Friday, January 30, 2015

The Reader's Best of the Northland Party and the AAMC's Winter Dance Party

Master of Ceremonies, Publisher Bob Boone
I got invited to two parties that were slated for this week. The Reader held a party to celebrate their Best of the Northland edition in which readers select their favorite romantic getaways, restaurants and even Best Cop. This event was Wednesday so you missed it, but it was a good first effort by the Bob Boone and the Reader team. The second is tomorrow night's Winter Dance Party celebrating the 56th Anniversary of the 1959 Winter Dance Party event that featured, among other stars, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.

The Reader's Best of the Northland 1st Annual Awards Ceremony was held at the Dubh Linn Irish Pub in the back room where the pub's stand up comedy shows are held. It was a well-meaning attempt to honor some of the recipients of this year's reader-elected Best of the Northland people and businesses. The catered affair, which included drinks and was intended to be semi-formal, would have benefited from a rehearsal. The list of winners and runners-up was lengthy and winners were invited to "say a few words" on top of that.

Veikko and Jason of Wood Blind
Veikko and Jason of Wood Blind had been pressed into service to be the evening's entertainment, which should have preceded the award ceremony. As it was, the duo performed a couple brief numbers shortly after nine as a form of intermission. Considering the event was slated for 7-9 and the list of winners remained only cut by half, you knew this was going to be a longer night than planned. It wasn't till after ten when Wood Blind finally got to perform, but the room had fairly cleared out as most who were there had to go to work in the morning.

This won't be the case for tomorrow night's Winter Dance Party, unless you're pulling an early shift at Wal-Mart. You can stay as late as you like. Buddy Holly will not be there this year, but I just learned that there's a Buddy Holly Hologram that will be going on tour next year in Texas, and eventually the world. If Nelson French has his way, next year we'll be dancing to the real thing.

Tomorrow, however, will feature Todd Eckart, whose name has been popping up quite a bit lately. He puts on a great show and makes you want to move your feet. Or so I heard. Eckart will be followed by the Travelons, a team comprised of several of the featured performers from last year's Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan, which was a phenomenal show. Here's where you get your tickets.

Rumor has it that quite a number of folks will be on hand who were at that first Winter Dance Party here, including DNT columnist and local writer Jim Heffernan. If you're needing to catch your breath now and then, you'll find some good company to share nostalgic memories if so inclined. There will also be a dance contest, and a best 50's costume award.

Meantime... put your dancin' shoes on.

Drawing names for "must be present to win" prizes.
P.S. Be sure to pick up your copy of this week's Reader to see the Best of the Northland winners from all the categories. It's a great way to get ideas for where you might like to go on your next day, or your next adventure.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It Is Time To Get Tired (A Poem)

On this day in history....
~William McKinley was born in 1846. He would become the first U.S. president to ride in an automobile.
~Stanley Kubrick's Cold War farce Dr. Strangelove (How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) was released.
~The Raven, by Edgar Allen Poe, was published.
~Five years ago today I wrote a blog entry about making lists.

Many years ago Susie and I bought a wonderful addition to our home, a book titled The Book of the Sandman and the Alphabet of Sleep. We got it because we loved the artwork of its illustrator, Rien Poortvliet. If you have young ones or grandchildren, this is a really special book.

Sleep is one of those things that is precious to us. And on occasion it eludes us. We all have our techniques to acquire the rest we covet. But when counting sheep and all else fails... then what? Here is a poem that sprang to mind one recent evening.

It’s Time To Get Tired 

Why is it that our bodies wake at the same precise moment
our alarms have instructed and trained us to.
Even when we travel two time zones West, the inner alarm
kicks us awake in our regular time-zoned moment, unfooled by geography.

Yet when night falls, too often we’re wired.
Our batteries refuse to discharge their strength.
Why does my body not understand? It’s time to get tired.

O Sleep, where art thou my lost friend?

I walk like a ghost through the rooms of my house
hoping to catch a glimpse of you
hiding behind a curtain, or a chair.
But you’re not there, or here, or there. Or there.

I leave the house in the deep of night, longing for your embrace.
Come back, Friend. Why did I ever take you for granted?

The hours glide by and I wait for you like a Lover.
I long to lose myself in you.

Our relationship is impossible. When I hear you approach,
when I sense you drawing near my heart races,
but when I make the slightest move in your direction you flee.
Why do you continually break my heart?

I track you like a bloodhound, with longing, driven by your scent.
Why must you continuously remain on the run?
Come home to me. I’m pleading now. Quit breaking my heart.

There are no more sheep to count. They’ve been scattered by wolves.
There are no more logs to saw. My imagination has been deforested.

e.n. 2015

# # # #

When all else fails, try a book.  :-)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Things I've learned while covering the Twin Ports arts scene these past few years

Just under three years ago Bob Boone, publisher of the Reader, asked if I wouldn't mind writing a column pertaining to the arts. I was already writing about the local arts scene and interviewing artists here at Ennyman's Territory, so it wasn't going to be much of a deviation from many of my routines.

Near the end of 2014 I decided to hang up my spurs, or whatever it is that writers hang up when they move on. Nevertheless, I still desired to write a summing up of things I learned through this experience, which I may still attempt sometime. Here are a few notes I scribbled as I reflected on this matter.

* * * *

1. There is no single source that will keep you informed regarding everything that is happening in the Twin Ports arts scene. The Trib used to have a section called The Wave on Thursdays (and sometimes Fridays) which is now under a new name but serves the same function of identifying some of what is happening. The Reader lists galleries and has a calendar, but that is limited as well. The Transistor also fills a few holes.

2. What happened to the original mission of the Twin Ports Arts Align? This is a much longer discussion than I have time to explore here, but it's worth pursuing sometime. The Twin Ports Arts Align Facebook page is also a good place to learn some of what is happening here.

3. Duluth Grille's Tom Hanson not only does all he can to support sustainability and use local sources for the food he serves, he’s also a supporter of the local arts community. There are an increasing number of venues that will share the work of local artists on their walls, but Hanson goes further. He purchases the work of local artists and helps service the economic well-being of the arts community.

4. There are a lot of creative people here. Many are quietly active in ways you don't really notice. Some exceptional artists who would do well in many other places, but have chosen to live here. The natural beauty of our region is one of the reasons I believe many artists are here.

5. The schools -- UWS and UMD -- have been very influential. Once you start paying attention you begin to see the influence of certain professors with regard to the style of their former students' work.

6. There is more happening than most people are aware of. Once you do become aware of it you start to feel like something "big" is happening. But then, what is big? What do we really expect. For sure, something good is happening. We have a vibrant arts community.

7. Most artists do something else for a living. They will keep being creative because it is a passion, whether it becomes financially viable or not.

8. There seems a need for people on both sides of the bridge to cross it more often.

7. Tourist art and wall art for nursing homes is valuable. There are all kinds of reasons to paint, and it does not have to be "to become a famous artist." It can be simply to make a wall more interesting, comforting, etc.

8. Seems like there's an unusually vibrant poetry scene here. Is this something that is happening everywhere?

9. The Ballet, Symphony and Playhouse get more press because they have staff that write press releases.

10. I see reviews of plays, but can't recall ever having seen a review of an art show. (Someone will send me a link and make me eat my words on that, I suppose.)

11. Confirmed what I believe about creativity being an innate part of being human, but some people lack experience with regard to using art materials etc. which is why we need to keep art in the schools.

12. The Tweed Museum and Duluth Art Institute offer opportunities to see a lot of really wonderful work. I believe both resources are great for the community, and underutilized. Spread the word!

13. There is substantially more talent here than most people realize.

14. There are more venues where artists can show their work than you can shake a stick at. It's a very long list and there are probably many more I'm not aware of. And many that just emerged in the past three years.

* * * *

Call for Artists
Nora Fie, manager of children's and yong adult services at the Superior Public Library, is reminding artists that this year’s Love your Local Artist will be on Friday, February 13th from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Please let Nora know as soon as possible if you plan to participate.

As a fund raiser for the library, they now charge $20.00 for a table/display space or you can donate a piece of your work to their Silent Auction. This is an event where you can sell your work, so please have contact information available. Donations and/or the $20.00 are due by Friday, February the 6th. For more information send email to

* * * *

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Celebrate it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Local Art Seen: DAI Member Show 2015

Raven Speaks, by Sabdi Pillsury Gredzens
To my great disappointment I was unable to attend the 2015 Members Show opening reception at the Duluth Art Institute. As expected the opening this past Thursday was attended with exceptional enthusiasm. Though I couldn't be present myself (I was in Los Angeles) I received word that all was well in the Northland. Upon my return this weekend I was able to visit the As expected, the members show demonstrated once again that the Twin Ports continues to be vibrant and alive with creative energy. Many of the names a familiar, and many new. The show is worth seeing in person, whether during a lunch hour, evening or weekend.

Here's some of the work I saw this weekend upon my return from the West Coast. I was not disappointed.

Sarah Brokke's distinctive Vessel
The Messenger by Marlene Miller
Note the detail in Miller's piece.
Aaron Kloss gave us Golden Autumn Sunbeams
Note the energy in Ken Marunowsi's Charlie Parr
January Sunrise by Cynthia Tope
The Mute by the inimitable Fatih Benzer
Detail of Benzer's striking piece.
Lost in a Foreign Geography by Adam Swanson
The few pieces here in this blog entry barely touch the surface of all there is to see in this year's Member Show. There are five pieces by the Sell family alone. Though many familiar names can be found, there were likewise surprises, such as Robin Washington's No Cause for Alarm. As anticipated, it's another good crop of aesthetic nutrition. And when you stop to take it in, don't forget to slip upstairs to enjoy the Emerging Photographers exhibit as well. 

Meantime, art goes on all around you... Engage it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

He Not Busy Being Born Is Busy Dying

Jorge Luis Borges is surely one of the most imaginative and influential writers of the 20th century, despite the absence of a Nobel Prize for Literature, of which he was surely worthy. I've collected and read all his fiction, and was pleasantly surprised to recently discover a book of conversations with with this Argentine master. These conversations, titled simply Jorge Luis Borges: Conversations, took place between 1964 and 1984, have been a thrill to read.

In some ways, I find parallels between Borges and Bob Dylan, both in the manner of their creative output and in the way they tend to respond in interviews. I have a friend who commented on the Dylan interview in the current AARP magazine saying, "This was very unusual. I don’t know why, but I got the feeling reading the whole thing that it just doesn’t sound like Dylan. I’ve never heard him expound on things like he did here. I’ve never heard him so directly answer a lot of questions and even the language just didn’t sound like him. I really enjoyed reading all of it… it’s just so different than anything I’ve ever read before when he was interviewed." It surprised her. The Washington Post said the same thing. And how does he normally sound? Frequently -- or should I say usually -- like Borges: enigmatic.

Another shared quality between Borges and Dylan is their total immersion in their craft. As one reviewer of the book notes at, "He lived in Literature and Literature lived in him." Likewise, Dylan's career has been rooted in music, and especially American roots music. It so lives in him that it has streamed from him in the most unexpected ways, not the least of which is his current album Shadows in the Night, scheduled for release February 3.

* * * *

The anthology of interviews with Borges features more than a dozen conversations that cover all phases of his life and work. I downloaded it to my Kindle in November and have been enjoying it during my occasional travels these past couple months (Vegas, Savannah, L.A.). This past week I found the following passage, at the end of a discussion about death, worth pondering.

Barnstone: The mystics speak of death-in-life as an experience outside time. How do you perceive it?
Borges: I think that one is dying all the time. Every time we are not feeling something, discovering something, when we are merely repeating something mechanically. At that moment you are dead. Life may come at any moment also. If you take a single day, therein you find many deaths, I suppose, and many births also. But I try not to be dead. I try to be curious concerning things, and now I am receiving experiences all the time, and those experiences will be changed into poems, into short stories, into fables. I am receiving them all the time, though I know that many of the things I do and things I say are mechanical, that is to say they belong to death rather than life. 

The Dylan line "He not busy being born is busy dying" involuntarily came to mind as I read this. Can we train ourselves to notice when we're dying? To notice when we're just mechanically going through the motions? In our work, in our relationships, and even in our play we can find ourselves failing to really live.

It's time to start paying attention. My recommendation: open your eyes... and choose life.

* * * *
For more about Borges, visit my page Borges, Revisited.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Existential Hero/Anti-Hero Cool Hand Luke

“You made me like I am…. When does it end? What do you got in mind for me? What do I do now?” ~Luke Jackson

For a variety of reasons, existentialism became one of the prevailing philosophies of mid-Twentieth century. It is a philosophical view with fuzzy edges, as writers as varied as Kierkegaard, Sartre and Camus bring differing perspectives to the equation. Nevertheless, at its core there are several common defining features: a sense of personal alienation, that our life situation is absurd, and the sense of calling to live authentically.

One definition refers to modern man's situation as "a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world."

Merriam-Webster offers this definition: "A chiefly 20th century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad."

When Cool Hand Luke was released in 1967, Existentialism was a prevailing wind on college campuses and in popular culture. Hence, the film demonstrates, without preaching, the fundamental essence of this worldview.


Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) is a combination existential hero/anti-hero and Christ-figure in this film. As the opening credits roll we see a drunken Luke cutting the tops off of parking meters in the middle of the night, not to rob them but simply out of his sense of boredom, or for whatever meaningless reason. The rest of the film is about his time in prison. Luke has one quest here, to escape this meaningless existence. I see the overall film as a metaphor for Sartre's No Exit or Camus's The Stranger.

Like all good stories the film is a sequence of scenes which serve to define Luke's character for the viewer. His "never give up" attitude is demonstrated early in his fight with Dragline (George Kennedy). And though his "achievements" win the admiration of his bunkmates or "co-workers" in this hard labor camp, he is non-plussed about all of it, as A. Hardt points out in this 2011 forum discussion:

Through my multiple viewings of Cool Hand Luke, my analysis of the message of the film has switched back and forth between an existentialist one, and one of determinism. The existentialist references are the most common within the film; Luke is constantly discrediting the meaning in his actions. After Captain lists Luke’s significant war achievements, Luke responds by saying, “I was just passing time.” Also, when Dragline consults Luke about the 50 eggs in an hour bet, Luke says about the extremely difficult task, “Yeah well, it would be something to do.” From these and other examples, it seems that Luke has come to believe that his life is inherently meaningless, and in order to create meaning, he must give himself seemingly impossible tasks to complete to the amazement of those watching. When the chain gang is ordered to pave an entire road in one day, Luke recognizes the meaninglessness of this menial task, and by doing so he is able to accept it and even make the task into a game for the other workers, thereby achieving a sort of satisfaction.

Final showdown at the film's end.
In my recent watching of Cool Hand Luke I noted once more that in addition to being something of an existential hero/anti-hero, it's very clear that Luke is also something of a Christ-figure. In one of the reviews at the writer points out that director Stuart Rosenberg consciously viewed the character of Luke in this manner, hence the deliberate use of Christian imagery in the film, most strikingly after the egg-eating scene where Luke is lying on the table, hands outstretched. The other prisoners have left his side, amplifying with a slightly long lingering shot the sense of Christ's abandonment at the Cross.

Though at first he was just another prisoner, his escapades serve to help give meaning and hope to his fellow prisoners, even if they seemingly mean nothing to him. In the end, like Jesus, he is abandoned by God (Matthew 27:46) and betrayed by a friend.

Peering through the existential lens we note that Luke is a non-conformist who is authentically himself. He is not like the others who, though discontent, accept their boundaries, their circumstances. Luke is a man of action, not resignation. Tragically his aspiration is impossible to achieve yet he pursues it till the end, hence his final despair.

There are plenty of great moments in this film. If you haven't seen it in a while, it may be time to re-visit this memorable classic.