Wednesday, September 27, 2006

5 Songs About America

Hmmmm, I was browsing around on the web (for images of Christmas trees, but that's another story...) and I saw this challenge on someone's blog:

"Name five songs that capture something great about America."

There was a time when I would have thought this was a ridiculous question, seeing as how I come from a crowd of cynical American Ameriphobes with whom, in my youth, we sat around just bashing our own nationality.

But somehow I've gone around a bend. I'm not so cynical anymore. Being a foreigner abroad during the Bush years kinda made me realize that not EVERYTHING was bad about America. Funny huh.... quite ironic, this happening right during some of our worst years. I can see the point of most things that people say about the US. But there's also a point where I finally had to say there's a limit. We're not COMPLETELY evil. I mean, people were coming up to me and blaming the US for the next flu pandemic (huh?), for the commercialization of travel caused by Lonely Planet guidebooks (they're Australian!), for being slobs because we often wear tennis shoes around town (wtf!). These kind of petty complaints just got silly sometimes and finally I reached an epiphany, where, for the first time in my life, I said to myself that sometimes in the US we're not all bad.

So anyway, that's the reason I thought that the question above was interesting.

What five songs do I propose? What songs, for me, evoke something great about America?

Hmmmm....hard to think in the span of just a couple minutes here. But here's a try...

1. Pretty much the whole album of Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- there's something this album that captures both a hot masculine energy and also a melancholy disenchantment with society that is distinctly American, and so perfectly conveyed. It also evokes, for me, the American west, the landscapes. Of course maybe that's because I was listening to this album while driving through the West. Dust, surf, desire and disenchantment.

2. "All Along the Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix -- the soaring and ripping American guitar, lyrics by Bob Dylan. The cultural blend that is America exemplified by a black American man rising to top of a genre that had once been defined by whites. That doesn't always work like we want it to in America, but for once, in this man, it did. Just a great song....

3. "Nightswimming" by REM -- no song can evoke life growing up in a semi-rural America for me more than this. Everytime I ever heard this song in France, Singapore, Australia I was transported back to the warm humid evenings along the St. Croix, crickets chirping, the river, my friends. This IS my life put to music, it seems. The best of American adolescence.

4. "Tonight Tonight" by the Smashing Pumpkins (or several other of their songs). Maybe this is kinda the same era as Nightswimming, but again I think there's something that Smashing Pumpkins captured about the surging longing of American youth, a battle against the waves of cynicism and disenchantment that come from our life saturated in commercialism, and their brief and glorious glimpses of a world that is real and true.

5. "Rebel Yell" by Billy Idol. For me, Billy Idol has the swagger of a cowboy, the glam of the 1980s, the curling lip of Elvis, and the dirty mind of Hugh Hefner. That's like a recipe for good all-American fun. I love this song!

Well, I'm sure I could come up with other songs, probably even better songs. But in the span of a few minutes this is what pops into my mind. Anyone got anything to add?

PS....It's a few minutes later and I'm still thinking about this. I also add
Tom Petty (pretty much all his songs),
Prince (most of his songs, which I've come to like a lot more since returning to MN. They're so badass and clever...),
"Stacey's Mom" by Fountains of Wayne for capturing something so deliciously likeable about American suburbia.
"Milk and Cereal" by G Love and Special Sauce -- I'm not a fan of G Love but what's more American than Milk and Cereal?
And finally ('cause I gotta stop somewhere) "Proud Mary", especially the rockin' version by Ike and Tina Turner.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tornado in my Valley?

Yesterday was kinda interesting. I went home to St. Mary's Point for a lunch with my Mom and John, and Britt's parents and Britt's little niece Sophie. After lunch we went down to Afton to visit "Afton Art in the Park" - an annual arts and crafts festival.

We roamed around the booths and looked at the art, some good and some bad. Then Mom comes over and says that she heard someome saying there's been a tornado touchdown in Roberts. That's a small town just across the river in Wisconsin.

Britt's dad and I were both about to frown skeptically like "nah that's nothing to worry about" when suddenly the tornado sirens start to wail. Their spooky somber sound made the hairs stand up on the back of our necks. We looked up to the grey sky. It looked plain and flat like a typical fall day. We were confused. Everything seemed normal but a siren definitely means some tornado activity has been confirmed in your area.

So I called Marco on my cellphone. He was working at home on the computer and he looked on the internet for me. He said that there was a funnel cloud (a swirling cloud that produces a tornado) sighted right over in Hudson, just five miles away! Also Highway 94 near Lakeland and Hudson were under a tornado warning! Wow! I've never heard of any tornado activity this close to home. It's scary but exciting. I've always fantasized about seeing a tornado.

But we were out in an open park. Not the safest place even though it felt pretty safe. I suggested that we didn't need to leave because if we saw a tornado we could just run down the street and take shelter in a huge underground tunnel that Britt and Emily and I used to play in as kids. But Britt's parents wanted to head home (even though their home is in Hudson - directly under the tornado activity!) So we all went home. It was necessary anyway, because it started to rain. The artists took down their art and their stands and packed up.

Nothing happened after that and today is a beautiful sunny fall day so it's all over for now. But it was fun in a spooky and exciting way.

Back again

Wow it's been a long time since the last post. Marco and I just got internet access again after several weeks without. In addition to that I didn't even use the computer at all because Marco is now working (for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - big news!) and he's using it 100% of the time.

Like coffee or cigarettes, I had almost completed the internet withdrawal period -- aching to check my emails, aching to write my blog, agonizing that I have fifty things I need to Google, then finally, slowly forgetting to think about any of these things and realizing one day that I don't really need to do anything on the internet. It was a moment of zen clarity.... But now I'm back and the DSL is running and I'm tumblin' fast off the wagon. Get out a pack of cigs, a flask of bourbon and a wi-fi hookup. Lets ROLL!

I'm in our new apartment. We've been here about three weeks. It's such a great location. It's a beautiful 30-minute walk to my studio every morning. It's a 10-minute walk to the food store. I can also walk to 2 hardware stores, a ton of nice restaurants and pubs, an art supply store, my dad's work, a wine shop, an independent video store with lots of foreign movies (except we've got no tv or dvd player, except on loan this weekend).

I LOVE being able to walk everywhere!! I feel free and energetic and entertained by all the interesting things that I encounter when walking. Even biking is not the same because even it is too fast to fully absorb one's surroundings. What I love the most is the way walking gives you such close intimate contact with your world. You can smell people's gardens, feel the crunch of leaves under your feet as autumn arrives, feel the warm sun and the cool shadows as you pass by buildings and trees, look passersby in the eye and say hello or sometimes hear their conversations and wonder about their lives.

Monday, September 04, 2006

New Apartment!

Big news....Saturday I moved into our new apartment! Marco is out of town at an INSEAD alumni weekend so I did all the moving myself with my Mom. It wasn't much though, just some boxes and one relatively easy-to-carry bed. Took just one trip.

I'm at Nina's, a charming little coffeeshop up the street using the wi-fi. I'm trying to figure out what we should do for furniture. I'm really motivated to try to do salvage furniture -- taking old things and reusing or recombining them in new stylish ways. I have a good book on this. One cool example is a set of nine old mailboxes stacked 3-on-3 to make a shoe storage near the entryway. There are tables made out of old carved wood doors, and lamps in old wire birdcages.

This is a little too much for me though. Our new apartment is really tiny so I just basically can fit in a table, couch and chairs. Sad thing is it's really hard to build / refurbish your own couch. It's a ton of work and costs nearly as much as a cheap new couch. I guess I should aim for a blend of recycled furniture and IKEA.

Man alive! The music in this coffeeshop is ATROCIOUS!! It's an instrumental version of all Nirvana's hit songs with the melody done in violin with strings on backup! Good Lord who thought to put this on? That's one thing I really miss about Europe -- there isn't so much *%!!# music in nice cafes and pubs. Geeeeez who ever bought such a horrendous album?

The neighborhood here rocks. It's very interesting. We are sort of located on the threshold of urban renewal. To the south of our street there are posh and beautiful restored Victorian homes and to the north there's the ghetto. People in the street are a mix of black and white and affluent and not-affluent which is different from pretty much all the other places I've lived. It intrigues me. This area was first built about 150 years ago (very old for Minnesota) and all the tycoons of railroad and logging built their Victorian mansions here. F. Scott Fitzgerald grew up here and wrote the Great Gatsby based upon much of the opulence he saw (but did not have) here in these same streets. But then in the last half of the 20th century the area decayed precipitously. Money left, gangs and drugs moved in. In the 1970s this was one of the most dangerous parts of St. Paul. My uncle from Norway lived just a block from here when he came to study agriculture at the University of Minnesota in the 1970s and he said he heard gunshots all the time. (Why did he live here? Who knows, it was probably cheap for a student....he is also a very adventurous uncle.) Then in the 90s it started to come back. Now it's hot property and all the run-down Victorian homes are being restored to their former beauty. And they really truly are a beautiful form of architecture with all their unique towers, porches, colors. Their gardens are lush and natural and full of flowers too. It's really a pleasure to walk around. I was told that this neighborhood in St. Paul is the largest intact "historic neighborhood" left in the US.

So anyway, that's where I'm at. Marco should be home later this afternoon.