Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Dylan Often Sings About the Darkness He Sees: Trouble

On The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan it was "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and it's detailed one line descriptions of the troubles everywhere and all around, a branch that kept dripping, people whose tongues were broken, a clown crying in the alley, the sound of many people crying.

"All Along the Watchtower" opens with "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."

His album Oh Mercy opens with "Everything's Broken."

And just as he's sung frequently of things changing, so he also frequently sings this refrain as well, that sorrows are many and they are a recurring part of this life, in part because of injustice, in part because of man's stupidity and inhumanity.

This song came to mind this morning when I read this story about the impact our current quarantine situation is having on Wisconsin dairy farmers. Restaurants are closed which means the cheese makers have, for now (and how long), lost a big part of their revenue stream.

"Trouble" may never be cited as Dylan's greatest achievement, appearing as it does on Shot of Love, the last of his trilogy of albums during his "Christian period." (I put that in quotes because the album is not the end of his writing songs expressing a Christian worldview or with spiritual underpinnings.) The song was performed only seven times in concert, and that was in 1989, two years before Shot of Love was released in the summer of 1981.

It's fairly straightforward, opening with a sidewinding, scratchy guitar lick. There are five stanzas, each followed by the chorus, "Trouble // Trouble, trouble, trouble // Nothin' but trouble."

The first two verses focus on where the trouble is. City, country, in the water, in the air and on the other side of the world as well. Neither lucky charms nor revolutions are going to solve it, either.

Trouble in the city, trouble in the farm
You got your rabbit’s foot, you got your good-luck charm
But they can’t help you none when there’s trouble

Trouble in the water, trouble in the air
Go all the way to the other side of the world, you’ll find trouble there
Revolution even ain’t no solution for trouble

Verse three identifies some of the causes of these troubles. We could sum it up as "the world system." I'm curious if the writing on the wall is a reference to the hand writing on the wall, interrupting King Belshazzar's great banquet in Daniel 5. This is no doubt the source for the expression which people use to this day, but probably have no clue of its origin.

5 Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. 6 His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.
(See full story here.)

"Time is running away."
Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash
Drought and starvation, packaging of the soul
Persecution, execution, governments out of control
You can see the writing on the wall inviting trouble

The next verse is a summing up of our existential reality. Looking backward in time our human situation has been with us from the beginning.

Put your ear to the train tracks, put your ear to the ground
You ever feel like you’re never alone even when there’s nobody else around?
Since the beginning of the universe man’s been cursed by trouble

In the end we look around and see masses of people just like us, and looking forward this doom-sense remains bleak looking forward as well.

Nightclubs of the broken-hearted, stadiums of the damned
Legislature, perverted nature, doors that are rudely slammed
Look into infinity, all you see is trouble

Trouble, trouble, trouble
Nothin’ but trouble
Copyright © 1981 by Special Rider Music

To avoid placing the absolute worst configuration on this song, one needs to remember its context. It was written in the period where he was writing "Gonna have to serve somebody." What he is doing is laying an essential foundation of how bleakness the bleakness really is. This is what Sartre does with Nausea and No Exit. This is what Camus does with The Plague.

It is the starting point in man's search for meaning. How do we respond? How do we find a basis for hope in this world where it feels like we've been abandoned?

The placement of this song on the album is interesting, the second last track on side two. The final track is considered one of the most beautiful songs from his catalog, "Every Grain of Sand." In a sense it begins where this song leaves off, wrestling with despair. But he's now in a different place, and it's a song he went on to perform 185 times in concert, the last being Rome, Italy in 2013.

Related Links
Ode to Job
Fifty-One Years of Hard Rain
Dylan and 50 Years of Change

Monday, March 30, 2020

Latest Dylan Release Brings Back Memories of JFK's Three Visits to the Northland

Dealey Plaza, Nov. 1963. Photo credit: Walt Cisco. Public domain
It exploded around the world like a match to gasoline. The response to Thursday evening's release of "Murder Most Foul" was actually a lesson in timing. What makes a Tweet go viral has as much to do with the conditions as it does the content. It's been 8 years since Tempest, and Dylan fans wondered if there would ever be new material to consume. Wildfires occur when there are drought conditions, not when the landscape is typhoon-soaked.

I enjoyed reading all the angles by which various writers and critics throughout the land approached the song. One listed all the people referenced, another identified all the songs referenced. In another you could find all the lyrics, which would be useful for further study. The responses ranged from emotional to philosophical, and everything in between, giving many of us who remember that dreadful day an opportunity to revisit our own first-hand emotional responses to that murder most foul.

JFK's Visits to the North Country
Iron Rangers welcome JFK to the Northland. Photo credit: Lou Novak
Here's another bit of history that might serve as backstory for the song. John F. Kennedy actually visited Duluth not just once but three times, twice in the year leading up to his election in 1960 and a third time in September 1963, two months before his fateful Dallas visit. During that 1960 campaign stop he hopped up to Hibbing in his private aircraft named Caroline. Whereas many on the Coasts consider this to be flyover country, it was hardly so for Kennedy.

His first took place in September 1959 with the aim of trying to gauge what level of support he might have for a presidential run the following year.

Kennedy's second visit to this bastion of blue collar support was October 2, 1960. The campaign was in full swing at this point, and in Chronicles, Volume One Bob Dylan describes the energy generated by that visit.

"My mother said that eighteen thousand people had turned out to see him at the Veterans Memorial Building and that people were hanging from the rafters and others were in the street, that Kennedy was a ray of light and had understood completely the area of the country he was in. He gave a heroic speech, my mom said, and brought people a lot of hope. The Iron Range was an area that very few nationally known politicians or any famous people ever made it through . . .  If I had been a voting man, I would have voted for Kennedy just for coming there."--Chronicles, Volume One

18,000 may have been an exaggeration, but the size of the impact was no exaggeration. "It was the largest crowd for a political rally in the history of the Iron Range, according to the Duluth Herald."

You can actually find that October 2 Hibbing Campaign Speech here in the JFK Library archives. It begins with these words:

I must say I would not have missed coming to the strongest Democratic area that I have seen in this campaign. (Applause) I used to think they were pretty good in South Boston, but we are going to send them out here for indoctrination. (Applause)

Nice opening, and a great way to secure hearts already won.

Here are some photos from that visit.

And a few more in this article from the Hibbing Daily Tribune published on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.

Much more can be said, but this is enough to set the stage. Young Bobby had left for college in the fall of '59 and missed these visits, but he was well aware of them, as his Chronicles notation indicates.

Related Links
JFK Campaign 1960
Vintage Duluth: Duluth Public Library
JFKs Three Visits to Duluth by David Ouse

Special thanks to Duluth-born & Hibbing-raised Nelson French for the JFK Northland links.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Closing Time: A Dozen Miscellaneous Scraps

"True art does not depend upon the reality about which it tells. It’s message lies in the new reality which it creates by the way in which it reflects experience."
--Dag Hammarskjöld

AS IF the current pandemic isn't hassle enough, we had a massive snowfall last night that took our power out this morning. As a result, to preserve my iPhone and laptop batteries, I kept them off much of the day. In normal times I could count on having the opportunity to visit a coffee shop and connect, recharge and all, but we're in lockdown.

The lockdown has had a few benefits. I've been sorting organizing files on my desktop that I never get around to, and that includes both my laptop desktop as well as the real desktop that is usually a mass of lists, notes and other scratchings.

Having spent the day shoveling snow, napping, reading and writing, it's my hope that the power will return so we can heat something, like the house, as well as a few morsels to eat.

What follows are some things I found on those scraps of paper, which I've now thrown in the trash because I don't have a good system for organizing them for future use.

Notes to myself:

1. Writing is not about rules. "Don't do this. Do that." It involves sensitivity and aesthetics.

2. Dreamt that S. was mad at me because I always procrastinate & put off writing the Dylan book I've been uniquely called to write. When I woke, the feeling was real. August 4
(EdNote: Yes, that scrap of paper has been on my desk more than half a year.)

3. Socrates. Philosopher Kings. Wise leaders, not party politicians.

4. Failed States. Show why marketing also fails:
Forced Labor
Tilted Playing Field
Big Men Get Greedy
Elites Block New Technologies
No Law & Order
Weak Central Government
Bad Public Services

5. Article Idea: How Big is your "Our"

6. He: I have a bad back.
She: Too much social climbing.

7. Ritchie County Crimes & Calamities by John M. Jackson

8. Make a meme: "Don't Ignore the Signs"

9. The Triangle Player's Forum

10. DPS: Dramatic Play Service

11. Kissinger / CIA determines to keep Allende from being elected. Once elected, they decide to overthrow him. So much for our belief in democratically elected governments. No wonder we are not respected, only feared.

12. Journalism once meant being accurate, thorough, impartial and fair. Where did we go wrong?

* * * *

"I know only too well that every real achievement, in whatever field it is, is always the work of many."--Dag Hammarskjöld

Saturday, March 28, 2020

2020 Duluth Dylan Fest Canceled -- Some Events May Go Virtual

The Zimmerman's lived upstairs in this duplex at 519 E. Third Street No.
This may go down in history as the year that never was. The 2020 Olympics were postponed. Homegrown and SXSW music festivals were deleted from our calendars. No March Madness, no Spring openers for Major League Baseball. And now it has been announced that due to the coronavirus pandemic the 2020 Duluth Dylan Fest is canceled.

The announcement begins:

Duluth, MN –The organizers of Duluth Dylan Fest are canceling this year’s festival due to the coronavirus pandemic. “It is with heavy hearts that we announce that Duluth Dylan Fest 2020 will not be taking place this year,” said committee chair Zane Bail.

The 2020 Duluth Dylan Fest had been slated to run from Saturday, May 16 through Sunday, May 24,  Bob Dylan’s 79th birthday.

* * * *
Poster from a 2014 Dylan Fest concert.
I first began writing about Duluth Dylan Fest (DDF) while there was still an annual Hibbing Dylan Days. The events gave me "something to write about" which is what all media people want, interesting events and stories that will attract readers.

Duluth Dylan Fest used to culminate on Thursday of that week with the Blood on the Tracks Express, a long evening of music and a train ride featuring some of our best local bands. When the Hibbing Dylan Days closed, due to closing of Zimmy's and other factors, DDF took up the slack, becoming an eight day festival featuring artists, poets and musicians in Duluth, the surrounding region, and beyond. This would have been the Duluth festival’s 10th year.

It's a week with many highlights, one of them being the cake-cutting celebration on the front porch of the house Bob Dylan called home till he was six years old and the Zimmermans moved to Hibbing.

* * * *
Bob Dylan Way manhole covers were placed in 2015.
This one is located at southeast corner of the Armory. 
The Duluth Dylan Fest’s mission is to celebrate the spirit of artistic freedom, intellectual honesty, and integrity of Duluth’s native son, Bob Dylan. “We’re especially disappointed because we have become friends with fellow fans who fly to the Northland from other parts of the world, and we always enjoy this shared time together,” said Bail. “We’re aware that several were already planning to book flights and find accommodations.”

For everyone on the DDF committee, the decision to cancel was difficult, but an essential step to take at this time. On the positive side of the ledger, most of the events arranged for this year will be ready to go for 2021 Duluth Dylan Fest, which will take place the week of Dylan’s 80th birthday. 

Friends of Duluth Dylan Fest can continue to follow us at BobDylanWay.com or on Facebook for special events during the coming year. Rumor has it that there will be some virtual events taking place in lieu of the earthbound festivities.

* * *

It's only been about 36 hours since it was released late Thursday and every you turn someone has been talking about it. This morning on Expecting Rain you'll find review from the New York Times, The Guardian, Hot Press, Billboard, No Depression, Vanity Fair, NME, Irish Times, Uncut, El Pais, Rolling Stone,  Herald Tribune, Best Classic Bands and more. The previous day the site did an embed of the song for its header, with initial responses. The event--this song's timely release--has been pitch perfect.

Check out Scott Warmuth's Twitter Feed  (March 27)
Murder Most Foul Lyrics

Friday, March 27, 2020

Dylan Dishes Up A New Meal with a Feast of References: Murder Most Foul

Twas a dark day in Dallas, November '63, the day that will live on in infamy

Dylan does it as only Dylan can do. Near 17 minutes, a lyric tapestry of historical references against a backdrop similar to slowly moving waves a sustained cello foundation, oceanic in depth, embellished with ominous, haunting percussion and piano, perfectly choreographed to produce a mood, a mood perfectly suited to the event most central to this song and our generational angst.

Last night, Bob shared the new song with his several hundred thousand Twitter followers, accompanied by these words: Greetings to my fans and followers with gratitude for all your support and loyalty across the years. This is an unreleased song we recorded a while back that you might find interesting. Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you. Bob Dylan

The song's title is Murder Most Foul, a song about the Kennedy assassination in Dylan's carefully crafted stream-of-consciousness style that he has used frequently in his songs. Stream-of-consciousness and crafted may seem contradictory, and I doubt anyone but Dylan can tell you which of these poles carried more influence. The objective is achieved brilliantly, capturing that mood, that historical moment, that murder most foul.

"The day they blew out the brains of the king
Thousands were watching the whole darn thing
It happened so quick and so quick by surprise
Right there in front of everyone's eyes
The greatest magic trick ever under the sun
Perfectly executed, carefully done."

So many great lines, you want to go right back into it a second time because it is so packed.

"What is the truth? Where did it go?"

And this one: "You've got unpaid debts, we've come to collect."

As I listened to it the first time through I couldn't help but think I'd heard a similar chord structure and mood song before. That is, it kept reminding me of something, so afterward I found myself searching my memory vault for this other song that had a similar mournful sound. I first turned to Tempest, then other nooks and crannies from the Dylan catalog ("Not Dark Yet" came to mind) but nothing was precisely what I was thinking. Once I opened the door to other considerations I hit upon it. Johnny Cash: "I Hung My Head." Both the mood and delivery cadence seem to echo one another.

All the references to people and places mirror stylistically Chronicles: Vol. 1 in places. Here are a few people that pepper the landscape of Murder Most Foul: Marilyn, Wolfman Jack, the Invisible Man, Tom Dooley, John Lee Hooker, Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, the Birdman of Alcatraz, Pretty Boy Floyd. There are places, too. Dallas, The Crossroads, New Orleans, the Trinity River, Tulsa--along with song references as well: Please don't let me be misunderstood, the Old Rugged Cross, Cry Me A River, Turn the Radio On, etc.

It seems like every line in the song could be elaborated on and thereby produce a book. It wouldn't surprise me if someone somewhere hasn't already started it.

There's also an American Pie quality to the song in a sense, a long song packed with references and minutia about which much has been written. Of course Maclean was emulating Dylan to a certain extent, the songwriter who broke the 3-minute song barrier with densely packed lyrics like Desolation Row and Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.

It's too early to start picking favorite lines, but I liked this one, playing off Lee Harvey Oswald's response to being fingered for the deed. "I'm just a patsy, like Patsy Cline."

Here's the song itself:

The timing of its release is interesting. We're in a very strange time again, sobering and surreal.

Related Links
Will AI Finally Solve the JFK Assassination?
Moment of Impact

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Quarantines and Updike's Four Life Forces

Model of the Tabernacle in Imna Park, Israel
You must stay at the entrance to the tent of meeting day and night for seven days and do what the Lord requires, so you will not die; for that is what I have been commanded.”--Leviticus 8:35

I once wanted to write a one-act play about the above passage from Leviticus 8. It is one sentence long but my imagination entered into it because just as Aaron had four sons who had just been consecrated for the priesthood, so also my own parents had four boys. And when I saw how Aaron and his sons were to be quarantined for seven days at the entrance of the Tabernacle (after a whole bunch of consecrations had been carried out) it made me wonder... What did they talk about for seven days?

I never did complete the play, though I'd written a portion of it. To some extent it was autobiographical in that I imagined the varied personality components that my brothers and I share and don't share. Each of us is distinct from the others, so the conversations this family had during the course of seven days in lock up could have easily been very interesting.

The first day, I projected that the conversations revolved around the meaning of all these things that they had just experienced, from the Exodus from Egypt to Moses on Mount Horeb for 40 days where he met God and received the ten commandments... and what did all those details regarding the ritual sacrifices mean, and why had their father Aaron been selected for this important office of the priesthood.

Day two would likely be more of the same, but as the days wore on I imagined (In my script) that these men talked about other things as well, including stories from childhood, stories about growing up. Maybe they got their father telling stories they's never heard before about when he grew up, and stories about Moses, who had been raised in Pharaoh's house and what led to Moses fleeing Egypt and how leadership is created. Who knows?

In my skit, though, as the week progressed there were also conflicts as the personalities grated. Time began to pass slowly and that week began to feel like a year. By the fifth or sixth day things come to a head and things change. There is a breaking that takes place, and the family ends up discovering a new kind of honesty, love, acceptance, mercy and such that it had never known before. This level of intimacy became possible only after they had been quarantined for a week in a small space where there were no distractions or diversions.

That skit was mentally mapped out and partially written perhaps 30 years ago, and I found it unearthed by this week's quarantine orders. Unless we take time and make time, most of us are so busy and distracted most of the time that we don't really know one another, including the people in our own families. One of the positive's of the Covid-19 pandemic may be how it forces us into some reflective thinking about who we are, and perhaps some deeper levels of communication with on another.

John Updike's Four Life Forces
IN THE WEE HOURS last night I thought again about John Updike's four life forces. It seemed like a relevant time to share this blog post that I wrote in 2012.

John Updike once suggested that there are four life forces: Love, Habit, Time and Boredom. This morning's ramble (reference to my daily blogging) is the product of Habit. I'm not sure I have that much to say, and the proper thing to do when you have nothing to say is to shut your mouth. But then, I digress.

When Updike speaks of love he is referring to passion. Passion is the driver that impels us to make sacrifices in order to accomplish great things. Passion is what makes Olympians, not simply skill. There are plenty of pianists with skill, but it's passion that sets apart the cream from the rest. It's passion that leads them to make the sacrifices necessary to sharpen their virtuosity.

Time is another one of those amazing things that has been endlessly debated and dissected. What is time really?

Wikipedia explains it this way: Time is the continuing sequence of events occurring in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future, a measure of the durations and frequencies of events and the intervals between them. Time has long been a major subject of study in religion, philosophy, and science, but defining it in a manner applicable to all fields without circularity has consistently eluded scholars.

Like life itself, we all know what it is but don't always do well at explaining it. That doesn't stop people from trying. Here is an interesting article from Wired magazine titled What Is Time? One Physicist Hunts for the Ultimate Theory. The article is an interview with Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at Caltech. He begins by noting something we all have noticed because it is obvious. The future is different from the past. We remember the past but we don't remember the future. Why? 

There was an album we listened to a long time ago called It's A Beautiful Day and it had a song on it about time. At the time I did not know that the most memorable line was actually a quote from Henry Van Dyke. "Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity."

In short, time is perceived differently based on our circumstances. Hence there are some who propose ideas like the notion that time does not exist, it is simply a perception.

The first point, "Time is too slow for those who wait," brings to mind a scene from Immortal Beloved, a film about Beethoven. Beethoven (Gary Oldman) is on his way to a hotel for a tryst with a woman he loves. But it's a rainy night and the wheels on his horse-drawn carriage get stuck in the mud. Time is slipping away and the painful strains of the second movement of his Seventh Symphony fill the theater with his anguish. Eventually, the woman becomes impatient with waiting, and leaves.

Boredom is another of those interesting forces that surprised me when Updike placed it in this list, but it's a real force. Bertrand Russell once observed, "Boredom is... a vital problem for the moralist, since half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it." What strikes me is that last part of this statement. People really do fear boredom. And this may be why some people fear death. What if there really is an afterlife and it was boring? Eternal boredom would truly be hell.

* * * *
It's this last life force that our current quarantine brought to mind. I wonder how well we'd all be doing if we did not have Internet connections and television sets or iPhones and were truly quarantined from one another. Would our actions be primarily driven by efforts to stave off boredom? Or would we motivated by the Passion driver, seeking to fulfill our purpose in being?

Hang in there, friends. And don't forget to wash your hands.

Related Links
The Three Phases of Time

If you have ever read the Bible from start to finish, then you will likely recall that there are certain sections that can be exceedingly tedious. I'm thinking here of certain genealogical sections and the minutia detailed in certain places like the Books of Numbers and Leviticus. When I got bogged down in these two books, I went to a blind friend and borrowed a couple vinyl records of Alexander Scorby reading the Bible. By listening, and he kept reading non-stop, I made it through without falling asleep. Maybe not the best way, but that's how I did it the first time through. 

Photo at the top of page available through Creative Commons. Attribution details here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Who Can and Can't Get Elected In American Today?

Detail from artwork by Leah Yellowbird
"War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today." --Letter to a Navy friend, quoted in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.'s A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965)

I lead off with this quote because it dovetails with another, which I can't find at this moment, in which President Kennedy said that a black and a woman would sit in the White House before a conscientious objector would. Half of that equation has come to pass. We'll likely see the other half in our lifetimes, and probably not see the C.O. gain that highest office.

* * * *

Earlier today I came across a Gallup Poll that shows which belief systems are least problematic for those seeking the highest public office. The article is titled Socialism and Atheism Still U.S. Political Liabilities.

More than three decades ago I came across a 1934 pamphlet written by a Harvard scholar that made the case your religious belief could be a handicap if they did not align with the American culture. I forget the details, but it essentially said you have to give lip service to God even if you did not believe in God.

Birches by Sue Rauschenfels
This was further exemplified in the 1960 presidential election in which John F. Kennedy faced serious opposition--was excoriated--because he was Catholic, and might take his orders from the Pope rather than Congress or the People.

My view from that day to the present was that we should always be suspicious about any politician's statement regarding any belief. This is not to say a politician can't be earnest, but for the most part the public should not be so gullible as to believe they mean what they say.

THIS IS ALL SETUP for some interesting poll data from the Gallup organization.

According to recent polls, over 90% of Americans would vote for a black, Catholic, Hispanic, Jewish or who was a woman. A much smaller number would vote for an atheist or Muslim. And only a minority would support a socialist.

The pollsters also included several additional categories: Evangelical Christian, Gay/Lesbian, Under 40, and Over 70.

The Gallup team also sliced and diced the data by political party as well, so that one can see where each category stands for Dems and GOP. Not surprisingly 99% of Democrats would elect a black and only 91% of Republicans would vote that way. (Disappointing.)

88% of Republicans and 77% of Democrats would vote for a candidate identified as an Evangelical Christian, which shows vividly how much the name Evangelical has been tarnished in the past century.

If data turns you on as much as it does me, here's a link to this specific poll data and a link to the Gallup's Presidential Election Center. I especially like their slogan: The Metrics That Matter.

Oh, and though they never asked about Conscientious Objectors, I'm guessing JFK was prescient about this. Maybe the Gallup organization should think about adding that question next time. What do you think?

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Duluth Artists, Entrepreneurs Stepping Up and Other Stories of People Helping People

This is a mashup of recent items of note in response to the pandemic.

Downtown Duluth Art Walk Goes Virtual
OK, so we're all keeping a healthy social distance from one another because of this strangest spring of our lives. And I will admit that I'm already missing my usual usual haunts--The Duluth Public Library, various Twin Ports Arts happenings and lunches with friends. Nevertheless, there is much good happening.

This Friday evening there will be a Virtual DDAW. Learn more here at the Facebook event page.

Zenith Bookstore has closed its doors temporarily but they're still open for business. If your access to reading material is frustrated by our libraries being closed (I think that is half my social life shut down there) you can still order books from Zenith via email: books@zenithbookstore.com or by phone: (218) 606-1777. What they don't have in stock they can get for you, or recommend things in your area of interest. BEST OF ALL, you can have contact-free curbside pickup between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Mondays thru Saturdays.

Independent bookstores support core values of community, creativity, convening, civility, and contact. They provide a place to connect with like-minded individuals and to feel recognized in a world where we often feel like just another face in the crowd, a safe haven of comfort in our ever more fast-paced world.

Visit their website for more offers and information about future readings, book signings and other author events.  https://zenithbookstore.com/
Why Bookstores Matter
Why It's Important to Have Community Bookstores
You can read more about Zenith Bookstore here.

Free Digital Marketing Help for Local Businesses
Social Media Specialist Daisy Quaker is offering to help businesses that are not online or are struggling with where to start. Here's Daisy's message:

Building an online presence for any business is more important than ever before. Thus, I'm donating an hour of my time for each business for free. Think of it like a drive-thru clinic. I'll figure out what your challenges are, giving you some guidance and help you get set up on any platform as needed. To take advantage of this offer, any business owner can sign up for a time slot on my calendar, we’ll hop on a call, and I’ll help them free of charge.

I can help with: Google My Business Setup, Facebook Business Page Set up, a guide to free online resources for your business (e.g., tying to figure out how to create online videos? Create content? Email? I can give ideas, a tutorial or share resources). It's open-ended because I'd like to give help that is specific and actionable to the business. Business owners can book a time here: https://www.hiredaisy.com/free-business-help/

Here's Something I Saw on FB
Lucie Amundsen, wrote an opinion piece for our local newspaper in which she said, “Our caring can be this crisis’s silver lining.” She exhorted people to commit compassionate acts in the community as a way of coping with coronavirus. “Nothing combats fear and anxiety like action. Do something. Do that thing you’re good at and share it up and down your street.”

And Here's A New Cottage Industry: Sewing Face Masks 
Marilyn French 
I saw this on Facebook, too, a photo of Marilyn French sewing face masks for the COVID-19 pandemic up at Rocky Wall Studio craft room in Silver Bay up on the North Shore. She's doing this as part of a region-wide effort coordinated by Hannah Johnson Fabrics and Sewing Studio of Duluth here.

Nelson, who posted one of these photos on FB, has been a longtime board member for the Armory Arts & Music Center and a major supporter of all things Dylan. I asked for a photo, and he suggested working a reference to Masked & Anonymous into this story. Not really hard to do.

Are you hearing stories of good deeds being done? Share them here in the comments.

Related Links
Eye-Opening Slideshow Shows Progress of the Pandemic from Beginning of the Year
Real-Time Map of the Spread of COVID-19 (Sobering)

Monday, March 23, 2020

Creativity Is Amazing: Thoughts in Response to a Performance of Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto nr. 1

Right now as I write this it's a Sunday afternoon. There's jazz playing on the local public radio station, jazz with Afro-Cuban polyrhythms and percussions. But my mind is on the wonder of creativity.

Earlier this afternoon I was listening to a selection of YouTube classical piano videos such as this one: Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto nr. 1 featuring Sofia Vasheruk. She's evidently performing as part of a competition, but what struck me more than anything was this. How in the world did Tchaikovsky conceive such an intro to this classic piece? Or the entire piece, for that matter.

I find it amazing how composers like Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach each began in the exact same space, with nothing but a blank page, a silence--and imagination. Creativity is astonishing.

As writers, we ourselves begin with blank pages all the time. Whether poet, adman, essayist, short story writer or novelist, the starting point is precisely the same.

Where does the creative urge come from? For much of my life I've noted that God the Creator's first act was to create a world, along with its context. And when it came to creating man--male and female He created them--it was in His image that we were created. Thus we are creators ourselves.

How strange that when we create something it is This and not That. Could God have made us without noses? Or even made to live on a flat earth? How strange to think it could all have been different. Yet it is not. Why? Or why not?

And so Beethoven's Fifth will always be Beethoven's Fifth. And my story Terrorist's Preying will always be Terrorists Preying, and Orion will always be Orion. (Or will it?)

This piano concerto by Tchaikovsky was once considered unplayable by Nicolay Rubinstein, one the the world's greatest pianists. This is a student choosing to play this impossibly challenging piece, and frankly, it's awesome.

What's especially interesting to me regarding musical creation is how once the piece has been produced, others can re-interpret the work and make it something equally inspiring. I'm thinking here of all the thousands of re-interpretations of songs by Bob Dylan, from The Byrds to Joe Cocker to Joan Baez to Richie Havens to any number of lesser known and unknown musicians. And, as any Dylan fan knows, Dylan's whole performing career has been a never ending series of re-inventions of his own songs.

This isn't a blog about Dylan, though. It's about the creative urge. Follow your heart. Your creative journey lies before you. Creativity can help you find yourself.

Related Links
10 Great Pieces of Classical Music That Will Take You Higher
A New Way of Looking at Time

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A Kenny Rogers Memory

Creative Commons.*
Kenny Rogers was savvy. When the Sixties psychedelic rock thing was happening he produced a hit single that went like this: "I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in."

In one way it was nothing different from many entertainers at the time. Sonny & Cher got a stellar hit with "I Got You Babe" because Dylan had made the word "babe" popular in a couple songs, including "It Ain't Me Babe." [Cher: "Sonny, can you write a hippie love song with the word babe in it?"]

Country star Rogers leveraged his crossover hit and became a brand with hits like "The Gambler" and his famous duet with Dolly Parton, "Islands in the Stream." Only after reading his obit did I learn he had produced 65 albums and sold more than 165 million records during his lifetime.

He actually began recording in the late 50s, and like many other 60s artists he'd spent years honing his talents to later become an overnight sensation. Petula Clark and the Beatles come readily to mind.

In 1966 Rogers joined the New Christy Minstrels, catching the tail end of the folk era, and a year later left with several of the Minstrels to form the First Edition, where he garnered that first big hit.

When we moved to Duluth in 1986, Susie and I became friends with Ed and Cheryl Beaver whom we met at the Presbyterian Church downtown here. Cheryl and Susie were both roughly seven months pregnant, and both Ed and I shared the same first name, plus our last names each had six letters and two syllables, and Ed and I were both writers.

Ed. was also a piano tuner, which is where this whole story is going. Because of Ed's occupation he was occasionally called in to tune the pianos that performers shipped in for concerts. On one occasion Ed tuned a piano for Johnny Cash, and at another Duluth concert at the DECC Ed tuned Kenny Rogers' white piano.

Entertainers can sometimes have a reputation for being egotistical jerks. Ed said Kenny Rogers came in while he was tuning, and was just a super nice down to earth guy.

Here's a song that Rogers wrote, and sang during that concert, with life advice that every one of us can relate to.

Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away
And knowin' what to keep
'Cause every hand's a winner
And every hand's a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die
in your sleep

And when he finished speakin'
He turned back toward the window
Crushed out his cigarette
And faded off to sleep
And somewhere in the darkness
The gambler he broke even
But in his final words
I found an ace that I could keep

That's how I've felt about most of the great books I've read, great movies I've experienced, seminars I've attended or great songs that speak to one's heart. Even if the philosopher is out of sync with your own convictions and faith, there's almost always an ace you can keep, an insight to tuck into your breast pocket for future redemption.


You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done

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Here's a live performance of Kenny Rogers' first superhit: Just Dropped In

*Photo credit: John Mark Smith, www.celebrity-photos.com

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Coronavirus: The Response In Duluth

When you made New Year Resolutions or goals for 2020, did you have even the slightest inkling that the world would unravel like this? Here are a couple stories of note related to how local businesses are responding to the crisis. I will try to collect more as things unfold.

Duluth Distillery Turns Spirits Into Sanitizer
Duluth is no longer flyover country.
According to the New Testament, when Jesus began his earthly ministry his first recorded miracle took place at a wedding where he famously turned water into wine. I say famously because this act has been referenced by many over the years as a tacit acknowledgement that drinking spirits is an acceptable lifestyle choice.

This week, a different kind of "miracle" took place at Duluth's Vikre Distillery. The cocktail room was closed as was the restaurant, yet people keep coming in, not for gin but for hand sanitizer. No, it is not really a miracle--turning spirits into sanitizer--but yes they're recognizing a need right now and stepping up to fill it.

Read the full story here.

Indigenous First Art & Gift Shop
Leah Yellowbird and many other indigenous artists are
represented at AICHO and can be found online at
the new website.
There are all kinds of jobs closing right now as the nation hunkers down. Restaurants, bars and other gathering places are taking a hit. Many artists and craftspeople rely on special events where they sell their wares that are also closing, thereby presenting challenges for this segment of the population.

This week I received an email from Michelle LeBeau, Executive Director of our American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO), detailing their efforts to develop strategies to fulfill their multi-pronged mission that involves housing and helping people with basic needs. In the letter she shared this message:

Jazmin Wong (our gift shop coordinator), who was concerned about the gift shop closing, and how that would impact the artists we serve, decided to launch a website she has been working on for several months. It launched tonight at 5PM.

Please share our new online galleries with others, this might just ensure the survival of the gift shop, and the work of dozens of Indigenous Artists and Food Producers, during these difficult times!

Here's the link: https://www.indigenousfirst.org/

Freelancer Resources
This isn't a local Duluth story, but something for freelancers everywhere. Hard times lead to innovation and resourcefulness. They also motivate us to look out for one another, to share insights on how we can help others get by, find a way through.

I saw this one on The Drum, a marketing-themed eNewsletter: A freelancer's guide to the coronavirus downturn: jobs, resources and support networks

20 Pinterest Pins to Help You Cope with the Coronavirus (COVID-19)
I saw an article by Sarah Butterfield on Medium and followed the link to her website, which had this link to a Pinterest page offering advice and words of comfort for those feeling weighed down by it all. Butterfield is a mom, so some of these Pins are about activities to help your children burn off energy during lockdown.

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Are You Still Grappling with the Viet Nam War

Carrying wounded soldier through a swamp. National Archives.
What really happened? The Viet Nam War was like nothing we'd every experienced before. It was a wedge the divided many young people from their parents, and others from their peers. Some of us died, some protested, and some left the country to avoid the draft. And many of us wish we'd behaved.

Did you go to Viet Nam and end up with Agent Orange health issues the rest of your life? Did you later regret your decision to enlist? Do you wish you'd done more for your country?

Did you protest the war? How did you first come to believe the war was wrong? In retrospect did you feel you were swept away by youthful idealism? Or do you wish you'd done more and had been more aware earlier than you were?

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Observation tower in Viet Nam. National Archives
I'm still attempting to understand a history that my generation lived through that remains unresolved. It seems like one of those things we don’t talk about much, like cousin Leah’s family secret.

Many of those who protested the war feel conflicted because they have friends or relatives who served. They don’t know how to place patriotism and feelings about an unjust war into a proper relationship.

We were told to believe what our leaders were telling us, while history has demonstrated and reiterated repeatedly that the war was a crock, a patchwork of lies from start to finish. Documents released decades later via the Freedom of Information Act confirm that the war was not only built on lies, but that the extent of the corruption and hubris was far worse than we imagined.

I recently wrote a poem about the death of a friend at whose funeral I was a pallbearer. Getting in touch with that pain showed me that I’d not yet fully processed that experience. The manner in which I continue to be drawn to reflect on the war shows me that this, too, is unresolved.

Maybe it’s not really possible to neatly package our experiences so we can put them on a mental shelf and be done with them. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I have a hard time believing that I’m the only one who is still struggling to understand what we went through in the Sixties and early Seventies.

HERE IS A LINK to 14 articles I've written in response to various triggers such as Ken Burns' Viet Nam documentary, readings and memories of various memories from my youth.

What's your story?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Throwback Thursday: The Monkey's Paw by J.J. Jacobs


One evening my daughter's former English teacher asked if I'd ever read The Monkey's Paw. I forget the trigger event, though it may have been discussing my story The Nonsense Room from my book Unremembered Histories, short stories with a supernatural twist. I'd read it perhaps half a century ago when I was in school, but remembered nothing about it. After revisiting this story I now recommend it here to you.

The Monkey's Paw is essentially a variation of the traditional genie in a bottle genre in which a person can get three wishes. But it's three wishes from the dark side. Not only do the wishes come true, when they do they have unanticipated shocking consequences. The manner in which the tale is told is what grips you. As with all good stories, the reader plunges forward because he or she is eager to see what will happen next.

It begins on a dark, dreary night as the White family waits for a visitor to their out of the way home.  The father and son are playing chess in the parlor while white-haired Mrs. White sits knitting by the fireplace.

The second paragraph, a single sentence, foreshadows the sum total of the story: "Hark at the wind," said Mr. White, who, having seen a fatal mistake after it was too late, was amiably desirous of preventing his son from seeing it.

Chess provides a great variety of life lessons. Decisions must be made all throughout. Consequences of decisions aren't always readily recognizable. All too often they are made with unnecessary haste and dire consequences.

Thus we are conveyed into the story as the White's visitor arrives, a sergeant-major who has spent 21 years abroad in what the Whites believe to be exotic and adventurous places. As they talk, and splash down a few drinks, the topic turns to a monkey's paw that the visitor had mentioned to Mr. White a few days earlier.

The soldier attempts to divert the conversation, though against his better judgment he acknowledges that there is something magical in the matter. He is actually carrying the thing on him at that very moment, but in an effort to be done with it he throws it on the fire.

Mr. White takes fast action and rescues it. The grim visitor is solemn and says, "Better let it burn."

White's impulsiveness becomes the stories turning point, cementing the family's doom.

Like many such stories there's a moral: don't mess with fate. Stephen King's 1000-page 10/23/63 has essentially the same moral, except in a much more massive form. King's story is about a man who goes back in time in an effort to keep JFK from being assassinated.

Hollywood, of course, loves this kind of magical lore in films, in part because the public craving for it seems endless. I half wonder if the Robin Williams film Jumanji had some of its ideas stimulated by The Monkey's Paw. Kids find a magical game board and start to play, but soon learn that there are unexpected consequences to each move. Sound familiar? There is even a connection to India and other exotic places here.

If you go back to the beginning of the 20th century you can see lots of fascination with "exotic places," which must have been a portion of this story's appeal, in addition to the creepiness of its premise. Writers like Jack London and Joseph Conrad, among others, capitalized on this interest in all things foreign.

Meantime, as noted earlier, I encourage you to take a few minutes to read The Monkey's Paw. It's an unusual and very compelling story, and a good read.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Almost Wordless Wednesday: A Smattering of Images from 13 Years of Blogging at Ennyman's Territory

I'm not sure which is leaving me more speechless, the COVID-19 event or our national response to it. For sure, the times have become quite surreal. If you're shut in with nowhere to go, it may be a good time for reflection. Who am I? What is my life all about? We'll see what the world looks like when the dust settles.
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