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.