Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Another Last Finale. Goodbye For Now, New York

I tend to idealize things when they are over. I don’t think I’m alone in this. The failed relationship, filled with hardships and unhappy moments, or, at least, not ideal moments, becomes a montage of the good moments, flashes of pleasant times, however few and far between, become the picture, and the impact of the unsavory moments becomes less severe until I am left wondering what was so bad anyway.

This has already happened with New York. As I walk the streets of Park Slope today, gone already are the unsavory parts of the summer. I will not remember the unbearable heat so greatly compounded upon descent into the subways. I will not think of the blaring horns. I will not think of the trash on the streets. I will not think of the massive apathy of so many of New York’s people. Or rather, maybe when I think of these things, they will rumble around my head with soft edges, somehow less abrasive.

But I will think most often of those things I have come to cherish. First and foremost, the people I have met or been reacquainted with. Taya, what can I say. I will think of her incomparable warmth. It’s as though she holds this city in a huge embrace and when a wandering soul enters it, that embrace gets a little larger to fit them within it. Mishka and Tara—old friends in a new place so in love with it that it’s impossible to resist letting your own love climb to the surface. James for being so open to this city, like some character in a book discovering life in every moment. All the 826ers for being so friendly and allowing me to be a part of something so great. Jen, Hadara, and the boys from France. The folks at Guernica for letting me get involved with something really interesting. And not least of all, Chris and Kate. I will look back on the maturity of a friendship, its roots strongly planted in New York.

Everyone.

All the parts of New York will come to me in the next weeks, months, years, and I will hold them with love. I will long for them all.

There is a lesson here about living. How often in the present moment we dwell on the disappointments of life, those aspects that make the whole thing hard, when in our remembering it is many times the complete opposite: we remember only the good.

The great album title of the New York Dolls comes to mind here: One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This. One day is here for me already.

































Note: I took the last picture off of the blog because my mom said it freaked her out. She actually asked me if it was me! Instead of the picture, just picture a better-looking version of me with a huge smile on my face.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Another Night of Great Music?!

This is getting kind of ridiculous. I have seen so much unbelievable music since I've been in New York that I'm probably getting a little spoiled. This time it came courtesy of that great organization I have written about before, 826NYC, and their event Revenge of the Book Eaters.

The line up was an indie rock (or whatever you want to call this type of music) fan's dream come true: Brit Daniel, A.C. Newman, Feist, Jim James, Grizzly Bear, and hosted by Demetri Martin. I actually didn't know too much of the music before last night, but I have heard nothing but good things about all the musicians. And now I know why. (I do have the Feist album, The Reminder, and it is all the good things people say about it.) I have to say that Grizzly Bear was my favorite. Damn, those guys can sing. Plus, they were really cool guys. I got them on my side when prior to the show I fixed the problem of their dressing room being sans Jameson in a very timely fashion. They appreciated that. Later, one of the guys showed me how to open a bottle of beer with a plastic water bottle! Really a bunch of good guys. In fact everyone of these groups was really laid back and nice. Prior to the show there were no rock-star attitudes that you might expect. Each person accepted comments about their shows with a genuine appreciation, and, in the case of Feist, with a somewhat alarming and completely refreshing shyness. And after the show, when everyone went to a bar down the street they were all really fun to hang out with.

All of those things can be said about Demetri Martin and the other comics, too. Demetri was, per usual, hilarious, at one point referring to himself as the retarded offspring of the Beastie Boys and the Beatles. Some prick in the audience tried to heckle him by saying, “We want the bands to play.” That made for some nice impromptu comedy, as well as a small flare up by the comic. You could tell he was actually pissed by how much he swore at the guy. Good stuff.

And if all that weren’t enough who is the first person I see when I get to the back room of the bar? Mike Myers. It was just as you would expect a table that Mike Myers would be sitting at: all the other people were leaning towards him with huge grins on their faces, awaiting every word as he told, what was undoubtedly a great story.

This town is a trip.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Adios Kate

New York will go to sleep tonight wondering where you've run off to. I won't have the heart to tell it you're not coming back.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Hard Pill To Swallow

I found this on a blog called Last Plane To Jakarta, which I have just begun exploring and which seems to focus mainly on music and politics (don't hold me to that; I've only read a few entries).

This is yet another reason why any of those excuses we hear for going to war with Iraq seem, to me, to be nonsense. The one I'm thinking specifically of here is the justification of war by invoking the oppression of women in certain countries. Any and all rationalizations, while possibly true (see entry on Saddam Hussein indeed being a tyrant), are moot, because a) they were never the real reasons, or b) they don't make sense when you read stories like this. True, the oppression of women is wrong at any level. But come on, which should we go after first, men who force women to be veiled in public or men who gang rape women and mutilate their genital organs thereafter?

(Click here to read Professor Yakin Ertuk's full statement)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Always Moving Forward, Looking Back

As my time in New York comes to an end I am getting a little sentimental, as I do, and thinking of other travels I have been on, and how with most, even the ones that were hard at the time, I look back and remember with joy.

I am thinking this morning of the fact that any time I hear a song with even the slightest whimsy I think of lying among dandelions in Missoula, Montana with a girl who was always somewhat whimsical herself, carrying with her gypsy qualities, floating through this world to places I was not willing to follow, except for that short time when we lay, reading poetry on a hill in Missoula. Then I left again, drove farther west, and was not sure, even at the time, why I was leaving. I have heard that she kept moving, too, and is now a mother. I do not know her child (even if it’s a boy or a girl), and I do not know her anymore, but in moments like these, on mornings like this, I think of her.

And then there was the time in Ireland when I strolled atop the cliffs of the Aran Islands catching in a photograph a friend, legs near his chest, hugged by his arms, contemplating the Ocean below and stretching for an eternity before him. I had viewed and captured in another photograph this same friend in this same state of contemplation on a cliff overlooking Lake Superior within a year of our trip to Ireland. He has now seen more of and in this world than I ever will or would want to, and I’m sure on his subsequent travels he has pondered so much in this same manner.

And there was my time spent on another great lake—Lake Michigan, where the sound of water was omnipresent and constantly soothing. I have never been more at peace with everything around me than with that consistent roll of waves in my ear. On the first anniversary of September 11, 2001 I sat alone on a beach of Lake Michigan and watched it open up and pull the sun from its perch over the Chicago skyline into it in a warm, consoling embrace—the lake knowing the sun had seen too much.

And even on a miserable drive back from southern California, a drive that sunk me into the greatest depths of loneliness and awareness of being alone, I remember that the red hues of the dirt and rocks in Utah were beautiful. Even then I recognized something beyond myself, even if I could not see it in the present, I felt it somewhere. And the sense of comfort that filled me when I thought of once again being around my family and friends, to feel not alone, was a feeling so overwhelming that it almost warranted the depths I had sunk to. Almost.

As I look to the coming weeks I am once again filled with joy at seeing those faces absent for months now. But this time I will not be running from something toward their warm embrace. I will be leaving something I will miss. I am already looking back in fond remembrance. I am already missing New York.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Lists

Three Things I Taught Myself To Do With No Guidance From Others (Two While Staring At Mirrors In Department Stores As A Child While My Mother Was Shopping)

1) Raise both eyebrows individually.

2) Wink with both eyes.

3) Juggle (although not very well, & one of my uncles may have shown me tips on this as a kid. I can't say for sure.)



Four Things Frowned Upon In Most Places, But Seemingly Completely OK In New York

1) Honking at girls as you drive by.

2) Saying things like, "Damn, girl, you looking good today" or "How you doing?" as girls walk by.

3) Throwing whatever happens to be in your hand on the ground if you no longer wish to be holding it.

4) Swearing at your children.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Partying With Bands...Kind Of. More Good Music in New York

Biking down Sixth Ave. on my way to Prospect Park as is my wont, I was reminded once again just how small New York and this world really are. There on the corner was a friend from Minneapolis—Chris Morrissey, current bass player for Ben Kwellerand former bass player for Mason Jennings. Although I don’t know Chris all that well he was nice enough to put my roommate, Chris Koza (Morrissey played bass for Koza at an amazing 7th St. Entry set last year) and me on the guest list for that night and the following night’s Kweller shows. (Much like Mason doing a three-night stand at the 400 Bar in Minneapolis, Kweller was doing a hometown three-night set, as he is the native son here in Brooklyn.)


Having seen Mason only once since he and Morrissey parted ways, I thought the show was missing something due to the subtraction. But what was missing at that First Ave show (I've been told that the 400 shows were better), was present at these Kweller shows (although I’ve never seen Ben Kweller live before this, so what do I know). The band sounded really tight together and the harmonies—possibly what was most lacking at the Mason show—were great. Plus Chris rocked on the triangle both nights! Most likely because of that fabulous triangle play (possibly because of his excellent bass playing…who’s to say), the boy from MN with a tattoo on his arm of his home state with two lines intersecting over the Twin Cities (although he admitted once that they may actually land somewhere near Mankato) got much love from the Brooklyn crowd when Ben introduced him both nights.

After both shows Chris hooked us up with backstage passes and on the last night of the three-night stand, we enjoyed some pizza and beers until the early hours of the morning with this very laid back bunch of guys. I’d have to say, this was the best chance meeting in New York thus far.






About a week later, our friend Dustin in town, we were lucky enough to catch another show from some Minnesota musicians. The Hold Steady was doing a free concert in Prospect Park. Dusty and I are pretty big fans of this group—my obsession as become a bit less severe since first hearing Separation Sunday, but I can still be counted among the super fans. After a little picnic in the park that included a wide range of food and drink—Budweiser and Cheese Puffs at one end and left-over delicacies from a Glamour magazine shoot and assorted cheeses at the other end*—we ventured in to scream whenever lead singer Craig Finn mentioned the Twin Cities.



After the show and after one failed attempt by Dustin and myself to just stroll into the VIP section, we proceeded to jump the fence and immediately go into reconnaissance for the colored bracelets around everyone else’s wrists, which indicated that they were indeed VIP, while we, until we strapped one of them to our arm, were intruders. We found two purple bracelets, one in the trash and one on the ground. We were safe for the time being, but we needed the orange bracelets to get back stage, and no one had parted with those.

As we sipped on another glass of wine, we pondered our predicament, coming up with what surely was a full-proof plan. We would go to the doorman guarding the backstage entrance and explain to him that we were from City Pages—the Village Voice of Minneapolis, just to give him some reference as to our importance—and that we were supposed to interview the band and there had been a mistake in which wristbands we had received at the door. Not really knowing what we were talking about, or more likely, just not wanting to deal with us, this lie worked on the guard. He got the band’s PR person to come and talk to us. Now it was game time.

She listened to our story, a bit confused as to how this might have happened, but not, at that moment, completely dismissing us for idiots posing as something that may or may not have gotten us back stage even if it were the truth. Her dismissal came a moment later when I inadvertently showed the underside of my wrist where the high jacked wristband was twisted upon itself, obvious to even a halfwit to be a fake. She was cool about it, though. Instead of telling us to leave, she allowed us to stay in the VIP section, saying, “No, that’s the only wrist band you need.”

But it didn’t matter, because by that time the band had started to trickle out of the backstage area to where we were. After letting them settle in for a few minutes, we went up to Tad, the guitarist, and told him we were from the Twin Cities and that I had seen the band a number of times. To which Tad responded, “Cool. Thanks for coming. You know of any parties around here?”

Now, The Hold Steady is a bar band, and all the members like to drink, but still I was taken aback by this blatant inquiry directed towards two people who were complete strangers. Why would The Hold Steady need to be asking us where a party was? I didn’t have time to get my thoughts clear and ordered. He asked a question and I had to react. Obviously what came out was something lame like, “Um, no not really, I haven’t been living here too long, but we should totally go grab a beer somewhere.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve made a complete fool of myself to the guitarist of The Hold Steady, nor is it the first time I have appeared to be damn near hitting on him. The last time I saw the band was in Iowa City at a small club where all the members were drinking in the basement bar while other bands performed. After getting a nice buzz in order to work up the courage to make my move (I’m such an idiot), I waited for Tad to order a round of Buds and Jagermeister and quickly proceeded to interject with an, “I’ll get that round for him” directed toward the bartender. To which Tad sort of nodded and might have mumbled, “Thanks” down the bar in my direction, quickly bringing the drinks back to his table and far away from me. Needless to say that this interaction made me look quite lame to the company I was with that night. Company that, unfortunately, I was trying rather hard to impress that night.



The results of this more recent exchange were rather similar. Tad made haste to get away from us, and Dustin reassured me that I had to say something when he asked about a party and that it wasn’t really as stupid a response as it had seemed. We decided that it had been a good effort and a good night, even if we did not produce the party that would have allowed us to have a crazy party-with-the-band story.

We were almost ready to finish our wine and let The Hold Steady be with the people who were actually supposed to be there, when out of nowhere Tad meandered back in our direction and said, “We’re going to O’Connor’s on 5th. You guys should come.”**

And oh, were we a giddy pair. We waited a few moments so as to not look like we were sprinting to the bar, then slowly walked out of the park as cool as we could.

On our walk we decided that it might be a good idea to stop and get a twelve pack of beer, you know, in case the band wanted to do an after-bar. We placed the PBR we bought from a corner store in my bag, which had earlier housed the picnic cuisine, and strolled on down 5th Ave. feeling quite proud of ourselves.

When we reached O’Connor’s most of the band members were already inside putting a few down. We strutted into the bar, again as coolly as we could, ordered a couple of beers and sat in a booth against the wall. What transpired next was somewhat ugly. Dustin and I became like two teenage girls in a mall in 1987 waiting in the wings of a Hot Topic for the appropriate time to go ask Corey Feldman for his autograph. Only we didn’t want a signature on a glossy picture (although I doubt I would have turned one down), we wanted to buy The Hold Steady a shot. And we wanted that shot to lead to a night of excessive drinking that would lead to stories that ended with something like, “Yeah, and then Craig tells the cop to fuck off and throws his bottle of Beam through his window and we all scatter…Man, we totally have to call those guys to hang again.”

As it was, we sat, plotting, trying to find that perfect moment where it was just one of them, so we wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle like I had in Iowa. We needed a moment when they would actually sit for a minute and hang with us.

By the time my roommate Chris got to the bar, we had moved up to two stools at the bar a couple of seats away from Tad and were pretty well drunk. Soon after, we made our move.

Dustin: “Hey man, can we buy you guys a shot?”

Tad: “Man, I just took one. I think I’m done with shots for the night.”

We had missed our chance. He had taken about eight shots since we got there and now he was done. Sure Craig Finn was sitting at the other end of the bar still, but we wouldn’t have the courage to saddle up next to the lead singer and make the same inquiry. So we proceeded to drink with a large bald-headed guy named Flea—a raucous Bostonian who made inappropriate comments to just about everyone who walked by.

And then, just drunk enough from a round that Flea had bought, and maybe feeling a bit emboldened by Flea’s apparent disregard for all things civil in society, we made another move. It’s a little fuzzy. I just remember that we were standing at the end of the bar and Craig Finn was responding affirmatively to the question of whether or not he wanted a shot. Then we had shot glasses filled with Southern Comfort and lime and he was introducing us to his girlfriend.

The rest of the exchange is not too clear. I’m pretty sure Finn was even drunker than we were. I think there was talk of music and of the Twins, but I can’t say for sure. I do know that we did not end up drinking the PBRs in my bag with The Hold Steady.

Still, we were invited to an after-show party by The Hold Steady. Kind of. And we drank with The Hold Steady. Kind of. And we came away with a crazy story. Kind of.





*There was also a bottle of wine, which would have been a nice touch with the cheeses, but we decided it would be easier to sneak that into the concert than a bunch of beers. So that’s what we did, and we proceeded to pass it back and forth as The Hold Steady rocked on about Lyndale Ave.

**The rest of the night was great, and I’m not complaining, but why couldn’t a result like this one—one that would have made me look a little cooler—have happened in Iowa? Just wondering.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Who's That Guy?

On one of those nights just a couple weeks after I got to New York when I was drinking sangria on a rooftop, my phone started going crazy with calls and text messages from friends back in the Twin Cities telling me they had seen my brother on the news at the Mall of America (MOA, kind of like MoMA) for the Harry Potter midnight movie and book release. Here he is in all his costumed glory, amidst other frenzied fans, 400 of which wanted to get their picture taken with him. He ended up winning the costume contest hands down. Way to go, Dom! That beard is looking great by the way!


& here's the article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press' blog, Big Harry Deal, which tracked the hype leading up to the Harry Potter releases:

June 25, 2007

The winner of the HP Movie Marathon costume contest

You might recall that last week, Big Harry Deal was debating whether to spend the entire day, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., at the Harry Potter Movie Marathon at Riverview Theater in Minneapolis. We asked what you thought about that idea, and Number One Muggle responded:

"The costume contest sounds fun and the mockumentary too, but besides that it's really just all four movies - I've probably seen them all so much by now it wouldn't be much fun. And I don't know how much there would be to report." (The Pioneer Press wrote a story last year about that locally made mockumentary, "Harry Putter and the Sorcerer's Phone," and we'll post it later today, but for now here's a link to information on the production: http://www.battyproductions.com/HarryPutter/.)

Well, BHD ended up taking NOM's advice, in part because of family obligations. But we did head on over to theater at about 7:45 p.m. to see the costume contest awards ceremony. Turns out that the theater had a good-sized crowd for the marathon, close to capacity at 450 to 475 tickets, according to manager Jess Stone.

"There were small kids and up to ages 45 or 50," Stone said. "Everyone seems to love these films. We had a lot of pre-sold tickets, lots of costumes, really enthusiastic people."

BHD took our kids with us -- Calvin, almost 5, and Camilla Valentine, almost 3 1/2 -- and when we got to the theater, Calvin said, "Where's Harry Potter?" Later, when we sat down in the theater as the awards ceremony was about to begin, BHD turned around and saw a kid who looked just like Harry Potter, dressed up for Hogwarts.

"Look, guys, there's Harry Potter!" BHD said.

The kids whipped their heads around, staring, their mouths agape.

"Hi," Harry said shyly.

"Why isn't he on stage?" Calvin asked.

"Maybe he will be," BHD said.

Unfortunately, the little guy didn't place.

The five characters called up on the stage of the theater were Luna Lovegood, a dementor, Minerva McGonagall, Harry Potter (not the one we met) and Hagrid. While four of the five received a handful of votes from fellow audience members earlier in the day -- 4 votes for fifth place, 5 votes for fourth place, 8 votes for third place and 40 votes for second place -- the winner received 185 votes. "A landslide," the emcee said.

It was Hagrid.

We think you'll see why it was such a landslide when you click on this photo BHD took of Hagrid during the awards ceremony:

http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site569/2007/0624/20070624_093541_062507_costume_winner1.jpg

Doesn't he look just like Robbie Coltrane, who plays Rubeus Hagrid in the movies? The beard, the stature, the clothes, the twinkle in his eye ... it's amazing.
The kids and BHD met up with Hagrid -- who's really Dominic, from St. Paul -- in the lobby beforehand, and he looked a bit overheated.

"I really wish this was during the winter," he said.

He rallied for the awards ceremony, though, introducing himself to the theater crowd by saying, "I'm Dumbledore. No, no, wait a minute. I'm Hagrid!"

When Hagrid was announced the winner, Hagrid's fellow Harry Potter fans cheered and clapped and roared in approval. As the grand-prize winner, Hagrid received a $50 gift certificate to DreamHaven Books.

Stay tuned to BHD for an interview with Hagrid. Anything you want to know?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

What Do You Do With The Pieces of a Broken Heart*

Walking down 5th Ave. yesterday I saw it for the first time. It was hard; harder than I thought it was going to be. I’ve actually thought this might be the best thing for a while now. Still, when someone close to you leaves, even if you know it’ll be good for them—and that in the end is all we really want for those we love, right? —it still stings when you see the reality of the situation. It all becomes too real. They’ve moved on and you’ve now bared witness. And you are left to walk the streets of this uncaring world all alone.

So, as I walked down 5th Ave., as the workers from all those buildings came out to join the tourists in the early evening hours, me hovering somewhere in between the two, my stride was taken instantly away, I became a rock in a stream as the current of human existence flowed around me. I was Still Life on Fifth. All because of what I saw in that window, with all its heart-wrenching realness. Because of what I saw in the window of the NBA Store at 666 5th Ave.

There it was: the green number 5 jersey with shorts to match, a little white four-leaf clover resting between the shoulder blades of a mannequin facing away from the street. It didn’t even have his name on it yet, but I knew what would be there: Garnett.

Kevin Garnett had been a Celtic for six days. He would be wearing number 5. And now that number 5, along with what it meant, came and slapped me upside the head on 5th.

It’s hard to say for sure the worst thing Kevin McHale has done while he has been Vice President of Basketball Operations at 600 First Avenue North. It could have been including a draft pick in the Cassell/Jaric deal. Or maybe it’s his complete inability, despite being one of the greatest low-post players in NBA history, to develop skilled low-post players for the Timberwolves (Michael Olowo… copyright Dan Cole). Who knows, the list is just too long. But this has to be up there. Not necessarily the trading of KG, but the trade itself.

There have been numerous KG trade speculations over the last two years and one can’t say for sure which hold any truth. Still, when reliable sources tell us that the T-wolves could have gotten Allen Iverson, but didn’t because of their refusal to part with Randy Foye—a promising young guard, who has shown glimpses of leadership, but still, he’s no AI—or that Chicago has coveted KG for years & put combinations of players including Luol Deng on the table or even when Boston, just a couple of months ago, was willing to part with a high draft pick and the Pups end up with what they got…well, it all makes you wonder how someone with such a lack of business savvy could retain his high-profile job. McHale is apparently incapable of actually conducting business, preferring instead to just make friendly deals with his ol’ pal and ex-teammate Danny Ainge.

As hard as it is to stomach for T-wolves fans, it may have been time for KG to move on. I know that the Wolves don’t “owe” The Big Ticket anything. He has been compensated severely well & that is the only agreement to which they are obligated. Still, I want to see Da Kid win a championship. And in my opinion the Timberwolves organization continuously failed to surround the All-Star with the right players to accomplish that end. Because of such botched business acumen I find that I have become more of a KG fan than a Timberwolves fan. It’s just hard for me to support such a laissez-faire attitude apparently adopted in the front offices at Target Center. For this reason I want to see KG win a championship before I would want the Wolves to go all the way. Still, I wouldn’t have minded seeing a deal where both parties came off looking like winners, instead of one team looking like the laughing stock of the NBA, and justifiably so. But, it’s more obvious now than ever that Kevin McHale is not capable of making such a deal.

So, there I was, on 5th staring at number 5, wondering how things could have gone so awry. How could it all be over? How could we have come this far for this? And as all those people flowed past me, I came to terms with it all. KG is a Celtic. He has a chance to win there. He seems happy. And that in the end is all KG fans can ask for. Maybe next time I walk down that street I’ll go in and pick up one of those green jerseys. But yesterday I just moved on. It’s going to take some time.



Related Articles & Audio:

Bill Simmons shows what a joke Kevin McHale is.

Barreiro's Blog. I disagree with a lot of Dan Barreiro's opinions on KG, but I respect the hell out of him, and here we are actually pretty close in our thoughts on the matter.

MPR Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer talks with The Rake's Brit Robson.


*Click HERE, then on the "AUDIO" tab to listen to M. Ward's "Chinese Translation," which is the soundtrack to KG being traded.







Friday, August 3, 2007

I 35W Bridge Collapse-A Question

Given all that has been & will continue to be written about the I-35W bridge collapsing in Minneapolis—from a Hong Kong paper’s front page to a President Bush speech*—I was going to try to avoid writing about it. Alas, I could not. I know I’ve promised this before, but I will try to be brief here, as I don’t want to repeat everything that one can read elsewhere. My only addition to the conversation follows.

From Merriam-Webster online dictionary for the entry "miracle":
1 : an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs
2 : an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment

From The New York Times Friday, August 3:
“Its one of those things,” said Anthony Wagner… “Five seconds, 10 seconds earlier, they would’ve been in the river. I think a miracle happened.”

The “they” he is speaking of are the passengers—61 in total, many of them children—on the school bus that narrowly missed falling into the river & instead came to rest upright on a felled portion of the bridge apparently against the guardrail (see picture here), thus leaving all passengers alive, & only some injured.

Let me preface the following by saying that I am extremely glad that this school bus landed where it did, & I have been struck many times over these last days since this tragedy happened by the fact that only four people have been reported dead thus far. Still, those are four people & sadly enough only more will be announced in days to come.

Now while Mr. Wagner may have been referring to the second definition of “miracle,” something gives me the feeling that he was invoking its more common usage—the first definition. & even if he wasn’t, the word will still conjure up ideas of a divine presence to the listener, or, in this case, the reader.

I, like many people from this area, have heard a number of stories of near-misses & fortunate detours & delays—a friend who had to turn around to change her laundry; a relative, at the time, frustratingly delayed. If you are from the Twin Cities you more than likely have a story like this. & these stories make us cherish those who could have been on that bridge, who were even supposed to be on that bridge when it fell, even more than the average person may look to loved ones when something as random & tragic as this event takes place.

In times like these when people speak of survivors who could have very easily not been so, they always seem to say the same thing—“a miracle” has taken place. I am unimaginably glad that no one close to me has been counted among the dead. But to say that this is a “miracle” implies that some people were plucked by the hand of the Almighty, while He let others plummet to the river below. To call the fact that the school bus was only seconds from a much worse fate a “miracle” says that those lives are more important than the ones who were not so lucky—let me emphasize that word, lucky. What did the four pronounced dead & the others to come do to not be saved, to deserve to be tossed into the Mississippi?

Nothing.

They happened to be in a place when their world, what they knew of it at that moment, literally fell apart. If the school bus had been taking up space on the bridge then possibly one or more of those now dead would still be alive. Would that be any less of a miracle than still having those children with us? Let's ask their loved ones & see if there's consensus.


*a response to that inappropriate speech.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Rock the Bells Gives Me Something I Thought I'd Never See Again

I suppose it’s been over ten years now since my friend Jason & I walked through the gray stone basement hallways of Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul perusing merch & “information” tables with tee shirts with Che Guevara’s face looking solemnly into the distance—another revolution to be a part of out there somewhere—& “Free Mumia” flyers strewn among other activist material on our way to our first-row balcony seats hanging over a mass of young people ready to mash closer together. Weezer came over the speakers in the place & the mass below was huddled into smaller groups, many in circles either sitting cross-legged or standing kicking a hacky sack. This mass was serene in those moments.

Then Rage Against the Machine came out & there was no longer individual pockets to this group; they were one, an undulating conglomerate of youth & a desire to rebel against something—none of their visions were as clear as that of the members of Rage, & that is why they needed a leader for the cause—whatever it may be. More than anything from that show I remember how that crowd below never seemed to settle—not for one moment—but kept leaping. It looked like a wave rolling from one side of the auditorium to the other.

A few years later Jason & I, along with some other friends, again found ourselves on our way to see Rage. This time the venue was larger—the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis. I can’t remember when we got the news that this mighty show had been cut in half by the cancellation of Wu-Tang Clan from the bill. The Wu had decided unsympathetically to present at the MTV Music Awards* instead. In recalling this event now it seems that this information did not reach us until we arrived at the show, leaving us no time to brace ourselves for this absence, but instead wallow in our disappointment all the way through Teenage Fanclub Riot**—to this day one of the worst sets of music I have ever seen.

But then Rage came out & made us all forget that Rza, Gza, Ghostface, & all the rest had decided MTV was more important to them than our little Midwestern town. They didn’t matter anymore, because Rage came & this time we were among the masses on the floor leaping into one another.

The thing about Rage Against the Machine is that nothing else matters when they are on stage. I have never seen a band perform, then or now, with the palpable energy that Rage gives off.

When Rage broke up not long after the second time I saw them, I thought that was it, the end of something great. The revolution was over & younger generations would never know what I was talking about when I tried to describe what I had seen. I’d be in my seventies, my grandchildren hovering around my feet, little Timmy pleading, “Come on, Gramps, tell us again about that band whose lead singer looked like he was getting electrocuted when the song starts going crazy,” & little Bonny, almost in tears, scared by the description, “Grandpa, how did he make is guitar sound like…that?”

And then when Audioslave came into existence, well let’s just say I was devastated.

That all changed with the announcement of a reunion show at Coachella this year. They were back together again, & oh my what a feeling. Even if it were only one show, they were back. I was jealous of those people I knew going to the festival, but my jealousy was overpowered by the genuine pleasure I took in the idea of these people getting to see what I thought would never again take place. Very few times in life do we feel a pure joy for an activity completely separate from us, one that will only bring delight to others. This was one of those times.

Last Sunday I didn’t have to feel this way anymore, because I was heading to the show. I was experiencing the delight. On Sunday, July 29th, Rock the Bells came bumping its way to Randall’s Island, New York. Along with it came Rage Against the Machine & a truly all-star cast of hip-hop legends, indie sensations, & underground mic masters.

The main stage of this show was a tip of the cap to the first house I lived in in college, a house of questionable behavior where Wu Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers could be heard on one of the floors most hours of the day & where strangers would come nervously into the living room with the question, “Is Matt or Lucas here?” rolling unsurely off their lips in search of things that brought such strangers to this house. The sound track of the house, along with the Wu, was Rage & Cypress Hill. & Rock the Bells had them all & then some—Public Enemy & Rakim rounding out the legends.

Among these greats there were newer, but well-established hip hoppers, such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, & Supernatural. And among all of them were those on the Paid Dues Stage, which included Minneapolis hip-hop deities Brother Ali & Slug (performing with Felt).

The day started for us in rain, which quickly turned the grounds into a swamp of mud surrounded by Porta-potties, which led to a stench lifting from the ground. A setting repeated year after year at music festivals. When we arrived Supernatural was acting as the MC for the event, along with Rahzel, an impressive human beat box. Supernat was keeping the crowd attentive between acts with his insane freestyle capabilities. The next act to come on was Talib Kweli, a socially-conscious rapper, whose lyrics, unlike many who claim to have a positive message (see Common & even De La Soul’s recent endeavors), remain pretty steadfastly in a positive, intelligent vein. He stopped at one point to scold the crowd near the front for throwing a bottle—capped—filled with urine. “That’s fucking disgusting, y’all.”

Next up was Mos Def, a crowd favorite. The gap between Talib & Mos was making the crowd a bit nervous as to whether Mos was going to show at all. The people I was with had been stood up by Mos Def at shows before, & were anxious at the thought of this happening again.Eventually he came on stage. He appeared to be wetter than the other performers, as though he, like all of us, had gotten caught in the rain. I like to think that, running late to the show & his driver stuck in traffic on the Triborough Bridge, Mos Def exited the car & sprinted through the downpour to the stage, not wanting to disappoint the throng of people waiting there to hear his distinct voice deliver his creative rhymes. That’s how I like to imagine it.

Soon after Mos Def & Talib left the stage the rain stopped. The rest of the day would have been pretty miserable if it had continued. Nine hours is a long time to stand in a steady rain. So lucky for us it stopped in time for the heavy hitters, the greats, the road-pavers.

Cypress Hill came out with a huge gold Buddha sitting directly in the middle of the stage with a pot leaf adorning his giant gold belly. There is a strange juxtaposition that occurs when a rather large Buddha is staring down at you peacefully while two or three men meander around him spouting the lyric, “Here is something you can’t understand, how I could just kill a man.” I don’t know what it is.

Soon enough each member of Cypress Hill had massive joints held to their lips, with B Real’s dwarfing the others. I haven’t seen a joint that size since a party in Uptown Minneapolis where there was a traveling circus from Arizona & the band Wookie Foot played & after each taking a toke off of the monster passed it into the crowd of backyard partiers, having promised to not exhale until the thing was cashed. It took a long time for the crowd to cash that one, & B Real was toking its rival all by himself. Puff, puff, not a chance I’m gonna pass.

Each of the sets was only an hour long, so hit after hit rolled off the stage into the crowd.

Next up was Public Enemy. How old is Chuck D now? He has to be pushing fifty, right? Well, he came on stage with so much energy you would have thought it was 1987 & he was a feisty new MC on the scene. He was jumping around from one end of the stage to the other. And then there was Flavor Flav. I don’t know how it was back in the day, but when you see Public Enemy these days, it’s like Flav is a friend of Chuck D’s who’s fallen on hard times & Chuck D is the benevolent & wise one who, even though keeping this broken-down friend around is a huge chore, is simply too loyal to do anything else. The military-garbed members of Public Enemy had to follow Flav around as he ventured to the farthest edges of the stage & into the crowd as though he were a child that needed supervision.Chuck D, although seemingly loyal to Flavor Flav, nevertheless seemed to also try to, for the most part, avoid him & his antics on stage. At one point Chuck D actually told Flav to “make it quick,” the “it” being introducing the band. Flav did not make it quick. It’s hard to say what the low point was, Flav going on about his VH1 show being the #1 cable show of all time or when they cut the mics at the end of the set when he was trying to make some announcement, leaving Flav silent & alone, bowing to the crowd after all the other members had left the stage. Still, Chuck D was amazing & the brotherly loyalty bestowed upon his band mate was almost heartwarming, even if at times it was hard to watch the goofy sidekick with the oversized clock hanging from his neck.

As dusk came upon the muddy grass & beer-puddled asphalt a banner with a Shaolin Temple and names was lifted behind one DJ booth with a large rounded “W” on the front emblazoned with the message “RIP ODB.” Thousands of hands went into the air, thumbs meeting in the middle while the other eight fingers splayed out in opposite directions. The symbol of the Wu Tang Clan, all of those hands raised, began to move back & forth as the chant “Wu Tang, We Tang” went into the new-night sky.
Wu Tang has always fascinated me. There’s something about the numerous MCs, the obsession with kung fu, & the cultish nature of the hardcore fans that give Wu Tang Clan a mystical air about it. Once again, this set was packed with the hits, and the thousands in the crowd sang along to lyrics, “Wu Tang Clan ain’t nutin to fuck with,” “Cash rules everything around me,” “Yeah Baby, I like it rawwww,” while periodically & in unison throwing the hand-made “W” high into the air.

Now dark, it was time for the headliner, the reason, ultimately, I was there. A red star replaced the Shaolin banner & a drum kit the DJ booth, & while Jurassic 5 played over the speakers the crowd seethed in anticipation. When Rage came out it was like they had never skipped a beat. Zack de la Rocha still moved as though under a spell set upon him by the music that jerked him around the stage like he was on strings: a puppet to some great musical puppeteer. Tom Morello played viscously, trying to communicate things no one else had ever communicated through a guitar. At one point in the latter half of the set, Morello began spinning & even from quite a ways back one could see the sweat like blades of a helicopter coming off of him. It’s hard to take your attention off of these two members of the band when they are performing, & Brad Wilk (drummer) & Tim Commerford (bass) seem to be fine with this, as they hold the driving beats over which de la Rocha & Morello scatter themselves. The energy was still palpable, & the crowd, as hungry as ever for this music, responded by singing every word & crashing into one another. & when it was over the members met at the side of the stage & embraced one another, loving playing together again.

Just before Rage's set started a young guy, maybe eighteen, looked at me & asked, “Are you pumped, man?” Upon assuring him that I was indeed pumped, he told me that he & the other six or so young men around him had just driven nine hours from somewhere in Canada just to see Rage, missing the rest of the day’s bands. When I told him about the two previous times I had seen the group, his eyes got wide & his mouth fell open a bit. I told him, as he hung on my every word, how I never thought I’d see this day again. I told him about the show that Wu Tang bailed on, but how all was forgotten when Rage came out. He gaped at me &, almost in a whisper, mumbled, “Awesome.” And so these stories were passed on, not to my grandchildren, but to a boy from Canada who thought they were “Awesome.” But he did not have to imagine what I was describing to him, because moments later Rage took the stage.



Note: A HUGE Thank you to Kristie. You know why.


* There may have been a performance involved, but due to my disappointment at the no-show, I have cemented the memory into my brain as Wu Tang ditching us just to present (!) an award for Best Kiss in a Rap Video.

** I cannot say for sure if this is the actual name of the band, & I don’t care, they were horrible.

About Me

David Luke Doody is a freelance writer and editor. He is a founding editor of InDigest Magazine (www.indigestmag.com), an online literary magazine and the blog editor for Guernica Magazine (www.guernicamag.com). His writing and interviews have appeared in those magazines as well as in The Huffington Post, mnartists.org, The Minnesota Twins Yearbook, and Intentionally Urban Magazine, among others.

This is how my nephew loves me

This is how my nephew loves me

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