Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Team Deadhead To The Rescue

Team Deadhead To The Rescue
By Jim Walsh
December 21

Just when the world has finally gone to hell and your fellow man’s distrust of your other fellow man has reached epidemic proportions, along comes Ben Perrier with one of his life–affirming bear hugs.

Last Friday night, Perrier turned off the news to partake in the one ritual that has kept him afloat all these years: live music. He landed at the Cabooze for local jam band God Johnson, and gave hugs to his hippiecentric tribe like Santa giving out candy canes, as winter’s darkness descended and the once lighthearted task of picking up our kids from school and the sacred space that is the carpool lane became a stark if not permanent reminder to appreciate our painfully poignant lives.

“When something like (the Newtown massacre) happens I’ve just got to be around music,” said Perrier, a burly, bearded 47-year-old father of three, owner of Nokomis Concrete, and avowed fan of Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead. “I can close my eyes and I’m in my own little cosmic world. With a lot of Deadheads, music is where you go, and things make much more sense, and you find yourself back on solid ground again instead of an earthquake under your feet wherever you go.”

The night before, Perrier and a bunch of his Grateful Dead-loving friends who go by the name of Team Deadhead helped cook and serve dinner for 300 needy folks at Holy Rosary Church in East Phillips. Since forming in the spring at the behest of Perrier, Team Deadhead has regularly volunteered its services to Loaves & Fishes, the 30-year-old feed-the-poor organization that historically has been staffed by volunteers from churches, synagogues, and corporations.

“The people we get to help us are good people, but they’re not church-goers. They’re kind of misfits, in a certain way,” said Perrier, who admits to long-gone brushes with the law and a sometimes violent past. “They maybe don’t fit in a lot of other places, but with Team Deadhead, everybody fits in.”

They also respond when Perrier puts out the call for volunteers – as he did last Thursday when Loaves & Fishes volunteer organizer Beth Ann Dodds realized the meal at Holy Rosary was in dire need of cooks and servers. Team Deadhead to the rescue.

“Ben greeted every single person who walked through that kitchen with a big bear hug, and the women he could twirl, he twirled them,” said Dodds. “He was fantastic. Music, singing, laughing, joking, citing poems that he makes up in his head. It is a lovely, lovely experience serving with him. Ben’s mother was involved in Loaves & Fishes, and I can tell he’s filled with love and wants to share it.

“It’s a really great thing. I’m so glad I met them, and that they’re part of this. Our Loaves & Fishes model is changing a little bit, where our faith-based organizations are getting older, and we’re looking for new blood. This is one of the newer teams, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience in getting younger people in the door.”

Team Deadhead was born when Perrier’s stint as a volunteer football and baseball coach with Pearl Park, Holy Angels, and Washburn high schools came to an end this year, but his itch to give back remained. He convinced his friend, musician Javier Trejo, to plant a community garden that now provides much of the organic vegetables for the meals Perrier cooks for Loaves & Fishes.

Not unlike the similarly roots-based food-share organization Sister Camelot, the 19-25 member-strong Team Deadhead’s philosophy
is based on the 1971 Grateful Dead song “Jack Straw,” which promises, “We can share what we got of yours ‘cause we done shared all of mine.” Such barter mentality is sure to become more popular in America, as more and more people find themselves scrambling for the basics.

“It’s basically, ‘Don’t worry that you’re out, I’ve got some.’ That’s the Dead way,” explained Perrier. “It’s a giving mentality, and you don’t worry about getting something back. It’s just an ever-building mentality, and I try to spread it as much as possible.

“I’m not one of these people who believes that you hold out your hand and government swoops in and makes everything OK. I’m a firm believer that communities are what really make the world go around. To me, there’s a way to take care of people, and people can do it themselves; there’s a way to pick up the slack, and there’s a lot of it out there.”

For the record, Perrier is always looking for new Team Deadhead members – and stresses that one needn’t be a fan of the Dead to be part of the team or experience.

“Just this last time, there were about eight people who have never volunteered for anything in their life. I tell people all the time, ‘Just come here. You’ll have a blast. It’s the best energy you’ll get for the day, and sometimes the best energy you’ll have for a week or a month, because everybody is cool and negativity is not allowed.’

“I have parties all the time and one of my stipulations is ‘There is no negativity allowed,’ and if there is, I’m the biggest bouncer in the room and I’ll come over there and squeeze it out of you.”

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Winter Wonderland Walk With Zero (First Snow)

                                          Dec. 9, 2012, Minneapolis, Minnesota.


    Zero exploring  

    Zero exploring

    Zero exploring

    Zero finding

    Man decorating Christmas tree, W. 47th St.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Enduring Grace Of Emilie Lemmons

While looking for something else on the World Wide Web this week, I discovered a fresh voice of wisdom, writing out of St. Paul. The writer is Emilie Lemmons, her blog is lemmondrops, and within 15 minutes of discovering her and her taste in music, books, movies, and reading about her Catholic faith, I learned that she was dead – of cancer, at 40.

It was a jarring ‘net moment that speaks to this time-space matrix we all find ourselves in as we traverse the unknown countries of past and present blogs, status updates, tweets, and living and dead social media accounts. Though it was brief, I was genuinely moved when Emilie left our conversation: The real-life equivalent would be of standing at a party, getting to know someone interesting and looking forward to sharing more, and then having her step outside and getting hit by a bus.

Lemmondrops comes with the tagline “Sweet and sour stories of life, love, and little ones,” and this bio:

“I’m Emilie, a writer and mother to two young boys, married to my best friend and living in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcoma August 2007, while pregnant with our youngest son. Cancer sucks. But we are all living life to the fullest in spite of it.”

Emilie documented her plight of chemo treatment and ups and downs for all to read (upon her passing, Molly Guthrey penned a tribute to her on the front page of the Pioneer Press), and while I didn't know her in life, I believe I was meant to stumble upon her blog as a reminder to love the ones you’re with while we can, and to further share her calm, sometimes withering, voice. In November 2007 she wrote,

“Every day something triggers me wondering if I am going to live long enough for my sons to know me, for me to be able to watch them grow up. It’s not fear or anxiety that occupies my mind at those moments, but a certain sense of sadness and urgency and awareness that I don’t know the hour nor the day – that none of us do, really – and we’d best live with a sense of purpose, of what is important to us, not superficially but deep down.

"My friend Johanna posted a poem on her blog by Mary Oliver that ends like this:

'Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is your plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?'

"Our wild and precious lives, indeed.”

On Christmas Eve, 2008, Emilie’s husband, Stephen Lemmons, posted:

“Emilie passed away in her sleep last night. I was holding her hand as she faded away. I loved her and will miss her dearly, but I am happy to see her free of this pain and suffering. Emilie wanted me to share the following quote after she died.

“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?

"I did.

"And what did you want?

"To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Amazing and Awesome, Always

Amazing and Awesome,  Always
By Jim Walsh
Dec. 7

In a recent radio interview, J.R. Moehringer, author of the amazing and awesome memoir “The Tender Bar,” took issue with the pervasive overuse of “amazing” and “awesome” in what he sees as our vocabulary-challenged society.

Coincidentally or not, the 2012 edition of Lake Superior State University’s annual list of banished words was topped by “amazing,” which received the most nominations from cliche-weary voters for its overuse by various uncouth reality TV stars, superstar homemaker Martha Stewart, and CNN hunk Anderson Cooper, among many other lazy speakers.

Fair enough. Get a thesaurus and some perspective, for sure. But it seems to me that putting a moratorium on the use of descriptors of “great surprise or wonder” (amazing) and “terrific, extraordinary” (awesome) feels like the boat has sunk, like we’ve given up, like the collective human spirit itself has jumped the shark and we’re all just killing time while the culture vultures circle and we put the mute button on the potentially miraculous.

Not so fast.

The truth is, in the history of expression, both adjectives have never been more applicable than right now. Yes, life can be dull. Yes, situations can be tedious. Yes, the blues has its place and yes, technology and all the options it affords can make for an unprecedentedly mundane rat race, but it says here that all you have to do is turn up the “amazing” and “awesome” knobs on your own personal world prism to feast upon a beauty that’s readily available to every eye of every beholder.

Do so, and you’ll be living out the amazingly awesome words of Henry Miller (“The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself”) and Conan O’Brien (“Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen”).

We come across amazing and awesome every day, and it seems downright sinful to not celebrate it as such, to not promote all things amazing and awesome, and to not mount some kind of a defense of the worn-out words themselves – at a time when stories of horror, hate, and human indignity visit our newsfeeds every five minutes.

Since the war on amazing and awesome broke out, I’ve been more vigilant in reminding myself to pay attention and practice gratitude for the amazing and awesome things that come my way. Today alone I’ve been quietly amazed and awed by the neighbors’ holiday lights, the fog on the lake, the kids playing across the street, songs of dear friends and distant strangers shuffling through my headphones, the sunrise through stained glass, my dog romping through the Rose Gardens with three whitetail deer, Kings barkeep West spinning The Modern Lovers on a drizzly Monday night, and the photo that accompanies this column.

It was taken by my father, Jerry Walsh, during the Korean War. I discovered it while going through some of the family slides I found in our parents’ basement over the weekend. It’s quickly become one of my favorite works of art: Life during wartime, and a portrait of music cutting through that most cynical of noises, war. The people in the photograph are long gone and forgotten, yet they live here on this page, unearthed and dusted off and seen by human eyes for the first time since a big band-loving kid from Minneapolis captured them for all time in 1951.

What do you call that?

A couple good words come to mind, but we’ll let the jury decide.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Song For Slim
By Jim Walsh
Nov. 21, 2012

I spent the weekend listening to Linden Hills’ own Bob “Slim” Dunlap and his two solo CDs, “The Old New Me” and “Times Like This,” both of which remain unheard by far too many and are must-haves in any real music lover’s collection.

I haven’t sat with his music since Slim suffered a massive stroke in February that left him mostly paralyzed and speaking in a whisper. But hearing his songs and that beautiful Minnesota creek-clear voice ringing out with so much heart and soul made me want to “write down everything you see here,” which is what wheelchair-bound and crippled-but-not Slim ordered me to do in the spring, his big probing brown eyes fixed on mine with everything he’s got.

What I saw – what I continue to see – was love, everywhere. Pain, everywhere. Strength, in numbers. Humor, in the face of abject horror. Wisdom, hard-won through this bounty of good times, bad times, and everything in between. What I saw – what I continue to see with every breath he takes –
was music, in every sense of the word.

I saw something heroic in how he has fought, and in how his devoted and loving wife Chrissie and their three kids have responded to their new lives caring for Slim. I saw the walls of the various hospitals that have housed Slim over the past ten months plastered with posters of Hank Williams and Pete Seeger; photos of his grandkids and other musical heroes, and cards, letters, and good tidings from around the world, including one from Slim’s favorite band, NRBQ.

I saw the man laugh, cough, moan, and cry at the mention of a story, game, person, song, drop of hat. I saw him say he wanted to die and live forever in the same breath. I saw my friend at the bottom of well, crying out for relief, redemption, understanding, medicine. I saw him worry about Chrissie, and ask me to take her dancing. I saw him hold hands with friends, silently flip the bird at the television, and maintain a steely will to communicate with visitors real and imaginary.

Last week I saw the wheelchair ramp newly installed on the front steps of his home, which sits a stone’s throw away from Chrissie’s beloved refuge of Lake Harriet’s Rose Gardens, Peace Garden and Bird Sanctuary. Last Tuesday I saw Slim back home for the first time since February, amidst his guitars, books, photos, and a peaceful healing feeling that only a man’s home can provide. The stay was short, however, as Slim developed another case of pneumonia that landed him in the ICU over the weekend.  

That’s where he is now, and where he’ll be when a bunch of us get together to sing Slim tunes Friday night in the 7th St. Entry, as part of First Avenue’s sixth annual tribute to The Replacements and “Pleased To Meet Me,” the great Minneapolis band’s majestic 1987 release that saw the departure of guitarist Bob Stinson and the arrival of Slim, whose nickname was bestowed upon him by band leader Paul Westerberg.

Listening to those harmonica- and guitar-driven Slim-penned tunes in the wake of all that’s happened this year is nothing short of prophetic and soul reviving. “We’re on a fast cruise headed to the bottom, but we’re having one hell of a time… Baby, it will work out fine,” he promises on his ode to Chrissie and life’s fragile pageant, “Partners In Crime.” A similar philosophy is at play on “Taken On The Chin,” a blues song of the first order and one more reminder that, as Bruce Springsteen sang in St. Paul last week, “Hard times come and hard times go.”

“Ballad Of The Opening Band” is the lament of every barroom singer who’s ever played to an indifferent crowd (and one more reason so many musicians love Slim), but he sings it the way he tells a story, lightheartedly chortling at some ego-crushing moment or character–testing predicament. The impossibly poignant “Times Like This” has been running through so many people’s heads and hearts since February (“It’s times like this that we know what we really miss”), while the singer in “Hate This Town” wonders at the end of his life if he’s made any difference at all.

In Slim’s case, the notion is ludicrous. What I saw – what I continue to see – is that his impact has been profound and inspiring, and will be for many years to come.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Only One

We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. And one of our ancient methods is to tell a story.

-- John Steinbeck

I’ve been a writer and storyteller since I first started keeping a diary in fourth grade, a full-fledged journal in seventh grade (both of which rest next to me on a heap of other writings here in my South Minneapolis basement), and since then it’s been an open spigot of poems, journalism, books, songs, and much midnight and early-morning scribbling that, apparently, is not about to leave me alone anytime soon.

I’ve had this condition for a while now. When I was 16, I gave a speech to a room full of parents, teachers, and fellow students at a speech contest (assigned topic: “I’m Only One”) sponsored by the Optimists Club of Minneapolis. I ended up winning the thing, which somehow validated something inside that had been brewing for a while.

“I’m alone most of the time,” I told the room, my head down at the podium and reading from a paper that had been typed by my mom, which she did for all six of her kids’ homework assignments – some in French. “I like being alone. Because I think so much, I have to be alone. Aloneness is a clean experience. It’s the feeling you get when you lie by a river fishing, and sleeping. Complete solitude. Not caring what people do to you or think about you. I love that moment more than any other moment my mind knows.

“I think a lot. I think about love, life, the unknown, myself, people, planets, and anything else my mind dishes up. When I think of love, I sometimes think that I love too easily. But then I counter with the thought that there is no way in this confusing world that there can be too much love.”

Nutty kid. Nutty adult. Not much has changed. These days I’m a 53-year-old modern family man with as much in common with "It's A Wonderful Life" as "Weeds" living as I do in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the epicenter of the free-thought universe and an area of the world so rich in music, art, and ubercreativity it positively vibrates. It ‘s a thrilling, exhausting, inspiring and historic time and place, and I’m happy to be a part of it all.

I’m also happy to be here with you. I realize I’m late to the game with this blog thing, but for a long time now I’ve been frustrated with the middleman wall that exists between you and me. I desperately need a place to go deeper, a way to exhale as often or as little as I need to, a canvas on which to exercise what Robert Frost said about the act of writing (“a momentary stay against confusion”), and an intimate safe place where I can put down thoughts, feelings, experiences, dreams, warts, all.

Welcome, then, to “My Little Corner Of The World” –
named after the sweet Yo La Tengo escape fantasy, although it could just as well be “Action Hero,” after the sweet Fountains Of Wayne escape fantasy. Thanks for reading.

Sometime after sunset
He is on his hands and knees
He is searching for his keys
At a small Vietnamese place
On East 11th Street

His daughters both at once say
Can we just get going please?
As his wife begins to sneeze
And his son is throwing peas
And eating with his feet

He's an action hero
And he should be fighting crime
Leaping between the buildings
And racing against time
He's an action hero
He's an action hero
In his mind

He drops by Mount Sinai
Where they're running through some tests
And they've taped things to his chest
And they're all doing their best
To make him feel at ease

The doctor says it's really just
An educated guess
I suggest you get some rest
Try to cut back on the stress
Cause I don't like what I see

But the action hero
Swears he feels just fine
He's got to finish saving
The world for all mankind
He's an action hero
He's an action hero
And he's racing against time