Thursday, May 31, 2012

Another Plug for the DuSu Film Festival

What a great month it has been here in the North Country, beginning with the Homegrown Film and Art Festival on through last week's Dylan Fest to this week's culmination the Duluth Superior Film Festival (DuSu FF). What a terrific way to usher in the spring.

The DuSu FF opened last night with a hilarious Norwegian film called King Curling. It was gratifying to see a full house at the Clyde Iron Works. It's also nice to watch a film for which a big Hollywood budget or screen star would add nothing to the caliber of the entertainment. There was much laughing out loud throughout the film which combined an original plot with original characters, chief of which was Truls Paulsen, an obsessive curling champion for whom "every millimeter mattered."

Tangier 57
Festival director Richard Hansen began the evening by welcoming all of us and thanking all the sponsors. He then gave a special acknowledgement to Riki McManus, who persuaded Richard to bring his Sound Unseen International Film Festival up here to the shores of Gitchee Gumee. He's never regretted the move. After the film we all moved upstairs for the opening night party with an accompaniment by the popular jazz fusion group Tangier 57.

Richard Hansen
A unique feature of this year's film festival is that it is much more directly tied into our Twin Ports community and its passions. Curling is a Scandinavian export to this region, few of us unaware of its importance to at least someone we know. Tomorrow night's Last Day at Lambeau is about Bret Favre's departure from the Green Bay Packers and the impact it had on that incredible devoted fan base. The other feature films chosen this year have similar tie-ins, such as Wildrose (a woman fighting for independence and identity on the Iron Range) and Northern Lights (about a bitter winter on the Dakota prairie), among others.

There will be two sets of short films with local tie-ins as well, including Andrew Perfetti's "Alan Sparhawk" documentary, Kathy McTavish's "Holy Fool/The Firebird" and a 20 minute film based on my own short story "Episode on South Street," about a troubled painter with obsessive compulsive disorder. Other films by UMD students and local film makers will be amongst those screening late Friday evening and Sunday.

Tonight's feature, "Low: You May Need A Murderer", will air at the Zinema 2 at 7:00. I'm fairly certain you need tickets in advance for this one. This is the only film for which your All Access pass (a steal at $20) does not work.

For more details, venues, times and places, visit

Caption top: L to Rt: Steve Larson (director, Holiday Beach), Dan O'Neil, Ian Harvey of Ireland (The Connection) and Peter Minns (director) 

Here's a link to my book The Breaking Point and Other Stories in the event that you would like to read my story Episode on South Street before seeing the film tomorrow evening. $1.99

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Artists Share Experiences From First Year of Phantom Galleries Superior

The first year of Phantom Galleries is officially over. And what a very special year.

As is often the case in life, in order to move forward it is important to look back. For this reason the Superior SPACES team invited all artists involved with the Phantom Galleries Project to gather once more for an informal discussion regarding the effectiveness of this past year’s Phantom Gallery experiences. The aim is to tweak what was clearly a valuable experience to make it even more effective for the local community.

The meeting was held at 1112 Tower Avenue with Tonja Sell's wonderful paintings and sculptures serving as a backdrop for 90 minutes of good dialogue. The purpose of last night's gathering was to seek input from the artists regarding the first year of this important project. I use the word important primarily to express my personal conviction that bringing the arts, the business community, and the wider public together has significant value for the revitalization of communities not only here locally but nationally as well.

Erika Mock moderated the discussion. "I’m so thrilled at how this past year went," she began. The agenda was simply an informal dialogue aimed at discovering what worked and what didn’t.

The observation was made that even though all the Phantom Galleries were within eight blocks of one another here on Tower Avenue, each gallery space was situated in a different neighborhood. That is, the businesses around each space each had a different character.

Kathy McTavish shared how setting up her space adjacent to the Androy Hotel drew people in. "While installing my work I talked to a man who had never been to an art gallery. He helped us set up and got involved."

Screen printer and painter Gary Reed, the famous Phantom of the Gallery at some of the openings, noted that many of the people who saw the art in these spaces would never go to an art museum. Many have never seen an art book or read an art magazine. There is a certain sort of innocence in the manner in which some of the visitors to these spaces approached the art on display there.

Jeredt Runions concurred, adding that this is part of his motivation for having shows in restaurants and other public spaces. Runions brought a copy of Juxtapoz magazine to point out that the theme of the recent May issue had to do with this very thing, art in public spaces. He likewise affirmed the value of public art and shared his experience with the mural project last year which got the community involved in a high profile project. The way the kids responded was a thrill for him.

The Red Interactive show received similar comments. Because people invited to the opening were asked to bring something red (for a collaborative sculpture) and to wear something red, "it made us feel part of it," someone said. 

It was also interesting how the various artists used the spaces in which their works were displayed. Kathy Kollodge held painting classes in the New York Building space. Red Interactive collaborators John Heino and Ed Newman conducted a brown bag lunch discussion that circled around questions regarding art in a post-modern world. John Heino led the discussion, titled "Engagement or Chaos," which sought to get clarification with regard to what art is. Is everything art? Or is art only art after it has been "blessed" by some authority? The dialogue was intended as a starting point for future discussions regarding the relationship of art, commerce and culture.

In 2011 Phantom Galleries Superior (PGS) was one of six Phantom Gallery initiatives in the state of Wisconsin supported by the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the state of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. PGS is a unique partnership between Superior Public Art Creating Community Environments (SPAC2ES) and Superior Business Improvement District (BID), the property owners, the artists, and the community. Use of properties is generously donated by the owners. Additional support comes from multiple artistic resources, the BID, and the Morgan Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

"The circle of art includes bringing it to the world," Mock said. It will be interesting to see how it far can go.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Five Minutes with Dublin Artist John Nolan

I "met" John Nolan through social media last year Red Interactive art show event hosted by Phantom Galleries Superior. Artists from all over the world participated including Nolan, a Dublin artist whose recent show this past weekend featured a hand-painted guitar called "Rhapsody In Colour" which he created for the Musical Youth Foundation.

All his work seems to be a rhapsody of color and it is my privilege to share him here with you.

EN: What caused you to first take an interest in art? 
John Nolan: My father was a huge influence from an early age. He regularly encouraged me, I watched him painting and we would visit art galleries weekly.

EN: Did you have any formal training? 
JN: Yep, all my formal training was at home with my father. I attended art college later, but dropped out in order to pursue a career in art. Might sound strange but I discovered art college had nothing to do with becoming an artist, It was basically a 3 or 4 year course which qualified the student to teach art and continue the cycle.

EN: How did you come to master your craft? 
JN: Not yet… still striving and struggling.

EN: Many of your paintings have a distinctive look. Do you have a name for your style? 
JN: My style is basically stylized, hugely influenced by Van Gogh, Bernard and Gauguin. Flat colour separated with bold dark delineations. It is called Cloisonnism. The approach is to simplify the composition in order to focus on line and colour. As we know it is more difficult to simplify something than it is to complicate it. Also, all art is derivative. There is nothing original except for perhaps cave paintings.

EN: Who have been your favorite artists over the years? I see homages to Degas and Modigliani. 
JN: My favourite artists are, Modigliani, Matisse, Van Gogh, Degas, Pollock, Rouault, Lichtenstein, Picasso, Irvin, the list is endless.

EN: What’s your favorite subject matter and why? 
JN: My favourite subject is any subject that can push the artistic process even further. At the moment I am exploring the still life subject in conjunction with my Homage Series, trying to contrast my motifs with the great icons of art history in the still life format.

EN: How can people see more of your work? 
JN: Best place to see and buy my work is here at my website. Also, people can visit my studio in Dublin, 106 Griffith Avenue, Drumcondra, Dublin 9, Ireland. The Latest News link on my site will inform people regarding various exhibitions.

* * * * 
Sorry I could not attend your show this past weekend. Thanks for your time. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

This Day In History

Jim Thorpe (126 years ago)
Ian Fleming (104 years ago)
Gladys Knight (68 years ago)

Noah Webster (169 years ago)

Military exercises, World War II
History has always been fascinating to me. It started, I think, when I was in the fourth grade. Years later I would learn that before a certain age children have no concept of time, so they have difficulty grasping stories about history. It makes sense that part of being a young child is wrapped up in "living in the now." Around fourth or fifth grade young minds begin to understand that the past is something back there and the future out ahead of us. 

It was in Miss Morse's fourth grade class at Stafford School that I developed an interest in the Civil War. The chief cause of this fascination was a very large, colorful book (published, I believe, by American Heritage) at the back of the room with maps of every battle. The maps had details of the terrain and showed where the various army battalions were stationed or moving. I remember very little from that year of schooling other than that book at the back of the room, which I visited frequently.

Books of all types are endlessly fascinating, especially biographies and autobiographies. When we read peoples' stories we discover how much we have in common, or how very different our experiences have been.

Chopping onions, Bud Wagner, left.
70 years ago today sugar rationing began in the United States. The war effort was having a major impact on many industries. Sacrifices were being made across the board because something large was at stake. Our young men were now overseas.

In 1999 my father-in-law Wilmer A. "Bud" Wagner published his war memoirs, with notations. Hard to believe it has been 70 years since he was stationed in Ireland, preparing for the North Africa Campaign. Though never a soldier myself I know that the phrase "hurry up and wait" is a common one. The soldiers were assembled, trained and now waiting for marching orders. Many of these men would never see their families again.

Here's an excerpt from Bud's book And There Shall Be Wars. It's an ordinary man's daily observations for three-and-one-half years of service. Wagner was the second man in Northern Minnesota to be drafted into the war. He carried a small pocket camera and kept a diary from beginning to end, from Camp Claiborne to Ireland to North Africa and the Italy Campaigns. His keen day by day observations have been amplified with a lifetime of research and reflection to provide readers with important insights through the eyes of a young soldier from rural Minnesota.

The format of the book is diary entries followed by commentary, designated here by italics.

Wednesday, May 27,1942 
On again this forenoon. Raining on and off. Hurley and I went to Limavady. Got a ride in with an army truck. Went to several places, until 7:30, then we took Nancy and Dorothy to a show, Toppers Return. A fantastic story, but enjoyed the picture. Left the girls at 11:30 and walked to camp. Two letters today.

Dorothy had been staying with Nancy a few days on vacation. They came from Belfast. Both were well-educated, with high standards, and real nice to talk to. Hurley kept in contact with Nancy the whole time we were in Ireland. 

 Irish girls like these two would never think of inviting boyfriends to their apartment after a move. Dorothy and I weren't excited about each other, but I was a good fill-in once in a while, and she gave me a good reason to go to town, instead of just to walk around. 

Thursday, May 28, 1942 
Slept until 9:30. Read a little. Hurley and I were on together this p.m. We hurried through tonight. We each got a pass. I borrowed Don's bike, and we went to Limavady again. We went for a walk with Nancy and Dorothy, across the river and in a park. Dorothy took pictures. She can get film. We just talked a lot, and I had a Time magazine that we discussed. We walked back again. To camp at midnight.

Friday, May 29, 1942 
Didn't get to sleep until 1:30. Hurley overslept. I really had to move on the double to get breakfast out on time. We had fried potatoes, French toast, braised beef for dinner. Off this p.m. Had to load all our things, the kitchen truck and leave the kitchen and our hut real clean. Hurley wanted me to go with him to Limavady again, but lucky for me, no passes were given out. I'm just getting tired out.

* * * * *
This matter-of-fact style of daily notation becomes quite dramatic once the war kicks into high gear. Here's a portion of a letter from retired General John W. Vessey, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Vessey received orders of his promotion to captain while in Bud's jeep, his first bump toward the top.

"Dear Bud, ... Thanks not only for the copy of the book, but also for putting those wartime notes into a permanent record. It is an important addition to all the "stuff" historians record. I couldn't put the book down once I got into it. It brought back a lot of memories reading about times, places, and people from 55+ years ago."

And There Shall Be Wars is available at Savage Press. Wagner will soon be 93. His service to his country will be remembered.  

Photos by Wilmer Wagner. Click images to enlarge.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Eight Minutes with Richard Hansen and the DuSu Film Festival

It’s certainly exciting how much percolation is taking place here in the music and arts scene, including theater and dance. In the realm of film we also have something very special going on, Duluth Superior Film Festival which kicks off this week. If you can be part of it, it will be time and money well invested. This year the price for an all-access pass is only $20, an astounding value considering all that is being offered in film and music.

A principle force behind the DuSu Film Festival is Richard Hansen, a Duluth newbie who has fallen in love with the town and all it offers. 

EN: What’s your title and role with Sound Unseen and the Duluth Superior Film Festival?
Richard Hansen: I am the Director and Founder of The Duluth Superior Film Festival. Up until about 2 months ago I was Director of Sound Unseen-Minneapolis and Sound Unseen International Duluth. I have resigned my position with Sound Unseen and have renamed Sound Unseen International Duluth to The Duluth Superior Film Festival.
EN: How did you become interested in film?
RH: I made a short VHS Video in a Comm Arts class in high school which won second place in the WI State HS Video Competition. Never thinking that anyone could actually find a job working with film, I started college looking for a business degree, which became a BA in Communication and Political Science. Post college, I worked for the Clinton Campaign and kicked around until I landed in Minneapolis where I became the Film Curator at Red Eye Collaboration. I discovered The U Film Society, then MN Film Arts and The Minneapolis St. Paul Film Festival, started working for those organizations... learned and connected my way into becoming the Director of Sound Unseen in 2007. I started Sound Unseen International Duluth in 2010 and now The Duluth Superior Film Festival for the coming spring of 2012.

EN: How does film differ from other forms of art and art making?
RH: It's tricky for me to say because I've never really considered myself an artist. I've always been the Arts Administrator guy. Administrating art feels pretty similar to me across the board.  
When I hear artists and filmmakers discuss this, they usually say the collaborative effort required to make films is significantly different from making 'traditional' (I'm not even sure what that means, really) art. I hang around enough artists and filmmakers to know that's probably true.

EN: What prompted you to link arms with these other young men to form the PROVE Collective?  And what is your title in the group?
RH: I banged around art galleries for fun while living in Minneapolis, and had quite a few gallery owners as friends. When I moved to Duluth I wanted to see if there was that type of arts vibe around and I wanted to include more art into the Film/Music/Art slogan of the film festival. Right before last year's festival I met Steve Read who invited me to come to the European Bakery art shows.  I was really impressed with the level of organization of this pop-up exhibition, but more importantly was blown away by the quality of the work.  Steve and I just stayed in touch, I met all the other guys, Steve found the space, we concluded to take a shot at this gallery thing, we made the presentation to The Sons Of Norway Board Of Directors, they bit, we handed over some rent and started fixing the place up.  

Again, I am the group's Administrator, as I cannot make art nor know how to use a radial arm saw... but my title is Co-Founder with Steve Read, Nick Monson, Anthony Zappa, and Justin Iverson.

EN: I believe this is your third year for the Film Festival. What prompted you to change the name? 
RH: If you count the first two years of Sound Unseen, then yes, this is the 3rd year. Changing the name came as a result of some very solid feedback from friends and people I respect who told me there was a bit of a 'Minneapolis coming up to Duluth to show us how to have fun' vibe around Sound Unseen. After moving here, I completely understand this sentiment and the level of pride the Twin Ports has in its own music and art scene. I hated feeling like a carpetbagger, so it became a bit of a no-brainer to name the event after the region.  Not only does it give the festival a regional pride, but it also pays tribute to what's happening here.  

King Kurling was billed as best Norwegian comedy of the year.
EN: What’s on the docket for this year?
RH: Part of changing the name of the festival was also to put some of the focus on films that are made right around the region.  Just about every film will have some sort of regional influence to it. The great part about it is that there was so much to choose from.  There are a half a dozen films that are working their way around the film festival circuit and having tremendous success that have been made in MN or WI.  I have 2 MN-made World Premieres, a pair of archived films from internationally celebrated filmmaker John Hanson (Wildrose & Northern Lights) who makes his home in Bayfield, WI as well as some fun stuff shot in the area from the recent past. We still have our slate of international festival hits... most notably our Opening Night Film-KING CURLING, and a great line up of groovy music acts at Duluth Tycoons, but it's nice to put the focus of DSFF on the filmmakers who do their work right in our backyard.
EN: For more information about the film festival and how to get tickets, visit:
Hope to see you at some of the events.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Uprooted: A Story of Estonia (Part VIII)

This story is based on a true account of events that occurred in Eastern Europe from 1939 to 1944. For narrative purposes the time frame of these events has been condensed without — this writer believes — violating the spirit of that time.

Arrival of the Nazis

The tension was continuous those two years of hell during the Soviet occupation. Though the Western powers never recognized Soviet authority over the Baltic states, the peoples themselves were powerless to do anything about it; so, too, the rest of Europe. While the German Reich flexed its muscles, the United States remained neutral, and watched from an idle distance.

In the summer of 1941 Hitler made Stalin his target and sent the German army marching East. Once again the people of the Baltics were subjugated by a new regime, a new landlord with new rules. The initial response by many was jubilation. The Nazis were liberators. The dark cloud of Soviet oppression had been lifted. But this sentiment was not shared by all.

In June, when the Soviet army retreated, so too did many of Estonia's Jewish families. Ralph might not have noticed except that a co-worker named Leo failed to show up for his shift at the brewery. The following day his absence began to cause a stir. When Ralph sought details he obtained the curt reply, "He's Jewish"

No question things had changed. There was no more fear of midnight raids to fill the plundered ranks of Red Army. There were no more visits by secret police whisking away agitators or accused enemies of the state. At least not initially. Eventually the Germans began pillaging goods for the war effort, but it was not very long before the rumors of executions were being circulated.

One weekend in early Ralph had gone to his Uncle Andre's to see family and to get away. While returning to the train station late Sunday evening he was startled by gunfire just beyond a small stretch of trees near the river. He feared missing the train but as the trains were often late he went to explore, creeping up to an embankment covered with brush. Below he saw German soldiers hastily shoveling dirt onto a line of bodies in shallow graves. An officer watched and Ralph slipped back and away, his heart sick with fear and confusion.

The next day, when he told his mother what he had seen, she replied, "They were Jews." Ralph then understood why Leo's family had fled.

As he listened for news from the BBC, a pinpoint of illumination began to pierce him in a strange new way. Despite his homeland's respite from the horrors of Stalinist oppression, these liberators were not heroes. This world as he understood it was very broken. And the freedom he had known only a few short years previous now seemed a lifetime ago.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Blood on the Tracks Express Has Something For Everyone

The Freelwheelers filled the American Legion dance floor with rockin' renditions of Dylan favorites. There were plenty of smiles to go around.
I was told that I really shouldn't miss the last night's Blood on the Tracks Express, and I didn't. What a great capstone to a great week of events here in the North Country where Dylan's birthday was celebrated by fans young and old alike. Yesterday Bob turned 71.

The train boarded at Fitgers Brewery Complex at 5:30, departing promptly at 6:00 p.m. for Two Harbors. Six bands or all stripes performed on the way up and back on the train and at the American Legion once stopped at the other end of the line.

There were far more rail cars than I expected, perhaps eight or more. Two styles of performance took place. At one end of the train there were acoustic musicians like Sarah Krueger and Jim Hall. At the other end Dirty Horse and the Black-eyed Snakes took the crowd away and back. The Bitter Spills and Silverback Colony also performed, with the heart of the night being devoted to a fantastic set by the Freelwheelers (a.k.a. the Boomchucks) at the Legion. 

John Bushey never ceases to amaze.
Highlights for myself included being able to do a few harmonica riffs with Jim Hall and seeing John Bushey dazzled friends and fans with a bit of mind-befuddling magic along the way, including what must be a favorite, Little Bunny's Card Trick. Most know Bushey as host of KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited radio program, which airs Saturday evenings on 103.3 here in Duluth and re-airs Mondays at five, but he is also a well-known professional magician. Interestingly enough, I learned last Sunday night at the Dylan trivia competition that Dylan once said if he could go back and time to see one event it would be to see Harry Houdini perform his famous underwater escape at New York's East River. My guess is that Bushy, too, would have loved the opportunity to see Houdini perform.

As for the music, it was top-notch all around, though Alan Sparhawk's Black-eyed Snakes took the crammed front car to the limits of capacity and borderline insanity before it was all over. Lots of wriggling and writhing in that jammin' little space. 

If you've still got the gumption for more, head up to Hibbing for the weekend where Dylan Days is underway. Here's the page where you'll want to begin.

And if you're not heading north, there's still plenty happening here in the Twin Ports. The Ochre Ghost Gallery is having an opening with details at their Facebook page. Also, at Teatro Zuccone there is another night of local writers reading Zenith City Tales. $5 will get you a seat for something that promises to be exceedingly satisfying, thought provoking and entertaining. On Sunday there is the traditional Battle of the Jug Bands at Amazing Grace, with a pre-Battle evening of jugband music Saturday night.

In short, you just might want to get out this weekend and drink in some music an entertainment. Have a good time... and enjoy.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dylan's Influence Continues As He Celebrates 71 Years Today

In case you haven't noticed, this week is Dylan Fest here in the North Country. Events have been varied, but there's been one constant: music throughout. Tonightlocal Dylan fans will be boarding the Blood on the Tracks Express for a whole night of music on a North Shore adventure with live music by Black Eyed Snakes, Dirty Horse, Sarah Krueger, Silverback Colony, The Freewheelers, The Bitter Spills and Jim Hall. I think six or more people asked if I was going to be on the train, and the answer this year has to be yes.

The Wave in today's DNT has details on where to board, and when you'll be returning.

* * *

Today Robert Allen Zimmerman, whom the world knows as Bob Dylan, has turned 71. For this reason I take one more blog moment to tip my hat to a man whose songs have been been a part of our culture in ways we don't even see.

Time does not permit a fully elaborated essay on Dylan's influence, as countless books and millions of words have failed to fully reflect the man, the meaning of his life or simply the meanings of his songs. Just for the fun of it you should visit one of the many "song meanings" forums and see the discussions there on songs like All Along the Watchtower, Changing of the Guard and Ballad of a Thin Man.

At the panel discussion Monday regarding The Dylan Effect, I noted that his influence has been something akin to the influence on fashion of the Paris Runway. Very few of us have ever been there but, as Meryl Streep points out in The Devil Wears Prada, all of us are wearing echoes of what emerges there. In the same way, the songs that emerged from Dylan's pen have permeated our culture for more than a generation.

What a contrast between Dylan and the culture he was swimming in. In 1965 he wrote/produced the visceral "Like a Rolling Stone" with its audacious venom and pointed social commentary. Who out there even considered writing songs like that?

"You used to be so amused
At Napolean in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you ain’t got nothin’ you ain’t got nothin’ to lose,
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal....
 How does it feel?"

This was so raw, nevertheless it did reach number 29 on the pop charts for the year. Ahead of this we find songs like The Game of Love, Help Me Rhonda, Hang On Sloopy, Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, This Diamond Ring, I’m Henry the 8th I Am and Wooly Bully, all of which were higher on the Top 100 that year.

This is not a slam at lighthearted cheerfulness and silly love songs. There's a place for all that. But there was a lot of pain happening in the hearts of adolescents who were confused by the violence in our culture that stood at odds with all those smiling faces on the tube and on billboards and in pop music. Dylan the wet blanket was a breath of fresh air for many of us. Someone was out there expressing the inner turbulence we were feeling as we saw brutality against blacks on our TVs, a war that made no sense in Viet Nam, actual footage of our own president being assassinated and the accused gunman being shot to death on live television...

Dylan spoke a different language at the time. His roots had stretched deep into all kinds of musical traditions and he wove them together in a new way, a manner we can only call Dylanesque. 

Who but Dylan could write a song like "Ballad of a Thin Man" with its pensive, "Something's happening, but you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones." And it isn't just the lyrics but that snakebite manner in which they're delivered.

A year later, Stephen Stills would open one of his own songs with these words, "Something's happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear." (For What It’s Worth)  A nod to Dylan? Maybe. John Lennon's is more direct, of the dots you connect. Cut two, side three on the Beatles' White Album is Yer Blues:

"The eagle picks my eye
The worm he licks my bones
I feel so suicidal
Just like Dylan's Mr. Jones."

Dylan's songs do not always carry this volume of weight. There's tenderness, there's reflection, there's challenge, there's airiness and there's continuous food for thought and for the soul. But at that time, when many of us were in need of a lament, he put it in words that captured something ethereal and simultaneously universal, the alienation and angst many of us famously felt yet had no idea that we were not alone. Isolated as we were, we discovered that we were in this thing together. 

A song like "It's All Right Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" sounds dreadfully harsh to one generation, but so liberating to another because it shoves aside the fog and illuminates dark squirmy things usually hidden under rotted timbers. It caught our attention and spoke volumes. From then till now, we've been together through life.

See you on the train.

Paintings on this website by Ed Newman unless otherwise noted.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Dylan Effect Panel Discussion Is Rewarding and Insightful

It's Dylan week here in Duluth, an annual celebration of all things Bob that takes place in the North Country where he was born and raised. The banner over Duluth's activities is called Dylan Fest and in Hibbing it is Dylan Days. So much is happening that by week's end we'll all be dazed.

Last night's event in Duluth was billed as The Dylan Effect. The event took place at Tycoons Alehouse and Eatery in the old City Hall Chambers, beginning at 7:00 p.m. and finishing about 8:30 p.m. Following the discussion, Jim Hall, longtime musician and featured performer of Duluth and Hibbing Dylan Festivals for the past five years, played Dylan songs and at 10 PM, Dirty Horse continued the music with its rendition of Dylan and original tunes. I had to bail after John Hall completed his first set upstairs while we dismantled the room.

Essentially, the Dylan Effect was a panel discussion moderated by Karen Sunderman, producer and host of The Playlist, a local PBS show that covers the local arts scene among other things. The panel was comprised of  • John Bushey, longtime host of Highway 61 Revisited, educator, historian and professional magician • Don Dass, poet and preservationist, and one of the people responsible for the establishment of Bob Dylan Way • Susan Phillips • Nelson French • Tim Nelson, musician, local music promoter, and business owner, producer of the three Duluth Does Dylan CDs • David Everett artist and educator • and myself, Ed Newman. Behind the scenes manifold thanks are due to Zane Bail who helped put this all together.

Sunderman began by asking each panelist to briefly identify themselves and then say something about Dylan's influence on them personally. The answers varied but I was especially touched by David Everett's experience. Most of us in the room remembered Dylan's heart infection in the late nineties in which there was a concern that he might die. At the time 19-year-old Everett nearly despaired because he might never have the chance to hear Dylan live. Dylan survived and the very next year came to Duluth to do a concert, a richly rewarding experience for the young artist.

The second question, which we dove into with more vigor now that the dicussion was flowing, had to do with Dylan's influence on the broader culture. The way she worded the question was especially interesting. In what ways to do we see Dylan's fingerprints on the culture around us, locally, nationally and globally? Nelson French noted that everything Dylan does has been newsworthy almost his entire life. "Bob has always been in the news." He also mentioned that he has created a legacy, in the full meaning of the word.

In his own initial remarks John Bushey, host of Highway 61 Revisited, mentioned how he was impressed that Dylan had the courage to not be pigeon-holed.

Musician Tim Nelson described the way Dylan, even in all his permutations, carries something of the "Duluth sound" in him. "I hear it in Dylan....ecclectic... organic."

When I have more time I will elaborate on my own thoughts on this part of the discussion but my first notion, which I shared, was that Dylan's pervasive influence is far beyond what we see and hence we don't always see his fingerprints. It's much like the fashion industry. Insiders know that what appears on the Paris "Runway" will filter down over the next year into the chic styles and hip colors of boutique fashion down to the mass-produced styles and colors that fill clothing racks all across the continent. Dylan has been a seminal creative force in this same manner.

In preparation for the panel discussion we had been asked to assemble three words that we felt summed up who Dylan was, if such things are possible. One set was Bard, Passion, and Nature. David Everett said, "Pioneer, Dynamic, Fearless." (If you are reading this you will notice my blog here resides at, so I inwardly smiled at this word selection.) Tim Nelson's three words were, "Individual, Philosophical, Sassy....  in a devil-may-care kind of way. John Bushey used the word Multi-Dimensional, which also was assented to by all. There were many other good sets of word to which I added my own three and then a fourth:  Catalyst (someone else said this), Reservoir, Touchstone and Justice.

The discussion included questions from the audience and insights from there as well. While on his recent trip to China there were some critics who said he should have been more vocal about the oppression of artists and done more protest songs. John Bushey forcefully pointed out that Dylan opened his concerts there with the song "Change My Way of Thinking," and he urged all of us to really listen to the lyrics of that song. It very pointedly speaks to today's situation there.

All in all, I only wish my notes could do a better job of conveying here the richness of the dialogue that was shared. It was a very special time.

All pictures and paintings on this blog are my own unless otherwise indicated. Click images to enlarge.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Trivia Contest Tests Mettle of Even the Most Die-Hard Dylan Fans

As you know, this is Dylan Fest week in Duluth and since it is not getting the media coverage it deserves I will be picking up the slack here for the next few days. Mr. Dylan turns 71 this Thursday, and it's a week long series of event both here in Duluth where he was born and in Hibbing where he grew up and came of age.

Last night was the second annual Bob Dylan Trivia Contest at Carmody's Irish Pub downtown. It's a seriously fun venue and from what I've been told they have trivia contests every single week here. One of the bartenders has lungs o' leather and can really project, which is quite the task in a noisy pub. The crowd gathers, gets a bit rummy and in a most orderly and punctual fashion the competition convenes, pens and paper provided so you can write your answers as you go. And no, you do not have to be a Dylan fan to play. They do 51 other themes throughout the year and you're always welcome. They have prizes, too.

When I arrived at nine, a pair of musicians called Cowboy Angel Blue were playing some really nice Dylan songs. If you ever see their names on a docket, it'll be worth your while to check in. They're from up near Virginia, Mn, about an hour North.

At shortly after nine the contest was called to order. John Bushey, host of KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited, assembled the questions again this year. And they were hard uns. Bushey said last year the questions were too easy and nearly everyone got them all correct, so he bore down and stymied us with some pretty obscure material.

This is a multiple choice quiz, so you can still get a few right even if you don't know the answer. Here are a few sample questions:

6. What year did the "Never Ending Tour" begin?
a. 1986
b. 1988
c. 1990
d. 1994

7. Which musician spent the most time touring with Bob Dylan?
a. Levon Helm
b. G. E. Smith
c. Tony Garnier
d. Charlie Sexton

I kicked myself afterward because I should have known it was Tony. He's a great bass player and been with Bob a long time. You can see him in Masked and Anonymous (the story of Jack Fate) and he was here in Duluth in 1998 at the DECC and in '99 with Paul Simon.

Well, some questions were a biut easier, like this one:
11. Dylan mentioned seeing Buddy Holly at the Duluth National Guard Armory when accepting a Grammy award for this album:
a. Planet Waves
b. Modern Times
c. Love and Theft
d. Time Out Of Mind

Other questions into some really obscure regions.
13. When asked in an interview if he could go back in time to see any event what was Bob Dylan's response?

The answer, my friends, was not blowing in the wind. I did not know that he would have liked to have been there to see Houdini escape from a box in the East River in NY.

What fraternity house did he live in while at the U of MN? The song "Forever Young" was written for whom? Which early Dylan song was John Lennon of the Beatles first attracted to?

Well, you get the picture. It was fun and I hope they do it again next year. And this week I hope you can make it to a few of the other events happening here in the Northland as we celebrate Bob's 71st. Details here at

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Have a great week. Wish you were here.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Shakespeare and Dylan Birds of a Feather

Friday evening's Scarlet Rivera concert with Gene Lafond and the Wild Unknown provided a great kick-off for this week's Dylan Fest events. When it came time for an encore, the group did us one better, returning the following night to rock the house at Tycoon's Saturday evening.

During the pre-event mixer last night I had the privilege of finally meeting some of the many people whose names I'd become familiar with but who had no faces... till now. I am referring here to the board of directors for the Armory Arts and Music Center. What a dedicated bunch. The excitement surrounding recent events including purchase of the property next door only serves to cement their resolve that the facility will be preserved.

Being around Dylan people, and by that I mean people who have been long time fans and thought deeply about Dylan's songs and importance, you almost inevitably glean new insights to add to your catalog of understandings. Such was the case last night.

A favorite song among many long-time Dylan listeners is Desolation Row, the capstone on Dylan's remarkable Highway 61 Revisited. The opening line of this song is a familiar one, "They're selling postcards of the hanging..." I have listened to it a hundred, if not five hundred, times. It is shocking to realize that people actually did sell postcards of lynchings. And last night, while upstairs at Tycoons, I learned some new information about the lynching that took place here in 1919, a dark blot in Northland history.

Backstory: I have been aware for many years of the terrible event that took place here. I have even written about it on my blog a few times, as in this moment when I was touched by Billy Holiday's rendition of Strange Fruit Until last night I never realized the the jailhouse was not eight blocks away at Sixth Avenue West, where the county jail had been most of my years in this town. The jail, where these three black men were scraped from was just one block from where they were put to death without trial. Duluth's jail, and Prohibition era speakeasy, was right there in Tycoon's for a time, and then in the building next door.

While getting to know various people, listening and talking, we got to the topic of how many different phrases and songs and lines from songs are so much a part of our culture now but that many of the masses are unaware that their origins come from Dylan songs. One gentleman noted that for the longest time he'd never read any Shakespeare, but when he finally did his first reaction was that his plays were full of cliches... until he realized what an astonishing number of sayings originated with this brilliant man, and before him they weren't cliches at all.

My guess is that many who discover Dylan for the first time also realize that he's been influencing them all along, without them knowing it.What follows is a blog entry I wrote a few years ago with regard to Dylan's tip-o'-the-hat to Shakespeare.


It just keeps getting better. I'm referring here to the Dylan catalog. It's not the prodigious quantity, but the remarkable quality of work that keeps fans coming back for more.

When Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 was released last year, my first reaction was, "Oh no, do I have a buy yet another Dylan album already?" Then the word started to get around, some cuts were played on KUMD's Dylan Hour, and a friend said it was a must have. Turns out he was right. After a year I still can't stop listening to the songs on this rich double CD, which is primarily alternative takes and unreleased material from 1989 to present.

The unreleased songs here like "Red River Shore", "Born In Time" and "Marchin' to the City" would have been enough for the foundation of a great album, but shuffle in all these fabulous alternate versions of songs like "Most Of The Time" and "Dignity" and it's just golden.

This weekend the song "Tell Ol' Bill" has been pulsing through my mind. The tune is haunting. The poetry mysterious and suitably subtle and evocative. So I wished to share it here this morning.

Last night I found myself agreeing with Foley Jones who begins his review of this song with the statement, "I’ve been shocked by the lack of attention paid so far to Tell Ol’ Bill."

The simplicity of its imagery and the extent to which it has been realised is what makes the song ‘major’. Just how many times can one man go to the same well and come back with something so full and fresh? Here we’re on archetypal first principles, more symbolism than imagery: the river, the high hill, tranquil lakes and streams, the ground, the wood. How much is he conscious of the possibility of reading ‘River of Life’ into the opening line, do you suppose? The sheer number of times that you get to ask that fundamental question about his ditties is evidence in itself to make the question redundant. That’s what he’s on about alright.

The song has a lot of the core mannerisms of Dylan’s recent work: the country swing, the stolen title, the references to Shakespeare, the preoccupation with death, and the wry fortitude with which that prospect is met.

Tell Ol’ Bill

The river whispers in my ear
I've hardly a penny to my name
The heavens have never seemed so near
All of my body glows with flame

The tempest struggles in the air
And to myself alone I sing
It could sink me then and there
I can hear the echoes ring

I tried to find one smiling face
To drive the shadow from my head
I'm stranded in this nameless place
Lying restless in a heavy bed

Tell me straight out if you will
Why must you torture me within?
Why must you come down off of your high hill?
Throw my fate to the clouds and wind

Far away in a silent land
Secret thoughts are hard to bear
Remember me, you'll understand
Emotions we can never share

You trampled on me as you passed
Left the coldest kiss upon my brow
All of my doubts and fears have gone at last
I've nothing more to tell you now

I walk by tranquil lakes and streams
As each new season's dawn awaits
I lay awake at night with troubled dreams
The enemy is at the gate

Beneath the thunder blasted trees
The words are ringin' off your tongue
The ground is hard in times like these
Stars are cold, the night is young

The rocks are bleak, the trees are bare
Iron clouds go floating by
Snowflakes fallin' in my hair
Beneath the gray and stormy sky

The evenin' sun is sinkin' low
The woods are dark, the town isn't new
They'll drag you down, they'll run the show
Ain't no telling what they'll do

Tell ol' Bill when he comes home
Anything is worth a try
Tell him that I'm not alone
That the hour has come to do or die

All the world I would defy
Let me make it plain as day
I look at you now and I sigh
How could it be any other way?

Credits: Bob Dylan, songwriter
Special Rider Music, publisher

Check out Foley Jones' complete commentary on this great song.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Scarlet and Geno: Concert Kicks Off 2012 Dylan Fest and Helps Promote Good Cause

It's been said that Steve Jobs had a reality-bending personality that many called a Reality Distortion Field. If you were within his sphere you were somehow under the his influence, almost forced against your will to see things through his eyes, and he always saw things like a visionary, not based on the evidence but on the possibilities woven from golden strands of dream.

Well, somehow that's the feeling I get from my recent association with Nelson French, newest board member for the Armory Arts and Music Center. There are many others on the board who have been carrying the dream forward with its ultimate aim of preserving this historical building and turning it into a landmark. The obstacles have been great, and it there will be many more hurdles to leap, but when you listen to Nelson it's already a done deal. It's no pipe dream. His passion has a practical side that turns skeptics to believers, and I am one of them. The restored Armory Arts and Music Center will be a significant contribution to this city whose "native son" has given so much to the world stage at large.

This is what last night's concert was about, raising awareness and funding for the restoration of a historical building... not just because Bob Dylan was inspired by seeing Buddy Holly perform there, but because there is so much more of our history that has happened here, a heritage worth preserving and building upon. Yes, Bobby Vee and Johnny Cash and Bob Hope and many others performed here. But it was also a staging ground for troops during World War II to learn how to dig foxholes, and a cornerstone of Duluth history.

The concert at UMD's Weber Hall last night opened with Nelson French, decked out in a tux, announcing that they had just purchased the property adjacent to the Armory, which will be useful for parking space once the Arts and Music Center is opened. These practical details are important considerations, and it shows the thoroughness with which the restoration project is being conducted.

Then French introduced a pair of young teens who performed two songs they had written. Teens like these will be inspired by classes at the Music and Arts Center. Ms. Rivera later noted that she would be teaching and sharing with a group of young proteges the following day.

The concert proceeded with the introduction of a young group called Communist Daughter. Contrary to the name, the songs were apolitical and the group appears to be just a talented young team of musicians anchored by attractive Molly Moore. Nelson has been a fan of the group longer than some of them have played together, having first seen them in a small venue in Prescott way back when. Several times the lead singer commented that they had albums and CDs for sale and amusingly noted that "even though our name is Communist Daughter, we're still capitalists. Deep down we all are."

The Indie-Rock group had the good fortune to have two of their songs picked up by the television series Grey's Anatomy. Johnny, the lead vocalist, acknowledged that he used to have an alcohol problem but has now been clean for 18 months. A song about this period, Almost Dead, Almost Clean, had some moving lines like, "Don't remember me; remember the man I wanted to be." A special song he wrote as he was recovering gave It was an admirable set with nice harmonies that put us in the mood for more.

Nelson French returned afterward returned to introduce the featured entertainment. Gene Lafond and the Wild Unknown (Brian Green, Dean Wolfson and Joey Phillips) opened with a song called Violin Lady which he wrote for Scarlet Rivera the day after meeting her. It was a great opening for the concert as she was absent from the stage but then appeared, her violin sweeping gently into the atmosphere there.

Without wasting a moment, the band kicked in as she jacked her other violin into the amp and channeled us all into the Hurricane, undoubtedly one of the most electrifying songs of the Seventies. Scarlet said she was thrilled to be here as our "native son" played such an instrumental role in her life. He's the reason she keeps coming back to our beautiful Northland.

The full set played out this way:
Violin Lady
Love Minus Zero, No Limit
Shot of Love
Most of the Time
Isis  (Brian Green vocals)
One More Cup of Coffee
A violin solo by Scarlet
Black Diamond Bay
You're a Big Girl Now
Romance in Durango
Oh Sister
A song Gene wrote called Susie Christ
The Man in the Long Black Coat
Tangled Up In Blue

For an encore, yes, everyone was on their feet, the band re-emerged along with Communist Daughter to close us out with Watching the River Flow.

All in all a fitting introduction for Dylan Fest 2012. Later this weekend I will post the schedule for this week's events. Can't wait? Google it... Duluth Dylan Fest. And in Hibbing, it's Dylan Days. Join us this week for a special time of music and memories.

Photos here by Ed Newman using a Sony CyberShot. Two professional photographers (Michael K Anderson and Andrew Perfetti) got all the money shots last night of which I will try to share a few later.

Click Images to Enlarge

EdNote: There will be no installment of Uprooted, A Story of Estonia this weekend. Please come back next Saturday for Part VIII.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Steampunk Event at the Depot Satisfies Imaginations and Stirs Hearts

This is my 1968th blog post at Ennyman's Territory. That's more than five years of blogging, which has been quite astonishing for me as I only intended to dabble in it a bit "just to see what blogging was about." Thank you for being a reader.

In 1968 my brothers turned 14, 10 and 8 respectively. Black lights and strobe lights were becoming cool. Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in movie theaters and young people were flocking to see the Beatles' latest flick, an animated film called Yellow Submarine. Man had not yet walked on the moon, but we were getting close. On earth, riots disrupted the Democratic Convention in Chicago that summer. Bobby Kennedy took a bullet while campaigning for the nomination earlier that year. Dr. Martin Luther King also took a bullet, resulting in riots that did tremendous damage to countless U.S. cities, external fires reflecting the internal pain burning in many hearts.

Gasoline was 34 cents a gallon that year, movie tickets were a buck-fifty and the average annual income just under eight thousand dollars. Rent was about $150 a month and the Viet Nam War showed no signs of abating as Hey Jude topped the nation's music charts.

I was reading sci fi at the time, listening to the Doors and Hendrix and Cream's Sunshine of Your Love. Woodstock hadn't happened yet and my hair was still short, but change was clearly afoot everywhere. But the word Steampunk did not yet exist. Though fantasy was alive and well, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was coming on strong, it would be another dozen years before the word Cyberpunk would appear to describe the futuristic fantasy of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Eventually, the 1880s futurism of Jules Verne would get a new set of hues and Steampunk would emerge... a century after Verne had begun conceiving Captain Corsican, Harry Blount, Captain Nemo and the Nautilus.

Last night at the Train Depot in Duluth the past came alive in an art event like none before it, an evening of Steampunk. We Steampunk art, Steampunk fashion, Steampunk entertainment and, best of all, steam engines surrounded by people in Steampunk garb. What a fun way to see old friends and meet new ones. Special thanks to the Richard Rosvall, our resident Mayor of Steampunk, and all the imaginative people who contributed to this memorable evening of living entertainment.

As we went back in time I became Dr. Jules Langdon Lafon, a chemist and inventor. I told a few stories, but am saving the best for a future collection which I hope can be shared with you some day.

The event was sponsored in part by Dubrue, who provided beer, and Tycoons, who gave us access for an afterparty in the Rathskaller Lounge, a Prohibition-era speakeasy which has been restored and is serving the public once again. Ambience and history made for a good intersection with Steampunk partiers, those live mannequins in a museum-like setting. Loved it.

Meantime, life goes on. And next time, when you hear of a Steampunk assembly near you, don't miss it for the world.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Get Ready for a Night of Steampunk

FIRST: The Announcement 
May 17, 2012 6:30 – 9pm 
Entry & 1 drink ticket: $8 
Members: FREE 
Dress in full costume and get in for $5 
Afterparty at the Rathskeller in Tycoons

The Duluth Art Institute is proud to present A Night of Steampunk. This will be an event featuring a Steampunk fashion show and other Steampunk related visual arts. Steampunk visual art designs have no set guidelines, but tend to synthesize modern styles influenced by science fiction, fantasy, and the Victorian era. This is an interactive visual arts event where spectators are encouraged to not only explore the Steampunk creations by local artists, but also participate in “setting the scene” of this event through dress. Come to the event in full costume and get a discounted entry for $5.00.

We thought there would be no better backdrop for this event than the Depot Train Museum. Sponsored by Dubrue, The Historic Union Depot, with an after party at Tycoons, this will be a night to remember!

My first conscious contact with Steampunk was at last summer’s Friends of Industry event featuring the world premiere of Eric Horn’s Steampunk Chronicle. Only later did I understand that I’d already seen Steampunk in various Hollywood films, but failed to be aware of what it really was as a semi-defined genre.

In her book Writing Steampunk, Beth Daniels is quick to point out that not everyone who enjoys reading Steampunk is interested in living Steampunk. Perhaps it’s a bit like the Trekkies who become characters and go to conventions, as opposed to the Star Trek fans who simply didn't want to miss their show each week. Tonight’s DAI-sponsored event at the Depot offers the role-players and hard-core enthusiasts to dress up without having to wait till Halloween. I mean, who amongst us didn’t look forward to becoming some other character on that last night of October?

At its most basic, Steampunk is a subset of Fantasy. Efforts to put my arms around the genre led to some basic shared premises. The historical period is Victorian/Edwardian, the era of Jules Verne and early H.G. Wells. But there’s a “weird, wild west” version and East Coast Steampunk and  the more people you talk with the less you’ll have a coherent picture, except that one thing is certain, sort of. This is a pre-computer world, a pre-twentieth century science world, pre-organic synthesis…

Another feature of the genre is its fascination with original characters. Marvel Comics meets old-school science, the Industrial Revolution meets a future that by-passes the real directions science and technology advanced.

I’m no authority, but I have been boning up on Steampunk literature and guess what? I already have the beginnings of a story forming in one of the subterranean caverns of my unconscious. It involves a golem, a hero and maybe even a little romantic adventure. Good versus evil, redemption from a futile pursuit... and a wake-up call to save the world. But tonight I will become an Edwardian-era chemist. Join us! I fully expect it to be a night to remember.

* * *

If you like fantasy with a supernatural twist, you might enjoy my first volume of short stories titled Unremembered Histories. They aren’t really Steampunk since they pre-existed my encounter with the genre, but a few of the stories will tickle your imagination in that general vicinity.

Featured eBook of the Day: Unremembered Histories

Click images to enlarge. 

Popular Posts