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..."

Monday, September 19, 2005

Techno Babble

This week we answer the musical question all of you have had on your minds for a long long while, "What do Teddy and Ike have in common?"

Now of course first I must clarify that I'm not exactly a neo-luddite. In high school I was the first one on my block and the second one in my conscious that owned a VCR allowing the taping of some late night programming to watch on the weekends. Later on I was one of the first I knew who owned an actual PC, and I wasn't exactly the last one on this planet to own an iPod.

Still as I watch all these cell phone carrying people who seemingly can't stand a moment of silence and have to conduct the most inane conversations in human history for the rest of us to be a captive audience to, and at the same time we live in the land of satellite radio and TIVO and GPS tracking devices that map out our each and every next move, I think I'm beginning to long for the day when life was much more simple and all we had to worry about was the Commies dropping the big one on us as we ducked and covered underneath the safety of our grade school desks. I'm somewhat reluctant to admit that yes indeed in the past month I've become very glad that I've lived beyond my expiration date to see the mass production (and acceptance) of DVDs and the future of how we listen to music.

When I was browsing the bins of the store we want to be, Amoeba in Los Angeles, I came across something I just had to buy even though its $44.95 price seemed a bit outlandish. It was a copy of one of my all time favorite TV shows on DVD, ABC's mid-90's flop, Murder One that I'm sure I wrote about in these pages all those years ago. I just finished watching the first season and man I'm even more impressed than I was when the show ran on my fuzzy reception rabbit ears aided antenna enhanced TV back in the day when life was just turning the corner of making it to the next day into believing again that something just a little bit greater was waiting for me if I could only hold on.

You must all see Murder One at some point in your life. It's another Steven Bochco serial series (the one that came after Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law and Bay City Blues and Cop Rock and N.Y.P.D. Blue and Delvecchio) and it didn't get the audience it deserved running up against the first few seasons of E.R. Coming just after the outcome of the O.J. trial the premise was that the show would be about just one trial over the course of its season, unlike all the many shows about lawyers that had preceded and followed it, from Perry Mason to Ally McBeal, from Owen Marshall to Law and Order. In its own way Murder One was thus the predecessor of the much more popular but inferior in every way, 24 that depends on its own unique (in TV terms) story timeline to drive its this isn't just another TV show personality.

Watching the first season of Murder One again nearly a decade after I saw it the first time I was a bit taken back by how much the unlikely hero, the not the usual lead character bald and inscrutable defense attorney Ted Hoffman, shaped the professional personae I eventually adopted. Ted seems a bit emotionally distant, and in a film noir world his understated and quiet lectures and moral code have to be listened to and not merely heard as in most television dialogue. Ultimately the only weakness of the series was that the writers apparently didn't map out the entire season in advance and rather made things up as they went along (much like 24) so loose ends are introduced and go nowhere, and false leads come and go for no apparent reason.

I was marveling in this wacky new DVD technology and having the ability to watch some of my favorite TV shows that didn't exactly air more than once even if TV Guide wrote about them as the best TV shows that no one was watching I also found out that my favorite "new" rocker Ike Reilly had four "new" tracks available for Internet download only. I paid twice (my bad) to hear these four new tracks but I'm not exactly upset about that if it means in the end it ends why starving? artists like Ike have so little loose pocket change.

All four download only available tracks blow away any song I've heard this year as Ike's music is wont to do. The spacey tumbling momentum laden "B.I.G.O.T" relies on the cryptic chorus line, "You've got to breed a better bigot for the band" that Ike sings in a way that suggests he's aware of the need of the parallel sounding "big hit" to better his fortunes. I love the line about "I'm part of nothing. I wish I was though. Part of something bigger than myself now" which I think is something many of us struggle with at some time if we are anything other than neo-luddites. The likewise likable "Trainbomber" contemplates and anticipates the awful chaos of a blown up train and ensuing missing of friends. Ike sounds his usual weary and knowing and I just love the trick/track. "She's So Free" paints a picture of the ultimate woman in my book. She's so godless and faithless, she don't need riches, she doesn't slave for nothing and no one, she can't be loyal, she don't need negligee, she don't eat steak and she don't eat soy. Where does she exist exactly and how do I look her up? "Maybe on the Way Out" rocks hard with its torpedo driven guitar melody. I love how Ike's band, the Assassination not only backs what he has to say, but backs it so fiercely that not only a head bob but a nod of the head is mandatory at this point out.

Monday, September 12, 2005


It's never been my goal in life to be a lifelong Minnesotan. If I were to spend my entire ordeal on this earth in one place I think in some sense I'd view that as a failure of a significant sort. Therefore I'm reminded at how out of place I constantly feel this time of year. Though I'll never quite understand the appeal I'm sure it's fair to say that by most accounts this year's great Minnesota Get Together was just as great as last year's which I'm sure was just as dandy as the year before.

I did indeed make an appearance at the fair again this year and besides the alligator on a stick that I rapidly snarfed down I think my favorite part was seeing the "State's Largest Boar." Of course I carry the exact same title on my business card except for a slightly different spelling. Yawn.

The State Fairgrounds are within walking distance of my house and it's this time of year that all the current occupants of the house watch all the traffic come and go during the day and jump late at night every night when the fireworks boom overhead. For one of us four it's a brand new experience (like much of his life is) and it serves as a reminder (as much of his presence does) of how wonderful it can be to look at life through a fresh set of eyes. Yes many of my friends still think my living arrangements are a tad eccentric being the sole so called soul living with not one, not two, but three kitties. The feline factor in this house is undeniable but as I continually search for potential new career paths I may be deluding myself on my latest round of thinking- that I'd make a darn fine cat psychologist.

Last month when I visited my friend Alex in San Diego I finally got to meet her cat Moussaka, who Alex has told me is on kitty Prozac to help deal with depression and anxiety issues. Deep down I was hoping I could figure out what Moussie needs to help make her more well adjusted. The only basis for this daydream was that all the occupants of my own house are undoubtedly broken in some way, shape, or form. Likely the most stable of us all is Diego-san, the strutting , dashing, handsome black haired cat who in his own mind is in charge yet often times comes across as quite needy and insecure. He's the stereotype of his species- moody, unrelentingly curious, and forever needing to be the center of attention right as he disappears from sight.

Diego-san still seems unforgiving of my decision to bring in the young Theo who constantly follows him around, getting in his space and interrupting his mischief. Theo is half Diego's size and yet he doesn't hesitate to chase Diego around and Diego will inevitably run away and hop up somewhere where Theo can't reach him.

I was told when I adopted Theo that his back legs had been crushed when a child sat on him and when I brought him in for his first checkup the vet admitted he was amazed at how well Theo was walking because there was some doubt at some point whether he ever would walk again. The adoption woman from the shelter that I got Theo told me she thought he may also suffered from some brain damage from suspected abuse since he seemed more than a tad spacey. Theo's got these great big eyes that seem to take up more than their allotted space on his black and white face. He never quite ever looks straight at you and this gives him the appearance of not having a lot going on in his small noggin. I love the way he has worked himself into the routine of this house however. He loves to race the other two boyz (and sometimes the other three boyz) up the staircase into the upper wing. Diego-san has taught Thompson the benefits of drinking water straight out of the bathroom tap but it's Theo that usually pushes the other two out of the way to get his thirst quenched.

The glue that holds us all together though is Thompson. I'm quite fond of Thompson who isn't exactly the most social being that's ever existed. He's reluctant to come out of hiding whenever a guest is over. He's reluctant to make an appearance whenever something interrupts his normal routine of sleep, being fed, more sleep, and more food. More than Theo or Diego-san, Thompson loves to watch the world outside from a favorite window (which happens to be the same window Mr. Max used to love to sit and watch things transpire). Thompson is also the greatest napper of the three, resting his head on my chest closer than is natural, unimpeded by the missing front leg that got caught in a trap one fateful day.

I can't fathom, nor can I stop thinking about the days Thompson sat caught in that trap, his leg rotting away as he got sicker and sicker. Sometimes I get sad watching him hobble around, struggling to keep up with the other two. Most of the time I watch in amazement at how he doesn't seem to be bothered by the cards life has dealt him. He loves to clean Diego and Theo. He loves to lie next to them, his lone front paw draped over their chests. I love how the morning routine involves rolling out of bed and stumbling to the shower and when I finally open the door Thompson is always right there, wanting me to rub his belly, craving attention for the one and only time during the day. He then races Theo and Diego down the stairs for another breakfast, more than holding his own.

Monday, September 5, 2005

The O.C.

As I headed for my seat on the flight to Orange County I was struggling with my piece of carry on luggage in one hand and laptop case in the other while precariously holding on to a full latte. As I got to my seat and tried to fling my carry on bag into the overhead compartment, I spilled some coffee on my arm and my T-shirt. The gentleman seated in the row in front of me recoiled as if I was about to drip some radioactive juice on his golf cap covered noggin. I was having a hell of a time and it would have been nice for him to offer me a hand but he was too busy looking at me in disgust. I thought about dousing his head with the latte but I didn't need no federal marshal coming after me.

We took off. The banged up auburn haired lass was studying for one of her classes, looking at mathematical formulas that would make mush out of a precious porcelain kitty figure so I plugged my headphones into my iPod and dialed up Ike Reilly and got lost in the anger and confusion and snarl and beautiful music.

We arrived in Vegas and had about an hour to make our connecting flight to the O.C. We looked at the airport monitors to find our gate but didn't see it listed anywhere. Finally the banged up auburn haired lass asked a gate agent who informed us we needed to get on a tram and head for some faraway gate. Once we got into the right area of the airport we discovered we needed to go through security again and the ticketing agent told us we were too late anyway that we should have been at the gate at least a half an hour before the flight was to leave. So we ran. Or as close to running as one can get when one is holding a couple of bags and the other is holding the same and is too sore to run.

Luckily we made it. We didn't want to miss our latest mission- to take a tour of the Ricoh factory in Tustin, California. Ricoh makes many of our finest copy machines and they are now in the business of making some voting equipment that might be flooding Minnesota in no time helping us all add things up. We were there to make sure that they were making the apparatus right.

The factory tour reminded me of the Japanese company that Al and I visited in Osaka a few years back right before I became friends with the banged up auburn haired lass. Ricoh which is headquartered in Tokyo, is a very Japanese company. There are pep talk like slogans plastered throughout the factory and the workers are encouraged to offer up their ideas to improve the processes. None of the assembly line workers looked up as we approached their area and none ran from the room when the lunch bell rang, instead conscientiously staying at their station to finish up whatever task they were working on. Not ever feeling comfortable being a management type type I think I related to the mostly foreign looking factory workers a bit too much. I could see some appeal in having a doable task in front of me each and every day- having a routine that one could conceivably achieve some sort of perfection. But who was I kidding? Boredom isn't your major problem when opportunity doesn't even exist.

Our Embassy Suites hotel suites were sweet. We had a living room and a bedroom and though they lacked the 42 inch plasma TV like the room I had at the Beverly Hills Hilton, the TV was plenty big enough to be forever fearful as we watched Keanu Reeves leave his date and destiny in Hell for a hell on Earth in Constantine.

We were wined and dined at a fancy seafood restaurant right next to the hotel. The banged up auburn haired lass isn't too fond of seafood so she had a chicken caesar salad while I gorged myself on the freshest sashimi I ever did taste. My tablemates mostly ignored me although I caught an eye or two with my chopsticks skills.

I've spent a lot of time on the road this summer. Being away from home is always a new heart pumping experience. It's never been my goal in life to be a lifelong Minnesotan. If I were to spend my entire ordeal on this earth in one place I think in some sense I'd view that as a failure of a significant sort. I may not look the type but I do like to partake in a daily adventure or two. When I stay in one place too long it feels like gravity is cheating me, pushing down on me harder than anyone else. Upon my return I noticed that something is amiss. Hitting the road these days means hopefully hopping on my breathe the fresh air scooter. But one of the disadvantages of not traveling by car comes at a stoplight that often refuses to change because you don't weigh enough to trigger a change that changes the light from red to green, allowing you to finally move forward again. Only now they are. The lights are changing. I may be putting my foot down a bit harder than I used to and perhaps that's the only thing that could be causing such a difference. Except I suppose the loosening of the belt another notch. I've seen enough elsewhere this summer to rekindle the this isn't where I'm supposed to be feeling inside to unprecedented levels. Where that may or may not end up taking me is unfortunately forever unclear.