unpacking my life

I like feeling settled. After many years of living on the edge, I love that, when a friend ask me what’s up, I can actually say, ‘Nothing new,’ by which I mean, no new crisis (“Crisis-Free Since 2010!”)

Settled—weird word, since it’s usually a negative (“You settled for this when you could’ve had that?”) Now, I have choice anxiety with everything—an ideal restaurant menu for me would have, like, three or four items, tops, otherwise I spend half an hour just figuring out what appetizer to have (and then, no matter what I choose, I end up envious of what someone else ordered.) So picking a place to live and (gawd no!) settle down, used to make my head explode.

I’ve moved around a lot, sometimes from things, usually away from things, all the while trying to ‘follow my bliss.’ Turns out, apparently, I had my bliss with me all along. Must have been in a suitcase under some sweaters. Understand, Minneapolis had always been my default go-to place when the wheels fell off (I’ve moved here four times), but this time I had a novel idea—maybe I’ll stay.

I got an apartment right the hell where I was, in Minneapolis, and after a few months, I can officially say—I’m happy here. I think it was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (or illusionist Doug Henning—I get my vaguely hippie seventies fringe celebrities mixed up) from whom I first heard the phrase “Be here now.” I always knew that was a profound way to live, to be in the present, connected to the now. But my problem was, I was always too busy packing for there, then to devote much time to being here, now.

I lived here for several years in the eighties, but since I always felt I would move somewhere else, I never really tried to ‘grok’ the place (which I’d explain, but I’d rather people read a little Heinlein.) I was always just here ‘until I have enough money to move.’ This time feels different–I intend to embrace Minnesota. To that end, here’s a hotdish full of random Minnesota observations—you might enjoy these with some tater tots!

  • Minnesota, of course, gave the world Garrison Keillor and Prince—although I don’t think they ever shared a stage…A Purple Home Companion?
  • Inventors in Minnesota created the aluminum bundt pan and the Tilt-A-Whirl, Scotch tape and Cream of Wheat—four of the pillars of American society…I might be exaggerating, but they’re all pretty cool.
  • The Minneapolis suburb of Maple Grove (“I’ll take Generic Bucolic Place Names for 600, Alex”) has a huge Hindu temple, and Hampton, Minnesota is the site of one of the country’s largest Cambodian Buddhist temples. Factor in the large Somali and Hmong populations in Minneapolis, and I guess it’s not as monochromatic here as I thought. (Although I would have loved to have been at the Maple Grove city council meetings to hear the objections to the Hindu temple—“It’s not the Hindus we don’t like—it’s those damned finger cymbals…”)
  • This state has the only gas station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—welcome to Cognitive Dissonance, Minnesota!
  • There’s a pizza joint here whose drivers, clad in superhero costumes, drive electic cars from their wind-powered store. Stoners in Minnesota probably think they accidentally called the future.
  • Street views of North Oaks, Minnesota are not included in Google Maps, because the privately owned town successfully sued Google for trespassing. We might want to look there for the next terrorist cell.
  • Minnesota was the first state to declare an official state mushroom. This place definitely knows how to celebrate fungus.
  • Longville, Minnesota is the “Turtle Racing Capital of The World’—every Wednesday, right down Main Street. My guess is, the city fathers realized how slow life was in Longville, and figured by having turtles race, visitors would see the turtles and think the people in Longville were leading fast-pace lives by comparison.
  • This is a weird and wonderful state, politically speaking. Forgetting the wrestler and the comedian, the good citizens here saw fit to elect the first Muslim representative to Congress AND an arch conservative Luddite harpie. I think this fiercely independent streak stems from an attitude, as winter starts to descend in November, of “Well, I’m kinda bored, and we haven’t had one of those before..” And despite the presence of people who would elect Michelle Bachman, overall, our lefty cred is pretty solid—we’re the only state Mondale carried, for chrissake.  I think this is because as provincial and reserved as Minnesotans can be in public, in the anonymity of the voting booth, people here end up deciding government oughta do some stuff.
  • Bob Dylan AND Charles Schulz. “It’s Blowin’ In The Wind, Charlie Brown!?”

The only Minnesota thing I can’t get behind is lutefisk, which is cod soaked in lye. Roll that around in your brain. Cod. Soaked in lye. I picture the early settlers thinking “Ya know, I like fish a lot. Amost too much, don’t ya know. Maybe if I added something to the fish, that’s like, a poison. We’ll put it on some dry crackers and call it traditional!”

Every day I remind myself why I fell in love with this very…yin-yangy place. And if I ever start whining about a lack of ‘edge’ here, remind me of these two stories, which happened within a week of each other:

I’m at my neighborhood coffeehouse, doing the same work I’d be doing at home, but here, people can SEE that I’m a writer (“ooh—he’s smoking and he has a laptop…wonder what he’s working on”). Now the first thing I noticed was the graffiti on the side of the building—who tags a coffeehouse? What kind of props do you earn marking the local java joint…are there gangs claiming this as turf? “Yo yo yo—acoustic open mic is ours, bitch—you better step off!” Then, as I sit writing this very piece, all of sudden two dudes are fighting. Punches thrown, rolling in the shrubbery, iced mocha splatter everywhere—you expect fisticuffs in front of dive bars, but you rarely see a fight in front of someplace with a special on cranberry-walnut muffins.

Speaking of dive bars, at my nearest watering hole, I spent part of one night talking about the Twins game for an hour with a transgender lesbian biker Navy vet. I’m pretty sure Norman Rockwell never painted that.

Everything’s falling into place for me here, with strange and quirky details, like a film that was started by Fellini, but with a final cut by Bergman. And to top it all off, now our baseball team can suck outdoors, like God intended. Don’t tell the student loan people, but I’m gonna be here for quite a while.

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and the 2035 Grammy goes to…

The most eagerly-anticipated new album of 2035 was released this week, as ninety-four year old Bob Dylan’s “The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: Crap I Never Planned To Release” hit the airwaves on Tuesday. Coinciding with Dylan’s seventy-fifth year as a recording artist, “Crap” is a sprawling, maddening but ultimately rewarding and occasionally brilliant addition to the Dylan oeuvre, with undiscovered gems and a handful of new recordings which illustrate his still vital presence in the rock pantheon.

This has been a banner year for Dylan, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, a Tony award for the musical version of his Greenwich Village years called “Blowin’!” and his week-long sting as a guest judge and mentor on the still popular “American Idol.” The “Idol” appearance was marred by controversy, of course, as Dylan was shown yelling at one of the finalists to “stop destroying my legacy you kids!”

This latest collection has Dylan looking back on his Minnesota troubador roots while at the same time making peace with modern technology. Late last year, he bought his first computer, and on this new album seems to be excited about the possibilities of using what he refers to in the opening track, “I Think I Like This,” as “the bleeps and blips, the ones and zeros” of digital recording. He even had a special microphone (‘the Zimmerman’) designed, which allows him to electronically add entire notes to his vocal range.

The album, in a nod to nostalgia, is being released on six actual physical discs. Although primarily a novelty item (each disc only holds about an hour of music), this ‘boxed set’ is noteworthy for the inclusion of words printed on paper listing each of the songs in the order Dylan performs them. Naturally, the songs will also be availble for download into your Individual-Digital Ear Accessory. The Apple I-DEA version of the album includes seven hundred tracks not available in the physical release.

The first part of “Vol. 12” is the most revelatory, as it includes six new songs. The best of these, a rollicking country-blues wrapped around a folk-punk groove, reflects Dylan’s recent conversion to Islam. Entitled “Osama (Might Be Comin’ Back)”, the tune is kicked off by Dylan’s funereal noodling on an antique instrument known as a ‘B-3’ organ, and features the sounds of drone missiles and a haunting refrain from a children’s choir.

This is followed by the strangest track in the collection. A collaboration with The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, “R U From Minnesota 2?” is, on it’s surface, a slight acoustic number distinguished only by the return to the studio of TAFKATAFKAP after 20 years as an ordained minister for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But underneath, you can almost feel the existential angst and whispered questions—and the implication that, at least for three minutes and seventeen seconds, we are all ‘from Minnesota.’

After a couple of perfunctory genre exercises (the calypso-inspired Still Not Dead” and the rockabilly-tinged “(Baby, You’re The Reason For All My Crazy Runnin’) Around,” part one ends with the most personal writing from Dylan since “Blood On The Tracks.” Bob Dylan has always expressed ambivalence about being ‘the voice of a generation,’ and nowhere is this conflict more apparent than on the moody, zither-driven anthem “The World Is Screwed And I’ve Stopped Caring.”

At almost twelve minutes, “The World Is Screwed And I’ve Stopped Caring” is a cryptic ode, full of opaque references to “the world being screwed” and Dylan himself “not caring.” Always a challenge to decipher, here Dylan presents an almost impressionistic lyric which can be interpreted in many ways.

We don’t ultimately know if it’s the folkie Dylan, the electric Dylan, the born-again Dylan or the romantic Dylan who is speaking to us, or is it an overlap of all of those Dylans in some sort of rock and roll Venn diagram? The song’s lyrics give us few clues, but he seems to be repudiating the notion of rock stars as prophets when he wails the lines “I repudiate the notion of rock stars as prophets/I can’t make it any clearer than that”.

After he became a Muslim, Bob Dylan famously said “God wears a lot of different suits, man, depending on where he has to go that day.” In this, his 47th album, it is Dylan who changes his wardrobe, and not all of the suits fit. Even Dylan fanatics won’t need an entire disc of sound checks, although “Test: One Two” is interesting. And the spoken word piece “Brownsville Girl Parts Two, Three And Four” is a bit self-indulgent. But after a fifteen year absence from the studio (claiming that “the magnets they’re using steal your soul”), “The Bootleg Series Vol. 12” is a stunning return to form from a man battling his demons, and ours, at times with just a harmonica.

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