In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Jim Walsh's Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes collects three decades of his music writing, and can be read as both memoir and a history of the Minneapolis music scene.
Jessica Hopper wrote of the book:
"Jim Walsh's Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes is as much a chronicle of the past few decades of the Minneapolis scene as it is a pitch-perfect memoir of what it means to live for music. A crucial read for anyone who has spent their days and nights tangled in the tether of a song. "
In his own words, here is Jim Walsh's Book Notes music playlist for his book Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes:
This extremely large-hearted boy’s new collection of music writings, Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes (a collection of essays, columns and reviews from the past 30 years) takes the Book Notes model to the extreme, with song titles used as chapter heads and headlines, all in celebration of the song at hand. Inspired by the book’s table of contents and the time-honored music lovers’ ritual of swapping handcrafted mixes, here are a few of the songs whose titles make up the chapter headlines, and a short excerpt of the piece that inspired the song/headline; a mixtape in video:
Semisonic, "Singing In My Sleep"
The cassette tape was first introduced in Europe in 1963, but didn't gain widespread use in North America until the early '70s. Since then, the cassette has been both savior and scourge to a music industry paranoid about home-taping, but it has allowed the rest of us to bypass the usual means of music distribution and send straight-to-the-aorta messages of love to loved ones and/or wanna-be loved ones.
Or, to put it more simply, "This is my rock 'n' roll love letter to you" – as the Bay City Rollers sing to me on a tape a friend recently made me.
Tapeheads make their tapes for friends, lovers, exes, themselves. They are sent as tools for seduction, musical education, seduction, grieving, joy, seduction and fun. And now, someone has finally gotten around to penning a musical tribute to the compilation tape as courting device.
"Singing in My Sleep," Semisonic's new single, is that song. And if it enjoys the same sort of success the Minneapolis-based power trio's current hit, "Closing Time," has, songwriter Dan Wilson's tale of a couple of tapeheads' burgeoning romance will shine a light on a peculiar passion that music lovers have been practicing for years—though the mix tape coming-out party isn't being hosted by Semisonic alone.
On his new album, Aussie songwriter Paul Kelly sings, "You made a special tape for me/ With songs from all your favorite CDs/ I put it on today, then I had to turn it off/ From Junior Brown to Dr. Dre/ And You Am I along the way/The music only made me want to get inside your touch."
The Faces, "Ooh La La"
I'm not sure when I first suspected that the Faces’ "Ooh La La" is the perfect song, but I felt the same way at the 400 Bar the other night, when John Munson and his cover boys in Meltaway did it. The set was a vocal-rich showcase of pretty covers of songs by the likes of Elvis Costello, Trip Shakespeare, Ron Sexsmith and Brian Wilson, but when they broke into "Ooh La La," the room lifted.
Seriously. Everyone stopped what they were doing, even in the back, just as I've seen it happen before: At the Faces’ farewell concert at the Minneapolis Auditorium in 1975, and at several Soul Asylum shows in the early '90s, when those guys would do "Ooh La La" as an encore and send everyone home with, well, souls asylumed.
The Front Porch Swingin' Liquor Pigs do it regularly at their Friday night gig at the Viking Bar, and when they played it on New Year's Eve, a couple of barflies close to this column report that, with 2001 lurking just around the corner, goose bumps broke out as the entire joint sang the chorus of, "I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger/I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was stronger."
From my liner notes to the Artist’s 1995 CD "The Gold Experience" and my new book, Gold Experience: Following Prince in the ‘90s:
In February of 1994, Prince emerged from an intense writing and recording seclusion and threw a party ("The Beautiful Experience") at Paisley Park to commemorate the release of "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" single. That’s when I first heard much of the material you now hold in your hands—including the marvelous cartoon dance work-out "Now" and the Al Green-kissed "Most Beautiful Girl." The 90-minute performance was a gritty, lean, and supremely nasty coming-out baptism that, unlike the Glam Slam gig a mere 12 months prior, revealed Prince to be a past-jettisoning, forward-thinking world citizen capable of howling lines like "Hooker, bitch, ‘ho/I don’t think so," and then, with genuine bad-ass squirreliness, "Light us up and take a hit."
Which, as a matter of fact, is exactly what I did. As often as possible. Last summer, Prince and the NPG set up shop for a week in Erotic City, the small annex in Minneapolis Glam Slam’s upper deck. Typically, they’d start at about 2:00 a.m. and play until 3:00. All my cronies from the old days had long since given in to their skepticism and bailed from the purple magic bus, so my friend Theresa was the only one I could ever talk into going. One night we were joined by 150 people. The next, 400. One night, he laid on his back and plaid feathery blues guitar for 20 minutes; the next, he bounced off the NPG horns like a tireless, tenacious Muscle Shoals band leader; the next, he led 300 people on a scavenger hunt out to Chanhassen for a full-fledged concert at Paisley Park.
It was exhilarating, and exhausting. Theresa and I would drive home from those gigs dazed and bemused, and go to sleep with the birds chirping and the sun coming up. The next day, we’d call each other up: Did you hear this? What was that lyric? What’s up with the spiritual vibe? I was floored by the band—bassist Sonny T., drummer Michael Bland, keyboardists Tommy Barbarella and Mr. Hayes—and the balance they struck between well-drilled professionalism and off the cuff jam-ability. After a July Glam Slam gig, Theresa said she thought "Pussy Control" was just another one of Prince’s sexist throwaways; I thought that was too easy. I defended it as a lighthearted and raunchy take on the power of womanhood.
We bitched, wondered, and danced. Yeah, we were hooked, I suppose in the same what that any Prince fan gets hooked, but because it was all new material and we were hearing it as works in progress unfettered by the usual cheese, it was more exciting than just superstar-gazing in a small club. It was, as we often said those nights in June and July, like discovering an underground band that nobody had ever heard of before.
Stevie Wonder, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered"
As President-elect Barack Obama gave his victory speech on the big screen at Arnellia's, the bar's owner and namesake, Arnellia Allen, sat at her favorite perch--on a stool near the cash register. Flanked by a few friends and family, the normally reserved Allen wore a wide grin and took up the packed bar's chant of "Obama" as the television beamed images of America's new first family to the world.
"I'm in shock," said the 60-something Allen. "I'm very excited, but it's a little hard to believe. I felt like this day would come one day, but I never thought I'd live to see it."
Arnellia's is St. Paul's oldest African-American-owned business, and its clientele is largely black. Tuesday, a crowd of 20-something hip-hop fans gathered at the club to hear live crews throw down as older Arnellia's regulars celebrated the historic election near the flat-screen in the corner with drinks, catfish, and chicken wings.
I" totally did not believe that I would see a black man as president of the United States," said St. Paul resident Michelle Bowie. "It's a miracle, almost. It feels like a miracle. I'm very proud of the whole Democratic Party. It feels like everybody is coming together, and that makes me very happy."
Lucinda Williams, "Side Of The Road"
I’ve listened to Lucinda Williams’ "Side of the Road" hundreds of times, but the one I remember most came in early June 1989. That evening, I was driving my 1980 K Car through rural Georgia as the big red sun was going down. I had just graduated from college, four years after my semi-punk rock band had split up, and I was on my way from my hometown in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Jacksonville, Florida, to do a summer internship at the Florida Times-Union. I had no air conditioning, the windows down, and the Georgia night cooling me off. Spraying out of the tape deck was Lucinda’s 1988 self-titled masterpiece.
It’s a terrific road record, full of flights of fancy and highway imagery, and the sort of crunchy snare drums, moaning violins, bluesy acoustic, electric, and slid guitars, and top-o’-the-lungs sing-alongs that can get you through the worst white-line fever. For most of that late afternoon, Lucinda’s voice and characters kept me company like a therapy group laying bare our deepest unsaid desires. Every one of them, from the obsessed lover in ‘I Just Wanted to See You So Bad," to the restless waitress, Sylvia, in "Night’s Too Long," to the yearning soul who just wants a few "Passionate Kisses" in this cold cold world, hit the ether with the same shared inflection of wanderlust.
Wilco, "How To Fight Loneliness"
There is a ritual that Jeff Tweedy follows every day he is on tour. His band, Wilco, finishes a show in one town or another. After the applause dies down, the band climbs onto the bus. Hundreds of miles down the road, they pull into another town, where they check into a hotel. When Tweedy hits the sack, and when he wakes up the next day, for a few minutes he doesn’t know where he is.
He climbs out of bed and finds the bathroom. He turns on the water, and eases himself into the tub. There, in what may be his lone moment of peace for the day, he thinks of his wife and son back home in Chicago, and the nomadic existence his life has become. And begins to sob.
"I almost make a point of crying or something every day," says Tweedy. "Just trying not to bottle it up as much--not feeling sorry for yourself, but knowing that you're gonna feel better if you just let it out. I know that if I don't let it out, it manifests itself in a weird stage persona. But if I do, it lets me focus a little bit clearer on playing well."
Peter Tosh, "Legalize It"
One of the first times I smoked marijuana was with Peter Tosh.
It was July 10, 1978, and the co-founder of The Wailers and his band was opening for the Rolling Stones at the St. Paul Civic Center. During "Legalize It," the title track off Tosh’s 1976 solo album and the first mainstream-produced record to champion the medicinal and spiritual benefits of weed, the 34–year-old native of Westmoreland, Jamaica pulled out a spliff the size of a baguette and lifted it to the heavens. Cheers.
I was 19 years old, a few months older than my son is now. Mick Jagger had just been on stage, doing his bony-assed chicken dance while guest dueting with Tosh on their hopped-up version of the Temptations’ "(Walk And) Don’t Look Back," so by sheer star power the then mostly unknown reggae legend had the 20,000 rock kids in the palms of his blunt-loving hands.
The National, "Geese Of Beverly Road"
Hang around with my buddy Pete Christensen long enough, and he’s liable to play you one of his favorite songs, "Geese of Beverly Road," by the National. It’s a classic light-from-darkness tune whose chorus dreams, "Hey love, we’ll get away with it/We’ll run like we’re awesome, totally genius."
That childlike spirit of escape and adventure has been at the heart of the 46-year-old welder, artist, musician, husband and father of three for as long as we’ve been friends and neighbors. He’s fond of referring to human beings as "creation machines" who make their own reality through intention, self-awareness and the power of positive thinking, and damned if it doesn’t work.
Son Volt, "Windfall"
"If you’ve played music for a long time," says Son Volt guitarist/violinist Dave Boquist, sitting at a Mexican restaurant that night in Minneapolis, "the songs, the music, the instruments, all become part of your family. Your confidants. Sometimes I think that it’s possible if you’re outside of that environment, it’s sort of like being without something you’re close to. I know I go nuts if I’m away from my music, or my instruments, for a long period of time. I’m somewhat miserable."
Maybe people who play music are drawn to it out of a very basic need. Maybe they just need something to do with their hands.
"Some people don’t, but a lot of people do," he says. "Some people are very cerebral and can dream a little. We do manual labor."
Joe Henry, "Short Man’s Room’"
The office building sessions were originally meant to be demos, but Henry liked the feel of the recordings, and after consulting with manager Dave Ayers, he decided to turn the project over to Mammoth. The result is a classic American folk-rock record, the sparse but by no means slapdash Short Man’s Room: There are only minimal overdubs, but plenty of natural ambience. Put your ear to the ground at the beginning of "King’s Highway" and you can hear somebody drop a pair of keys as Louris and Henry smack their lips in anticipation of telling a tale of nonchalant murder. On another label, another studio, those sounds would have been punched out, cleaned up. For Henry, who does production work with T-Bone Burnett in Los Angeles, the experience was freeing.
"This might sound obvious, but after a while a lot of studio work stops being about music and starts being like math," he says. "I just happen to really believe that if you what you’re trying to get on to tape is a feeling of five guys in a room playing, you know, maybe… the first place to start is to get give guys into a big room and play."
What a concept.
"Yeah, well—keep it under your hat. I’m trying to get a copyright on it."
A timeless travel through myriad characters and moods, Short Man’s Room feels like it was made by a very old soul, a Rip Van Winkle with an acoustic guitar and dobro who’s oblivious to the speed of today’s society and it’s musical trends. While rap, metal, and punk push their respective envelopes, Henry’s sound is a fading, yellowing postcard that could be used as somebody’s favorite bookmark. Something, someone has been reincarnated in this haunting Room, and at times it sounds like the singer is not a singer but a medium.
It’s a celebration of regulars ("Last One Out," "Short Man’s Room") and youth ("Good Fortune," "Stations," "The Diving Bell"). And true to its theme of life, death, and everything in between, Henry dedicates the record to his son and the memory of a late friend. Fittingly, Short Man’s Room’s finale is the exquisite "One Shoe On," a first-person account about a guy dying. A guy dying happy.
Ike Reilly, "Last Time" (Salesmen and Racists)
Let me tell you what I know about Reilly. He drives a Crown Victoria police cruiser, which makes various cameo appearances in his songs. He's had his nose broken a bunch of times, once in Paris. He's got a crooked smile and hot blue eyes that, in the right light, make him look a little deranged. He's big-hearted, loyal and genuinely street smart, and he writes songs the way he talks -- with Technicolor language that has been known to offend the easily offended.
He's got a great memory and a million true stories, like the one about his buddy the priest's first gig, his Irish drinking pals, a wheelchair and a fleet of cop cars.
Then there's the one about him mixing "Salesmen and Racists" in a Los Angeles studio next to Britney Spears and 'NSYNC, who he said were "really nice." Spend five minutes with him, and you'll realize that something of everyone he has ever met -- every fat cat and homeless person he held the door for while working as a hotel doorman in downtown Chicago for 12 years -- has rubbed off on him and stuck.
He has lived his entire life in Libertyville, Ill., whose most famous son is Marlon Brando. Reilly can tell you all the local Brando lore, like when the Wild One drove his motorcycle through the high school. But while Brando went to Hollywood, got fat and made awful movies, Reilly stayed in Libertyville, raised a family, ran marathons, drank, smoked dope, made music, got sick of it and built a studio and a business from the ground up.
Then he got sick of that, and he and his guitarist/keyboardist/co-producer Ed Tinley holed up in that studio and made what I like to call the next -- and maybe last -- great American rock 'n' roll record.
Bruce Springsteen, "Magic"
The old dogs hit the stage with "Radio Nowhere," with Springsteen growling, "is there anybody alive out there?" to a Greek choir, and then, less quotable but perhaps more salient in the media miasma of know-it-all pundits and opinions we find ourselves in: "I just wanna hear some rhythm."
When they lurched into "No Surrender," I wedged myself behind Alexa and Vicki and steadied myself. Martin, Jason, Jen and Kyle had my back. I raised my beer and prayed along, "We made a promise, we swore we’d always remember, no retreat, baby, no surrender." Springsteen looked right at me, the guy with the chalice held aloft, and grinned and nodded.
When it was done I touched my face and hell if it wasn’t wet with tears. I can name the last time I cried, and trust me it was a long time ago, but the pushing-60 little garage rocker with the Telecaster-on-fire who described his job on 60 Minutes as, "I make grown men cry and women dance" got me. Again.
Mason Jennings, "The Ballad of Paul and Sheila"
Paul Wellstone didn't lead any bands, but he led as musical a life as they come. He lived to bring people together, to mend fences: Music. When he died, musicians and artists were some of the most devastated, as Leslie Ball's crest-fallen-but-somehow-still-beaming face on CSPAN from Williams Arena illustrated. Everyone from Mason Jennings to Larry Long wrote Wellstone tribute songs in the aftermath, and everyone had a story, including the one Wendy Lewis told me about the genuine exuberance with which Wellstone once introduced her band, Rhea Valentine, to a crowd at the Lyn-Lake Festival. Imagine that, today.
The Waterboys, "This Is The Sea"
Calling something a "miracle" these days can get you laughed right out of the cynics' club, but there's no other word for what happened at First Avenue around 10:15 Saturday night.
The Waterboys were onstage, having returned to the scene of their most recent inspirational service of March 28. Among other things that night, the Irish-British band's singer/songwriter, Mike Scott, memorably sang, "That was the river, this is the sea," giving voice to anyone who may have been going through a profound winter funk and/or midlife crisis, as the dicey past (the river) slipped into the looming future (the sea).
Six short months later, the funk and crisis and future and sea belonged to everyone. Before the show, a fan told Scott that the Waterboys' performance of "This Is The Sea" had helped him grow up, to which the singer responded, "Glad to be of service."
Now the fan found himself near the front of the stage, listening intently again as Scott sang, over an electric guitar that sounded like banging shutters in a storm, "I'm not through with my changes/I've got a long way still to run/I'm gonna play this show even if nobody comes."
Parliament Funkadelic, "Free Your Mind…"
The first time he said it, George Clinton didn't even remember what he said. It was 1967, and his band, the Parliaments, were performing at a club in Boston called the Sugar Shack. The Parliaments came well before Clinton’s trailblazing Parliament-Funkadelic collectives of the '70s; a doo-wop outfit that eschewed the genre's matching sweaters and three-piece suits of the day and opted instead for helmets, fencing masks and robes that were more in line with the era's burgeoning psychedelic movement.
The first time he said it, George Clinton was tripping on acid. The Parliaments were experimenting with a raw melange of slow, dirty blues and embryonic funk. That night at the Sugar Shack, the band was laying down an especially nasty groove that was bathed in moody minor chords and bumped along by their leader's cosmic comic-book ad-libbing and hallucinogenic-inspired beat poetry.
The first time he said it, George Clinton might well have lost it forever to the moment, were it not for an "artsy-fartsy" college friend "who talked to me about Nietzsche and Ayn Rand and all that stuff." The kid had made a habit of sitting in the audience at Parliaments' gigs and meticulously scribbling down verbatim passages from Clinton’s improvs. After the Parliaments ended their set at the Sugar Shack, he presented Clinton with a scrap of paper. It read:
"Free your mind and your ass will follow."
"To me, it was nonsensical and pseudo-philosophical, and I cracked up every time I heard myself say something like that," Clinton says by phone from his 178-acre Michigan homestead, where he lives with his wife of three years and two of his grandchildren. "Years later, I realized things flow through you that you don't even have to know what you're talking about.
"But I was like everybody else: I learned later that it does mean something. I mean, I write lyrics all the time, and I knew it had a flow to it, but it's deeper than I even thought it was. Because now, everybody thinks that was genius to be able to do a record like that. When he came up to me and said, ‘This is what you said,’ I believed him, because he was knowledgeable. So whatever, if he said it meant something, I thought, ‘I'm gonna keep it.’"
Ray Charles, "Georgia On My Mind"
I love going to hear my brother sing and play music with his band, St. Dominic’s Trio, Tuesday nights at Nye’s Polonaise Room, which a few years back was named
"BEST.BAR.EVER." by Esquire magazine.
Every week, those guys fill the room with love and entertain the troops with a sweet strain of soul music that makes a body never want to leave. They're so good at it. I often sit back in a booth or on a stool these nights, counting blessings, listening to the
music, watching people, eavesdropping, and staring into the crystal balls of neon, mirrors and liquor bottles.
The truth of the matter is that live music and a couple beers calm my scattered nerves as nothing else does, much in the same way that R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" never has failed to. Last night at Nye's, I watched a middle-aged couple from Houston make out like teenage banshees in the front booth as St. Dom's made Siamese twins out of The Who's "Substitute" and The Flaming Lips' "Do You
After I expressed my great admiration for their public display of affection, the kind that Minnesotans too rarely engage in, my friend Debbie and I ended up dancing to the double-dip depression blues with the Texans, who presented us with their cowboy/girl hats at the end of the night.
It was a night like that a couple of months ago when I found myself sitting alone at the Nye's piano bar with Mike Mills, bassist for R.E.M., who was in town for a show at the Varsity Theater with The Baseball Project the next night. Hovering around the piano were Mills' bandmates Scott McCaughy, Linda Pitmon, and Steve Wynn. They were the only people in the bar, save for Corky tending the front bar and Mike, Nye's omnipresent and ornery piano player and singalong host.
I said hello to the group and sat down next to Mills. He and McCaughy sang a spirited "Mac the Knife." After which I suggested to Mills, who was nursing a gin and tonic and looking as forlorn and far away from home as any traveling salesman ever has, that he sing "Georgia On My Mind."
"That's a good idea," he drawled.
The Ramones, "Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?"
The Ramones played their first Twin Cities concert in 1976 at the old Kelly's Pub in downtown St. Paul. The Suicide Commandos, the local band that formed around the same time as the New York rockers, opened.
The afternoon of the show, a couple of underage kids from Minneapolis, one of whom wore a Ramones T-shirt, drove across the river and parked in front of the bar. The kids had never been to a bar of any kind before, but they were gonna give it a shot. "We love the Ramones," the kid with the T-shirt told the bouncer at the door. "We just want to see the band. We won't drink or anything. Will you let us in? Please?"
It was 5 p.m. The Ramones wouldn't be on stage until almost midnight. The bouncer gave the lads the once-over, propped the door open, and barked "Get out of here."
Slim Dunlap, "Times Like This"
"Fuckin’ A, Slim!," shouted the man at Palmer’s Bar last Thursday around midnight, and then he shouted it again.
"Fuckin’ A, Slim!"
Never mind the light of day, the man’s coarse bravo was the perfect exclamation point to the song that Bob "Slim" Dunlap had just played at Palmer’s, that decades-old West Bank survivor whose charms are nicely summed up by "Mary" in an online bar review:
"This is the only bar in Minnesota where immigrants, punks, college kids, old hippies, homeless people, crack heads, and gangstas share the same space without it being a presidential ad campaign."
That much was true this night, as Slim’s son and Palmer’s employee Louie Dunlap manned the door and premises, and the sons and daughters of the hippie-punks gathered around the open fire in the outdoor back patio to warm themselves with smokes and spirits on a chilly spring night. Inside the bar, there were shots of hard liquor and soft sweater girls, tipsy bikers and bombed bombshells, three-dollar cover, a guitar case festooned with a Dylan sticker that read "It’s Not Dark Yet… But It’s Getting There," and local music photographer Jenn Barnett, crawling around the front of the stage to capture the moment that Slim captured with his classic tune "Times Like This."
The Hamm’s Bear, "From The Land Of Sky-Blue Waters"
The man inside the Hamm's Bear costume is one Corey Shovein, a 35-year-old salesman for the local Hohensteins beer distributor. As a self-described "beer geek," Shovein knows his Hamm's history by heart. The Hamm's brewery was started in Milwaukee in 1865 at a time when regional brewers ruled. Campbell-Mithun Advertising of Minneapolis created the campaign that featured the Hamm's Bear and the jingle "from the land of sky-blue waters." The Ojibwe artist Patrick DesJarlait came up with the Hamm's Bear.
In the year 2000, the St. Paul Pioneer Press named the Hamm's Bear as a runner-up on its list of "150 Most Influential Minnesotans of the past 150 Years." But his once-ubiquitous image is nowhere to be found these days: The same forces that assassinated Joe Camel, for marketing to children, hit the Hamm's Bear with a ricochet.
"The song was catchy, the imagery was catchy, and even though you don't see him anymore, it shows how formidable the advertising was," says Shovein. "People still know who the Hamm's Bear is. People ask to have it in parades and all that kind of crap. But it's hotter than the gates of hell in this thing, so the Hamm's Bear prefers winter."
In the past three years that Shovein has been donning the costume, the Hamm's Bear has been asked to engage in every sexual situation imaginable. The Hamm's Bear has been propositioned, punched, and partied with. He has found himself in corporate boardrooms, private parties, and athletic events. And he has brusquely knocked over kids who are too young to appreciate the Hamm's Bear legacy.
"I put it on whenever anyone asks," says Shovein, a married father of two toddlers. "It can be a little addicting. I generally lug around a Polaroid, and we do a dollar a photo and give that money to charity, or give the money to the servers. It turns into a melee. Honestly, people just line up to get a hold of the Hamm's Bear.
Curtiss A/John Lennon, "I Want You (She’s So Heavy)"
On the night of Dec. 8, 1980, Yoko Ono and John Lennon were returning home to the Dakota apartment building near New York's Central Park, when gunman Mark David Chapman murdered the ex-Beatle.
A couple of hours later in Minneapolis, after hearing the news, Curtiss A got up onstage with Safety Last and Slim Dunlap at the 7th St. Entry to sing a few Beatles and Lennon songs.
Since then, Ono and Curt have been keeping the Lennon flame alive in their own ways. Ono has showcased Lennon's artwork, lyrics and recordings, while Curt has staged his Lennon tribute every year around this time.
The two artists had never spoken to each other, but to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Lennon's death on Friday, we thought it would be a good idea to get them on the phone together.
A good idea? On one hand, we have the woman who has been myopically painted as the reason the Beatles broke up. On the other, the local legend notorious for saying exactly what's on his mind ("When I met Chuck Berry, I asked him why he always plays with such shitty bands," Curt said before the interview) and for his status as one of America's great lost soul singers.
Why not? The call happened Sunday morning, Nov. 26. Over the course of 45 minutes, the two discussed Lennon's legacy, Elvis impersonators and the simple fact that all our cells are connected.
Walsh: Good morning, Yoko. I have Curtiss A with us here. Curt, can you say, "Hi?"
Curt: Hi, Yoko.
Yoko: Hi, dear.
Curt: She called me "dear"!
Walsh: The reason I wanted to get you two together on the phone this morning is because in your own ways, you've both been responsible for keeping John's flame alive. Yoko, Curt has been doing his tribute to John for 20 years.
The great thing about it is that it attracts some of the best musicians in town, and it really is a celebration of John's music that has retained his spirit, and irreverence and message of peace and love unlike any other live music experience that I know of. You'd be amazed by it--seeing all these people in the same room, lifted up by John's music every year.
Yoko: That's great. That's so great."
The Belfast Cowboys, "Looking For The Northern Lights"
Christmas night 2014, my brother Terry and I sat in the living room of his bachelor pad apartment overlooking Lake Harriet, listening to the final mixes of The Upside to the Downslide and taking in the frozen splendor of the beautiful body of water that’s been a spiritual touchstone to us since we were kids. It’d been a rollercoaster year for the both of us, a couple of fiftysomething Irish-Minneapolitans traversing music, love, life, death and everything in between, and now we were enjoying some post-holiday chill time and feeling lucky to be alive.
We’d listened to most of the record when he went out to the porch to get a breath of the unseasonably warm winter air, leaving me alone for "Looking for the Northern Lights," a personal fave that’s been a staple of the Cowboys’ and St. Dominic’s Trio’s live shows, and which the band had been struggling to capture with a recording that did justice to the song’s wanderlusty magic. When he came back in, I told my bro that people in this part of the world, where the search for the northern lights is a mystical right of passage, would be listening to it a hundred years from now.
Cat Stevens, "If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out"
But before you go, you might find yourself thanking everyone who has read this far and telling them that you don't take for granted this thing you've shared, this thing that goes beyond "coverage" and "content" and "customer" and telling them that it has been a pleasure beyond words, so you'll end this one with a song.
The last time you heard it was the other night at Liquor Lyle's with you and your old friend Craig. You ran into your old friend Kate and her old friend Suzanne. The four of you grabbed a table by the pool tables, and you and Kate went to the jukebox and put on some Bowie and Stones and Jane's Addiction.
Craig got out his credit card and bought Leinies and Cuervo. You talked about Sept. 11, heroes, firemen, marriage, media, music. Then, you started singing.
You'd just discovered your mutual love for Harold and Maude, and Cat Stevens' words started trickling out of all of you, clumsily at first, a barbershop karaoke quartet without the TelePrompTer:
"Well, if you want to sing out, sing out./And if you want to be free, be free./'Cause there's a million things to be./You know that there are."
You stumbled, but then Craig picked you up, as he often has; Kate inspired you, as she often does; Suzanne took a drag off her cigarette and smiled at the three of you, and in your minds you all plucked banjos and did Harold's jig on the cliff and danced Maude's nose-thumbing, hand-clapping shimmy.
You were flush in the moment, eyes locked in on each other's, but you took a second to look up to see that the pool players had stopped their games and were watching, listening.
"If you want to be me, be me," you sang, at the top of your beery lungs, drowning out the jukebox, spreading the gospel. "And if you want to be you, be you/'Cause there's a million things to be/You know that there are./It's easy, ah ah ah."
For a minute or longer, you sang, volume increasing with courage. From the front bar, hard faces turned soft and beamed your way. A couple of pool players rested their chins on their sticks and grinned. An ecstatic woman from the next table joined in.
You will never forget it. Any of it.
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