Friday, May 31, 2013

Free Friday: A Book for the Beach

Theoretically it’s summer, which means it might be time to get your summer reading list in order. If you like physical books and enjoy turning pages made of paper, guess what? We’re working on a way to have all three of my current volumes of short stories and The Red Scorpion available in print along with the eBook versions on Kindle.

Personally, if you allow me to be Frank, and not Bob or Jack, I really do enjoy my Kindle when travelling. And until their available in print, we’ll be making them available Free on Fridays for the next couple months, one each week.

This week, N&L Publishing is offering Newmanesque. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “What should I read next?” this might be a good place to go. It’s not a long book and I promise that at least some of the stories will be entertaining.

Here’s what a reader of my stories from Portugal wrote about these stories:

“My very first impression is that there's a certain style in some ways similar to Franz Kafka which is good and intense… very mysterious for one doesn't know where the whole thing is going to go, but is sure that there's a message to be captured from the many moments stated in the short sentences that are all poignant to the story. Perhaps what I want to say is that I feel the work to be extremely existentialist in a serious way and not in an ironic one, best portrayed by Sartre. Also, there's an enormous spiritual and ethical awareness in the writing which is not directly implied in Kafka's work but if one reads him under the light of the Jewish religious upbringing he had like Harold Bloom pointed out, one will find it there, something that is completely ruled out in Sartre's views. Newmanesque is slightly more lyrical or poetic if you will, but carries that acute seriousness and extreme loss of hope and faith (common to Kafka) only the author gives it a try in explaining it, be it searching for religious/spiritual arguments or other authors’ references which I very much sympathize with because it becomes a "loss of hope when hope is not all lost." In this regard Newman achieves something great for the stories are open cycles (not dead-ends like Kafka), they become allegories, which by definition are circles constantly closing and opening on themselves, matching Borges here beautifully.

“I also like very much how he builds the stories to show the two sides of the same coin without being preachy or moralist, again this duality which has been around since the beginning of time, is explored in a very simple and engaging way enabling us to breathe and reflect when needed; for although the stories are of an existential character they are mostly of an extrovert attitude, in the sense that the reader understands what the character is feeling by what he says and not by some introvert description of how he feels which is extremely liberating and contemporary, reminding me of Eco in some ways and of Plato's simple dialogues full of meaning and hidden messages.”

Here’s a link so you can download today. If you need an app to read it on your computer or iPad, it’s free and available on as well.Oh, and if you like, please feel free to add a review. That would be most welcome.

MEANTIME, if you’re reading this here in the Northland, there are some cool things to do this weekend including art openings at the PRØVE Gallery and Ochre Ghost where some cool new work by Oakley Tapola will be displayed. It’s also the third evening of the DuSu Film Festival with films on the silver screen at both the Zinema and Teatro Zuccone.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

NxN Finishes Up with DuSu Film Fest IV

It hasn't been much of a month weather-wise but NxN, our regional month-long celebration of the arts, has provided us with an excellent basketful of activities to explore. Despite the late spring, there was plenty of music, art, theater and more. This week is the fourth annual Duluth-Superior Film Festival, which kicked off last night at the Clyde Iron Works with The Last Gladiators, and an opening night reception with numerous former NHL hockey players on hand.

For a full listing of films that will be featured this year visit this DuSu Film Fest page. Be sure to scroll all the way down... There is a lot to see.

McKenzie Astin as Iron Will
One highlight will be a special "Iron Will" Reunion Screening and Reception. In 1993, when Disney & company arrived in Duluth to film this winter saga of a legendary dogsled race the whole process made quite an impact on the local community. Hollywood does have a "power" that mesmerizes, and the production put thousands of us in contact with this power in various ways, from building sets to dressing up as extras. (Trivia: My friendship with John Heino began in the holding area for extras in the Ballroom Scene which was shot downtown, next door to where you can catch his vibe on the piano every Thursday evening accompanying the Maxi Childs Trio. That's tonight, fwiw.)

This will be a FREE community event, held at The Underground in the Historic Duluth Depot and Arts Center, 5:30 p.m. Sunday. McKenzie Astin, one of the film's stars, will be present. You may recall the pivotal role Kevin Spacey played in this film before emerging as an Oscar-winning superstar.

There's plenty more going on, but I have a day ahead of me and it's time to slip into my uniform. To see what else is happening, catch the Wave.

Oh, and if you still can't decide, there's an end of the season Roller Dames event at the DECC with our home town favorites in action, including Killah Cletah and Jilly Nilly. Go team!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Power of Introverts

Years ago I saw an article in Sports Illustrated about a group of NFL football players who instead of partying or running around used to sit around or lie on the floor reading books. They were quiet. They were a little different from the blabbermouths. They were nicknamed "The Zeroes."

Interestingly enough, there's a popular new book (Jan 2012) that has quietly gathered a lot of attention for itself, aptly titled, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. More than 1,100 people have reviewed the book, which I consider a good indicator of its popularity.

In an interview posted on author Susan Cain is asked why she wrote this book.

For the same reason that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Introverts are to extroverts what women were to men at that time--second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent. Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to “pass” as extroverts. The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and, ultimately, happiness.

According to the reviews the book details example after example of introverts who profoundly changed history. Too often we think that only extroverts can be leaders and make a difference.

Cain observes that the qualities that used to rule have been subverted in our new media culture. It used to be that character was important. Qualities like industriousness, discipline and the like were held in high esteem. Today, these have taken a back seat to outgoingness and "a winning personality."

Here's a paragraph from the book's description:

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.

I once participated in a business retreat in which we all went through Meyers-Briggs personality testing. I myself found it an invaluable experience as you encounter the varieties of human personality and discover why some people react differently in different situations. One exercise showed vividly how not only are people introverts and extroverts, but that in different situations even extroverts can become introverted when placed in the presence of people more extroverted than themselves.

To some extent personality is fluid. But for the most part, "At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled 'quiet,' it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society--from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer."

If you're an introvert, my guess is that you will value the affirmation this book supplies. And if you're an extrovert, I'm certain that you will find this volume of insights helpful in navigating a world that has a full range of personality types, plenty of them the quieter type.

I do like the title. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. I think I'll shut up now. Have a thought-full day.

Monday, May 27, 2013

I Don't Want A Future Where Computers Run Everything

I am by nature an optimist about many things, but when I read articles and hear speeches about the brightness of our future -- especially as it pertains to the salvation of our species that is coming through technology -- I can't help but get uncomfortable.

Bill Wasik's "Welcome to the Programmable Future" in this month's Wired magazine is just the kind of optimistic vision that I'm talking about. He begins...

In our houses, cars, and factories, we’re surrounded by tiny, intelligent devices that capture data about how we live and what we do. Now they are beginning to talk to one another. Soon we’ll be able to choreograph them to respond to our needs, solve our problems, even save our lives.

The article goes on to detail the many and various ways computer sensors will interact with our every move to make life easier. When you play basketball out front on your driveway, a sensor will keep track of your shot percentage. When your dog runs out of the yard, her tag will text you. When you have a bar-b-cue on the calendar, you pool will heat up in anticipation. If baby wakes, the room will try to soothe him back to sleep. If this doesn't work you will get a text message while you're at the next door neighbor's cocktail party. Your lawn sprinklers will take instructions from moisture sensors.

Is this really a future people want? Here are just a few of my concerns.

How reliable are the sensors in your life? I currently drive a car in which the dashboard is telling me the doors are open. They're not, but the sensor must have stopped working properly and has not figured this out. My wife's car says there is a headlight out. It's not, but the sensor thinks it is. And we've all had that pesty "check engine light" tell us something is wrong that is not. My mechanic says the way to fix it is to put a postage stamp over it. Seriously.

One of the call-outs states that a sensor in our car will trigger a sensor in our favorite coffee shop as we approach and they will make our "usual drink" before we even get there. Except, what if I only came by to use the free wi-fi? Or what if I don't have a favorite drink because I like trying new things all the time? What if I do have a favorite drink for a while and then decide to try something different because of a tv commercial? What if I lose my instruction manual on how to override the usual order?

And then there's the problem of tech support. Who do we call when all these things go awry? The answer is, people in Mumbai who will pretend to live in Wichita but you can't understand them because their accent has not been properly polished.

Then there's the financial piece. As all these sensors and brain boxes mount up, so do the costs. How many people will know how to fix these things as they wear out. "I'm sorry, we can't help you unless you upgrade your Sensor Package from 2.01 to 19.3..."

I realize that plenty of Americans have pools and lawn sprinklers, but with ten percent of our country unemployed (no one knows the real number despite what government offices declare) and a billion people in the world living in shantytowns with inadequate food and water, I have more than a smidge of difficulty envisioning a future where our smartphones and smart objects are all integrated and everybody's happy.

Then there's the grocery store scenario with a hundred kinds of sensors changing shelf tags as prices adjust, sending coupons to your smartphone, reminding workers to re-stock an empty shelf, reminding you that your cereal box at home is almost empty. Whoo hoo! Almost forgot to get cereal. Of course the salary for those workers re-stocking shelves won't be the kind that enables them to own houses with swimming pools that heat up and water sprinkler systems.

In the scenario with the dog, will the tag also text you that Fifi just got hit by a truck and is lying in the road? In the scenario with the basketball scoring, do I need to have all my friends wear sensors, too, so I get proper credit for the shots I sink? And what if I sell the house and lose the instruction manual? Oh, right... it's an app on my smart phone.

When you think through some of these scenarios it gets even more complicated. The sandwich shop starts your order when you approach from the sidewalk. Except you are headed to the sandwich shop next door because your favorite sandwich shop has irritable staff who dislike it when you want to change your order. "I was thinking ham today, not turkey."

I'm sure there are people who believe all these sensors, devices and smart objects will add up to a brighter future. But one futurist I heard on the radio last week said that the future he envisions involves our giving up many of our freedoms for the greater good of the world. He agreed that giving up freedoms sounds like something that will chaff us, but in two generations all this government enforced loss of freedom will become the new happy normal. Our grandchildren won't even notice.

As for me, it feels depressing. I think I need to take a walk. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Spotlight on Ennyman: Part V

David Beard is associate professor of rhetoric in the department of writing studies at the University of MN-Duluth. Our mutual interests in writing, teaching and Steampunk have resulted in number of positive outcomes including a joint lecture at Duluth's Steampunk Spectacular titled Utopoian Memories: Steampunk 101 in which David presented the literary and cultural roots of steampunk culture and I shared its contemporary rust belt iterations. 

At some point along the way he asked if he could interview me and I consented. What follows here is the fifth section of this interview as it pertains to my publishing-related collaborations.

DB: You've recently stepped into life as a freelance publisher -- an intergenerational project, as you've worked with interns and with a partner much younger than you. How has this collaboration brought your work into a new phase?

EN: In recent years I began to see the power of collaboration. John Heino’s 3N6D in 2010 -- with Chani Becker, Jill Ellen Hall and Alan Sparhawk -- blew me away. After that weekend John and I made an unspoken but intentional decision to do some kind of collaborative project ourselves, and when the time was right we assembled the Red Interactive show for Phantom Galleries Superior. It was exhilarating for me and I think for many others.

The success of Red Interactive, and the subsequent Red Interactive Facebook community was personally rewarding and taught me a number of lessons which were reinforced by my involvement in a pair of Artist Kamikaze events assembled by Limbo Gallery.

All this to say that when I made up my mind to publish my novel and some of my short fiction, the collaborator for this venture entered my life, a student whom I met through the Proctor DECA program, TJ Lind. In spring 2011 as he finished his sophomore year in high school we made a plan to publish four books by the end of the year, a goal which we achieved in November. After that we entered a marketing phase, which we subsequently processed and evaluated. TJ is an exceptional young man who probably overextends himself (like me.) At the beginning of 2013 we have been working on a plan to bring several new books to market.

DB: What are three projects by N&L we haven't mentioned that you'd like to mention?

EN: I’ll mention four. The first is a book on how to teach writing to home schoolers tentatively titled Writing Exercises: How to Teach Writing and Prepare Your Favorite Students for College, Life and Everything Else. I developed the exercises while teaching my own home-schooled kids. Currently I have a UMD writing student, Grace Moores, helping me to move the original manuscript to a higher level. TJ and I are discussing publishing this in a print version as well as making it available as an eBook.

The second is a picture book titled A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd. Like the first it, too, involves a collaboration. Twenty years ago I had a work experience which led me to create an imaginary tale, in the form of a poem, that depicted a lesson from that event. Last fall I met a recent grad from the UMD fine arts program whose work fascinated me and felt perfectly suited to my story. He agreed to partner with me and we’ll see where it takes us.

The third is another picture book of sorts called Intergalactica. This is yet another collaboration involving a steampunk fashion artist, a photographer, a model from the Twin Cities and myself. It proved to be an incredibly rewarding project for me personally and this eBook is an attempt to share some of that experience with a wider audience. We’re planning to give the eBook away free simply to share the fruit of that experience.

The fourth will be a box set of my first three volumes of short stories with a few additional stories added in for a value-added experience. After this TJ and I have several other book ideas lined up, but we learned in 2011 not to rush and to allow each to get birthed in its own time and not to force it.

DB: If I wanted to work with N&L, as a young writer, what would that experience be like? Is this a technical service, a copy editing service, a mentoring service for manuscript development?

EN: Each situation is different. Currently Grace, who’s assisting on my book on how to teach writing, was simply helping to bring complete the book. Before long, I found myself wanting to teach her everything I’ve learned about the writing industry, from how to write in a more engaging manner to how to prepare a book proposal and make publishing decisions. The experience brought back memories of my home schooling experience. There’s a thing called “learning rage” and you can see when the fire is burning inside students. That’s the time to throw more logs on the fire, not when it’s almost out. My natural desire is to make the experience count for them as much as possible.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Celebratin' in the North Country... Bob Now 72

This past Tuesday evening we were treated to a wonderful film event, courtesy members of the Duluth Armory Arts & Music Center and the DuSu Film Festival: one dozen live Dylan performances. This underground collection -- assembled specially for this week’s North Country Dylan celebration by Nelson French and John Bushey, host of KUMD’s Highway 61 Revisited -- offered new thrills for even the most devoted Dylan fan.

Bushey introduced the film with a few reminder remarks about Dylan being born here in Duluth, and evidence that shows he has not forgotten his roots. A few additional comments about Dylan’s significance are worth adding here.

History is replete with individuals in every discipline who've made important contributions. But the list is much smaller of those whose lives were total game-changers. I think of Martin Luther's influence on church history following that epic nailing of his 95 Theses to that Wittenberg door. I think of Hemingway’s impact on literature, transforming it from flowery prose to direct succinct force… Abraham Lincoln’s impact on civil rights, Beethoven’s influence on music, inventing music for the ages and not simply to satisfy a momentary contract. Dylan brought a new poetic, literary sensibility to all forms of contemporary music.

Interestingly enough, Dylan is not even close to being the best-selling musician of our time. The Beatles have sold more than a billion records and Dylan has sold maybe 100 million worldwide. At least forty other artists have surpassed Dylan in record sales. But are record sales the ultimate measure of importance?

Within the confines of a single decade the Beatles produced one hit after another that topped the pop charts and made cash registers zing. To my knowledge Dylan has never had a number one chart-topper in the U.S. as a single. Again, was this his aim? Not at all.

When Dylan emerged on the scene he was noticed as a young man whose impact would be felt. His second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, showed a maturity that far exceeded his 22 years. From the start he produced songs that would reverberate far into the future. Songs like Blowing in the Wind, Girl from the North Country, Masters of War and Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright showed that Dylan brought a new sensibility to the music of these times. While Bobby Vinton was crooning “Roses Are Red (My Love)” and Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” reeled across the airwaves, Dylan was scribbling out lyrics to a potent new kind of music that drilled deep into hearts and minds: aesthetically stimulating, intellectually challenging, pricking our moral sensibilities, grabbing us by the nape of our necks and giving us a shake.

When A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall arrived, there was no ambiguity in this song whose every line was art. Explosively thought-provoking. Devastating, this mirror of a broken world… a theme Dylan would return to for decades to come.

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

The poet’s aim was not chart-topping singles. Columbia Records is to be commended for producing this young artist whose influence bled into all who followed in his wake.

Tuesday’s film/event at the Redstar Lounge showed just how amazing this young man’s life would become as he matured. Bushey and French created an especially invigorating retrospective by sharing the clips in a non-linear way, opening with a 1994 recording of Tombstone Blues. The next displayed a very boyish Dylan performing Blowing in the Wind, troubadour-style. Next, Dylan’s live performance in Australia, 1986, accompanied by Tom Petty with gospel-style backup vocalists, in a clip preceded by a rap about heroes. “Who’s your hero? Mel Gibson? Michael Jackson? I don’t care nothin’ about any of these people. I’m gonna sing about my hero now.” The song “In the Garden” commenced.

What followed then was that pulsing heart-stopper rendition of Hard Rain, accompanied by a full symphony. Nara Japan, 1994. If you’ve never heard this rendition of the song, you owe it to yourself to immerse yourself in its throbbing heart. Endlessly. It has the power to leave one humbled and broken.

It’s been said that one of the effects of great art is its capacity to lift us into a higher plane, for if a man (or woman) can create something so beautiful, it dignifies all of us. Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “A poem deserves its title only inasmuch as it excites, by elevating the soul.” And so it is that Dylan brought this poetic sensibility to contemporary music.

When I listen to Hard Rain it’s always with awe, whatever version. 

This piece was followed by Girl from the North Country, Romance in Durango, Maggie’s Farm at the Newport Fesitval in 1965, Just Like a Woman at George Harrison’s passionate Concert for Bangla Desh in 1971, The Ballad of Hollis Brown from the Johnny Cash Show, I Threw It All Away, Forever Young, the heartfelt I Believe In You on Saturday Night Live in 1979, a rockin’ Silvio with Ronnie Wood and an expressive set of guitar breaks in Hyde Park in ’95. At the very last we saw/heard Highway 61 Revisited, Dylan decked out in silk shirt and bells with decorative piping in Cleveland, 1995. Oh yeah.

Thank you, Bob, for having given us so much. Happy birthday.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Spotlight On Artist Anne Labovitz

I first noticed Anne Labovitz’s work in 2009 at an art opening titled Journeys at Lizzard’s Gallery downtown. Labovitz has been painting professionally for nearly thirty years, and frankly, I am partial to works by people who simply love to paint.

Thursday June 6, the Tweed Museum will be hosting an opening reception in her honor, presenting a new collection of portraits that will be on display from June 4 thru August 11. This current exhibit explores the manner in which feelings and memory in relationships. I very much look forward to this show. Lizzard's is also hosting a show featuring Anne's art. It's evident she's been quite productive since her last visit to the Twin Ports.  We welcome her return.

EN: Where did you grow up and what were the influences that led you to the study of art at Hamline University?

Anne Labovitz: I grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, close to Lake Superior. I found great strength in the lake and imagery of it appears in many of my landscape paintings. Also, my grandmother, Ella Labovitz, was an artist and would have me sit for her to do my portrait. Subsequently, portraiture has been a focus of mine throughout my professional career.

I am intrigued by the notion of identity and memory. My earliest memories and mementos were preserved in a red wooden box stored in my closet. This desire to preserve and maintain drives my work.

EN: In addition to making art you also seem to have a passion for teaching art. What led you in this direction?

AL: I love art and I love people. It is my passion for art and the desire to make it available to everyone that motivates me to teach. I enjoy interacting with humans, being their guide as I channel the creative process through and with them.

EN: How does the creative process work for you? Where do ideas come from?

AL: Ideas flow in and through me all the time. The creative process flows in the studio and out of the studio. It is in my every breath. My senses intake information every day that supports and inspires my artistic practice. For example, witnessing a family interacting together at the airport and sharing space together is inspiring for me. How they relate to each other as a family is part of their identity, both as a whole and as individuals. I think about the formation of identity, our connectedness with one another and the overlapping and shadowing of experiences that accumulate and eventually formulate the individual and the unit. My own personal relationships are a source of inspiration.

EN: As I understand it, the portrait series at the Tweed in June is not simply about painting faces. What's the bigger picture here and why?

AL: The work is an exploration of identity, with shadows, fragments, and stop frames of multiple people and images melded together to create one image that reads like an individual human. Each image is a composite form of many individuals. Within the many layers, relationships and dialogue emerge.

EN: What lesson or lessons have you learned about yourself in the past year through making art?

AL: The more my artwork evolves and the more mature it becomes, the closer it resides within my core set of passions and the truer it feels.

EN: Why is art important in young peoples' lives today?

AL: It is an amazing form of expression available to each and everyone. All of us living breathing humans have the need to express ourselves, our ideas, thoughts, desires and to experiment. Mark making through art, either music, theater, words or 2 dimensional art is a universally available outlet! This is not to say that all people need to become professional artists or serious about their art form, it is however an available mode of expression and exploration.

EN: Your work has been shown in a lot of places a long ways from home. Do you ever worry about things being damaged in transport?

AL: Great question. I am happy to ship my work almost anywhere to give it the opportunity to be seen. I love to share my work with others. In some ways it comes alive in the eyes of the viewer.

EN: Do you have any other kinds of worries that keep you awake at night?

AL: I require very little sleep, so painting and working in the studio usually keeps me up at night, but in a good way. I love to be in the studio every chance I get.

EN: They say life is a journey. What’s your destination?

AL: The journey of my art making practice is an intense one riddled with hard work. I love to work hard, exploring different mediums and pushing the boundaries of everything I am working with in the studio. The closer I get towards understanding myself and what drives me the stronger, more intense, more powerful my artistic voice becomes and it presents with clarity and integrity.

EN: If life were a card game, what kind of hand are you holding?

AL: Goodness! I am not a card player. Whatever the best hand is, I must have it! I feel like I am in the prime of my life as well as my artistic career. I am very grateful for my life and the privilege to pursue my artistic profession.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

All Along the Watchtower, Revisited

Every Sunday evening Carmody's Pub in Downtown Duluth offers up a trivia contest, and this week was no exception. Being that we're in the middle of our North Country Dylan Celebration, the theme was properly oriented to the man whose 72nd birthday is being honored this week.

Twenty-five multiple choice questions were presented, and as last year many were pertained to exceedingly obscure details from the life of our contemporary bard. One in particular produced an especially amusing answer. The moderator, a bearded fellow suitably named McKinnon (this being an Irish pub), had asked the question, "Which Dylan song has he played more than any other?" The answer, if you wish to verify, can be found at where the lyrics of every Dylan song can be found, along with the number of times each has been played in concert. Several, like Ballad of a Thin Man and Highway 61 Revisted have been played more than a thousand times, 1082 and 1780 respectively. But none exceeds All Along the Watchtower, which Dylan has played in concert 2,125 times to date. 

It was comical to overhear a group of young people say somewhat confusedly, "But that's a Hendrix song." It has to make you smile.

Hewitt Station performing All Along the Watchtower.
Last night Duluth Dylan Days moved to Beaners Central for an open mic night. Singer/songwriters were invited to sing a Dylan tune and one of their own compositions. Hewitt Station hosted, opening with a gravelly Girl from the North Country. Later in the program Hewitt sang a heartfelt rendition of All Along the Watchtower and one couldn't help but be reminded of the evening before.

* * * 

If anyone is interested in simply studying the poetry of Bob Dylan, that is, to study his songs and their lyrics as poetry, I commend to you John Hinchey's Like A Complete Unknown. Hinchey at one time taught literature at Swarthmore College. He brings insights that often might escape the casually listener, especially in the more surreal and ambiguous songs.

What Dylan does that many (if not most) great writers do, is to derive insight and imagery from direct observations of literal, concrete things. His language, however, explodes with splashes and starbursts of creative exuberance.

Hinchey himself is a vibrant writer, so writer-critic meets songwriter-artist in this 270 page overview of Dylan's poetry from 1961-1969. Hinchey stated his intention to write four subsequent volumes, a decade by decade panoramic overview of the tapestry that Dylan has woven with words.

Hinchey called Dylan's John Wesley Harding album "the comeback of all comebacks." It is an album very different from his previous series of in your face snarl and vim, following on the heels of Blonde On Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. This was not my favorite Dylan album at the time, in part because I didn't care for the recording quality. It felt thin. But the songs have plenty of meat.

The most evocative song in this collection, and most memorable in part because of Jimi Hendrix's wonderfully haunting rendition, is All Along the Watchtower. From the first line, it carries you into a vivid sandstorm of expectation.


"There must be some way out of here" said the joker to the thief.
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”

"No reason to get excited", the thief he kindly spoke.
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke;
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

Copyright ©1968; renewed 1996 Dwarf Music

So, what does it mean? Here we are forty-five years later and the song still intrigues. Who are the joker and the thief? What is the moment in time that is being defined here? 

There are a variety of websites where song meanings are discussed. Some of the interpretations of songs are quite amusing, but a brisk read often unveils new glimmers of light for previously shadowed text. Songs like Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harem or Horse Latitudes by the Doors will bring on interesting comments. So does this song, wrapped in mystery as it is.

For me it's the first line that gets you. "There must be some way out of here..." Out of these circumstance? Out of this corner I've painted myself into? Out of this world and it's sorrows? The next line unveils a little more. Confusion. "I can't get no relief." The situation is a conundrum that toys with his mind.

Hinchey sees the joker and the thief as representing the sacred and profane parts of his Dylan the trickster, "mythic master of limits and boundaries." Hinchey writes that the difference between the two, both here and elsewhere in Dylan's work, "is that the joker merely evades limits; the thief finds ways to render them permeable."

The commentary in Hinchey's book is too lengthy to re-record here. Needless to say that he and others writing of the song see in it an "apocalyptic moment" toward which this scene is leading. I myself get mesmerized by how much vivid content this tightly coiled song contains while still remaining shrouded.

What follows here is an alternative shade of interpretation from one of the websites I noted where people share their attempts to explain lyrics. This was posted by someone with the handle eveland on 11-30-2004.

I remember reading an article about this song when it first came out (I believe 1968) by Paul Williams in Crawdaddy magazine, which was a cheaply produced, but very serious, intellectual magazine published by Williams. The thing that stuck with me from the article was that Williams compared the structure of the song to a moebius strip (because the starting point of the lyrics is actually in the middle of the song & the song opens with the middle part of the lyrics) & felt it gave the song a claustrophobic feel (because you come into it & leave it in the middle). The starting point would be "All along the watchtower" & then after the line "Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl", the next line would be "There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief", the joker & the thief being the two riders who were approaching, of course. This makes perfect sense to me & seems right. As far as the actual meaning, my own opinion is that it's a philosophical piece about how one finds meaning in a chaotic & very imperfect world. The joker sees this world & can't take it seriously because it's so false & is depressed because he can't find a way to make sense of it. The thief has come to this same realization in his past, but has found a way to move beyond it & create his own meaning. So it is, in effect, a parable about existentialism. Or maybe I'm totally wrong... 

As I was saying, the song toys with your mind. Pure Dylan.

Tonight you will not want to miss Dylan movie and music night at Redstar Lounge at Fitgers. John Bushey has assembled an underground film collage of live Dylan performance which will be shared beginning at 8:00 p.m. Music by Snobarn to follow. Celebrate with us.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rust Belt Steampunk Gains Traction in the Twin Ports

Welcoming figure by Mary Plaster
When the 2nd Annual Steampunk Spectacular was announced for May 16 & 17, I may have been among the first to notice the scheduling conflict between this and the Hard Rain concert at Weber Hall. My fear was that the two events might chew into one another's attendance, thereby weakening one event or the other. But as they say, 95% of what we fear never happens. Turns out both were events were spectacular.

Both events were actually sequels to last year's May shows of the same ilk. And both events knocked our socks off.

It was especially fun to see the Spectacular get front page coverage in Saturday morning's Duluth News Tribune with a story by Mike Creger, Steampunk Spectacular showcases style. Last year the whole idea of conducting the Steampunk event right inside the train museum proved so thrilling that it simply had to happen again. This year's event including a time machine that took all our steampunk fans and guests back in time for an ride on one of these early steam-powered locomotives.

During both days The Depot's Great Hall was devoted to the art of steampunk as well as an Emporium in which Steampunk artisans displayed wares they produced for sale.

Richard Rosvall, Mayor of Steampunk

Rosvall with wares at 2012 event in Depot.
My first experience with the local Steampunk culture here was through an event called Chronicle that was put together by a circle of artists who called themselves Friends of Industry. One of the characters of seemed connected to nearly everyone in this entourage was Richard Rosvall, who has graciously assisted many by providing costume embellishments to acquire "the look." I recently spoke with Rosvall regarding his involvement with this genre.

EN: How did you personally become so involved in making Steampunk attire?

RR: I got into it because my son asked about making a Halloween costume one year. I had a little idea of what it was about, had seen a few pictures… but went to Flickr as a photo sharing site and typed in Steampunk as a search word…. over 100,000 images. Then I typed in Steampunk Weapon, which narrowed it to 15,000; Steampunk Goggles, 10,000. After looking around a little while we came up with a couple pretty good costumes for he and his girl friend at the time. I had so much fun working on that that I haven’t stopped.

EN: What makes it fun?

Gas Mask
RR: I’ve always been a fan of science fiction and fantasy literature. It’s just so wide open to your imagination. Any kind of sci-fi gadget you can think of you can adapt to that time period. I was lucky that for forty-some years I’ve had experience working with wood, leather, metal and stone, so I have a skill set that enables me to make stuff that looks like it would come from that time frame.

EN: Do you read Steampunk literature?

RR: Not really. I know there’s tons of it out there and I see notices about new literature coming out in that genre, but I don’t have a big budget for buying brand new books.

EN: Films?

RR: I've seen a few. Not a lot. My costumes come from Internet images and my imagination.

EN: It seems like the Internet has really brought Steampunk to a new level.

RR: I’ve made hundreds of friends through Facebook who attend the big conventions on the East coast and West coast and down in Texas. Most of what I’ve been made aware of is on the East coast and out West. Not a lot going on in the Midwest other than TeslaCon. There seem to be a lot of people who travel to these events, vendors and lectures… I’ve been having fun lately making my own little gears out of Damascus steel.

EdNote: Based on my observations, this is a subculture that has real legs. Especially in the fashion part of it. Start preparing your costumes for next year... today!

MEANTIME, we're still celebrating North Country Dylan Days. Tonight is an Open Mic for singer/songwriters at Beaners. Sing a Dylan tune and one of your own Dylan-inspired pieces.... Call Jason at 6:00 p.m. or after in order to get slotted on the agenda. I will most definitely see you there.

Steampunk Fashion... Rosvall Style. (Richard R top left, photo John Heino)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Poets Gather To Celebrate The Bard During North Country Dylan Week

Zane Bail of the Dylan Way team.
In a week of events devoted to celebrating Bob Dylan's 72nd birthday (officially, the 24th) it only seems natural that in addition to music, movies and trivia there would be a component dedicated to his influence as a poet. And this year it came to pass.

At 3:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon poets and friends of poetry gathered in the Zeitgeist Atrium for the first of what will hopefully be many such assemblies. For myself it was nice to associate faces with some of the names of our local scribes. Thank you to Zane Bail and/or whoever else gave impetus to initiating this event, which included a nice handout, and some wonderful refreshments. The aroma of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies was an unexpected delight. Sarah Brokke's painting of a woman with an outstretched arm as if presenting our poets made for a nice serendipitous addition to the readings.

Poet Laureate Deb Cooper
Sheila Packa, 2010-2012 Duluth Poet Laureate, had been tapped to be moderator for the event, which included many of our region's respected poets. Bail wasted no words welcoming us and handing over the reigns. Packa began by citing a Dylan quote that underscored one of his motivations, to "write against the darkness.," readily recognized in his early protests against militarism and racism. Deb Cooper, our 2012-14 Poet Laureate was then introduced.

Cooper read from her book Under the Influence of Lilacs. The poem she selected, "She Is Grateful for the Bells," echoing Dylan's "Ring Them Bells" from his Oh Mercy album. She followed with a poem about teaching poetry at the jail, with numerous poignant lines like, "Night falls the same way everywhere..."

Ellie Schoenfield, who also has several books of poetry under her belt, followed. Schoenfield began with The "Rain Falls on the Roof" and another short piece, then offered up a knockout punch, a poem with a very long and ironic title about the last thing a man saw as he died in Guantanamo. 

Gary Belhower, 2012 winner of the Foley Poetry Award, read three pieces from his most recent book of poems, Marrow, Muscle, Flight. The first carried the simple title Poetica. He followed this with a poem titled Figure It Out. "The moon has its own reasons; you don't have to figure it out." His summing up was with a poem titled flight, which included references to Icarus, among other things.

Connie Wanek followed with a reading of "In My Craft for Sullen Art" by Dylan Thomas before sharing four of her own pieces beginning with "A Parting" and summing up with a poem for two titled "Two Degrees of Separation" which she performed with her husband.

Jan Chronister shared various poems related to road and completed her set with "I Got A Gun For Christmas."

Michelle Mathees began by mentioning that she was approaching Dylan from the Gen X perspective. Recently I've been observing a rich new crop of young poets emerging locally, and Mathees proved to be a wise addition to our more seasoned brood. She shared a poem titled "Junk It."

Phil Fitzpatrick, winner of the Dylan Days poetry contest, was scheduled to share last. His winning poem was an autobiographical accounting of his relationship to guns from early childhood cap pistols to pinging squirrels to having several close friends return from Viet Nam in various degrees damaged by them, one of these in a body bag. Poets look for fresh words and fresh ways to tell life stories, and Fitzpatrick's contributions achieved their intended aim, cajoling us into the stories and planting seeds to mull on later.

Ed Newman, least worthy of this poetry tribe, was given an opportunity to share a piece as well, noting that while in school Dylan's songs cut through to that inner place where he struggled with the disconnect between cheerful pop culture and the brokenness so apparent in Viet Nam, racism and our riots in the streets. He then shared his poem "Bad Break."

Sheila Packa closed the event with several poems of her own, keying in on the word blue. The poems were titled "Rapture", "Blues", "Denial" and "Suspended in Blue."

Zane Bail thanked us again for being present and expressed her hope that this will be another event that grows in the future.

Tonight at Carmody's Irish Pub there will be a Dylan Trivia Competition at 8:00 p.m.  The answers, my friend, will be blowin' in the wind.

Enjoy your daze throughout the week. Hope to see you on the scene.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Hard Rain In Duluth Kicks Off 2013 North Country Dylan Celebration with Zeal

Gene LaFond and Scarlet Rivera start cookin'.
If last year's concert brought the crowd to its feet last year, then last night's concert Hard Rain In Duluth left us floating off into the ether. What a great sequel to last year's visit featuring violinist Scarlet Rivera accompanied by Gene LaFond and the Wild Unknown, with special attraction and warm up performer Courtney Yasmineh (yazz-min-ay). Thank you all for a great evening of music and more.

The "more" was an afterparty at Tycoon's Alehouse & Eatery in Downtown Duluth, where Geno and team showed what they're really about... a band that can make you move your feet.

Scarlet, Geno and Courtney Bring It Home

The event was not without drama. Less than an hour before showtime Courtney and Scarlet were on their way to change into their costumes when they made a wrong turn to go the wrong way on one of Duluth's sometimes confusing one-way streets. Yasmineh intended to rectify the situation with a quick turn and was struck by another car. The accident was severe enough to deploy a side airbag. They immediately notified Nelson French, the master of ceremonies for the evening, which created a small buzz behind the scenes as everyone was concerned for their safety.

Ironically, the day before, in an impish moment Scarlet texted Nelson to say she had injured her wrist and would not be able to play violin the following evening. It was a joke. This accident was not a joke. Fortunately, the women made their appearance in a timely fashion and the concert was underway.

As last year, Nelson French opened the evening by welcoming us and noted that the concert is a fund raiser for the Armory Music and Arts Center. With funding for music and art being cut from public education, providing support and spaces for youth to develop is a valuable contribution to the community.

French then introduced Darin Bergsven of the Sacred Heart Music Resource Center (MRC) where the jazz guitarist of Tangier 51 serves. Bergsven shared a brief video detailing the activities of the Music Resource Center and its mission "to educate and inspire young people and through music equip them with life skills for the future." It must have been inspiring to have had Scarlet Rivera, Courtney Yasmineh and Gene LaFond visit the Center yesterday afternoon and share time with them.

The concert began with songs by three students from the MRC. Jack Campbell, a senior at Duluth East who is attending DePaul University this fall, opened the evening with a song. He had great poise and a beautiful guitar... and could he ever play. Jake Vainio, who was one of the accompanying musicians at Al Hunter's poetry reading earlier this year, performed next. That Steinway makes an impressive sound, but his finger and sustains were especially rich. A sophomore named Melita then performed a song she'd written, accompanied by Vainio.

After thanking a long list of people who made this event possible, Nelson French introduced Courtney Yamineh, who normally would have brought her band along but this night wove herself into the Wild Unknown. Yasmineh was born in Chicago. At age 17 she left home to headed for the Iron Range where she moved into a cabin on Lake Vermillion previously owned by her grandfather. It was a cold winter of a kind she was unaccustomed to. Despite frozen pipes and bitter winds, she sustained herself by putting logs on the fire and listening to tapes of Bob Dylan that she acquired there.

More than a sexy guitarist, Yasmineh displays confidence and command with vocal variety and complex lyrics that carry messages from various spaces in her life journey. You can check out her YouTube vids or try to find her new album This Is Manifesto when it comes out. After a relatively short set there was an intermission. Fortunately she would return later to add her embellishments to Scarlet and Gene's portion of the program.

A nice surprise after the intermission was a brief magical interlude by John Bushey, professional magician and host of KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited. Bushey, who likely has the largest collection of Houdini handcuffs and memorabilia in the country, cited an interview with Dylan in which the North Country native was asked, "If you could go back in time and see any event in history, what would it be?" Dylan said, without hesitation, that he would like to go back and see Houdini's famous escape from the East River in New York. Bushey confided that he has a film of that escape and Mr. Dylan would be welcome to come over to his house and view it sometime.

Bushey proceeded to do a little bit of magic for us, a trick with ropes and knots that Harry Houdini himself had invented. A perfect way to start the second portion of our concert... magically.

Gene LaFond introduced his band who proceeded to perform three of his own songs, some of them new. He said it has been a long winter, and writing songs helps you get through. Courtney came aboard as the group offered up a dynamic rendition of Dylan's Shot of Love. At this point we were all aboard, Yasmineh's vocal harmonies taking us to higher ground. Then Scarlet joined the set, and things began to soar.

The obligatory Hurricane kicked it off. I use the word "obligatory" because these were the first notes by which Scarlet Rivera's sizzling violin accompaniment struck the world with a new kind of electicity. Besides, it's just a sentimental favorite when you gather a room full of older Dylan fans.

The playlist unfolded in this manner, with numerous high points along the way. The set began with the full troupe and these four Dylan classics:

Oh Sister (Desire)
Hard Rain (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)
Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You (Nashville Skyline)
One More Cup of Coffee (Desire)

The band withdrew and Scarlet then played Chopin's Farewell, accompanied by Geno. All returned and Geno led the next section with one of his favorite Dylan songs, Most of the Time. (Oh Mercy)

Geno gave us one of his own tunes again, Jake and Jenny, followed by one of my favorites, Born In Time. (Under the Red Sky version.) 

The rest of the set included:
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues (Highway 61 Revisited)
You Gotta Serve Somebody, in which Scarlet provided some potent vocals in tandem with Courtney. (Slow Train Coming)
Love Minus Zero, No Limit (Bringing It All Back Home)
Tangled Up In Blue (Blood on the Tracks)
You're a Big Girl Now (Blood on the Tracks)

After this culmination and a standing ovation as the performers retreated backstage. Geno alone returned for the encore, presenting us another new tune, a song about his funeral, with measured levity. Finally the whole crew returned to sing Watching the River Flow.... The enthusiasm flowed as well. A friend who was with me leaned over and said, "They really love her, don't they?" No question about it.

Everyone was invited to Tycoon's to continue celebrating. Gene, along with band mates Brian, Dean and Steve, showed that they still know how to make our feet move. I myself even did a little shuffle-foot myself.

Thank you, Nelson French and the Armory board members whose passion and commitment are apparent to all. Courtney, good luck finishing the book you're working on. Scarlet, thank you for your generosity. It was nice dancing with you. I should have been wearing my bellbottoms.

Today, the celebrations continue with Poets from the North Country @ Arts Atrium. 3:00 p.m., a poetry reading hosted by past poet laureate Sheila Packa. Then it's back to Tycoons for Duluth Does Dylan featuring Marc Gartman with Tim Saxhaug and Dave Carroll.

Gene and the team making music you can move to.

Friday, May 17, 2013

John Bushey: Dylan On His Mind

Extract from DNT a few years back
Name three things that Highway 61 Revisited host John Bushey has in common with Steve Martin? Both like music very much. Both are in the entertainment field. And both had early experiences as a demonstrator in a magic shop at an early age.

You know the job. Pull a trick off the shelf, pull in a small crowd, dazzle them and get them to part with a portion of the contents of their wallets. Steve Martin, as a teen, worked in such a shop at Disneyland, honing entertainment skills that carried him forward for life. John Bushey worked at Bruno's Costumes and Magic here in Duluth. And like another Duluthian whose love of music carried him away to the four corners of everywhere, Bushey's passion for magic has taken him around the world as well.

I've never asked him, but it would be interesting to see if John Bushey's passion for magic played a role in his passion for the music of Bob Dylan, who's ability to generate lyrics out of thin air is comparable to a master magician's sleight-of-hand.

Bushey has been host of KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited, a.k.a. The Dylan Hour, for more than two decades, of which I've been a fan for at least ten, or whenever it was that I became aware of the program, which by means of the internet can be heard around the world. Last year at this time I watched Bushey entertain a circle of friends on the Blood on the Tracks Express, performing magic. Making things appear and disappear, and more. When you watch a master do card tricks, all kinds of words come to mind. Mind-blowing. Befuddling. Astonishing. Bewildering. Fun.

But the pro Dylan buff does more than entertain. He's a collector as well. An enormous fan of Harry Houdini, he began collecting memorabilia related to escape artists at the age of ten and has continued to this day so that he has one of the largest collections of handcuffs and gadgetry pertaining to escapology in the country. We're talking hundreds of handcuffs of all styles.

Bushey is one of the forces behind our North Country Dylan Fest Celebration, which kicks off tonight with the Hard Rain Concert featuring Scarlet Rivera accompanied by Gene LaFond and His Wild Unknown. Special guest Courtney Yasmineh will be preceding them. Last night I discovered that Courtney lived on Lake Vermillion for a spell as a teen and, like me, she has a passion for writing. We're all looking forward to a great evening of music and entertainment. If you haven't purchased a ticket yet, there are still seats available and we'd like to see a full house. All proceeds will go toward the Armory restoration.

The great part of his show Highway 61 Revisited is Bushey's tireless effort to find rare tracks of Dylan music from obscure sources including outtakes and unreleased recordings that you won't hear anywhere else. One of Bushey's projects for this year's Dylan daze is a film collage featuring 12 great Dylan performances, to be projected Tuesday at the Red Star Lounge in Fitgers.

As a longtime listener to the program I've noticed that despite the quantity and breadth of Dylan's output, Bushey does return frequently to a number of favorite tunes. Several times in recent weeks he's played Highlands from Time Out of Mind and I asked him about this. He noted that the long songs give you a break when you're on the air. Why would a foremost Dylan DJ need a break? Answer: he's currently wrestling with Stage 4, Grade 2 follicular lymphoma. i.e. cancer. Bushey reassured me that Stage 2 cancer means it progresses very slowly. The goal of his current treatment regimen is remission, since there is no cure.

My prayer is that the escape artist will be able to get out of cancer's cuffs and take us for another 20 year journey into new channels of Dylan minutia. There are Dylan lyrics for every kind of situation and perhaps in an upcoming program he'll share an assortment of songs pertaining to new lessons he's learned from this experience. Meantime, he's got Dylan on his mind and a heart in the highlands.

Visit the Duluth Dylan Fest  page on Facebook.

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