Friday, March 20, 2009

Culture Roundup

Well, if you like movies at all and live within forty miles of Minneapolis, you owe it to yourself to go to The Heights Theater at least once in your life. I went recently on sort of a spur of the moment thing and saw Phantom Lady from 1944. It was wonderful. There was live organ music for about a half hour beforehand. Magical!

Here's a tip: order the Heights Special – I didn't look carefully and got a large popcorn and a small pop – for a quarter more than I would have paid for a large popcorn and a large pop. To their credit, they did not point this out to me and try to change my order. They let me be dumb.


If you are a Paul McCartney fan you should check out "The McCartney Years" 3 DVD set. Put disc one on your netflix if nothing else. Some of the commentary is hilarious and/or poignant. At one point McCartney (2007) is watching McCartney (1980) walking in front of an arctic set and there's a polar bear. "I think there was a trench in between the bear and me…oh, yes. There's the water erupting from the trench." Maybe it's in his delivery. He's just like, "Oh, yeah, that time I was walking around next to a polar bear and of course water erupted from the trench between us. Naturally." So casual.

At one point in the "Silly Love Songs" video McCartney (1976) is goofing for the camera, walking with Linda, together looking like the coolest rock stars the world has ever produced, and Linda points her thumb at him and looks at the camera with a good-natured "long suffering" look. Paul (2007) says on the commentary, "Yes, he's a nutter, Linda."


On a related note, I was recently asked, "Could Linda McCartney really sing?" I answered somewhat less than unequivocally, but I've thought about it a lot since then. Yes. The answer is an unqualified yes. It's a shame that that awful clip of her isolated backing vocal from a 1989 live version of "Hey, Jude" got so much airplay. It was simply an artifact of poor engineering, rather like the 2004 "Dean Scream" that may or may not have given us an extra four deadly years of Dubya.

Nearly three decades of beautiful harmonies (often along with Denny Laine) and the very good compilation of her own compositions and lead vocals on the album Wide Prairie are far more representative of an artist who is sometimes unfairly maligned. Pick up any Wings album and you'll realize that the sound of the vocals – Paul, Linda, and Denny – really makes the music soar. (I recommend Band on the Run for first timers and London Town or Venus And Mars if you've already got BotR.)


In books, I must endorse Revolutionary Road. I love it. It is most reminiscent of John Updike's Rabbit books, but set in 1955 and with a deadly dry wit. Some people might say it is depressing but I say life is often depressing and this book is the accurate depiction of exactly how and why. It helps to have Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in my mind as the leads and I plan to move the movie to the top of my netflix now. The characters were so very real and heartbreaking. Terrific. Get on the waiting list for it NOW at your local library as it is very popular.


Final note: If you haven't seen any of the "Drunk History" episodes at you should really check them out. I laughed so hard I couldn't speak. Partly because I know I couldn't do any better at reciting those things even if I were sober.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ten Bands You Have All Their Albums Of

This was an interesting one to me and I could spend untold hours documenting in detail exactly which albums I have and why the ones I don't have don't count (This means you, Yellow Submarine (original version), which actually now that I think about it I bought on LP in high school) but here is the short version of what could have become a compulsive time suck. Minimum is three albums (Sorry Jubilant Dogs fans except for Stu who has a live disc and a rarities collection).

10. The Velvet Underground
9. Kaptain Karl
8. Scot Ninnemann
7. Great Uncle Helmer
6. Evan Johnson (Yes, there are three - if you do not have the five disc "The Evan Johnson Anthology" you are missing out.)
5. Simon & Garfunkel/Paul Simon (unless you count "The Paul Simon Songbook", longtime inhabitant of my amazon wish list, but not something I actually strongly desire or need)
4. Billy Joel
3. Kirsty MacColl
2. Bob Dylan
1. The Beatles

Anyone else? What's interesting is that I think there are exactly ten bands I have all their albums of.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Really Great Mississippi Seven Show Helps Raise $1200

I loaded up the car and left around 2:30. When I got to the Franconia Sculpture Garden around 3:10 I realized I had plenty of time so I walked all around the snowy, expansive art space and was transported and edified by it all. It was quite wonderful. I did not realize how many smaller works there were there, complimenting the giant ones you can see from the highway.

I got to Hog Wild, a terrific barbecue joint and meeting hall (pun intended), around 4:30 and someone kind directed me to the room we were to play in. It was big – bigger than the rooms J. Bell usually books and all I had was my little coffeehouse PA. I set up everything I could and hoped for the best. Karl arrived around 5 and the rest of the guys trickled in over the next hour. Karl and I discussed the PA and I realized I was in a similar setting to the J. Bell shows but a very different situation requiring a different kind of show. It was all going to be fine.

Who all was there? The entire band, along with friends and family, and a totally packed room of excited people of all ages. During our first set kids were breakdancing, adults were normaldancing and singing along, and the band was playing great. We had plenty of space, adequate time to set up, soundcheck, and eat dinner. It may have been our best show yet, in fact I'm fairly certain it was.

During soundcheck Karl announced that his new "Ballad of Iver's Mountain" was in G. In rehearsal on Tuesday it was in D, which I knew because my chorus harmony starts on the high tonic (a.k.a. the note D in the key of D) and while D is within my range, G is pushing it. I said that it had been in D on Tuesday. He disagreed. I said, "It's no big deal. We can do it in G," strongly implying that's not where it was Tuesday without going in to how I knew that for sure. He diffused whatever tension may have been arising by saying, "Just let me have this one." I laughed and said "Okay. Cling to your sweet illusion." It sounds like I was being snotty, but it was good natured.

When we played "The Ballad of Iver's Mountain" the response was tremendous. It was a little like Johnny Cash playing "San Quentin" at San Quentin or "Folsom Prison" at Folsom Prison. We sang chorus after chorus and so did the crowd. Images of quarries and rocky, dusty explosions played on a video loop projected onto the wall behind us all night. Strangely, some of the quarry images were very beautiful and some of the images of Iver's Mountain as it stands were sort of generic and dull looking. It was not terribly effective as propaganda but Karl's mom said it made some interesting juxtapositions with our lyrics. We ended up playing "Iver's Mountain" a second time for an encore at the very end of the night, around 10:15 or so.

On "California" I held the last note as long as I could, which got to be pretty long. I pretend-collapsed and Pete, reading my mind, came over with my coat as a James Brown cape thing, which was cool. I threw it off and cued the last few notes.

"The Devil Is Knocking at the Door" was very effective. I did a bit of a Devil voice, overdid the deadpan laconitude of the Memphis voice, and spoke as clearly as I could. I saw that Karl's mom and cousin were listening and laughing, which made me care even more about the debut live performance of the tune.

On "Loving You" Pete played the drums, wailing on the snare on beat one. It was mercilessly weird and totally inappropriate but that was okay. Andy played drums and I played bass on "Theme From Honigman" which minor rearrangement was a great spur-of-the-moment suggestion by A. Hon. I got to stretch my legs and dance a bit and he is no worse on the drums than I am. "Total Peace" became a showcase for Pete's electric banjo and its conversation with my drums. It was an awesome jam and ended our first set on a definite high note.

Shortly before the end of the first set Bill's keyboard somehow reset itself, eliminating the piano sound and leaving him with only a synth horn patch to play. Technical wizard Bill programmed a new piano sound during the set break, reminding me of his similarly day saving rescue of the DVD player at one of our Cafe Wren outdoor shows, which gave people the option to remain after our set to watch Kung Fu Hustle and be eaten alive by mosquitoes.

The second set had substantially fewer people and I'd lost a meat raffle (which I entered to support Bride on her Atkins diet), blowing six bucks. But I'd had more beer, generously purchased in pitcher format by Pete, and a six dollar second helping of barbecue which I only pretended to pay for, so it was good in its own slightly drunk way. Between the opening vocal notes of "There Stands the Glass" and putting the hammer down on the song proper I paused to stick the lyric sheet on my kick drum, then dropped one of my brushes by accident, then mentioned that I couldn't honestly say any drink was my "first one today". It was funny. To me.

A delighted one year old came up and walked among us for the last four or five songs. I gave him a drum brush and he periodically hit my drums with it but mostly just walked around and waved it and danced. It was great. I played the snare with my bare left hand. I only took the brush back for "Muddy Water" which requires my full attention and whose dynamics I took to the usual ridiculous extremes.

I had good conversations with everyone, plenty of food, drink, time to play, good response from people listening, and we helped raise $1200 to fund the campaign to save Iver's Mountain. I understand the previous fundraiser made $800, so I was glad to hear we compared well.

Another positive was that a reputable newspaper of record ran a story with a full color picture of all seven of us and a quote from Leonard "Shotgun" Johnson, our leader, saying how pleased we were to be back in Luck and helping a worthy cause. This is wonderful validation for the band, given the persistent rumors of Shotgun's non-existence. Of course, he was not at last night's show because he'd spent the night out on Iver's Mountain in a private vigil, causing his fingers to become frostbitten to the extent that he could not play his mandolin. I bought my own copy of that paper for the archives, plus popcorn, jerky, and gatorade, on the way out of Wisconsin.

Got home a little before 1 a.m. and unloaded PA, drums, etc. from car. Started "A Place Of Exile" (story 2 of 3) in Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Infinity's Prism but didn't get very far due to exhaustion. Loved previous story about T'Pol, Pike, Kirk, Sarek, and his near-twin Romulan Commander who marvelously remains unnamed. It was a wonderful night. Thanks to everyone who came out and especially to all my bandmates who worked so hard to make it as good as it was.

Check out the setlist if you wish.