30th December 10
“When smoking clove cigarettes is outlawed, then only outlaws will smoke clove cigarettes”: The awful, true story of the S. 12th Teen Party Annex, parts 1, 2 and 3. To this day, not a single actual teenager has registered for the S.T.T.P.A. Possibly related, as well as this.
“Remember the bad old days, before the Internet, when you didn’t know anything about an artist except what you read in zines, liner notes and magazine reviews?”: Christina Billotte Week, a more-or-less successful attempt at blogging in-depth about one subject for an entire week. Start on page 4 and work forward.
“Portland is a city that seems intent on making sure oddball things are happening to you every moment you are there.”: Let’s put on a white suit and go to Portland for Open Engagement. Apparently, the conference organizers found my blog and were irritated that I had written that the event sounded like it would be one of the “least structured events I have ever attended.” I forget that people read things unprompted on the Internet sometimes. Read for yourself here.
Meanwhile, around Minneapolis: the difference between “South Minneapolis” and “Midtown” (with follow-up), the year in offensive Minnesota-specific flags, la historia terrible de Don David, the accidental coffee date with Ted Kennedy’s press secretary, the wasp’s nest catchetism, a close brush with my 1970s doppelganger on Nicollet Avenue, a little early evening workface, wasting time with Fritz Pollard at the library, it was all a dream, the S. 12th exclusive that made two handsome painters the most lusted-after men in the city this summer, and the Great-Grandparent Neighborhood Litmus Test. Also, this was completely made-up. This was my favorite thing I wrote about Minneapolis all year. And of course, one more recurring annual feature/public service.
Bad short fiction: Space Cop and Where is Stedman Plaza?
Miscellaneous favorites: related to election day, the Modern Lovers, geography, J.D. Salinger, work, street addresses, soccer and airports.
To you, reader, thank you for making S. 12th such a strangely important part of my day-to-day life. It’s only fun to write this stuff because I know you read it.
17th June 10
“At night over the prairie we see a splendid mirage, a vast territory arising among us, a village in the air, with hay-cocks like castles, mirrored in the sky with no division between real and unreal.”
A 19th Century settler in Minnesota, quoted in Meridel Le Sueur’s 1945 popular history of the state, North Star Country. I am about halfway through it, and already it’s probably the best book I have ever read on the Minnesota and its history. I plan to write more about it later.
The photo above is courtesy my friend Courtney Remeš’s Facebook feed, taken after tonight’s incredible storm in Minneapolis. The sky remained lit, as it does this time of year, until well after nine o’clock, and these enormous mammatus cloud banks hung overhead. People were out on the sidewalks on Nicollet Avenue, where I was, having wandered out of the bars and restaurants and gawking up at the sky. Many of them were taking pictures, and I overheard one kid complain that his iPhone couldn’t “take a good enough picture of this.” He added: “You need a real camera.”
Probably a lot of similar pictures will cycle through your social media rolls this evening if you’re following a lot of Minneapolitans and St. Paulites, because the sky really was that spectacular. Courtney’s is my favorite of the ones I’ve seen, and I suspect it was taken with a “real” camera. Not having one with me at the moment, I did snap a shot on my drug phone camera not worth reprinting here.
When I first moved to Minneapolis, I remember hanging out with an artist friend on someone’s west-facing roof in Phillips on an exceptionally clear, cloudy day. He pointed out something that’s remained with me, that in Minnesota and elsewhere in the Midwest, cloud banks serve the same sublime aesthetic function mountains do in other parts of the country. On a clear day, they pile atop one another, miles and miles up. They stretch on for miles, both vertically and horizontally. This is why I circled the above passage in Le Sueur’s book, and how appropriate I’d read it on the eve of this skyscape — on days like these, the division between real and unreal truly does collapse.
4th June 10
I once confidently stated in these very pages that in the annals of art and design, there was only one example of ice hockey and the Lost Cause comfortably co-existing: in the logo of Virginia’s Roanoke Valley Rebels of the Eastern Hockey League, circa 1971.
I am horrified to learn that I was incorrect in this assertion. Above is a Golden Gophers hockey-themed maroon-and-gold Confederate flag, hanging at the Gopher Bar in downtown St. Paul.
Oh my god. Where to even begin? A fucking Minnesota Confederate flag?
The St. Paul poet Paul D. Dickinson and I went to the Gopher Bar for lunch yesterday to eat what they bill as “the best fuckin’ Coney Islands in town,” and take in the atmosphere, which might best be described as “authoritarian Palinist/libertarian North Country dive bar” — equal parts U hockey memorabilia and wildly tasteless anti-Obama paraphernalia. Also, lots of signs with swear words on them (“no fucking credit cards”). It’s the only place in town I know of where the proprietors swear at you. Maybe bar owners swear at people all the time on the East Coast or in Chicago, but it’s not the kind of thing that goes down in the Upper Middle West that often.
The Coney Islands were indeed amazing. The decor was horrifying. The swearing was hilarious. What a terrible place! What great Coney Islands! What uncomfortable moral dilemmas!
On a purely logistical note: where do you even buy a maroon-and-gold Confederate flag? Are they specially made? Maybe by the same people that make the Minnesota SSR flag?
26th May 10
I knew I was going to have to bike all over Minneapolis today at mid-day and I have finally realized, after three years as an elitist urban bicycle jerk, that you just can’t do that in a dark suit and remain respectable or not die of a heat stroke. So I thought I would suit up in my Martha’s-Vineyard-yachting-casual outfit for the day: a stripey blue dress shirt with sleeves rolled up to quarter-length, white boat shoes with no socks, and white highwater slacks, with a “Kennedy ‘80” button on the breast pocket.
It worked, too, because I was sitting in a coffeeshop, and the most handsome man I have ever seen walked up to me. He was about 50, perfectly tan, and wearing an outfit almost identical to mine.
“Hello,” he said, extending his hand for me to shake it and smiling broadly. “I like your button. I was Ted Kennedy’s press secretary in the 1980s.”
“Whoa,” I said.
“Ha ha, yes,” he replied.
I am telling you, reader: sometimes you set the bait, and the universe goes for it.
26th May 10
langer asked: If I were asked to survey which American cities most occupied my imagination that list would likely begin in New York and end in LA, doing a complete flyover of the country's interior. If pressed I might entertain New Orleans or Chicago, along with San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle--but Minneapolis wouldn't even be in my radar. So I must ask: five years back, while still in Kentucky, what was it that drew you so strongly to Minneapolis, not just to live but to adopt it as your own? Is there a secret mythology of the Twin Cities that has eluded me? Was the 1987 World Series a formative moment in your youth?
This question has been sitting in my draft pile for some time now — I believe Langer submitted it shortly after my fifth Minneapolis anniversary, which was way back in February. (Beloved Minneapolis-based lutrine art outfit Otterly Awesome also posed a similar question around the same time.) I’ve been putting off answering it because I haven’t felt up to addressing it as fully as it deserves to be addressed. However, Langer has been a great pal lately; I emailed him a draft of my 1,500 page historical thriller Monty Fontainebleau and the Tickle Heretics of Richelieu, and he sent it right back with revisions and ten pages of notes. So I owe him a straight answer on this, at least.
Some background: I arrived in Minneapolis in February 2005, but I had made the decision to move away from Louisville to an as-yet-to-be-determined American or Canadian city about a year-and-a-half earlier, in 2003. My original plan was to be gone by the time I turned 25, a mark I ended up missing by about two months. In late 2003, I had one more semester of school left, and was on track to graduate from the University of Louisville with a BFA in painting in May 2004. I was 24 years old, and turning 25 seemed like an enormous deal. It felt like if I was going to make some big change in my life, this was the time to do it.
This is not to say I didn’t find worthwhile things to keep me occupied in Louisville. In the months prior to and following graduation, I was singing in a charmingly ramshackle trash-rock band that later went to the UK to open for Slint. I was sharing a co-operative gallery/studio space with a collective of Howard Finster and Big Daddy Roth acolytes near a pork-rendering plant on the outskirts of downtown — it always smelled like bacon, and at night you could actually hear the hogs screaming as they were slaughtered. I was still working in the same mom-and-pop art supply store that had employed me since I was 19, a place where I learned a battery of skills that have been endlessly useful to me in my own work over the years, such as hand-lettering block type and script, and negotiating with angry, temperamental artists. I had broken up with my girlfriend of a few years, when she’d moved to Indiana to become a young adult librarian after getting her MLS at the University of Kentucky. I was having fun, but I was feeling a little rootless.
All of the things I was doing were interesting to me, but it felt like I’d accomplished most of what I’d wanted to do in my hometown. I had a good reputation; my old roommate Joel Javier and I were voted #2 and #3 visual artists in town by the local alt-weekly about this time, a fact we found endlessly amusing. Katie Beach and I had a pretty well received two-person show at one of the local colleges. It was a fairly productive period. These things all sound very romantic to me now; the hog-rendering plant, the mom-and-pop store, the ramshackle band with tenuous connections to Slint, the Howard Finsterites painting mountain scenes on wooden planks. Isn’t that the sort of life you’d imagine a 23 year old in Louisville, Kentucky to have? Sure it is.
That said, I also felt a lot of anxiety. Louisville is an odd place to grow up. It’s a place where you need really, really deep roots to fit in. People drink at the same bars their fathers drank in, sometimes with their fathers in tow. My Louisville roots are pretty superficial. I never quite felt like it was where I belonged. This could be a family thing; whenever my mom calls me, she still complains about going into restaurants and hearing all the Kentucky accents around her, even though she’s lived in Louisville for almost thirty years. The only one of my siblings that really seems to get it is Brother Danny, who plays bluegrass, talks with a Will Oldham drawl, and lives so close to Churchill Downs that he runs an informal shuttle service with his black-primer East German Volkswagen during the Derby season.
None of this tells you why I chose Minneapolis, though.
In the early ‘00s, and probably still today, the obvious choices for people in my position were Chicago or Portland. You can very easily divide the Louisville ex-pat community into Chicagoans (mostly musicians and artists that followed the Thrill Jockey/Touch and Go train back north), or Portlanders (the Bob Nastonovich/Stephen Malkmus connection may have had something to do with this). I certainly considered Chicago very strongly, but something about it didn’t quite feel right. It seemed too easy. I suppose, after living in Louisville most of my life, and not having done much traveling during college, I wanted a challenge, something closer to what’s usually called a “project.”
I wanted to move somewhere that fit these five criteria:
- A million or more people lived there.
- It was in that blue part of the country attached to Canada on all of those hot-headed “United States of Canada/Jesusland” diagrams making the rounds after the 2004 election. Or was that 2008? Regardless, after the 2004 election, I remember looking at that large swath of red that covered Kentucky and all the adjacent states, and wanting to get out.
- It had a major art institution the majority of knowledgeable people considered important.
- It was geographically isolated.
- I didn’t know anyone there.
Before 2005, when I actually arrived here, I knew nothing about Minneapolis. Not even the Twins, as Langer suggests – all the teams I followed were in the NL Central. I had never even visited, though I’d known people over the years that had lived there (a prickly MCAD alum I’d worked with at the art store; the ex-girlfriend of an acquaintance who’d studied at Carleton). I had a vague sense that it had a good civic reputation. I don’t remember a single moment where I decided “OK, it’s Minneapolis.” All the other options just slipped away one-by-one – San Francisco seemed too expensive, Austin too lackadaisical, Seattle too granola, Detroit too gritty, New York too intimidating, Toronto and Montreal too complicated – until Minneapolis seemed like the only viable choice left. It was a leftist enclave with a Walker Art Center and a baseball team, located about as close to Canada as you could get without needing dual citizenship. There was no safety net, either: no acquaintances to fall back on for social support, no easy weekend getaways to more familiar regions available. Minneapolis is at least a six-hour drive from anything.
Art, as always, can help us here. This is an excerpt from a short story by a Louisville ex-pat named Mickey Hess, written in 2007 after he came to town for a visit on a book tour. I made him change my last name because in the story, I fall asleep at a bar and accidentally break my toilet.
Andy Schondelmeyer has a moustache that makes him look like he comes from an Old West photograph. He often wears scarves.
I met Andy Schondelmeyer when we both lived in Kentucky, before he moved to Minneapolis for what he called no reason at all.
“Do you have friends there?”
“Is it for school or a job or something?”
I think, secretly, that Andy’s love of scarves is the reason he moved to the colder climate of Minneapolis.
Scarves. That sounds as plausible as anything. Here is the thing about this story: it has nothing to do with why I decided to stay in Minneapolis once I’d arrived. The story of why I remain in Minneapolis is actually a much different, and perhaps much more interesting story. That is the story I try to write about every day (or so) here on S. 12th.
18th May 10
You can buy a can of Andy's Beer on eBay for one dollar.
Would you say that buying it, opening it, emptying the 1978 beer into a sink, sanitizing the can, and then somehow transforming it into a usable beer-drinking vessel with the assistance of local DIY craft consultants is:
- a very good idea?
- an excellent idea?
- the greatest idea I have ever had?
18th April 10
Christina Billotte with her 1981 Datsun 210, sometime in the 1990s. Photo by Cynthia Connolly.
Hey, good news: it’s Christina Billotte Week here on S. 12th. It is going to be all-Christina-Billotte-all-the-time around here for the next several days.
Who is Christina Billotte? That is the question I am here to answer. The basics are this: she is a singer and guitarist, formerly based in Washington DC, who has played in four different bands — Autoclave, Slant 6, Quix*o*tic, and the Casual Dots. That’s what Wikipedia would tell you, and I should know, because I actually created the Wikipedia entry. If I was to list “Wikipedia contributor” under the “other professional experiences” heading on my CV, that is what I’d be referring to. Hers is actually the only Wikipedia entry I have ever created. I believed the work of Christina Billotte to be so important I took the trouble to create a Wikipedia article about her. That should tell you that I take her work seriously.
As far as I can tell, Billotte has made only six full-length records since 1991, and one of those was more of a compilation than a fully realized work. I wouldn’t go as far as describing her as “enigmatic” or “shrouded in mystery,” but there’s really not much information out there on her. I haven’t read many interviews with her, and she doesn’t seem to have any sort of online presence at all. There’s a fan page for one of her defunct bands on MySpace that looks several years old, and a few profiles on the pages of record labels she’s recorded with (Dischord, Kill Rock Stars). Otherwise, no website, no Facebook fan page, no Twitter account where she trades #quips with other notable punk legends of the 1990s. If she’s made any new music in the last six years, I haven’t heard about it. I met her once, in 2003. I interrupted a conversation she was having with Dave Pajo and I made her sign a CD. Good for me. Maybe I will upload an image of the autographed CD as part of the festivities.
I have loved her music for almost fifteen years; I love it enough to devote a week’s worth of posts to it. This week, S. 12th will be a sort of annotated retrospective mid-career Billotte mixtape. It will be an introduction to her work, and an appreciation of the ways in which it’s been a part of my own life in that time. That’s one of the things that I think blogs can be very good for: chasing down little monomanias using short-form text mixed with other types of media, over a period of time, until it all coalesces into something approaching a portrait. That’s more or less the plan for this week.
We will be return to the sort of South Minneapolis spring/summer-themed tales of action and intrigue you have come to expect from S. 12th next week. Until then: the incredible Christina Billotte!
17th March 10
New arrival: Top 500 Medical Abbreviations (first edition).
This classic 1994 publication isn’t as good as I was hoping. The abbreviations aren’t ranked at all, as the title would seem to suggest; they’re just alphabetized. A disappointing addition to the S. 12th library.
Since the patsies at Upjohn didn’t have the UGI fortitude to do it themselves, I’ll take the liberty of selecting my own personal #1 top medical abbreviation: M/R/G. This stands for “murmurs/rubs/gallops.” It relates to sounds that hearts make, so it is an extra-poetic medical abbreviation. The two heart-slashes around the “r” make it all the more poignant. My heart is always murmuring and rubbing and galloping for you, reader.
Top medical abbreviation number two? BRBPR.
(A loving heart murmur, as always, to Little Brown Mushroom.)
5th March 10
3rd March 10
Do teenagers still listen to Joy Division? Do they still smoke clove cigarettes? Do they hang out at Perkins, or Denny’s? Are there still Perkins or Denny’s left where they are allowed to smoke clove cigarettes indoors?
Do teenagers still form strategic alliances with teenagers affiliated with other subcultural groups? Do punk teenagers and goth teenagers still hang out sometimes with hippie teenagers and rave teenagers and have earnest, probing discussions about the benefits of affiliating with their respective subcultures? Do teenagers still go to raves sometimes?
Do teenagers still wear hoodies? Do they still shop at Hot Topic? Does Hot Topic still sell Joy Division t-shirts? Do teenagers still wear Doc Martens? Where do they buy Doc Martens, if they do? Do they buy them online, or at a mall? Do teenagers still go to the mall?
Do teenagers that attend Catholic schools still make imaginative alterations to their uniforms? Do the boys still try to tie their crappy acrylic-blend neckties like members of the Jam, or characters in old Martin Scorsese films? Do the girls still wear sweatpants under their plaid skirts?
Do sweaty, unpopular teenage boys still wear trench coats and fedoras? Are there some teenage girls still wear black lipstick? Are there some teenage boys still wear black nail polish? Do they still wear backpacks with one strap? Do they write song lyrics on their backpacks with permanent markers and Wite-Out?
If so, would Joy Division lyrics (“my illusion, worn like a mask of self-hate, confronts and then dies”) make the cut?