Tag Archive: music


I have a backlog of concerts, trips, etc. that I’ve blogged about mentally, or even have drafts of, but which I didn’t put on the “page.” That’s crazy, since this writing is about sheer fun. 

I go to a lot of concerts. I see lots of performers in my role as a volunteer at the Cedar Cultural Center. It’s one of the main reasons I do it: so much great free music! But I pay to go hear music, as well. I debate with myself: should I go to so many concerts and plays that in truth I can’t afford in such volume? But it’s my transcendence. Music and literature always have been, and music to such an extent that sometimes it actually hurts. I ask myself: why not just listen for free at home on a recording? But there’s nothing that beats that buzz of going to a venue, being among the audience, and feeling that electricity between performer and audience.

Now comes an attempted reconstruction of an event I should have posted about when it happened, June 2017, the Electric Fetus:

Friday evening was gorgeous, partly for the weather, and partly for hearing Dan Wilson play (for free) at The Electric Fetus. I go to hear a lot of musicians I’ve heard and read great things about, and it’s how my music knowledge moves into the future. Of course, Dan Wilson’s been around a while, but it took me a while to go see him. But I want to say: I was once with a couple of other baby boomer friends, one of whom said, “There has been no good music since the ’70s,” and the other heartily agreed. No no no no no!!!!

The ’60s was a very special time in music, and I will never forget the thrill of learning about the Beatles, following them in 16 and Tiger Beat, going to Hard Day’s Night, discovering Merseybeat, the Kinks, etc etc etc. Joy and innocence. But there will always be new people making amazing new music, standing on the shoulders of those who came before.  Sometimes it takes me a while, occasionally decades, to find them, like say, Big Star. Or Elvis Costello.

Getting back to Dan… What I recall is that I was struggling, as I so often do, with navigating some seemingly irreconcilable difficulties in my life, and the Dementors in my head start to take over. But I went nevertheless to the record store The Electric Fetus out of curiosity. He was doing a free in-store performance tied with his new release, Re-Covered, his covers of songs he co-wrote and which were performed and made famous by others. And there are some big ones, like “Someone Like You,” written with and for Adele. “Not Ready to Make Nice,” with the Dixie Chicks.

By chance, I happened to arrive the same time as Dan and park very close to him. I saw him get out of a little Toyota or Honda or some such car with a woman who I later realized was his wife. Then I passed him as he was going downstairs to the Fetus basement to tune up or something before the performance.

I took my place in the crowd. He’s well loved here for his Minneapolis roots, back to Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic. A South Minneapolis guy. There’s so much Minneapolis music, like, later on Eau Claire music, that has a special quality: a connection with the neighborhood, with roots, with families, high school friends. 

But I digress: So I was fighting Dementors. I’d navigated construction to get there, so I was little harried. He opened with just the words I needed to hear, as if he knew my life and mind. I’d never heard the song. Thank you, Dan, for just what I needed, for breaking from the worn mold of having your trust betrayed by others to the much harder one.

“All will be well/Even after all the promises you’ve broken to yourself.”

And I love that evocative part whose meaning isn’t entirely clear but is just right, as poetry should be, and makes me feel  cozy:

And all the children walking home past the factories
Can see the light shining in my window as
I write this song to you

So, two-plus years delayed, this post, but just right for coming back to a blog I’ve promised to tend. So, Dan Wilson’s solo rendition of “All Will Be Will,” originally written with and for the Gabe Dixon Band:

 

 

The day of Prince’s death, I remembered an essay of mine that was never published but was dear to my heart. Thankfully, I found it in the files of my old laptop. It’s too long and the news cycle is too short for it to find a home in a traditional publication — even an online one, I imagine. And this is why it’s time for me to revive my blog. To get the words out without gatekeepers. At the time I had my concert review and a little bit about Paisley Park published in the Chanhassen newspaper. Perhaps I’ll attach or link to that. But for now…

 

Friends 4Ever: Prince Fan-atics at Paisley Park, June 18, 2004

On a breezy mid-June afternoon, I’m outside Prince’s recording studio in Chanhassen, a southwest suburb of Minneapolis, out in “industrial park land.” The sleek, blocky, unmarked building could easily be mistaken for part of the General Mills complex across the street. But to the observant, the pots of purple petunias are a sly tip-off: this is not Betty Crocker, but Paisley Park.

Today the security gates are thrown open to the public for the first time in years. The occasion: three afternoons of Open House to show off Paisley Park’s new state-of-the-art recording equipment during the Twin Cities leg of Prince’s “Musicology” tour. Minneapolis being The Artist’s hometown, enthusiasm runs high. At least two different lines snake through the studio grounds, among a confusion of picnic tables, purple helium balloons, and sellers of Prince merchandise, popcorn and mini-donuts.

“Do you know where we buy tickets for the tour?” I ask two friendly-looking African-American women who look one step ahead of me in piecing out the puzzle. I’ve followed them to the line at the merchandise tent, and it is indeed the right place.

Unified by our fandom and the long wait, first for tickets – or rather, wristbands, then entrance to the Purple Palace itself, we become friends. Tracy, 38, and Janice, 56, paralegals from Dallas, are enjoying their first visit to Minnesota. “I’ve loved Prince since seventh grade,” Tracy gushes. “I’ve even gone to Hawaii to see him.”

“You’re a fan!” I say, impressed.

She corrects me: “Fan-atic!” and lifts her shirt to reveal the large tattoo on her stomach: the symbol that was once The Artist’s name.

Unlike many Prince fans, my enthusiasm for The Purple One does not date back to, say, junior high. In 1984, the year Prince became a 3M-sized colossus with Purple Rain, what rocked my world was my colicky newborn daughter, Sarah. I first heard the new hit “Raspberry Beret” in Jazzercise class while burning post-maternity flab.

At the dawn of the new millennium I found myself singing along to “1999” on the radio, to the dismay of teen-age Sarah. What clinched it for me, though, was watching Prince tear through a guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” during the George Harrison tribute at this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, televised on VH1.

I’ve always been a pop music fan, dating back to when I was a 10-year-old bubble-gum-chewing teenybopper trading Beatle cards at slumber parties with my girlfriends. Fandom was very much about friendship. We’d discuss which Beatle was our favorite, and whether the Rolling Stones were dreamy or dangerous. (Actually, they were dreamy because they were dangerous.) We fantasized about meeting our unattainable celebrity crushes. In truth, looking back, I can see that I wanted to be Keith Richards as much as date him. But until the arrival of Chrissy Hynde, herself a fan who became what she loved, I couldn’t imagine how that was possible. Girls did not pick up electric guitars. A couple of us picked up acoustic guitars and gamely tried folk songs. And I dreamed of writing for magazines like Tiger Beat when I grew up, so that I could interview pop stars.

At the end of the school year, my fan friends and I would sign each other’s autograph books with sayings like “2 Good 2 B In School” and Friends 4Ever.” (Is this how Prince learned 2 spell?) The autograph book didn’t survive our family’s many moves, and neither did the friendships, but the happy memories did, along with my love for pop.

That’s what drew me to St. Paul’s Xcel Center to see Prince, whose electric presence grabbed you ‘round the throat even if you were perched in a rafter seat of the giant hockey arena.

After the show, I hadn’t had enough Prince, and that’s why I was at Paisley Park, two days later, milling again in a sea of fans.

PaisleyParkStudio

I’d worried about being too old, too un-hip, too un-cool to hang out at Prince’s place, especially alone, but there was no need to fret.

With this trip to Minnesota, Tracy is celebrating her recently-finalized divorce. “Every day my life is just work and kids, work and kids. I decided it’s time to have a little fun.”

Talking of Prince’s new Jehovah’s Witness ways and the R-rated songs he’ll no longer sing, Tracy says, “I have to say, I miss his erotic stuff. But if he doesn’t want to do those songs anymore, I respect that. He’s got plenty of other good stuff to choose from.”

Janice, a fan-atic not so much of Prince but of travel, came along as part of her quest to see all 50 states (Minnesota was No. 29.) “Tracy originally wanted to go to Chicago to see Prince. But I told her, ‘Anyone will go with you to Chicago. Only I will go with you to Minnesota.” The pair laugh.

I’d thought Paisley Park would be some dim den of hipness, but once we reach the foyer, I feel almost like we could be at Betty Crocker headquarters, except for the Grammy awards and the Purple Rain Oscar displayed in a case.

In the airy sky-lit atrium, the walls, a heavenly blue, are painted with clouds, doves, and a large likeness of Prince’s eyes, staring, intense. During the tour, the guide points out details we might overlook, like a wooden cage of white doves on the balcony, or the “cuss bucket,” an empty water-cooler jug labeled “Luv 4 One Another,” into which employees must deposit money for charity if Prince catches anyone cursing.

Prince’s people – the tour guides, the recording engineers, and the security personnel – are so polite and good-natured, we could be on one of the factory tours from the Mister Rogers show. And indeed, there are children on this tour, even some in strollers. When we come to the giant console in Studio A, on which Prince himself lays down most tracks these days, Khalik, a recording engineer, has one of the children push a lever that demonstrates how a drumbeat is preserved and played back.

After the tour, I trade e-mail addresses with Tracy and Janice, bid them good-bye and wish them well in their Twin Cities visit. They’ve got a full night ahead, with the concert at the arena, then back to Paisley Park for the after-show party that begins at midnight and goes till…dawn?? The personnel can’t say: they only know that “special guests” might be on hand tonight.

I leave regretfully, knowing I’m doing the wise thing not to spend the money for the late-night show. I don’t want to negotiate my way alone in the middle of the night.

Still, part of me wishes someone would talk me into it. After all, it’s Prince. After all, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And as I walk back to my car, a pretty, perky-looking woman with bouncy reddish hair, big brown eyes, red Capri pants and a white sleeveless top passes me on her way toward the studio.

“Can you tell me if they’re still doing tours?” she asks eagerly.

“No, I was in the last one,” I answer.

She looks so disappointed that I quickly add: “But they are selling tickets to the after-show.”

“Really?” she says – and as if hearing the very thoughts emanating from my brain, says, “I really, really want to go. But it starts so late, and none of my friends will go – even though I kept telling them, ‘It’s Prince! This could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance!’ And at that hour, I don’t feel comfortable going alone.”

I hear these words leap from my mouth: “I’ll go, I’ll go with you!”

“Really?” she squeals. “Yes, yes!” I answer, and, there we are, two strangers jumping up and down together, trading cell phone numbers and agreeing to meet back up at 8:30 to be among the first in line.

She calls me at dinner, telling me she went ahead and bought tickets for both of us, cash only, knowing I’d be there at 8:30 to repay her. Her friends are telling her what my friends are telling me: “What? You’re going to an all-night party with someone you’ve just met?” But we tell our friends the same thing: “I know she’s OK. I can tell.” We’re both fans.

            During nearly four hours sitting in line at Paisley Park, Sheila and I find out we have much in common, like milestone birthdays. She just turned 40; I just turned 50. As the sunset streaks pink and purple behind us, then sets, and the moon and Venus rise, we talk.

We are both rediscovering our Inner Kid, learning to have fun after years of seriousness, struggle, and responsibility. She is recently divorced; my marriage had broken up two months before.

We are both dreamers, looking forward to new lives.

In business with her brother, a home-builder, she’s thinking of going back to school, becoming a grief counselor, and learning to write: “I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas I want to write about,” she says.

I do, too, even though I never became a writer for Tiger Beat.

“Here,” says Sheila, eagerly thumbing through Oprah Magazine. “I found a line just for us,” she says, pointing to a sentence from Oprah’s “What I Know For Sure” column: “Party until dawn,” it commands.

“I think it’s a sign,” Sheila says.

We do exactly as Oprah says, though it may not quite be the experience she had in mind. We’re crowded, standing-room-only, into a cavernous room packed wall-to-wall, listening to a funk band play for more than two hours.

Prince finally emerges from the back-corner of the stage at 2:45 a.m., his presence first signaled by the ring of bright gems that outline his ear, sparkling in the dark. We cheer as Prince takes the stage, no more than 10 feet before Sheila and me. He’s no bigger than a birch sapling, and not a molecule isn’t pure energy and presence.

Prince_at_Coachella

[The above photo is not from that performance. It’s Prince at Coachella, from Wikipedia, available for non-commercial reuse.]

Sheila and I try not to think about the bathroom break we wished we’d taken three hours before, and I try not to worry that my numb feet could be a sign of some serious degenerative disease only now making itself known. Were we not packed like sardines, I’d be flat on the floor.

But when I doubt whether I should be here, I have only to look at Sheila, who beams at me with the most radiant of smiles and says, over and over, “I’m so glad I ran into you! I wouldn’t have come here otherwise.”

The evening gets more and more absurd. Prince and the funksters call up audience members to sing off the cheat sheet pasted on the stage floor and then to dance. As the band whips through a long, long version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” the line of audience dancers grooves on and on, among them a skinny middle-aged woman with an intense look and a leg brace.

At 4:50, the show ends, the doors to Paisley Park open, and we are released to the dawn, the western sky already reflecting the sunrise. I am cold now, and I can barely walk. As we stumble to the car, Sheila bubbles, “This reminds me of college. I can’t remember when I’ve stayed up to see the dawn.”

“Neither can I,” I say, not quite bubbling, but maybe percolating. To be honest, I didn’t even do this in college. We trade e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and hugs, promising to stay Prince-pals.

When I finally see Purple Rain for the first time, at home on my DVD player, I watch through all the credits. My persistence is rewarded with this stunning line across the screen:

“May u live 2 see the dawn.”

 

I will always remember this summer night, with Sheila. And yesterday (was it really yesterday?) afternoon, with Tracy and Janice. We may never meet the pop stars who brought us together, but like my old girlhood friends, they are:

2 Good 2 B 4Gotten.

Purple Dawn

[As a postscript: Despite trading contact info, Tracy, Janice, Sheila and I never got in touch after this. But in the days after Prince’s death, I’ve thought about them, and I’m sure that Sheila, wherever she is, has also been remembering that evening.

From what’ I’ve read, it sounds like 2004 was a bit of a turning point for Prince: He became a Jehovah’s Witness and settled more permanently in Minnesota. He opened Paisley Park many times after that, hosting frequent all-night music parties with pancakes served in the morning.

A few months before his death, I saw the ad on Prince’s Twitter feed announcing the sale of tickets to his first “Piano & a Microphone” program. I was sorely tempted, having felt a bond with Prince since my 2004 experience. I reluctantly passed on it because of the $100 tickets and the prospect of driving to Chanhassen on a January night. It would have been a good time to run into Sheila.]

 

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I’m a pop music nut. In fact, it’s been one of the most important parts of my life, as far back as I can remember, back to Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and novelty songs like “The Witch Doctor” and “Alley Oop,” which appealed to six-year-old me.

And I’ve never let being alone stop me from seeing one of my favorite musicians perform live when they come to town. I used to buy two tickets, thinking I’d wrangle a friend into going with me. But I didn’t want to ask them to pay for their ticket since it wasn’t their idea to go in the first place. And my budget is such that I couldn’t keep buying two tickets for every musician I wanted to see. And frankly, I don’t know anyone except my daughters who likes the music I do. (And I must say, my most memorable concerts were those I attended with them: most notably Wilco at Rock the Garden the summer of 2003 — it was Sarah’s first summer coming home from college, right after freshman year. She’d sent me the tickets as a Mother’s Day gift. I wondered who I’d go with, and Wayne reminded me that she would be home by then, so SHE would be going with me, making it doubly good — I was excited! Then Kate wanted to come, too, so we got her a ticket.) (You could do that back then. Now, Rock the Garden sells out in hours.)

Wilco was still a struggling band. Their label had dropped them, but they put out Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, anyway. Besides being fantastic music, it seemed to eerily predict — or presage, might be the better word — the fall of the Twin Towers. (U2’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” was the same.) Saran & Kate are experts at squirming right to the front of the crowd, and I grabbed onto them and followed till we were very close to the stage. Bad Plus opened for them. They performed all of YHF, followed by a set of rockers from previous albums.

Other great concerts with the girls: Ben Folds and Aimee Mann in Central Park, the summer of…2000 or so. The summer the A/C went out in the Previa right past Chicago, but we pressed on, through Ontario, Niagara Falls, Seneca Falls, Cornell, and NYC. I’ve seen Wilco in Minneapolis at the State with Kate, and we saw Missy Higgins at First Ave.

BUT I DIGRESS! which I can so easily do, especially when it comes to music.

About 10 years ago, at a Wilco concert, looking at the empty seat beside me that I had paid for, but I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, I decided enough was enough. I could start going to concerts alone. Because once you get there, it’s all about the music, anyway. And you can enjoy without worrying that the person you’re with hates the music or isn’t having fun, which has happened to me.

Here’s a rundown of some musicians I have seen while going to concerts alone: Aimee Mann, Nick Lowe, Wilco, of course, Bob Dylan, Richard Thompson, Mavis Staples, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, The Swell Season, ah — the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Ray Davies, Sondre Lerche, Amadou & Mariam, PRINCE — out at Paisley Park, Peter Asher, Bon Iver (being the hometown band from Eau Claire 🙂 ), Music on a Stick at the State Fair, which was Jeremy Messersmith, Dessa, the Jayhawks and Supersonic, and I’m sure there are more. There are also plays and musicals: at the Guthrie, the Orpheum, the Jewish Theater Company, the Ordway, the Lab Theater. Additional venues have been the State Theater, First Ave, the Cedar, the Varsity, the Fitzgerald, Midway Stadium, the Minnesota Zoo amphitheater, Temple Israel, and the Dakota. (Man, I’ve been to a lot of concerts and plays!)

There are a few performers who are like old friends, and I would happily see them whenever they come to town. Aimee Mann is one of those. I’ve seen her at Central Park in NYC, the Guthrie, the Minnesota Zoo, the Dakota and First Ave. Tonight, as I write, she is at the Fine Line Cafe with Ted Leo, playing as The Both. I really like them, and I so wanted to go. But this is starting to wear on me some. Going to clubs alone feels a little stressful, and this was a particularly late set: opening act at 9. And there’s the parking issue, being downtown. And the waiting around, trying to find a good spot and having to hold that spot, standing on your feet for hours. I wouldn’t have gotten out of there till close to midnight. And my night vision for driving has gotten really crappy. I have no depth of vision at night. Plus tomorrow night I’m going to Nickel Creek at the State. I couldn’t pass that up.

So I regretfully, regretfully decided not to go to the Fine Line tonight. Phooey. And it’s a small place with a low stage, I read, so you can feel really close to the performers. But I just can’t go to everything. And this place is unfamiliar, so I would have had to stake out parking, which stresses me because I want to park somewhere I can feel safe walking back to late at night. So I gave myself permission to just be an old fogey tonight and stay in.

But there are videos of The Both on YouTube. Plus a Tiny Desk Concert. A virtual concert in the comfort of my home. So I’m going to mix up a blueberry fizz and go watch these:

Image

When I think of myself as a girl, in fifth grade,living on Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico, I can hear two sounds in my mind’s ear. One is the periodic roar of B-52s taking off from the flight line just down the road. We got used to pausing in our lesson, everyone quiet until the plane was high in the sky, where we could no longer hear it.

The other sound, which I liked much better, was that of the Air Force band across the quad, practicing “Rhapsody in Blue.” I didn’t know what it was called then, just knew I loved the swoon, the sweetness and melancholy of that tune. Here’s a poem I wrote once for a beginning poetry class at the Loft:

March 17, 2009

Rhapsody

In fifth grade in Puerto Rico
we learned to pause
when planes lifted off the flight line down the street,
carrying my classmates’ dads in pilot jumpsuits
for a mysterious two weeks “on alert.”

And wafting through our classroom window
late mornings, passionate music
from the boxy building across the lawn,
the Air Force band rehearsing.

Amateur musicians in uniform
with trumpets and trombones,
taking a break from desk jobs and airplanes, to practice
a daily melody I learned to love but couldn’t name,
under summer skies all school-year long

that return to me on a cold spring night in Minnesota
when I hear Gershwin
on the radio.

I remember those days when my sunny dad
whistled off to work in officer’s khaki,
and me at the pool in November with friends
and the school where we studied
in shirtwaist dresses and madras.

And I miss my father tonight,
how he played jazz piano
easily, naturally, in every key.

And that’s what I wish to do here: rhapsodize in every key, without gatekeepers and without fear. Without perfection, without self-censorship. To have writing be *fun* again. If there is a theme, it’s a loose one. Baby boomer mom tells of the life and times in which she grew up, the children she raised, her passions (those children being among the greatest of those), who she was as a girl and who she is now — which is that very same girl with a lot more wisdom.

When I was a girl, Anne Frank and her diary were among my first inspirations to write and to keep my own diary. A place for far-ranging thoughts. So this will be, in part, my figurative red-checkered cloth diary AND my rhapsody, from one who has always thought she was probably meant to be a musician more than anything else. As I didn’t learn the piano very well, these, on the laptop, are my keys.