Thursday, October 31, 2019

Throwback Thursday: In Defense of the 1%


I was leafing through the October 31 Time magazine yesterday when an essay by Joel Stein caught my attention: "Who Speaks for the 1%?"

Actually, the first item to catch my attention was the page's title, The Awesome Column. The haughtiness of the page title seems to reflect the hubris of certain politicians and talk show commentators. I'm not a subscriber to the mag but believe based on 40 seconds of Google research that The Awesome Column used to be a staple of Time and has re-appeared. I draw that conclusion based on a 2006 question at Yahoo, What happened to Time Magazine's awesome column? - Yahoo! Answers

After reading several additional sidetracks I've concluded that Joel Stein enjoys tweaking noses and being contrarian. So naturally he saddles up and leads us into the current fray called Occupy Wall Street. He's a good writer. Here's the opening...

I don't like the top 1% of anything. Intelligence? Boring! Fun? Exhausting! Thoughtfulness? Annoying! Hairiness? Too hairy!

So I get why the Occupy Wall Street protesters gained momentum with their slogan WE ARE THE 99%. Everyone loves the 99%. You can have a beer with the 99%. You can eat with your hands in front of the 99%. You can talk about TV shows with the 99% without them telling you that while they don't think there's anything wrong with TV, if they had one, they would watch it literally all the time, so it's better to just not keep one...

Stein goes on to say that for the most part the top 1% are interesting, generous and charming. These are the folk who started Time magazine, founded Stanford where Stein went to college, and have built the art museums that the public enjoys. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was started by a one per center, as have many other such endeavors.

If there is a pecking order of people to despise in this world, it would probably be the 1% of the 1%-ers who are jerks that embarrass the rest of the 1%-ers.

To read more, pick up a Time magazine at your local B&N ($5.99) or head over to the online home of this awesome column.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Moiira Villiard's Paintings Honoring the Children

Moira Villiard has been producing excitement with her work ever since she appeared on the local arts scene several years back, a young artist with an extra-large heart and ambitious desire to make a difference. Her active role in the community has been noticed big time.

During the month of October her paintings and digitally designed posters have been on display in the Zeitgeist Atrium as part of an exhibition titled The Rights of the Child. In her artist statement she points out that the United States is the only country that has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Villiard is a multidisciplinary artist whose work has grown in complexity and significance, Currently she is a full-tine Arts & Cultural Program Coordinator at the American Indian Housing Organization (AICHO). She is also a freelance writer, creative/community consultant, editor and graphic designer as well as a member of the Bush Change Network and co-director of the Twin Ports-based variety show, A Goody Night.

Here are a number of images from this Zeitgeist exhibition.

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If you've never been to the AICHO Gift Store, this next two months would make an excellent time to visit. The holidays are coming and you will most certainly find some things both locally made, unique and memorable. 202 West Second Street.

Related Links
Moira Villiard: Getting Real
Moira & Steveboyyi @ The Red Mug

Was Dien Bien Phu One of the Great Strategic Battles of History?

As an American Baby Boomer, it is near impossible to not have been impacted by the two major crises of the 1960s: the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. Each has left our generation divided and disturbed.

When Ken Burns' documentary on the Vietnam War was shared on Public Television it made an impact on all who watched it. It was impressive how Burns was able to reveal such diverse perspectives without being judgmental, his aim being to make it easier for us to dialogue, to express our thoughts, feelings and experiences, an act that takes courage when we're coming from such antithetical spaces.

This week I discovered that there is an audiobook version of this historical narrative, also produced by Ken Burns. Whereas the documentary begins with the U.S. deployment of advisors (see Graham Greene's The Quiet American), the audiobook goes into a little more depth explaining the history that preceded U.S. involvement.

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French exploration in Vietnam began in the 17th century after French missionaries took a toehold in Southeast Asia. This eventually evolved into territorial conquest and France becoming a Colonial overlord in the 19th century.

At the end of World War I, when the Paris Peace Talks were taking place and many other nations under Colonial rule were becoming free countries, a young Ho Chi Minh was in France trying to make a case for liberty for his people of Vietnam. Ho failed, and the French maintained control until 1954, at which time Dien Bien Phu became the decisive battle that broke the backbone of the beast.

As I listened to the strategic initiative that demolished the French resolve to continue, it seemed worthy of being shared. It seemed worthy of be considered as one of the great battles of military history. It was brilliantly conceived, and decisive in its significance.

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Several years ago when I read James R. Arnold's book Grant Wins the War, I was struck by the introduction in which the author stated that of the 20 greatest military battles in history, 12 were devised by Napoleon and only two were from the Civil War. These were Jackson's Shenandoah Campaign and Grant's victory at the Battle of Vicksburg.

General Giap presents his plan to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh leadership.
As Ken Burns detailed the action of the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu I couldn't help but consider this to be as remarkable a story as Grant's maneuvering that led to the siege and victory at Vicksburg.

The French were seeking to bring a decisive end to the conflict that had been taking place for years with the Viet Minh communist revolutionaries. General Henri Navarre chose Dien Bien Phu as the insertion point for their French Expeditionary Corps. Geographically it was a bowl-shaped zone where the French could fly in troops, artillery and everything needed to set up a base of operations and destroy the Viet Minh with superior firepower.

This French overconfidence would be repeated ten years later in the prolonged war that stained several U.S. presidencies. French generals hoped to draw the Vietnamese into a major confrontation that would crush their will to keep fighting. Little did they know how prepared their adversaries were. The plan devised by General Võ Nguyên Giáp unfolded like this.

Viet Minh on the attack.
First, the peoples of Vietnam were weary of French rule, so it wasn't just the army that went to war. It was a nation--the masses--who longed for liberty and pitched in to obtain it. What they did, unbeknownst to the French, was dismantle all their armaments, artillery, everything, and carry it through the jungles 100 miles to the rim of the bowl where the French were assembling. The Viet Minh dug tunnels through the mountain to place all these massive cannons so that even though the French controlled the skies, they could not see how many armaments were being brought in, piece by piece, and concealed on the high ground surrounding the airstrip and French encampments.

Once the shelling began the French were stunned. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. General Giap compared it to a "rice bowl" with his troops occupying the rim and the French below. It didn't take long for the French to realize the Viet Minh artillery far exceeded what they thought they were up against.

Viet Minh flag being waved over the French camp.
The Battle of Điện Biên Phủ was decisive. Shortly after, the war was over. The 1954 Geneva Accords were signed.

A second feature of this rout was the use of Viet Minh volunteers who essentially took an inventory of what the French had assembled. General Giap knew exactly what he was up against and where the French artillery was located. The French, on the other hand, were clueless. They had no idea how many guns were raining shells down on them once the fighting began.

General Giap also bombarded the runway with shells so the French had no way to fly in reinforcements once things were underway. Nor an easy escape route.

Whether it be in war or in business, the biggest failures occur when we don't know what we do not know. Those unknowns can really bite us. And in the end, this battle was a decisive defeat for the French. General Navarre was told that his plan "carried very little risk." Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Not only was this a disaster for the French, it was a disaster for the U.S. as well. As it turns out the U.S. was underwriting 80% of the French expenditures. We probably thought that if we provided the ammo, we wouldn't have to send our own boys to die over there. Somehow we failed to learn from our ally's mistakes.

Shortly after this humiliating loss, the French government sought to end the fighting by signing the Geneva Accords of 1954. For the U.S. it was only the beginning.

Related Links 
My first blog post on The Cold War Killing Fields

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Meeting: Introduction to a Powerful Play by Jeff Stetson

Saturday evening we went to see a powerful play by the Renegade Theater, modestly titled The Meeting, a play by  Jeff Stetson. The title is simple, its impact anything but.

For those unfamiliar the play is an imaginary meeting between two of the most significant civil rights leaders of the 50s and 60s, Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The two men purportedly did meet once, but this dialogue between the men is purely fictitious.

The juxtaposition of these two characters is a most excellent device for enabling audiences to see the similarities and contrasts between these two men, a device I've seen used elsewhere. Peter Kreeft's book Between Heaven and Hell came immediately to mind. In that book Kreeft explores the ideas of JFK, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley by means of a lengthy dialogue shortly after their deaths on the same day in 1963.

I myself have used a variation of this device by creating fictional interviews between me and deceased heroes like Honore Balzac, Swiss artist Paul Klee and John S. Hall, the blind poet of Ritchie County.

This was Daniel Oyinloye's directorial debut I believe, and the outcomes were superb. The all-black cast consisted of Carl Crawford as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Williams as Malcolm X and Gabe Mayfield as Rashid, Malcolm's bodygurd.

A special feature of the performance was Act 2 in which the director and cast took seats facing the audience and fielded questions written by the audience during intermission. The questions probed the men's feelings and motivations not only about the play and its characters but also about the status of race relations today.

The set.
The set was simple. It's an apartment. There is a window to the left, a balcony overlooking the city at the center rear, a couch, a door on the right, and a table with two chairs centrally placed. On the table we see a chess board with the pieces set up for a game. During the course of the play we'll see the table used for arm wrestling, a battle of strength, and the psychological game symbolized by the chess set.

The play opens with a radio playing headlines from the period as Malcolm lies stretched on the couch. There is an explosion and Rashid comes running in, gun in hand.

This intro sets up the time of the play. It is the week before Malcolm X's assassination, the evening of the day his house had been bombed. Malcolm is aware that he is a marked man. Rashid insists he stay away from the window lest he be taken out by a sniper.

Julian Williams (L) as Malolm X, Carl Crawford as Martin Luther King Jr.
Early lines include these.

"You'd be amazed how much one can take when you're focused."


"They just won't swallow the truth, even when it's good for you."

The writing is crisp and perfectly paced so that as tension builds, humor diffuses it. For example, when Malcolm beats Martin in arm wrestling, King later said he let him win on purpose. So they rematch and King wins. Yet later Malcolm concedes that he allowed that to happen for King's sake. At the end they do a true mano a mano arm strength contest and have a draw.

These little instances serve as interludes while simultaneously being metaphors for their differing methods of dealing with the problem of race in America.

One major takeaway was seeing how the backgrounds of the two men helped shape their approaches to the primary issue they wrestled with. King was from the rural Jim Crow South, Malcolm X from the big city ghettos of the North. These differing cultures enabled King to see progress when the "white only" and "black only" drinking fountains were abolished.

Martin could say that non-violence helped achieve this, but Malcolm  could point to the violent death of Emmett Till as a variable as well. In short, the gains may have been real but they were also costly.

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During the Q&A period in the second part our questions dealt with both the play and matters of race and identity. Here are 10 things I found noteworthy.

1. Malcolm X and Dr. King were both dreamers and revolutionaries in their own ways.

2. The set itself was intentionally grey, not black and white.

3. When asked "What has changed since the 60s?" There have been changes in the South, but racism has not changed. Julian Williams stated that the manifestations of racism have changed for the worse. "We have our segregation here."

4. Carl Crawford, who is the Human Rights Officer in Duluth, made a very interesting comment at this point. This play gives families an opportunity to discuss tricky topics with our families. "Think about how many unimportant conversations you have during the holidays," he said. He encouraged us to go deeper in our conversations this year.

5. There was a question related to power structures that keep people down. Learning how to navigate the acceptance of unjust power structures while dismantling them is needed. "You can navigate and challenge the system without accepting it. We have to challenge the status quo."

6. UWS grad Julian Williams was asked "What side are you on and which is better?" (regarding Malcolm and Martin.) Williams, who majored in Legal Studies and Criminal Justice, replied, "Malcolm was not violent. He never used violence. America is violent. People are expected to be non-violent. Both men wanted freedom."

7. Gabriel Mayfield, who played Malcolm's bodyguard Rashid,  was asked, "How often are you afraid of being accepted in this world?" Gabe replied that he did have fear when young. With more knowledge now he's changed. He responds by showing kindness and being positive.

8. Director Oyinloye was asked, "What's it like working with an all black cast?" He replied that this play "put me in a very dark place" but that "working on this play got me out of it."

9. I was impressed how transparent and vulnerable the men were during this Q&A period.

10. One of the questions led to this response by Crawford: "I am a black man 24/7 and I love it. We can all get along when you love my child the way you love your child." That was a great statement.

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The Meeting has some truly important insights for all of us. If you missed the performances at Zeitgeist Teatro Zuccone, there will be two more performances this week that are open to the public:
tomorrow evening, October 30 at Denfeld High School, 7:30 p.m. and November 6 at 7:30 in the Kirby Ballroom at UMD.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Maya Washington Talks About Her Short Dramatic Film CLEAR Addressing the Issue of Wrongful Imprisonment

Maya Washington
One of the primary aims of the Catalyst Content Festival, which held its 14th annual event here in Duluth earlier this month, is bringing creatives together with industry producers, agents and execs. Besides the multitude of informal meetings, there were also pitch sessions, or what might be compared to parent/teacher conferences or speed dating.

It was preceding one of these meetings that I met Maya Washington and learned about her award-winning film CLEAR, which gained additional exposure here at Catalyst. There are several takeaways from the 15 minute film, and Washington's passion for her project.

Upon meeting her I found Ms. Washington's enthusiasm infectious. Inspiration comes in many forms. Through the years I've often said that our biggest influences are the books we read and the people we meet. I can't help but believe Maya Washington will be influencing and inspiring people for years to come.

The theme of her film is wrongful incarceration. CLEAR has gained nationwide visibility in film festivals this year, Catalyst most recently. Other festivals include the Richmond VA Africana Film Festival, Denton Black Film Festival in Texas, the Cal State Fullerton University Festival, Nevada Women’s Festival, Red Nation Film Festival in Beverly Hills, CA., a festival in Wilmington, NC., the One Nation Film Festival in Colorado Springs and elsewhere. The film has also screened at University of Minnesota, California State University Fullerton, and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. At her very first event she received a Jury Award for Best Short Film and was featured in a special screening in Indie Memphis Nights Weekly Film Series MicroCinema: Film Fatales.

"It’s been really a great journey," Washington said. "We’re waiting for Tina to finish her Ph.D. dissertation next week to begin an educational and public policy community effort to get the film out to a broader audience who share concerns about these issues."

Tina Barr is the friend who opened Washington's eyes to the scale of the problem regarding wrongful imprisonment. Barr had been studying at the University of Minnesota and is on the threshold of finishing her PhD.

Tina Barr
"I study wrongful conviction, and as a social work researcher I was interested in their experience re-integrating back into the culture," Barr said.

When I asked about the verified number of exonerations she replied, "There are about 2500 confirmed exonerations since 1985. This is widely believed to be hugely underestimated. The realistic estimates by legal scholars are a conservative 1-4% person of the prison population. There are two million currently incarcerated. This number does not include the number of people who make plea bargains to get a reduced sentence."

It was Barr's research that helped strengthen Washington's resolve that this film was an important project. "I had reviewed the literature and talked with many of these people, and worked closely with Maya to make her film as realistic as it could be to what happens," said Barr. "This was my first foray into using film to tell the story."

Maya Washington stated that the initial catalyst that prompted her to pursue this project was her friend, the lead actress George Keller. They originally met as fellow actors, originating roles as mother (Keller) and daughter (Washington) in the national tour of Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers by playwright William S. Yellow Robe Jr., a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation in Northeastern Montana. Those familiar with history about the Buffalo Soldiers will recall that they were a black regiment of the U.S. Cavalry formed after the Civil War to fight Native American tribes in the Indian Wars, leaving behind a painful history for those impacted.

Claire and Ember, bedroom scene. Photo courtesy Maya Washington.
One consequence of the soldiers serving out West was the unique black and Native American mixed-race offspring. Keller, Washington said, has "a unique ethnic background and the industry hasn’t given her the opportunities she deserves." As a writer/director/producer and actor Washington said, "I have always wanted to write something for her as an actress. I always had it in my mind to find a vehicle or story to cast her in a lead role." CLEAR became that vehicle.

"As Tina was telling me about her fascinating research, I was moved that people who have been wrongfully convicted do not necessarily receive financial remuneration. Or remedy for what they’ve suffered," Washington said. "It was fun to be inspired by two strong women (Barr and Keller) whom I admire," she added.

Ember, bathroom scene. Photo courtesy Maya Washigton.
One of the common challenges of reintegrating into society after a prison term is money. For people wrongfully incarcerated, however, there are some additional special challenges.

"I think some of the challenge you face is that there isn’t a parole process or care team after they release you. Some of the stigma that felons experience, like not being trusted, will also not get you a fair shake," Washington said. "Also, people assume you have become criminally minded just by being incarcerated. (They assume) your personal integrity may have been compromised by the experience. The trauma itself may result in stress disorders and affect your mental health."

Another layer of difficulty has to do with family matters. "When it comes to raising your children, or in marriage or relationships, it is a very difficult position to put your spouse and family or loved one in. Your family also ends up on the receiving end of the bad deal and skepticism."

When asked how she has been changed through this project, Washington replied, "I think I have personally been aware of the systemic problems in our criminal justice system, aware of biased policing, and bias in the way people with more resources get better breaks.

"The aha moment for me was seeing that I could actually do something about it, to find a way to open up peoples’ eyes or minds using my skillset. It’s an overwhelming, multifaceted issue with a lot of moving parts. Part of what motivates our representatives in government to enact change is the groundswell of people making people aware of the issues. Storytelling is a powerful way to open up those conversations."

Based on the feedback, it's a story that has been really touching audiences, she said.

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EdNote: For me personally, a real "aha" moment in this story was how creative people can internalize an insight and transform it into a story or work of art that connects with a wider audience. Statistics can be eye-opening, but stories touch us in deeper and often profound ways.  (cf. Carla Hamilton link below.)

Related Links
Maya Washington interview with Cathy Wurzer 
Carla Hamilton's Gezielt (Targeted) Creatively Makes Us Think and Gives Us Something To Talk About

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Local Art Seen: Goin' Postal and the North End Days Kickoff

Escheresque mosaic by 
The caliber of the work on display in the local arts venues here in the Twin Ports region is exceptional. And now, the Cloquet/Carlton community is even getting into the act. Friday evening there were numerous openings on both sides of the bridge. Here's a bit of what I saw in Souptown in the event you didn't make it.


Venues included VIP Vintage Pizza, Framing by Stengl, Art on the Planet, Thirsty Pagan, Empire Coffee and Goin' Postal. Painters, sculptors, craft makers and photographers all contributed to make this a rewarding evening. But it was only the beginning. The events all day Saturday--from the parade to the Costumed Spooktacular 5K to the Pub Crawl--may have been under-reported in the media, but were overly sensational for those who took part. Congrats to Superior for another successful North End Days.

Thank you to all who made it happen. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

Warm Welcome for Dylan in Minnesota: Bringing It Home at the Mankato Civic Center

The stage had an old-timey surreal theatrical feel.
(Those are mannequins in back)
I wasn't planning to see Dylan on this current leg of the Never Ending Tour, but the reviews have been so strong I couldn't help myself. Tuesday evening I checked to see what was available and grabbed a $12 seat ($17.17 after fees) and then began working on how to get to Mankato from Duluth. When all was said and done, the experience was memorable.

Thank you to Rich & Sue Hall who gave me the lift to Mankato. Rich said this was his third  major concert this week, having seen Willie Nelson and another big name in Vegas at the beginning of the week. Dylan has been doing five concerts a week right now, and his vocal punch shows no signs of letting up.

Dylan's muse on a pedestal, stage right
Despite the knots of rush hour traffic in Minneapolis, and a Thursday Night Vikings game at US Bank Stadium, we navigated through just fine and there were no chewed off fingernails. After scarfing down a burrito at Kato Tacos, I passed through the security checkpoint and began circulating around the arena, grabbing a few fotos and greeting a few friends.

Upon finding my seat, still early, I had a chance to get to know a few of the others who were in the not-so-prime location for viewing the band. Roger and Debbie Seberson, from White Bear Lake, have been to somewhere between 40 and 42 Dylan shows. Jon Erickson of Bloomer, Wisconsin was attending his 49th concert. And young Brook Honig, who also drove down from Duluth but grew up in Wichita, Kansas, was attending his first Dylan concert.

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At 8 p.m. the arena lights went dark and a cacophony of electronic sound erupted from the darkened stage as the players took their positions. When the lights came on Dylan was standing at the mic, guitar in hand, gold embroidered jacket, black slacks with a gold stripe on the outside of each leg down to his white boots. Hair frizzy and wild, voice strong, "Things Have Changed" was this night's opener.

The energy in the room amped, or was it adrenaline pumping into bloodstream?

After the first song Bob permanently discarded the guitar and took a seat at the piano for a beautiful rendition of "It Ain't Me, Babe" that felt sincere and pained. When he stood to deliver the last verse the crowd responded. When "Highway 61" kicked in the totally amped crowd was all in. The guitar players did the two step in sync, silver jackets glistening in the lights, Tony Garnier giving a fabulous bass line underneath. My feet were shuffling and the room was moving.

Bob remained at the piano for "Simple Twist  of Fate," with variations in the lyrics plus an extra verse, instrumental breaks between. The playlist was following the pattern of his Denver show.

For Can't Wait, Bob left the piano and grabbed the mic, backing to mesh with the band at the back of the stage. This was a funky variation of the song, with especially strong emphatic singing. "I don't know, said I don't know, how much longer I can wait."

The stage went dark as Bob re-positioned himself back at the piano to perform "When I Paint My Masterpiece." The tune and tempo were different, but the singing sizzled and was heartfelt. Halfway through he went to the back of the stage again and grabbed his harp, which seems to never fail to please the crowd, finishing the last part of the song as a vocalist.

iPhone view from the cheap seats. Binoculars got right up close though.
Moving back to the piano he took his Jerry Lee Lewis stand, legs spread with his weight on the right foot, belting out "Honest with Me" from Love & Theft. This was followed by his taking a seat to perform "Tryin' to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door" from Time Out of Mind.

This and later "Not Dark Yet" brought to mind how many of Dylan's songs deal with the finite nature of life and issues of meaning. On his very first album we have selections like "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" and "In My Time Of Dyin'" and ten years later "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." It's a recurring thread appearing several times this night.

Donnie's violin opening to "Make You Feel My Love" was sweet, and used frequently during the show. Bob tucked himself back into the band again on this song, delivering lyrics with visceral power, holding the mic to his face with his right hand, punching the air with his left.

This is where some of the action takes place.
There was a new arrangement to "Pay In Blood," which opened with a guitar intro. Bob, standing again toward the rear of the stage, balanced on his feet with legs spread, throwing that left hand forward with each phrase, like a boxer jabbing, only his fingers would be spread sometimes, squinting as his phrases burst out from a deep part of his diaphragm.

The darkness descended and when the lights lifted he was at the piano to sing Lenny Bruce. One of the emotionally charged tender moments of the concert. It's a great song, though perhaps was a surprising addition to his Shot Of Love album. There were new lyrics now. On the original he sang:
Lenny Bruce is dead but his ghost lives on and on
Never did get any Golden Globe award, never made it to Synanon

Last night, however, he sang:
Never did make it to the Promised Land, never made it out of Babylon. 

When Bob sang, "I rode with him in a taxi once, only for a mile and a half but it seemed like a couple of months," he sang it with an affection you could feel.

The verses were re-arranged so that near the end of the song it sounded to me like he sang, "He's on a Christian shore, he didn't want to live any more." As opposed to the original, "He's on another shore..." The effect was mesmerizing for me, and a beautiful rendition of the song. I wrote in my notebook, "Wow. Wow. Wow."

(For more on Lenny Bruce, see: Intersections: Dylan, Lenny Bruce and a Quiet Funeral for the Beats.)

And then we had Bob back at center stage for "Early Roman Kings." I know he loves to sing the line, "I ain't dead yet. My bell still rings." In Duluth (2013) he hand a little white hanky in that left hand as he put his hand out. Last night he did that hand gesture without the hanky.

"Girl from the North Country" followed, with a huge response from the audience of Minnesotans who especially appreciate this Minnesota tribute of sorts. His piano playing was again tender. Tony played his stand-up bass with a bow, and the song ended with a big applause.

I know that "Not Dark Yet," which followed, moved quite a few of us. It was a time of meaningful reflection.

After the encore, lights went on and we made our way to the exits.
The concert's pacing was perfect as he leapt into the plundering uptempo "Thunder on the Mountain," a whomping boogie blues riff with guitar breakouts between verses and dancing down in front of the stage with solos for all. With a head signal to Tony the band did a tight wind out.

"Soon After Midnight" and a totally rockified "Gotta Serve Somebody" closed out the 17 song set, Lights out and a lengthy foot-stomping, hollering, whistling for more followed. After a suitably long pause in the noisy dark they returned for the two song encore that has been in their standard during other concerts lately. "Ballad of a Thin Man," again with guitar breaks and a harmonica solo, and "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry."

Oh yeah, it was a good concert.
And thank you Zane and Miriam for getting me home safe and sound afterwards. The only thing that could have made it a better night would have been seeing Northern Lights as we headed North back to Duluth. Maybe next time.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Throwback Thursday: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bob Dylan

22 DECEMBER 2011
I found this last night online. Kinda fun story of a guy who did the best he could to hold Dylan at arm's length, but after a long, long time finally got it. I like the title of the essay because of its deliberate take-off on the sub-title of Kubrick's classic, Dr. Strangelove.

The Mike Walsh story begins this-away....

Let me make this clear up front: I'm not a Dylan-head, Dylan-ite, Dylan-phile, Dylan-ologist, or any other kind of extreme Dylan fan. In fact, I never bought a Dylan record or CD until just a few years ago. I never saw the need. Growing up in the 60's, Dylan was on the radio all the time --"Blowing in the Wind," "Don't Think Twice It's All Right," "The Times They Are a Changin'," "All I Really Want to Do," "It Ain't Me Babe, "Mr. Tambourine Man," etc., etc. Plus, many other bands had hits with his songs, like Peter Paul and Mary, Hendrix, and The Byrds. There was no escaping Dylan back then. You listened to him whether you wanted to or not.

In college, it seemed like everybody in the dorm except me owned Dylan's Greatest Hits, Volumes 1 and 2. So I had to listen to the same songs all over again at just about every dorm party. One kid down the hall even had a guitar, a neck stand with a harmonica, and a music book of Dylan's greatest hits. So I got to hear the same songs played and sung live -- quite amateurishly, to put it kindly. By the mid-70's I'd had quite enough of Dylan -- so much so that I did a nasally, slurred vocal rendition of "Like a Rolling Stone" just to torture the Zimmermanites, even though they never seemed to mind. In fact, they joined in no matter how obnoxiously I wheezed, "How does it feeeeeeeel?", so the joke was always on me.

What I wanted to hear was something different, something that wasn't on the radio. Soon punk and new wave surfaced, and I've been a slave to indie rock and the underground sounds ever since, as my record collection can attest. My opinion of Dylan stayed the same during all that time, even though I didn't sing "Like a Rolling Stone" quite so often (although I did work up an even more annoying version of "The Needle and the Damage Done" but that's another story).

The rest of the article can be found here at the Phawker blog where you'll read that it took many a year for this fellow to come around. For some reason I was much more prepared for his outside-the-pop-40-box sound a bit earlier than that. When Ed Hilliker loaned me The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan on the school bus in seventh grade, I recognized something stirring there. A few years later, when Ed shared about the beauty of eating flower petals on a subway in Greenwich Village with his girl friend, I wasn't so sure about that part of the new scene.

Last night I remembered his story about the flower petals because my wife Susie bought some edible flowers to brighten the darkness of our Winter Solstice. She thus decorated my stew with a pansy. Which I ate, incidentally. It made me smile as I thought of Ed H. on the subway... Funny how Subway became a franchise, and yesterday noon I ate a sandwich there.

An intersection of connections... Eds and subways and eating flowers and Dylan. As I write these lines I drift through Girl From The North Country and Boots of Spanish Leather... and Bob Dylan's Dream.... and I dream a little, too.

Hope you're still holding some dreams in the hearth of your hearts. Keep 'em goin'....

* * * *
EdNote: Tonight (2019) we'll see Dylan in Mankato. This seemed like a good preface to a fine evening. What an amazing career.  And the beat goes on.

Picture top right by ennyman, painted on a page from the 1939 London Times

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Never Ending Tour Rolling East with Dylan Still On Track to Arrive In Minnesota Thursday

The interview went as expected. He did not say much.
Photo credit: Michael Anderson
There are two primary ways to follow what's happening in BobWorld. One is, the essential mashup of daily news regarding Dylan and Dylan-related themes, such as the Beatles and others whose paths he's cross. The second is, Bill Pagel's labor of love, meticulously chronicling the schedule, setlists and concert reviews from the Never Ending Tour (NET).

This current U.S. leg of the NET began October 11 in Irvine, California, opening with "Beyond Here Lies Nothing" from the album Together Through Life, a nod to the late Robert Hunter with whom he corroborated. Is it possible that "Beyond Here Lies Nothing" is a reference to his Never Ending Tour as well?

Playlists have been varying in small ways on this tour so that you won't know exactly what is coming. What's common throughout are the reviews. "Bob in fine form tonight" and ""Mind blowing show last night" and "This was a very strong show indeed."

The guy is 78 and it's somewhat remarkable the pace he's keeping. Five shows this week beginning in KC, then flowing upstream to St. Louis, Ames Iowa tonight, Mankato in Minnesota tomorrow and Milwaukee Saturday.

Not only do the media write about Dylan on a regular basis--cf. Bob Dylan Returns to Milwaukee (WithNothing Left to Prove) and John Huthmacher's review of the Nebraska show--but fans send in their reviews to Bill Pagel every day from the various concerts. Here are a couple of these from the BobLinks site. The current vibe has been exceptionally positive.

Oh my God. Mind blowing show last night. Probably the most satisfying and radical rearrangements of songs across an entire show since the ‘78 tour. New drummer and guitarist have inspired Bob to keep moving forward and staying fresh. The band gets in a tight groove on every song that hypnotically sweeps you right into the moment. And rather than deteriorating into an ever more raspy and gravely voice Bob’s singing is now somehow as strong live as it has been at anytime this century.

Pete Shanks
In the Frost Amphitheater at Stanford, Dylan seemed to have as much fun as the audience did. He was on excellent form, and his band is (as usual) superlative.

Naturally expectations are running high now. It will be interesting to see what happens beyond the horizon.

* * * *
Clear Lake, Iowa is just up the highway.
Today Bob and the band are in Ames, Iowa, less than an hour from the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake where Buddy Holly played his last concert. I'd be curious if Bob has ever been out to the cornfield where the plane crashed that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. In fact, there are a lot of things I am curious about, which is interesting because at one time I felt that if I ever did get a chance to interview Mr. Dylan I wouldn't know what to say. In short, it would have been me and not him who was mute.

FWIW I will be scrutinizing the setlists from this week to see if I can forecast tomorrow's setlist in Mankato.

Here's lookin' at you, kid. Painting by the author.
As with his last cross-country tour there will be a week of concerts at the Beacon in New York, followed by one last exclamation point nearby, this time Washington DC.

Here are a pair of show openers from this past week. Lookin' forward to tomorrow.

Oct 19 in Lincoln, Nebraska
1. Beyond Here Lies Nothin' (Bob center stage on guitar, Donnie on violin)
2. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bob center stage on guitar,
His 17 song set ended with Gotta Serve Somebody, the song he was opening concerts with i 1998. After closing there followed a two song encore: Ballad of a Thin Man, and It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.

I read these set lists in awe of how many great songs he has produced over the years.

Oct 17. His Mission Ballroom show in Denver though opened with a different pair of great songs.
1. Things Have Changed (Bob center stage on guitar, Donnie on violin)
2. It Ain't Me, Babe (Bob on piano, Donnie on violin)

Vamos a ver.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

This Friday: A Big Night for Art in the Twin Ports

I won't make it to the Art Walk in Downtown Duluth this Friday because of the kickoff for North End Days and Superior Spooktacular.  There will be art and music at six locations this Friday evening. The weather folk promised a very welcoming experience for all who come out to do the stroll, whichever side of the bridge you hang out on.

Yesterday I was visiting Goin' Postal and am happy to say there's a lot of cool new work that will be hung, including paintings by Moira Villiard, Margie Helstrom, Sue Rauschenfels, Eric Horn and a host of others. I switched out a batch of things to display some new pieces of my own, so you'll have to come join us. It's historically been a highlight of the year, and I anticipate that this year will be no different.

Here's a brief summary of the venues and what's happening at each.

Honore Balzac After His Arm Was
Mauled by a Shark.
Goin Postal Fall Art Show 6pm-9pm:
Enjoy artwork from some of the best local artists in the area. Over 20 artists of various mediums will have work on display.

VIP "Frozen Photographers' Photography Show 6pm-10pm:
Enjoy photography from the best photographers the area has to offer.
Live Music by: Theft By Swindle, Velhasa and Revolution Jones

Thirsty Pagan: Lynn Zsidov-Steiner Solo Show 6pm-9pm:
Enjoy the amazing artwork of painter Lynn Zsidov-Steiner
Live Music by Israel Malachi, Sheila Wonders and Born Too Late

Framing by Stengl 6pm-9pm:
Enjoy artwork from Adam Swanson

Art on the Planet Open House 6pm-9pm:
Art on the Planet features beautiful, one-of-a-kind artist/artisan-made works is created with love, skill, and a piece of the artist's soul. (The place is packed with gift ideas. Christmas is just around the corner. Why wait for Black Friday?) I have a number of pieces here. You will also see some of Esther Piszczek's Zentangle designs, Kris Nelson's chairs and works by other familiar local names.

Empire Coffee 6pm-9pm:
Explore the photography of Joe Polecheck.
The coffee is good, too!

* * * *
Related Links
44 Twin Ports Artists (The Tweed Museum's Pinterest Pins)
Be sure to see Art In Conflict at the Tweed this fall, an exhibition from the Museum of Russian Art.
Twin Ports Art blog. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Campy Horror-Flick Producer Director Bill Rebane Did It His Way

Bill Rebane (L) and Robert Wilhelm III in Superior.
A couple weeks back I had lunch with Bill Rebane and Robert Wilhelm III as they prepared to shoot the first episode of their current project Masters of Valor: Soldiers of Distinction, The Untold Stories. I was told Rebane was a movie producer who made campy, low budget horror flicks on his 200-acre property The Shooting Ranch  in Central Wisconsin. Flicks like The Giant Spider Invasion, Invasion from Inner Earth and The Capture of Bigfoot. More than a dozen films have his fingerprints on them as director, producer, cinematographer and/or writer.

Once we met I felt like there was a much bigger story to tell. Or rather, that there were many stories that could be told. The first is the real life drama of being born in Latvia, one of the Baltic States situated between the Soviet Union and Western Europe. 1937.

For centuries the Baltic states were ruled by outsiders. Russia, Finland and Sweden "owned" the geography like landlords and Germany served to "manage" the property. This arrangement was terminated at the end of World War I when these countries were given their independence, a self-rule that was short lived.

In 1940, Stalin's army took over these countries and soon began abducting the young men to fight for Mother Russia against Finland or work in the mines. I learned about these events through my friendship in the 1990s with an older Estonian man whose experiences I captured in an un-produced screenplay.

In 1942 the Nazis rolled East and liberated the Baltic states from Stalin's iron fist, but after two years the Red Army regained the upper hand and began rolling West for the final pincer action that would end WW2 in 1945.

Bill Rebane in 2010
The horrors of Soviet rule were such that multitudes fled West from the Baltic states. 10% of Estonia fled in a single day as the Red Army drew near. Bill Rebane's family similarly refused to remain under the heel of the Communist powers. His family loaded up a horse drawn cart and headed West "in an effort to escape the scourge of Stalin," Rebane said. "My father had been guilty of pulling down Russian flags when Stalin’s goons ruled."

When the family reached Germany they all sought refuge in West Germany. Part of his family settled in Bavaria, the American zone. Bill's father went on to Hamburg, the British zone. "Hamburg was in flames from the Allied bombing," he said. "We settled in a rural area outside the city. My father traded our horses for an apartment."

After the war, Rebane said, commerce was handled in the black market. Coffee was a luxury item.

Like most who grew up in Eastern Europe, Rebane spoke several languages. Estonian and Latvian, his parent's tongues, as well as German and Russian. Only eight years old when the war ended he eventually learned English by watching television.

He was fifteen when he left Germany for America in 1952, managing to find work at a Chicago radio station sweeping floors. During his four years at WGN in Chicago he gained opportunities to act, produce and direct before returning to German at age 19.

Rebane returned to Germany at age 19, where he met and worked with producer Adalbert Baltes of Hamburg. This would become his start in the film industry. After working with Baltes as a production assistant, assistant director, and director on various 'Cinema Scope Theatrical Short Subjects' for 'Baltes Film', Rebane obtained the U.S. rights to the 'Cinetarium' circular motion picture process.

Rebane returned to the U.S. and introduced the proprietary process to the world film industry through United Film and Recording Studios in Chicago, attracting such notables as Samuel Goldwyn, Roy Disney, Jack L. Warner, Hugh Hefner and Mike Todd, Jr. to the process, along with industry professionals from Russia, central Europe and Japan.

He said that Hollywood had been attempting 360 degree filming but was doing it using 16 cameras shooting out like spokes from an axle. This new method accomplished better results with a single camera. By age 22, he was a millionaire.

Unfortunately, this early wealth was temporary, as costs of patents, legal fees and research into means to manufacture vertical projection systems were at the time beyond his means financially.

The Baltes innovation spawned the Cinemax process and today's Rotascope cameras.

* * * *
Bill Rebane's first film was a short called Twist Craze. The 8 minute film documents a fashionable club getting exposed to the latest dance craze. Thoroughly upbeat, and guaranteed to make you grin, it was shown all over the world. In addition to being executive producer Rebane was also the uncredited narrator for the film.

Using a similar narration form of storytelling he tried his hand at making a full length feature film, releasing Monster A Go Go in 1965. This was the same time frame as Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, and The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews. For context, Lyndon Johnson was amping up the war in Viet Nam.

The story behind the film includes a chance meeting with Ronald Reagan as an actor who might have become affiliated with the project, except that Rebane's financial backers thought Reagan a has-been. The year Monster A Go Go was released Ronnie appeared in three episodes of Death Valley Days, his last role as an actor in Hollywood.

In the later 60's Rebane moved his family to Wisconsin, purchasing a farm in Gleason. Nine years would elapse before the 1974 release of his next horror production, Invasion from Inner Earth, which was followed in 1975 by Giant Spider Invasion starring Barbara Hale (whom we remember as Della Street on the old Perry Mason television show) and Steve Brodie (Brodie, a B-movie actor with nearly 200 credits, played in films starring Mickey Rooney and Robert Mitchum and numerous bit parts in television shows as diverse as The Beverly Hillbillies, The Virginian and, yes, Perry Mason.)

Still from The Giant Spider Invasion
Produced on a $325K budget, The Giant Spider Invasion purportedly grossed 23 millions dollars worldwide, not a bad snatch. It became one of the 50 top-grossing films of 1975.

A string of horror films followed, including one featuring Tiny Tim as an insane clown in Blood Harvest.

IN ADDITION TO FILM PRODUCTION, Bill Rebane pursued his political interests as well. That is, he did more than just vote. He twice mounted campaigns for governor of Wisconsin in 1979 and again in 2002.

A stroke in 1989 resulted in his having to close his studio. This didn't stop him from being productive. His 2008 novel From Roswell With Love is based on facts obtained from government sources and the International Starlight Society. (I placed my order this past week and will offer a review here later.) After recovering from his stroke (and losing his ranch) he lived in the Upper Peninsula for a while where a key spark in this story ignited his imagination and curiosity. The novel draws attention the strange connection between the U.P. and the Roswell crash.

Other books by Rebane include Money For Movies The Formula and Film Funding 2000. Also waiting to be explored is a book by Kevin Scott Collier called Monster A-Go Go Decoded.

* * * *
WHEN WE MET two weeks ago, I asked how the two came together for Masters of Valor and Wilhelm said they were working on a feature film called The Prussian. (In addition to being an actor, Wilhelm is a screenwriter.)

“I connected with Robert about The Prussian,” Rebane said. “As we brainstormed about a screenplay treatment we opted for Masters of Valor because it would be quicker to complete. It was initially designed to be a stand-alone show. It has now evolved. The aim of our visit here (to Superior’s Ira Bong Museum) is to get this opening episode in the can.”

The shoot and voiceover work went great, I've been told. I only wish that Bill still had The Shooting Ranch. I would have enjoyed taking a "studio tour."

Personally, I think there's a fascinating story here that encompasses the pursuit of dreams in a variety of forms. Imagination, determination and tenacity are all part of the equation. What shall we call it? True Grit?

Related Links
Twist Craze 
From Roswell with Love
Monster A-Go Go Decoded

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