Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A Backward Look: Duluth Dylan Fest Links -- 2011 to 2019

Here we are, approaching the last hours of March, 10 days after the beginning of Spring. Before you know it, May will be here and suddenly it's Duluth Dylan Fest (DDF). There's been a lot of planning this year, and some surprises are in the air. Since I am not permitted to unveil those surprises until they're announced, I thought it might be nice to take a sojourn through our past decade of Duluth Dylan Fest. 

At one time it was Hibbing that held the torch for the annual celebration around Bob Dylan's birthday. The closing of Zimmy's broke our hearts, but not the Northland spirit of celebrating the region's native son. For a few years before Hibbing's festival took a sabbatical, Duluth had been celebrating the week previous as a kind of warm-up act. 

The Pandemic last year disrupted our own DDF but not our efforts to find new ways to show respect and to share the various ways Bob Dylan has inspired the region's music, arts and poetry scenes. As a warm up act to what's happening in 2021, here is a list of stories that were written about past events, laden with memories and photos. Consider this an appetizer. 


Local Musicians and Artists Featured at Dylan Fest

Standing Ovation for Bastiens at Guthrie-Dylan Dinner Concert

Bob Dylan's Amazing Balancing Act

John Bushey: Dylan On His Mind

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

Poets Gather To Celebrate The Bard During North Country Dylan Week

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


The Floodgates Are Open: Spring Is Here and So Is Dylan Days


This Year’s Duluth Dylan Fest Schedule 2015

Poetry Showcase at the Red Mug Energizes Duluth Dylan Fest 2015

Three Feet Away by Phil Fitzpatrick; Duluth Dylan Fest In Full Swing



A Visit with Robby Vee: Opening Act for Duluth Dylan Fest

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A Slice of the New World


Local Art Seen: Tara Austin @ the Joseph Nease Gallery's "A Warm Reset"

I first saw Tara Lynn Austin's work at a Duluth Art Institute show in My 2018, the year she finished her MFA at Madison. The show, Boreal Ornament, featured wonderfully intricate imagery and memorably vivid patterns and designs. 

Having grown up in Grand Marais, it's not surprising she did her undergraduate studies at UMD where she discovered Professor Ryuta Nakajima, who amplified her interest in the intersection between science and art. "I became interested in Victorian botanical illustrations while I was at UMD, especially those of Ernst Haeckel, and I spent a lot of time in the greenhouse," she said of that time. "I started reading about the mathematics found in nature, like golden spiral, Fibonacci sequence, and fractals."

A year ago, Austin was slated to be a featured artist at the Joseph Nease Gallery here in Duluth. Unfortunately, the pandemic and subsequent lockdown closed the doors at JNG until this past weekend when their new show launched titled A Warm Reset. Tara Austin is one of the artists who has work on display this spring through June 26. 

The more you engage, the more you see... much like life itself.

Tara Austin, Liz James and Tim White will be featured April 10 at a JNG artists talk. The JNG is located at 23 West 1st Street here in Duluth.

To learn more about exhibitions, represented artists and gallery hours
visit the Joseph Nease Gallery website at

Monday, March 29, 2021

How Effective Is A Personal Website for Short Stories?

What follows is my answer to a question I was asked on Quora, the international crowdsourcing Q&A website. In 2018 I got the nod as a top writer on Quora, a website I enjoyed because I could help people by answering their questions, from silly to curious, earnest and serious, and everything in between. In 2019 I dropped off from being so active on Quora because I'd amped my participation on Medium, a platform that pays its writers whose work is being read and appreciated.

Q: How effective is a personal website for short stories?

Effective in what way?

When the internet was first emerging I created a website and shared poetry, art, journalism and short stories…. among other things. There were not a lot of websites in 1995–96 and I even got a badge from the St Paul Pioneer Press as a Top 5 Minnesota Websites of the Week.

One day I got contacted by a poetry website in Croatia. They asked permission to translate my story Duel of the Poets into Croatian as a centerpiece. (The story now appears in my book Unremembered Histories.)  A few months later a Russian website contacted me to translate another one of my stories into Russian.

Later, a French grad student was given the assignment to translate a story by an American writer into French and he selected my story Terrorists Preying. This was especially interesting because the word Preying is a Homonym for Praying and he had trouble trying to convey that in his translation.

Still later, I was contacted by a pair of young filmmakers for permission to make my story Episode on South Street into a short movie. I said I was honored and within the year it was on Vimeo.

I never made a penny, but felt honored and gratified that my work was appealing to readers. So I go back to the question “How effective in what way?” Keep in mind that the whole world is uploading content at dizzying speeds and your little batch of stories may never be seen at all if you don’t also find ways to let people know they are there. According to this website “There are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day at our current pace, but that pace is only accelerating.”

In early 2011 I received some encouragement from someone I respected that my stories were worth sharing more widely and by the end of the year I published Unremembered Histories and two volumes for Kindle which, if I could do over again I would have done differently.

I think a website is useful for having all your work in one place. The downside is that most publications consider your work “published” if you do this, and you will have trouble selling it later.

I did it in order to share my work with readers. I disliked the whole game of sending things to publishers and waiting for rejection slips. But if you do decide to put your stories online, you can also repurpose them and share them on. Medium, which is a community fo writers.

As a  final aside I'll mention here that also used the website to share a few stories my children wrote. We were homeschooling for a while and in 2000 or 2001 I shared a long cowboy story my son had written and two of my daughter's stories. As it turns out, one of my daughter's stories was published in a California periodical and another in a New Zealand publication. No money in either, but it did make me a proud papa.

I hope this has been helpful.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

A Warm Reset: David Bowen at JNG

"the other side (3-18-19)"
The doors are open at Joseph Nease Gallery in Duluth. The new show features mostly familiar artists and a lot of new work. The recommended protocol is to make an appointment because of the requirement for social distancing which is still in effect. 

Artists represented include Matthew Kluber, Liz James, Allen Killian Moore, Tim White, David Bowen, Tara Austin, James Brinsfield and Kathy McTavish. The images on this blog post are from David Bowen's project, "the other side". 

In the main gallery you will see several 23.5 x 23.5 inch pieces which appear to be some kind of sculpted surface, textured abstract monochromatic paintings, akin to topographic maps except all one color, in this case a mauve color. The material is actually a cut polyisocyanurate and the design is created via digital carving of the surface  The way the shadows shade the surface is interesting, but not really the full story.

"the other side (3-17-19)"
How the pieces were created, and where the name comes from, is told in a 2 minute video that is being projected in Gallery A. Essentially, the series is titled "the other side" because the process involves satellite photos taken on the other side of the world. A section of the aerial image is selected, and the 3-D image is computer generated by means of the computer which then feeds this information into a piece of equipment that carves the identical topography into these squares. 

Each is from the same location on the other side of the world, and different only because the images are taken on different days. The primary variation comes from the cloud formations there.

Interestingly enough, even before seeing the video I somehow imagined that the surfaces were topographical. My guess was that they were lake bottoms, designed by means of sonar. So my instinct were not that far off. 

A Warm Reset will run from March 26 thru June 26. On April 10 there will be an artist talk featuring Liz James, Tara Austin and Time White, and a second artist talk on May 22. The gallery is located at 23 West 1st Street here in Duluth.

* * * 

A brief story in pictures about "the other side"

To learn more about exhibitions, represented artists and gallery hours
visit the Joseph Nease Gallery website at

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Part of the Power of Dvorak's New World Symphony Comes from Its American Influences

One of my early memories about Ludwig van Beethoven was how he would walk the countryside and listen to the folk songs and music of villagers as a source of inspiration for musical themes in his classical works. He was no doubt not the first to do thus. Nor was he the last, for this was something Hungarian-born composer Antonin Dvorak (Dvor-zhak) did as well, decades later. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that when this internationally renowned musician came to the United States for a three-year residency as director of the National Conservatory of Music (1892-1895) he would discover new sources of inspiration here in the "new world." Two of the new world sources that he drew upon were Native American and African American impressions that he'd not encountered previous to coming to America. Both have been cited as contributors to his 9th Symphony.

According to an article by Patrick Neas in the Kansas City Star, "Anytime classical fans are polled about their favorite works, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 'From the New World' is always near the top of the list. With gorgeous themes that sound both Bohemian and American, the Symphony No. 9 captures the best of the old and the new world. And this beloved classical masterpiece received its finishing touches in a small town 400 miles north of Kansas City."

When I read that Dvorak was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City I wondered how he connected with Native American music. As it turns out, there was a community of Czech immigrants in Spillville, Iowa (population at that time approximately 350, as it is today) that he crossed the Midwest to visit in the summer of 1893.

The KC Star article notes that  "It was on the plains of the Midwest that Dvorak came into contact with Native American music and African-American spirituals. Dvorak absorbed this authentic American folk music and incorporated it into his 'New World' symphony, which was first performed by the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall on Dec. 16, 1893."

* * * 


Yesterday I wrote about my own early introduction to classical music, and my parents' early experiences at Cleveland Symphony Hall.  It's fascinating how so much of who we are has been shaped by influences. David Pichaske's book Song of the North Country goes into great detail showing how Bob Dylan's Northern Minnesota roots shaped his outlook and defined much of his music. So it comes as no surprise that Dvorak's music contains a multitude of influences from his life in Eastern Europe. My father had an album of his "Slavonic Dances". It would not surprise me to learn that my father's appreciation for Dvorak came in part from Cleveland Orchestra conductor George Szell who was himself from Hungary.

This is why it should not surprise us to find Dvorak still listening for new sources of inspiration during his three years in the U.S.  Is it possible his use of the timpani (kettledrums) in the New World Symphony was inspired by hearing the Native drums while in Iowa? 

Opening horn solo introducing theme for 2nd movement. If you 
read music then you it will no doubt be familiar to you.

Music critic Michael Beckerman wrote that the Second and Third Movements were based on Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha. These were purportedly ideas in "sketch form" that were studies for a longer work. The third movement was inspired by the scene in which the Indians dance. It is most likely that Dvorak attended at least one Powwow while in Iowa. Dvorak expressly stated that the music in this symphony would never have been created had he not been to this country.

Here's an amazing statement from Dvorak. According to contemporary journalist Peter Guttman, the composer presciently observed, "I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them."

Isn't that what the 10 episodes of Ken Burns' PBS documentary series Jazz was saying? Of this, much more can be said. 

Here is the exquisite second movement of Dvorak's wonderful symphony.

Trivia: Neil Armstrong brought a recording of The New World Symphony 
to the moon to play during mankind's first landing there.

Related Links

Classical Notes on Dvorak's "New World" Symphony
Ukraine national orchestra to showcase Verdi and Dvorak at Helzberg Hall

Friday, March 26, 2021

My Early Introduction to Classical Music... and My Father's

When I was growing up in Cleveland, my father built a console of blonde wood for his record player. Inside he kept a modest collection of primarily classical music. On Sunday mornings Mom would take us to church while Dad listened to his classical records and read the Sunday paper at home. Albums with titles like Echoes of Offenbach and Scheherazade intrigued me. Beethoven’s Fifth became a favorite of mine then. Beethoven’s indelible sense of the dramatic is evident in both the opening and the climax, stirring the blood in little boys like myself. 

This early introduction to classical music gave me a lifelong appreciation for the genre. I’m no expert, just one who appreciates the form. One of my father’s favorites was Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony, better known as the New World Symphony, which I’m listening to now as I write these reflections.

If you knew my father’s life story you might be surprised at how he came to appreciate the classical greats. He grew up exceedingly poor. Six children slept in the living room of a three-room house with no bathroom and perhaps no running water. When my dad was born Grandpa was working in a coal mine, on the run from feds who’d come to bust him for moonshining during prohibition. Grandma taught Grandpa how to read so he could fill out a job application when they moved to Southwest Ohio.

The day my father graduated high school he joined the army. Upon completing his tour of duty, he attended Hiram College on the G.I. Bill where he met my mother. When Dad and Mom eloped, they moved to Little Italy in Cleveland, renting a second-floor apartment on Murray Hill Road where Mom could walk to the hospital to work and finish nurses training. 

“I never had to work nights or evenings while in school, so I could usher in Severance Hall, where the world-famous George Szell was conductor,” my mother recently told me. The Hungarian-born conductor and composer came to Cleveland after World War II to take charge of the respected but undersized orchestra there. During his 24 years as music director, Szell brought the Cleveland Orchestra international recognition and acclaim.

“The first year I ushered on Thursday nights. We wore burnt orange uniforms,” my Mom said. “The next year we wore white blouses with black skirts.” 

One of the perks of the job was that my dad was permitted to attend performances if there were empty seats, which there almost always were. “That is where he got his love for classical music,” Mom added. “Dad had classical records even then. I was only a volunteer, but we both got to hear wonderful music for free.” I can imagine him being transported by the music, much like Harry Haller in Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, or Joseph Knecht in The Glass Bead Game.

* * * 

Here's the incredible finale to Beethoven Symphony no. 5  
George Szell conducting the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra


Szell and Cleveland LIVE: Beethoven symphony no. 3 in E flat (Eroica)

This live performance of Beethoven's symphony no. 3 took place three days after the shooting at Kent State in the spring of 1970. Before beginning the performance, George Szell asks the audience to stand for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the shooting. 

As is the case with many YouTube videos, there are comments. This one stood out as a nice postscript for this blog post:

"Incomparable! Along with the Sibelius 2nd recorded live in Tokyo, THIS EROICA is a testament to the greatness of George Szell. Among the small pantheon of musician conductors Szell is at the summit!" --Ian Harper

 * * * 

Related Links
10 Classical Music Favorites of Exquisite Beauty
Oli Braithwaite of Stars & Catz on the Power of Music

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Rediscovering Tragic Film


One of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's early works was called The Birth of Tragedy. Taking his cues from classical Greek tragedy, he presented modern (19th century) readers with the idea that tragedy is "an art form that transcends the pessimism and nihilism of a fundamentally meaningless world."* Spectators, by looking deeply into the depths of human sorrow, were affirmed in their own existence, and thus could see themselves not simply as petty peons in a pointless existence but as fuller, more complex persons.
Many there are who misunderstand tragedy in the arts. Hence the films we entertain ourselves with often tend to have tidy upbeat endings, such as the Hollywood version of The Natural, which produces a heroic end rather than the tragic one played out in the book.

This conflict regarding how to end films in Hollywood is a comical undercurrent in The Player, with Tim Robbins (1992). So it is that an analysis of the top 250 films of all time in most lists will reveal that tragic stories are a small minority.

Last night in a periodical called The City I read a fascinating essay by Paul D. Miller called Rediscovering Tragic Film, dealing with the films of Christopher Nolan. Nolan's name is no doubt familiar to movie buffs because he seems to be really connecting with the films he's been cranking out, most recently Inception starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It was probably Memento that first caught the public's attention, and a string of hits have followed including Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Night. Miller notes that five of Nolan's six big films are are built around the elements of tragedy, yet the sum total of these films has generated 2.5 billion dollars in revenue, no small potatoes.

Miller writes, "A tragic plot is especially effective if it incorporates four elements: necessity, surprise, reversal, and recognition. Aristotle argues that the plot must proceed along a necessary chain of cause and effect, not by chance or randomness. 'The effect is heightened when, at the same time, [the outcome] follows as cause and effect,' because the tragic conclusion could not have been otherwise. A terrible but random event -- say, an earthquake -- inspires pity but also detachment, while a terrible event resulting from human choices and happenings that followed necessarily from them are terrifying because we can see how it could happen to us."

So it is that Chinatown, a Roman Polanski masterpiece, (spoiler here if you have not seen this movie) captivates us with its surprises, reversals and the plodding inevitability of its tragic end. Jack Nicholson sees it all coming, sees his part in the destruction and tragically sees, in retrospect, how it all happened.

According to Dr. Miller, Nolan's successes as a director and screenwriter reveal a thirst amongst movie-goers for real stories. "Real stories," he writes, "are ones that reflect true things about life, human nature, and the world we live in. Most films depict cardboard caricatures, not human beings, and take place in a fantasy world where good always triumphs. That Nolan's films make money and win praise shows that movie-goers sense something true in them."

I found Miller's essay satisfying and thought provoking. You will find more of Dr. Miller's film reviews here 

The City is a publication of Houston Baptist University.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Butler Who Folds His Hands Spills No Tea

Photo by Nashad Abdu on Unsplash
In the late 70s, when I was in Bible school, I worked two years in a factory which made pop-up camper trailers. This was one of the ways the school remained self-sufficient. It also enabled students to attend with virtually no tuition. We probably learned as many lessons in the factory as we did in the classroom. It was from Cliff Dahlen, a teacher in the school and one of the foremen there, that I learned a couple invaluable lessons about praise and criticism that are with me to this day. 

People chafe under criticism. As a rule of thumb, therefore, supervisors should praise ten times more often than give criticism. If we do that, Cliff explained, the criticism will be more palatable. 

The psychology behind this idea is profound. If we praise more than criticize, the workers under us will more likely feel that we are on their side. They won't see us as adversaries. Nor will they hide their mistakes for fear of being chewed out.

And that is another thing. Isn't it true that too often the only reason some people people explode is because they've reached the boiling point and snapped? If we look for the good in others, and encourage frequently, we'll be less afraid of giving critical advice when it's needed. Criticism should be measured, with the aim being to help. It should not be due to our own short fuse or lack of self control.

Still one more lesson from Cliff: praise publicly, criticize privately. 

If criticism stings, public criticism stings fivefold. It's bad enough to make a mistake. Being called out in front of others is humiliating. And it seldom accomplishes what one intends. 

In my article 9 Maxims That Carried Me Through Three Decades in Corporate America I shared this axiom: The Butler Who Folds His Hands Spills No Tea. The idea behind that saying should be self-evident. Too much criticism has consequences. When people are repeatedly dumped on, they're being coerced into behavior that minimizes the pain caused by this pummeling. The goal becomes "avoid pain" rather than "how much can we accomplish today".

Some work environments are so toxic that there is never any praise for a job well done, but plenty of grilling when a mistake occurs. When managers give all their attention to finding a scapegoat, employees quickly learn to cover their tracks and wipe off their fingerprints. 

The unintentional end result is an incentive for people to do nothing. Only by doing nothing can workers be assured of no mistakes.

* * *

A quick final note. Your praise and appreciation has to be authentic. If it's not, your team will see it for what it really is and lose respect for you as a leader. If you don't mean it, don't say it. 

* * * 

Related Links
State of the Workforce Gallup Study: Medicine to Make America Great Again
How Engaged Are Your Employees: The 12 Questions Gallup Researchers Ask
The Best Job-Hunting Book Ever: What Color Is Your Parachute?

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