. I just walked and walked realizing that I couldn't be lost if I didn't know where I was going.

I got to Brixton around five and saw Jennifer with her friends a bit back in the line. On this night the venue's security did something different from the nights before. They opened the outside doors and let the crowd flow in, but at the inside doors they stopped people and let people go forth one by one. This method meant that those standing in line all day had no advantage over those that showed up much later. And this meant that I ended up with a better place to view the show than those who had been there all day long. It was as if Bob was telling the kids that life is too short to waste your time standing in line in such a historic city. You just never know, just can't know, when your time is up so you might as well discover everything new that you possibly can during this impossibly short journey.

The fourth show was as good as the third show was as bad. The only overlap between the two was the performance of the waltz "Waiting for You" from the Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood soundtrack that features the all too true lyric- "Happiness is just a state of mind/Any time you want to you can cross the state line..." The show's setlist was tremendous featuring carefully sung versions of "Shelter from the Storm" and "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll." The more recent songs like "Million Miles" and "High Water (for Charlie Patton) were equally as sterling. There was also a one off cover of Fats Domino's "Blue Monday" that made me smile ear to ear.

What really made the show for me however was "Positively Fourth Street" that demonstrated what a brilliant live performer Bob is. His night before performance of one of my favorite kiss off songs was nothing special. His gruff vocals expressed a weariness and remorse that isn't as present in the recorded version. His effort this night however was entirely different. Bob sang the first two words of every verse with a sneer and emphasis that turned the song inside out. "YOU'VE GOT," "I KNOW," "DO YOU" were sung with such contempt that I couldn't help but severely grin. I even chortled outloud something that I rarely do.

In the late 80's Bob inexplicably took the role in a never to be released in theaters movie Hearts of Fire. He appropriately and convincingly played the part of Billy Parker a washed up rock and roller. The highlight of the movie was the scene where Billy skinny-dipped with the lead actress, singer Fiona.

The one redeeming thing that came out of that project was a BBC documentary called "Getting to Dylan." The documentary ends with a long interview with Bob that has him sketching his interviewer the entire time. The questions are blatantly insipid but watching the whole thing is a great opportunity to watch how Bob thinks. It was the most intimate opportunity to do so until last year when he released his entertaining memoir, that was likely equal parts fiction as non-fiction.

I bought a book a long time ago that was all about trying to figure out the meaning of Bob's song "Jokerman." The author writes about the Biblical references of the song and tries to pass it all off as some great yearning to discover the meaning of life. Reading it though, I saw through the ruse. I believe Bob when he said he is just a song and dance man. Everything he does is done with a cynical dose of skepticism and humor. He knows his fans dissect his every word, his every move, with sickening religious fervor. So he tends to throw us all a bone. But it all goes back to the beginning of his career. He isn't really Bob Dylan after all- it's all an act of some brilliant sort.


The final show fell on Thanksgiving not that the British would recognize that. As I woke up and strolled into a light rain I said to myself that Bob Dylan isn't much of a meteorologist. The show the night before featured the best version of "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" that I've ever heard. But what was falling from above wasn't a hard rain so much as it was just a nuisance, an excuse to spend all day inside a museum where infinity goes up on trial.

The British Museum is a place you must visit. Just like many museums its artifacts are a reminder that where we are now is nothing more than where those that walked before us were at a long time ago. But there is just so much stuff, so much to see that a one time visit can't be enough.

I was dying of hunger throughout my visit so I decided to cut my tour of the museum short in order to get a bite to eat. I wasn't hoping to find my traditional turkey and dressing meal so I thought about what I could do to replace those staples. Cowboys and Indians, England is known for its Indian population- how about some fancy curry delight? Sounded quite appropriate.

I saw an Indian restaurant on my walk to the museum. But to get there I had to cross a busy street, maneuvering myself past the many crosswalks and I needed a restroom badly so I made the fateful decision to go back first to our hostel and hope there was a good Indian restaurant nearby. I hopped on a train at a station that wasn't where I had gotten off in the morning. The train was empty- a weird sight- and when in the middle of the ride it came to a complete stop in the darkened tunnels and just sat there for ten minutes I wondered if I hadn't made a huge mistake. The wheels began to roll again just as my stomach barked out how unhappy it was.

At my hostel I asked the front desk person if he knew of any good Indian restaurants within walking distance. He gave me directions that I knew I couldn't follow but was more than eager to try. The rain was still falling and as I somehow managed to once again find my way to a place someone else mapped out for me I found that the restaurant was closed. I continued walking on hoping that curry food was somewhere close.

My stomach was unforgiving though so I ended up at an Iranian restaurant. The host coolly greeted me in the nearly empty place. I ordered a chicken and rice meal and waited for it to arrive. I waited some more and thought that my street view with a crosswalk signal telling people to "wait" was all too ironic for my present situation. People came and went with their orders long before my food was served. When I finally got it however, it turned out the best meal of my trip. On the restaurant's tinny speakers I swore I heard the Iranian version of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana." It almost made me yearn for the disco era.

I again arrived at the venue with a line already queued up. I went to the end of the line and the lady that arrived after me didn't stand behind me but next to the guy in front of me. It was apparent she wasn't with the guy as they never said a word to each other. I would have said something about her decision to not honor my place in line but I thought it bold that she would so blatantly ignore me. As she talked to other late arriving people I deduced she was Swedish and began to wonder if her method of lining up was the way things are done in Sweden.

Once the doors opened I somehow found myself in the first row clinging to the rail. I stood next to Barbara, a German woman, who told me a couple of interesting things about her life. She told me that when she was learning English in her German elementary school her music teacher made her class sing Bob's "With God on Our Side" that features the lyrics, "Though they murdered six million/In the ovens they fried/The Germans now too/Have God on their side." I told Barbara that was intriguing although I'm not sure she understood my mumbling English. She also told me all about her living day to day running a flea market and how all the money she doesn't spend on paying of food and her living accommodations she spends feeding her dog Achilles and going to see Bob.

The final show was a fitting end to the trip. The setlist was disappointingly similar to the previous show but the two step bluesy version of "Sugar Baby" lessened the disappointment considerably. The song makes great sense to my world back home- another lament of a world gone wrong. "You always got to be prepared but you never know for what/There ain't no limit to the amount of trouble women bring/Love is pleasing, love is teasing, love's not an evil thing..."

At the end of every show, at the end of the encore finale of the Hendrix like "All Along the Watchtower" Bob and his band lined up mid-stage to take their bows amongst the wild cheers. During night three's performance the band looked toward the balcony where the Pogues' Shane MacGowan stood and wobbled, but the rest of the night they didn't seem to be looking anywhere at all, all standing with probably ordered blank looks on their faces. The most movement came from Bob himself who held two harmonicas chest high, one between his forefinger and his middle finger, the other held in the same hand between his ring finger and pinky. He seemed to gesture this handful toward someone in the audience but the movement was subtle just like all the notes played before.

These days Bob looks all the world like a mirror image of Vincent Price especially with the pencil thin mustache yet he moves like a combination of Charlie Chaplin and a cat. He's the type of person you just can't take your eyes off of and yet all the time you're watching him you're not quite sure you really see him. And that juxtaposition just makes you want to see him another time all the while realizing the next time may very well be your last chance because it can't go on forever.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Wiggle Wiggle

A few weeks beyond the day I turned 41 I'm about to embark on a journey of a different kind. I'm off to see four Bob Dylan shows at Brixton Academy in London, England.

I've never been to England though I've been accused of butchering the language a time or two in my life. Call me crazy, others have certainly done so, but when my friend Jennifer emailed me last summer and asked if I was interested in going to London to see Bob, I couldn't exactly say no even though Jennifer and I don't really know each other that well.

It's been Bob that has brought us together. We're both fans of the extreme nature. Dylan's music has spoken volumes to me and given what I know about Jennifer he seems to have reached her as well.

I can't speak for Jennifer though I know she speaks English more goodly than I do. For me though there's a reason that Bob Dylan's words have reached me like no other. This evening I turned on the shuffle option on my iPod and I spun the dial to the folder of all the nearly 500 Dylan songs I've loaded on to my mystery device. Songs from all periods of his career have randomly been playing and as I sit here typing away it has dawned on me just about nearly every one has changed me in some significant way. Dylan alone has hit upon that spot within where chaos turns to confusion, where confusion continually gives a chaotic life some type of meaning.

There's the unreleased bootleg version of "TV Talkin Song" from 1991's Under the Red Sky that Dylan's voice bottoms out at the bottom of his vocal register on words that are as scary as they are enlightening. He's playing the role of a crazy man railing against the evils of television although from the sincerity in the performance one can't be sure if he's playing at all. "The news of the day is on all the time/All the latest gossip, all the latest rhyme/Your mind is your temple keep it beautiful and free/Don't let an egg get laid in it by something you can't see..."

Will Dylan pull out "TV Talkin' Song" out of his bag of tricks during his five night stay in London? Doubt it. Wouldn't count on it. If there are two songs I sure wish he'd sing I'd have to say "Dirt Road Blues" and "Temporary Like Achilles" although I know neither one is likely to happen (don't think either has been performed live before).

I'm not sure where I'm at these days but if I could figure it out and put it down on paper obliterating all the morass of discord it might be something like the former... "Goin' walk on down that dirt road 'til I'm right beside the sun/Goin' walk on down until I'm right beside the sun/I'm gonna have to put up a barrier to keep myself away from everyone."

Of course the latter has just as much to say about how I feel these days. "Achilles is in your alleyway/He don't want me here/He does brag/He's pointing to the sky/And he's hungry, like a man in drag/How come you get someone like him to be your guard?/You know I want your lovin'/Honey, but you're so hard..." Like many of Dylan's lyrics it's hard to decipher what he might have been feeling and thinking about when he wrote all those universally cryptic words but when listening to him singing the song one knows exactly what he is singing about. That's one great slight of hand to be able to pull off.

Perhaps what I deep down wish Bob would do is exactly the opposite of what he did during a tour of Britain many years ago as captured in the documentary No Direction Home. Instead of pissing off his fans by plugging in and playing loud and electric, maybe now is the time to disappoint again and play everything in an unexpected fashion- all acoustic or all accordion.

Yes I'm going down that dirt road to some far off place. Yes it's temporary like achilles that part of me is as hardened as it is weakened and sensitive in trying to find new adventures that will help me forget about the old. What I'm more likely to hear those nights across the sea is what it feels like to be own my own with no direction home like a complete unknown, and how there must be somewhere out of here.

I've always felt like a stranger in a strange land but I have a feeling that being in the U.K. will reinforce that feeling greater than normal. That my reason for going is to hear the familiar voice of one that has made this place a bit more comfortable at the same time as he jars me with every word he sings, surely isn't lost on me.

Herr Schneider

It was almost a decade ago(!?) that my ex-friend Jennie Haire and I went down to Mankato to see Bob Dylan. I remember two things from that evening- 1) Bob did this goofy harmonica solo during "Tangled Up in Blue" that was as mesmerizing as it was eccentric and 2) that Jennie and I got lost somewhere in Eden Prairie as both of us needed a restroom BADLY.

It was Jennie's first Dylan show and I would love to know if she remembers that evening at all. Unfortunately I guess I'll never know that.

The plan was Jennie was going to move in and we were going to expand my house by fixing up the attic into an upper wing of my house. She wasn't much of a cat person but she had met Mr. Max and she liked him well enough, and just importantly he seemed to like her too.

The day we were hammering out the details we were walking near the fairgrounds and Como Park and Jennie was worried about meeting my best friend at the time, my favorite mother of two, the three of us had tickets to see Dylan play a show at nearby Midway Stadium- but for whatever reason Jennie walked right on out of my life never to utter another word to me.

Hurt? Um yes. This time beyond repair. Bitter? Nope, I made a conscious effort I wouldn't let that be the case.

A year or so later as I was reading the latest rantings of all those on the Internet Dylan newsgroup I was subscribed to another Jennifer (who had a University of Minnesota email address) posted a message saying she was a new Dylan fan and she was looking for help in starting her collection of live recordings.

I emailed this Jennifer and ended up sending her some shows I had. I didn't mention that if her first name had been different I probably would have ignored her posting and gone my merry way just like a little rabbit hopping away.

So do I find it at all ironic that as most of you are reading this that I'm walking around London with the second Jennifer as I'm wearing the first Jennifer's sneakers- with each and every step a reminder of all that has gone wrong since that fateful day? And of course the very reason I'm in this whole other place is to once again see Bob Dylan?

It's been a lifelong affliction that I have a tendency to connect the dots that otherwise have no other connection than the little that goes on inside my noggin but if there is one thing I won't forget, one thing I can't overcome it's that within days of when Jennie Haire walked away Dylan's brilliant Time Out of Mind came out, with all its depressing imagery of walking and walking away and more than any other music I've ever known or experienced, the songs spoke volumes to me.

Just like the time my best friend at the time, former Cheapo employee John Baynes and I were shopping at the Golden Valley Down in the Valley when the record store clerks selected Dylan's not yet released Down in the Groove for the in-store play and it was the CD I was holding out for before I did whatever I decided to do next and then Bob's voice was singing "When you sad and your lonely and you haven't got a friend, just remember that death is not the end..." Johnny B. turned to me and told me to stop listening.

But I haven't been to do that. No matter what else has gone haywire in my life I still find myself listening to others, and for better or worse, listening to Bob Dylan. Yes I still wonder what Jennie Haire, now Jennie Johnson, is up to, long after the expiration date of our friendship came and went, and yes I'm now probably wandering around some distance street with another Jennifer as we bide time between Bob Dylan shows, but if I know one thing I know this: that voices, steps, walking and walking away, time, and confusion will some day cease to confuse me. And then sadly it will be too late.

Monday, November 7, 2005

The Girl Next Door

If you want to make a lot of money consider inventing some software that automatically synchronizes your passwords for you. At my work I have a network password, an email password, a password into the voter registration system, a password into the payroll system. Each of these passwords expires but none of them expire at the same time so it's difficult to keep track of them. What I end up doing, like many others, is writing my passwords on a sheet of paper that I keep near my computer. Kind of defeats the point of having them in the first place.

There are rules for passwords- they have to be a certain length, many make you include a combination of letters and numbers, and you're not supposed to pick anything obvious like the name of your three-legged cat.

If a hacker were trying to bust into my computer they'd likely have a difficult time guessing my password since I interchangeably use the first and last name of a person that no one (besides the blue-eyed editor) knows was even on my radar. Back in the day I had a huge crush on her that even had its own theme music- Frank Sinatra's "The Girl Next Door."

"The moment I saw her smile I knew she was just my style/My only regret is we never met/for I dream of her all the while.../But she doesn't know I exist/No matter how much I persist/So it's clear to see there's no hope for me/Though I live at 5135 Kensington Avenue and she lives at 5133/How can I ignore the girl next door?/I love her more than I can say/Doesn't try to please me/Doesn't even tease me/And she never sees me glance her way..."

I went to a party this weekend. I was chatting with a group of friends when she walked in. Our eyes immediately connected and I think she was as surprised as I was seeing each other again. She immediately came over near where I was standing and stood quietly looking for someone to talk with. Smooth as I am I of course turned in another direction. She looked good. A little bit heavier than before, her hair slightly longer but she looked even better than I remembered.

Later on as she was talking to a couple of people I tried to listen in to the conversation. She was telling them that she doesn't own a cell phone- that she is holding out because she doesn't see the need. Her words proved that I was attracted to something other than her good looks. I was attracted because she seemed somewhat socially awkward, yet perceptive. I was attracted because she has a great smile and laugh and she was always too shy or too snobby to say anything to me and I could relate to all that.

She of course has a big hunk of diamond on her married finger but still I thought about going over and talking about my new favorite song, Fiona Apple's "Red Red Red" that has the great lyrics, "I don't understand about diamonds/And why men buy them/What's so impressive about a diamond?/Except the mining..."

The whole scene reminded me of pushing the shuffle option on my iPod and having a song come up that I hadn't heard for a long time and remembering how much I used to love that song and how it used to be a part of my every day experience. There are different songs now, songs that give meaning to all I currently experience and feel but somehow none of them capture the same thing as that old song once did. A great song can remind you of all that has passed, all that has changed and in a brief moment force you to think about the roads you decided to take and what alternatives might have existed had you chosen another route.

Our eyes met a couple more times but she eventually walked over to another part of the room and then out the door meaning the only role she'll continue playing in my life is that of my password into a whole other world.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Peradventure, Somebody's Confused Miracle in the Backyard

I was enjoying another scooter ride to work when the oil light came on. Being a scooter novice I'll be the first to admit I don't know thing one about scooter maintenance. I'll further admit that even when I become a scooter riding veteran given my history with automobiles and other mechanical items I'll likely remain quite ignorant about scooter maintenance. I do know enough that when the oil light comes on it's probably a good idea to add some oil and not ignore the warning.

On my way home I stopped at Scooterville in Dinkytown and as I was adding oil to my bike I mentioned to Bob, the owner of the store, that I likely was going to upgrade to a better scooter next summer. Bob said that he had just gotten in an used scooter the very model I'd likely upgrade to- and it only had 600 miles on it. When asked why the owner had sold it Bob said that the guy had gotten cancer after buying the scooter and had died shortly after. After Bob and I worked out the details, I bought the used scooter. It has bigger tires than my old one and has a top speed of around 45 miles per hour as opposed to the 40 miles per hour of my first bike.

It's a much smoother ride- and when I hit the gas the power is evident where my old scooter no matter how hard I tried to accelerate I always felt like I was puttering along.

The first night I had my new used scooter I couldn't get it started. When I finally got it fired up the next morning it kept stalling every time I came to a stop. So as I had the guys at Scooterville clean out the fuel intake tube and look at the carburetor I was mindful that maybe the bike wasn't as good as advertised- no matter all the unanimous glowing reviews I had read on the Internet before I decided to buy it.

Sure enough every morning I rode it to work the scooter stalled at nearly every stop light. It isn't a pleasant feeling to be there in the middle of traffic and when needing to scoot finding yourself at a complete standstill. Worse yet- the electric starter on the handlebar didn't restart the bike so instead I'd have to put it up on its kick stand and kick start it.

Somehow I kept not only the bike but my faith that it would one day be a smooth running machine. As I cycled through fresh gas the bike began to run better. Sure enough once it ran on a couple of tanks of fresh gas, the stalling problem went away. Turned out it merely was bad gas- and who among us hasn't had bad gas a time or two?

The first day the bike was running smoothly I went out to my garage, inserted the key to lift the seat to get to the storage area of my scooter. The key turned but the seat would not lift. This wasn't only a matter of inconvenience at not having access to the storage area- it also meant I couldn't get to the gas tank. On my ride to work all I could think about was that given the timing of this latest setback it was almost if my scooter was haunted. Maybe its original owner wasn't so keen on someone else riding his bike.

I brought my scooter into Scooterville once again and Bob monkeyed with the latch. He got the seat up and found that a screw to one of the brackets holding the latch in place came loose and the bracket was holding the latch in a crooked position. Problem solved although Bob admitted he had never run across that particular problem before.


I thought about riding my scooter to the Paul McCartney show at the Xcel Energy Center last Wednesday night but given that I still lacked confidence that it wasn't somehow haunted I decided I didn't want to get stranded in downtown St. Paul late at night.

I got my McCartney tickets the day they went on sale not really wanting to spend as much as I did ($144 for a single ticket!) because after having seen Paul twice before, I knew this show wasn't going to be all that different from the other two. I don't need to hear his versions of his most famous Beatle songs ("Get Back," "Back in the USSR," "Let it Be," "Yesterday,") again. The original versions were quite adequate thank you very much. Still I knew that if I didn't go I'd regret it the day after the concert.

The show seemed to take forever to begin. I didn't have my watch on but I'm assuming it was a little before eight when the piped in classical music stopped and this guy came on to the side of the stage and stood behind what looked like a large computer console. He began to do a DJ dance mix of several songs from the McCartney catalog that likely weren't going to be played later on in the evening including "Old Siam Sir," "Oh Woman, Oh Why," "Morse Moose and the Grey Goose," and "What's That You're Doing?" The thumping electronic bass pulsated rhythmically throughout the mix and a barrage of colors filled the overhead scoreboard screen flashing patterns like a screen saver gone wild.

After about fifteen minutes of this a film about McCartney began. Good God Paul, enough is enough already. When the man and his band finally appeared they opened with a lackluster version of "Magical Mystery Tour" but quite honestly just about any song would have been appreciated and sounded fine after the long wait.

I clearly was in the minority but I was glad that the second song was the less predictable "Flaming Pie" from his 1997 CD of the same name. I love the piano part and the song had a momentum that was irresistible (even though I've found the recorded version to be quite resistible).

The rest of the show followed this jarring pattern. The crowd clearly got into the show whenever Paul played a familiar Beatles or Wings song like "Good Day Sunshine," or "Band on the Run," but the energy level of the Energy Center took a dive when a lesser known song was played. Yet it was in those moments that I absolutely enjoyed the concert more than any other I've seen in a long long time. I never thought I'd get a chance to be in the same room when Paul sang songs like "Til There Was You" or "Helter Skelter" or "Please Please Me."

As I was getting more and more into the concert it struck me that more than any other artist, Paul McCartney has written a song that has been the soundtrack to just about all of the significant moments that have made up my life. As he sang an energetic "I'll Get You" I couldn't help but remember how that song was the one I heard in my noggin in 9th grade math class as I secretly snuck glances at Sue Weiss, the girl I was madly in love with at the time, as she worked on her problems. "Imagine I'm in love with you, it's easy 'cause I know/I've imagined I'm in love with you, many, many, many times before..."

I was glad he sang my three all time favorite Beatle songs, "Hey Jude," "For No One," and "I've Got a Feeling." "Hey Jude" has been his sing along closer since 1990 and for me it never loses its power as Paul aptly shows (and tells) how to make a sad song better. This evening's version of "For No One" was stunning and inspired. Accompanied only by his piano playing and Paul Wickens' synthesizer (recreating the wailing french horn part) I again was taken back to a moment from the past when I heard the song for the first time and was grateful how it captured so clearly my feelings for another Weiss lass, Sue's younger sister Karen. "And in her eyes you see nothing. No sign of love behind the tears cried for no one..."

"I've Got a Feeling" was a song Steve Olson, my best friend in junior and senior high and I used to belt out at the top of our voices on bus trips in the dark. "I've got a feeling, a feeling I can't hide" I'd sing as Steve sang the counterpart "Everybody had a hard year..." part.

There were other highlights as well. I loved Paul's live versions of "I Will" and "I'll Follow the Sun" which are essentially the same song only with different words. The latter featured four punchy coda/reprise endings that Paul explained were because the song was so short.

The song that made the price of admission more than worthwhile however was "Too Many People" from Paul's 1971 LP, Ram. It's long been one of my favorite McCartney songs because it's full of anger, an emotion he doesn't express very often. "Too many people holding back this is crazy and not like me..." Fans and critics took the lyrics of the song to be a slap at John Lennon (among them Lennon himself) especially the line, "Too many people preaching practices, don't let them tell you what ought to be..." especially since the cover of the LP featured a picture of one beetle fucking another.

The live treatment of the song was full of venom and joy. God I was glad I was there to hear it.

The live versions of the four new songs he did from his latest CD Chaos and Creation in the Backyard were full of an intimacy and immediacy lacking in most of the rest of the show. He dedicated "Follow Me" to his wife Heather and the song expressed the inspiration and guidance she has provided in the years that have included significant losses to a man who has always been about getting back, and yesterday, and finding a way back home.

I even enjoyed yet another performance of "Maybe I'm Amazed." This time I appreciated how the lyrics accurately reflect how I feel about the one I'm currently in love with- the one that has taught all about feeling the power. "Maybe I'm afraid of the way I love you/Maybe I'm amazed at how you pulled me out of time/Hung me on a line/Maybe I'm amazed how I really need you..."


I was in the still new to me upper wing of my house (formerly known as the attic) listening to the new Bob Dylan song "Tell Ol Bill" from the North Country soundtrack. The song is a foot tappin' country stomp. I broke out into an impromptu jig as my three cats all sat wide-eyed watching me. Diego-san was closest, standing by my bed. Thompson was further away standing outside the bathroom and Thelonious stood farthest away at the head of the stairs. The boyz couldn't take their eyes off of me. "This is new" their perplexed faces seem to say. As I sashayed over near Thompson he bolted away in fear. I guess it was a little too new and thus scary to him.


Liz Phair and Paul McCartney may not seem like they do but they do share a lot in common. Both had extreme early success that they have ever since tried with mixed success to overcome. In other words their early work has haunted and shaped every thing they have done since. Liz's first CD Exile in Guyville received so much deserved critical acclaim and fan devotion that every thing she has followed with seems lacking in every way.

That Liz's Thursday First Ave show featured so many songs from her first CD and only three from her newest effort Somebody's Miracle was more than a little surprising. That the older songs display so much more power and depth can't be lost on Liz. She did open with a sterling "Everything to Me" from the new CD and in its live context it was a compelling choice for an opener. "I bet it makes you laugh/Watching me work so hard to reach you/You never gave a damn/ About all those things I did to please you..." The CD version of the song to me seems like an insipid broken hearted love song to a lost love. By opening her show with a song that features the chorus "Do you really know me at all?/Would you take the time to catch me if I fell..." she framed the song in a whole different light- a slap at her fans/critics who don't seem to appreciate her music anymore.

The acoustic arrangement of "Everything to Me" featured Liz alone with her guitarist. The following song, "Baby Got Going" with similar backing was a great example of how if you listen to Liz's voice you can't help but marvel at how perceptive she can be (even in moments like last Saturday's dreadful off tune version of "God Bless America" at the first game of this year's World Series). After "Polyester Bride" Liz made a point that her guitarist had been singing the wrong words to the song for a couple of years. She may have been justified when she accused the male portion of the human race of not caring about the lyrics of songs. Given the reaction towards her new CD one has to wonder if those listening are really hearing what she is singing or if the gloss of the production leads to selective deafness. Her performance of the new songs (and she didn't even do my favorite- "Got My Own Thing") demonstrated that although the artist is in a very different place in her life- her ability to express what she is thinking about is as skilled as ever.

Standing with the Blue-Eyed editor in the (thankfully) non-smoking First Ave crowd I felt like we were with an old friend again. The only part of the show I didn't like so much was standing next to the world's two worst dancers, two women who were not only jerky but who didn't seem to have a clue about moving to the beat of the music. I wished I had a video recorder so I record them and show Thompson the three legged cat that in comparison I'm a blippin Fred Astaire. It's all about perspective. These women were there with a man/woman, a hulking being dressed in a dress and no adam's apple and with very masculine hands and features who kept backing into my dear friend who was doing her best to get into the concert

Perhaps the best part of the show was the seemingly off the cuff moments like when Liz sang a great version of "Girl's Room" without her band as her guitarist was taking care of some technical problems and her acapella version of Sixpence None the Richer's song "There She Goes."

Liz closed the show with a mesmerizing version of "Chopsticks" that contains the, this is an artist with something clever to say, about "doing it backwards" and the devastatingly confessing that after all is said and done, deep down she is "secretly timid."

Monday, October 24, 2005

Good Grief

Talking last week at the Fitzgerald Theater about her new memoir, The Year of a Magical Thinking, Joan Didion said that the reason she started writing in the first place was that she needed to figure out what she was thinking.

It was one of the many times during her book reading/interview that her words spoke volumes to me. Didion's book, which is getting rave reviews and major coverage in the press, chronicles a year in which her daughter became gravely ill, and her husband died from a massive heart attack. Didion admitted that in trying to deal with her grief that her thought process was more than slightly crazy. She said that the title of the book came from the childlike belief that one controls actions beyond their control- that children for example, think that if they just hadn't spilt the milk at dinner that their parents wouldn't be getting a divorce.

Thus the book earns its metaphysical title as Didion describes how months after her husband's death, she couldn't part with his shoes because she felt that he would need them when he returned home. In many of the book's most devastating passages, Didion details how in the days and weeks following her husband's death she was obsessed in gathering all the details- attending the autopsy, trying to discover the exact time of death- as if she had done something differently she could have saved his life.

What added weight to Didion's appearance at the Fitzgerald as part of MPR's "Talking Volumes" series was that her daughter just recently died from her illness. Looking thin and frail Didion spoke in a quiet but sure voice, as if talking about her work was another necessary step in her grief process.

Reading The Year of Magical Thinking I couldn't help but think about how little of the art I know deals with such a basic human emotion as grief. Love, anger, depression, and confusion all have been examined from every which direction. Musically John Lennon's "Mother" is about the only song I can think of that directly deals with grief. Some of Brian Wilson's sadder songs like "God Only Knows" certainly hit some of the same psychological places as grief.

Reading Didion's memoir I was also struck that the words she shares seem universal and unique at the same time simply because we're all likely at some point going to have to deal with the death of a loved one. She said she wrote the book quickly (she started writing the day after her husband died and finished a few months later) because she wanted to capture the rawness of her emotions. The book does exactly that- sparing the reader none of the overwhelming emotional territory that comes with grief. Didion said that in the months following her husband's death she would walk the streets and could see others who were grieving. Asked what she saw, Didion said that looking in people's eyes she could tell if someone was grieving by the size of their pupils. That was exactly the insight I noticed when a lost love lost her brother shortly after my Mom died.

Hearing the author read clipped passages from her book was not an easy and certainly not a comfortable experience. The reading was broken up by cello music provided by two local musicians. As they played my mind drifted to the best piece of art I know about grief- the still amazes me every time I watch it- episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Buffy's mom dies.

The stark and quiet episode captures both the overwhelming confusion, sadness, anger and shock and loss of what it feels like to have someone vital to your life die. If you're lucky, friends reach out to you as if to cushion the fall but you realize that there isn't anything they can really do to help you deal with that which can't be dealt with.

In the Buffy episode a lesser character (Tara) finds herself alone with Buffy and she tells Buffy if there is anything she can do- just ask. Then she tells Buffy that she knows it's an empty offer- she knows because her own Mom died. And for a moment Buffy snaps out of her stupor and feels a brief connection with the world again.

Reading The Year of Magical Thinking was exactly like that moment for me. Gratefully delving into such a great piece of writing makes one want to reach out to the author and share what one thinks is an instance of a similar feeling. Yet having gone through the experience of grief a time or two myself I learned if there is but one lesson to be learned it is none of us grieves in the exact same way. It's a hard lesson to learn but in grief one learns that much as we try to make every little thing mean something, in the end it all can be simultaneously meaningful and meaningless as one comes to realize how senseless a death can be. At the same time if you stop and think about it the very next breath is something to behold and not to be taken for granted ever again.

Monday, October 17, 2005

One Eyed Ingenue

Even though I majored in college in TV, movies, and music, I've never claimed that I have my finger on the pulse of this country's pop culture. I'll be the first to admit I never know why some things hit the public jackpot and why others seem to strike the fancy of the nation's many cultural critics.

Take for example the continued employment (and therefore seeming popularity) of FOX's top baseball analyst Tim McCarver who has now maintained that exulted position since the 1980's as Major League Baseball has moved from ABC to CBS to Fox. McCarver clearly knows the game well but his reliance on puns and his redundant analysis has even made me long for the more palatable Tony Kubek or Jim Kaat.

So the other night as I was watching the Chicago White Sox play the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and I was getting ready to go to bed, I decided I couldn't listen to McCarver anymore so I turned down the TV sound and plopped my iPod in to listen to the new Liz Phair CD, Somebody's Miracle, for the first time. So unimpressed was I that I nearly turned the sound of the TV back up to hear what McCarver was saying about a horrible call that allowed A.J. Pierzynski to go to first base despite striking out, ultimately causing the Angels the game. But I didn't. I stayed with Liz. And I thought to myself, "God this is awful."

The next day at work I put the CD on again and this time I cut the gal some slack. Somebody's Miracle like last year's Liz Phair is slickly produced and thus all but erases Liz's claim to the throne of one time Indi-Queen. The songs all but sound exactly alike and there's not one of them that hit me between the eyes (or legs) like say, "Divorce Song" or "Perfect World." Yet unlike her last effort (an effort some accused her of trying to be a much older Avril Lavigne) at least this time Liz isn't singing about her favorite pair of underwear or favorite human secretion. This time she's singing about some much sadder stuff albeit at times with nearly Spector-ish bombastic production to cover it all up.

Paul McCartney has recently been praised up and down by music critics for stripping his sound down bare and releasing an album that seems deeper and more intimate. But his CD, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard doesn't reveal as much as Liz poetically does on Somebody's Miracle. Her CD's opening track, "Leap of Innocence" sets the tone for all that is to follow. The singer is expressing remorse for so enjoying an affair while admitting that while you're having fun things can't last "like love in California." And then the chorus is laid out for all to hear. "Anyone can tell you were my instrument/He said, 'I understand you/You want to play me...'" How devastating.

The ultra-polished production is unfortunate making some decent songs sound as if they could have been anonymously written/sung by anyone from Shania Twain to Sheryl Crow. And what's up with such a bland CD title? Liz has previously been four for four in that category with cocky CD names like Exile in Guyville, Whip Smart, whitechocolatespaceegg, and the ironic Liz Phair that revealed less (except for some sexy girly photos) than Dylan's ultimate match this for awfulness cuz you can't, throwitallaway Self Portrait. This time there are shrapnel wound inducing lines that would have made a great CD title scattered throughout like "One Eyed Ingenue" or "Sometimes I Am Inspired." So just what the heck is one supposed to make about Somebody's Miracle?

My favorite track is the playful "Got My Own Thing" that is Liz at her clever best. You gotta smile when she delivers sly lines like, "They say I'm pretty as a song..." or "I don't have to save for a rainy day I know that something comes along... IT ALWAYS comes along..." and "Everybody changed when I do what I do... CUZ I DO WHAT I DO..."

Bottom line may be that I'm in love and may always be with Liz Phair. Sure I may love Bob Dylan's music but I am in love with Liz Phair. Good looks, good luck, cheeky music and that attitude, how can one resist a package like that?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Calm and Constipation in the Well Landscaped Front Yard

Everyone should know by now that Paul McCartney and I have a lot in common. Besides the early fame, the boyish charm and good looks, the billions of dollars, we both share the uncertainty of not knowing just where to go to next.

The Beatles' music was among the first music that changed my life and I always appreciated that so many McCartney-penned songs were piano based enhancing my own struggling keyboard tinkling (extremely accurate use of the term in this instance) repertoire.

McCartney's latest CD, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard has gotten quite a few good reviews. Clearly with Radiohead and Beck producer Nigel Godrich (recommended to Paul by Sir George Martin) at the helm Macca clearly was seeking to do something more significant than just his next CD. It's one of his most introspective CDs from start to finish and the fog of melancholy (unusual in a McCartney effort) lingers throughout.

Upon first listen I was reminded of the spring of my senior year of high school when I was driving with my two best friends at the time, Steve and Jay, and we were discussing Macca and what he had to do at that time to restore some of the luster to his rapidly becoming irrelevant career. I suggested that Paul record an all acoustic LP that would force him to concentrate on his words as much as he did the ever increasing need to show he was the experimental force of the Beatles.

Macca's next release Pipes of Peace was released the fall of my lost freshman year of college. I meandered down to my neighborhood Cheapo store and picked it up the day it was released. On a gloomy, grey fall day when it was my turn to pick the music in our room my two roommates suffered through this insipid music (although in my defense it followed listening to Dr. Pete's choice of the Police's Synchronicity, and Alcoholic Bruce's pick of Cheap Trick's One on One so it wasn't like my choice was that out of line). I remember how after the first listen I commented how Paul seemed to have lost all inspiration altogether to which Dr. Pete for the one and only time in our time together offered some words of sympathy. "It's not that bad and you have to keep in mind he's been writing music for so long..."

So the next time Steve, Jay and I got together was around Thanksgiving time and we tried to analyze Pipes of Peace and tried to find all the hidden meanings. We got stuck on the song "The Other Me" that contained the somewhat confessional yet entirely made up on the spot lyrics "The other me would rather be the glad one/The other me would rather play the fool/I wanna be the kind of me that doesn't let you down as a rule..." It wasn't that Paul wasn't trying, it seemed he was trying too hard- something I've done once or twice.

It is now some 22 years after that forgettable CD and one of the songs on Paul's latest mostly acoustic (maybe he heard me!) CD is a little nugget called "Jenny Wren" (that some of us might disturbingly relate to another Jennie with an animal name). This latest lament about spreading one's wings, a certain flight for freedom doesn't exactly inspire the same release that one might have felt all those years ago but it's still a darn fine song.

It's my favorite song on the CD. Like many of Paul's greatest songs ("Hey Jude," "For No One," "Little Lamb Dragonfly," "Hope of Deliverance,") it's a song about one soul consoling another. And the lasting feeling created is that the singer is singing the song to console the writer beyond the literal meaning of the words.

Chaos and Creation... suffers and yet benefits from the fact that all the songs sound somewhat alike. One of Paul's trademarks over the years has been that most his CDs inevitably feature a somewhat impressive yet equally annoying tendency to trip from idiom to idiom (see London Town) as if he just has to show off how many different styles of songs he's mastered. The CD may lack the big traditional McCartney ballad yet it's clear that Paul has reached the point where he doesn't really want to be just a nostalgia act and he wants his music to still matter. This CD may not quite get there but I for one relate to the effort.

Monday, October 3, 2005

If I Were a County Attorney

Supposing that scientists were to develop cloning techniques so that humans could be cloned. I'm not saying it's gonna happen or anything but just suppose it did. And say that maybe I had been cloned and I'm not saying I would be, but if I was and for a freakish reason my clone, let's pretend, was the exact same age as I am. I would have to say if all that happened my clone might have enjoyed a pretty spectacular week pop culture-wise.

I'm not saying it's a given that my clone would have the exact same taste in things as I do, but supposing he did? Let's just say, for the sake of all this that he would have watched the PBS documentary No Direction Home about Bob Dylan. I'm not saying that one of the reasons he would have admired Dylan was Dylan's ability to turn expectations of him inside out- how when his fans were berating him for not being who they thought he should be, he channeled that anger into his music and made something lovely out of it. I'm not saying my clone would have cared one whit about that but if he did, No Direction Home might have impressed him for its capturing of this process.

I'm also not saying my clone would rely on music to get him through his life as much as I do but let's just say he did for a moment. If music mattered that much to him and he, let's just say, bought Ike Reilly's new CD Junkie Faithful and now accepting that the clone had made the exact same choices in CD purchases over the past few years, and I'm not saying that would necessarily be the case, but let's just say it is, maybe he would find too, that Junkie Faithful is the best CD he's heard since Dylan's 2001 Love and Theft. Matter of fact the clone, maybe just maybe might not be able to stop playing Junkie Faithful over and over because the music cuts through the other crap of his life like a cat's paw cuts through the fabric of the nearest couch. It maybe would be enough, and I'm not saying this is written in stone, to raise the clone's deflated spirit, if he had one, just a notch or two.

Let's just pretend for a moment and say that the clone would have agreed (and who knows if he would?) that Reilly's music is best played loud, like blasting out of a car stereo on a sunny summer day. Maybe despite this the clone would listen really carefully to the lyrics on Junkie Faithful and understand that when critics heap praises on Ike Reilly the comparison to Dylan often comes up and let's just say that the clone, like me for example, has never before understood that comparison until listening to the songs on Junkie Faithful.

The clone may or may not, but let's just say he does, think that the opening song "22 Hours of Darkness" depicts the state of depression better than anything he's heard since the songs on Dylan's misunderstood Street Legal. Maybe even just maybe, the clone would understand that the refrain that wails about 22 hours of darkness and two of light just about sums it all up in a neat little ball that often unravels uncontrollably. And maybe just maybe he'd understand thoroughly the line about love not being enough.

Let's also just say for the fun of it that the clone finds the second song on the disc, "The Mixture" to be spine tingling stuff. When in the chorus Ike calls out in desperation "Where were you?" the clone might also just relate to that very question about some necessary friends who disappeared when his mother died. Not that a clone would have a mother.

The clone also might, just might, snicker at the dirty little "Farm Girl" that not only contains clever little lyrics dripping with sexual innuendo but also how farming can be a dirty little business. "Squatting down telling me my top soil's gone/I'd rather die than pack up my farm/Squatting down telling me my beans won't grow, that my plows won't plow and my hoes won't hoe..."

I'm also not suggesting that the clone would so terribly miss the brilliance of his all time favorite TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer that left a hole in his heart as big as the void in his TV watching, and he hasn't found anything since remotely close in its emotional impact. And I'm also not suggesting it's a given that the clone would have been a fan of Buffy's creator/writer, Joss Whedon's next TV show, the never given a chance Firefly. Let's just say he would have been though, and thus he would have also maybe just maybe had made the effort to go and see Whedon's movie Serenity, the big screen version of Firefly.

I'm not sure how the clone would have responded to going to Serenity if he even had. Let's just say he did for pretends sake. Maybe the clone, and maybe he wouldn't have, just celebrated and enjoyed the humor and wit of the movie even though it reminded the clone, and I'm not saying it would, of a sense of humor that's been missing ever since Buffy left the airwaves. The clone may, and let's just imagine he might have, loved Serenity with it's rollicking action packed plot and it's quiet moments of sadness and reflection and insight. If we could somehow accept all this might be a possibility then the clone maybe just maybe could comprehend that not all weeks can be this good.

Monday, September 26, 2005

He's Not Selling Any Alibis

Bob Dylan is arguably the greatest artist of the past fifty years. As acclaimed as his work often is, his music has such depth that people are likely going to be discovering new insights from it years after he leaves this place. You take a song like "Angelina" that hardcore fans may appreciate, yet because it's lesser known than many other songs in Dylan's catalog, it remains sadly unheard by ears that should be listening.

Another person who could rightfully stake claim to the lofty title of the greatest artist in our lifetime is filmmaker Martin Scorsese. His body of work from King of Comedy to The Aviator, from Taxi Driver to The Last Temptation of Christ blows just about any other film of the past few decades out of the water.

Thus the combination of Scorsese making a documentary about Dylan is somewhat akin to when the first professional Olympic basketball team, "The Dream Team" was assembled allowing Magic to play with Bird and Michael Jordan. It was almost too good to believe and yet you were almost afraid to watch fearing that the real thing couldn't live up to one's expectations.

Scorsese's No Direction Home thankfully is everything one could hope for. As a biography about Dylan it reveals so much about such an enigmatic artist. As a documentary about a vital part of our cultural and political history, it is essential viewing. I began watching it late one evening knowing I had precious few hours before I had to head into work and thus thinking I'd just watch a few minutes to get a flavor of the thing. Unfortunately I couldn't stop watching, couldn't shut it off and ended up showing up for work the next day with bloodshot eyes and tired as hell.

Even if you're not a Dylan fan No Direction Home is requisite viewing (it plays tonight and tomorrow night on PBS). There are great clear black and white musical clips of Hank Williams, Billie Holiday, Howlin Wolf, Woody Guthrie, and Odetta (WHOMP!) to name just a few. Scorsese's deft filmmaking makes the 207 minutes seem breathtakingly short. One just wants the documentary to go on and on.

Dylan's rise to fame is chronicled in a way never previously imagined even for those of us who were spellbound by the words of the memoir, Chronicles Volume One, he released last year. To see on film, a cheeky young Bob hit New York City as a cherubic imitator of the folk music he was immersing himself in, and grow into a mystical force of substantial significance is something to behold. That Scorsese is able to show Bob's evolution from a ambitious, talented youth into this scornful, weary, burned out poet bound to crash, is fascinating stuff.

No Direction Home captures the astounding hostility Dylan endured just because he decided to play an electric guitar with a band rather than continuing on by himself, with an acoustic guitar (and harmonica). As his music goes from the political to the personal, digging deeper and deeper than anyone else ever had, some of his fans felt betrayed. He's unmercifully booed at every concert, he's confronted by a clueless press, he's jostled by confused fans, jittery and looking like he hasn't slept for months, Dylan looks like he's knocking on heaven's door.

And the music created is startling. Seeing performances of searing and intensely sad performances of songs like "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and "Leopard-skin Pill-box Hat" is transfixing as if Bob is channeling something quite beyond the realm of pop music. "I had a perspective on the booing," the latter day Dylan recalls. "After all, kindness can kill."

Scorsese's snippets of interviews with Dylan show a leery and weary but wanting to add to his own legacy, still charismatic blue-eyed boy. Talking about his treatment of Joan Baez who helped him professionally as he was breaking her personally, Bob comes close to apologizing for his behavior. "I hope she understands," he says carefully choosing his words. "You can't be wise and be in love."

Baez herself tells the story of what makes Dylan such a great artist. At the height of her fame when she was probably the most respected singer in the country and he was a somewhat unknown but upcoming singer/songwriter that she was helping along, the two of them were checking into a hotel. She had no problem getting a room but management wanted no part of him. She pulled all strings to secure him a room and he then stayed up all night writing "When the Ship Comes In." "Oh the foes will rise/With the sleep still in their eyes/And they'll jerk from their beds and think they're dreamin/But they'll pinch themselves and squeal/And know that it's for real/The hour when the ship comes in/Then they'll raise their hands/Sayin' we'll meet all your demands..."