I’m taking an exceedingly rare sick day today.
Given that there’s a Holiday weekend coming up, I may not do a lot of regular posting until Wednesday.
Enjoy the weekend!
I want to open a restaurant specializing in corn tortillas with poppy seeds added for texture.
I’ll call them “Opiate of the Masas”.
Yes, I need coffee.
A friend of the blog writes:
Thought you’d enjoy this, from the people who say, “it’s not about entitlement for bicyclists, and we don’t hate cars” oh really? Yet you say Summit Ave should look like this, congested for one bike rider?
This is what Summit should look like. https://t.co/9cvA7u9k1y
— Father Sonn (@mikesonn) June 15, 2017
Which links to…:
This is what Summit should look like. https://t.co/9cvA7u9k1y
— Father Sonn (@mikesonn) June 15, 2017
First things first: I love biking. I love biking on Summit. And there are days when Summit, especially down by Lexington, does look exactly like that.
But the correspondent is right. When you watch “Urban Planners” (the people who make cyclocentrism possible) when they think nobody’s watching, the level of Urban Minnesotan Passive-Aggression is nauseating. The primary goal is as much about sticking it to drivers as it is about “bike-friendliness”; de-timing stoplights, putting obstacles and chicanes in roads to “calm” (read: snarl) traffic, and giving away traffic lanes to bikes, transit and trains.
Or whatever. As long as the Car People end up getting pissed on.
It’s time once again for my annual pledge drive.
Why yes – it was ten years ago I started biking to work again.
Of course, I haven’t had ten straight years of biking. After four years of working downtown (in easy biking distance), I followed up with a year of working someplace with a sixteen mile ride across Saint Paul, Minneapolis, Saint Louis Park and all the way to Hopkins, and then a few years where biking was just not practical. I had a job two years ago that involved a fairly interesting ride from Saint Paul to Bloomington – but that ended after five months.
But now that I work out of my house (fingers crossed, knock wood), the time is right again.
So I got out and rode to downtown Saint Paul yesterday.
And I was surprised. For not having ridden much in the past two years, it could have been a lot worse. My legs actually worked the rest of the day, and when I woke up this morning. Which was more than I could say ten years ago, when I started for the first time.
But I think I’ll give the legs a day off today…
If you remember my “Twenty Years Ago Today” series from way back when, you may recall that one of the things that drew me to the Twin Cities, 32 years ago this fall, was the music scene. While I had not the foggiest idea at age 22 what I wanted to do for a career (and happened back into radio by blind luck), I did know I wanted to be a musician. And so the fact that Minneapolis had a thriving music scene in 1985 played as much into my decision of where to move after college as anything.
I’d been writing music like a madman ever since I moved to the Cities; between December of 1985 and the following Christmas, I probably wrote 60-70 songs, and probably cut demos of 30-40 of them on my Fostex X-15 four-track cassette deck.
Eventually I worked up the nerve to take out an ad in the City Pages, and start an actual band.
That November, I found three guys. That December – 1986 – we had our debut gig, and the old “McReady’s Pub” in downtown Minneapolis (where the Gateway parking ramp now stands).
And thirty years ago today, the gig that, ever so briefly, made me think like I’d made the right call, and might just be on my way.
The band was “Tenant’s Union” – and we’d gotten booked to play “New Band Night” at the Seventh Street Entry.
The Tuesday night gig was normally a dead end for bands; you got $20, and you played in the reverse order that the band showed up in. We got there first, so we were the last band up -which ordinariy meant you just played for the dumbest drunks.
But this wasn’t just any night.
For starters, it was the day U2’s The Joshua Tree came out.
Which didn’t really bear on the gig, so much – it was completely unrelated. However, I’d picked it up on my way to work at KSTP that day, and had jacked my brain up into an expanded level of adrenaline-soaked frenzy listening to “Where The Streets Have No Names” and “In God’s Country” and “Bullet The Blue Sky” all day.
So I was pretty jazzed.
Second – and much more important?
It was Saint Patrick’s ‘Day.
Part of that meant that half the band – a couple of brothers from a large family of 100% Irish descent – were on an emotional tear.
And part of it meant that “Boiled in Lead”, the legendary Twin Cities traditional Irish band – would be playing the main room.
Now, Boiled In Lead was a great band. Indeed, they still are.
But I don’t care who you are, and I don’t care how Hibernian you fancy yourself or how much Guinness you drink or how much you say “ting” instead of “Thing” – people can only stand so much Bodhran drum and uilleann pipe music before they need a break.
And the only place to take that break that night was over to the Seventh Street Entry.
And so by the time we got on stage, the place was packed to its capacity.
I have no idea what that “capacity” was. I’m sure the number has grown over the years; in my mind, there were a solid 200 people there that night.
It took me a bit, but I remembered the set list from that night:
- Tiger Tiger (A song by Willy, the drummer – yes, it was a William Blake reference. I told you he was Irish).
- Five Bucks and a Transfer (My song about having…well, the title says it. It shamelessly stole the beat from The Pretenders’ “Message of Love”, but it was a way better song, if I say so myself. And I do say so myself).
- Switchyard Blues (think The Who covering Mose Allison. I played a VERY mean harmonica that night)
- Espresso Corey (he other guitar player, Corey’s ode to working in a crappy coffee shop back before everyone was doing it)
- Ride Shotgun (wherein I pilfed the riff to “Jackson Cage” and the harmony guitar part from Big Country’s “Tall Ships Go” to grand effect)
- Blood On The Bricks (the Iron City Houserockers’ classic)
- Oh Suzanne (a bald-faced mash note)
- Fourth Of July (a song I still play at the occasional open stage night)
- Long Gray Wire (a song I’d written in about five minutes in the car on the way to practice one night. Still one of the coolest experiences of my life. Great tune, too)
- Great Northern Avenue (a song I’ve quoted on this blog before, and still by a long shot the favorite song I’ve ever written)
And we were smokin’ hot. The sloppiness of our first two gigs had been replaced by a fearsome tightness and confidence…
…although we’d still not gotten over the nerves entirely. We played very fast that night. Between the speed, the tightness, and the fact that we were very loud, some thought we were a speed medal or thrash band; some people started moshing out on the floor.
This I didn’t expect.
It was a spectacular success. Musicians who saw us asked us to open for them. Other bars started booking us. People paid a little bit of attention.
It didn’t last – it rarely does.
The band soldiered on in one form or another until 1989 – and did a one-off gig under a different name in 1996, at the Turf Club. Then came marriage, kids, careers, adult life.
There’s never much point in dwelling on the past. But taking five to remember one of the highlights can’t be all bad.
Postscript: One of the songs – our big finale, as it happens. It’s a different band, here, but it’s basically the same song, all full of country-mouse chip on the shoulder and carpet-bombing “wall of sound” guitars that I put on that four-track cassette back in the summer of 1986.
And you might surmise there’s another musical project underway. And you’d be right.
More on that later.
It was a wet, cold, slushy March evening in Jamestown, ND. I was in the basement of the FIrst Presbyterian Church, at a church youth group meeting.
Notable fact about the group: one of the group’s leaders, a student at Jamestown College, would eventually have a son named Jared, who’d become an all-star defensive tackle for the Vikings. The guy who eventually became Jared Allen’s father was no slouch of an athlete himself; he was one of the very few people from that NAIA Division III school ever to get a walk-on tryout with an NFL team – I think it was the Rams, and I think he got as close to making the cut as anyone from an NAIA III school ever did.
But the story’s not about him or his future son.
The kids in the group were what passed for my “best friends” at that socially awkward time of my life, probably, sort of. Which isn’t to say that cliques didn’t find their way into the group. Immune to cliqueishness as I’d always been, some teenage angst was inevitable.
And for whatever reason, I had a nemesis at the youth group. Her name was Cindy. She didn’t like me, and the feeling was mutual.
And I watched, teeth clenched, as Cindy uncased a guitar and started strumming out a song of some kind or another.
I will play guitar. And I will play it better than Cindy, I resolved to myself.
I went home that night, and dug through the closet in the room I shared with my little brother. There, I muttered. The guitar.
It was a guitar that someone had left in my dad’s classroom back in the mid-sixties. It’d sat in Dad’s locker, forgotten, for several years, before he brought it home – this on the day of the first moon landing, as I (possibly falsely) remember.
And after a little dilatory plinking, it spent the next eight years doing what most guitars do in the hands of little boys; it served as a machine gun, a fort for toy soldiers, an aircraft carrier for toy planes – pretty much everything but a guitar.
But those days had passed. I needed a guitar, and a guitar it would again be.
It’d take all my stingy, cheapskate resourcefulness to make that happen. The guitar had been a very cheap guitar even when brand new – a “May-Bell”, the kind of thing you got in the Sears catalog for $19,99 back in the sixties; it was apparently part of a long line of cheap instruments.
Its years of abuse had left it the worse for wear; there was a crack in the back and another in the front; it had two remaining strings, and it was missing three tuning heads.
I wasn’t completely green at this; I had played cello since fourth grade, and had picked up a few tricks, and had a few contacts. I gathered my paper route savings and went to work.
And so on Monday, March 14, 1977, I walked into Midwest Music – a tiny little hole in the wall on main street in Jamestown. I bought a pack of strings, dug through an odds and ends box for some parts to assemble some one-of-a-kind tuning machines, and a little tube of wood glue to try to repair the cracks.
I also bought a copy of the Gene Leis “Nexus Method” guitar book – basically a chapter on how to hold the instrument, a chapter on how to read chord frames, and then 20 pages of photos of chords.
It was a fortuitous choice; the book’s tag lines said “If you don’t know your chords you’ll never play enough guitar to be dangerous”, and I took it to heart. It was a brilliant maxim, and it served me well. And I had one huge benefit – four years on the cello had taught me out to keep time, what intervals and chords were, and how music fit together.
The maxim was good. Unfortunately, for all my cheapskate ingenuity, the MayBell was another story. While I did a serviceable job repairing it, it was pretty much a disaster of a guitar. It wouldn’t stay in tune (the wood glue didn’t really fix the cracks, and more importantly didn’t give the structure enough rigidity to stay in tune at all).
It was there that serendipity stepped in.
My dad had spent the previous year on sabbatical from his job at the high school, teaching in the education department at the college up on the hill. One of his students was a young woman who was a music and education major from rural northern Californnia, who had just dragged her fiance – who, in a fun example of the circularity that seems to plague my autobiographical stories in this blog, was the future father of Jared Allen (whom you met in the second paragraph above). They had broken up; Mr. Allen had a new girlfriend and a new best friend from the football team (a guy from Crystal, MN named Mick Burns, who is now a Presbyterian minister in Virginia) who asked him to come down and help with the youth group at the church…
…but I’m digressing. Jared Allen’s future father’s ex-fiance, Jenny, who’d become a bit of a friend of the family, noticed how gamely I was wrestling with the jury-rigged MayBell, and noted that she had a Yamaha classical guitar that she’d tried learning to play once upon a time, and didn’t have time for, and that I could borrow until she graduated from college.
And so I set to work with a vengeance and, armed with the knowledge of what a guitar sounded like when it could actually stay in tune, and 20 pages of chords to learn, I started learning music.
And ran quickly up on a reef of ignorance; I just didn’t know that much music, other than the classical stuff I played on my cello at school. My parents, God bless ’em, weren’t musicians, much – and when the radio was on around the house, it was usually tuned into CBW in Winnipeg, because it was the closest thing to NPR you could get in rural North Dakota at the time.
I had heard a few songs by one artist, though – John Denver. And so I grabbed a copy of the sheet music for his Greatest Hits album.
And for probably six months, I sat in my room most every night and woodshedded on that album. “Follow Me” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” were the first songs I ever managed to play coherently – and from there, my musical world kept expanding; “Back Home Again” was where I had my “ah hah!” moment on how fourths and fifths play together, and how to do a rolling sixth (which you use in every Chuck Berry song, and thus most everything the Rolling Stones and Mike Campbell ever played). “Take Me Home, Country Roads” taught me how relative minors work – and you can’t play anything on Born to Run without relative minors! I got to “Sunshine On My Shoulders” – and discovered the perfect song for learning the basics of fingerpicking. The whole thing is a languid eighth-note pattern – like drumming your fingers on the table, once you learn your chords. And “Rocky Mountain High” is a great little workout on how chords fit together.
And so by the middle of that summer, I could play…a bunch of John Denver songs. It seemed like it took forever – and occasionally felt like it. My fingers did, occasionally, literally bleed. In retrospect, it was blazingly fast; anger was a great motivator!
But even then, I knew – knowing how to play John Denver wasn’t going to land me any babes. And so I started branching out.
I found a copy of the sheet music for “Sundown”, by Gordon Lightfoot, and learned how to play moving chords fluidly in a progression.
And right after that – in July of ’77 – while sitting and listening to the radio in my room, I heard Styx’s gloppy, pompous faux-art-rock classic “Come Sail Away”. It was inescapable back then, let’s be honest.
And as I played along with the big, climactic guitar part, I strummed a “C” – and then an “F”, and a “G”, and then back to the “F” – and it all clicked; that’s how the song went together. I learned it by follow a standard chord progression (1 to 4 to 5 – the progression you use for everything from “Louie Louie” to “Wild Thing” to “Twist and Shout” to “Born to Run”), and back, without needing to buy sheet music for it
And it was like the floodgates opened. By that fall, I would sit in the chair in the corner of the room I still shared with my brother, doing homework, with my guitar at my feet, and listen for any songs to cross the radio that I wanted to learn; I’d pick apart the chord progression, faster and faster, and pretty soon be playing along pretty fluently; by early winter, I knew most of the KFYR “Torrid Twenty” every week. I learned hundreds of songs – some that I still remember;
“Hot Child in the City” by Nick Gilder, “Fooling Yourself” by Styx, “Logical Song” and “Give A Little BIt” by Supertramp, “Help Is On Its Way” by the LIttle River Band, “Three TImes a Lady” by the Commodores, “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones, “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty, “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” by Meatloaf, “Dancing Queen” by Abba, “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas (fingerpicking and all), “Magnet and Steel” by Walter Egan, “Still the One” by Orleans, “Night Moves” and “Hollywood Nights” and “Mainstreet” and “Still The Same” by Bob Seger, “Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle, “Because the Night” by…Patti Smith (it’d be months before I learned who Bruce Springsteen was), “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne, “Wild Fire” by Michael Murphy, “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon – and learned them so indelibly I can play all of them, note for note and word for word, today – even the one hit wonders (Nick Gilder? Really? Yes. Yes, I can).
And sometime in the next year, it led me to my next big project; learning how to be a lead guitar player. And after hours of trying to decipher how it was done, I had my first victory; the solo from “More than a Feeling”, by Boston.
And once that fell into place, the whole musical world opened up to me; by tenth grade, I was not just a greasy-haired dweeb. I was a guitar player. I had an identity, and it was damn fine.
And it started forty years ago this past Tuesday.
One thing that ended not long after that anniversary was my junior-high enmity with Cindy. We actually became friends through high school and then college. And around college graduation, I mentioned to her that she was the reason I started playing guitar in the first place.
“Huh”, she responded “I think I quit the guitar right after that”.
Anyway – I got hooked. About a year after I rebuilt the Maybell – just before Jenny graduated and needed her guitar back – I bought my first guitar, a Ventura acoustic that I still have (although it needs some TLC). Then, the summer after 9th grade, my first electric, a 1961 Fender Jazzmaster. I still play that one; God wiling, I’ll hand it down to my son, also a guitar player, someday.
And eight years later, it led me elsewhere.
More later today.
I’m running a round of usability testing this entire week.
Which means I’m going to be in a lab, focusing on people doing stuff with software.
Which means if your comment goes in the moderation queue, it will be likely late afternoon before I can get around to approving comments.
That is, of course, for those of you whose comments get approved pro forma. Those of you on suspension will still need to do what you were asked to do to unblock your comments.
I apologize for the inconvenience.
One of my blog resolutions (besides “laughing over the online graves of so many liberal blogs”) is to spend a little less time on politics this year, and a little more on some of my other main subjects – history and of course music.
Music’s gotten short shrift lately; I wrote a grand total of thirteen posts about music all last year, and three of them were obituaries.
So it’s time to do a sort of musical palate-cleanser, I’m just going to reprise something that was going around social media the week of New Years; the top ten albums that affected you as a teenager.
Which is of course, a curve-ball; there are albums that have had a bigger influence on my life than some of these; “Shoot Out the Lights” by Richard Thompson, most of the Dire Straits catalog, and so on.
But here’s a start, in rough ascending order.
Gordon Lightfoot, “Gord’s Gold”
Yep. You heard that right. Loved that album back then. Still do. Part of it was just that Lightfoot had a real way with a hook. Part of it was that I learned a lot about playing acoustic guitar from listening to him.
And part of it was because even then, I very counterintuitively liked Lightfoot’s persona. Not sure why that very un-teenagery image grabbed me, but it did. So sue me.
Styx, “The Grand Illusion”
This one’s going to be a little counterintuitive. If you know me, it may even come as a shock.
I detest Styx. Especially anything sung by Dennis DeYoung. However, one of the defining things about my identity as a teenager – really, the first part I liked – was as a guitar player and a rock and roller.
And “Come Sail Away”, “Fooling Yourself” and “Miss America” were the first songs I figured out how to play on guitar by ear, without any help or sheet music or anything. And once I figured them out, the dam broke and I learned *hundreds* of songs just by listening to the radio. Indeed, throughout high school my evening homework-time ritual was to tune in KFYR in Bismarck and listen as I did my reading and math; if I heard a song I liked, I’d grab my guitar and figure it out along with the radio.
And so as much as I loathe Styx, being able to play “stump the band” with the best of them was a yuuuge influence on me as a teenager.
Yeah, I’ll cop to it; the album had the whole “Chrissy Hynde meets teenage hormones” bit. And you had the same issue, back then (assuming you’re a straight male of a certain age, a lesbian with impeccable taste, or a hetero-curious gay guy, I suppose. I dunno).
Anyway, the album (especially James Honeyman-Scott’s guitar parts) was just as manic and all-over-the-place as I was back then. Listening to Honeyman-Scott, I started to think “maybe I can do this “lead guitar” thing.
And that was a very, very big thing for me.
And did I mention Chrissy Hynde?
To a genation of hipper-than-thou punks, “Boston” was to music what WalMart was to shopping.
But even at the nadir of my hipper-than-thou punk phase, I loved this album. The *sound* of the record itself was just freaking thrilling. I think even before I knew anything about *producing* music, I was drawn to the whole idea of production as art, and this record is why.
Case in point: the wall of guitar feedback from 1:49 to 1:57 of this song. Feedback was nothing new – Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townsend had made it an art form – but this particular little squall was a simultaneously a raw blast of power combined with a subtle harmonic progression (like opening up the drawbars on a Hammond organ) and and rhythmic, like using feedback as a drum fill. It was a little production filigree, a gorgeous little instrumental aside that turned a run-of-the-mill seventies pop-rock song into something you could dissect for hours, and years, and write about (ahem) forty years later, and always find something new in. It was about as organic as Splenda – it was the product of layering guitars like a Phil Spector “wall of sound”, and more high-tech processing than a Queen album. But who cared? It – among many similar little bits of production magic – was just glorious and made you feel glad to be alive.
Also – “More than a Feeling” was the first guitar solo I ever learned how to play. I sat down when I was probably 15 and learned the whole thing, note for note, like someone trying to learn how to order food in Japanese phonetically.
And once I knocked that out, I was a lead guitar player – ergo, for the first time in my high school life, I was cool.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Damn the Torpedoes”
This album was, and is, my audio encyclopedia of everything that is great about rock and roll.
Seriously – it’s hard to even count the number of ways this album smacked me, 37 [koff koff] years ago.
But goodness knows I’ve tried; this article here did as good a job of it as I’ve ever managed to pull together myself.
And the song “Even the Losers” gave me hope, back then; sometimes, even us losers did get lucky. And it probably did the same to you.
Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, “Men Without Women”
Men Without Women is a glorious record in its own right – all huge hooks and raw, blazing emotions and pure brilliance. It’s still one of my three favorites of all time.
Beyond that? There wasn’t a lot of musical diversity in rural North Dakota when I was a kid. Seventies R&B never really spoke to me.
And I listened to Mw/oW, and a light went on over my head, and I wandered into the back room at the station I was at at the time, and dug out a bunch of Sam and Dave and Smokey Robinson and Four Tops records, and felt that clicking sound when ideas drop into place.
Mw/oW opened the door, first to Stax/Volt, then Motown, and an entire new world of music.
John Denver’s “Greatest Hits”.
When I was 14, I was a little too tall, coulda used a few pounds. I was a junior high loser, never made it with the ladies…
I’d heard a few John Denver songs. They sounded accessible. And so I bought a copy of his Greatest Hits for $3 in a cutout bin, because I figured (correctly) it’d be a good way to each myself at least something on guitar.
And it worked!
“Follow Me” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” were the first songs I ever managed to play coherently, reading from book of sheet music. “Back Home Again” was where I had my “ah hah!” moment on how fourths and fifths play together, and how to do a rolling sixth (which you use in every Chuck Berry song, and thus most everything the Rolling Stones and Mike Campbell ever played). “Take Me Home, Country Roads” taught me how relative minors work – and you can’t play anything on Born to Run without relative minors!
“Sunshine On My Shoulders” is the perfect song for teaching yourself the basics of fingerpicking (the whole thing is a languid eighth-note pattern – hard NOT to play right!). And “Rocky Mountain High” is a great little workout on how chords fit together (and, I discovered after thirty-odd years of being too cool for it, not a half-bad album or song); combine that with your finger-picking from “Sunshine”, above, and kablooie, you’re Mark Knopfler. Just like that!
So while I hushed up about the whole “I own a John Denver record” thing by about eighth grade, it was that record that was the key to playing the guitar, and playing the guitar was the key to whatever self-confidence I had as a teenager – including the self-confidence I needed to walk up to Bob Richardson and apply for my first radio job.
So it’s kind of a big deal.
The Clash, “London Calling”
Mostly first and second takes, recorded rough and ready, it was sort of the “do it yourself” album that spoke to my chaotic nature, making me think “I could do this!”.
Also, nobody else at Jamestown High School was into the Clash in 1979. Which made me, for the first time in my life, way way way ahead of the curve.
Maybe the last, too – but let’s not get side-tracked, here.
Also, so good that I thought “I am going to have to get much better at what I do to do this”.
Bruce Springsteen, “Darkness on the Edge of Town”
I know, no surprise, if you’ve read this blog at all. But I don’t care.
If you’ve known me *since* high school, you probably remember me talking about this album. The best album ever written about isolation – which certainly spoke to a kid in one of the most isolated places in the country.
Still my favorite album of all time.
The Who, “Who’s Next”
But let’s forget about “all time” here.
I was a nerdy, gawky, athletically inept teenager in a town that revered athletes. This album showed me that the guitar I was plinking away on could be my weapon of mass destruction, my full contact sport, my identity. With a windmilling slash at my Fender, I slew dragons.
If you knew me in high school, you knew I wanted to be Pete Townsend. I had enough gashes and bruises on my hand from “windmilling” accidents to prove my dedication.
Apropos not much.
My piece earlier this noon hour, about the complete collapse of Jessica Chastain’s anti-2nd-Amendment melodrama Miss Sloane, reminds me of a problem that’s emerged this past year.
Sloane was the second movie in the past 12 months involving an issue in which I’m fairly intimately involved, and that I’ve actually wanted to go to a theater to see (the other was the hilariously-mistitled Truth, which passed unlamented by anyone but the left’s movie critics in the winter of 2015), albeit only at a second-run theater like the Riverview; I’m not gonna give Hollywood the satisfaction of paying full price to watch its propaganda.
Either, it seems, did anyone else. Both movies disappeared from box offices faster than the Vikings left the playoff race.
The “problem”? They leave the theaters before I can get around to going to review them.
It’s a smile problem, in the great scheme of things, but still.
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been punched in the stomach. But I remember what it feels like with this news: Dr. Jim Blake, my college advisor, died a few months ago in Oil City, PA. He was 68. That I’m hearing about it a few seasons late shows how life’s sturm und drang will have its way.
Dr. Blake was one of the two best teachers I ever had, and one of the most influential people in my life in many ways. It was he who passed on to me his love of analysis and of fairly relentless logic, yes – but also how to find joy, stimulation and meaning in how words were put together; the packing of meaning into every word of a great poem, the layers of symbols and meaning in a great book, the ruthless economy of a well-honed phrase. And he showed a lot of us how four years of studying literature could be a good, powerful and important force in ones’ *real life* – which is, I’m afraid, a lost art in the modern college.
Beyond that? Incredible as it may seem in this age, it was Dr. Blake – an English professor who called himself a “monarchist” – who showed me that I really wasn’t the bobblehead I had been when I started college; “Mitch, you’re not a liberal”, he said in his Queens accent during out of our hours of talking about policis, philosophy, current events; he shook his head and made me read Solzhenitzyn, Paul Johnson, P.J. O’Rourke, Dostoevskii and Tolstoii. And by golly, he was right; once my brain turned on, I was a conservative after all. When I pulled punched my ballot for Ronald Reagan in 1984 (albeit without telling my parents), and started my first conservative talk show in 1986, and every day I do the NARN or write my blog today, Dr. Blake was and is there.
I’ve thought a lot over the years; would the modern humanities academy know what to do about a Dr. Blake – an English prof with a fearsome BS detector and no patience for the PC fripperies of the modern humanities academy?
Oh, it would be an epic battle indeed.
The only tragedy in his death is that not every college kid had or will have the opportunity to learn from him.
I’ve run by far the most, er, liberal comment policy among Minnesota bloggers with traffic in my general weight class ever since I started carrying comments in 2002.
I ask for civility, as a general rule – but don’t require it, or at least not to a pollyanna-ish extent. Don’t get too pointlessly inflammatory, and don’t go too far off topic, and we’ll get along just fine.
Unlike many blogs in my general traffic class, I don’t censor comments, and I don’t block commenters that I find annoying, to say nothing of those that try to challenge me.
I welcome commenters who disagree with me – indeed, encourage them. In the history of this blog, I think I’ve actually banned a grand total of half a dozen commenters – none of them for disagreeing with me, or even being jerks about it.
However, the comment section has a goal; to serve as a forum for discussion. Which is to say, discussion of the topics I write about.
By extension, this means two things:
- By discussion, I mean a two-way dialog. Not repeatedly, constantly, very deliberately, dropping comments and running away without any further discussion, as if my comment section is your personal blog space. It’s not. You want a place to drop your comments without further comment? Get your own blog, and build your own audience.
- By the topics I write about, I mean “in relation to the posts I’m writing about”. Now, I don’t mind the occasional thread-jack; sometimes they lead me to a topic I’d have missed otherwise. But some thread-jacks just say “I don’t want to talk about what you’re writing about; I want to talk about what I want to talk about”. Which is your prerogative – on your own blog. Go out to Blogger.com or Tumblr or WordPress and start building your own audience. It’s harder than it looks.
So I’m changing policies; the following behavior will wind up with the commenter getting put in the moderation queue:
- Commenters who make a habit of leaving comments without discussing them, ever
- Repeated thread-jacking with an intent to turn the comment section into the commenter’s publication space.
When posts go in the moderation queue, they stay there until the offender contacts me to work things out.
I’m sorry it’s come to this.
A longtime reader of this blog writes regarding this post, by Joe Doakes:
To correct the record, Pillsbury United Communities is a nonprofit that is not connected to the Pillsbury brand owned by General Mills. It was founded by the Pillsbury family in 1905: https://www.puc-mn.org/about/history
It’s more analogous to the Ford Foundation vs Ford Motor Company.
This was apparently in response to Joe’s remark “Pillsbury Doughboy wants to give me a free assault rifle. How can I turn that down?”.
It would be more accurate to say “A bunch of left-leaning plutocrats want to provide us an opportunity to out-bid the city and themselves on some potentially useful hardware”.
We apologize for the error.
I was in the control room at KSTP-AM. It was a hot, stiflingly muggy July day.
I was screening calls for the Don Vogel show. With me in the control room were Dave Elvin, the other producer, and news director John MacDougall.
I got a call on the hotline from John Lundell. Lundell – the manager of the Twin Cities’ Metro Traffic branch – was doing an experimental traffic broadcast from an airplane that day.
Lundell told me, with some urgency, that he and his pilot were watching a tornado as they flew over the newer, sparsely-populated suburb of Blaine.
We put him on the air immediately; Lundell did play by play as he watched the storm develop.
I flipped on KARE11 on the control room TV, and watched as the Bears put up their own coverage, live from one of their choppers:
We’d beat them by a solid minute or two – but the video footage was some of the best taken of a live tornado to date.
It was one of the more amazing afternoons I ever spent on the radio.
I’ve been a Comcast Internet customer for the better part of 16 years, now.
And are very, very rarely have problems with my service.
But when I do, it’s a humdinger.
I’m going to hope to be back online on Monday.
Who Is Joe Doakes? Is he just a pseudonym for…Mitch Berg? – I get this a lot. I have to chuckle a good-natured chuckle when I do; I’ve written something like 20,000 posts on this blog over the years; I do not need a medium for additional writing on this blog. That’d be like Rush Limbaugh coming up with some character voice to do another talk show.
Joe Doakes is in fact a pseudym for a local lawyer. He writes under a pen name because – he’s a local lawyer.
That’s the whole story.
You used to read and report on what a lot of Democrat-leaning blogs were writing about. You don’t so much anymore. Why? I waste less time by just subscribing to the Alliance for a “Better” Minnesota email blasts.
Some of your commenters have to be sock puppets: Nope. Never done it, never will. Oh, it’s been tempting – the idea of abandoning my stentorian detachment under the cover of a fictitious identity and just cutting loose. But no, ever done it.
Isn’t it high time you updated the DFL Dictionary?: Oh, yeah Great idea. Stay tuned. More to come shortly.
In your various pieces about “Protect Minnesota”, “Everytown” and “Moms Want Action”, you’ve referred to something called “ELCA Hair” to describe members of the groups. What do you mean? That’s a good question; it’s probably pretty opaque to people who aren’t familiar with liberal culture in Minnesota.
There’s something of a “uniform” among upper-middle-class white liberals in Minnesota. This “uniform” – it’s got plenty of variations, but work with me here – generally includes:
- a degree from Carlton, Saint Thomas, Macalester, Saint Olaf or the Humphrey Institute
- a Volvo or Subaru, frequently coated with virtue-signaling bumper stickers
- “ELCA Hair”.
“ELCA Hair” is, loosely, a hairdo prominent among upper-middle-class white members of the “Evangelical Lutheran Church of America”, a liberal Lutheran synod centered in Minnesota.
What is it? Well, it’s easier to show than to tell.
This photo is almost a museum-piece of ELCA Hair, something that could appear in an anthropological exhibit:
Every person visible in this photo exhibits a flavor of “ELCA Hair” (except the woman at the microphone; Minnesota liberalism grants Jewish liberals an exemption from ELCA Hair). The ‘do is the most effective frame for a face that’s sagged into place from, and for, a lifetime of self-righteous scowling.
Let’s look next at the photo below. There are several subspecies of “ELCA Hair” in this photo:
- The young man on the left wears the cut acceptable for men below the age of about 34, provided they work for a non-profit. At 35, they morph into the versions in the photo above.
- The three women adjacent to him exhibit the ‘do deemed acceptable to women below roughly age 33.
- The second woman from the left in the back row has just turned 35; she has hacked her shoulder-length hair off at the ears, apparently to keep her Whole Foods club card.
For men, it’s parted, just long enough to look a wee bit raffish and “counterculture”, just short enough to not draw attention. And beards are apparently not grown until they are guaranteed to grow in gray (and kept neatly trimmed under all circumstances).
For women? It stands to reason that ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, the leader of the denomination, has it, And she surely does…:
(Bishop Eaton is a little bit unusual; most women with ELCA Hair go gray once they reach about 38 years old. I suspect divine intervention).
Anyway – that’s it for today!
There. Now that I have your attention…
While I’ve always run a forthrightly ideological conservative blog (that also covers music, history, and pretty much any other subject I want to cover), I’ve also always sought to facilitate a lively discussion in my comment section – one that crosses the proverbial aisle. That has been my policy since I first figured out how to add comments to this blog, back in 2003 or so.
I italicize the word discussion because that is literally what I’m shooting for; people from all different angles of a subject, going at it, pretty much untrammeled. Let’s face it – vigorous agreement is just another term for “echo chamber”; a good donnybrook is a chance to convince others. Or even me – lotsa luck. Some of this blog’s most celebrated commenters – I’m looking at you, Angryclown – could be fairly called “the opposition” in this space.
And that’s a good thing.
A good discussion is kind of a rare thing in the world of blogs, these days; most blogs either farm their comments out to a turnkey service in which they participate only rarely (like Hot Air or Powerline), or control access veeeeeery carefully (Sally Jo Sorenson at Bluestem Prairie, who blocks many/most critical comments, and holds most all comments until she can respond), or just block everyone that annoys them (pretty much name any left-leaning MN blogs).
For over a decade, I’ve tried, and succeeded, in focusing my comment section on being a discussion. In all that time,I’ve rolled out the welcome mat to all, pretty much without exception; I’ve kept to my policy of only blocking people who write things that could get me in legal trouble (two commenters, ever) or people who feel like exercising personal pissing matches with me – three of them bordering on stalking – to an extent where there was no redeeming value to the “conribution” they made.
But while I feel no desire to change my policy, I’m going to say this; I did not start my comment section as a place for people to do the rhetorical equivalent of leaving a bag of flaming dog poo at my door, ringing the bell and running.
If you make a continuous practice of dumping contentious comments and running, week in, week out, then you’re treating the comment section more like your personal blog.
And since a blog takes literally two minutes to set up, there’s no real reason for you to do that – or for me to host it.
I don’t care if you refer people back to your personal blog (or facebook page, or twitter feed) as much as you want. Go for it! That’s how all of us created traffic when we were getting started! But if you’re dumping a bunch of content here without actually discussing it with, at the very least, me – the person hosting your little outburst – then we’ll need to have a word.
Posting will likely be pretty light today. Blech.
It occurs to me – even though we’ve got all the internet we want these days, I’ve never gone out and looked up a lot of the people I used to know in the radio business.
Of course, from my first, probably most “famous” gig in Twin Cities radio – KSTP, thirty years ago – some of them are all too easy. Don Vogel died over twenty years ago; John MacDougal, not long after that. Cathy Wurzer has been part of the furniture at MPR for almost as long. Mark Boyle has been the voice of the Indiana Pacers for a quarter century now; his sports sidedkick Bruce Gordon is a communications guy with the State of Minnesota.
But of the people who were on the air, the one I get asked about the most is Geoff Charles. The self-styled former-marine / former hippie and the only person in American media who’s farther out than Art Bell, who was just as mercurial and enigmatic in person as he was on the air (and one of the genuinely nicest people I’ve ever met in the racket, once I started working for him) is…
…utterly, counterintuitively, a long-time fixture in radio in Providence, Rhode Island.
And the idea of G Charles staying anywhere that long is a psychic acid trip in its own right.
I owe someone some thanks. And I have no easy way of reaching them. But what the heck – we’ll try it the hard way:
Last night, I woke up to a knock on my door at 11PM.
After a quarter-century of living in the Midway, I know that there’s no such thing as a good knock on the door after dark – so I took, er, the necessary precautions, and went to the door.
A young woman identifying herself as “Shelby” told me she’d seen a car run into my daughter’s car, which was parked out on the street, and then drive off. She got the license number, called the police, left a note under my daughter’s windshield wiper…and then came and knocked on the door.
First, let me say two things; it takes guts to walk up to a stranger’s door at all, much less in the middle of the night, much less when you’re a (near as I could tell) 5’3, 120 pound woman.
Second thing? I’m happy I live in a neighborhood where people feel they can walk up to a stranger’s door and knock in the middle of the night.
But I digress.
It was miserably cold last night, and I wasn’t in a state to let anyone in, #ifyacatchmydrift, but she basically told me everything I needed to call the police and the insurance company to get things taken care of.
To my astonishment, the cops actually found the car, and the driver – a woman from up north somewhere who was apparently lost and claimed not to have known she’d hit someone. I can find no record that charges were filed – the woman wasn’t drunk, according to the officer I talked with. I’m going to guess she was texting and didn’t see a black car on a dark street. That’s just a guess.
Thankfully, at least both parties are insured.
Anyway – I don’t know who you are, Shelby, and I hope you’ll forgive my less than stellar late-night hospitality, but I thank you for all you did last night.
And if someone out there in the Midway knows Ms. Shelby (twentysomething, African-American, probably 5’3, possibly a Hamline student), it’d make my day if you could pass on my thanks!
Today is this blog’s 14th Anniversary.
On February 5, 2002, I – a fairly recently divorced guy with a couple of kids and a fifteen-year-dead “career” as a pundit, working at a dotcom that was already circling the drain – read an article in Time magazine about “the new generation of conservative intellectuals”. They directed me to, of all people, Andrew Sullivan – who was a conservative, at the time – and in a sidebar, explained what a “blog” was.
Starving for an outlet, I ran out to “Blogger.com”, signed up, and started writing. And I’ve kept at it, most weekdays, ever since.
I got lucky – I got a couple of back to back Instalanches bright and early and, on one notable day back in 2004, simultaneous plugs from Instapundit, Hugh Hewitt and James Lileks – which pretty much put me on the map.
Blogs surged, of course, and then settled back into the social media pack behind Twitter and Facebook. What was once a huge, bustling blogging scene in the Twin Cities is now a couple of blog superstars – Ed Morrissey, Lileks and the Powerline guys – and a small, hard core of people who just love to write; I’m one of them.
Up until that first couple of Instalanches, this blog got maybe 10 hits a day. I’ve been holding steady around 1,000 visits every weekday for most of the past decade or so – not enough to make it a fulltime job, too many to be anything but thankful for the opportunity I’ve been given.
And it’s been an amazing opportunity. It led, of course, to meeting a group of amazing friends; Brian, Chad and Atomizer from the Fraters (Brian emailed me back in 2002, the first person to tell me that there were other bloggers in the Twin Cities), John and Scott from Power Line, Lileks, King Banaian (blog is long gone), Brad, the Stroms and the Stewarts, the tireless Mr. D, Enge, Gary, Ryan, Foot, and too many others to mention.
And it led to the show, of which much more next month.
Anyway – thank you all for indulging my little outburst this past almost-decade-and-a-half.
I’m told it’s a tradition now. I can live with that.
2. What was your favorite moment(s) of the year?: Finally putting the worst of the teenage years in behind us.
3. What was your least favorite moment(s) of the year?: Two job hunts in twelves months (I got caught in two large layoffs). They both ended well, but it was a stressful year.
4. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?: Worked mostly from home.
5. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?: “Keep” is such an absolute word. I did OK.
6. Where were you when 2015 began?: Mancini’s.
7. Who were you with?: Friends.
8. Where will you be when 2015 ends?: I was out with other friends!
9. Who will you be with when 2015 ends?: Asked and answered.
10. Did anyone close to you give birth?: A couple of my friends had a baby a couple days ago.
11. Did you lose anybody close to you in 2015?: No. Knock wood.
12. Who did you miss?: Grandparents.
13. Who was the best new person you met in 2015?: Too many to name here.
14. What was your favorite month of 2015?: September. Finally caught up financially from the aforementioned job goat-rodeo, plus some good family stuff.
15. Did you travel outside of the US in 2015?: No. Come to think of it, I haven’t been outside the US since I was last in Canada, in ’84. I’m due.
16. How many different states did you travel to in 2015?: Pretty lame year for travel (2013-15 were much better). Just Minnesota and North Dakota. I don’t think I even made it to Hudson in 2015.
17. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?: The ability to be less reactive and more proactive about career stuff.
18. What date from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?: Probably the day I got my second layoff in six months. Not pleasant, but it’s etched.
19. What was your biggest achievement of the year?: Recovering from both layoffs quickly and successfully (knock wood).
20. What was your biggest failure?: To get back in shape. It’s a big goal for the coming year. To be fair, I was doing really good about biking to work, until the second layoff hit.
21. Did you suffer illness or injury?: Nope. Pretty healthy year. Knock wood.
22. What was the best thing you bought?: I picked up a new Mac Mini on Black Friday at Microcenter. (I hate Black Friday, but the deal was too good to pass up).
23. Whose behavior merited celebration?: My kids – for different reasons, but in both cases I’m overjoyed.
24. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?: the various city governments of the Twin Cities.
25. Where did most of your money go?: Bills!
26. What did you get really, really, really excited about?: Working at home!
27. Did you drink a lot of alcohol in 2015?: I never drink “a lot”. I probably drank a little more than previous years, since I’ve come to enjoy a glass of wine or whisky in the evening – but in the year 2015, I went through exactly three bottles of whisky, three bottles of wine and a twelve-pack of beer at home. So no, I didn’t drink a lot.
28. Did you do a lot of drugs in 2015?: Ibuprofen?
29. Did you treat somebody badly in 2015?: Nope.
30. Did somebody treat you badly in 2015?: Other than the usual online oompa-loompas, whom I’ve come to completely ignore, no.
31. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? – Probably happier.
ii. thinner or fatter? – A tad thinner. Frustratingly little.
iii. richer or poorer? – My money is better-managed this year.
32. What do you wish you’d done more of in 2015?: Travel. The second layoff forced me to scrub a planned trip to Nova Scotia.
33. What do you wish you’d done less of?: Job hunting!
34. Did you fall in love in 2015?: Love is a constant!
35. What was your favorite TV program(s)?: Walking Dead, Longmire, Making a Murderer.
37. How many concerts did you see in 2015?: Two! First time I’ve seen concerts since 2003.
38. Did you have a favorite concert in 2015?; Richard Thompson (with Katrina Leskanich in second).
39. What was your greatest musical discovery?:
Finding out that the local classical station plays both “Music from the Hearts of Space” and “Pipe Dreams” on Sunday nights.
40. What was the best book you read?: “Trulbert“. (Actually, this blog’s long-time friend Ryan Rhodes turned a series of blog posts from the time of the very premature birth of his twins into a rough but wrenching book that was my most affecting read this year, one I highly recommend).
41. What was your favorite film of this year?: It’s not from this year, but I saw Silver Linings Playbook this year. Incredible movie.
42. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?: Went out to dinner, and the same age Springsteen was when he started recording “Ghost of Tom Joad”.
43. What did you want and get?: Other than a job when I needed it, twice? I wanted to rebuild my back porch – and I did it.
44. What did you want and not get?: A national talk radio syndication deal with a six figure salary.
45. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?: Keeping on my “bike every morning” kick from the spring. It’s a big goal for the coming year.
46. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?: I worked at home this past year. Carhart T-Shirts, Duluth Jeans.
47. What kept you sane?: All those reassuring voices.
48. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?: Scarlett Johanson, same as last year.
49. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.: Relationships matter.
50. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.: “In the footsteps of Napoleon, the shadow figures stagger through the winter