Pinup World: Sting, Bono, and Ponyboy

Ponyboy, as played by C. Thomas Howell in the film version of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsider’s, that is (that crush burned out quickly, I’m afraid). These were the three faces that covered my walls when I was fourteen. I was a Police fan even before I was a U2 fan. I’d haul home Police albums, in vinyl, from my local library. It was impossible to act cool while listening to The Police in my parent’s living room, on my parent’s cabinet stereo. By the time Synchronicity came out, however, I had a little funky blue plastic boom box (if I’d have kept it, it would be worth some good money now in the collector’s world) and could listen to the album in the privacy of my own room. The Police imploded before I was able to get to the big city of Minneapolis for a concert. I did, however, see Sting live at smaller venues, such as the Orpheum Theater, in the late 90s and early 2000’s. I missed The Police’s reunion concert, which happened in 2009 at a large stadium in my hood, because I was very pregnant with my third child. I didn’t want to waddle through the crowd (and, likely, pee on the floor while dancing because I always dance at concerts).

I never thought I’d attend a concert at the Myth Club in Maplewood, Minnesota. Never (which kind of sort explains why I was a bit of a righteous idiot and never saw Prince play at the Myth and now it’s too late). Even more, I never thought Sting would play this venue. Never . But when–last fall–I heard that Sting would be there on March 2nd, I promptly joined the Sting fan club (which would have been a much more logical development back at age 14 than now) so that I could purchase tickets that allowed me special early entrance to Sting’s soundcheck. Yes, I paid way too much money for the whole experience, or so I thought. After the soundcheck, however, but before the concert, I used a phrase my seven year old is now using: mic drop. I’d already received my money’s worth and more. The soundcheck experience was that good. It was worth it to have a private “introduction” to Sting’s supporting cast: his long-time guitar player, Dominic Miller and two musician sons of note. Joining Sting and Dominic on this tour were Sting’s oldest son Joe Sumner (doing back up vocals and guitar, and a brief warm up set for Sting) and Dominic’s son, Rufus Miller. Joe looks like a taller, more burley version of Sting. He sounds like him too. Rufus looks like a younger twin of Dominic, but he has wonderful 70s-era headbanger hair. And can he ever play guitar. Rufus channels Jimmy Page. And, to be quite honest, I kind of developed a crush on him throughout the evening. I’m considering starting the Rufus Miller fan club. (The below video features lots of Rufus–check him out!)

 

We weren’t allowed to record during the sound check. Sting, ever the perfectionist musician, did lots of fine tuning with all of the different musicians on stage. I was located, however, dead center, right in front of Sting. I made sure I danced like crazy. I was the only one dancing like crazy. Do you think Sting noticed? The only true disappointment of the evening: Sting didn’t grab my hand and pull me up onto the stage like Courtney in Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark video. But okay, I got over it because Sting was kind, convivial, and gracious throughout the soundcheck (well, throughout the whole evening really). He seemed quite a bit less serious than he had in his earlier years. Sting even played predominantly different songs from his concert set list, so we’d have a unique viewing experience. That was nice of him. Even if he didn’t want to dance with me.

After the soundcheck ended and on the advice of two fellow fans that my husband and I met at the soundcheck, we moved up to the next tier surrounding the floor, to stand against a metal bar, which was a few feet higher than the floor. We relocated before they let the throngs in for the show. In this manner, we avoided the mosh pit, but had fabulous seats (“stands” actually–standing room only at the Myth) where no tall person could stand in front of me, as they always do at concerts. I leaned over the rail to get this shot of Sting playing his very ancient base (I had wanted to ask him during soundcheck if it was from the 70s, from his Police days–but I was too shy, in spite of the dancing).

 

Anyway, it was great to get to know the key players of the evening, including the main warm-up band, The Last Bandoleros, during the soundcheck. The Last Bandoleros played with Sting and Sting played with them; between the soundcheck and the concert, Sting was on stage for about five hours straight (what stamina! his yoga and vegan lifestyle really has paid off). And, in consequence, my 46-year-old body danced for about five hours straight. The fact that I could hardly walk the next day, however, was immaterial compared to the glory of this concert. I’ve been to many concerts in my life (far too many) and this concert comes in at number 3 on my top ten concert list. Number one was a U2 concert in 2001; Number two, a DMB concert in 2008, when I earned front row, dead center, seats at Alpine Valley–because of my seniority in the DMB fan club (long long term member of this one).

So why was this concert so awesome? Because Sting finally, after all these years, played his Police songs. It was like seeing The Police, but better because Dominic Miller and Rufus are such fine musicians. Here, have a listen and see what you think?

More Writer Angst: Writing the Foxtail Farm Winter CSA Profile

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Prior to my interview with Paul and Chris Burkhouse, owners of Foxtail Farm Winter CSA, I volunteered on their farm for a day, packing boxes. To pack these boxes, we formed a conveyer line of people, adding vegetables in a precise order. I was at the head of the line; my job was to insert one squash and one pumpkin–the heaviest offerings of the day. It was like lifting weights, only with 35o repetitions instead of three. I found myself wondering if it was an initiation of sorts–give the new girl the heaviest load.

Finally, when I could no longer reach the squash on the highest shelves, due to my five foot two stature, I swapped a Foxtail intern for potato duty, a decidedly more appealing job. The potatoes still wore dirt of the fields just outside the barn door. They smelled of earth, they whispered of rootedness. At the end of the day, my back was aching and beneath my fingernails, soil was wedged so tightly, it would take three or fourth baths to dislodge it. I was actually more than okay with this; I could smell the St. Croix River Valley on my fingers for a week. It reminded me of how I’d felt renewed by my day at the farm. I realized, I’d been living too long disconnected from the soil.

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Now I know: water is life and soil is alive. Connection both will keep a soul grounded.

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A week and one day later, I sat down with Paul and Chris for our interview, in preparation for the profile I’d be writing on them as a part of my St. Croix Master Watershed Steward program. The three of us engaged in a lively discussion. I relished spending time with the philosophical and intelligent Paul and Chris (and their two dogs). I loved walking the fields of kale, covered in snow and eating spinach picked fresh from the ground of a hoop house. At the end of the interview, all seemed as idyllic as the farm upon which we stood. But then, Paul asked to review the piece before it published. I reluctantly agreed.

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Ten days later, when I had the piece written and polished, I sent it off to Paul and Chris–more than a little nervous about having them review it. A day went by, then two, then three and then a week. At the eight day point, I left both a voicemail and email, asking them to confirm receipt of the piece. I didn’t hear from them that day. By that evening, I was beside myself with fear, depression, and self-loathing. This was worse then any emotion I’d experienced after having one of my essays or poems rejected by a publication. I’d written about two people’s lives and, I assumed, they hated it. They disliked it so much that they weren’t even going to respond to me. I emailed my fantastically patient editor, Greg Seitz, over at St. Croix 360. I told him I was going to have to regroup, write a different story. I also told him I was going to learn to write fiction so that I no longer had to deal with real people.

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I woke up that night at 1 am. I was a hot mess of thoughts, thoughts that moved as swiftly as thunderheads on the loose. I am terrible writer, not even my profile subjects like my writing. In fact, they hated it. I can’t write about real people. Even my daughter cried when she read the first few paragraphs of the piece I’d written about her for Angels Flight Literary West. And Greg. He must think I am completely unhinged. I shouldn’t have disclosed all my angst to him. I am a fraud, a failure. I need to find a job that has nothing to do with writing. They hate me. Everyone hates me. Why did I think I could do this watershed thing, anyway? And on and on it went.

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At 6 am, when I opened up my email, I had a note from Chris Burkhouse apologizing to me. She said they’d never received the preview draft a week earlier and they’d both been really sick with horrible colds, but could I please send it to them now and they’d review it as quickly as possible. What? Maybe they don’t hate me after all. Something akin to relief washed through me. Yet, this meant they still hadn’t reviewed it. They might still come to hate me.

I emailed Greg again to tell him of the latest development. I told him I’d felt like a girl thinking she’d been jilted by her prom date, only to discover he’d just had a flat tire. I hit send. Fantastic Heidi; again too much information to the editor. Now he knows you are coming unhinged.

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A day later, I received the draft back from Chris with some perfectly reasonable edits that helped clarify farming terms and practices that I wasn’t well voiced in. It took me all of five minutes to make the changes. I sent it off to Greg and it published even sooner than I’d expected. And I actually like the piece. I really like it. You can read the full piece here; I also took all of the photos for this piece and will publish some of the extras here–so you can see just how beautiful the Wisconsin countryside can be in the fading December light.

Perhaps I won’t give up nonfiction writing after all; at least not yet. And, perhaps, I might take up photography. Sometimes you just have to wait. Not every answer or every solution comes when you think it should. Oh, to be still and know that all will be well, in time.

Indie Bookstores, Part II: Stingy with Sexy at Milkweed Books

In Part One of my blog post on indie bookstores, I mentioned having recently visited Milkweed Books. Milkweed Books is housed on the first floor of Open Book, the same literary arts space where Milkweed Editions and The Loft Literary Center are located, on the floors above. On October 26, 2016, I entered Open Book with my twenty-one year old son, Ethan, to attend Benjamin Percy’s publication release reading his craft book, Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, published by Graywolf Press.

Before Percy’s reading, Ethan and I decided to check out Milkweed Books.  While we were browsing, Ben Percy entered the store and handed the store’s manager two signed copies of his new book. I assume he provided only two because upstairs, outside the auditorium where book readings are held, another local indie bookseller, Magers and Quinn, was selling copies that Percy would sign after the reading. I recognized that Ethan, a busy senior in college, wouldn’t have the time to stick around after the reading to talk to Percy. As soon as Percy left the bookstore, I located the two-signed copies, plucked them from the shelf, and tucked them under my arm with the Ann Patchett book I’d already decided to buy. Why two? I was purchasing one for a former professor of mine, who’d recently provided volunteer hours on my watershed stewardship capstone project, skillfully editing my first article for St. Croix 360; the second signed copy would be his thank you.

By that time, Ethan was deeply engrossed in an art book and so I went to the front of the store to page through Mary Oliver’s new book, Upstream. While reading, I heard a man talking to the manager with enthusiasm and confidence, providing tidy critiques of all the books he’d recently read; he even instructed the manager to add a few obscure titles to his line up (that he volunteered to purchase if the manager couldn’t move them). My back was faced toward the window, away from the man; I couldn’t see him. I did, however, find myself wondering what this man did for a living—that he should have the time to read so many books. Then I heard him saying he wanted to purchase a copy of Thrill Me. I felt shamefully like a hoarder. I let the manager puzzle over the shelf where he’d placed the books just ten minutes earlier until I heard him say, “I know they’re here somewhere.”

“No. They’re not,” I said as I turned to come clean. “I’m sorry, but I’m purchasing both copies.” The customer—the one who seemed to know so much about books—told me to never apologize for buying books; he told me that he would pick up a copy upstairs. I told myself I was being selfish for not handing over my extra copy—but it was, after all, for my beloved professor who undoubtedly read even more books than the man with the thick wavy hair—just starting to gray—and sexy glasses (nicely dressed too—metro, decidedly metro—I noticed). He nodded at me graciously and left the bookstore.

After purchasing my books, Ethan and I proceeded out to the bistro to grab sandwiches before the reading. I contemplated the beverage container—kind of in line, kind of not. Then, over and over, I slid a bottle of ginger brew closer, then further, from my squinting eyes, struggling to read the fine print. I wondered aloud whether the beverage was alcoholic. While talking this out with Ethan (who couldn’t have cared less about the alcohol content), a plump woman behind me asked if I was in line. That’s when I realized the man from the bookstore was standing beside us—at the front of the line. He was, I then observed, the kind of guy I’d have fallen for back when I was single. Perhaps he was a professor (and that’s why he read so much). I’d once had a thing for professors and dated more than a few in between my two marriages.

I found myself apologizing again, this time to the woman for getting out of the line (if I’d actually ever been in it) and asked if she would mind terribly if we jumped in ahead of her; I brought my ginger brew with me, still not sure whether it was alcoholic. At that moment, the man with the sexy glasses said something achingly clever about democracy and lines. Whatever it was he said (and neither Ethan nor I can remember what he said), sounded like it came directly out of a New Yorker piece. Hell, it sounded like it came straight from the pages of an f—ing novel. I felt speechless, but instead of keeping silent, I had to make a moronic comment in response — as I’m wont to do when bedazzled by verbal mastery (neither Ethan nor I remember what I said).

Eventually, we all sat down at different tables with our food. “Sexy Glasses” ended up at a table near the front with Ben Percy. Couldn’t he just get Percy to give him a copy if they’re this close? I’d wondered. To make myself feel better, I suppose, I leaned over to Ethan and whispered, “That’s one heck of a pretentious dude over there.”

It wouldn’t be the end of Sexy Glasses that evening. We walked by him later on our way into the auditorium where he was purchasing Thrill Me from the Magers and Quinn staff member sent to The Loft to sell books that evening. I admit, I felt a slight twinge of guilt at the sight. But then I heard him telling the woman from Magers and Quinn (as if she knew who he was), “Ben’s teaching from one of my books this fall.”

One of his books? So he’s a writer—of more than one book, I thought. What’s he published? Probably a few B-list spy thrillers. *Oh, the petty writer envy that fills the soul of an unpublished writer.*

I dismissed all (most) thoughts of Sexy (I had to drop the “glasses” part now—knowing he was a published writer; sexy said it all) and took a seat with Ethan behind the reserved seating area up front. Of course, three minutes later, Sexy walked into the auditorium and took a seat in front of us, in the reserved area. Ben Percy solicited Sexy’s perspective multiple times throughout his reading (I love Percy’s book, Thrill Me, by the way—I don’t want that fact to get lost in all of this writerly foreplay).

Two nights after Ben Percy’s reading, I awoke in the middle of the night with a sick feeling. From the depths of my declining memory bank, it hit me. I laughed my I’m-so-stupid laugh; my husband stirred to ask “What?” before immediately falling back to sleep.

Before smacking my forehead—hard—I had to make sure. I proceeded quietly downstairs to where my laptop was recharging in the living room. I lifted its lid and googled “Jonathan Franzen” at 4:22 am. About 600 photos came into view. I opened a few for a closer look.

Instead of screaming, I stuffed the fuzzy fleece blanket draped across my shoulders into my mouth and bit down really hard. I missed not one, but four opportunities to interact with Jonathan Franzen. Jonathan F—ing Franzen! (but as Ethan pointed out to me later, what would I have said when I couldn’t manage to respond intelligently to his “democracy of lines” comment?) A search of Ben Percy’s Facebook page later confirmed that Jonathan Franzen had indeed attended the reading.

It goes without say, I should probably fail the “Intro to Publishing” class that I’m in this semester, if for no other reason than my refusal to share the extra copy of Thrill Me with Franzen. Not many people in this life get to say they were stingy with Jonathan Franzen. Just writing about it here today, I’m pretty sure I need to find an alcoholic ginger brew and, at age 46, take up drinking.

Notes:

*Above video is a recreation, not the actual event. 

*Objects appear closer in the mirror.

Minestrone and Laughs

I haven’t laughed this much in a long time. Pretty sure my family must think I’m down here crying — they don’t often hear such deep chortles rattling my chest. I am reminded of my single gal days, the online dating era(s) — there may have been more than one.

Source: Minestrone and “SWM-53 seeks Girlfriend or Wife. Free rent, power, cable, wifi & food”