Friday, April 29, 2016

Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again

My first encounter with Mike made an impression on me. I was living in Puerto Rico at the time working in a Christian book store in a suburb of San Juan. A former instructor of the Wesleyan college there invited me to do prison ministry with him. He said 90% of the prisoners did not speak English so if I could lead a Bible study for those who did he could spend more time one day a week with the Spanish speakers there.

As the saying goes, every picture tells a story, and in Bayamon Prison every inmate has a story as well. One of the inmates I met was a fellow named Art. I met Art on my first visit, a really nice American fellow with hair and pasty white skin who ended up behind bars over a misunderstanding. In order to keep the prison population from swelling too excessively (unemployment in 1979 was 50%) the prison made arrangements to put as many prisoners into halfway houses for six months of supervised early release. One of these was the Salvation Army facility within walking distance of the bookstore.

All this to say that when that year of prison visitation began Art was in prison and a guy known as Captain Eddie was head of this nearby Salvation Army halfway house. Ironically, when the year ended the former Captain Eddie was in prison and Art was head of the Salvation Army post there. That is a much longer story that is germane to this blog post only in that it was while visiting Art at the Salvation Army house that I met Mike.

The S.A. house had a room downstairs with billiard tables in it. On those occasions when I went to visit Art, and later a few other guys who who were placed here in limited release, I would be asked to wait downstairs while the person in charge went to retrieve that person. Evidently the men were housed in some large upstairs rooms bunkhouse style. On this one occasion, while waiting for Art a man came to the billiard room and stood in the doorway. He had dark, shoulder-length hair, dark sunglasses and a cropped beard. For a long couple minutes he didn't speak and without introduction or preface started into an oratory, something akin to an actor on a stage, one of Poe's most famous poems.

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary," he began. "Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore— while I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping..." He completed the first stanza with eloquence. But he didn't stop there. He continued with the second stanza and the third and on and on until midway through the 18th and final stanza he paused to say, "I bet you didn't think I could do that, did you?"

As I indicated up front, this first encounter with Mike made an impression, as it would anyone. From there we got into a variety of discussions about a host of topics that included philosophical and cultural observations. Bizarre as it was, it proved the beginning of a friendship of sorts. During one of these early visits Mike shared his experience of realizing, while look at the bricks on Grand Street that he was standing where Dylan must have stood when he wrote those lines from Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.

Now the bricks lay on Grand Street
Where the neon madmen climb
They all fall there so perfectly
It all seems so well timed...

And Mike said, "That was the second time I had that experience." He then described the images from Mr. Tambourine Man, out on the windy beach, dancing beneath the diamond sky, silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus signs... It gave him a chill to realize he was inside another Dylan scene, this time in San Francisco.

All of this came to mind in an instant the moment I saw that next week Dylan's handwritten lyrics to this song would go on display at Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum here in Duluth for the month of May. This and other treasures from the Bill Pagel collection are for the first time going to be shared with the wider public.

Here's a current version of the placard that will accompany the lyrics.

Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
Handwritten Lyrics 

Twenty takes of this song are known to have been recorded at Columbia studios. The date was February 17th, 1966, and the recording was done in Nashville, Tennessee. It was the twentieth take that was chosen for the album Blonde on Blonde. This song has been performed often live during Dylan’s career. It ranks 16th on his list of most played songs, with 744 live performances being documented.

"Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" was used in the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and is also mentioned in the book by Hunter S. Thompson. During his reclusive “Dakota Years” even John Lennon wrote a spoof titled “Stuck Inside of Lexicon with the Roget’s Thesaurus Blues Again”.

An example of the lyrics:

“Now the rainman gave me two cures
Then he said, “Jump right in”
The one was Texas medicine
The other was just railroad gin
An’ like a fool I mixed them
An’ it strangled up my mind
An’ now people just get uglier
An’ I have no sense of time
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again”
Bob Dylan, 1966

* * * *
From 1966 to 2010 Dylan performed this song 748 times in concert. Here's the complete story in song.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Let it happen.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Countdown to Homegrown: The Northland's Very Own Music Festival (First Signs of Spring)

Every part of the world has its own "first sign of spring." For many it's the sound of songbirds in the morning. Ah, they're back! For others it's the spring peepers at sunset. Another sign of spring might be when... you see your first mosquito. (Here's a picture of the first one I saw, now temporarily affixed to the inside of my windshield.) It won't be long we'll see buds on the trees. And this Sunday, the Northland's promised spring is verified with the onset of the Homegrown Music Festival.

By now you've surely seen the 100 page Festival Guides that are in all the usual places. It's likely the best way to see everything that's happening next week from May 1 to 8 here in the Twin Ports, the local music scene's annual celebration of music and the arts. You can, of course, visit and bookmark their website.

A Little History
The Homegrown Music Festival began as a simple birthday party with a handful of bands and a bunch of beer. Now it’s a complete bureaucracy, run by a volunteer steering committee and a fiscal agent.* This year 200 musical acts are scheduled to perform along with a few filmmakers, poets and other artists. And yes, evidently there will also be bunch of beer again this year. Most of the music is good enough that the beer isn't really necessary to enjoy it, though exceptions can probably be cited.

One of the Non-Music Events**
The first visual  leading up to Homegrown is the Homegrown Photography Show, showcasing previous Homegrowns with pictures culled from the community at large and curated by local film photographer Kip Praslowicz. The opening reception is Monday, May 2 at 5 PM at the Red Herring Lounge--and you won't want to miss it, because you can pick up one of the Duluth Art Institute's FREE disposable cameras and then spend the week capturing YOUR Homegrown journey via film!

Turn in your camera by 5 PM, Sunday, May 8, to either the DAI Depot site or the Red Herring Lounge. The film will then be developed "instantly" and put on display, allowing everyone to see what really happened during Homegrown 2016. Photo Stupor will open on Tuesday, May 10 at 5 PM at the Red Herring Lounge, and will be on view for one week.

Exhibition Openings
Location: Red Herring Lounge
Homegrown Photo Show: Monday, May 2 at 5 PM
Photo Stupor: Tuesday, May 10 at 5 PM

Ingredients and Missing Ingredients
I think half the fun of Homegrown is just reading the names of the groups that will be performing. I will personally be missing all the shows after midnight, when they let it all hang out. Try some of these names out for size: Mind Control, Hard Feelings, Ball Slashers, Brain Bugs, Lady Slipper, Mama’s Stolen Horses, Group Too, The Trash Cats, Crazy Neighbors, Silverback Colony. (Now how cool is that?)

I looked in vain to find Revolution Jones and the Fractals. But here are some others who I did see listed: Aly Aleigha, Paper Parlor, The Potluck Communists (Red is a favorite color in the Northland), Songs of Shipwreck (a group of historians), Man on the Moon, Portrait of a Drowned Man, and The Surfactants (a team of chemists?).

There are a lot of familiar like Big Wave Dave and the Ripples, Teague Alexy, the Fish Heads and Murder of Crows.... and on and on, and on and on.  There even a classical music event at Sacred Heart.

Are you sure Revolution Jones is not playing somewhere? That's O.K. There are more than enough groups here who will move your feet or take you to another space in 4/4 time.

The Homegrown Trolley
Anyone who has flown out of Duluth knows that the first stop (usually) is Minneapolis. And because Minneapolis is a hub and DLH is just an outer spoke on the wheel we usually have smaller planes with lower levels on the pecking order of gates at the Minneapolis Airport. Fortunately, they have a train that eagerly assists in conveying us to the heart of the airport where it's easier to reach our appropriate gate before the next flight leaves us behind.

In the same way the Homegrown Festival conscientiously supplies its fans with a means for quickly reaching the next destination from both ends of the Superior cruise line. You may wish to avoid the trolley and get a little exercise as you warm up to Grandma's Marathon. Or you might like to just choose the easy way and meet a few new randomly selected lovers of music. Sometimes serendipity can really be magical. And there are some who say that Homegrown is always a magical time. I mean, it's springtime. Right?

* * * *
Meantime, the beat goes on.

Content Credits
*These two sentences were borrowed without permission from the Homegrown website.
* * This information was provided by a Duluth Art Institute media release. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Art for Earth Day Open Studio at UMD

Advice to all you art students, 
and all you folk who take a moment now and then to read this blog:
“Be who you are and say what you feel, 
because those who mind don’t matter 
and those who matter don’t mind.” -Dr. Seuss

Meantime life goes on all around you. Enbrace it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Local Art Seen: The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial in Duluth

Thursday April 21 the Red Herring Lounge hosted the sixth and final installment of their Design Duluth series. The three guest speakers last week included Sean Elmquist of Chaperone Records, Candace Lacosse of Hemlocks Leatherworks and Heidi Bakk-Hansen from the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Committee. Interestingly, probably by no coincidence, the Red Herring is right there in the vicinity of this memorial.

The speakers spoke from the heart, telling their stories, how they got here from there, and making real connections with all our life journeys. The topic was the pros and cons of Minnesota Nice:
the politeness, the aversion to confrontation, and a tendency towards the stoic. After the presentations DAI Director once again led us in an exercise that involved interaction with small groups so we could get to know one another, and think a little more deeply on the theme.

Afterwards I asked Heidi Bakk-Hansen fo share here more about this project that stands as a powerful statement and a true work of public art.

EN: Maybe we should start with your writing. What do you do for a living? And tell me about your life path from youth to present in a brief overview...

Heidi Bakk-Hansen: I am primarily a freelance researcher and writer, focused most on local history. I write for Zenith City Online and do other projects; right now I’m helping do some research for the upcoming servant tour at Glensheen. I also do some substitute teaching in the local schools.

I moved to Duluth in 1995 from Chicago, looking for a change. I had quit my career job as a teacher and had spent six months driving a cab in that city as a sort of adventure, but could no longer afford my apartment. So I met someone who lived in Duluth, visited, and moved in the midst of the terrible heat wave that summer. I got a job working at Carlson Book and Record, which was located in the now-empty storefront across from the NorShor Theatre. At the time, it was a big rambling crazy used bookstore, and I loved books, so it worked out for awhile, until the owner got closed down by the IRS over long-standing debts after the millenium.

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, moving to the city itself as an adult as soon as I could swing it after graduating from college with an English teaching degree. I spent the first half of the 1990s well-immersed in the progressive activist culture of Chicago, learning as much as I could about all kinds of things, especially developing my understanding of racism and feminism.

In 2000, when we started working on the Memorial in earnest, I did a lot of research on other memorial committees around the country. It seemed like our country was just beginning to hit a sort of understanding about the time period between 1890-1925 as the “nadir of race relations” (that’s a James Loewen phrase) having serious impact on us as a culture. Without Sanctuary was published (a book of lynching photography, which also toured the country as an exhibit) and the centerpiece of their collection was the Duluth lynching photo. Also, Michael Fedo’s book finally was made widely available for the first time.

I found that there were nascent efforts by Dr. James Cameron in Milwaukee to bring attention to the long-term consequences of lynching, and I think he was involved in the effort to have a national memorial to lynching victims in Washington D.C. He has since died, and his effort for a memorial did not come to be. Around the South, you can find various efforts to deal with lynching history. One example would be in Waco, where you find a lot of conflict in the community over the idea. Another would be in Moore’s Ford, Georgia where they actually were confronting living memory—actual perpetrators still alive. There, they actually do a re-enactment each year in an effort to help people understand what happened. We met with other communities in Mississippi where we were able to talk about Duluth and meet with other community leaders attempting to confront this history.

EN: How did the memorial project come about?

HBH: The Memorial project here came out of a conversation between me and Henry Banks in 2000 after I wrote my Ripsaw article on the lynching, in which I laid out what happened and for the first time since 1920 named the accusers in print. Together we announced a day-long vigil at the corner of the Shrine building and the idea for a memorial of some sort came out of that vigil. We started meeting as a committee soon after that. Lots of people worked very hard to make it happen, and the memorial was dedicated in October 2003.

The artists were chosen by the community at large, when in 2001-2 they were welcomed to come view the models proposed by several finalists. The model and artists that were chosen were Carla Stetson and Anthony Peyton Porter. She as artist designed the space, and he chose the words/quotes that would go on it.

EN: You mentioned that some discussion was had about fencing it in? Why was this being suggested?

HBH: In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion in the community about appropriate use of the memorial space. One issue some people had (including the police) was that neighborhood folks liked to sit there on a wall (as one of the only pleasant public places available on First Street). A few of them were prone to public drinking and boisterous behavior. Later, some people claim to have observed prostitution and drug dealing on the site. I don’t dispute that these things happened, but my stance has always been that illegal behavior can be dealt with by using current law. (I can only speak for myself here, but you can assume that the board has discussed these issues at length and reached consensus on them.)

The police over the years have sometimes expressed an interest in preventing any loitering on the site by eliminating the ability to sit there. A fence was proposed by some members of the public, and I believe the police floated this idea as well. They believed that this idea could create “open hours” and “closed hours” to prevent uncouth or illegal behavior there late at night.

Another issue has been the use by at least one political group that in recent years have used the site as a place for political meetings and open picnics, complete with a fire circle. I have historically had great sympathy for the original ideas of the political group that has occupied the site, but I don’t feel that “occupy memorial” is a positive way of expressing those ideas, especially when community men of color have asked them to treat the site as a memorial rather than as a park.

Our stance as a board is that the space is a sacred community space, memorializing the three men who were lynched. It should be open to all individuals at any time. Illegal behavior can be dealt with by existing laws, including those regarding un-permitted fires. (City ordinance dictates that public fires must be in designated picnic areas or permits must be acquired. The memorial is a “plaza” and is city property, but it is not a park.)

We know that there is a persistent problem on First Street involving available public space for gatherings of all types for the people who live there. We have urged the city (and we will continue to do so) to rectify this problem. People should have to right to sit outside in their neighborhood with dignity and without being harassed by the police.

There is a balance that must be maintained at the memorial so that it is available for its sacred purpose. No group should be able to monopolize the site for any reason or political agenda in a way that prevents non-members of their group from visiting it or feeling welcome there.

EN: What kind of feedback have you had from the community since this was inaugurated?

HBH: I have given countless tours and talks over the years since the memorial’s unveiling, and it is easily the most talked about and most visited public art in the city. The vast majority understand it as valuable and worthwhile, a living document to the work we have yet to complete in this community to make it live up to the words and ideals written upon it.

I think that those of us who live here, however, forget just how upsetting being there can be—more than once I have talked about the story of the lynching to young people who dissolve into tears at hearing it told. For young black men and women especially, it can be very emotional and difficult, because it is not a “distant past” sort of event. It is present in our lives all around us.

On very rare occasion, I have heard from people who ignorantly assume it is a “politically correct” memorial to rapists. I have spoken to this assumption many times, laying out the accusation that was made, the obviously unfair (and today, illegal) way the accused were chosen from a group of 150 men in the night, how the riot transpired, and the most bare fact that even if the men were guilty (and they were not), justice was not served.

The idea that the memorial is “too negative” or “creates more racism” by forcing a conversation or confrontation is, in my opinion, a stance taken by people who have not found a way to discuss their feelings about race without shame or guilt or accusation. It’s uncomfortable, but I can promise them that the discomfort eases with practice and effort. This is a matter of self-education, but also one that we all as a community (especially if you are white) must assist each other in working through. Otherwise, we’ll never move forward.

* * * *
Thank you, Heidi, for your work on this project and for choosing the City of Duluth to call home.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Local Art Seen: Art for Earth Day Open Studio at UMD

“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” 
 ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 

Saturday the Twin Ports celebrated Art for Earth Day. One of the annual venues is the UMD art department which opens its studios for the occasion. Here's a portion of what I saw... with more to come soon.

This last image here was a painting that I found especially interesting. The juxtaposition of Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends with Eugene Peterson's The Message and a book on Automotive Mechanics stopped me in my tracks for a few minutes. I wanted to know who did this and pondered what the underpinnings of this selection for a still life. Finally, I wondered what three books I would select for a painting of this sort.

And that's my question for you. What three books would you paint if you had the skills? 

Meantime... life goes on. Cool.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Handwritten Lyrics to Dylan's Desolation Row: Sneak Preview of the May Wailliam Pagel Exhibit at Karpeles

The weeks have been barreling along like a freight train this year. Hard to believe we're just a week away from the month of May and the kickoff of the Duluth Homegrown Festival, an eight-day celebration of local music and related enthusiasms. The end of the month is eight-day Duluth Dylan Fest, a perfect set of bookends to one of the Northland's nicest time of the year.

Dylan Fest has added quite a few new events this year, one of the most significant being the public display of a number of items from William Pagel's private Dylan memorabilia collection. In addition to collecting backstage passes, letters, Dylan books and recordings, he also purchased the duplex in Duluth's Central Hillside where young Robert Zimmerman lived the first six year of his life, walking distance from Nettleton Elementary School. For the first time a small portion of the Pagel collection will be shared with the public at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum. This exhibit will be on display throughout the month of May and not just during Dylan Fest.

There's at least one item to be displayed that I am not at liberty to talk about, an item so rare I'm not sure anyone even knows of its existence. There's another that will settle an old score regarding a matter of Dylan history.

One of the many documents you'll see if you visit are the original handwritten lyrics from Desolation Row. Each displayed item will have a printed legend describing its significance. Here's an example of the kinds of stories that will accompany the documents.

Desolation Row handwritten lyrics 
This memorial now stands at the site of the hanging. 
Recorded on August 4th, 1965, this song closed out Dylan’s sixth studio album, Highway 61 Revisited. It was the longest song on the album at eleven minutes twenty-one seconds. The song is predominantly acoustic, although an earlier take with electric instrumentation was recorded on July 29th, 1965. Some have suggested that the first verse could have been influenced by a tragic event in the city of Duluth’s history, in which three African Americans were lynched in downtown Duluth. Postcards were sold of the lynching, and the three men worked for a carnival passing through Duluth. The first verse states:

They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown,
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

There are nine more verses in the song. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the song at #187 in their “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

* * * *
If you're coming in from out of town, the monument pictured here can be found at the corner of Second Avenue East and First Street, on the corner where this tragic event occurred. It is the only memorial to a lynching in the United States. May we never forget. (For further reading see Michael Fedo's The Lynchings in Duluth.

* * * *
For highlights of this year's Duluth Dylan Fest visit this page or follow along on the Fest's Facebook page.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Enjoy the music. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

River Memories -- Cleveland's Cuyahoga River Fire Department

The first years of my life I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland called Maple Heights. It was a new development with new houses and new families, and lots of kids to play baseball and football with. The elementary school was a half block away, and beyond there was a forest, and great places to go sledding.

Nearly all my memories from that time are good ones. The 1950s was something of an age of innocence for kids like me. Only later did I come to learn that not everyone grew up with such a carefree existence.

There are, however, many experiences that we have that lay dormant and unremembered, but they are in there, only awaiting a trigger to unwrap them. One of these for me was our class trip to one of the fire station on the Cuyahoga River. That's right. The river had a fire department with four fire stations because this river was so polluted it would catch on fire.

One memory from that time was a political cartoon in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It showed a man and his son fishing from a little boat that was being eaten by chemicals as they sank. An editorial that day talked about how there were no fish left in Lake Erie because of the pollution and that the great lake's beaches were closed because the water was no longer safe for swimming. Something needed to be done.

Strange how far along the river's condition had gone before it was recognized that something needed to be done.

Here in Duluth the One River, Many Stories project has been in full swing with its focus on the St. Louis River upon whose shores reside the Twin Ports of Duluth and Superior. As a result of attending a few of their meetings my memory of the Cuyahoga and that class trip to the river's fire station came up to the surface. I was probably in fifth or sixth grade at the time. And the stat I remember most vividly was that the river had caught fire four times that year.

Reflecting on that experience I decided to do a Google search to see how accurate all this was. Turns out that the quality of life for that river was far more shocking than I'd realized, and this fire business went on for a far longer time frame than I'd imagined. According to this story in Time the Cuyahoga's woes became a catalyst to draw attention to all our nation's waterways. In 1969.

My class trip was in 1962 or '63. And the river had been catching fire since the 1930s, if not earlier. That stat from this Tony Long article was my biggest surprise. The river had been catching fire all my life. Fortunately, those fire stations are now closed and Lake Erie is now living. The lesson there is that things really can change when people put their minds to it.

Today it's the 46th anniversary of Earth Day. Here in the Twin Ports they celebrate with an annual Art for Earth Day Gallery Hop. As we think about the future, let's each do our part. Don't give up the fight.

Photo Credit: Photo from story shows a fireboat tug putting out a fire on the Cuyahoga in 1952. Used without permission and will be replaced if requested.