“That girl could’ve been a linebacker for the U of M.”
“That kid was such a nerd. Good thing there’s a government to hire people like that.”
“I hardly remember that girl at all. I guess I can see why.”
“Just put a question mark for that kid—no one remembers his name. Every class has gotta have one of those!”
“That kid looked like his name. He was a strange duck.”
“That was the girl who the teacher took back into the coatroom—she went in a C and came out an A. Can you imagine anything worse than having a nun pull your falsies out?”
- Mother of classmate: Molly! Pat! When I heard you two were dating each other, I was just SO HAPPY! Two Nativity grads! Isn't that something? I'm just SO HAPPY for you.
- Pat: Thanks.
- Molly: Thanks.
- Mother of classmate: And Ken! You're back in the Twin Cities from Florida!
- Ken: Yes, we're living here now.
- Mother of classmate: We?
- Ken: Yes, my wife Missy and me.
- Mother of classmate: Oh, you're MARRIED! Wonderful. Any children yet?
- Ken: Yes, we have two children.
- Mother of classmate: Oh, I'm so happy for you! And Jason, what about you?
- Me: I'm living in Minneapolis.
- Mother of classmate: And are you married?
- Me: No.
- Mother of classmate: So you're single! Well, there are lots of others out LOOKING FOR YOU!
- Me: Well, I am dating someone, but I'm just not married.
- Mother of classmate: Sure.
I want to put this on my résumé: “Author of Sociology for Dummies, dubbed ‘one of the more interesting books’ in the Dummies series by the person who did the page layout.” (Here’s the Tangential post she’s referring to.)
For my portfolio site, I compiled a list of my favorite interviews I’ve conducted for the Daily Planet.
Richard Marx begs Minnesota’s forgiveness (11/30/2008)
This phone interview took place immediately after a staff meeting where we were trying to iron some complicated issues out. Every once in a while someone would say, “We need to get this figured out now! Richard Marx is calling at 11:00!”
Maple Grove’s “RobRob” Hakel tests the limits of reality TV endurance (12/22/2008)
This is an example of how journalism leads you into unexpectedly fascinating stories. “RobRob” Hakel described to me how he’d been obsessed for his entire life with testing himself (we spoke in December, and he’d just turned his heat on), and how he realized he would be great on the reality TV show Solitary. He built his own solitary confinement pod in his living room and subjected himself to all the tests the contestants had been subjected to in the first two seasons of the show. That became his audition video, and in the third season he did, in fact, almost win—he was the second to last contestant eliminated.
Performance artist Rebecca Nagle: Making your fantasies come true, and footnoting them with Foucault (1/18/2010)
I had a great conversation with the Baltimore artist about her fascinating show A Dozen Things I Want to Do On Stage, which she presented at Bedlam Theatre.
Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara: Singing it to the sky (3/16/2010)
“Probably to a fault in my own personal relationships I’ve struggled with this overpowering compassion. Just last night I was talking with a friend about an ex-partner who I was with for five years, and then when we broke up I spent two years trying to make it work as a friendship. People told me to let it go, that it was too painful, it wasn’t normal—but to me it felt so profoundly sad that I would completely detach from this person who I had this intense, wonderful relationship with, who knew me so well and who I shared such compassion with even if there were things about our relationship that became wrong or difficult.”
The Bangles’ Vicki Peterson on fame, fortune, pleasing Prince, and getting in people’s faces (4/22/2010)
I was at my parents’ house when I conducted this phone interview; I’m pretty sure Peterson invited me to go backstage at their show, but I couldn’t hear her because in the background my dad was yelling at me to tell her that “Manic Monday” was his favorite song.
Rachel Trachtenburg of Supercute!: “You should break the rules about art” (5/4/2010)
This was such a fun interview. She just chatted with me on her phone while she hung around at home with her mom and dad, sometimes shouting to them to check facts.
Kate Nash on sudden fame, lasting happiness, and her return to First Ave (5/4/2010)
Nash was taken aback when I mentioned a post on her blog where she’d complained about people talking loudly while she was trying to play a quiet song; when I went back to link to it after our interview, I found that the post had been deleted. But then when Nash played the show this interview was previewing, she waited for an awkwardly long time trying to get people to be quiet before she played a quiet song—so clearly, she doesn’t like the chit-chat.
Holy Maury Mother of God creator: “I’m a huge fan of all manner of exploitation, humbuggery, and ballyhoo” (9/11/2010)
“If someone wants to appear on my television and go on about how they slept with so many men they have no idea who fathered their child, or that they had oral sex for a cheeseburger, or that pickles make them cry hysterically, or that they smell their man’s genitals while he sleeps to check if he’s cheating, and be as indignant as they wanna be in their own words, then any finger-pointing knee-slapping reaction they get is not only well-deserved, but also entirely appropriate!”
For my portfolio site, I compiled my favorite movie reviews I’ve written for the Daily Planet.
Garrison Keillor, our beloved prodigal son (10/22/2008)
Reviewing the documentary The Man in Red Shoes, I muse on Mr. Minnesota. “Keillor seems to be at peace with his current social and geographic station (he splits his time between Minnesota and New York), but although we hear him tell himself that it’s just as well he didn’t attain his youthful ambition of writing Talk of the Town pieces for The New Yorker, it’s clear that—like his hero F. Scott Fitzgerald—he has mixed feelings about his association with the Gopher State.”
Brett Gaylor’s Remix Manifesto: A spectre is haunting your hard drive (5/27/2009)
“What makes Gaylor’s film essential viewing is his convincing demonstration that appropriation is so pervasive in nearly all creative endeavors that to forbid the unauthorized republishing of copyright material, period, is to pursue an exercise in absurdity. Further, he points out that acts technically amounting to copyright violation—everything from making a mix CD to painting Mickey Mouse on the wall of a daycare center—are so commonplace that enforcement has become more or less arbitrary.”
Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man: Best movie of the decade? (8/22/2009)
“What makes Timothy Treadwell such a compelling character is the poignant contrast between the extremely real circumstances of his life in the wilderness (it doesn’t get any more real than being eaten by a bear) and the totally contrived nature of the story he told himself about it. […] Don’t all of us, to some extent, use the indisputably real circumstances of our lives as the backdrop for a self-narrated story in which things appear in the light we wish them to appear, in which our actions are uniquely consequential and the beings around us grateful for our kind service to their welfare?”
Fargo, the Coen Brothers’ snow-cold classic (9/23/2009)
“Fargo was the Coens’ first film to be set here in their native state, and it remains their best by a wide margin. All the brothers’ gifts are on full display in this darkly comic thriller, and for once they are at the service of a complete cast of genuine characters rather than showy performances. Riveting, funny, and most moving in the parts where you least expect to be moved, Fargo is one of the best films of its—or any—decade.”
Science Museum’s Omnifest 2010 brings you up close and personal with Vincent Van Gogh, Pink, and a parachuting SUV (1/24/2010)
“Ski to the Max is pure Omniporn. Like conventional porn, it employs stilted dialogue and implausible scenarios in the service of getting to the Good Parts as quickly as possible. The only difference between Ski to the Max and something you’d find on the discount rack at Sexworld is that instead of people performing staggeringly difficult and outrageously inadvisable stunts in the nude, they do so in snowsuits and parachutes.”
Black Swan is a mesmerizing miracle from Darren Aronofsky (12/11/2010)
“The ballet being mounted (in more ways than one) is Swan Lake, as it has to be—for this material, Debussy wouldn’t cut it. Not since Shine have I seen a movie so enthusiastically mud-wrestle with lugubrious orchestral classics: Tchaikovsky thunders on the soundtrack as Aronofsky’s camera stays tight in on the dancers’ spinning heads and limpid limbs. Aronofsky’s approach to ballet is like George Lucas’s approach to space combat: even if you wouldn’t hear those loud wooshes in real life, they sure make for some exciting cinema.”
Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere is really, really, really boring (1/5/2011)
“Roger Ebert defines an Idiot Plot as ‘a plot that requires all the characters to be idiots. If they weren’t, they’d immediately figure out everything and the movie would be over.’ This type of plot is usually found in brain-dead thrillers and overlong whodunits; Somewhere may be the smartest movie with an Idiot Plot ever to have been committed to celluloid. It looks and sounds like an art film, but if you strip away the exotic locales and languid silences, you’re left with the bones of a Hallmark Movie. Should Johnny forsake at least a portion of his soulless jet-setting lifestyle to spend a little more time with his daughter? As my aunt Betsy would say, ‘Gee, do you think maybe?!’”
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never: A giant 3D encounter with the Jesus of Pop (2/12/11)
“Justin Bieber is more God-fearing than me, and why wouldn’t he be? It would be impossible to be Justin Bieber and not believe that there was some higher power that brought you into being, because how could a mortal womb birth such preternatural perfection? His nickname should be the Jesus of Pop.”
Jane Eyre is a hottie—in that wind-swept, tortured way (3/26/2011)
This review sparked some controversy in Facebook comments: one reader did not appreciate my characterization of the madwoman in the attic as “a wild beauty that you’d totally be DTF if you met her at a rave.”
Sorry, Miranda July: I walked out on The Future (8/12/2011)
“Just before I left, Sophie was backing vacuously into a situation that looked like it might lead to a sexual dalliance—if we had any indication that she or her boyfriend even knew what sex was. These characters are in their mid-30s, but from the way they interact with the world and one another, you wonder whether they know that ‘sex’ means something more than just kissing with tongues. If they do, you wonder whether it’s ethical, or even legal, to have intercourse with a woman who carries a blankey with her at all times. (I kid. You. Not.)”
For my portfolio site, I compiled links to my favorite essays I’ve written for the Twin Cities Daily Planet.
Two thumbs up (4/14/2008)
A tribute to Roger Ebert, who inspired me at an early age to want to be a critic.
How Richard Wagner almost came to Minnesota, home of “the best Germans” and “purity in racial stock” (12/23/2008)
Given that my own ethnic background is 7/8 German, I was fascinated and kind of horrified to learn that Richard Wagner had seriously considered building a showcase opera house in Minnesota, because he regarded the Germans here as being more “racially pure” than the Germans in Germany itself!
I survived Chicago-Lake Liquors (9/14/2009)
My thoughts on a controversial advertising campaign for Minneapolis’s Chicago-Lake Liquors, in which white people acted black. Some found the ads highly offensive. To me, they were bold and clever in acknowledging the fact that the store was trying to attract patrons from wealthier, whiter neighborhoods—and that some of those new patrons would get kind of a charge out of buying their booze in “the hood.”
Why we shouldn’t do a damn thing about the decline of classical music (2/6/2010)
This became one of my all-time most-read Daily Planet posts, and the subject of some hot comments, including an entire response post by Will Robin. I think my argument holds up: if classical music is defined as something inert, then we shouldn’t be surprised when it becomes a matter of mostly historical interest rather than active involvement.
Facebook, Harvard, and the (supposedly) new social hierarchy (8/10/2010)
The Social Network, the Harvard of dreams, and the dreams of Harvard (10/5/2010)
I was a graduate student at Harvard—and a resident tutor in the dorm complex occupied by the now-famous Divya Narendra and Winklevoss twins—when Facebook was founded, so I took a special interest in The Social Network and the book on which it was based. In these posts, I argue that though both the book and the movie distort the reality of life at Harvard, they’re true to the idea of Harvard—and in that sense, they speak to a larger, arguably more important truth.
The Breakfast Club, Never Let Me Go, and the strange fascination of adolescence (9/30/2010)
Hanging out with a bunch of teenagers and seeing a defining classic film of the decade in which I became a teenager got me thinking about movies and life, past and present.
My grandmother, New Ulm, and the life of a community (10/30/2010)
I wrote this post on an impulse, the morning of my grandmother’s funeral. It turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever written.
Bob Dylan’s secret: How, at 70, he’s more relevant than ever (5/25/2011)
I don’t always make a big noise about it, but Bob Dylan is far and away my all-time favorite musician—and it’s not just because of his music.
Why America’s growing inequality is something you should give a damn about (8/19/2011)
In which I express my frustration about how few people—up and down the socioeconomic spectrum—seem concerned about the fact that economic inequality in America has been growing steadily for the past 40 years.
Remembering Kent Christensen, the heart of Loring Heights (8/31/2011)
I didn’t set out to be a specialist in obituaries, but there’s something uniquely meaningful about speaking to the entire arch of a life—in this case, that of my trusty and caring landlord.
For my portfolio site, I collected my favorite book reviews I’ve written for the Daily Planet.
Two volumes of photography capture mid-century Minnesota (4/5/2008)
A joint review of two important books of historic photography, by John Szarkowski and Irwin Norling.
Highway 61 visited and revisited (5/31/2008)
“From the first words of Positively Main Street, the reader is hotboxed in the smoky, beery brain of Toby Thompson circa the late 1960s, when—for a not-insignificant fraction of America’s youth—Bob Dylan was the master of the universes, the slayer of squareness, the unlocker of mental doors that you never even knew existed, man! How could someone that groovy have possibly sprung from the loins of a mortal woman?”
Marisha Chamberlain’s Rose Variations: Sexual liberation has never been so boring (2/10/2009)
This may be the single most negative review I’ve ever written, of anything. I don’t normally try to Google-bomb people, but I’m pleased to see that this review remains in the first page of search results for this book. Buyer beware!
Paul Bunyan: Drunken lumberjacks’ gift to America’s children (3/4/2009)
That’s a little creepy, right?
It’s funny ’cause it’s true: News, Nudity & Nonsense collects the (second) best of Vice Magazine (3/7/2010)
“I was, so to speak, a Vice virgin when I opened News, Nudity & Nonsense and was greeted with the first article: ‘The Vice Guide to Shit.’ That article was an apt choice for an opener, as it turned out to be perfectly representative of a volume that teaches you a hell of a lot about subjects you may not have realized you were curious about.”
In Street Boners, Gavin McInnes hails the hottest hipsters (5/27/2010)
A book of snarky street-fashion comments might not seem like the most substantive volume to review, but reading through Street Boners causes one (at least, this one) to think about issues of style, geography, age, and culture. Plus, this review was an excuse for me to investigate precisely what the word “hipster” means and where it came from.
For my portfolio site, I compiled links to my favorite music reviews I’ve written for the Twin Cities Daily Planet.
True Colors Tour celebrates the Gay (19)90s (6/11/2008)
“Cyndi Lauper is an enormous talent whose voice remains one of the most powerful and unique among active performers; it was fitting that she later stood arm-in-arm with Tegan and Sara, who have demonstrated the 21st-century relevance of both Lauper’s vocal style (a fluctuation between chirping and belting) and her 1983 hairstyle (a she-mullet). […] Releasing a perfect debut album drove Tom Waits to 30 years of grunts and moans, so Lauper deserves credit for keeping her chin up and staying spunky through the subsequent years.”
The Making of Americans at the Walker: Baaaaaad! (12/14/2008)
Props to the Walker Art Center for having a sense of humor about this “review,” in which I compared their production of a world-premiere opera unfavorably to a notorious Blaxploitation film. The Chanhassen would have had a conniption.
Video Games Live: The Minnesota Orchestra’s got game (4/10/2010)
I felt my career change from academia to journalism was well-justified when Neil Gaiman recommended this review to his 1.5 million Twitter followers, and within hours it had been read by over a thousand times as many people as ever read my doctoral dissertation.
Minnesota Opera’s Salome sounds great, but looks silly (4/17/10)
“As someone who’s stuffed love notes in moon boots, mailed mix tapes in coffee cans, and run furious and screaming past confused bar-close crowds at Lake and Hennepin, I sincerely appreciate that the most emotionally intense moments in life can also be the most ridiculous. The challenge in opera, or theater, or any art form, is to be true to that absurdity while preserving a sense of gravity. Unfortunately, the Minnesota Opera’s current production of Salome jumps that shark long before the title character is to all appearances masturbating with John the Baptist’s severed head.”
At First Avenue, a community says goodbye to Mikey “Eyedea” Larsen (11/10/2010)
I covered this event despite not being particularly familiar with Eyedea’s music. It was a moving tribute that didn’t try to simplify or sugarcoat the complex life and work of the local hip-hop great.
Girl Talk at First Avenue: A hot mess (in a good way) (3/9/2011, with photos by Mandy Dwyer)
“I was standing in front of the speakers at stage right, letting the breeze from the woofers keep me cool in the sweltering heat. (Yes, I wore earplugs.) A woman was dancing wildly in front of me; a series of guys came up to her, looked at me and pointed at her to see whether she was my girlfriend, and learning she was not, tried to dance with her. (And by that I mean getting, in the words of Amanda Blank, ‘all greedy from behind.’) She didn’t even seem to notice.”
Crystal Castles at First Avenue: A review in ten images (3/13/11)
At first, we were told that Crystal Castles were allowing photography only by print publications; in the end, no press whatsoever managed to shoot this show from the photo pit. In response, I published a review of the show that consisted only of images, only one of which actually depicted Crystal Castles. Being able to do something like this is one of the great things about being your own editor—and about the Daily Planet generally.
Philip Glass plays a once-in-a-lifetime show at the Dakota Jazz Club (4/9/11)
This was one of the most remarkable opportunities I’ve had as a journalist: to sit just ten feet from Philip Glass—the world’s most famous composer, and one of my personal favorites—at a solo piano recital.
For my portfolio site, I compiled links to my favorite news stories I’ve reported for the Twin Cities Daily Planet.
Art attacking expectations: André Salvadore’s journey (10/31/07) This piece was published when I was still just a freelancer for the Daily Planet. I successfully pitched editor Mary Turck on the idea of me profiling artist André Salvadore—who also happened to be the guy who cut my hair.
Spittin’ truth in North Minneapolis (3/10/08) While my plans for a complete series of articles on spoken word in the Twin Cities (among the planned entries: a profile of Dessa by Andrea Swensson, then a freelance music journalist and now City Pages music editor) didn’t quite pan out, the effort did get me up to a Burger-King-turned-coffeehouse in North Minneapolis, where I met the remarkable Tish Jones. “Don’t ever apologize for your stuff!” Jones told her teen protegés. “Be proud of it.”
Pipestone’s Hiawatha Pageant ends 60-year run (7/2/2008) One of the best decisions I’ve made as a journalist was to make the several-hour drive to see a performance in the last of 60 summer runs of the storied Hiawatha Pageant in Pipestone, Minnesota. The epic production might as well have been frozen in time in 1948, when rallying the whole town to enact Longfellow’s poem seemed like a great idea. (Town population: 4,156. Cast size: 125.) It was—until tourism slowed and the town shrank to a point where the production was no longer sustainable.
St. Thomas drops the curtain: Eliminates theater department, slates Foley Theater for destruction (10/9/2008) The University of St. Thomas would have preferred to keep the closure of their formerly distinguished theater department and the concordant destruction of the historic Foley Theater quiet, but I caught the story and helped to shine a light on student and faculty dissatisfaction with the administration’s decision. The administration’s explanation—low student interest, a theater that would have been expensive to renovate and was standing in the way of a new student center—was not unreasonable, but I have the impression that an administration with different priorities could and would have acted differently. This was a real loss for the local theater community.
She’s a hippie, she’s a mystic…and now, she’s going to be a priest (4/21/2009) Having been raised Catholic, I assigned this story to myself because I was curious about what a “Liberal Catholic” was. It turned out that these Liberal Catholics were very liberal indeed: the priest-to-be had formerly been married to the pastor, and after their divorce he conducted the ceremony of her second marriage. “I like to say,” she told me, “that Dick married me twice.”
The return of Mazarati: “Y’all don’t think they’re funky? You’re wrong!” (5/31/2009) The quote in the title is by Prince, who released Mazarati’s self-titled 1986 debut as record #001 on his Paisley Park label. I was able to hang out with the band—now best known for creating the arrangement and recording most of the parts on Prince’s “Kiss”—as they reunited for the first time in 20 years.
Turkish delight: Whirling Dervishes of Rumi at the U (8/12/2009) This was quite interesting to see and to write about. There aren’t many ancient sacred ceremonies that go on tour and charge admission. The opening concert of Turkish music was an added treat.
“You don’t get to pick your obsessions”: John Irving addresses a rapt audience of Minne-acolytes (11/10/2009) Getting in to this ultrapacked event was one of my biggest string-pulling successes as a journalist; it turned out to be a fascinating conversation with the author. (Shhh: I still haven’t read any of his books.)
It’s Naked Time! MTN’s Freaky Deeky celebrates two years broadcasting call-in theater of the absurd (1/6/2010) The story of my introduction to Freaky Deeky, a show on which I’d become a regular cast member. I still use this article to explain to people what the hell Freaky Deeky is. “Some viewers undoubtedly find Naked Time genuinely erotic, others find it hilariously ironic, and some probably find it both.”
1419 and Love Power closed by City of Minneapolis (with Sheila Regan, 3/10/2011) This was my biggest scoop on the arts beat, a great tag-team collaboration with Sheila. She spotted the sign and made a quick call to one of the 1419 residents, and I tracked down some details and tried to contact the landlords. Unfortunately they were suspicious of our angle and didn’t answer my questions, so we had to run the story without any quotes from them. They were furious when the story broke and seemed one-sided (because that’s what happens when you don’t give your side of the story), so issued a statement to another media outlet. The irony is that I was a regular at both spaces when they were operating—at the time they closed, I was Foursquare mayor of both! I was sorry to see them go, but the landlords’ “legal enough” (my term) business model does not seem to have been tenable.
My first editing position was as co-editor of the St. Agnes High School Hi-Times, where over the course of four years I worked my way up from movie critic. I was hired as assistant editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet on the basis of my experience as a writer (much of that experience having come in academia) and my teaching experience—it’s a citizen journalism outfit, so coaching new writers is part of the job. Becky, Katie, and I became editors at The Tangential by just starting the damn thing ourselves. Now that’s the way to get right to the top, and we didn’t even have to sleep with anyone to do it. (Our ménage à quatre with Jimmy Wordpress was purely for fun.)
Good eye! Yes, that’s where I wrote much of Sociology for Dummies. (Here’s the giant face, for those who missed it.)