Thursday, March 5, 2015

Duluth Dylan Fest Bus Tour and Other Updates

A Beatles Timeline, Three Beatles Trivia Quizzes and More

The Beatles. There's no way to deny or diminish the impact of The Beatles. From their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show 51 years ago their flame burned bright, and its afterglow remains to this day.

If you were a teen in the Sixties, you have stories. You probably owned their albums. You certainly remember the songs. They had 17 Number One hits. Has anyone so dominated the pop charts in the history of music?

Here are a few details of note from a website called Beatles by the Numbers:

Total number of Beatles singles sold in the U.S.: 1.6 billion

Beatles albums sold worldwide: 600 million

Number of copies of Sgt. Pepper sold in Britain: 4.5 million

Number of copies of the Beatles Box Set sold in the first five days after release in Britain, North America and Japan: 2.3 million

Number of times Yesterday has been covered: 3,000 (most covered song of all time.)

Number of weeks Beatles albums spent at number one in U.S.: 132

Number of weeks Please Please Me stayed number one on the Billboard album charts: 30

Number of certified multi-platinum albums in the U.S.: 13

You get the picture. These guys knew how to make music people could connect to. No band ever produced more number one hits (20). I doubt that any band ever produced the kind of hysteria they created just by showing up. And I don't believe we'll ever see another band embraced so universally.

Their appearance on the scene came at a time when mass media was consolidated. Even the most watched shows in television today only reach a fraction of the population. The influential radio stations that played Top 40 hits are gone. The music scene is so splintered that there is hardly anything that can be called "the music of our lives." It's the music of my life and his life and her life, but it's all different music.

The Beatles seemed so young, so innocent and cheerful and made music that made you feel good. The American public enjoyed inviting them into their homes. But that youthfulness was deceptive. They were seasoned veterans as performers and no rookies. John Lennon had seven years under his belt by the time he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964. A couple months after Lennon assembled his little band he invited Paul McCartney to the group, and as The Quarrymen they began mining the new music of the era.

Here's a timeline that gives a great insight into The Beatles phenomenon.

If you consider yourself something of a Beatles trivia expert, here are three sites where Beatles Trivia has been assembled in Quiz Show form. Test your wits.

Buzzfeed Ultimate Beatles Quiz

Parade Magazine's How Much Do You Know About The Beatles?

And finally, a How Stuff Works Beatles Quiz

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For what it's worth, a group called The Revolution 5 is returning to Duluth in a couple weeks. March 21 to be exact. Here's the Facebook announcement: The Revolution 5 Presents The Beatles' #1 Hits. It's a show we enjoyed immensely.

Do you have a favorite Beatles memory? Feel free to share it here...

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What is Magical Realism?

"Just when I thought you were gone... you came back." 
~ Bob Dylan, Born In Time

From my youth I've had an interest in dreams, fantasy and science fiction. Somewhere along the way I discovered the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, godfather of magical realism. His influence has been immense, inspiring writers all over the world from Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Umberto Eco to Italo Calvino and Isabel Allende. I, too, have been so influenced. Unremembered Histories, my first volume of short stories, is a small collection of what I consider the best of my efforts in this genre.

For this reason I believed it may be useful to explain this particular story form in greater detail.

From Wikipedia
Magic realism or magical realism is a genre where magical or unreal elements play a natural part in an otherwise realistic (often mundane) environment. Although it is most commonly used as a literary genre, magic realism also applies to film and the visual arts.

One example of magic realism occurs when a character in the story continues to be alive beyond the normal length of life and this is subtly depicted by the character being present throughout many generations. On the surface the story has no clear magical attributes and everything is conveyed in a real setting, but such a character breaks the rules of our real world. The author may give precise details of the real world such as the date of birth of a reference character and the army recruitment age, but such facts help to define an age for the fantastic character of the story that would turn out to be an abnormal occurrence such as someone living for two hundred years.

The term is broadly descriptive rather than critically rigorous: Professor Matthew Strecher defines magic realism as "what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe."

From the Oxford Dictionary
Definition of magic realism in English: noun
A literary or artistic genre in which realistic narrative and naturalistic technique are combined with surreal elements of dream or fantasy.

From Mitchell's Introduction to Magical Realism: "an unexpected alteration of reality [. . .] an unaccustomed insight that is singularly favored by the unexpected richness of reality or an amplification of the scale and categories of reality" (Alejo Carpentier)

More specifically, magical realism achieves its particular power by weaving together elements we tend to associate with European realism and elements we associate with the fabulous, and these two worlds undergo a "closeness or near merging."

From Cliffs Notes
To understand magical realism, it helps to have a sense of mystery - an increased appreciation of the transcendent. In so doing, you'll savor works like the landmark One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez.

The basic structure of One Hundred Years chronicles the life of the Buendía family for over a century. It is the history of a family with inescapable repetitions, confusions, and progressive decline. Magical realism is manifested in a mythical city of mirrors, an insomnia plague, prophecy and ghosts, time displacement, a family curse, and more.

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There are a number of Dylan songs that could be expressionistic forms of magical realism. I think here of Changing of the Guard, or maybe even Ballad of a Thin Man, which defies comprehension on a rationalistic level.

Life is a great mystery filled with wonders. All too often, subsumed as we are in the day-to-day, we lose sight of the wonder. Stories of this sort can resonate with parts of our soul -- conscious and unconscious -- in ways that an ordinary story might fail. This is, in part, one of the aims of all my stories in general, and these stories in particular.

As the saying goes, "Try it. You'll like it." It's currently my personal best seller, even if it isn't on the New York Times lists. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Aaron Kloss at the Red Mug and Other Twin Ports Happenings

Paintings by Aaron Kloss at Red Mug this month
Last night I was watching The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for the fourth, fifth or sixth time, and as in every previous viewing am completely in awe at Julian Schnabel's incredible film. This time around I was struck by the complete disconnect between people living out fast-paced lives in the business realm and the tediously slow pace people locked in hospitals experience, especially those in hospice or paralysis.

We who have our health forget how fortunate we are. We who possess mobility and youth must remember that neither of these are permanent. The time to explore is now... otherwise that inquisitive spirit of our childhood will atrophy.

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Here are a few Twin Ports events to take in if you are able.


Changing Seasons Art Show 
If you live or work in Superior, be sure to take a few minutes to visit the Red Mug Coffeehouse this evening for an opening reception between 5 and 7 p.m.  On display will be a collection of new original paintings and prints celebrating the arrival of spring, by local landscape painter Aaron Kloss. The Red Mug is located on the corner of Hammond and Broadway.

Twin Ports Stage
Tonight at the Belknap Lounge the Twin Ports Stage live radio theater troop will be presenting Episodes 10 and 11 with live musical guest Joe Lindzius. The show starts at 6:00 p.m. "We want the show to start!"


Gallery Celebration: Youth Art Month
March is Youth Art Month and the Duluth Art Institute has pulled together a show from 10 of the region's schools.  The exhibition is designed to showcase the creativity and imagination that is being taught and practiced by our young artists. Work in a wide variety of media will be on display, from clay to photography, pen and paper to watercolor and oil. The opening reception will be from 5 - 7 p.m., the art itself on display throughout the month of March.

Gene Lafond and Amy Grillo at Little Angie's Cantina
Gene Lafond has left the Twin Cities and now lives here in the North Country with his partner in song Amy Grillo. Hence, Lafond friends and followers on Facebook will have noticed all the gigs they are doing up near Two Harbors and Silver Bay. Thursday evening Gene and Amy will be performing at Little Angie's in Canal Park. I'm not sure when Little Angie's became a music venue, but it's all right by me. I've always liked the food there, and the Margaritas. If you are a night life type, this will be a fun place to unwind.

Head of the Lakes Jazz Festival
For fans of jazz, this event is 18-karat. Every dude has his axe and man, these cats can really blow. Or so it goes. It's a two-day feast so don't get in a lather if you can't make the first night. For details visit their Facebook page by clicking the headline of this paragraph. Weber Hall at UMD is gonna be hot.

Revolution Jones at the Rex
The Twin Ports music scene is off the charts for a community this size. You can follow it best by paying attention to the Transistor or the Reader, not this blogspace which attempts to highlight the oft overlooked visual arts. Nevertheless, it seemed a good time to mention a few new and noteworthy additions to our local music action. Revolution Jones is a resurrected Uprising featuring an import from the Centerville All Stars, John Heino, on keyboards. It's reggae with attitude. Expect your feet to be moving as they groove. Let's give a big welcome to Revolution Jones.

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Have a great week ahead as you listen to the music. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

With April Fools Day Coming On Fast...

This is a re-post of a blog entry from about seven years ago or so. Today is March 2 and April 1 is coming up fast. I wanted to make sure you had a little time to get ready, in case you'd like to plan something big this year.

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Despite the fact that it occurred long before we were born, most of us are familiar with the great hoax Orson Welles played on American radio listeners when he re-created H.G. Wells' story of a martian attack in 1939. Welles' Mercury Radio Theater performance was so compelling that people literally fled their homes to escape the horrific assault on planet earth. The story was fabricated, but the fear it generated was real.

My brother and I used to get a kick out of fooling our mom when we were kids. I'm not sure why we found it so amusing, but it is certainly a widespread phenomenon. That is, for some reason, people sometimes like to mess with peoples' heads. We even devote a special day to to it once a year.... April Fools Day.

Here are four brief summaries of April Fools pranks that the media played on a believing public in years gone by. I've forgotten where I copied these from, but thought them worth saving when I read them and worth sharing when I found them in my files again tonight. As you can see, it isn't only Americans who are susceptible to outrageous tomfoolery.

The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest
In 1957 the respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in, and many called up wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. To this question, the BBC diplomatically replied that they should "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

Instant Color TV
In 1962 there was only one TV channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white. The station's technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the news to announce that thanks to a newly developed technology, all viewers could now quickly and easily convert their existing sets to display color reception. All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their TV screen, and they would begin to see their favorite shows in color. Stensson then proceeded to demonstrate the process. Reportedly, hundreds of thousands of people, out of the population of seven million, were taken in. Actual color TV transmission only commenced in Sweden on April 1, 1970.

The Taco Liberty Bell
In 1996 the Taco Bell Corporation announced that it had bought the Liberty Bell from the federal government and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called up the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell is housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed that it was all a joke a few hours later. The best line inspired by the affair came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale, and he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold, though to a different corporation, and would now be known as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.

Nixon for President
In 1992 National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation program announced that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again. His new campaign slogan was, "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again." Accompanying this announcement were audio clips of Nixon delivering his candidacy speech. Listeners responded viscerally to the announcement, flooding the show with calls expressing shock and outrage. Only during the second half of the show did the host John Hockenberry reveal that the announcement was a joke. Nixon's voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Wisdom of Epictetus Applies To Us Now As Much As Ever

“It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” ― Epictetus

The first time I heard the above saying was while visiting the headquarters of the Worldwide Evanglization Crusade (WEC) in Fort Washington, PA, a missionary organization founded in 1913 by the famous British cricketer C.T. Studd. (Something like the Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth of cricket.) The elderly man's name was Alfred Ruscoe. I'd gone there to meet an author whose books had influenced me, Norman Grubb. Mr. Grubb, son-in-law of C.T. Studd, had written books about faith and about some of the people who had been associated with WEC, including its founder.

I remember this because I wrote it down. As the saying goes, the weakest ink is stronger than the strongest memory.

Ruscoe was an interesting man because he also wanted to write a book about many of these people, shining a light on some of their foibles. He didn't but he had seen a lot in his day, having been with C.T. Studd for ten years back at the beginning. Because of this direct contact with a historical figure, I was eager to here some of his stories. He said he would share with me if I would help him wash his car, which I was eager to do. I still have the notebook where I scribbled some of the statements he made that day, preserving them as if delivered by an oracle. In retrospect, I was victim to a scheme similar to Tom Sawyer getting the other kids to whitewash that fence.

While reading the Autobiography of Mark Twain this week I came across a passage pertaining to Epictetus. If I recall it correctly Twain stated that Epictetus never had an education and never penned a word, but his influence continues to this day. So last night I decided to confirm that I'd heard this correctly. (I'm listening to an audiobook.) Indeed he was born a slave in Phrygia, which is now Turkey, around 55 A.D. The Stoic philosophy that he espoused essentially states that since external events are outside of our control, we should accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.

The Golden Sayings of Epictetus are contained in Volume 1 of The Harvard Classics. Like Socrates and Jesus, his teachings, still relevant today, were recorded for posterity by others, in this case his pupil Arian.

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, "He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.” 

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will. ”  

I think the Stoic worldview is misunderstood by many to mean be grim and just bear up. Epictetus knew that some actions in the world were external to his will and out of his control. We should not be bothered by things outside of our control. Our emotions should only respond to things that we can control, that depend on us.

For Epictetus, good and evil were exclusively involved in things under our control, were within us, not in external events. The events themselves were neither good or evil. It was how we viewed events that made them good or evil.

“Circumstances don't make the man, they only reveal him to himself.”  

“To accuse others for one's own misfortune is a sign of want of education. To accuse oneself shows that one's education has begun. To accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one's education is complete.”

“No man is free who is not master of himself.”

“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests. ”

“If you would cure anger, do not feed it. Say to yourself: 'I used to be angry every day; then every other day; now only every third or fourth day.' When you reach thirty days offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the gods.”

“Events do not just happen, but arrive by appointment.”

“Give me by all means the shorter and nobler life, instead of one that is longer but of less account!”

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If this topic interests you, visit Wikipedia for more on Epictetus.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Tonight at the Prøve: 19th Annual St. David's Day Open Mic Poetry Event

“Always be a poet, even in prose.” ~ Charles Baudelaire

We have a tradition here in the Northland that is now in its 19th year. It's called the St. David's Day Open Mic Poetry Event. I've noted before that we have more than our share of artists and poets in this area and gatherings like this serve to illustrate that point.

When I attended last year at The Underground I was somewhat surprised at the quantity and caliber of poets present. This year the Prøve Gallery, 21 Lake Avenue N., is hosting the event, presented by the Spirit Lake Poetry Series.

Minnesota Book Award winner Louis Jenkins is credited with conceiving this event. One of its aims is to honor the anniversary of the canonization of St. David, the patron saint of Wales. A second is to showcase area voices and kiss winter goodbye.

Who is Louis Jenkins? Louis Jenkins is an award-winning prose poet from Oklahoma who with his artist wife Ann has made Duluth his home for the past three decades. His work has been published in numerous literary magazines and anthologies, including Best American Poetry 1999.

Who is St. David? St. David is the Patron Saint of Wales who was born near the end of the 5th century. A poem written about St. David five centuries later predicted that the Celtic peoples would rise up and repel the Anglo-Saxons. He's been a rallying point for many uprisings over the years.

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. ~Robin Williams, Dead Poet's Society

Prose poetry is a genre of the literary arts that has caused some people consternation over the years. Can it really be considered poetry if it's prose? The same debates have occurred regarding whether photography or printmaking should be considered a fine art. Jenkins is a master of the form.

Here's a short piece by Louis Jenkins titled Football.


I take the snap from the center, fake to the right, fade back...
I've got protection. I've got a receiver open downfield...
What the hell is this? This isn't a football, it's a shoe, a man's
brown leather oxford. A cousin to a football maybe, the same
skin, but not the same, a thing made for the earth, not the air.
I realize that this is a world where anything is possible and I
understand, also, that one often has to make do with what one
has. I have eaten pancakes, for instance, with that clear corn
syrup on them because there was no maple syrup and they
weren't very good. Well, anyway, this is different. (My man
downfield is waving his arms.) One has certain responsibilities,
one has to make choices. This isn't right and I'm not going
to throw it.

* * * *

Tonight's event begins at 7:30 p.m.  Poets will each have three minutes to read one of their own pieces and a poem by someone else. You're invited not only to enjoy but to participate. Will we see you there?