Sunday, May 31, 2020

Duluth Protesters March from the Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial to City Hall

Will it be different this time? I think this is the question many people have been asking this past week in response to the death of George Floyd who had been in the custody of the police at the time, in broad daylight and on social media. The Memorial Day incident proved to be a spark that ignited a firestorm that went internationally viral.

The unspoken question many have is this: when all the clamor subsides, will everything go back to normal, as if it were just another news story? I'd like to believe it will be different this time, and there seems to be evidence this is so.

Scott Shackford's article Even Police Unions Trash the Actions of the Cop Who Killed George Floyd begins by asking "Are we seeing a tipping point where police begin to grasp why the public is so outraged?" Police departments rallying around the misconduct of their own is so commonplace that it had become cliche to read it in novels and see it in Hollywood movies. The article in Reason begins with an example of the NYPD defending its own in a similar incident 6 years ago.

This time it really is different. Instead of rallying around their own, police departments from across the country are criticizing and condemning what happened in the George Floyd case.

The start point, which seemed relevant, for Saturday afternoon's killing of George Floyd protest was the Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial at the corner of 2nd Avenue East and First Street. For those unfamiliar, this is the location where three black circus workers were lynched 100 years ago this summer.

An elderly woman working her way past me with her walker asked m how many people were there. "100?" she asked. I replied, "Between 500 and a thousand. Probably closer to a thousand." Sunday's Duluth News Tribune estimated the same... about a thousand, a strong show of support for the injustice that occurred at the beginning of last week in Minneapolis.

The Ojibwe drummers and singers near the memorial set the tone as people began arriving to assemble for the march. The crowd continued to fill the intersection, and though not exactly social distancing, they were all masked and conscientious. (There were a couple people handing out face masks for the very few who arrived not wearing one. Stacks of pizzas from Pizza Luce were piled on the sidewalk nearby.

Eventually a woman with a bullhorn drew attention to a pickup truck parked on the avenue just above First Street where Brayleigh Keliin and Joe Carter were standing, accompanied by a large quantity of bottled water for those who might be thirsty on the warm afternoon. A mixed crowd of black, white and Native peoples filled the intersection, in solidarity with the aims of the organizers, to essentially change the systems of injustice that have condoned racism.

Joe Carter, a young black man, welcomed the crowd and introduced Brayleigh. "Duluth, you have come together"" After a round of cheers she said, "I'm scared for my son and all blacks," citing "what living in America is like as a minority." This is why we must demand justice for George Floyd, she said.

Two key words: Justice and Change. "We will have a new tomorrow. We are tired, angry and united," he said. "Racism is a war on the people."

Joe Carter and Brayleigh Keliin were both articulate and passionate, and seemed to project a good-heartedness of spirit.

The bullhorn was passed to Kym Young from Superior, who identified herself as an elder. She spoke about the history of racism in America going back to the founding, and made her appeal to "tear down injustice" and systems of oppression. "We are traumatized and not OK."

A Native woman then spoke briefly about the Ojibwe concept of "Megwiich" which then yielded to the beginning of the march to the St. Louis County Courhouse and City Hall eight blocks away.

What's interesting about this for me personally is that when we moved to Duluth in 1986 and I learned about the lynchings here in 1920, I never understood why the actual event took place here, eight blocks away from the jain? The answer came years later when I learned that City Hall used to be one block below this corner as was the city jail. At that time a mob formed also, perhaps the biggest in our city's history, to carry out a terrible crime... taking the law in their own hands.

It was fitting to see a peaceful march yesterday, to the Courthouse and City Hall where an appeal for justice was made. As part of the gathering there the crowd was asked to kneel for nine minutes, the length of time the officer in Minneapolis knelt on the neck of George Floyd. Try kneeling for nine minutes like that and think about what goes through your head while a voice chokes out "I can't breathe."

* * * *

Statements on the Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial
IN ANOTHER PART OF THE CITY there was evidently another gathering of protesters. I only heard about it later on social media and was concerned when still later there were people marching up to Central Entrance and heading toward the Mall. It would not have been a good action, as the point has been made, and I believe Chief Tusken has been remarkably responsive to the minority factions in our community. Things really are different in Duluth.

Rumors were circulating that cars and/or buses were coming from the Twin Cities with more protesters, outsiders that were a concern to city officials. For this reasons a curfew was announced for 10:00 p.m. and earlier for tonight.

The continued looting and burning across the country is heartbreaking. Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?" comes to mind. 

Related Link
Carla Hamilton's Gezielt (Targeted) Creatively Makes Us Think and Gives Us Something To Talk About
A Few Thoughts on the Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Everything's Broken: Dylan's Observations As Relevant As Ever

Minneapolis (Photo: Rubin Latz)

Dawn in Minneapolis Saturday.
To say I have been distracted by things happening in Minneapolis is an understatement. Having at one time lived in the Twin Cities for a few years I am quite familiar with all of the neighborhoods that have been assaulted. It's very disheartening.

As I am oft fond of saying there's a Dylan line or Dylan song for everything, and this situation is no exception. "Oxford Town" might apply, and a line from "Hurricane" jumps off the page, but tonight my sentiments lean toward this one: "Everything's Broken."

Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken

Here are a couple variations on the song, beginning first with Bob himself and then a cover by R.L. Burnside.

Minneapolis. (Photos: Rubin Latz

Related Links
Map showing the degree of destruction wrought this past few days. 
Sheryl Crowe and Jason Isbell cover of Everything's Broken
Various versions of the song by various performers
My earlier blog post about the song

I would be remiss if I did not add that though the song is thought-provoking, I witnessed a basis for hope in some of the scenes I saw today. There was video of good people coming together to clean up their communities, and coming together to affirm values. As has been repeatedly occurring in 2020, the 3000-year-old proverb continues to hold true: "Who can tell what a day may bring forth?"

Friday, May 29, 2020

Longtime Minneapolis Dylan Fan Rubin Latz Shares His Journey

I met Rubin on the set of Paul Metsa's show in 2018.
When I was young and into Dylan I was only aware of a few others who were in that stable. Over time, one became aware of the broader herd, here and there discovering others in the tribe. Upon moving to Minnesota, I discovered a whole new category of note, including people who went to school with Bob, or crossed his path at one time or another here in the North Country. It's like a fraternity of sorts. At the center of it all is the music.

In the Fall of 2018 I had the privilege of getting invited to the filming of three episodes of Paul Metsa's Wall of Power show in Minneapolis. He had as guests the Minnesota musicians who recorded with Dylan on Blood on the Tracks. One of the many interesting new people I became acquainted with was Rubin Latz, who shared photos that became part of my three days of blog coverage here. Having remained in touch I wanted to share a bit of his Dylan story.

EN: Where did you grow up and can you give a brief overview of your career? 

Rubin Latz: Born & raised in North Minneapolis, I’m NFL (Northsider For Life); attended Mpls. North High, B.A. from University of MN – Twin Cities, and much later a Graduate Certificate in Deafness Rehabilitation Administration from San Diego State University. 
Spent early lifetimes in retail sales (including women's shoes, automobile parts) and merchandise service (early Target stores & Shopper's City), American Sign Language Interpreting & Interpreter Training, before beginning a 24 yr career in Vocational Rehabilitation (which is our longest-standing Federal program, having celebrated its centennial last year) with the State of Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development; retired June of ’11 and soon picked up a camera, which both saved and changed my life, giving me renewed purpose while pulling me out of a deep depression over loss of career & collegial relationships. I now spend my days documenting life, nature, high school sports, community events, and the local music scene through photographs. 
Inside the studio. "Quiet on the set!" (Photo: Rubin Latz)
EN: What does a Rehab Specialist do?

RL: I was one of several in a community development units serving as a content experts while supporting agency staff statewide, providing training & technical assistance, as well as information and referral; my area of focus was Minnesota citizens with hearing loss…people who are Hard Of Hearing, Deaf, and Late-Deafened; (Minnesotans who are DeafBlind are served by a sister agency, State Services for the Blind); I monitored 2 legislatively-funded grant programs, served on local, regional & national advisory boards, committees and work groups. Others in my unit specialized in Mental Health, Traumatic Brain Injury, Supported Employment, School-to-Work Transition, and more.

EN: When did you first get hooked on the music of Bob Dylan?

RL: While I can’t recall a specific Dylan maiden moment, my ‘60s & ‘70s reality included car radios, transistor radios, jukeboxes and flip- top stereo Hi-Fis – along with American Bandstand & the Ed Sullivan Show – as primary sources of music; first song I memorized – at age nine – was Tommy Edwards’ “It’s All In The Game”

Took the Dylan bait – along with most everyone else – with, “Blowing in the Wind, and the “hook” was deep-set several years later with, “Like a Rolling Stone”, which my childhood pal Jim played in his family’s sunroom ‘til its grooves were worn wide & deep.

(L to R) Kevin Odegard, Gregg Inhofer, Peter Ostroushko, Billy Peterson,
and Jon Bream of the Minneapolis Star Tribune
EN: How many times have you seen Dylan live? 

RL: Funny, that…I’ve yet to see him live. At the ripe young age of 71, I’ve grown to know him vicariously, through others; I am still saving $ to see him in his next swing through the Midwest. I confess I do particularly regret missing his Twin Cities gigs, including the Midway Stadium show when Larry Kegan hit the stage. Larry matters in that I’d traveled to the Pacific Coast of Mexico with him – and with Luis, his aide/driver - early in ’74. We were quite a crew, myself and my then-girlfriend among seven of us with long hair, big mouths, and fast feet; so many memorable moments in those weeks, including feeling so cooped up on the drive down that I had to ask Luis to stop the van after summiting the Sierra Madres so I could get some air (not quite car-sick), and then running several miles down the switchbacks, passing cows that were grazing along the roadside at how many thousand feet? Then discovering sand fleas on the beach at tiny San Blas, with the incoming tide awaking me by sloshing up and soaking my feet inside my sleeping bag (we’d bivouaced after arriving in the dark), and opening my eyes to a line of surfers carrying boards, and humming Beach Boys tunes while dancing down the path to the nearby breakers before dawn. Little did I know we were on a point overlooking a prime surfing spot.

Paul Metsa, Billy Peterson, Gregg Inhofer. It's certified. (Photo: Rubin Latz)
EN: Do you have a favorite Dylan moment?

RL: Having never seen him live, my personal Dylan-from-afar highlight was spending a glorious in-studio, “More Blood, More Tracks” day in October of ‘18 with Paul Metsa interviewing Minneapolis musicians who’d played on the Sound 80 recordings of Blood on the Tracks; photographing the day’s events at Metro Cable News 6 “Over Nordeast”, witnessing their bonds of brotherhood, hearing the personal, “how it happened” stories of Kevin Odegard, Gregg Inhofer, Peter Ostroushko, Billy Peterson (Chris Weber, and Bill Berg joined remotely); witnessing Jon Bream pass along the just-then-released “Strictly Limited Deluxe Edition 6-Disc Set” boxed set to each musician present…all are etched into giddy memory banks. (Photos above.)

Second-level faves are the numerous Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan concerts – that were also fund-raisers for Guitars for Vets – attended over recent years, both in St. Louis Park and in Maple Grove, and becoming friends with some of the local musicians who also love Dylan’s music.

Blogger interviews Gregg Inhofer. R. Latz photo.
How has Dylan’s music and art informed your life?

RL: Listening to him over these many years (I had late-‘60s opportunities to focus my listening while working at Bill Franklin’s The Record Exchange – Seven Corners & Dinkytown locations - one of the earliest purveyors of used LPs) fed my anti-war protest Jones (also courtesy of Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Buffy St Marie, Tom Paxton), and later my writing Jones, giving credence to the belief not all poetry had to rhyme, and that visual rhythms could move bodies as well as hearts and minds, that ideas need not be expressed in two minute, thirty-five second cycles…and that relationships and life events CAN be written about meaningfully, CAN light a path forward for others.

EN: What are some of the albums you’ve played most often over the years?

RL: Freewheelin’, Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, Portrait, New Morning, Greatest Hits Vols 1 & 2, Nashville Skyline, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks.

EN: What was your reaction when Murder Most Foul was given a send up last month?

RL: Listened pretty quickly, LOVED it from first to last.

Related Links

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Ten Minutes with Carol Dunbar, A Ghostwriter Who Lives in the Woods

There's a difference between writers who dabble and those who purposefully practice a disciplined writing life. Hemingway's goal was 500 good words each day. Jack London produced a thousand. You will be impressed with Carol Jean Butler's output, as well as her personal history. I believe you'll learn much from her insights based on her decades of experience.

EN: Share how you came to be a professional writer. What was your path from childhood scribbles to a serious career decision?

Carol Dunbar: My path was not a traditional one. My first book titled The Dog Who Got Eaten was about a dog with a hole in the middle of its body who got mistaken by his owner for a donut. So, right away I struggled with plot. But I wrote many books until third grade when I decided to get serious. I labored over my masterpiece, the sequel to Peter Rabbit. I don’t know why I was obsessed with that rabbit, but it was an assignment for school, and I over-achieved, writing pages and pages—I wanted it to be really great. These were newsprint pages with those thin red and blue lines, and I erased so many times the pages became transparent and difficult to read. My teacher gave me a C. It was the only C I ever got and the hardest I’d worked on anything up to that point in my life. Then in fourth grade, I saw Man of La Mancha and fell in love with a more physical form of storytelling. I got my BFA in theatre, wrote in secret, and worked professionally as an actor for 10 years until I moved off the grid to finally focus on writing.

EN: You were born in Guam and have lived in several places such as Georgia, Rhode Island, Hawaii, and Texas. Now you live off the grid, in the woods here in Northwest Wisconsin. How have all these places and experiences informed your writing?

CD: I feel incredibly lucky to have this wealth of place to draw from, but it took me a while to tap into that. I used to think that because I was from nowhere, I couldn’t write with authority about anywhere. I used to bemoan the fact that I’d never write a cozy small-town story about growing up in one place where everybody knows everybody. I admire what Elizabeth Strout did with Olive, Again and how she brought all these characters from her previous novels back together into one fictional place. I might do that someday now that I’ve lived in Wisconsin for 18 years. But right now, I’m working on a novel-in-stories about people who can’t settle down. I’ve always wanted to read a book about people who move.

EN: You write both fiction and non-fiction. I myself feel my non-fiction has been enriched by poetry and fiction writing. How does your fiction inform your non-fiction writing?

Carol Dunbar
CD: This is an interesting question because my fiction informs my non-fiction from two different directions, both personally and professionally. And let me just say I think it’s wonderful you let poetry enrich your fiction. I admire poets and their precision.

From my fiction writing I learn how to tell the truth. A friend and writing colleague once shared with me that when she writes her characters in first person, they lie. That absolutely is true for me when I write nonfiction, and it’s why I prefer the third-person narrative. I have to work really hard to tell the truth when I’m writing personal nonfiction. It feels more vulnerable, and I only do it if I have something important to say that can’t be shared any other way. From a professional standpoint with the nonfiction articles and books I ghostwrite, my fiction skills help improve the writing because I know how to thread a narrative, how to draw out a story. Because of my theatre training I have a penchant for high drama, and I exploit that shamelessly to make my financial planning books more palatable.

EN: For authors seeking to publish books, especially fiction, finding a good literary agent is challenging. How did you get matched with yours?

CD: Serendipity. I met my agent at a writing conference and I pitched her. But making the decision to seek representation felt a lot like trying to decide when to go to the hospital during my first pregnancy. After so many years laboring over a book, I didn’t want to query too soon and be sent home.

I read this book called Your First Novel: An Author Agent Team Share the Keys to Achieving Your Dream by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb, with a kickass foreword by Dennis Lehane. Wonderful book. And I didn’t query an agent until I’d done all 10 things on this list included in that book, a list that basically said, “Don’t even think about querying until you’ve done X, Y, Z.” The list included impossible things like giving a public reading to a group of strangers, and my heart sank because, as a mom to little kids, I knew it would take me years to do all the stuff on the list. But the process was rewarding in of itself, and my novel got better with each item I check off. Through Lake Superior Writers, I was given an opportunity to give a reading at Grand Central Plaza. I was so nervous presenting my book to this group of seniors, but they were just marvelous. They listened attentively when I read the first three chapters, they asked questions and we talked. Then to my utter delight they wanted to know what happened next, so I read to them some more.

It was having this engagement with readers that clued me in on what was interesting and important about my book. It helped me both from a character development standpoint and from a marketing standpoint when writing my pitch. By the time I set out to query, I felt on solid ground because I knew how to talk intelligently about what I’d written. When I set out to find an agent, I received two requests for full reads after only five queries—and that’s going from the first 10 pages, to a request for 50 pages, to a request for the full manuscript. I share this not to brag, but to make the point that in my experience, if you really do all the things that the professionals advise you to do when setting about this process, the work pays off.

EN: You mention that you don’t send something out till you have read it out loud. This is great advice for beginning writers. What are some other tips you might suggest?

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash
CD: I can share two tips brought to you by my theatre background. First, learn how to read your drafts like an actor. An actor treats the written text like a holy thing where every word matters and is there for a reason. First drafts obviously have a lot of problems and are full of crap, but they can also offer unexpected gifts from the subconscious. If you can learn to identify these gems and trust yourself, they can reveal hidden motives and help show you the way.

Second, listen to yourself. Even if you’re not someone who typically engages with the written word aurally, even if you hate the sound of your own voice, even if you don’t have time, read it out loud, record it, and then listen to your story like a reader would listen to an audiobook. This process helps me edit in three different ways. First, as you said, when I read the work out loud, I suddenly see and hear big problems that I didn’t see when looking at the page. Second, reading and listening both help you to feel your way through the climax of a chapter, a story, or a scene. It helps you to recognize when you’re peaking too early, when you’re losing tension, when you’re doing too much or not enough or when you’re repeating yourself. And third, when you go for a walk or a drive and listen to your story again, you trick your brain into thinking you didn’t write this, and you become the person who just wants to be told a good story. And if the piece isn’t doing that, then you can identify why, and roll up your sleeves. Because the cool thing is that now, you won’t be just poking around, you’ll have a real intention to your editing because you will have identified what’s not working and why, so you will be able to fix it. This might sound tedious, but when you finally have a draft that’s a pleasure to listen to, there is no greater reward.

Photo by Levi Ventura on Unsplash
EN: You’ve had real success ghostwriting for a variety of clients. What do you like most and least about ghostwriting?

CD: What I like most is getting to interview people across the globe. It’s a little doorway into lives different from my own. I love hearing how they talk, hearing the background noises, and most especially I enjoy the conversations that are off topic. I once wrote an entire short story based on the sound of a young man’s voice who interrupted our interview with the word, “Grandpa?” So, my professional work energizes my creative work, which I’m grateful for, because you’d think it would be the opposite. I typically write 2,000 to 4,000 words a day for my paid work, and that’s in addition to logging in a 1,000-word minimum for my creative work. (I like to think that my writing muscles are buff.)

The physical fatigue is the hardest part. While the long form suits me, I’m banging away on a keyboard for hours at a time. I have an ergonomic everything plus a standing desk and a chiropractor.

EN: What are you working on now that has you jazzed?

CD: Great question. I’m working on a novel in stories that celebrates restaurant culture and the lives behind the hands that serve. These are what I call my waitress stories, and I wrote them between drafts of my novel. But the problem I’ve always had with short story collections is there’s no driving pull to get the reader to the end. So, with this collection, I’m working to thread a narrative that follows a group of individuals who all work together at a restaurant that has decided to close. So, the reader will follow them across the country to other places where they pursue other dreams and succeed or fail at building new lives.

As a writer I’m very interested in how people move through transitions. One of my favorite books is Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, and one of the most interesting parts to me was when Santiago worked at The Crystal Shop. He was very good at his job at The Crystal Shop and it was lucrative for him to stay there, but he was on a quest and so always felt this underlying dissatisfaction and a pull. I love this metaphor because I think we also get stuck in our lives working at our own equivalent of a Crystal Shop, and it can be very difficult to move on from that and answer what’s calling. Of course, in The Alchemist, the journey called him back home. And this is also interesting because in real life, it isn’t always that we have big ambitions; sometimes the greatest lessons come from learning how to stay.

EN: Thank you for your time and the rewarding read.

Related Links

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The COVID-19 Poetry Challenge

Poet / author Phil Fitzpatrick
On Memorial Day I received an interesting email from a writer/poet friend with The COVID-19 Poetry Challenge in the subject line. Naturally this intrigued me. His email began like this:

Dear Friends of Poetry, near and far,

Welcome to the COVID19 Poetry Challenge, an interactive, tournament-style elimination game in which 32 well-crafted poems (see below) about writing poetry are gradually whittled down to a Crowd Favorite, the champion, if you will. This is purely for enjoyment; no literary criticism is required or requested, implicitly or explicitly.

The tournament matches the format of the NCAA's March Madness playoffs in that poems are paired off in brackets and each week teams (poems in this case) get eliminated.

I love creativity of all stripes, and as a method for sharing great poetry with fans of poetry, this was truly a rewarding ploy.

The first four weeks will feature the Regionals, beginning with the Lift Bridge Regional, May 25-31. Poems competing in this first round are as follows, though not in this order.

1. Alexander, Elizabeth -- “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe”

2. Frank O’Hara -- “Why I Am Not a Painter”

3. Berry, Wendell -- “How to Be a Poet”

4. Bly, Robert -- “Words Rising”

5. Bukowski, Charles -- “So You Want to Be a Writer?”

6. Collins, Billy -- “Workshop”

7. Collins, Billy -- “The Trouble with Poetry: A Poem of Explanation”

8. Dickinson, Emily -- “Tell the Truth, but Tell It Slant”

Other regionals have names like The Hawk Ridge Regional, the Hobey Baker Regional, and the Poet Laureate Regional.

As soon as I received this email I couldn't help but start my day by reading all eight poems in the Lift Bridge Regional. There were no easy decisions here, all eight poems being worthy of a vote. Each decision came down to the wire, one game going into overtime.

Billy Collins is always a fun read, so I will end this by sharing one of his here.


Not Billy Collins
I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title.
It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now
so immediately the poem has my attention,
like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve.

And I like the first couple of stanzas,
the way they establish this mode of self-pointing
that runs through the whole poem
and tells us that words are food thrown down
on the ground for other words to eat.
I can almost taste the tail of the snake
in its own mouth,
if you know what I mean.

But what I’m not sure about is the voice,
which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans,
but other times seems standoffish,
professorial in the worst sense of the word
like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face.
But maybe that’s just what it wants to do.

What I did find engaging were the middle stanzas,
especially the fourth one.
I like the image of clouds flying like lozenges
which gives me a very clear picture.
And I really like how this drawbridge operator
just appears out of the blue
with his feet up on the iron railing
and his fishing pole jigging—I like jigging—
a hook in the slow industrial canal below.
I love slow industrial canal below. All those l’s.

Maybe it’s just me,
but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem.
I mean how can the evening bump into the stars?
And what’s an obbligato of snow?
Also, I roam the decaffeinated streets.
At that point I’m lost. I need help.

The other thing that throws me off,
and maybe this is just me,
is the way the scene keeps shifting around.
First, we’re in this big aerodrome
and the speaker is inspecting a row of dirigibles,
which makes me think this could be a dream.
Then he takes us into his garden,
the part with the dahlias and the coiling hose,
though that’s nice, the coiling hose,
but then I’m not sure where we’re supposed to be.
The rain and the mint green light,
that makes it feel outdoors, but what about this wallpaper?
Or is it a kind of indoor cemetery?
There’s something about death going on here.

In fact, I start to wonder if what we have here
is really two poems, or three, or four,
or possibly none.

But then there’s that last stanza, my favorite.
This is where the poem wins me back,
especially the lines spoken in the voice of the mouse.
I mean we’ve all seen these images in cartoons before,
but I still love the details he uses
when he’s describing where he lives.
The perfect little arch of an entrance in the baseboard,
the bed made out of a curled-back sardine can,
the spool of thread for a table.
I start thinking about how hard the mouse had to work
night after night collecting all these things
while the people in the house were fast asleep,
and that gives me a very strong feeling,
a very powerful sense of something.
But I don’t know if anyone else was feeling that.
Maybe that was just me.
Maybe that’s just the way I read it.

* * * *

Thanks, Phil for the thought-provoking and entertaining diversion. I can hardly wait till we get to the Final Four.

Related Links
Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins
Bill Collins, Poet Laureate
Phil Fitzpatrick Talks About His New Book of Poems, Hawks on High: Everyday Miracles in a Hawk Ridge Season
Three Feet Away by Phil Fitzpatrick

Meantime, he not busy bein' born is busy dying.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Lies, Lies and More Lies: No Wonder Baby Boomers Have Such a Distrust of Authority

More Notes from Ken Burns' The Vietnam War.

Just as the French underestimated the enemy at Dien Bien Phu, so did the U.S. consistently underestimate the enemy's strength and resolve. Even when we knew it was a mistake to get more deeply involved, we barged ahead anyways.* And all throughout we attempted to conceal from the American public what we were up to.

At first, we only sent advisors. Inconsequential results.
Next, we sent more advisors. Because President Johnson didn't want this fact known to the American people, it was done without fanfare, quietly and unobserved.
Next we sent troops. "They won't fight," they said, but would just stay in the background. Even so, the president didn't want this fact known to the American people.
Next, we're sending still more troops, this time to fight. Again, the president didn't want this fact known to the American people and it was hoped no one would notice.
Even as our involvement mounted, we were losing the war. "Gotta send more troops," went the cry. Simultaneously and privately, "Better not let the American people find out."

As the war went on, it became increasingly necessary to step up our response. It's hard to send 100,000 and 300,000 and 500,000 young men to potentially die without someone eventually noticing at home.

Karl Marlantes: "My bitterness about the political powers at the time was, first of all, the lying." I can understand policy errors and mistakes, if made with noble hearts. "That McNamara knew in 1965, three years before I was there that the war was unwinnable, that's what makes me mad."

Making mistakes is one thing, Marlantes said. Covering them up is "simply killing people to protect your own ego."

It's a famous joke, but so frequently true that it's become cliche. "How can you tell a politician is lying? His lips are moving."

LBJ kept telling people we're all about peace. Simultaneously, we start bombing villages with napalm.

Once LBJ bailed and Nixon took the White House, the same game continued. Tell the people what they want to hear and do what you want to do.

"I have a plan for getting us out of Vietnam," Nixon said. He concealed the truth that his plan was to win the war, which was already proven unwinnable.

According to Albert Einstein the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.

I like the refrain for "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"  It goes like this: "When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?"

I am sad for our veterans who lost their lives in this meaningless conflict, and for those who have struggled with lifelong disabilities. Trivia: More than 200 journalists died covering the war.

* According to a recent New Yorker story on Kissinger, he knew the war was unwinnable as early as 1965.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Tower Records: Another Example of How the Mighty Fall

Creative Commons
It was one of the greatest tragedies of my life, to be honest with you, when it closed down. It really, really upset me. I miss it. I miss that routine, you know, of going to buy my records or my CDs, whatever.--Elton John

This month I've been reading How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins. The book is a powerful analysis of how successful companies decline and fail.

I'd read two of Jim Collins' other books and found them both useful and personally rewarding. Built to Last illustrates the difference between founders seeking to create a legacy vs. entrepreneurs simply seeking to make a quick buck. Built to Last is a stark contrast to creative thinkers whose aim is simply to build companies they can flip into a big personal gain.

Good to Great's subtitle is pointed: "Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't." How do mediocre companies become superior and dominant in their industries? I couldn't help but think of  the New England Patriots as a team that transcended the ordinary when they hired Bill Belicheck. Exceptional leadership is definitely one of the features of great companies, Collins notes. A second feature, Collins notes, is "a culture of discipline."

The documentary All Things Must Pass is the story of Tower Records, its ascendancy and eventual decline. At its height this was a billion dollar record company with branches in 30 countries. A few short years later it was defunct. By watching this documentary you will vividly see the five steps process outlined in Jim Collins' How the Mighty Fall. These steps are as follows.

1. Hubris Born of Success
2. Undisciplined Pursuit of More
3. Denial of Risk and Peril
4. Grasping for Salvation
5. Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death

It's almost startling how the history of Tower Records, as outlined in this documentary, so perfectly follows Jim Collins' outline.

Established in 1960, Tower Records became a retail powerhouse with two hundred stores, in 30 countries, on five continents. Its humble beginnings in a small town drugstore happened to take place at precisely the right time. As they say, timing is everything. In 1999, Tower Records made $1 billion. In 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy.

* * * *

"It wasn't a job. It was just a way of life."

The documentary puts a positive spin on the story, but the realities of how it went down are pretty apparent. It was a party, and eventually there were people who got hurt. But while the party was going on, no one seemed to mind, I suppose. There was enough drugs, sex and rock 'n roll to satisfy those involved.

* * * *

At the core of Tower Records was this motto, which captured the essence of a generation: No Music, No Life. The emergence of radio at that time was also a phenomenon. The music was on the airwaves everywhere. AM superstations like WABC out of New York and others from the Deep South helped whet the appetite, marketing the new sounds. In the 60s FM radio bumped it to a new level.

In the early 80s Michael Jackson's Thriller and MTV gave the record industry another adrenaline rush. At the core, though, it was the same theme: No Music, No Life.

* * * *

The title of this documentary was borrowed from George Harrison's triple album released after the Beatles broke. In my own personal career I've often used this expression, All Things Must Pass. When things are going well, cherish it, because "this too shall pass."

The meteoric rise of Tower Records must have been a heady experience. Those who were there in the beginning talk about those days the way some might talk about a memorable event like Woodstock, except that this event lasted four decades. The astute viewer will observe that the seeds of their success were also their undoing. Things change, and the culture they created didn't.

Tower Records was not a victim. Many great companies do succeed in making difficult transitions.

* * * *

Today is Bob Dylan's 79th Birthday. He himself made many transitions during his career. With the advent of his Never Ending Tour in the late 1980's he began doing nearly 100 shows a year. COVID-19 succeeded in disrupting his schedule but hasn't interfered with his continuing to be relevant. His newest album of original material is due to be released in mid-June.

As I am oft fond of saying, there's a Dylan lyric or song for every situation. If you've read this for the marketing message sub-text woven into this blog post, then the Dylan line you'll want as your takeaway is, "He not busy being born is busy dying."

Life is about re-invention. Times change. Are you being renewed?

Related Links
Duluth Dylan Fest culminates today with three live streaming events at noon, 5 and 7:30 CST. Here is the Facebook Link to links for these three events.
Trivia: How many cover versions of Bob Dylan songs were recorded by other artists and sold via Tower Records from 1961-2006? 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

An Aesop Fable On Authenticity: The Monkey and the Camel

Photo by Vivek Sharma on Unsplash
Something I'd been reading recently triggered the recollection of the Aesop Fable, the Monkey and the Camel. The way I remembered it, the story took place near an oasis in the desert, hence the presence of the camel in this story. When I Googled it for this blog post, I found several versions of the story. This one here is told most efficiently, the way that I recall Aesop's tales usually being told.

This version comes from an unknown translator, copyright 1881, Wm. L. Allison, New York

The beasts of the forest gave a splendid entertainment, at which the Monkey stood up and danced. Having vastly delighted the assembly, he sat down amidst universal applause. The Camel, envious of the praises bestowed on the Monkey and desirous to divert to himself the favor of the guests, proposed to stand up in his turn, and dance for their amusement. He moved about in so very ridiculous a manner that the Beasts, in a fit of indignation, set upon him with clubs, and drove him out of the assembly. 

Moral: It is absurd to ape our betters.

The Library of Congress has a version which someone embellished, describing the Camel's knotty knees and other such details, which don't really strengthen the story in my opinion. In this versions the writer adds a sentence describing refreshments served afterwards, "mostly of camel's hump and ribs."

Yikes! As if it weren't enough simply bad enough to be shamed and laughed at. Making a fool of yourself can get you killed?

This InfoPlease version doesn't even include the moral of the story, an almost unforgivable oversight, since the pithy "moral of the story" endings are what make Aesop's Fables so delightful.

Photo by Andre Iv on Unsplash
The Monkey and the Camel
At a gathering of all the beasts the Monkey gave an exhibition of dancing and entertained the company vastly. There was great applause at the finish, which excited the envy of the Camel and made him desire to win the favour of the assembly by the same means. So he got up from his place and began dancing, but he cut such a ridiculous figure as he plunged about, and made such a grotesque exhibition of his ungainly person, that the beasts all fell upon him with ridicule and drove him away.

* * * *
I quickly found a couple versions identical to the first one above, but once again, this Heritage History variation adds embellishments. The first is the addition of the reason for this celebration, and then it says the Monkey was asked to dance.

At a great celebration in honor of King Lion, the Monkey was asked to dance for the company. His dancing was very clever indeed, and the animals were all highly pleased with his grace and lightness.

Now the way I remembered it, it was just another night at the oasis and when the music started playing the Monkey did what he loves to do, and does well. He danced.

Then the Camel gets into the spotlight, but this storyteller once again goes too far. The only detail he or she does correctly note is the Camel's motivation. He was consumed with envy.

The praise that was showered on the Monkey made the Camel envious. He was very sure that he could dance quite as well as the Monkey, if not better, so he pushed his way into the crowd that was gathered around the Monkey, and rising on his hind legs, began to dance. But the big hulking Camel made himself very ridiculous as he kicked out his knotty legs and twisted his long clumsy neck. Besides, the animals found it hard to keep their toes from under his heavy hoofs.

What's curious is this next detail. Instead of being laughed at and shamed, this version suggests that the camel got punished for something altogether different.

At last, when one of his huge feet came within an inch of King Lion's nose, the animals were so disgusted that they set upon the Camel in a rage and drove him out into the desert.

Shortly afterward, refreshments, consisting mostly of Camel's hump and ribs, were served to the company.

Do not try to ape your betters.

My vote is a thumbs down on this version, too. Aesop had it right, as did Hemingway centuries later. Less is more.
* * * *
The point of the story is lost when we go too far. Envy gets people in trouble. And trying to be something you're not makes it that much worse.

We all have different strengths. Through self-understanding we're better able to play to those strengths. Karen Horney, Freud's first female student, wrote extensively on neurosis, pointing out the psychological origin of our neuroses being due to a split between our real self and idealized self. In other words, when who we are is out of sync with who we think we are, we're going to have problems.

Our lack of awareness with regards to how we come across can result in our making fools of ourselves. I've done that. It's worse than embarrassing.

Hence, the Oracle at Delphi has this inscription above the door: Know Thyself.

Self understanding is fundamental to living authentically in a world half mad with projecting images of whom we're not. Be real, be true and you will be happier.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Astonishing and Creative Ways of Marking Time, Keeping Time

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Time it was, and what a time it was, it was 
A time of innocence, 
A time of confidences 
Long ago, it must be, 
I have a photograph 
Preserve your memories; 
They're all that's left you
--Bookend Theme, Paul Simon

Based on how often I've played it over the years, Tell Tale Signs must be one of my favorite Dylan albums. And one of my favorite songs on that double CD is Born In Time which I wrote about here in 2018:
Born In Time and Other Dylan Songs About Being Born

You can find the lyrics to Born In Time here.

Time is a concept that philosophers and thinking people have mulled over since the beginning time. Or at least since humans first appeared here. Poets and songwriters have be inspired by it, fascinated by the various ways we experience it, as too short, too long, too little and too much. 

Eve: Any idea what time it is?
Adam: Good question. Based on the angle of the sun I'd say it was after noon.


Gork: I killed another one of these things. After we skin it and build a fire it will be dinner time.
Glam: Oh good. I was getting tired of leftovers.

As life became more organized and sophisticated, so did our means of keeping time. When I took piano lessons as a boy I was given a metronome, which one can set to various speeds. It helps keep you from speeding up your pace when playing, something we can often do when nervous.

If you go to see a live orchestra performance -- nowadays you can watch them on YouTube -- you'll notice how the conductor uses his baton to set the tempo.

During my years in advertising I wrote quite a few scripts for radio advertising. I would utilize an Online Stopwatch to time these scripts so that they fit the radio station's time constraints. Today, I use that same Online Stopwatch to time my speeches for Toastmasters.

Photo courtesy @aronvisuals on Unsplash
The film Back to the Future had much to do with time. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) figures out a solution to being stuck in the past when he realizes that the Hill Valley clock tower will be struck by lightning on a specific moment in time...

Back to the Future is just one of many films that had time travel as a central theme. Other include 12 Monkeys, the Terminator films and Peggy Sue Got Married, among others.

When I was a little tyke we used to watch a cartoon called Mr. Peabody's Improbable History that was on the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show. Mr. Peabody was the smartest being on earth and one of his inventions was the WABAC (Way-Back) machine. A central feature of the cartoon series was going back in time to teach Sherman about various people from history from Napoleon and Lord Nelson to Jesse James and Sir Isaac Newton.

All these thoughts about time were stimulated by this fascinating web page titled Astonishing and Creative Ways of Marking Time, Keeping Time. I found it so interesting I wanted to. share it... and if you have time to explore, you will enjoy it, too.

Meantime, whatever is on your agenda for the weekend, have a good time. 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Minneapolis Star Trib Features Bill Pagel and the Two Homes from Bob Dylan's Childhood

Bill Pagel, 2019
This was a fun story to read. Jon Bream of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (nicknamed the Strib by locals) has published a story about the the two homes Bobby Zimmerman lived in while growing up, here in Duluth and in Hibbing, both now owned by collector Bill Pagel.

Pagel, a relatively quiet behind-the-scenes kind of guy, was featured in chapter one of David Kinney's The Dylanologists, which mentioned in passing that he was in possession of Bob Dylan's high chair from when he lived in the duplex at 519 3rd Avenue East. At the time, the collector owned one Zimmerman house and that high chair. Since retiring he's devoted himself to filling the upstairs of this Duluth home with period furniture in accordance with the photos he's acquired from the time.

When I first got to know Bill he owned the house next door to the Hibbing home where Bob and his brother David grew up. He was like a mountain lion set to pounce the moment it became available. Today both properties are well on their way to being re-creations of their original forms.

Bass player Billy Peterson with Jon Bream during Paul Metsa's
Hour of Power program upon release of Bootleg #14
Jon Bream's article begins with this paragraph:
In his teeming Bob Dylan collection, Bill Pagel has more than 15,000 photos, 4,000 concert posters and 18 four-drawer file cabinets filled with manuscripts and ephemera. He owns the Minnesota native’s childhood homes in Duluth and Hibbing, not to mention little Bobby’s highchair.

The article includes 31 photos, including Bob Dylan's childhood high chair, which you can see online here at the Strib website.

Obviously not Bob Dylan Drive when Bob lived there.
The home he grew up in, today.

Related Links
Review of Jon Bream's book Bob Dylan: Disc By Disc
Archivist Bill Pagel Seals the Deal

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