Percussionist Owen Weaver; a strange museum; a Minneapolis secret

Owen Weaver
Courtesy of Owen Weaver
Percussionist Owen Weaver

A series of short notes. Firstly, a fellow named Owen Weaver will be at the Southern Theater tonight. He’s a Bemidji-born, University of Minnesota-trained percussionist with decidedly avant garde tendencies, but the sort of avant garde that displays an irresistible, puckish sense of humor. Once you start watching his videos on YouTube, it’s easy to get caught up in them, watching one after the other, in the same way it is very hard to walk away from a bowl of M&Ms.
He has a taste for Pulitzer-winning composer David Lang. So there is his deadpan take on Lang’s percussion adaptation of “Born to Be Wild,” as an example. This manages to sound as though a New Wave singer had decided to improvise a spoken-word melody over a gamelan orchestra. And there is his version of Lang’s “The Anvil Chorus,” which does sound a bit like a group of extract miners had decided to form a Stomp! troupe.
He also offers up a piece called “Temazcal,” by Mexican composer Javier Alvarez, which is a duet between maracas and prerecorded electronic sounds. Because the act of shaking the maracas is an innately physical activity, he ends up looking like that guy who stands alone at a party just pumping his fists in time to the music. But just when you think, oh, wallflower, it suddenly gets spicy, and you get the sense that by the end of the night this fellow may be the most popular man at the party. Euan Kerr of Minnesota Public Radio has an interview with Weaver.

Iron Lung
MinnPost photo by Max Sparber
An iron lung at the HCMC Museum

Next, I want to point out a strange little museum that’s quite tucked away and very rarely open. Nonetheless, if you can find time to swing by, and it’s sometimes open Thursday afternoons, it’s worth checking out. This is the museum of the Hennepin County Medical Center, which isn’t so much a museum as it is a tiny room in the basement of one of the buildings.
I live just a few blocks from HCMC, which has always been exciting — its helicopter is forever passing back and forth overheard, rushing somebody to lifesaving treatment, and news stories, if they end well, tend to end with people at HCMC for gunshot wounds, or stab wounds, or to get smoke pumped out of their lungs at the hospital’s hyperbaric chamber. This gives the news an immediacy it might not otherwise have — after all, the subjects of the story are now my neighbors. And Tiny Tim died at HCMC after heroic efforts to save, and while you don’t necessarily want to boast of anybody dying at your hospital, if it must be anybody, could it be anybody more delightful than Tiny Tim?
The museum doesn’t detail any of this — at least, not as far as I could see, but it is simply packed with medical stuff, and so maybe there was a ukulele or a tulip tucked away somewhere. Nonetheless, if you’re curious about the history of medicine, this is the place to go. Especially as it has always had a home for Minneapolis’ poor and mistreated, including local prostitutes, who police at the turn of the 20th century used to regularly round up to be examined by HCMC doctors, back when it was called the Minneapolis City Hospital. The museum details this history, among others, and is also stuffed with poultices, bottles of unguents, mustard rubs, and a heavy cannister that was once used for transporting organs. The whole of it makes you wonder how people ever survived medical treatment, and if they regretted it when they did. Additionally, when you head to the museum, you pass a life-sized display of a burn victim who has been treated with skin grafts, accompanied by photographs of the actual procedure, and it’s both ghastly and fascinating, and what more do you want from a museum?

Music Box Theatre
MinnPost photo by Max Sparber
The basement of the Music Box Theatre

 Finally, I’m going to share a little secret, and it is one you won’t get a chance to see for yourself, unless you have the right friends. Let us look at the Music Box Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, which is currently the home of “Triple Espresso,” a play that returns frequently, like Capistrano swallows. Once upon a time, this theater was called The Loring, and, in 1920, was build for silent films. In the 1950s, it became a church, with the unwieldy name Minneapolis Evangelistic Auditorium at Loring Theater (you can see a photo of it at the Minnosotsa Historical Society site). Jim Bakker studied at North Central University, where he met his future wife, Tammy Faye. Neither graduated, but they found a home in the Evangelical movement, and Jim reportedly preached his first sermon in this building, as well as marrying Tammy Faye on April 1, 1961.
Well, that history has not been entirely erased from the building. If you can get down into its basement, which looks a bit like London after the Blitz, there is a large room that is sometimes described as having been a meditation room. All that remains of it is its perplexing wall decoration, which is a sort of a 3D stucco Middle Eastern street scene. When I was last there, there were some images of Jesus on a wall as well, but the building has a new owner, so who knows how much of it remains. Nonetheless, it’s the sort of thing I enjoy discovering, and even more enjoy worming my way into. I have a suspicion that much of the Twin Cities is like this — a series of hidden, accidental museums of its past, remaining only because there has been no compelling reason to redecorate. If I find more, I shall share with you. And if you know of some, let me know.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 12/14/2010 - 01:00 pm.

    Huh. When I first started working for the American Lung Association in Minnesota, I searched in vain for an iron lung for a museum exhibit in Iowa. Turns out there was one at HCMC all along.

    Nice find, Max!

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