Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Over/Under On Last Carding: Age 42

I got carded last night at Cuzzy's by a waitress at least ten years my junior. I turned 38 earlier this month. In your face, aging process.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Bill's Eye For The Straight Guy

Damn the latest Tom the Dancing Bug sure hits close to home. It's like Ruben Bolling has studied my life.

1) Grooming: I go to the corner barber shop. Fifteen bucks (including tip) for a short back 'n sides.

2) Design: A green futon from a friend's basement and an entertainment center rescued from a dumpster.

3) Food and Wine: Wendy's or brats on the George Foreman Indoor Grill. I do get fancy with popcorn cooked on the stovetop though.

4) Fashion: Teeshirt with some logo or something on it. Shorts from Target or jeans from Kohl's.

5) Culture: Friday nights are typically college hockey on TV, online poker (for fake money), and some metal on headphones. In a twist on the comic, I spend Saturday night answering angry emails from zine readers!

Update 8/27: Today I went for a haircut and my barber Dan said that "30 to 40 percent" of his clientele is gay. This isn't surprising as your neighborhood barber shop will typically give a guy as good as a haircut as any salon - and for much less money. I should have caught this earlier.

Monday, August 25, 2003

"Quality, Schmality"

This Internet thing isn't all it's cracked up to be. The Silver Surfer has yet to turn up a video of that great Jeff Altman / Valvoline commercial from the summer of 1988.

Would you just get the Valvoline like I told you?? Or I'll sink you like a three-foot putt.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Yeah But Which One Is The Guy Named “Led”?

Last night I drank beer and watched disc one of the new Led Zeppelin DVD. I’ve never seen The Song Remains the Same, so this was my first exposure to Zep onstage.

Jimmy Page was the one I couldn’t keep my eyes off of – he looked more like a mid-eighties college rock cult figure than a prototypical hard-rock guitar hero: white sneakers, non-faded straight-leg Levi’s, shiny belt buckle, long-sleeved oxford shirt, and sleeveless diamond-shapes cardigan sweater. Plus he did these little Chuck Berry-ish dances (followed by genuine toe-tapping) while playing. Very charming.

Zep as a whole took some getting used to. Almost all the songs were way too long, though when Page broke out the violin bow (ha! I forgot about that one!) I couldn’t help but laugh and smile and nod, thinking: blessed excess. Such excess comes back to haunt ya though. The next tune was “White Summer” which featured Page sitting on a chair making cool-sounding Middle Eastern noises on an electric guitar. Damn that dude played fast. Unfortunately this tune went on forever, but because I have endured Ravi Shankar in Monterey Pop I was able to tough it out.

“Whole Lotta Love” sounded much better than I thought it would; partly because I was reminded as to how as a kid hearing this tune on AM radio I thought the first line was “You need Kool-Aid…”, partly because during the “freakout” part Robert Plant kinda sounded like the freakout part in “Surfin’ Bird.”

The encore was cool as it featured the shortest, most intense songs, including Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody” and “Something Else.” Hmmm, the early days of rock ‘n’ roll?? … this sent me scrambling, rifling through my collection. Check it out:

1969: The Jeff Beck Group covers Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock” on Beck-Ola.

1970: Rod Stewart (former Beck Group frontman) covers Eddie Cochran’s “Cut Across Shorty” on Gasoline Alley. Zep covers said Eddie Cochran tunes in concert.

1971: Stewart covers Elvis breakthrough song “That’s All Right” on Every Picture Tells A Story. Zep does “Rock and Roll” on their untitled fourth album, the beat is a direct lift from Little Richard’s “Keep A-Knockin’.”

Then I pulled out my Rod Stewart biography by Paul Nelson and Lester Bangs (out-of-print, but laugh-out-loud hilarious thanks to Lester’s put-ons and asides … look for it on ebay) and found an excerpt from a Stewart interview in the January 1972 issue of Creem:

“We (Beck Group) did a gig in New York City … the stage was full of people including Bonham, Page, Beck, me and Planty, and the guy who used to play bass with Jethro Tull. We were doing ‘Jailhouse Rock’ …”

So there you have it: two supergroups founded by ex-Yardbirds Guitar Gods, one of these bands features a soon-to-be solo superstar singer. And what do all these hepcats have in common? They all secretly wanted to be in Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

It's Shut-Down-The-State Time

I've never been to the State Fair and have no intentions of going this year. If anyone asks why, I'll simply point them to this outstanding piece over at Fraters Libertas - it confirms every doubt and suspicion I have about the overhyped event. The Elder riffs away with the best shots at the Fair since the 2001 quote of KFAN's Dan "The Common Man" Cole. When asked what his favorite memory of the Fair was, Common said: "When I saw it in my rearview mirror while driving away."

Burn Baby Burn
Yes Virginia, Radiohead Is There Too

Nothing like drinking my morning coffee and figuring out what hell looks like.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

"The Swish"

Check out the new tune by The Hold Steady. The title reminds me of all those handy hard-boiled terms I've learned from reading James Ellroy.

Local Boy Makes Good

I hate kids, but this guy is my new hero.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In)?

I'm on vacation until August 18th and my mind is already on beer, books, and crappies. (Damn! I should fish for bass just for the alliteration!) Thankfully, Jim Walsh sent me something which I can post here. (An aside: He once gave me what may be the best writing advice I have ever heard: "Just try to impress yourself.") Take it away, Jim:

An E-Proposal From Me to You
By Jim Walsh

I am standing in the northwest corner of Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, in front of a silver monument that looks like a heart, a broken heart really, and I am thinking about how wrong the world has gone, how Minnesota Mean it all feels. I’m thinking about how much everyone I know misses the man I’ve come to visit, how sick I am of sitting around waiting for change, and about what might happen if I ask you to do something, which is what I’ll do in a minute.

Like most Minnesotans, I met Paul Wellstone once. It was at the Loring Playhouse after the opening night of a friend’s play. He and Sheila were there, offering encouragement to the show’s director, Casey Stangl, and quietly validating the post-production festivities with his presence: The Junior Senator from Minnesota and his wife are here; we must be doing something right.

The year before (1990), I’d written a column for City Pages encouraging all local musicians and local music fans to go vote for this mad professor the following Tuesday. He won, and, as many have said since, for the first time in my life I felt like we were part of something that had roots in Stuff The Suits Don’t Give A Shit About. That is, we felt like we had a voice, like were getting somewhere, or like Janeane Garofalo’s villain-whupping character in “Mystery Men,” who memorably proclaimed, “I would like to dedicate my victory to the supporters of local music and those who seek out independent films.”

After the election, Wellstone’s aide Bill Hillsman told me he believed my column had reached a segment of the voting populace that they were having trouble reaching, and that it may have helped put him over the top. I put aside my bullshit detector for the moment and chose to believe him, just as I choose at this moment to believe that music and the written word can still help change the world.

When I introduced myself to Wellstone that night as “Jim Walsh from City Pages,” he broke into that sexy gap-toothed grin, clasped my hand and forearm and said, with a warm laugh, “Jiiiiim,” like we were a couple of thieves getting together for the first time since the big haul. I can still feel his hand squeezing my forearm. I can still feel his fighter’s strength.

For those of you who never had the pleasure, that is what Paul Wellstone was--a fighter—despite the fact that the first president Bush said upon their first encounter, “who is this chickenshit?” He fought corporate America, the FCC, injustice, his own government. He fought for the voiceless, the homeless, the poor, the little guy—in this country and beyond. He was a politician but not a robot; an idealist, but not a sap, and if his legacy has already morphed into myth, it’s because there were/are so few like him. He was passionate, and compassionate. He had a huge heart, a rigorous mind, a steely soul and conscience, and now he is dead and buried in a plot that looks out over the joggers, bikers, rollerbladers, and motorists who parade around Lake Calhoun daily.

Paul and Sheila Wellstone and six others, including their daughter Marcia, were killed in a plane crash on October 25, 2002. I remember where I was that day, just as you do, and I don’t want to forget it, but what I want to remember even more is October 25, 2003. So here’s what we’re going to do.

We’re going to start something right here, right now, and we’re going to call it Paul and Sheila Wellstone World Music Day. It will happen on Saturday, Oct. 25th. On that day, every piece of music, from orchestras to shower singers, superstars to buskers, will be an expression of that loss and a celebration of that life. It will be one day, where music—which, to my way of thinking, is still the best way to fill in the gray areas that the blacks and whites of everyday life leave us with—rises up in all sorts of clubs, cars, concerts, and living rooms, all in the name of peace and love and joy and all that good stuff that gets snickered at by Them.

Now. This is no corporate flim-flam or media boondoggle. This is me talking to you, and you and I deciding to do something about the place we live in when it feels like all the exits are blocked. So: First of all, clip or forward this to anyone you know who still cares about grass roots, community, music, reading, writing, love, the world, and how the world sees America. If you’ve got a blog or web site, post it.

If you’re a musician, book a gig now for Oct. 25th. Tell them you want it to be advertised as part of Paul and Sheila Wellstone World Music Day. If you’re a shower singer, lift your voice that day and tell yourself the same thing. If you’re a club owner, promoter, or scene fiend, put together a multi-act benefit for Wellstone Action!. If you’re a newspaper person, tell your readers. If you’re a radio person, tell your listeners. Everybody talk about what you remember about Wellstone, what he tried to do, what you plan to do for Wellstone World Music Day. Then tell me at the email address below, and I’ll write another column like this the week of Oct. 25th, with your and others’ comments and plans.

This isn’t exactly an original idea. Earlier this year, I sat in a room at Stanford University with Judea and Michelle Pearl, the father and daughter of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and murdered by members of a radical Islamic group in Pakistan in February of last year. After much talk about their son and brother’s life and murder, I asked them about Danny’s love of music. He was a big music fan, and an accomplished violinist who played with all sorts of bands all over the world. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Pearl was also a member of the Atlanta band the Ottoman Empire, and his fiddle levitates one of my all-time favorite Irish jigs, “This Is It,” which I found myself singing one night last fall in a Sonoma Valley bar with a bunch of journalists from Paraguay, Texas, Mexico, Jerusalem, Italy, and Korea.

The Pearls talked with amazement about the first Daniel Pearl World Music Day, the second of which happens this October 10th, which would have been Pearl’s 40th birthday. I told them about attending one of the first Daniel Pearl World Music Day activities at Stanford Memorial Church, where a lone violinist silently strolled away from her chamber group at the end, signaling to me and my gathered colleagues that we were to remember that moment and continue to ask questions, continue to push for the dialogue that their son and brother lived for. I vowed that day to tell anybody within earshot about Daniel Pearl World Music Day, and later figured he wouldn’t mind a similar elegy for Wellstone, who shared Pearl’s battle against hate and cynicism.

Wellstone didn’t lead any bands, but he led as musical a life as they come. He lived to bring people together, to mend fences: Music. When he died, musicians and artists were some of the most devastated, as Leslie Ball’s crest-fallen-but-somehow-still-beaming face on CSPAN from Williams Arena illustrated. Everyone from Mason Jennings to Larry Long wrote Wellstone tribute songs in the aftermath, and everyone had a story, including the one Wendy Lewis told me about the genuine exuberance with which Wellstone once introduced her band, Rhea Valentine, to a crowd at the Lyn-Lake Festival. Imagine that, today.

So ignore this or do whatever you do when your “We Are The World” hackles go up. I’d be disappointed, and I suppose I wouldn’t blame you; in these times of terror alerts and media celebrity, I’m suspicious of everything, too. But I freely admit that the idea of a Wellstone World Music Day is selfish. That day was beyond dark, and to have another like it, a litany of hang-dog tributes and rehashes of The Partisan Speech and How It All Went Wrong, would be painful, not to mention disrespectful to everything those lives stood for and against.

No, I don’t want anyone telling me what to think or feel that day, or any day, anymore. I want music that day. I want to wake up hearing it, go to bed singing it. I want banners, church choirs, live feeds, hip-hop, headlines, punk rock, field reports, arias, laughter. I want to remember October 25, 2002 as the day the music died, and October 25, 2003 as the day when people who’ve spent their lives attending anti-war rallies and teaching kids and championing local music and independent films got together via the great big antennae of music and took another shot.

I am standing in the northwest corner of Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. In front of the silver broken heart, three workers stab the fresh sod with shovels and fumble with a tape measurer. Flowers dot the dirt surrounding the statue base. I pick up a rock and put it in my pocket.

The sprinklers are on, hissing impatiently at the still-stunned-by-last-autumn citizens who work and hope and wait and watch beyond the cemetery gates. The sprinklers shoot horizontal water geysers this way and that. They are replenishing patches of grass that have been browned by the sun. They are telling every burned-out blade to keep growing, and trying to coax life out of death.

Jim Walsh is a Minneapolis-based writer. He can be reached at
Did He Mix Him Up With Chuck Noll?

It brought a chuckle to see this headline in the Star Tribune today: "Knox watches as Vikings' Tice mirrors his philosophy".

Ah, yes - Chuck Knox. The coach who my brother mocked through the seventies and early eighties as someone who couldn't win in the playoffs. Then a few years back, my brother started referring to the similarly playoff-challenged Dennis Green as "the new Chuck Knox." Green, of course, was Tice's predeccesor.

All kinds of role models for Tice to emulate: Lombardi, Shula, Walsh, Parcells ... hey chooses Chuck Knox. The laughs continue from the Purple.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Mission One Of Vacation: Beers With The Mayor

When I was a little kid say thirty years ago or so, my parents and our neighbors would play volleyball on the back lawn during summer weekends. The games got pretty heated, even though the teams were makeshift. One Saturday, neighbor George sprained his ankle while playing and retreated to the sideline. His teammate, the Mayor, yelled at him: "Goddammit George! I don't care how much it hurts - you gotta play with pain!"

So George limped back into the game and proceeded to sprain his other ankle. He had to be taken to the emergency room.

When recently reminded of this story, the Mayor smiled softly and said: "He spent the rest of the summer on crutches."

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Mailing It In

My vacation starts in less than 48 hours and I'm mailing my performance in during all walks of life this week. (Though I am working hard at beer drinking and listening to Farther Along: The Best of The Flying Burrito Brothers.) Here's some neato quotes from cool books I've paged through lately:

"Over the last quarter-century, perhaps in response to the latent totalitarianism of the Left in the late Sixties, the Right transformed itself accordingly. It moved far beyond Reaganism, not to mention the libertarianism of Barry Goldwater. It still gave lip service to the principle of individual freedom unfettered by the power of centralized government, but it was difficult to remember when a contemporary conservative spokesman of significance energetically, heatedly championed the rights of the criminally accused, for instance, or an individual's freedom to express an unpopular, even arguably anti-American thought. In fact, it was difficult to remember when any significant conservative spokesman last championed any specific individual freedom other than freedom from taxes or the freedom to own a gun. Since the administration of Richard Nixon, the true priorities of the Right were not liberty but authority, not singularity but conformity."

- Steve Erickson in American Nomad (1997)

"For God's sake, don't let's become conformists - please. Just do your thing in your own way. Don't ever let fame and fortune or recognition or anything interfere with what you feel is here - if you feel you are a creative individual. Then don't let the companies get this going real good and buy up all the rights of the individual some way or the other. That's not right."

- Sam Phillips in Peter Guralnick's Lost Highway (1979)

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Wait - You Mean Those Hijackers Were Saudi and Not Iraqi?

You would hope that the Bush administration would come down hard on a corrupt monarchy that has ties to the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks, but it isn't likely to happen. You would hope that the Bush administration would de-classify 28 pages of a report on 9/11, but it isn't likely to happen. From the Star Tribune:

Classified sections of Congress' Sept. 11 report lay out a web of connections among Saudi businessmen, royal family, charities and banks that may have aided Al-Qaida or the suicide hijackers, according to people who have seen the report.

Senators who have seen the report (including a significant Republican) say that the 18 minutes ... I mean 28 pages should be seen by the public:

On Friday, 46 Democratic senators asked Bush to release the deleted material, asserting that the national security issues raised by Bush could be addressed by careful editing of sensitive passages. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also has called for its release.

Meanwhile, City Pages has published the Bush administration's Top 40 Lies About War and Terrorism, and the New Yorker wonders why Osama bin Laden hasn't been captured or destroyed yet. But hey - I feel safer now that Iraq has been taught a lesson. It reminds me of when we ran to those nasty commies out of Grenada!

Saturday, August 02, 2003

And You Thought "Freedom Fries" Were Silly …

Seen earlier tonight in a men’s room at a local bar – an adult novelty sold in a vending machine. On a red white and blue background, the product is flashily described as the “French Freedom Tickler” and the hype continues as such:

• Tickle your lady and show her the real thing.
• Be patriotic!

Then the kicker, in the fine print near the bottom: Made in Korea. Which Korea? It did not say.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Sam Phillips, RIP

“I have never been conventional. I don’t know if that’s good, but it set me apart in the sense that I had a certain independence and individuality. And I knew one thing: believe and trust in what you’re doing or don’t do it. I just knew that this was great music. My greatest contribution, I think, was to open up an area of freedom within the artist himself, to help him to express what he believed his message to be.”
- Sam Phillips, 1978, speaking to Peter Guralnick in his book Lost Highway

Sam Phillips has passed away and anyone who loves rock ‘n’ roll needs to take a moment to thank him for everything he has given us. Part of the standard, skeletal obituary (like the AP one) reads as such:

Phillips founded Sun Records in Memphis in 1952 and helped launch the career of Presley, then a young singer who had moved from Tupelo, Miss. He also worked with B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Conway Twitty and Charlie Rich, among others.

I mentioned to a friend today that Sam Phillips had died, and he wasn’t quite sure who he was – he had him mixed up with Colonel Tom Parker. Sad, but maybe things like that happen because people my age and younger grew up in a world where we have always had rock ‘n’ roll. Yes, we love it to death, but we take it for granted that it exists, don’t remember that there was a time when it did not exist, and we easily overlook the original masters – Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, etc. – for the Deep Artists that followed in the sixties and the ensuing decades. Which leads to the baby boomer/KQRS conceit that significant rock ‘n’ roll didn’t start until the mid-sixties with the advent of the Beatles and all the Art they spawned. And if you believe such bullshit, you’re welcome to Abbey Road and all those other yawners. Just wake me when the real rock ‘n’ roll is back on the turntable.

The E! Online (who knew?) obit delves a bit more into the Phillips legacy – he wasn’t simply the man who discovered Elvis and launched the careers of other great rockabilly artists; he was one of the essential founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll:

"He meant everything," said Howard Kramer, curatorial director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, on Thursday. "Without Sam Phillips, the landscape of contemporary music would be completely different."

I was at a Finn gathering in north-central North Dakota two summers ago. We were in my uncle’s garage and it was open mike time. Various relatives and neighbors took turns playing songs. This went on for an hour or two, then suddenly my mom grabbed my dad and me and hustled us out the door and into the car. Why? Someone was strumming a guitar and playing “The Doggie In The Window.” As we drove, she explained how she had hated that song as a teen, how rock ‘n’ roll came along - into a world in which there was no rock 'n' roll (And God said "Let there be light" and there was light. - Genesis 1:3); - and the music was exciting, made the dances so much more fun, made “The Doggie In The Window” sound even more useless. Nearly forty years later and she still hated that song with a passion, nearly forty years later and she was still so thankful for the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.

This scenario had played out in her hometown and those surrounding little towns ten miles from the Canadian border in the middle of nowhere. Just imagine how rock ‘n’ roll exploded across the country, coast-to-coast in small towns and big cities. Sam Phillips was largely responsible for that; and he and his discoveries did it all from a little studio down in Memphis, Tennessee. In the words of Jerry Lee Lewis (lifted from Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train): “Sam’s crazy. Nutty as a fox squirrel. He’s just like me, he ain’t got no sense. Birds of a feather flock together. It took all of us to screw up the world. We’ve done it.”

Amen, Killer, amen. And have you heard the news? There’s good rockin’ tonight.