Songs for Dogs

Marie is too busy trying to survive a gray and dreary February in Minnesota so I, Buddy the Wonderdog, am stepping in to write a post.

I want to tell you about a super great thing Marie and Russ did for me and my girlfriend Bea. Yes, I have a live-in girlfriend! Bea is a collie mix rescue dog. She was found in a ditch with her littermates next to a local highway by a mail carrier. Even though she was a stray, I think she’s priceless. She keeps me company when our masters are gone and sometimes even plays with me. Not often, but the rare times she does make me feel all goofy inside.

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Bea (left) and me listening to our play lists.

Anyway, I digress. The wonderful thing our masters did for us is to make a playlist of songs on Spotify. We listened to the music during a recent road trip, and I loved it! I think Bea did, too. You can see how happy we were from the photo I’ll include with this post.

The songs are customized to our personalities. For instance, for me, they inputted that I am super-friendly, curious, and have an average energy level. For Bea, they said she is less friendly and more mellow. My music was a mix of fast songs (including Led Zeppelin, my fave!) and slower songs. Bea’s mix were slower songs, but they were classics and very tasteful.

Now, besides being able to leap tall walls with a gesture from Marie, I am a well-read dog. The New York Times recently published an article, “Does Your Pet Really Need Cat TV or a Dog Playlist?” The story argues that all pets really want is their masters, not music to make them feel better when their masters are gone. But I would argue that if the masters have to be gone, why not play some music that I like? Also, because I’ve already listened to the songs when I was with my masters, it makes me feel like they’re here even when they’re not.

Those videos for cats that the article describes sound pretty funny. I laughed (in my own doggie way) at the quote by one person, who said, “When you are watching birds and chipmunks fight over a corncob, it makes you stop thinking about impeachment.” Anything that can do that has got to be good!

Our masters used to leave the Animal Planet station on TV sometimes when they were gone, but some of those programs are violent to animals. They show people hunting animals and killing them! I didn’t like those very much. I’d much rather have music.

So, to answer the question in the NY Times story, no, I don’t really NEED my own playlist, but I’m sure glad I have one.

Crackerjack Bands and Hometown Boosters: A Personal Story and Book Review

Back in 2010, I Googled my parents’ names, just to see if any information about them was out on the internet. They were aging, and I wanted to ensure their safety, both online and off.

I was also curious. Neither of them had ever owned or operated a computer. Heck, even operating a cell phone was a stretch, and I’m not sure either of them ever used the one they bought for emergencies, despite my repeated and patient instructions. Would anything be on the internet about people who had never been on the internet themselves?

I was surprised to find my father’s name (Howard Pramann) associated with a blog called, “My Musical Family” by Joy Riggs, a writer based in Northfield, Minn. The post was titled, “Music: The Anti-Drug.” It featured an interview with my father about his experience playing the cornet under the instruction of Joy’s great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs (the G stands for George, a name Mr. Riggs did not like so did not use). Mr. Riggs was adamantly against smoking, especially since his musicians needed good lungs to play. His anti-smoking lectures no doubt kept many a young man from taking up the habit.

After reading the post, I vaguely recalled my parents recently mentioning something about my dad being interviewed, but I didn’t understand that it was for a blog.

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My father, Howard Pramann, in his spiffy band outfit in St. Cloud in 1937.

I shared the post with my family members and parents, and wrote a thank-you e-mail to the author. She responded quickly, and we corresponded a few more times. She explained she was writing a book about G. Oliver Riggs, who was an influential and prolific “Minnesota Music Man.” He developed and directed bands in communities like St. Cloud and Crookston, Minn., and even in Montana. My father, Howard, played in the St. Cloud band for eight years, from age 10 until he graduated high school.

Late this summer, I received a message from Joy through my author website. She noticed I was a presenter at the North Shore Readers and Writers Festival in Grand Marais, which she planned to attend. She was looking forward to meeting there, plus she had published the book about her great-grandfather.

After receiving her message, I looked at Joy’s author page to see how I could lay hands on a copy of her book. I noticed she was doing a signing at a local bookstore a few weeks before the festival. I told her I would see her at her signing and later at the festival.

IMG_7234We met at the bookstore and had a nice chat. Not long after, I read her book, entitled “Crackerjack Bands and Hometown Boosters: The story of a Minnesota Music Man.” (Noodin Press, 2019.)

What immediately impressed me is how Joy interweaves her personal story with information about her great-grandfather’s life. This made the book much more interesting, as readers are able to experience the thrill of discovery that Joy found during her research process. Readers also learn that this book was her return to journalism after many years of subsuming her career to her growing family’s needs.

Her vivid prose won me over to the importance of her topic – bringing to life a bygone era, when public bands were the best form of entertainment in town and brought communities together. Although G. Oliver was a stern taskmaster, Joy’s book shows how his methods and discipline influenced his young pupils in a positive way throughout their lives.

Since my father was one of those pupils, it was thrilling for me to see photos of the venues where he might have played, and learn about the people he performed alongside. I was particularly interested in seeing pictures of my father’s piano teacher, who was G. Oliver’s wife, Islea.

Reading Joy’s book made me wish my father (who died in 2016) had spoken more about his community band experiences. When I complained about having to practice the required half-hour per day on my French horn in junior high and high school, he could have retorted with things like, “When I was your age, we had to practice four hours per day. What are you complaining about?”

I would have liked to hear him describe the contests his band won, and the parades they marched in. But through Joy’s book, I was able to follow the band’s triumphs and challenges across the years.

Joy describes her interview with my father in Chapter 13. He’s mentioned again on page 228 as playing a cornet duet before an audience of 5,000 people in a theater in St. Cloud.

To my surprise, Joy even refers to me on page 200, although not by name, when she discusses our initial correspondence.

Of course, I’m going to like any book that has me in it (ha, ha). But even if I wasn’t included, I’d still recommend Joy’s book for anyone who is interested in Minnesota’s musical history and the important role the arts can play in people’s lives. I gave it five out of five stars on Goodreads.

Aspects of 9-11

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The slurry wall inside the 9-11 Museum.

Russ and I meandered over to New York City last week. We didn’t plan it, but our trip ended up being 9-11 themed. Our first experience was a visit to the 9-11 Memorial and Museum.

The dim lights and the quiet struck me as we entered the museum. This was hallowed ground. Visitors treaded lightly and spoke softly. We met our tour guide in the lobby and she took us down, down, down into the excavation pit of the World Trade Center buildings.

DSC05587The heavy ghost of all the rubble that had filled the space and piled above it was an emotional and physical weight. Our guide showed us the slurry wall that held back the river from flooding the space, the square-edged outlines of the waterfalls that flowed in the memorial outside, the wreckage of the fire trucks, and the last cement column that survived the building collapse, festooned with first-responder graffiti.

The most awe-full artifact for me was the impact steel from the North Tower, which was the one hit first. Mounted on the wall like a crucifix with a stark light upon it, the mangled steel beams hung as a testament to the power of the plane that crashed into the building and began the nightmare.

People showed different emotions to these sights. Some were crying, some were dazed. Everyone was somber.

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The impact steel from the North Tower.

Our tour guide explained that her brother worked in the World Trade Buildings. He only escaped death that day because, at the last moment, he decided to go to the optometrist to get his glasses fixed instead of heading up the tower.

Tour over, we were free to wander among the artifact exhibits on our own. I was drawn to the information about the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, because I was in Pennsylvania when 9-11 happened. A timeline of those events was on display along with text of the plane cockpit recordings.

Also powerful and haunting were the voicemail messages left for loved ones from those who worked in the tower after the plane(s) crashed into them.

After all that heaviness, I was glad to get outside into the memorial area. But even the memorial is heavy, with all the names of the dead inscribed around the waterfalls that flow into the building pits. We found the name of a man who had been in a relative’s wedding party.

DSC05674The other 9-11-themed thing we did was attend the Broadway show, “Come From Away.” Although poignant at times, this experience was much more enjoyable than the museum. The musical tells the story of the townspeople of Gander, Newfoundland. This village of 10,000 people hosted 7,000 airplane travelers who got grounded on 9-11 for several days.

The Newfies welcome the confused travelers like only Newfies could – with generosity, caring, music, and whisky. The show offered 100 minutes of humanity and hopefulness.  The audience gave it a standing ovation at the end. If you have a chance to see “Come From Away,” by all means, do so!

Happy Belated Birthday Bob (Dylan)

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Bob Dylan’s childhood home in Duluth.

Last Friday was Bob Dylan’s birthday. My hometown of Duluth does it up right by holding an annual Dylan Fest — a week of events that features song, poetry, lectures, tours, and birthday cake.

This year, we attended the launch of a new book of poetry inspired by Dylan. “Visiting Bob” contains 100 poems by U.S. and international poets. A half dozen of the poets read their works and other poets’ works. Some of the poems were beyond me but others I understood. One that stuck was by local poet, Connie Wanek. Its theme was Dylan sightings in Duluth — are they false? Are they true? It ends on a hopeful note that perhaps someday the poet really will see him back in this town where he was born.

We also attended a lecture by one of the poets from Texas, David Gaines. Because he wrote a book about Dylan, he attracted media interest when Dylan won the Nobel Prize. Gaines described his experience being interviewed by Swedish public television and other major media outlets. He also got to travel to Stockholm to attend the airing of a Swedish public television story in conjunction with the prize ceremony.

On our way home from the lecture, we decided to stop by Bob Dylan’s home on the hillside, since it was on our route and we’d never seen it. A fan owns it and has spiffed up the duplex. Dylan lived in the right-hand side. A plaque on the front of the home proclaims its significance.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived here over five decades and never looked it up before. ‘Bout time, I guess.

When I posted the house photo on Facebook, one of my friends said they had a chance to rent the place in the mid-1970s, but turned it down. They didn’t know the home’s significance, however. When they found out afterward, they deeply regretted their decision because they were fans.

Another friend said she walked by the place thousands of times but it took years before she learned who had lived there.

These are typical instances of  “Duluth” to me. It’s a big small town. It’s large enough to get lost in if you want, and to never see parts of it. But it’s small enough that everyone has friends in common through one means or another, whether they went to school with them, or worked with them, etc.

Even after all this time, this town still has hidden gems to discover for those who take the time to look.

When Classical Music Goes Bad

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Image courtesy of Syracuse New Times.

Look what I found in the classical record collection that I inherited from my father.

During the two years since he died, I’ve been listening to my dad’s records whenever I exercise on my elliptical strider at home. It’s a way of getting healthier, figuring out which records I’d like to keep, and remembering him.

I’m about halfway through the stack and probably have another two years to go, unless I start exercising a whole lot more.

As a child, I used to hang out in my dad’s “radio room” when he played music after supper. I remember some of the albums vividly, others not so much.

I don’t recall this album (“Switched-on Bach” played on Moog synthesizers) and somehow don’t think it’s going to make my cut! Although all classical music is retro, this is just a little too retro-techno for me.

I wonder what possessed my father to purchase it? Maybe he thought it was cutting-edge at the time.

According to an article this spring in the Syracuse New Times, “Switched-on Bach” was released in 1968.  It “dropped like a bunker buster on the world of classical music, fostering incredulity and pushback from classical music purists, who considered such treatment to be blasphemous.”

Apparently, those objections were quickly quashed by enthusiasm from younger listeners who were otherwise not interested in classical music. The album vaulted to the top of the classical charts where it remained for 49 weeks. It was honored with three Grammies in 1970: Classical Album of the Year, Best Classical Performance by an Instrument Soloist, and Best Engineered Classical Album.

It even sold one million copies (!) – the first classical album to achieve that status.

*   *    *

Okay, I just listened to it. My judgement hereby is that the music does not stand the test of time despite all the awards it won.

Sorry dad, this one’s going in the rummage sale pile.

Jazz at the “O”

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Patty Peterson sings during a jazz evening at the Carlton Room in the Oldenburg House. (Note their logo on the ceiling!)

If you like jazz in an intimate setting paired with great food, the Oldenburg House in Carlton, Minnesota, is for you. One weekend each month the homeowners turn their living room into a jazz club called the Carlton Room, pulling in talent from Chicago, the Twin Cities, and other far-flung places.

They don’t ignore local talent, either – including one guy who lives right in the house. Co-owner Glenn Swanson is a leading drummer in his own right, and he performs during the sessions.

When I attended earlier this month, brother/sister Ricky and Patty Peterson from Minneapolis were performing. Ricky is best known for his twenty-year association with saxophone legend David Sanborn and for having produced, written and played keyboards for Prince. Patty is an award winning vocalist, live jazz radio host, and inspirational speaker; she has received the coveted Minnesota Music Award seven times for best vocalist.

We sat at a round table with several other couples. The food was great. The music even better. There’s no better way to spend a snowy spring evening. Someday, I would like to go back during the summer to see the grounds of the house. Under all that snow lie fountains and gardens among the rocky outcroppings that are a signature of the small town of Carlton.

The house itself is on the National Register of Historic places. The owners have oodles of other things going on besides jazz. A blogger friend of mine, Ed Newman, has written many stories about the place. Check out this one for a good overview.

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

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?