History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Monday, July 16, 2018

Some marching bands out here, but not Morris Area

We cannot forget: Scott Groth, our drum major around 1970
Someone begged to differ when I recently suggested that high school marching bands have a much reduced role compared to the past. I stick with my overall generalization. Generalizations have exceptions of course. Someone posted a comment that "well, WCA (West Central Area) has a marching band this year. Underwood has had one for a few years, and of course Hancock has always had one for the Fourth parade."
Well. . . Let's give credit where credit is due, because certainly marching band is a healthy outlet for young people. You will always find some people in the academia side of music who feel marching band is a tedious exercise that doesn't bring any real musical enrichment. If musical enrichment is your total yardstick, there is probably merit in that argument. Such music academicians would say the same thing about pep band.
I am old enough to remember UMM had a pep band for sports. This was at the old P.E. Annex, fading into the recesses of our collective memory. The Annex was like the venue we saw in the "Absent Minded Professor" movie w/ Fred MacMurray. I'm biased as I share reflections on UMM's pep band days. My later father directed it. He wrote the original UMM "fight song." Regardless of what you think of that tune, I will say this: If you were to hear a band do this, with its heart in it, and to see the fans likewise with their heart in enjoying it, it was impressive.

Adjusting to demands
We advanced into a new phase where girls and women got equal opportunities in sports - it is hard (and rather painful) to recall the days when such opportunities weren't there. The increased opportunities meant more games on the calendar. The women wanted as much attention from the band as the men got, totally logical. But this presented the obvious logistical problem for the musicians: they would get overcommitted.
As a result, UMM had no pep band any more. They began playing a recording of the U of M Rouser from the main campus, excuse me "Twin Cities campus." You should know there was a time, back when small towns all over Minnesota had their own high schools, sports teams and mascots, when the Minnesota Rouser was the default choice as "school song" in many places. It got so bad that I remember once when us kids were present for a tournament game, we laughed as yet another small town pep band broke into the Minnesota Rouser.
John Woell leads his charges in parade, early '70s
I don't recall UMM ever having a marching band. My father did a lot when he started at UMM, even doing things that weren't technically in his contract - don't tell the union - but this didn't include marching band. My father was UMM's only music faculty in the school's first year. I sense that the administration was giddy about attracting someone with his credentials to come out here to this, frankly, desolate and detached place (at its inception to be sure). It would be many years before UMM would even get its own student center - can you believe? I find that astonishing.
Nevertheless, waves of students came through the place and would rave about it. But, no pep band at sports events. No marching band.

Morris Area should set pace?
How should I react to my recent critic who suggested that marching band is more alive out here than what I suggested? Well, I would point out that I consider Morris Area High School as a prime barometer for judging how school activities are going. We are a relatively large school out here. Aren't we larger than West Central Area, Underwood and Hancock? But MAHS has no marching band. It put forth a token group with drums-only for a time, but I'm not sure this has continued.
Are there any excuses for why MAHS doesn't offer marching band? You could argue that our school could put together such a group for a one-time event, like Hancock does for their Fourth. Couldn't our school do this for Prairie Pioneer Days or maybe the Homecoming parade? If the kids aren't used to playing while marching - a skill that needs some practice - then don't do it. I have seen the Hancock band when Ken Grunig was director there, simply stop along the parade route, long enough to play their tune. Then they'd resume marching. That solves everything.
I have lived in Morris most of my life so I know the kind of rebuttal I'd get if I suggested that MAHS field a marching band. We have been jokingly referenced as an "apathy capital." Del Sarlette has long suggested we have an "apathy festival" in Morris, but he says the problem is "no one shows up for the planning meeting." Rimshot.
So, the director would probably say she wouldn't be able to get enough kids interested. She would have to be paid for the additional commitment, I'm sure. I don't know how WCA and Underwood deal with this. There apparently are some communities where they just have the wherewithal to make it happen. That's the attitude I'm inclined to take but then again, I have always been sort of an outlier in Morris. I have suggested we try to re-start the boys tennis program.

Schaefer, Woell and a marching heyday
You should know of course that Morris has a significant historical chapter of having an ambitious marching band. I know because I was in it. Its peak according to legend was when Bob Schaefer was here. Schaefer moved on, I believe to Brookings SD. His personal life gained some notice here, as I recall, and that's as far as I care to wade into that. I played under Schaefer when I was in junior high. I remember him turning to the audience and saying, "Here's one that I'm sure you all know, Hava Nagila." This was at the old elementary auditorium, the art deco place now razed.
Schaefer gave way to John Woell. For whatever reasons, Woell was not as endearing as Schaefer in the public's eye. From an objective viewpoint, Woell seemed to keep standards just as high. But people weren't as inclined to sing his praises, not like with Schaefer.
We worked hard in marching band under Woell, and traveled far. We visited Winnipeg as an exciting endeavor, an endeavor that included concert band as well as marching band. I remember one of our musical hosts coming to the podium and addressing us by wanting to know more about Morris. "Jerry Koosman!" bellowed out Scott Groth. Groth played saxophone but is best remembered as drum major. He was a big guy and somewhat of a character. We recall him lovingly as a student.
I probably got some advantages in marching band because of the family I came from. I wouldn't even rule out my father pulling some strings in that way. I can't criticize my father for anything, but frankly I wish I had never gotten advantages in anything.

We can live with a little sinning
I remember during our Winnipeg trip, there was a trombone player who was from a church that prohibited watching television. This young man was glued to the TV set in his hotel room, watching as much TV as he could possibly get. So much for TV being immoral or whatever. I wonder what attitude that church took about personal computers. It's a church with members known for being very aggressive seeking business success. Can you imagine trying to be successful in business today without computers? Expedience is handy sometimes.
Should Morris have a marching band today? The suggestion would bring a torrent of excuses that are common for Morris, generally tied to apathy or consistent with apathy: "The kids aren't interested." "The kids are gone with their family to the lake, kids have jobs." I heard the "jobs" excuse for football pep band once. I think the occasion was Labor Day weekend. I joked with Jerry Witt: "Does the whole band work at Willie's?"
Well, I suspect that good ol' Willie's is trimming its workforce these days, following the example of all of business where profits must be maximized by any means necessary. Willie's will have to keep pushing the "self-checkout" which I refuse to learn. They'll have to keep pushing it because the corporate higher-ups will say so. That's how our society is organized now, until we get sick of it and use the political process to alter it. Just elect Democrats.
Don't forget the Irondale marching band coming here to practice and perform. This avant garde group will perform for the public on July 26 which (unfortunately) is the same night as Horticulture Night. The Hort. Night people will certainly be able to hear the musicians who will be at Big Cat Stadium.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, July 12, 2018

"Second verse, same as the first," indeed (1965)

The cost of a first class postage stamp was five cents in 1965. Speaking of five cents, that would get you the small size cone here at our Morris Dairy Queen, located then along East 7th Street. For a dime you got the larger size. East 7th Street was a rather vibrant artery. It went right past the public school complex which then included East Elementary and the high school.
The boomers were about to put considerable pressure on school space. I was part of the apex of that incredible human wave. Within a few years we had "split shifts" at the public school. And yet our community was slow to respond, as we got dragged through referendums that were like pulling teeth to get passed. I was in elementary school in 1965. Schools attracted many gifted and intelligent females to teach in those days. As women became more liberated in subsequent years, breaking through a glass ceiling, they had more options. It was good news for women but maybe not so good for elementary school education.
I had Pearl Hanse for the fifth grade. I remember how much she enjoyed singing "Shenandoah."
There was a time when East 7th Street was the main entry to Morris from the east. That's how the Dairy Queen got situated there. I remember being behind Don Goracke one evening when he ordered a whole bunch of malted milks for his family, perhaps eight? I exaggerate not. And if the Dairy Queen didn't please your palate, well, the "Pylin" drive-in was along that street too. The Pylin - let's all "pile in" - was right out of "American Graffiti." The old school and the playground to the east were the focal point of the community.
 
Sobering elements too
On a macro level, the year 1965 was most disturbing because of Vietnam. Our first combat troops arrived there in that year. By year's end, 190,000 U.S. soldiers were in that hellhole of a country for that time.
Dr. Martin Luther King was in ascent as a prominent national figure. Today he's lionized by all including the political right which would not have had much time for him in the mid-1960s. He and 2,600 others were arrested in Selma AL during demonstrations against voter registration rules. Surely there were events setting a dark tone. But as always, popular music provided escapism. I remember members of our UMM men's chorus singing the Herman's Hermits tune "I'm Henry VIII" on the bus. They sang it well because I can still remember it so well today. Remember: "Second verse, same as the first. . .?"
Sonny and Cher gave us "I Got You Babe" which is not pigeon-holed for the year 1965, because it got resurrected for the famous "Groundhog Day" movie with Bill Murray. Of course the Beatles held sway, giving us "Ticket to Ride" from the "Help!" album and movie. How can we forget "This Diamond Ring" which I believe was a favorite of Del Sarlette of Sarlette's Music in Morris.
Us kids discussed updates from our "World Events" posters in class. If you're an age peer of mine, you surely remember those, n'est-ce pas? That, and the "Chicken Fat" vinyl record. The less said about the latter, the better. But when it came to news, we began getting Vietnam seared into our consciousness whether we liked it or not. Actually we didn't like it. I would never be in position to worry about the draft. I pitied the poor souls who did have to worry. They went to Canada or Australia to try to avoid it. I blame none of them for whatever evasive actions they took, except maybe Donald Trump who had the rich person's advantage of finding a doctor who could come up with some sort of "reach" exception from the draft, i.e. "bone spurs."
Do I admire John McCain for what he went through in the war? Respect, yes, but I'm not sure admiration is apropos. He too would have won my admiration if he could have simply avoided it all. The U.S. waded into that conflict in the oddest way. Nothing good came of it. Lots of bad did come of it. So, music gave us some escapism.
 
A pennant for Minnesota
And let's consider sports. Oh my, 1965 was most significant in Minnesota sports annals. Our Minnesota Twins won the 1965 pennant! What could have brought greater ecstasy to Minnesota boys of that time? Sports had a strongly masculine association then. Our Twins won 102 games in '65. It was the year the Yankees got knocked off their perch. Harmon Killebrew hit a most dramatic home run just before the all-star break. We should have won it all that year. Problem is, we came up against Sandy Koufax in the World Series. Koufax beat us in Game 7 and we were deflated, never mind we had been through nirvana with the pennant. Sigh.
 
Enshrining year in song
I have written a song about our 1965 Twins. A couple stanzas even acknowledge the tragedy lurking in the background through all of that: the Vietnam war escalation. I felt I could not in good conscience write a totally joyful song based on the year 1965. It would not do justice. But the overall tone of my song celebrates our Minnesota Twins, managed by Sam Mele, a surrogate "father" for all Minnesota boys of my age.
My song has the title "Twins Win in '65." I may have the song recorded sometime in the next year. The song has a "strophic" melody, i.e. just one melodic idea, and employs a mere two chords, but I love it. The rhythm is hard-charging, so if I have it recorded, maybe I'd arrange for a live drummer. Sounds exciting. Here are the lyrics and thanks for reading. - B.W.

"Twins Win in '65"
by Brian Williams
  
Nineteen sixty-five
Cold War in its prime
Could man stay alive?
We all had to ask
I was just a kid
Not too scared of it
I just went and did
All my heart desired
All my heart desired
  
Baseball in the air
Twins were on a tear
Nothing could compare
To that pennant run
There in Bloomington
At Met Stadium
Fans had all that fun
April through October
April through October
  
We heard LBJ
Say we had to stay
In that hellish fray
With the Viet Cong
We just said hell no
We don't want to go
We'll search high and low
For a way to end it
For a way to end it
  
Baseball gave a key
To serenity
So much skill to see
On that glorious field
Twins looked oh so fine
In their northern clime
We just drew a line
The Yankees could not touch us
The Yankees could not touch us
  
Mudcat in the groove
Stardom there to prove
He just could not lose
When it counted most
Harmon hit them out
Never left a doubt
He was all about
Our title aspirations
Our title aspirations
  
Zoilo with his glove
Made us fall in love
He caused lots of buzz
With his stellar play
With his mastery
He was MVP
We could all agree
The shortstop had an engine
The shortstop had an engine
  
We saw "Kitty" pitch
Pop that catcher's mitt
He made batters miss
With his strength and guile
Pascual had it too
His right arm could rule
Quite the winning stew
For the fans to worship
For the fans to worship
  
All hail Tony O.
All-Star head to toe
Talent good as gold
Wearing No. 6
He hit frozen ropes
Building all our hopes
He pleased all us folks
Who cheered for Minnesota
Who cheered for Minnesota
  
War kept rolling on
Even though we sobbed
We felt we were robbed
Of our innocence
Still we cheered with spark
At our dear ballpark
Twins were in our hearts
And always they would stay there
And always they would stay there
  
ENDING:
Twins win in '65
Twins win in '65
(repeat)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Whither Fergus Falls' grand historic "Kirkbride?"

This would be a landmark in any community (images from Pinterest)
I feel for all local elected people who have to deal with the emotions around old buildings that have outlived their usefulness. We went through this in Morris with its old school, which sat there dormant and attracting bats for quite some time. In hindsight it should have been demolished sooner. Problem is, we get these starry-eyed dreamers out in the community, mostly older people who feel sentiments, and they try pulling every string to retain something old.
Didn't we have a "re-use committee" to try to extend the life of our old school? The re-use ideas tend to be out on the fringe in terms of their practicality. I smile as I remember one Morris resident suggesting the old hulk of a structure be turned into a "small business incubator." One imagines those little raptors cracking out of their eggs in "Jurassic Park." Cute, but look what happened.
Those poor elected folks must operate in the real world with real facts. I sense that a community controversy is building in Fergus Falls over the "Kirkbride." I attended the historical presentation there Friday night (7/6), a well-attended event overseen by the Otter Tail County Historical Society. I got a heads-up about this from Stephanie Gjere, Knute Nelson social worker and Fergus Falls resident. Thanks Stephanie. She sent me an email with an attachment that showed a newspaper article announcing the event.
 
Kids and their directness, and meanness?
I had never before seen the old state hospital in Fergus Falls. I was well familiar with it for a reason that is rather notorious: as a child I frolicked on the East Elementary playground in Morris, where the most standard teasing line, by far, was: "They're gonna send you to Fergus." The Fergus Falls facility dealt with mentally sick people, called "lunatics" in a less enlightened time. There was nothing enlightened about us kids out on the playground.
Fergus Falls appears to have a bigger issue with its Kirkbride than we had here in Morris with our old school. The architectural significance of the Kirkbride is much more far-reaching. Without a doubt it exudes grandeur when you view it from the outside. Just think of all the work that went into developing that place. Kudos were certainly in order for our society, for making sure the resources got provided for building and developing that place. It showed a gentle caring for a segment of our population that most people did not want to deal with.
Mr. Kirkbride himself presented a theme of how these handicapped people needed to be looked after "humanely." The goal was to try to make those people better and in some cases to even cure them. I gather that goal was mostly elusive for most patients/residents. The development of medications did more for those people than the original approaches. Shall we assume those people are in group home settings today? Nevertheless, the Kirkbride stands as a magnificent, visually overwhelming testament to the page our society turned in trying to care for those handicapped people.
Fergus Falls picked up a stigma reflected in the playground teasing, to be sure, although most people were smart enough to realize that Fergus Falls entailed a lot more than housing the "lunatics." It's just like St. Cloud State University has far more quality than suggested by the oft-circulated "party school" image. Alas, people gravitate toward stereotypes.
I'm very happy I attended the Friday event in Fergus Falls. I was somewhat surprised there was a charge of $6 for the tour, since it was a pretty informal tour of the outside only, and there was no announcement of the fee in the newspaper article. So, I thought that was a little untoward. I realized I could have easily sneaked into the group without paying but I would never do that.
Looks like an image from a fantastical movie
A very articulate guy named Chris handled the tour, using an effective mobile amplification system. It's really nice when sound systems work properly, eh? (Hint, hint to my church.)
As the tour closed, Chris introduced us to an older couple who were heads of the "Friends of the Kirkbride" group. It sounds like a group worthy of supporting. However, I find as I sift through recent news coverage, the preservationists are really just on one side of what could be a growing community controversy, and nobody likes these. It appears to be the flag-waving preservationists, tapping emotions in their arguments, versus the realists who have elected positions and must be responsible to the public. Here we go again. I even sensed that the Historical Society seems to have taken sides with the preservationists, and I'd consider that to be edgy.

Warts are seen up close
The Kirkbride is best appreciated by photos taken a block or two away. When you get close you notice the obvious aging and weathering, and I can just imagine how deteriorated and antiquated the interior space is. I guess local government doesn't allow tours inside anymore. I wonder if the building has bats. The pleas for re-use seem to be getting a little tired, IMHO.
There was an article in the Fergus Falls paper just on Friday about how an "eleventh hour" idea for preservation is being heard. If it's such a good or practical idea, why did we have to wait until the eleventh hour to hear about it? Oh my goodness, the new plea involves a "grant application." Pardon me for making a face about that.
The article reviewed a Monday Fergus Falls City Council meeting where an "unexpected conversation" about a "possible grant opportunity" developed. The discussion began through an open forum request. A spokesman said "a legacy grant had been identified through the Minnesota Historical Society which might be leveraged to bring educational and entrepreneurial developments to buildings on the former state hospital grounds." Sounds a little like bureaucratese, don't you think? Again I imagine those little raptors hatching out of eggs.
The speaker at the council meeting said there is no time to be lost in submitting the grant request - a deadline of July 13, sheesh. The speaker said that a formal statement of support was needed from the city council. The city administrator responded and said he had issues. I won't elaborate on this but you can surmise what's going on: a last-ditch Hail Mary by the sentimental folks and a response from those in position to have to do the responsible thing. It's kind of sad because such conflict can drive a wedge between various people in a community, people who would otherwise be agreeable with each other.
An inside view
The council was concerned that the grant application timeline was too tight and unreasonable. The grant advocate objected but was overruled, meaning that the council would delay further discussion until July 11, which would be right up to the wire of the deadline.
 
Stating my own assessment
I am far from being well-versed on all aspects of the Kirkbride's situation. I am relieved that I am not directly involved, or a Fergus Falls resident with well-known views on the subject. I was just a curiosity-seeker from Morris MN who had long heard about the state hospital and was fascinated to finally see it on Friday.
You want to know my take? Ahem, here it is: the "horseshoe"-shaped Kirkbride structure is nothing short of magnificent in its outward appearance. The Kirkbride is significant in what it represented in the development of care for the mentally disabled. But it was judged obsolete for these purposes some time ago. Society had moved on with new concepts for care of such folks.
Observe the Kirkbride up close and you see clearly it's dilapidated in many ways.
My suggestion is for a group of history enthusiasts to collect funds to produce a rich coffee table type of book that would be full of photos and stories about the Kirkbride. There are so many stories. Chris the tour guide just scratched the surface on Friday I'm sure. The book would serve as a precious time capsule for Fergus Falls, a community that is very much in the 21st Century. The Kirkbride is an anomaly. I simply think it's time for demolition.
I have written one previous blog post re. the Kirkbride, with lots of history in it, and I invite you to read that post with the link below. The post is on my alternate "I Love Morris" site. Thanks for reading. - B.W.
http://ilovemorris73.blogspot.com/2014/05/fergus-falls-has-quite-story-w-kirkbride.html
  
A family note re. Fergus Falls
Fergus Falls is a community very close to my heart. Through the last approximately four years of my mother's life, I took her there every three months for a routine health care appointment. Since I'm sure you're curious about what that health care issue was, I'll just tell you: Mom had a "pessary" (or vaginal implant) for dealing with organ prolapse, a common problem. She'd see her gynecologist at Lake Region Health Care periodically for the pessary to be cleaned and put back in.
Because these were not emergency trips, we enjoyed them very much, and all the people we got to know. I came to love Fergus Falls.
Prior to my Friday trip, I located the public swimming beach around Fergus Falls, on Pebble Lake, and I visited there with swim suit and lawn chair. A nice, relaxing place. I discovered Delagoon Park and the Central Lakes Trail, a big recreation-oriented area. All of this is just off Highway 59 as you enter Fergus Falls.
I would prefer going to Fergus Falls for our old reason, Mom's health, but Mom passed away in late April at the age of 93. She would have been 94 on June 8. We can try to deny that death will come but it's futile. I have had both parents die in their 90s in our home with me right by them, and I can assure you that death does come. Stephanie's Knute Nelson Hospice deals with that reality every day. Death is coming so let's just get the most we can out of each precious day of our lives.
I figure that the Kirkbride too is going to meet its end.
Oh, I also like Fergus Falls because it has a Burger King, something that Morris does not have! Fergus Falls has a lot.
- Brian Williams, morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

1987 Minnesota Twins had us going berserk

I remember interviewing Steve Van Slooten after the 1987 World Series. Van Slooten was associated with the Morris MN radio station. The occasion for the interview was his presence at the 1987 World Series.
The Metrodome had totally blossomed as the Minnesota sports mecca. How different was our world. The Internet and all its associated gadgets and distractions had not yet entered our lives.
I smile as I reflect on Van Slooten's comments, as he came across as so Minnesotan. He showed a Minnesotan's defensiveness. He talked about the weaknesses of our Twins team that might make observers skeptical of how we could win the championship. Such weaknesses were easy to cite. But could you imagine the people of New York City giving a rat's patootie over how one of their teams might not be "deserving?" Heck no, they'd bathe in unbridled pleasure over a championship. They'd expect the whole nation, and maybe world, to pay homage.
The East Coast with its powerful media presence would have an entitled feeling about the attention it received. For the Yankees to excel would be "just the way things were meant to be." But out here in the Midwest, the place called "Flyoverland" by the Eastern types, well, we had to fight to project our legitimacy. There was an element in the media that seemed condescending and not all that impressed about our success. There was a network broadcast guy - was it Jack Buck? - who intoned "homer dome" in a way that I'm sure was intended to be disparaging. The suggestion was that the home runs would be cheap here. But would any kind of dig like this be directed at a New York City sports venue, by the East Coast media?
 
Fenway Park: charming, or a mutant?
Could you imagine a ballpark like Boston's Fenway existing in Minnesota? What about the weird dimensions, the cheap doubles and the "Green Monster." We were taught to think the place was charming. You couldn't get away with a ballpark like that in Flyoverland.
The 1987 World Series went to seven games. That would usually make it a candidate for greatness. I'm not sure it has ever been embraced that way. We beat the Cardinals, another team far from the East Coast media concentration. When Roger Angell wrote a book reviewing seasons of the '60s, he titled his chapter about our 1965 Minnesota Twins "West of the Bronx." Ugh. That was the book in which Angell rather famously used "airy cyclotron" to describe our Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington.
The Metrodome surely injected new life into our Twins. The owners are not dummies: they know when certain cities simply must get new venues. I attended a game during the 1987 stretch drive. I attended with high school friend and classmate Art Cruze. It was a classic day of success reflecting the euphoria of that season for Twins fans. The tall Mike Smithson, who seemed in a period of decline, was our starting pitcher that day, trying to coax one more decent performance from his arm. The P.A. announcer intoned "Mike Smithson!" in the opening as if he, too, was trying to coax that superior performance. We indeed won that day thanks to a dramatic late home run by Tom Brunansky.
Van Slooten had the pleasure of being there for the World Series. The homer hanky erupted as a symbol for our success. Emotions were brimming. That chapter of Minnesota history is receding into the past. Someday you'll be an "old-timer" if you reflect on watching that Series in person or on TV.
Oh, there were reasons for Minnesotans feeling defensive in a way articulated by Van Slooten. Such comments were in line with the famous book "How to Speak Minnesotan" by Howard Mohr. We know we are as smart as people in other parts of the country. But we know there's a general perception that we are a step or two behind in terms of our culture. The Yankees had a storied reputation before the Twins even came into existence. Well, so what? The practicality of plane travel meant that big league ball could span the nation. There was a time when the Pacific Coast League had talent commensurate with the true big leagues. Back then, "a trip west" in the majors meant going to St. Louis! Imagine that.
Well, times change and progress proceeds. A new norm set in, wherein the Twin Cities could be just as legitimate a base for big-time sports as anywhere else. And, "West of the Bronx" was hardly an acceptable way to describe it. Angell was a writer for the New Yorker. We were conscious in 1987 that we had to reach a little further to make a truly positive impression on the rest of the world. We felt it important not only to try to win the World Series, but to put on a good show, to show we were on par with the spectacles of the East Coast. The Yankees could play in a dull World Series, but our Twins would not be allowed to. The Yankees, still with Mickey Mantle, lost the 1963 World Series to the Dodgers in four games. Surely it was a yawner. But the '63 campaign gets filed away in baseball annals with the Yankees still exuding glory.
I was nine years old when the Yankees won their last pennant of that glory era for them. The Yankees' mystique was impressed on my brain. Could the Twins ever reach such status? And would a World Series championship ever be good enough to realize that? Fans all over like Van Slooten had that element of defensiveness wedged into their heads.
 
Credentials were somewhat suspect
Yes, there were reasons to be a little skeptical of the 1987 Twins. We were less than stellar when playing on the road. We were outscored in the regular season! Our pitching was less than overwhelming. St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog said it was a shame that Detroit didn't win the American League pennant.
We sure asserted ourselves early in the '87 Series, taking games 1 and 2 by scores of 10-1 and 8-4. Our fan base with the hankies was manic. Heh, heh. Kent Hrbek hit a grand slam in Game 6. There were parades in the Twin Cities after the Series, on a level that might be expected with the U.S. winning a world war (or with General MacArthur "coming home").
The same generation of players and fans had a redux in 1991, of course. The script for the '91 Series was even better than for 1987, if you can believe it. You can easily argue that the '91 World Series was up there with the greatest ever - perhaps it was the best ever. Ah, but the Flyoverland stigma was still there. If the '91 Series was indeed the best, movies should have been made about it, as would be the case if a New York City team was in it. But alas we weren't totally "hip" with our image yet. I think that because of the electronic communications of today, there are no isolated places anymore. No more reason to invoke "Flyoverland" at all.
 
A level playing field everywhere?
A young person might read my post today and wonder what I'm talking about: the references to defensiveness. Well, I'll have you know that everything I'm touching on is real. We worried about how the East Coast media would perceive us, the Roger Angell types. I think that old template is wiped away now, very thankfully.
Another thing has changed. Due to the infamous players strike of 1994 (or what they would call the "work stoppage" because the two sides in something like this can't agree on anything), many fans like me permanently lost their emotional attachment to the game. I have never been the same. So, never again would I join any berserk mob in celebrating the Twins' success. The extended nature of the 1994 strike and its bitterness forced me to adjust some of my habits. Maybe it's actually for the better. But I still have those golden memories of 1987 and 1991, and let's not forget 1965 too. It was pre-strike and pre-Internet.
We as human beings just plunge forward, continually adapting to our environment. Alas, I wax philosophical.
I can never resist trying to pen an alternate history about how we could have won the 1965 Series in Game 7. Bob Allison was the last batter. What if he had homered?
 
Personal tribute in music
I have written a song about the 1987 Twins season. It's simply called "Nineteen Eighty-seven." It has a slow and dreamy feeling, not suitable for percussion backing, just a lilting piano sound. Every third paragraph has a bridge melody. I like it. Will I have it recorded? Maybe someday. In the meantime, let's just remember.
 
"Nineteen Eighty-seven"
by Brian Williams
 
We reached up to the sky
In nineteen eighty-seven
Our Twins were flying high
They gave us seventh heaven
Their engines just kept revvin'
In nineteen eighty-seven
 
We hadn't been this far
since nineteen sixty-five
We wished upon a star
To keep that dream alive
We'd give the ball ride
Like in sixty-five
 
Our team made its debut
In nineteen sixty-one
It was a motley crew
That came from Washington
And gave us all that fun
In nineteen sixty-one
 
We took the Western crown
In nineteen sixty-nine
Nary was a frown
We played the game so fine
With Harmon in his prime
In nineteen sixty-nine
 
We did the best we could
With Billy Martin gone
We had to knock on wood
That life would just go on
Bats would still go long
Sing that winning song
 
The years meandered by
We still loved Killebrew
The decibels stayed high
We got the great Carew
And Lyman Bostock too
But his days were too few
 
In nineteen eighty-seven
Nintendo was in vogue
We walked like an Egyptian
And watched the Cosby Show
Our Twins were in their Dome
Feelin' right at home
 
With Teflon overhead
Our heroes took the field
The Cardinals were in red
They topped the other league
With Whitey in the lead
But could he make us bleed?
 
With Hrbek playing first
And Puckett out in center
Gaetti parked at third
And Laudner there at catcher
It couldn't get much better
Destiny unfettered
 
We sizzled at the start:
A 10-1 final score
We felt it in our heart
And knew there would be more
Success would be in store
Knocking down that door
 
We triumphed in Game 7
Such rapture on the field
Because of all those weapons
We finally sealed the deal
We were on top for real
We heard it from Carneal
 
In nineteen eighty-seven
 
 
© Copyright 2018 Brian R. Williams

Friday, June 29, 2018

Generational dysfunction and the Class of 1970

A cultural indicator: "Mad"
I remember covering a visiting speaker in Morris, brought here by an important local banker. He came here to speak on getting rich. I interviewed the man and wrote an article that he later wrote me about. He praised my work. Among other things he wrote "you are a real pro." I'd like to remind you that I was capable of doing good work, of being a good scribe. The political makeup of our community broke down toward the end of the 1980s, and my standing along with my ability to function as a journalist became impaired.
But let's get back to the visiting speaker, brought here by Ed LaFave. Why am I reminded of this now? The visiting individual, in his interview with me, talked about the young generation from the period that included 1970. He told me he had a child who graduated from high school in that year. He talked about what material possessions can do to people. Without using the word "spoiled," he essentially made that point. As I recall, he said "my son had a bicycle before he realized he wanted one."
He suggested that such affluence was really a cause of blight for young people growing up. They were not enriched by being showered by such material blessings, he suggested. (I cannot remember the man's name.)
I'm reminded of a book I read many years later, called "The End of Victory Culture." That book pointed out how the young generation from around 1970 - we're essentially talking the boomers, that big unstoppable wave - seemed to have a mocking attitude toward all the material blessings. The proof of that? That's simple to cite. The author cited Mad Magazine. Mad supplied a broad parody of the world that surrounded us kids in that time - the popular TV shows etc. I could cite another magazine example for youth somewhat older: National Lampoon. While I found Mad to be essentially harmless and actually very amusing, National Lampoon had a troubling air for me. It was like the boomers were inspecting their naval.
LaFave's visiting speaker was quite blunt in describing his child's high school class of 1970. I think this is a direct quote: "Those were the most messed-up group of kids I've ever seen." If you are my age I'm certain this rings true for you. However, I think you're probably in denial about that thicket of immorality and dysfunction we were immersed in. It's a super dark memory. Jim Morrison of Morris, a Class of '70 member, would probably laugh at what I'm writing here but not out of actual disbelief. He'd laugh because our behavior was so silly. He'd try to rationalize it was essentially a harmless phase.
Without a doubt it was a phase. I'm not prepared to consider it so harmless. I remember a TV documentary about the Manson thing that reflected on how certain apparently wholesome young people could end up turning into such unsavory people. A commenter said: "There were certain things (those young people) weren't getting from their parents." The comment stuck in my mind and I tried distilling just what "things" those were. A chief theory I have, is that adolescents were reaching puberty at a younger age than their predecessors. They had serious needs because of that, coping needs, that were not being met by their parents. The parents just wanted their precious kids to be nice, oh and go to church Sundays, and proceed into a wholesome existence, all of which seems perfectly acceptable.
"The End of Victory Culture"
It's superficially acceptable but there was a serious undercurrent of restlessness in the kids. There were needs that were not being met. I grew up without getting any counseling whatsoever re. sex. And to the extent that sex ever got broached in any way, there was an overwhelming sense of taboo about it. Instantly there was pressure to "change the subject" and we could feel a sense of relief. Except that none of this was healthy for our psyche and could be quite damaging. We became rebellious almost for the sake of being rebellious. We turned away from the churches that our parents had brought us to. Years would go by before we were willing to take a fresh look at all the eccoutrements of our parents' lives, willing to finally fall in line with a feeling of real acceptance.
Back in the early 1980s I wrote about a Morris group called "Young Life." This was a remarkable thing to observe because it was rather nakedly an attempt to "rescue" kids and get them back into the traditional Christian orbit. It's remarkable because the adult leaders felt a new organization separate from the traditional Christian churches was needed. It was as if the kids were alienated from the traditional things, and they were.
Some very prominent adults, like heads of banks, pushed Young Life, so it was something to be taken seriously. I think their intent was to slowly prod our youth to get back to traditional institutions like the mainstream churches. "Get back to where you once belonged," as the Beatles would sing.
The '70s were a confusing and mysterious time, mysterious in the sense there was such a strong meme of questioning tradition. To what extent was that misguided? The youth were restless because of some genuinely troubling issues nationally that festered in the '60s and '70s. But young people were accorded more pleasure than any previous generation. We could have been thankful for a few things. But we vented bitterness in so many ways. For boys the "uniform" was clothing that made you look poverty-stricken, slouched shoulders and longish hair. If you tried looking clean-cut you might have been derided. Hey, you might be called a "narc!" Remember that putdown? The term is derived from "narcotics officer."
If you circulated socially with your peers, it wouldn't be long before a friend would pull out that little plastic sack of marijuana. How did they acquire this without fear of being arrested? It was everywhere. Our parents couldn't even understand why we were interested in this. They just kept on with their responsible lives, paying the bills etc. While we sank into debauchery. I realize it was essential to protest the Vietnam war. But why did we feel the need to drag ourselves down culturally?
My peers remember all this but they might not want to talk about it, not with their children or grandchildren. Our world of 1970 was different in so many ways. The Dow Jones closed the year at 838! Gas cost 36 cents a gallon. A copy of Sports Illustrated cost 15 cents. We sought Sports Illustrated because we could not yet go online to follow sports. Analog times! In 1970, girls had not yet begun playing school sports. Isn't that incredible? The Beatles broke up in 1970. I graduated from high school in 1973 which was still at the heart of all the phenomena I'm writing about here.
I have regrets. But there is nothing constructive, I guess, to dwell on that. Except: it is important to remember the past so we hopefully will not repeat past sins. President Nixon could have simply announced "we're leaving Vietnam and starting now, we'll try to get all our troops home as quickly and safely as possible." He'd be a hero. But it would have made too much sense. In 1970 we secretly (at first) invaded Cambodia. It was a nightmare. We can only hope for a better future.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Trump's offenses continue but toward what end?

Jim Carrey's masterful portrayal of Donald Trump
The Forum-owned West Central Tribune of Willmar had a headline that instantly grated on me Thursday. It was a banner across the top of the front page: "Trump works to keep immigrants together." Right under the headline was a color photo of a decisive-looking Trump speaking in our very own state of Minnesota, in Duluth. Trump comes off as rather a hero, never mind that his "solution," questionable on its face, was for a problem of his own making.
The Forum newspaper chain has a long background of supporting Republicans. They'd probably claim they make occasional exceptions to that. Those stuffed shirts endorsed Amy Klobuchar when she first ran. I'd cynically (but accurately) point out that the Klobuchar endorsement was "convenient" because the company had nothing to lose. Polls showed clearly she was going to win. She was generally well-liked. She was certainly well received here in Morris for the recent UMM graduation.
The Forum endorsements are worth examining because all the papers in their system must echo from the top. It almost seems quaint thinking of newspaper political endorsements. Seems out of another age. Newspapers were not exactly lined up to endorse Donald Trump. Why not? The electorate eventually chose the man, albeit with a little help from scheming Russians.
So beaten down is the Mueller probe from the likes of Fox News and Devin Nunes, we must wonder if we can adequately grapple with the Russian threat. We hold our breath each day as Mueller keeps crawling toward the finish line, amidst a cacophony of hostile and disrespectful voices from the likes of Fox and Nunes. We'd like to see the dam break and for the forces of objectivity and fairness break through, those voices who feel it's important we retain a strong and independent law enforcement apparatus. The problem appears to be, increasingly, the cult of personality surrounding Donald Trump. Here's a man with no previous experience in government or the military, a man with a sheer gift for powerful if misleading oratory.
I sensed that "gift" and the threat it represented during the campaign. He's like the salesman who looks you in the eye and can convince you he really can connect with you and care about you. There were 17 candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump had the gift of making himself stand out, no doubt about it. He clearly knew how to navigate today's crowded media waters.
How different is the media landscape today? I remember well the 1968 and 1972 election seasons when there were no presidential debates. Not even in the primaries. Nixon vs. Humphrey? Nixon vs. McGovern? It didn't happen. Nixon did show savvy with those carefully orchestrated "infomercials" (in the days before that term was coined) that included Bud Wilkinson (the fawning football coach). So Nixon was media savvy for his times. But those times did not include the kind of debates that go on absolutely ad nauseum today. The cable TV news networks are complicit. My, how the debates dragged on and on. The cable networks liked these, I'm sure, because they got higher ratings than anything else they could put on.
The candidates? Did all 17 GOP candidates really think they had a legitimate shot? Oh I don't think so. Whenever I see Ted Cruz, I imagine him masturbating in his college dorm room. Many of these candidates knew they could parlay their high profile as "candidates" into productive gigs down the road. They could churn out books and go on the lecture circuit. Meanwhile us Americans watched in rather a groggy state of mind, as surely there was nothing new to be learned after the first couple of debates. Hell, after the first debate. Panels got assembled on cable news, day after day to hash through the redundant rhetoric.
It all made the election process seem so weighty. In a sense it is, if you consider how politics can affect our day-to-day lives. So we should be concerned now if inflation is on the horizon as a result of Trump's tariffs and the impending trade war. Trade wars can turn into shooting wars. We hear the tariffs are needed to ensure a solid steel industry in case we get into a war. Only male candidates would speak in these terms. Men get mad and seek to intimidate others as with the Trump aide's comment about how "there's a special place in hell" for the Canadian prime minister. I just think Trump is jealous of the Canadian guy's youthful handsomeness. Stormy Daniels said she did not look forward to having sex with Donald Trump.
Men inflame conflict. Could you imagine World War II happening if women were in place as leaders around the world? The danger signs are now getting so apparent with Trump, none other than George Will, once the consummate conservative intellectual, is recommending voting against the GOP. He actually advises - gasp! - to vote Democrat. That's how loud the alarm bells are ringing.
Trump with his policies have hurt many of his very supporters. He tried convincing everyone he'd "make America great again." His rhetoric on the surface was impressive. He had the salesman's touch, or shall I saw reality TV star touch, to stand out from among the crowded field of GOP candidates. Chris Christie? You've got to be kidding. I never ruled out Trump winning. He didn't truly win in the sense he lost the popular vote. A vote cast in Wyoming has eleven times the impact of a vote in California. That's our electoral college system.
Shall we be whistling past the graveyard? The demonizing of Hillary Clinton was a subtle and devious process. Clinton would clearly be governing from the middle today. She no doubt would have many "quiet" days in which she'd feel no need to be at the top of the news cycle. Wouldn't we all breathe a sigh of relief about that? About a president who could quietly go about her business without an air of sensation? Without trying to poke in the eye all real and imagined adversaries, the way Trump insulted mark Sanford after Sanford's loss. So, Trump lodged that insult with an eye toward Sanford's marital infidelity? As if Trump were pure as the driven snow. Obviously Trump is the polar opposite of pure as the driven snow. And yet the more we learn about the lecherous nature of this man, the more we see "evangelicals" stick with him.
What kind of world have we now entered? Can we overcome this without some sort of cataclysmic disaster? Maybe we can, as we all scrutinize our lives to see if we're "really better off" which is the measuring stick for politicians. It's analysis at the micro level. Unless we stand idly by as a narcissistic and overreaching president plunges forward.
Forum Communications of Fargo did not actually endorse Trump for president. Maybe all of
Trump's mesmerized backers should now cease purchasing Forum products. Why was the Forum averse to Trump? Wasn't he the Republican nominee? And the Forum couldn't bring itself to endorse Clinton either. They let us decide on our own, I guess. Not a shining example of leadership.
We wait day by day to see if there will be a mass exodus away from Trump's circle. We have been through various stages where this could have happened, like after Charlottesville. Each time the concern fades, for some reason. Should we be surprised there is a new chapter of outrage with the migrant kids? I shudder as I suspect that this, too, will fade. Unless I'm suddenly pleasantly surprised.
I don't think even Bud Wilkinson would be interested in going on TV with Trump. Seriously, if we detach from the current mess, shrugging as it were, and allow a whole class of people to be dehumanized, what might happen next? Were it not for Godwin's Law, I could offer a chilling analogy. That law might have to be suspended.
Might we see Forum Communications follow the example of George Will?
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Alexandria MN has an allure for us Morris folks

The sun sets at Lake Latoka, my favorite Alexandria lake.
I remember reading an item in the UMM student newspaper, many years ago, wondering why "Alec" was such a popular shorthand for Alexandria. Why not "Alex?" I had never thought about this. References to Alexandria are common in Morris.
We're probably a little too far away from that hub community to risk having our whole business district circle the drain. That fate has apparently been experienced by Hector, located a half hour's drive from a cluster of big box stores. We're about 45 minutes from "Alec," right? These days, be aware of detours out and about. I'd advise just staying away from Glenwood. The Lowry route is rather agreeable.
We can all compile a list of one-time prominent Morris residents who moved to the Alexandria area. Are we to be envious of them? Do they sense that the good life is more attainable there? The lakes are certainly a magnet, although I've never considered those lakes as nice as those in the Brainerd area. I heard when young that all lakes in our part of the state present some risk for "lake itch." The risk may not be a constant but it's there. I remember coming out of the lake after a swim session by Starbuck, only to see a sign advising people not to swim that day. Maybe I took a hot shower as soon as I got home. I had no problems.
Brainerd was the hometown of my recently-deceased mother. I got spoiled with my experience at the Brainerd area lakes, what I would call God's country. It was mainly at Pelican Lake where Breezy Point is.
Just yesterday (Friday) I made the trip to Lake Latoka by Alexandria. There's a nice public swimming beach there. It isn't real big but it's big enough. I discovered the place many years ago thanks to a map of Alexandria. Sans map, it would be impossible to find the place even if you were on the right road. You take the road that goes past Viking Speedway and the fairgrounds. You then have to know the precise place to turn left, then you take a right and go a block or so, and you're there. I brought a lawn chair to capture the sun's rays sans sunscreen, as I am a boomer who when young saw it as a status symbol to get a nice rich tan in summer.
It was mostly all kids out in the water. I find it important to get that occasional splash in the lake, most likely because of my childhood experiences in Brainerd. I went fishing with my father.
My mother has been gone from this existence for nearly two months. Going to "Alec" as a pleasure trip was not something I could consider toward the end when she was alive.
On Thursday night I attended the open house for that big factory-type dairy operation between Herman and Wheaton. Quite impressive. And the food was good. It's interesting to see some people who I may not have seen in a very long time, like Pastor Bock, formerly of Zion Lutheran in Morris. I had binoculars in the car because on the way home, I wanted to stop at Niemackl Park south of Herman. It had been a long time since I walked those trails. Niemackl presents such an anomalous environment by the standards of the general Morris area. We're fundamentally flat prairie. The rich forest environment of Niemackl with bodies of water is a departure. It's known as a birdwatching hotspot. I have been there more than once with this as my primary aim.
The results? Indeed, one can be surrounded by the sounds of abundant birds. But I have found it difficult to identify individual birds. I do remember seeing a beautiful American redstart once. I have heard that scarlet tanagers can be spotted there, if you're lucky. There's a YouTube video shot at Niemackl that shows a solitary muskrat in winter taking care of its daily business. I put bug spray generously on my ankles before going on the trail. Wood ticks can be an issue. But I recommend an outing there for everyone.
How wonderful if my mom could still be alive. But life is a finite quality for all of us. We try to solve every little problem as it comes along. But as the doctor said to the "Lucky" character (Harry Dean Stanton) in the movie "Lucky": "I don't know of anyone who has lived forever. Eventually the body breaks down." I recommend that movie which I checked out at our Morris Public Library, on recommendation of Anne Barber.
My forays to "Alec" clearly show me how the world is changing. There is a high-tech soda dispenser at the Burger King restaurant that intimidates me. One time it asked "are you still there?" I'm a 63-year-old who is forced into adjusting by all the changes and advancements around us. There is an intersection heading out of Alexandria, toward Glenwood, called a "roundabout." I'd put that in the same category as the robotic soda fountain. I'm a little taken aback. A friend tells me "these are strange to navigate the first time." OK, so I'm not alone. I thought the detours were disconcerting enough. My friend attributes the oddball intersection to "liberal Americans thinking we should be like Europeans."
"Alec" gets choked by traffic this time of year. I'm reminded of an old quip from the late Walt Sarlette of Morris: "Don't these people have homes?" I have never felt comfortable in very thick traffic. But, one thing that really helps today is the prevalence of left-turn lanes with left-turn signals. Horrors if it were not for this.
 
Mall in Alexandria on its last legs?
But my biggest shock upon visiting Alex now is this: the death spiral of the shopping mall. Who could have ever foreseen this? We're even reading in the Alexandria paper about a possible "sheriff's sale" of the mall. Over the years, when my parents and I considered a trip to Alexandria, the whole idea was to visit the mall, Viking Plaza Mall. It was the whole reason for going. We'd eat at the Brass Lantern. We'd browse and see familiar faces. I had to check out the bookstore, now closed.
There are at present two bookstores on Alex's main street. But the mall cannot sustain one. Where can I now buy "America's Civil War" at the newsstand? Not downtown, because I asked.
Main street of Alexandria seems very alive with rows of specialty shops, so many I can hardly make note of all of them as I walk along. Good for downtown Alexandria. But I consider the mall experience more user-friendly. Am I right to consider downtown Alexandria to be re-vitalized? My friend tells me no, that's misleading. He refers to "all those little foo-foo shops" as being practical to run in the summer tourist season, not so much otherwise.
I cannot fathom why Viking Plaza Mall if dying. Popular theories include people's preference for Amazon and other online vehicles for shopping. Are we ready to jettison the social experience of shopping, the ambience etc.? "The future is not bright for small businesses," my friend says. Maybe I should have a little talk with that soda dispenser.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com