Minnesota Singer/Songwriter Jacob Mahon

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At first he catches your attention because he pauses during his songs. And what’s he doing with his mouth?

Then you wonder what he’s singing about. Then you wonder how someone just out of high school can have such a powerful, gravelly voice. Then you marvel at his guitar skills. Then you notice that he sounds like Adam Sandler’s Waterboy character sometimes.

He sings a song from the perspective of a goldfish that’s about more than a fish.

He croaks a song about old people. Is he poking fun or offering a critical commentary on how society devalues the elderly?

This guy’s got talent. He’s like a male version of Lorde. Watch him go.

Perfect Duluth Day Interview: https://www.perfectduluthday.com/2017/04/06/duluth-band-profile-jacob-mahon/

KUMD Radio Christine Dean Interview:
http://kumd.org/post/55-live-studio-jacob-mahon#stream/0

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How Seeing a Bob Dylan Exhibit Made me Happy not to be Famous

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Lyrics to the “Ballad of Donald White.” Dylan wrote them on the cover page in a library book of the people he was staying with in NY City. Needless to say, they did not return the library book. Dylan’s name is on the checkout form on the opposite page.

This weekend I had a chance to visit the Bob Dylan exhibit at Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in Duluth. I went there for a talk about Dylan given by someone I know. Unbeknownst to me, the time of the talk was changed to an hour later, so I had a long stretch to look at the exhibit beforehand.

And I’m glad I did. I mean, how can I consider myself a true Duluthian if I don’t know at least a little about one of its most famous personages? I learned a lot of new things, and re-remembered some old. But mostly I came away with the sense that it would be creepy to be that famous.

Dylan was born in Duluth in 1941 in the same hospital I was. He lived here until he was five (so said my friend who gave the talk, but Wikipedia says he was six). His father contracted polio (get your vaccinations, people!), necessitating a move to be nearer to relatives in Hibbing, Minn. Dylan graduated from high school in Hibbing and then went to college at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He dropped out after a year and went to seek his fortune (and Woody Guthrie) in New York City.

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A copy of Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize diploma for literature.

What both impressed and creeped me out was that the exhibit had things like a copy of Dylan’s birth announcement from the local newspaper, and photos of his early girlfriends, including a letter by his NYC girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, to her mother. In the letter, Suze is chewing out her mother, who obviously didn’t care for Dylan. The exhibit also featured a short note that Dylan wrote to the people he was staying with in NYC, letting them know where he was going and when he’d be back (1 a.m.). He told them not to wait up.

I just can’t imagine being the object of that must interest. I mean, a short note like the one he wrote in NYC would be thrown out by most people. And can you imagine seeing an exhibit under glass filled with photos of your early romantic interests?

But it was obvious that Dylan courted the fame. I mean, even before he was famous he was writing lyrics for friends as keepsakes, and signing his name to them. He went looking for the fame, and found it. Or maybe I am being too hard on him. Maybe he was just expressing and sharing his creativity, and look what happened as a result?

Anyway, I hope I never become that famous. (Although I hardly think there’s any danger of that.) Seeing the exhibit made me much happier to keep writing away in relative obscurity, thank you.

Feeling the Loss at Paisley Park

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Paisley Park

Last weekend, a friend and I meandered to Prince’s home in Chanhassen, Minn. The late musician’s home, Paisley Park, has been turned into a museum and recently opened for tours.

Even though I’m not the hugest Prince fan, he’s such a Minnesota icon that visiting his home seemed the thing to do on a weekend get-away from The Great White North. And I wanted to learn more about this musician who died so unexpectedly last April.

When I was in college in the early 1980s, other than his songs over the airwaves, my introduction to Prince was via a poster on the inside of my dorm neighbors’ bathroom door. When I ended up using their bathroom because the one I shared was occupied, there was Prince, lounging around nekkid as the day he was born, while I peed.

Hardly an auspicious introduction, but surely a memorable one.

Then there was the time I took my dormmate to a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis for her birthday. As we prepared to order our food at our second-floor table, our waiter arrived, breathless. “Prince just came in!” He gushed. “He’s seated at a table on the first floor!”

My dormmate and I looked at each other and shrugged, nonplussed, not interested enough to go downstairs and gawk. Our musical tastes then tended toward the B52s, Sting, and Dire Straits. As our waiter continued his excitement over the star, I, of course, was thinking of that bathroom poster. 🙂

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Prince in Purple Rain.

Over the years, I watched Prince’s Purple Rain movie, enjoyed his music, and saw a few of his energetic and flashy performances on TV. I liked him, but not unusually so.

Then came last year. What was it about 2016 and the loss of so many musicians?! It was like they had a karmic bullseye upon them.

After Prince died, like many other people, I watched his past Superbowl halftime performance, relistened to his music, and rewatched part of Purple Rain. I couldn’t help but follow the news speculation about his death and the mess that is/was his estate.

I began to gain a greater appreciation for his talent and his style. That old cliché, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” fit for my belated appreciation, and was another factor that drew me to Paisley Park.

If You Go

The first thing you need to know about visiting the museum is that you can only buy tickets online in advance. The high interest and demand necessitates it. Guided tours leave every 70 minutes and they will be running at least through April of this year.

Another thing is that you can’t use your phone on the tour. You will be asked to turn it off, and the attendant will slide it into a little case, locked by one of those magnetic thingees similar to the anti-theft devices on jeans. They don’t want you taking pictures inside. But you can take photos after the tour in a tent that’s set up just outside the museum.

Impressions

The first thing that struck me is how close Paisley Park is to the freeway. I’ve probably driven past it a few times over the years and never recognized it for what it was. With its bland white exterior, I thought it was an industrial park or something.

Once inside, I was struck by the symbolism of the murals. Blue sky and clouds decorate the atrium (the sky’s the limit?) along with white doves. We craned our necks to catch a glimpse of Prince’s pet dove, Divine, in its cage on the second floor. A velvet purple couch with paisley pillows sits underneath the atrium windows and a plastic box that holds a replica of Paisley Park and Prince’s ashes. Off the atrium, you can look through glass doors to see Prince’s dining area and television room. His office is off the other side of the atrium as well as several other rooms that are now filled with memorabilia from his concert tours.

I was struck by how small the furniture was. Prince seemed so larger-than-life on television, but in reality he was only about 5’-2”.

Our tour guide knew Prince personally. He explained that the connection was made through his wife, who was Prince’s babysitter when he was young. It was very cool to have someone guide us who actually knew what Prince was like and had an emotional attachment to him.

During the rest of the tour, we saw the motorcycle Prince rode in the Purple Rain movie and outfits he wore during concerts. In his sound studio we got to hear one of the unreleased songs (an instrumental) from his mythical musical vault. Most impressive was a full-size concert venue room where he could practice for his tours and hold his own concerts.

The tour ended in the room that was Prince’s private music club. A small dining area there serves food that Prince liked (vegan rice crispy bars?!), which are available for purchase. The gift shop featured a wall bedecked with memorials that people had placed outside Paisley Park after Prince died.

I left impressed by the way Prince built Paisley Park to foster his creativity. It’s truly not a place that anyone else could just purchase and live in. Like Graceland is to Elvis, Paisley Park holds Prince literally and figuratively. It’s a monument to a Minnesota icon — one who some Minnesotans like me didn’t fully appreciate until it was too late.

Songs that Should be in Movies

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Bob Dylan

Duluth is gearing up for Dylan Fest this coming week. For those unaware, singer Bob Dylan was born here and lived in northern Minnesota through his high school days. Although some local controversy exists about Dylan’s perceived slights of his hometown, many people here like his music and I expect the events will be full.

Not long ago on the radio I heard Dylan performing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Some Enchanted Evening.” Hearing him sing it in his nasally voice was funny and sort of surreal. It made me pull off the road and start a list of “Songs that Should be in Movies.” Who knows, such a list could come in handy if movies are ever made from my novels. (Grin.) I can see Dylan’s song accompanying a slow dance scene.

Other songs I’ve heard since then that I’ve added to my list are:

Running with the Wolves,” by Cloud Cult. This would make a good road trip song.

From a Payphone in the Rain” and “Me, You & the Universe,” by Teague Alexy. The payphone song is so heart-wrenching, it made me glad that Teague doesn’t record such songs very often. (Just stab me in the heart with a pencil and twist it, why don’t you?!) These songs are stories in themselves – maybe too specific for a movie soundtrack — but they’d make for good closing credits songs; ones to hear while you’re feeling the after-effects of a movie and you want to prolong the agony (or ecstasy) of the story and chill out before you stand up and go out into the real world.

That’s it for my list so far, but I’m still adding to it. Any suggestions?

Crawling out From Under my Musical Rock

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A Band Called Truman. Photo by Tanja Heckert.

Is there something your community is known for that you aren’t tuned into? It could be a sports team, an industry (like craft breweries), or some other cultural/historical thing. For me, it’s the local music scene. And now I’m making up for lost time.

For years, I’ve been squished under the rock of my responsibilities so I haven’t been able to enjoy the local music scene. I also haven’t had friends or acquaintances who were into it, so I plodded along, deaf to all the musically talented people around me. And Duluth has a lot of them. Case in point: Gaelynn Lea, who just won National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Concert Competition. Her unique style surpassed that of 6,000 other people and wowed the judges.

Sure, I knew about the symphony and high school bands – wider community kinds of music, but not so much individual local musicians. I realized I needed to rectify this. As a writer, I appreciate the creativity involved in songwriting and singing, and I feel it is my duty to become more familiar with the local music scene. Besides, I just like it!

I’ve had the good fortune to meet several local musicians/band members (including A Band Called Truman, Teague Alexy, Michael Monroe, Mary Bue, Georganne Hunter, and Jerree Small) and others I’ve managed to see play live or I’ve plucked them out of the “local music” CD section in the library. These include the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank, Cloud Cult, Low, Charlie Parr, Bill and Kate Isles, Ryan Lane, Rachael Kilgour, Sara Thomsen, Woodblind, and Jamie Kallestad.

I don’t know what I would do without the library’s help in catching up on twenty-something years of missed local music. Thank god for libraries! I know I’m missing many local musicians in this list, but I’m only halfway through the alphabet in the library section. 🙂

The thing is, I didn’t even know what I was missing until a series of chance encounters, life changes, and opportunities arose. It’s been a fun ‘research project,’ and the experiences will no doubt find their way into my fiction writing.

Is there something in your life that you don’t even know is missing? Something available in your community that’s being wasted on you? Here’s hoping someday you have the ability to take advantage of this food for the soul.

My Dad & Barnacle Bill

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My dad repairing a vehicle in our driveway, 1951.

One of my fondest memories of my father — who is ninety-seven and has been having a rough go of it lately — involves the ballad of Barnacle Bill, a song popular in the 1930s.

Picture me as a child of five, knocking on the bathroom door. My father is inside, shaving or whatever. He answers my knock, singing in falsetto:

“Who’s that knocking at my door? Who’s that knocking at my door? Who’s that knocking at my door? (Cried the fair young maiden).”

Of course, I’d tell him it was me and that I had to go to the bathroom . . . BAD. Like all children who would rather play than go pee, I’d leave it until the last moment.

He’d answer by continuing to sing, this time in a gravelly male voice:

“It’s only me from over the sea
(Said Barnacle Bill the Sailor).
I’m all lit up like a Christmas tree
(Said Barnacle Bill the Sailor).
I’ll sail the seas until I croak.
I’ll fight and swear and drink and smoke,
But I can’t swim a bloody stroke
(Said Barnacle Bill the Sailor).”

By this time, I’d plead again for him to let me in, and he’d reply in falsetto:

“I’ll come down and let you in,
I’ll come down and let you in,
I’ll come down and let you in,
(Cried the fair young maiden).”

Sometimes he’d let me in. But if he needed more time to finish, he’d draw out the torture by singing the last verse:

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My dad in his knickers (right) with his father outside their home in central Minnesota. I call this photo “fancy pants.” It must have been taken in the 1930s, during the time the Barnacle Bill song was on the radio.

“Well hurry before I bust in the door
(Said Barnacle Bill the Sailor).
I’ll rare and tear and rant and roar
(Said Barnacle Bill the Sailor).
I’ll spin you yarns and tell you lies
I’ll drink your wine and eat your pies
I’ll kiss your cheeks and black your eyes
(Said Barnacle Bill the Sailor).”

Finally, he’d open the door to find me doing the ‘I have to go pee’ dance in the hallway.

Even though this ritual was rather cruel, hearing my father imitate the male and female voices was fascinating. It was sort of scary, too, like there was a stranger (or two) in the bathroom. And some of the words were rather violent. But I was the youngest of four, so no doubt, my father needed some type of delay or coping mechanism for these interruptions from his children.

In looking up the lyrics for this song on the Internet, I learned my father was singing the tame version. His rendition was made popular by Hoagy Carmichael and his orchestra on the radio (including Benny Goodman on clarinet and Tommy Dorsey on trombone). Other adaptations are much “saucier,” and longer.

All I can say is thank goodness my dad sang the short and sweet version to me or there would have been a puddle in the hallway.

The Power of Collaboration (and how it Relates to the Pitch Perfect Movies)

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Teague Alexy, collaborator extraordinaire.

I admit it. I’ve watched Pitch Perfect 1 and 2 movies. Pitch Perfect 1 helped me escape from a hard time. The humor is truly funny and the singing – well, it just makes you want to walk around performing acapella and dancing all day. I just watched Pitch Perfect 2 and it’s got me musing about the value of collaboration.

In the movie, one of the lead singers of the “Bella” college acapella group ends up collaborating with one of the newest members to create an original song, which not only impresses her music industry boss, it helps the group win the world acapella competition.

This weekend I was privileged to be part of a book launch and music event that was a collaboration between 10 or so local authors. The lead author/singer (Teague Alexy) could have held the event by himself, but he chose to invite others to participate. He even took a chance on someone like me – a local novelist and poet who he just met a week ago (but we share a publisher.)

He held the event in an independent theater in downtown Duluth. Attendance wasn’t huge –a lot of events competed that night – but I’m sure it was larger than if he had been the only one performing. The range of styles of the authors was refreshing and mind-expanding, and I met several new ones.

Earlier in the day I had a conversation with an established author. We talked about how being an author (even one with a hard cover book published by a state university press) doesn’t mean you will rake in the dough. We agreed that the lifestyle is the reward, not the profit.

The night of the performance, I could have been sitting around home banging away at my computer or doing dishes, but instead I joined a bunch of other writers and we shared our work with an audience. The power of collaboration was evident then, and I’ve seen it at operate many times in the past in my day job, when organizations work together to strengthen the reach of their programs and projects.

I truly believe that organizations that try to protect their turf by outcompeting the competition are missing a great opportunity. I just want to say that if you’re an author, don’t be afraid to share the limelight with others – it will be to your advantage. Likewise if you’re an organization.

It takes a village to make a good book launch. And if enjoying Pitch Perfect 1 & 2 is wrong – if collaborating is wrong – I don’t want to be right.