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On Springsteen and Obama, Little Man, and a great listener, Studs Terkel

Bruce Springsteen introduces Barack Obama (Nov. 2, Cleveland). Here’s the speech, here’s the lovefest, here at the crossroads.

Iris Dement, “Trouble” (cut from the 1996 album “The Way I Should”). I spent much of the week accompanied by a killer cough and the mind-numbing chorus to Springsteen’s “57 Channels (and nothing on).” Amidst the ocean of punditry swirling in my codeine-caulked head was the grand dame of alt-country singing, “Let’s turn off the TV/I’m tired of CNN/Let’s throw a little party/invite some sinners in.” Good advice, especially when it all starts to sound like this.

Alan Parker, “Mississippi Burning.” My son and I watched this late last night, and, without much prodding from Dad, he recognized the similarities between then and now: Three civil rights workers travel to the deep South to register African-Americans to vote in 1964. The kids are murdered, the votes aren’t counted, the townsfolk call Martin Luther King, Jr. a communist, and all sorts of other ignorance takes hold as change makes its way across the promised land. That was then, but this is now.

Prince, “Let’s Work” (cut from the 1981 album “Controversy”). Who cares if it’s about sex? The chorus is nothing if not a gigantic pro-labor anthem, and all we are saying is that this funky call-to-arms and its funky progenitor should be resurrected for the funky inauguration party coming to funky Washington in funky January.

Studs Terkel, “Working.” I had no idea who Studs Terkel was when I pulled “Working” off my employment counselor father’s bookshelf in 1975. But by the end of that summer I knew every one of the people interviewed in this tome, and every detail of the jobs they held. I read it during my breaks manning the counter of the Red Barn on 24th and Nicollet (now a McDonald’s), and, in retrospect, it probably has everything to do with why I ended up asking people about their lives for a living.

Terkel died Friday in Chicago. The obits called him one of the last great listeners, and this is a fact. We live in a time when listening is a lost art, getting your two cents in is now mandatory proof of existence, and the resultant white noise of opinion requires a daily dose of meditation and planned silence to balance it all out. Thankfully, Terkel came of age in a time before the loudmouth tsumani hit. He was curious, kept asking questions, and “Working” is basically transcription, oral history at its finest, and, as America’s new working class (not “middle class,” despite all the politicians’ pandering) asserts itself, it’s a valuable re-reading. (Listen to Mary Lucia’s terrific 2005 interview with Studs here.)

Little Man, artwork for “Of Mind and Matter.” Haven’t heard the CD yet (the release party is at the Entry Saturday night), but this incendiary guitar slinger and spiritual seeker has turned in the cover shot of the year: a meditating man that suggests Joseph Campbell doing “All Things Must Pass.”  

Joe the Strummer. As the headline says, “(Bleep) Joe the Plumber.”

Andrea Swensson, Alexa Jones, Stacy Schwartz, “Girls Say Yes to Boys Who Say Obama” poster. In this boy’s haste to say “yes” to the Obama girls last week, I made a mistake: The poster I originally cited is by a Brooklyn “yes girls” faction. Here’s the homegrown version, complete with the tagline of the times: “Minneapolis artists against Palin. Vote Nov. 4.” (For poster inquiries, email Stacey Schwartz at

VH1 Celebrity Rehab. As I said, I spent much of the last week in a coughing coma watching bad television, overdosing on everything but Rachel Maddow and the NBA. One of the few things that made it tolerable was Dr. Drew Pinsky, whose empathy and ability to convey knowledge is inspiring. (Who knew that Gary Busey was such a casualty, or that opiates fill the emotional void in the brain caused by a lack of mother’s love?)  

Victor L. Wooten, “The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music” (Berkley Books). A breezy, conversational trip through the mystical aspects of playing and listening. Highly recommended to anyone who suspects there’s more to music than charts, critics, playlists, etc. 

Tina Fey, Cindy McCain, Andy Samberg, John McCain, et al., conclusion to “Saturday Night Live” (Nov. 1).
As the credits roll, Tina chats up Cindy, Andy begrudgingly shakes the hand of John, and for just a second it looks not unlike a future snapshot of how hilariously harmonious things could be.
Bob Dylan at Northrop Auditorium (Nov. 4, 2008). The last time young Robert Zimmerman was on the University Of Minnesota campus, he was a budding folk singer and a fledgling reporter for the Minnesota Daily. Somewhere deep in my basement I have a photo of him, whiling away at a typewriter in Murphy Hall. I’ll try to dig it up by next week; until then, here’s an excellent Dylan discussion between MinnPost’s Britt Robson and author Greil Marcus.

Quote of the week:

“It was in the fall of 1915 that I first had the idea that what I had been taught was of little value to me except for the use of my materials as a language — charcoal, pencil, pen and ink, watercolor, pastel, and oil. I had become fluent with them when I was so young that they were simply another language that I handled easily. But what to say with them? I had been taught to work like others and after careful thinking I decided that I wasn’t going to spend my life doing what had already been done.

“I hung on the wall the work I had been doing for several months. Then I sat down and looked at it. I could see how each painting or drawing had been done according to one teacher or another, and I said to myself, `I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me — shapes, ideas so near to me — so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down.’ I decided to start anew — to strip away what I had been taught — to accept as true my own thinking. This was one of the best times of my life. There was no one around to look at what I was doing — alone and singularly free, working into my own, unknown — no one to satisfy but myself. I began with charcoal and paper and decided not to use any color until it was impossible to do what I wanted to do in black and white. I believe it was June before I needed blue.” — Georgia O’Keefe

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Clay Williams on 11/03/2008 - 05:23 pm.

    When I read “The Red Barn” a jingle popped up in my head. When the hungries hit, hit the Red Barn! Real or imagined?

    Iris Dement has a singular voice. Sort of a female counterpart to Jimmy Dale Gilmore. Have they ever done a duet? It would either peel paint or be utterly sublime.

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