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, March 31, 2014

UMM music travels of today, and of times gone by

We attended the UMM concert choir concert on March 23 at the HFA recital hall. This was the Puerto Rico tour home concert.
The concert choir is the auditioned ensemble of UMM's music program. These undergraduate students have a variety of majors.
Dr. Christina Armandarez directs. Part of her background is vocal jazz, which makes me assume she's a fan of Diane Schuur. One of the best CDs I have is a collaboration of Schuur and the late trumpet great, Maynard Ferguson. I consider that CD (or "album") the second-best Maynard ever put out, his best being the 1970 offering "M.F. Horn" (when he was in England).
Ah, UMM and its travels. It makes my mind drift back to a time very early in UMM's history. UMM as a fledgling institution did not seem secure. People associated with its birth will tell you there was nervousness. "Experimental" may describe UMM's first chapter.
The campus had been converted from its previous use which was an "ag school." What would happen to that little collection of buildings out there?
There were fears UMM might be a short-lived experiment. My opinion, expressed in my online writing before, is that UMM was probably more settled for its future than many of its early supporters thought. It just had to take baby steps for a while. Public relations was going to be important. Music was going to play a major role.
Music is not only a deep field of study, it's entertaining! I remember being on the bus for some of the regional touring by the UMM men's chorus. I remember these guys breaking into song on the bus, with the "Herman's Hermits" popular tune of the time: "Henry the 8th."
"Second verse, same as the first!"
 
To west, by train
The University of Minnesota-Morris men's chorus traveled well beyond West Central Minnesota too. The first big venture of this type was "destination Seattle." It was the year of the big World's Fair out there.
The Beatles recorded "Love Me Do" in that year. TV viewers were introduced to a new hit: "The Beverly Hillbillies" with Buddy Ebsen.
The first of the James Bond movies, "Dr. No," came out and was a smash. Today we call these movies a "franchise." The idea of unending sequels would have puzzled us then. Today sequels are common because Hollywood dislikes risk-taking. It's quaint to think of Hollywood movies from the early 1960s. Hollywood put out "Cleopatra" that was such an enormous bomb, it held down budgets for many other Hollywood projects in its aftermath. I would argue those circumstances actually stimulated creativity. Hollywood had to make do with less. Adversity builds character (and creativity).
The year of the big Seattle World's Fair was 1962. The Fair was also called "Century 21 Exposition."
My father Ralph E. Williams had a liking for World's Fairs. He was a member of UMM's founding faculty. In 1962 he took his prized University of Minnesota-Morris men's chorus out to the Pacific Northwest for the World's Fair. It was an important early feather in UMM's cap.
My father's role solidifying UMM was much praised. For me, for what it's worth, it was almost kind of a curse because people thought I grew up privileged. I was an only child which made matters much worse. The curse has followed me through my whole life. I will go to my grave carrying it. My own travails aren't important, at least to anyone besides me, so let's just celebrate what UMM accomplished by those early trips.
In 1964 my father would take his "pride and joy" UMM men's chorus east to the New York World's Fair. I was along for that trip as a nine-year-old. The Unisphere was a grand symbol of the New York World's Fair. It ought to stay famous today, like the Eiffel Tower, Taj Majal or Sydney Opera House. For some reason it hasn't stayed famous.
 
4-H event "christened" UMM music
Let's drift way back to the year 1960 when UMM music took its first baby steps. The term "band" was used then, not the current "symphonic winds." I say "baby steps" but the band was actually quite solid from the outset. In terms of numbers, this ensemble did better than what had been expected, according to the Morris newspaper article of the time.
Morris residents got this headline: "UMM band to make debut Saturday night." The paper was dated November 4, 1960. The historic performance was off-campus and for a truly community audience. My father Ralph directed the groundbreaking UMM musicians at the old armory, which we lost to fire in the mid-1960s. It was a grand building on the site now occupied by our Morris Public Library.
The UMM band members assembled with their navy blue uniforms trimmed with maroon and gold. The concert was presented for the Stevens County 4-H young people and their parents. The preview article anticipated a turnout of about 1,000. The UMM band numbered about 50 pieces. Included were six selected instrumentalists from the Morris High School band.
"A band of this size was not anticipated the first year (of UMM)," the Morris Tribune article stated.
I'm delighted that the Stevens County 4-H program was the beneficiary of this event. Years later I would be presented with the "Friend of 4-H" award from Stevens County 4-H for my dedication as a newspaper person. Yes, I went out of my way paying attention to 4-H events. I miss all that, but all good things come to an end. The Morris newspaper of today, no longer locally owned, has far less space to devote to everything. It may be at least 50 per cent smaller than it was, and it appears to be coasting along with the benefit of revenue from a pile of Alexandria-based advertising circulars. I wouldn't want to answer for that.
UMM music got launched and things would only get better.
 
Governor joins celebration
I remember when my mother Martha and I stood near the steps at the state capitol, looking up as my father and Minnesota Governor Elmer Anderson joined in festivities kicking off Minnesota's representation in the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. Governor Anderson commissioned my father a "goodwill ambassador" for Minnesota. The governor presented Dad with a certificate making him a "10,000 Laker."
The UMM chorus was part of a substantial contingent that would represent the state for Minnesota Day ceremonies at the Fair's Plaza of States. The 36-voice UMM men's chorus would open the Minnesota Day program. Pretty prestigious, I'd say.
The UMM chorus sang "Onward, Ye Peoples," "Born to be Free," "Rock-a My Soul" and "Russian Picnic."
I'm struck by the "Russian Picnic" tune given we were at the peak of Cold War tensions.
 
Sobering times for all
While we here in Morris worried about UMM staying viable and having a future, getting beyond its "experimental" status, people all over America - heck, the world - had to be worried about whether we'd all be nuked. It was that bad. The Russians placed ballistic missiles on Cuban land just 90 miles from Florida.
JFK threatened war in an about-face from the innocent "Camelot" image we all developed about the JFK presidency.
JFK was supposed to be at the Fair's closing ceremony on October 21, 1962, but canceled due to what was reported as a "cold." Really he was dealing with the Cuban missile crisis.
I have written before that the Seattle World's Fair happened before the big social flashpoints of the 1960s - the movements and events we associate with that decade. Even the later New York World's Fair was before most of the bad or transformative stuff. Boomers who are natives of the New York City area are known to be nostalgic about that World's Fair, for that reason. It was a touchstone for a more innocent and optimistic time.
Two years earlier at Seattle, Americans were defensive about the U.S. place in the world relative to the Soviet Union. The major theme of that fair, in fact, was that the U.S. wasn't really behind the Soviet Union in the realms of science and space. The fair's vision of the future was tech-based optimism, not anticipating major social change. We all know what happened: social change ended up as a hallmark by decade's end, when we got such phenomena as Woodstock.
Frankly I wonder if my father was able to get "hip" with it all. He was a member of that grand WWII generation, and he served in the Pacific Theater of that conflagration. When he died, the one thing I wanted to be sure of, in terms of final rites, was that there be a gun salute at the cemetery. We did it. I'll never forget it, so thanks to the Morris veterans service organizations who generously and dutifully perform this.
Lest you have any doubt about 1962 being more an extension of the '50s than anything else, think of the popular songs like "Duke of Earl" (Gene Chandler) and "Big Girls Don't Cry" (The Four Seasons). Elvis Presley was right in his groove, putting out "Good Luck Charm."
In fact, ol' Elvis starred in the movie "It Happened at the World's Fair," inspired by that grand event. Too bad the UMM men's chorus couldn't be worked in. We truly could have added flavor.
"Minnesota Day" at the Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition) was on Tuesday, June 12, 1962. The UMM chorus was joined by another vocal group and four bands, plus the governor and royalty from the St. Paul Winter Carnival and Minneapolis Aquatennial. Later in the day, the UMM singers would perform at the Plaza of States.
The group got out west and back by train. A grand send-off was held at the Great Northern depot here. Just think: a group from Morris on the same level and with the same status as the likes of the Aquatennial, Winter Carnival and the governor himself. Someone might well have told Morris: "Pinocchio, you're a real boy now."
Many people showed supreme dedication getting UMM off the ground. My father Ralph was proud to be in those ranks. I wasn't smart enough to consider attending UMM. I hit the wall with science and math. Because of that darn Cold War, we felt here in America that math and science standards had to shoot upward, and I was screwed by that.
I eventually squeaked through a state college because I could persuade enough people I could write. Frankly, I wish I had never attended college at all. I followed a script that I felt society had imposed on me. I should have spent one full year at home, maturing emotionally and physically and learning "life skills" which back then were never taught in school. But what would we tell relatives who'd call and ask "well, what is Brian doing now?" Dustin Hoffman had someone whisper "plastics" into his ear. There was no one like "Mrs. Robinson" in my life. (She was played by an actress younger than she should have been, but that's Hollywood.)
When I was 18, if someone asked me what insurance was, just the concept, I wouldn't have been able to say. But I was expected to be able to master algebra exercises. Ridiculous.
(Yes, this does come across like Robert Stack at the end of "Airplane!" saying "I had a rough childhood, Striker.") 
 
A different America in '62
In the year of the Seattle World's Fair, African-Americans were not welcome at some U.S. colleges. Federal troops and U.S. marshals had to take control.
The Beatles were actually turned down by Decca Records. Adolph Eichmann was hanged. Ford introduced the "Fairlane" which was good for inspiring some country music songs. Hey, the average cost of a new car was $3,125! Eggs per dozen were 32 cents. Gas per gallon: 28 cents.
The "old school" in Morris by East 7th Street was still considered in its prime.
The Elvis movie "It Happened at the World's Fair" was made in the spasms of "post-Cleopatra" Hollywood. I wrote about this before in my post about "State Fair" (the Pat Boone version). Hollywood saved set and staging costs by going "on location" with real major events as the backdrop, and the Seattle World's Fair certainly fit the bill. In the Elvis movie we see Seattle Center, including the famous "monorail" and Space Needle, as the backdrop for several scenes.
This might jog your memory: the movie begins with Elvis flying a cropduster plane. Elvis plays pilot "Mike Edwards." Various romantic escapades develop. The film made $2.25 million.
 
Monorail: symbol of 1962 World's Fair
The Seattle Center Monorail was the nation's first full-scale commercial monorail system. Today the trains carry two million passengers every year. The system carried over eight million guests during the six months of the World's Fair, easily paying for the cost of construction.
Marilyn Monroe was found dead on August 5 in 1962. Sleeping pills?
Holy cow, the first Wal-Mart store was opened by Sam Walton in Bentonville, AR. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, in "Friendship 7."
Nearly 10 million people attended the Seattle World's Fair. Unlike some other World's Fairs, it made a profit, presumably buoyed by our UMM men's chorus and their trademark maroon blazers!
The 1962 Fair was not reflective of the decade that was just starting to unfold. How sad the Viet Nam War turned into such an ungodly festering sore for our nation. But it happened and we must learn from it, lest we be dragged down by another such sinkhole.
The Seattle World's Fair was a time of joy and optimism, two ingredients that we always must strive to promote. Just like we in Morris promoted an optimistic view for our University of Minnesota-Morris. Our amenities seemed small back then. But the heart and conviction were anything but small.
I was present for UMM's first graduation ceremony in 1964. You could easily sense the stability and firm foundation for UMM then, at least from my child's perspective.
What a time. Just get yourself a recording of "Duke of Earl."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, March 28, 2014

Coaches' impact goes a long way, like it or not

Mike Dreier, New London-Spicer
It is amazing that a coach is so important in a sport that has just five players on the floor for a team. Or course this is basketball. Coaches are like little Napoleons with their influence. They're moving the chess pieces around. 
It's as if the players themselves are completely incapable of being self-starters. It seems kind of discouraging when you consider that education is supposed to lift up students, nurture their self-esteem and make them responsible future adults.
Coaches are inseparable from the won-lost fortunes of their teams. They come and go according to these fortunes. Sometimes they are removed even if they win. I remember watching with my father a discussion on TV over whether a certain coach might survive some struggling times. My father said "What a way to make a living."
The caprice surrounding a coach is something well-known to these individuals when they assume the role. So, I find it surprising how they can bristle when issues arise over their performance. All-out "wars" can break out over this. I shake my head because it hardly seems worth the trouble.
How did we get here? The great pundit George Will, a conservative, has expressed dismay over what he calls "coach centrism." He was mainly talking about college football. College football takes the problems I'm discussing to the extreme.
Football is like "war" with generals along the sideline. "Bear" Bryant and Tom Landry wore their hats. Bill Belichik wears his homeless man's sweatshirt. Mike Tice with the Vikings had his pencil in his ear and appeared to be frantically chewing gum. The immensely successful John Madden, before he charmed us from the broadcast booth, had an intense, borderline exasperated look that reminds of Chris Farley. The exasperation reflected focus, of course, as the genius Madden pondered the percentages with each play. My mother was quite oblivious about football but she was familiar with Madden on the TV screen.
We have allowed sports to develop to where it's much more than a test of the athletes' raw physical ability. That ability has become nothing more than a mound of clay that the coach manipulates and shapes.
It's easier to understand for major college and pro sports, but not so easy for sports with kids under 18. We'd like youth sports to be pleasant, laid-back and accommodative for all. Why can't there be more of an emphasis on intramural? Intramural opens the door for kids with a wide range of innate abilities. No obsessiveness is required. And hey, travel expenses can be eliminated!
 
All over the map
It used to be that the very long travel distances were reserved for state tournament games or maybe some at the regional (now "sectional") level. I grew up when this was the norm. The old "District 21" had a basketball tournament involving towns within a very tight and reasonable travel distance. That was back in the days when nearly all small towns still had their own high schools. You might play Elbow Lake or Ashby in the first round.
Late in my newspaper career, there was a football season that had the Morris Tigers traveling to play Fairmont in the very first round. I was dumbfounded. Fairmont is down by the Iowa border. Not only that, Morris was no longer sending "fan buses" to such games. The model was changing. I wasn't adjusting my perspective fast enough. In my mind, common sense suggested we play communities that were reasonably close in the early rounds.
Consolidation and pairing has slashed the number of high schools around the state. There are far fewer "Hickory High Schools" like in the movie "Hoosiers." Now we have schools with these wild names that aren't even the name of a specific geographic entity. We have "MACCRAY" for example. Either a name like that, or a strung-out series of town names denoting a team, so long that when announced at a state meet, it brings some laughter among the fans.
 
Can we be "Morris" again?
I suggested a long time ago that schools turn to adopting the town name where the high school is located. In our case locally, Morris and Chokio-Alberta still have high schools but C-A is essentially along for the ride, so I see no reason why we can't just go by "Morris" again, having come full circle. In the future I think this will become palatable.
Our basketball teams in Morris went nowhere for the post-season this year. It's logical to discuss coaching. This is done while walking on eggshells of course.
I "cheated" this year by writing about New London-Spicer, the girls team, as if it were my own team. I can honestly say I went through the same "March madness" emotions by writing about and following that team. I shared this adventure with a prominent Morris person at church a week ago. He made the comment: "They have a good coach." Oh my, that's a delicate statement.
New London-Spicer has had an individual in that role for a long time who churns out success. Subconsciously we wonder why that system can't find a home here in Morris.
I remember a former Morris postmaster who said the Hancock girls program, coached then by Dennis Courneya, is "something we ought to have here." At that time, this kind of statement would make you a focus of controversy in ol' Motown. The Hancock coach ended up crashing and burning with legal charges that landed him in prison.
We would not want a prominent Morris school staff person to be the focus for serious legal charges, would we?
 
Turbulence in late 1980s
That postmaster was here at the time when Morris went through extremely stormy seas with regard to its high school sports programs. This was the late 1980s. Many newer residents might have no idea what went on then, and if they were to be told, they might not believe it. The politics was so thick you could cut it with a knife. People got scarred in terms of their reputations. Neither "side" had a clear-cut "win." It was like sausage-making in the end. Many problems did in fact get cleared up, although not overnight.
I think the problems were part of a larger transition going on in education. The "baby boom" years had ended. Technically they ended in 1982 with the graduating class that was born in 1964. People in the education profession would have to start being more accountable, in the way a business is accountable to its customers. Teacher tenure could no longer serve as an all-purpose shield against all criticism.
Teachers and coaches could continue asserting themselves but with a greater degree of reasonableness.
I remember well a Star Tribune article that presented changing attitudes about coaching jobs and their "security." (The quote marks seem apt, right?)
Hockey coaches, those who work outside the high school system, have long understood the caprice that surrounds the role. If an appreciable number of fans rise up and simply say they want a change, to "shake things up" as it were, you might as well just step aside and let it happen. Hockey people are so enraptured by their sport, they'll stick with it and keep supporting it even if they're removed from a coaching spot.
Hockey seems unique in this respect. Even guys who have experienced life-changing injuries continue professing their love of the sport. It's something I cannot grasp. I have tried appreciating hockey on TV and cannot.
 
Administrators' outlook different
The Star Tribune article revealed that school administrators today quite casually go along with these "movements" for coaching change, and don't attach any "moral" significance to the decision at all. It's pragmatic. They shrug, in effect, simply trying to keep the seas calm, and who really cares who the coach is, as long as the plurality of parents seem to support him/her?
In other words, distilled to its essence, let's not make a "moral crusade" out of keeping an incumbent coach in place, just because he's "a fine person," shows up for work on time etc.
This whole controversy we had in Morris in the late 1980s reflected these shifting sands for how authority is used.
A coaching job is not a "breadwinner" job. In fact, when you consider the amount of time that any coach puts in, the "odd hours" etc., they aren't getting paid enough anyway.
In many cases a coach fights to stay in place because the job helps define who that person is, and a perceived "firing" would be deleterious to one's image. Well, those concerns have been pushed to the back in our present age.
Don't bother a school superintendent over the alleged "unethical" component to removing a coach. Superintendents wouldn't even want to talk about it any more. Their priority for sports is "quiet." They'd prefer working on the nuts and blots of education - the academics. Let the parents have fun with their sports teams. Let them try to win.
 
Mike Dreier has the reins
New London-Spicer has the good fortune of having a coach, Mike Dreier, who in the view of my main street business friend, fuels success and excitement for "March madness."
We might legitimately wonder if we could improve the odds here in Motown. But that might involve the untidy business of holding coaches' feet to the fire. Let's remove our inhibitions.
We associate wisdom with Bud Grant. The iconic Vikings coach was once asked why he didn't have his players run through tires in pre-season, like in so much of the stock video footage from football practices.
"Well, I have always felt that if you have your players spend a lot of time running through tires, they will only get good at running through tires."
It is this wisdom we defer to.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Eerie: old school seems like it's still there

Remember the art deco auditorium?
My old kindergarten room is at left. - B.W.
People who have had limbs amputated sometimes have senses indicating to them the limb is still there. I was reminded of this when driving by the old school site recently. I can't really internalize that it's gone. 
It's easy to visualize the days gone by. That land is a barren, quiet open space now. It has no value other than offering some peace, and maybe there's something to be said for that. What an open expanse of flat land next to 7th Street. The old football field looks like a good place for, well, a football field.
That flat space would be wonderful for soccer. We need to push soccer locally as an alternative to football. Soccer has in fact been played on the old school property. I'm not sure how welcome we are to even take walks over that space. Someone I know went there with a metal detector one day and was approached by a City of Morris official and asked to leave. "We're trying to sell it," he said he was told.
East 7th Street used to be the main entry to Morris from the east. What different times those were. There was a neighborhood grocery store (where I got my baseball cards), a drive-in restaurant and a Dairy Queen along the street. That drive-in was the "Pylin," an establishment that we might see in "American Graffiti."
The Dairy Queen had cones that were a nickel unless you wanted the "larger" size: a dime! We'd check out the Lesmeister establishment for its "Army surplus" stuff like canteens, knapsacks, Swiss army knives or whatever. The grocery store satisfied our comic book needs.
The school property was a community hub. It's 180 degrees from that now. The change is so extreme, we use our imagination to try to inject some life there, thus we have that phenomenon like what amputees reportedly experience.
I think it was a little sad at the end, this community meme of "dissing" the old school, like it was a disaster needing to be torn down sooner rather than later. Well, it certainly wasn't torn down sooner. Was there ever really any potential for re-use? There was a lot of rhetoric about that alleged potential. It reminds me of a William F. Buckley book title: "Have You Ever Seen a Dream Walking?"
Remember the talk of a "green community?" Didn't someone win an award for some blueprint presenting that? Another "dream walking." 
The University of Minnesota-Morris was able to get its "green dorm" built. As my old friend Glen Helberg, RIP, would say: "UMM can always get the money." The old buildings on the campus have been deemed worthy of upgrading, ever mindful of the history they represent. UMM cherishes that combination of old and new.
The old "erector set" of public school buildings didn't have any special advantages. Once abandoned, they rotted. Consider the history of trying to keep those buildings vital. It's sad it turned out to be a completely losing battle.
The abandoned buildings have finally been removed. To what benefit? We can now see all the way from Sixth Street over to the cemetery. Will some grand new project take over that space? Maybe. But maybe the whole U.S. economy will be crashing soon, as interest rates are set to rise. Janet Yellen, "Old Yeller," has delivered the usual coded Federal Reserve language to indicate that. A bubble may be about to burst. Maybe we as a society deserve it, given the way sheer greed has taken over so much of our thoughts.
 
Whither humanistic values?
Up until now, we have accepted that anyone who shows up at a hospital needing treatment is going to get it, regardless of financial circumstances (which can somehow be addressed later). Various politicians like in Georgia, are questioning that, applying pressure to end that status quo. These are tea party-type politicians on the political right, the same sphere that includes the self-professed leaders of Christianity on "the Christian right."
Millennials are known to not be attracted to organized religion. We can come up with theories as to why. Regarding the essential medical care that people need, we must ask ourselves: What would Jesus do? Wouldn't Jesus want to see an expansion of Medicaid? Wouldn't Jesus say that everyone deserves medical care? What about the many thousands of people who die because they don't have insurance? How would Jesus assess that? What would Pope Francis say?
The insurance model does not work for health care. That's because health care is something we all need. There has to be a tax, and those are fighting words for tea partiers and all the right wing "Christian right" zealots, who I guess feel we're all on our own.
A huge economic crash, a collapse of the bubble, might be the best thing that ever happened to this country. It'd teach us a lesson. God's wrath. 
 
Cemetery expansion weighed
Some have suggested the old school property could be used as expansion for the cemetery. You know what I think? Cemeteries may not be essential. When a loved one dies, how about just expecting a dignified disposal of the remains? Do we even need to bother with ashes?
As far as memorializing the deceased, how about an elaborate tribute website that would stay online forever? It would have all the bells and whistles. A person 100 years from now could visit that site and get familiar with the deceased within minutes. It seems far superior to a gravestone.
It takes time for these new sensibilities to set in. My family established a plot at the local cemetery because we never weighed any options. We're the kind of family that never talked about death - too unpleasant. When the time came, we went along with the "legacy" approach. We have a nice bench type of monument out at the cemetery on the open east end. I will arrange for flowers there this spring.
Looking back on the ridiculously high cost of a funeral and marker, I would much rather have given most of that money as community memorials to worthy causes. Oh, we did some of that anyway. I wish we had given more. Some of our friends gave on our behalf. That was nice.
Consider how much funerals cost. It isn't worth it. The deceased is gone and in a better place. A local minister says "people don't go to funerals anymore." He says that among other things, it can be hard getting off work, because you know, we worship the almighty dollar now. Recently we learned of a company that regulates bathroom breaks.
A fair number of people attended my father Ralph's funeral. God bless all those who shared condolences, even if it was just in your thoughts.
When people get very old, they end up with few close friends or associates who would attend a funeral. The old associates may have preceded them in death, or are slowed to where they can't get around. Medical science is expanding lifespans all along. In an earlier time, say the early 20th Century, many people died young and they'd attract large grieving crowds to final rites. Today, when a very old person dies, we feel greater acceptance at the end, as if that person lived life to the fullest and it was "time to go."
A cemetery on the old school property? It might come down to either that or nothing. I'm not sure why that whole property had to be abandoned for school purposes. It's a stone's throw from UMM. Except you'd have to get around a cemetery (Summit).
I know I used to feel like dying when we'd have to run the 1600 meters for phy. ed class (LOL).
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Tora!" movie informs, "Final Countdown" brings us sci-fi

I remember a scene in "Tora! Tora! Tora!" that I thought was Hollywood taking dramatic license. This movie was the story of Pearl Harbor. It was a 1960s movie that required the real equipment to be deployed on the screen. No CGI.
A military band is on a ship playing the Star Spangled Banner. It's simply routine on this sleepy Sunday morning. The United States was still largely an observer of the brewing world conflicts. Tanks, bombs and grenades: what a time.
America was clinging to its non-involvement. "America Firsters" held rallies that were most fervent. Pearl Harbor resulted in what many observers felt was inevitable. Those "Jap" planes rolled into Pearl Harbor as the band plays our anthem. A bomb explodes. Something is amiss.
You'd think the band would immediately disband, as it were. "Tora! Tora! Tora!" shows them speeding up the tempo, so as to end the tune, then to disband. It seemed a bit laughable, as if the band would actually be obligated to finish the anthem.
The anthem tells about "bombs bursting in air." Well, the scene around Pearl was about to become a conflagration of exploding bombs, immediately signaling that the U.S. would plunge into WWII with no reservations. Certainly the band wouldn't behave like that, I reasoned. Hollywood's dramatic license, right? Years later I would read in a book about the attack that it actually happened - the band "speeding up."
Indeed, musicians are pretty committed people, as the Sarlette family of Sarlettes Music in Morris would readily attest. Think of how committed the musicians were on the Titanic. "The band played on." (One of the movies about Titanic had brass players in the group but there were no brass.)
I consider "Tora! Tora! Tora!" to still be the definitive movie about Pearl Harbor. It's a shame we choose to be entertained by a flick about a major U.S. setback or defeat. But it's hardly unusual coming from Hollywood, another example being "A Bridge Too Far." A Who's Who of actors was in "A Bridge Too Far" which was a 1970s movie. That makes sense considering how bleak and defeatist the decade of the 1970s was.
The Jimmy Carter presidency marked the last portion of that disco decade. In what direction would America go? Would we stick with the Democrats for the highest office in the land? I was a college student then and we were highly left wing-oriented. The "New Left" was a force. My old boss Jim Morrison would way many years later that "The New Left is now the Old Left."
The New Left ended up on the scrapheap along with the America Firsters. The year 1980 was pivotal as we re-thought the principles of Barry Goldwater. Hey, there was more merit there than we thought. It wasn't a fringe outlook after all.
My generation had reservations, but the nation indeed charted a new course with Ronald Reagan. Goldwater was in the wings smiling. As an elder statesman he often gave us doses of humor. 
 
1980 brought us "The Final Countdown"
The year 1980 was also when an interesting and imaginative Pearl Harbor movie came out. As America pondered its "malaise" cited by President Carter, we greeted the movie "The Final Countdown." The U.S. military cooperated totally with this Pearl Harbor-themed movie. So much so, it was utilized as an official recruiting tool.
We're in awe of contemporary U.S. military might in this movie. How do the contemporary tools work in with the 1940s attack in Hawaii? Presto, it's through time travel! This is a time travel movie, one of my favorite genres.
I took a liking to this movie which for some might be an acquired taste. It enlists Kirk Douglas for the role of wise, inspiring "Captain Matthew Yelland."
"The Final Countdown" is an escapist movie and it got mixed reviews at the time of release. The U.S. Navy sponsored the film's premiere. Roger Ebert felt "the military hardware" was the "real star." The grand aircraft carrier is front and center. Kirk Douglas is joined by Martin Sheen, James Farentino, Katherine Ross and Charles Durning.
The aircraft carrier is no plain Jane, it's the USS Nimitz supercarrier.
The movie had moderate success at the box office. Later it took on sort of a cult status. Like I said, it's an acquired taste.
Ebert once wrote about the fundamental problem with time travel movies, that they inescapably present problems of logic. He also suggested the best time travel movies may be those that approach the concept with humor. One of the "Star Trek" movies had a light tone, incorporating time travel, and conformed to what Ebert was talking about.
I have always liked serious time travel movies. I liked the movie "Timeline" based on the Michael Crichton book. "Timeline" got negative reviews which puzzled me. I'd enjoy watching it again. It's available at our Morris Public Library on DVD.

"Countdown" story unfolds
In "The Final Countdown," the grand Nimitz takes on a civilian observer, played by Sheen, on the direction of his employer who is shrouded in mystery. That employer designed much of the ship.
The Nimitz is about to leave Pearl Harbor for a training mission in the Pacific. The sci-fi element greets us as a strange storm-like vortex appears. The ship passes through. Kirk Douglas ("Captain Yelland") sends out reconnaissance aircraft. We're in awe of the state of the art military hardware. The pilots discover the U.S. battleship fleet at Pearl Harbor.
An F-14 Tomcat patrol spots a yacht being attacked by Japanese "Zeros." The F-14s are ordered to draw off the Zeros, then the Zeros head straight toward the carrier which shoots them down.
The yacht survivors, a man and woman, are rescued along with a "Jap" pilot. "Commander Owens" of the Nimitz (James Farentino) recognizes one of the survivors as Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning), who I believed for a long time was a real person. He is presented as a prominent U.S. Senator who disappeared shortly before Pearl Harbor. He could have been FDR's runningmate, we are led to believe. Only now am I discovering this is fiction.
A Grumman E-2 Hawkeye discovers the Japanese fleet ready to launch the attack. It has dawned on everyone that a fluke time disruption event has happened. That mysterious "vortex" did something.
Kirk Douglas (Capt. Yelland) has to decide: "should we attack?" Realizing his duty and "going by the book," bound to protect America, he gives the thumbs-up.
The Japanese pilot rescued from the yacht incident causes a disruption, as he grabs a gun, kills his guards and holds the other survivors. He demands a radio.
"Commander Owens" (Farentino) disturbs the "Jap" by discussing war history. The Marines descend on the Japanese man and kill him. The civilians (yacht survivors) are now aware of the imminent attack. Senator Chapman wants to radio Pearl Harbor. 
 
"If I could turn back time. . ."
Michael Crichton in his classic analytic way wrote that changing the events of times past, by going back in time, isn't as easy as you'd think. You can't just go back in time, wildly waving your arms and screaming "look out!" or "don't do this!"
Crichton asserted that the major forces of history are too powerful to be affected like this.
The Charles Durning character gets his radio and frantically puts out an alert, but is dismissed as a hoaxster. He identifies himself as on board the Nimitz. He is not aware of the time wrinkle, or is in denial or confusion about it. He thinks he's aboard an advanced top-secret vessel and is upset he has not been made aware of such things. (Dianne Feinstein isn't the only one to complain!)
Since Nimitz was a living American military official in 1941, Chapman's claim is dismissed out of hand.
The Katherine Ross character is "Laurel," the personal assistant to Senator Chapman. She and "Commander Owens" begin getting romantically attracted. Yelland sends the civilians with supplies to an isolated Hawaiian island. "Commander Owens" goes with, and the aroused and angry Senator Chapman tries to hijack the helicopter with a flare gun. The helicopter is destroyed and Chapman is killed.
Owens, identified as CAG for "Commander, air group," and the woman are stranded on the island. She finally gets the revelation about the time travel element. She realizes Owens is from the future. Meanwhile the Nimitz sends out its strike force. However, that mysterious "vortex"  (electromagnetic storm) returns and Yelland has to recall his fliers. He can't change history after all.
 
A "dog movie" (not quite)
We're back in the year 1980. A dog charms us. It's from the yacht, and we're always happy when animals survive! He's "Charlie," a collie. "Charlie" dashes out to a vehicle, and the dignified man in the back seat rolls down the window. It's the much older "Owens," of course, with "Laurel" his wife who I imagine owned the dog. Owens is now "Mr. Tideman," CEO of Tideman Enterprises and designer of much of that magnificent carrier. He invites "Laskey" (Sheen) in for a ride (with the dog too I presume).
"We have a lot to talk about." (That's a signature line.)
I say "whew" upon finishing the plot description, as it's involved. Ebert noticed the same and used the word "mess." He concluded that the carrier was the chief "star" of the movie. (I'm reminded of a review of the WWII movie "The Bridge at Remagen" that stated the bridge was the main star.)
Perhaps "The Final Countdown" attracted new recruits to America's armed forces. As a movie I found it more than mildly entertaining.
Movies broaden our sphere of knowledge even with a sci-fi twist. "The Final Countdown" is sci-fi fare worthy of digesting and evaluating, whereas "Tora! Tora! Tora!" is probably the best true-to-life depiction of that fateful day in December of 1941.
Signature lines from "Tora! Tora! Tora!":
"You must mean the Philippines."
"No, it's Pearl!"
 
We pray such an event never happens again. That's what our military is for.
On the home front the news of Pearl Harbor brought everything to a halt as we all pondered what's next. Here's now Ruth Domingo, a Stevens County resident, remembered:
 
Early Monday morning, December 8, 1941. I turned on the radio to listen to the usual news hour. Unbelievable! What was I hearing? The newscaster blared out details of the Pearl Harbor devastation! I stood stock still, petrified with fear, forgetting how tight I was holding our six-month-old son, until he cried. Fear and weakness overcame me as I sank into a chair to hear more.
My husband had been out doing the barnyard chores. When he came back to the house, he didn't believe what I was trying to tell him. We sat listening to the news all day. By evening we had a clear mental picture. Our country was at war!
 
This reminiscence is from the Stevens County Historical Society book "The '40s: a time for war and a time for peace."
It would be four long and trying years before the U.S. would emerge triumphant. We then got the prosperous post-WWII years in America. We got the "baby boom" and that's how I got here!
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, March 20, 2014

NL-Spicer sees late lead evaporate vs. Esko & its 3's

Esko 39, New London-Spicer 35
Another game with scoring in the 30s. A most deliberate style. This game complexion did not work in the Wildcats' favor on Wednesday.
The Wildcats aren't my team, but I developed a little emotional attachment to them over the past couple weeks. They're a prime rival of our MACA Tigers. Our Tigers fell in round #1 of the post-season, while New London-Spicer climbed the ladder. I have argued that the talent discrepancy between NL-Spicer and Motown isn't that great. In terms of sheer talent, the difference may be negligible.
Right now the Wildcats are able to turn on the intangibles. They played in the first round of state on Wednesday night. Congrats to them. The tipoff was at Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis. The opponent: Esko.
We must alter the spelling of "Eskimos" in our references. Esko goes by "Eskomos."
The proud Wildcats, who had survived an overtime game in the section finals, were seeded No. 3 in state. They were primed with optimism under coach Mike Dreier. Dreier has coached countless talented athletes from Wildcat territory. His 2013-14 team is memorable for its tenacity in close games. But they weren't destined for No. 1. Coach Dreier's Wildcats fell to the Eskomos 39-35.
Low-scoring games like this seem to have become more common. Maybe NL-Spicer should have rolled the dice and let the ponies run. I remember a fabled prep coach from days gone by in Stevens County, saying "we're gonna let the ponies run." Ponies yes, but this team had the "Owls" nickname. They ran and pressed. Then they ran and pressed some more. That coach had a spectacular rise, and then a spectacular fall. His teams were spectacular in their prime. Fans filled the UMM P.E. Center for tournament games.
Should coach Dreier of NL-S have taken some chances by trying to speed up the game's tempo? Ah, hindsight! His wisdom normally spells dividends for that program.
The game details are heartbreaking to review. New London-Spicer led by four, 33-29, with about five minutes left. Esko's Ashley Bergerson and Erika Shady trained their eyes on the hoop from three-point range. There's nothing like a couple 3's to shift the momentum. Bergerson and Shady both sent the ball through the twine. The tables were turned.
Buoyed by this newfound two-point lead, Esko went to work preserving it. The ball clanged off the rim for New London-Spicer. Meanwhile the Eskomos stood confidently at the freethrow line and made shots. Four freethrows in the last 1:12 were like daggers toward NL-Spicer.
Coach Dreier noted post-game that it's very important to maintain a lead against a team like Esko.
The Wildcats had the curtain come down on their memory-filled season, their won-lost record a most robust 24-6. Esko sits at 26-5. Now they'll strive to get past Kenyon-Wanamingo. Game-time is 8 p.m. tomorrow (Friday, 3/21) at Williams Arena on the U of M campus. Williams Arena is the most storied venue for high school hoops in Minnesota. The semis are next.
The other semi-final game in Class AA pits New Richland-H-E-G against Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted. New Richland is unbeaten at 29-0.
NL-Spicer was hurt by a slow start Wednesday, missing on shot tries. Esko took advantage. Esko built a commanding lead and then coasted into halftime when the score stood 21-17. Wildcat fans would regret that cold early shooting. Still the Wildcats were undaunted, and they broke through to erase the Eskomo advantage.
When Esko was able to wrest the lead back, they played as if their main priority was not to entertain the fans at Mariucci. One media account stated that Esko played "deliberately and (borderline) boringly." They "took the run and the gun out of New London-Spicer."
The Wildcats made just 30 per cent of their shots in the first half. They were down on the scoreboard 16-4 at one point. When finally they got into the groove, it was star Taylor Thunstedt giving the main push, predictably. Taylor would score eleven of her team's 17 points in the first half. In one two-minute stretch she put in seven points. Thus the Wildcats were able to sit with their four-point lead that was all too short-lived.
Thunstedt and her mates had their moments, but overall this was not a game showcasing the 'Cats' talents. Those talents had pushed them to a per-game average of about 70 points. If only that kind of scoring pace could have emerged.
Thunstedt was her typical gamer self with her 24 points, but her percentage was down: nine makes in 28 shots. She managed just three 3-pointers in 14 tries. Would you believe, only three Wildcats scored points? Olivia Setterberg, a senior like Thunstedt, scored eight points. Ashlyn Geister, a junior, added three points to the mix.
Esko's deliberate style seemed to wear on the Wildcats. Coach Dreier was quoted saying: "Noboby likes to play defense that long if you can help it. (The Eskomos) did hold the ball, and then they made shots after holding the ball."
Geister was the top New London-Spicer rebounder with eight. Alyssa Fredrick had two assists, and three Wildcats each had one steal: Thunstedt, Reiley Ness and Kabrie Weber.
Esko's top scorers were Ava Gonsorowski with 14 points and Ashley Bergerson with 12. After that there's a dropoff, to Judy Wagemaker (6), Erika Shady (3), Bailey Mudek (2) and Kailee Kiminski (2).
Esko outdid NL-S in three-point shooting, so let's not say they were totally boring offensively. Bergerson was "bombs away" with her four 3-point makes. Shady and Gonsorowski each made one long-ranger. Esko was six of 15 in 3's while NL-S was three of 17. The Wildcats had few freethrow tries, making four of five.
Esko had just 13 total field goals but the six 3's helped make up for any deficiency.
Truly it was a season of memories for New London-Spicer, another most inspiring campaign, despite the disappointment at the end.
After so many low-scoring hoops games in this season of 2013-14, it would be nice to see both coaches in a game say "let the ponies run." I wonder what has become of that Hancock Owl coach who I referenced earlier in this post. He had legal troubles at the end of his Hancock tenure. And prison.
The kind of legal trouble that is faced at present by the Morris principal is not unprecedented. Let's emphasize that the principal is in trouble with an adult. The situation was different with the Hancock coach. Legal troubles and sports are not strange bedfellows.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, March 17, 2014

Morris economy, image being dealt double-whammy

Craig Peterson, MAHS principal
On the macro stage we have that missing airliner the fate of which is likely dismal. On the micro level, Morris, news isn't rosy either. Here, this is the fateful week for the pre-trial hearing that is not only discouraging in and of itself, it could bring rather embarrassing media attention.
This news coincides with a major piece of bad business news for Morris: the departure of Morris Auto Plaza. Is this good news for the two remaining major car dealers? I would say no. Competition is good for attracting business. A perceived drop-off in competition could well be bad news.
But hovering over all of this is the fact that the traditional "dealership model" for selling cars may be set to implode. Yes, really. The Tesla company is trying to muscle in. We should be cheering for them (that is, if you're not a car salesman).
Tesla wants to sell its vehicles directly to the consumer - no "middleman" dealers. How about it? Would you like to bypass the dealer? Most people would. The Internet and tech have been knocking out the "middleman" in many spheres. Car sales is on the horizon for this. At first there's pushback from the old model for doing things. We're seeing that now.
But whether you like it or not, new tech with all its efficiencies is an irresistible, inevitable force.
 
Pre-trial hearing is Wednesday, March 19
The pre-trial hearing is about our embattled high school principal, a guy name of Craig Peterson (quite the pedestrian name by Minnesota standards). If you want to get lost in the Minneapolis phone book, just present yourself as "Craig Peterson." Sara Jane Olson tried this trick but it didn't work for her. She turned out to be "Kathleen Soliah" who was a female variant on Bill Ayers.
Our Mr. Peterson, who most people felt was a really good principal, hasn't even been able to work for a while. It seems to me that if he's unable to work, we shouldn't have to pay him. He's on paid leave. I wish I could have had a nice long "paid leave" when I was with the Sun Tribune newspaper. The private sector isn't as generous as the public sector.
Mr. Peterson is charged with some rather untoward behavior. He'd be lucky if "untoward" was the worst of it.
The people who hold law enforcement power in this community have decided Mr. Peterson needs to go on trial for first degree something-or-other. They use the word "conduct." It seems to me he's charged with something worse than unacceptable "conduct." Bad conduct is the sort of thing that would have you repeatedly writing a phrase on the blackboard in elementary school. "I will not salivate over women."
It would appear that Peterson is suspected of assault although that word isn't used. It's "conduct." This "conduct" could get the man tossed into prison for most of the rest of his life. I hope he at least gets to play badminton or something. Oh, I don't think he'll be convicted. It would be bad precedent if he was.
The story as it has been told perhaps by an overzealous police department, doesn't sound like a flat-out attack by a man on a woman. It was a mutually approved friendship that involved the two going to the man's house, under circumstances where it would seem a DWI could have arisen. They were lucky to avoid that.
At first the two checked out the bowling alley, legend has it. It was closed. There's a song inspiration: "The Closed Bowling Alley Blues." Bowling alleys are coming under financial duress because of changes in our culture and entertainment preferences - all connected to that tech development phenomenon I repeatedly cite.
Anyway, so our bowling alley overlooking beautiful Lake Crystal was closed. So they went to a private residence. The parties agreed to what might be called amorous behavior - kissing - on the way, according to the defendant. The police report continues with a reference to "making out" once these individuals got to the house.
"Making out?" Isn't that what Jane Fonda and Ted Turner did at the 1991 World Series? It doesn't seem like a very legally precise term.
We're supposed to know what was going on, and the bottom line is that it was behavior bringing sexual arousal. After that there's kind of a fog over what happened. When sexual arousal proceeds to a certain point, it can be difficult to just turn off. A feminist would want to throw a flower vase at me for saying that, but it's true. Wasn't this an issue in the Kobe Bryant case?
If a man is approaching orgasm, I would suggest his normal senses are suspended. That's just my opinion. A rabid feminist would say "no means no!" I would suggest that such a woman is probably a lesbian. She would view any male sexual behavior as an assault.
Alcohol clouds all of this.
In the final analysis, this sordid case, which could land Peterson in prison for at least one 30-year term, has seriously disrupted the Morris Area school year. You can't tell me everyone has adjusted just fine. It will be a long time before we can put this behind us.
 
Police dept. and its role
I wonder if the Morris Police Department is experiencing some pushback from its role in all this. Did you notice a couple weeks ago the "puff piece" feature on the Morris Police Department in the newspaper? Page 1?
Why was this called for? Aren't these just people doing their job? Without a doubt they do it, giving out routine citations with great frequency. But why the puff piece? Was the paper approached by friends or allies of the police department, pleading for some favorable "pub?" I was in the newspaper business for 27 years and I know how these things work.
Let the Morris Police Department stand on its own two feet. Heaven knows they work hard enough - too hard in my view. They use terms like "blacking out" and "making out" in the report re. Peterson, terms that don't seem to me to be adequately illustrative - they seem more an extension of comic book language.
 
Why am I writing about this?
I am motivated to write about the Peterson case, probably to the annoyance of some, by my belief the system seems profoundly unfair. The upcoming trial is supposed to be 50/50. Each side has a chance to "win" or be vindicated. But in the court of public opinion, it doesn't seem that way at all, as the name and photo of Peterson appear all over the place, connected to the most damning words, while the accuser's name appears nowhere.
We're supposed to assume the man is guilty? It's improper and un-American. I also feel the Morris PD deserves some scrutiny.
I still remember that young guy resplendent in his (expletive) uniform whipping around to do a big U-turn at the intersection by Pizza Hut, so as to "pursue" me because he noticed I wasn't wearing my seat belt. He got his man! We were parked along the shoulder for an extended time, feeling humiliated, lights flashing behind us. My father, now deceased, said a couple times: "Can we go now?" I had to tell him "No Dad, we can't."
Was the officer endangering public safety by how he pursued us? The PD would say "no," thumping their chest as they proclaim they never make any mistakes. I paid the (expletive) fine after being told by the court administrator's office that a clerical mistake was made at the Morris PD.
Our family was on its way home from the Senior Center. I guess we really deserved scrutiny. At one point the officer peered into the window and asked me, "Are these your parents?"
"It's none of your f--king business," I should have said. Well, we've been together as a family since 1955.
Maybe our society has erred in trying to wipe out cigarette smoking. Cigarettes are a sedative. Maybe they helped us ease back and take life more in stride.
You can read about my adventure paying the seat belt fine by clicking on the permalink below. This is another post for "Morris of Course."
 
The veracity of the police department report on the Peterson "adventure" can be judged starting on Wednesday. Will we find out this whole thing was a "setup?" Will we discover a third party was involved? Much speculation has circulated. Surely we cannot in Morris celebrate spring as per our normal manner.
 
Prosecutorial conduct
I gleaned the following from the "prosecutor integrity" website:
 
Probable cause is a foundational concept of the American criminal justice system. Lack of probable cause is particularly problematic in sexual assault cases. Not a single state now requires corroborating evidence of rape. This means charging decisions have come to rely on the alleged victim's "character, behavior and believability." But what are the objective indicia of these? Lacking an answer, the viability of the probable cause standard is called into question.
Wrongful convictions are more widespread than we realize. In Virginia: 15 per cent of convictions lacked a DNA match. Keep in mind that 15 per cent underestimates, because DNA analysis cannot exclude cases where the partners were romantically involved and sex was consensual. One-fourth of all cases of people wrongfully convicted, involve an allegation of sexual assault of an adult.
Another element to consider: "No-drop" prosecution policies. "No-drop" was originally designed as a means to discourage accusers from withdrawing a complaint once charges had been filed. In practice, no-drop appears to compromise prosecutors' ethical sensibilities by inducing them to short-circuit probable cause requirements. No-drop is commonplace. No-drop increases prosecution costs, courtroom delays and adverse consequences for victims. Nineteen percent of victims had been threatened with incarceration, or coerced by a prosecutor adhering to no-drop.
Many worry that prosecutors have lost sight of their ethical compass and too often dispense with fundamental notions of fairness.
 
Could this be over?
Remember the swirling rumors of about a month ago, that charges had been dropped (vs. Peterson)? Could it be this is what the accuser at one point desired? As for the "prosecution costs," I'd like to see some figures.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, March 14, 2014

"The Music Never Stopped" (2011) a grim looking-back

Thanks to our Morris Public Library for having "The Music Never Stopped" available to check out on DVD. I hadn't heard of it before. It premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. It presents much the same appeal as "Almost Famous." Remember that flick?
These movies tap into nostalgia. The artistic community gave us lots of gems in the 1960s. It always does. The musical hits take us back in time.
Nostalgia about the 1960s presents a problem. On one level the times were very dark. This indeed casts a pall, tempered only to a limited degree by our popular culture (e.g. those Don Knotts movies). I hardly need remind you: We had the Viet Nam War and its draft of young men. The war was disruptive in so many ways. America was awakening to civil rights principles. In large part that was a redux of the U.S. Civil War. The struggle in the South was dangerous and sometimes tragic.
All this disruption was disconcerting and confusing for that grand WWII generation. We now call it the Greatest Generation. Actually that was just a book title (Tom Brokaw, the author in name at least), reflecting good marketing. It caught on.
Why shouldn't we spin something positive about a generation that is leaving us? My generation wouldn't have gone out of its way honoring those folks when we were young and smoking pot. We would have said on so many levels "They don't get it."
The movie "The Music Never Stopped" is instructive largely because it reveals that "generation gap." It's set in 1986. The Greatest Generation was still hale and hearty. The youth of the rebellious era had planted their feet in adulthood for better or worse. The old scars could still surface.
Thus we are introduced to the Sawyer family. "The Music Never Stopped" is based on Oliver Sacks' essay "The Last Hippie." The movie probes the father-son relationship of Henry Sawyer (played by J.K. Simmons) and his son Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci). Alas, the son suffers from a brain tumor that prevents him from forming new memories. The soundtrack has a rainbow of music bringing that decade of the 1960s to life. Need I cite the performers? You can probably guess.
The movie is a special showcase for The Grateful Dead. I admit to never having been a "Deadhead."
The movie's climactic scene, in my view, is where the father and son are together at a Grateful Dead concert. Mr. Sawyer has gotten into the spirit of it all. He's even dressed consistent with everyone. One problem is we don't see any sign of drug use! Here I'm reminded of the movie "Pearl Harbor" in which we saw none of the U.S. soldiers smoking cigarettes. "Sanitizing" can be a problem with movies. Nevertheless the concert scene is memorable, and is the kind of scene that could have had the audience rising to applaud. I didn't see the movie in a theater but I suspect it did not bring people to their feet, not like Meryl Streep at the conclusion of "Dancing Queen" in "Mamma Mia."
 
More room for happiness?
Maybe "The Music Never Stops" was too understated, not incorporating enough joy. Joy is not a word I would attach to this movie, even though it could have been constructed in that direction. The bonding of father and son, overcoming their background of alienation from each other, could have spelled joy in a major way. There's too much of a dark cloud over this movie. Yes, it reminds of much that handicapped us as a society in the 1960s.
In the present we see Mr. Sawyer lose his job - is he fired or is it more nuanced than that? - partly due to discouragement over his family issues. The father develops heart problems toward the end. He attends the concert as a coronary patient. He dies at the end. In tribute to the reconciliation within the family, there's an authentic 1980s "boom box" propped up at the graveside service and we hear the Grateful Dead. We hear "Touch of Gray."
Again, the audience might be inclined to applaud. Maybe they did. But again, the movie's potential for joy seemed strangely tamped down. It's as if the moviemakers had inhibitions. Maybe they were just striving for honesty, showing the generation gap as a truly mestastasizing schism in our society, growing in part out of the unforgivable tragedy that was Viet Nam. Such conflicts are not easily smoothed over.
The Sawyers do as well as can be expected. Having a conflict with your parents is nothing but sad. We see Gabriel storming out of the house when young. This is at the apex of the '60s and its tribulations. He's a runaway. He was a bright young man. He heads for New York's Greenwich Village.
Fast-forward to 1986: Gabriel becomes hospitalized for a brain tumor. The tumor is surgically removed but with a price: he has lost his ability to remember. In fact, his memories end in the year 1970. (Remember the Elvis Presley song "I Forgot to Remember to Forget?")
 
Music therapist finds opening
Enter a young music therapist, played by Julia Ormond, who sees in Gabe a prime candidate for her services. Father Henry must learn to embrace his son's choices and try to connect with him through music. Music is "the universal language" in this movie.
Mother "Helen" is played by Cara Seymour. She goes to work to keep the family going. Henry has to evolve from his Tin Pan Alley tastes and Nixon-oriented conservatism. His drive to re-connect with his son - what could be more powerful? - enables him to cover the chasm.
My generation knows all too well that our parents' tastes were fixed in stone. Lawrence Welk was a symbol for our parents, partly stereotype of course, but true to an extent. You couldn't force-feed the Beatles to these people. They might only pretend some interest, just to humor us, then they'd get back to their regular business. It has been said of the so-called Greatest Generation that "they never changed." In a positive sense this means they were resilient. They paid the bills. Maybe they just needed to stop and smell the roses a little more, learn to appreciate new music. Fat chance.
In "The Music Never Stopped" we see how a father fights to bridge the generational chasm, but it takes a health crisis. Blood is thicker than water. The family is whole at the end, albeit with Henry in the ground.
I might nit-pick this movie by saying there's a strange lack of curiosity about what happened to Gabriel between 1970 and 1986. I'm also reminded of the movie "Tropic Thunder," a movie in which Hollywood held up a mirror for itself. In "Tropic Thunder" we hear a character talk about how "retarded" people in movies don't really seem retarded. Examples: "Forrest Gump" and "Rain Man." A retarded person could not win the world ping pong championship.
In "The Music Never Stopped," Gabriel has had serious brain surgery and ought to act like he's quite handicapped, but he never comes across as such. He seems rather stable. He looks like an actor carefully trying to present some limitations in his condition. It's Hollywood. His eyes light up when he hears some of that old music. Henry instantly notices this and sees the potential for further progress, with that music therapist on hand.
Music is the vehicle by which Henry can connect with his son and repair the relationship. The film is essentially about connecting to one another through music.
 
Rebellion brims over
There's a flashback to the flashpoint when Gabriel left home. This was the quintessential type of "generation gap" conflict. Henry gives the quintessential line as the father: "We fought (in WWII) for your freedom to protest." Nothing could set off a young person more. We saw the abomination that was Viet Nam and felt all possible means could be tapped to protest and try to end it. And if this meant burning the American flag, so be it. Gabriel actually does this in a flashback scene, on stage as a rock musician. Henry is gripped with rage about what he saw as the negative effects of protest music.
The rest is history: Gabriel storming out of the house, eventually to become a disoriented recluse until his tumor stops him in his tracks. An older Henry realizes he can have his son back by learning to bond with him on the one subject Gabe has left: his music.
 
All hail the Beatles
The song "All You Need is Love" has a special place in the movie. It's a John Lennon song and has unusual structure, starting as it does with the French National Anthem. At first Gabriel hears the anthem without its segue into the Beatles song. He's frustrated. The Beatles version is then played for him with the triumphant recognition and reaction.
"All You Need is Love" was transformed in a Beatles satire on TV to "All You Need is Cash." I believe it was the Monty Python group that did that. They also had the Beatles playing at "Che" Stadium (named for Che Guevara) rather than "Shea" Stadium.
"All You Need is Love" was first performed by the Beatles on "Our World," the first live global television link. How quaint. I'm reminded of how "Almost Famous" showed how jaw-dropping the early fax machines were. "It only takes seven hours!"
The Beatles were told to come up with a message understood by everyone. The year was 1967, the year which, incidentally, was the very worst for the Viet Nam War. The ingenious Lennon, who must have had two brains, had the song start with the French National Anthem, remember? "La Marseillaise." Lennon's song was notable for its asymmetric time signature and complex changes. Maybe the song title is the most pure solution for solving that "generation gap." My generation knows it's indeed a daunting task. (Today we're trying to understand young libertarian kids.)
"The Music Never Stopped" is a vehicle for appreciating the culture wars and generational divide that people my age - I'm 59 - know all too much about. It's a thought-provoking and serious movie, which is fine, but I think a little more joy could have been incorporated. It needs to loosen up a little. I do recommend it.
Thanks to our Morris Public Library and our wonderful library director, Melissa Yauk.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

New London-Spicer beats EV-Watkins for No. 1 in South

Have you noticed a pattern of high school basketball games becoming more low-scoring? I had this impression even before learning the details of the Tuesday (3/11) girls game between New London-Spicer and Eden Valley-Watkins.
Is this low-scoring pattern by design? Or, are a majority of coaches learning the possible benefits of an offensive approach that is less than frenetic? Whatever the explanation, the Wildcats and Eagles scored in the 30s on Tuesday. This was the sub-section championship game (6AA-South) and it was played at St. John's, Collegeville.
Our MACA fans can ponder some "might have beens." New London-Spicer is not the world-beater that it seems in many seasons. What if our Tigers had not gone so flat in their sub-section game vs. Minnewaska Area? 'Waska went on to challenge New London-Spicer pretty well, getting the score tied in the second half before fading. And now, NL-Spicer has advanced by eking out a win over the Eagles of Eden Valley-Watkins. The Wildcats won 35-32.
The Wildcats will tote their 23-5 season record into the game for all the Section 6AA marbles. They'll head to St. Cloud State University. They'll vie with the champion from out of the North, Sauk Centre. The Streeters are toting a 22-6 record. There's no dead wood now.
Section 6AA-South appears to have been marked by parity. That's why us Tiger fans should embrace hopes for a higher caliber next winter, as the sub-section title game does in fact seem within reach. Remember, those Wildcats put their pants on one leg at a time. Their coach is the wise veteran of the role, Mike Dreier.
The Wildcats and the Streeters of Sauk Centre will play at 6 p.m. Friday (3/14) at Halenbeck Hall, SCSU (my alma mater). Sauk Centre climbed with a 52-28 thumping of Staples-Motley.
 
Again, success despite deficiencies
I noted in my previous post about NL-Spicer that success came despite rough edges in the team's play. More problems and inconsistencies were noted Tuesday. An example was the 25 per cent shooting performance from the field. And, the anemic two of 14 stats from three-point land. And, turnovers where the total was 18.
The Eagles from EV-W certainly commanded respect. Those Eagles entered with a 9-0 mark vs. section competition. The Eagles flirted with victory, being down by just one point (33-32) with 30 seconds left.
Would the Wildcats turn to their well-established star, Taylor Thunstedt? Taylor owns over 2,000 points in her highlight-filled career. She has started for five years!
A less-heralded Wildcat came to the fore. This was Alyssa Fredrick, a sophomore reserve. Fredrick was fouled with less than a minute left. She made her first of two freethrows to put NL-Spicer up by two, 34-32. Then she made her second freethrow which created some extra needed breathing room. "I wanted my team to believe in me," Fredrick was quoted saying in the print media. Fredrick also came through with late steals.
The Wildcats' 35 points represented their lowest output of the season. They have now won "ugly" in back-to-back games. Fans would say all that matters is that they won.
The valiant Eagles worked to a halftime lead, 21-16, making the Wildcats look most beatable. Coach Dreier settled down his charges at halftime, had them execute smoothly out of the starting gate in the second half, and the result was seven unanswered points. Thunstedt was in her usual prominent role over this stretch. She's a money player.
Subsequent to this, the score got tied three times. The Eagles led 32-31 at 8:01, thanks to a steal and layup by Mikayla Kummet. Alas, the EV-W Eagles would score no more points. Dreier had his 'Cats apply the clamps with a zone 'D'.
How do fans feel about these low-scoring games? The MSHSL wants the entertainment value to stay high. Those turnstiles (figuratively speaking) ought to stay humming.
Ashlyn Geister (related to the former Cougar football standout?) scored at 2:40 for the 'Cats, giving them a 33-32 lead. NL-Spicer was going to have to sweat this one out. Thunstedt worked to cause a turnover with about a half-minute left. Thus the Eagles had to start fouling. This set the stage for Alyssa Fredrick and her freethrow heroics. Her two freethrows created that final margin of victory: three points.
Fredrick has an older sister, Bri, who was off with her shooting. Bri made an early '3' but struggled later.
NL-Spicer applied a 2-3 zone scheme vs. the Eagles. The Eagles attacked it fairly well in the first half. Mikayla Kummet scored eleven points vs. the Wildcats in that half. She'd finish with 14, the team-best figure. Kummet made three of five 3-point shots in the first half. The Eagles were held back by turnovers, just like their foe.
The Eagles more than held their own in shooting from the field. They were actually superior to the 'Cats. However, NL-Spicer made up for that in freethrow shooting. The NL-S numbers at the line: 13-for-19. The Eagles' numbers: a mere two of four.
If NL-S gets past Sauk Centre and makes state, it'll be their 15th appearance in state. But they haven't been there since 2009.
A look at the stats shows NL-Spicer was just two of 14 in three-pointers Tuesday vs. EV-W. Thunstedt and Bri Fredrick had the makes. Megan Thorson led in rebounds with seven. Thunstedt led in assists with four and co-led in steals, with Alyssa Fredrick, each with four. Geister had three blocked shots.
 
Thunstedt makes impact
It was another day at the office for Thunstedt who topped the team's scoring list with 16 points. Geister scored six followed by Thorson and Bri Fredrick each with five. Alyssa Fredrick scored two points and Petra Lothert one.
For Eden Valley-Watkins, Mikayla Kummet with her 14 points was followed by Dani Nelson with eleven, Bella Perlberg-Cromwell with six, Elaina Stommes with four and Brook Stang with two.
(Holy cow, that adds up to 37 points, not 32, but this is how the Willmar newspaper reported it. Those reporters should do a little arithmetic, IMHO.)
Kummet was three of nine in 3-point shooting. Nelson was one of five. Nelson was the top EV-W rebounder with eleven. Nelson dished out three assists. Jamie Scherer and Kummet each had four steals.
The NL-S boys are playing in state at 6 p.m. today (Wednesday) at Target Center, Minneapolis.
New London-Spicer boys and girls basketball is a marquee attraction indeed. Let's close our eyes and imagine our Morris Area Chokio Alberta Tigers getting to that status. It isn't far-fetched. Right now we all have to get past the upcoming trial of our principal. The pre-trial hearing is set for March 19. He's on paid leave, I guess.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, March 7, 2014

"NorthStar" paper still afloat at UMM, it seems

February cover - Image from NorthStar's Facebook page
I had the pleasure of attending the Chamber Music concert at UMM on Tuesday, March 4. It goes without saying the music was terrific (but I'll say it anyway). I especially liked the jazz portion. UMM has a drummer that reminds me of Tony Inzalaco when he played with the Maynard Ferguson Sextet in the 1960s.
After the concert, as I am wont to do, I strolled over to the Student Center. I was curious, for one thing, about whether there was still a "NorthStar" libertarian publication put out by UMM students. It has been wild and controversial this year. I personally wish it would just get shut down, because I consider it to be mostly unserious.
There is a lot of what I would call "absurdist journalism," written by people who come across as at least being faux scholarly. They don't use their intelligence for constructive ends. They're "pulling our chain," in my view.
In the main hallway I spotted a newspaper display stand that had the usual University Register on top. The Register is a quite fine student publication. On the bottom is where you'd find the oddball "NorthStar." I saw a stack there but they were old issues. Very puzzling.
Then I stepped into the computer-study lounge which is normally open to students only, so I risked being picked off by a sniper or something. I saw several copies of what appeared to be the current NorthStar, stamped "February" on the front. I assume this issue has not been inserted with the Morris Sun Tribune as was the case last fall, but I don't buy the Morris paper. There was a ruckus last fall.
The back page mocks UMM on its "renewable and sustainable" commitment. The editors would call this "satire" but so what? There must have been some serious attempt to mock. Where else would this assertion spring from? At the top of the page is written: "No wonder this campus has such a strange stench."
Can't campus publications at least be civil?
What's really offensive is a two-page spread that appears to extol the greatness of Benito Mussolini. Mussolini is likened to UMM faculty member PZ Myers. The headline is: "Mussolini: over-rated or under-rated?" What the heck does that mean? It's basically gibberish which, if it were online, we could easily dismiss.
If it were online I could dismiss it as your typical Internet garbage. But it's in a publication that to an extent has UMM's imprimatur on it. It's beyond comprehension. Then again, I have never existed on the same wavelength as the University of Minnesota-Morris. I just have to shrug.
Thank goodness we have UMM Music as a place where we can retreat from the political garbage.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Greatest Twins homer ever? Maybe it was in 1965

Image from "deanscards" blog
We currently frame our memory of the Metrodome as the "old" stadium. I hope a definitive history gets written. It's so old, there weren't even any corporate naming rights at the start.
Not only was the old bubble named after a politician, it was named for a Democratic politician. Shudder. Think how the likes of Michele Bachmann would react today. But those were different times back then. Republicans could be moderate. Democrats were the champions of the working people.
The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was ushered in with the predictable excitement. It was never described in glittering or ostentatious terms, but we found it fascinating in that it allowed Minnesota to do a 180: from being a state where weather was often problematic for big league sports, to a state where weather was not a factor! Baltimore might have to deal with frequent rain in April, meanwhile our schedule was full-go for the Twins.
The Metrodome replaced grand old Metropolitan Stadium. Again, no corporate naming rights.
There was a time when, in my old profession of journalism, us journos had a real aversion to "plugs." Really - I mean we'd have mixed thoughts about even referring to Target Center as "Target Center." We couldn't stroke those mean ol' business interests, right? I had those notions instilled in me when I studied mass communications. It was a hindrance as I began my own professional career.
The notions didn't seem to last long. They were a holdover of the rebellious and deconstructionist 1960s and early '70s. Corporations were from the dark side of the Force, as it were. In due time we were pulled back to realism and reported on the world as it was, not as it might be if man had no flaws. Problem was, Richard Nixon had so damn many flaws (LOL). The Viet Nam War was more than a glitch in American history, it was an abomination beyond description.
It was naive and simplistic to simply fault capitalism. Time moved on. Eventually corporate naming even came to our Metrodome, as we began to hear references to "Mall of America Field." It's like the James Gremmels Court here at our University of Minnesota-Morris. The name is for the court or field and not for the whole building. Which reminds me, I cringed when Whitey Herzog at the end of the 1987 World Series referred to our Metrodome as a "building." He said of the Twins: "They do well in this building."
It's quite the apt quote for a basketball facility. But of course, baseball is played outside (in theory) in "ballparks." Wondrous ballparks.
 
Home run for the ages
Let's ask ourselves: What was the most memorable home run in Twins history? Our thoughts go back to the '87 and '91 World Series. Images of Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett pop into our heads. Not necessarily mine.
If you follow my online writing you're aware that one of my main "missions" is to keep alive memories of Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington. That big castle-like structure that stood out on the Bloomington prairie. That expansive parking lot. The curmudgeonly Calvin Griffith. The 1965 World Series. The Twins were only in their fifth year.
When I think of memorable home runs, I think of Harmon Killebrew and the 1965 regular season. "The Killer" had a home run that should still be considered No. 1 in Twins annals. It was a Sunday afternoon. The schedule was almost at the All-Star break. The conditions were hot and sticky as the Twins took the field to play the New York Yankees. The Yankees came out of the nation's media capital and were the most storied franchise in baseball. They were hanging on to their dynastic status of that time. They were barely hanging on.
The point where they had to relinquish that status was when Harmon Killebrew wielded his homer bat at Met Stadium. The Met was jammed with fans. The bottom of the ninth saw the Twins trailing the Yanks 5-4. There were two outs! Pete Mikkelson, a sinker ball specialist as I recall, was on the mound for the Yankees. The Twins had a man on base.
Harmon swung at one and missed, then he fouled off a pitch. And then he almost struck out, but New York catcher Elston Howard (the first African-American to play for the Yankees) couldn't hold a foul tip. Ah, the vagaries of history. The capriciousness. Ol' Harmon finally got the fastball he wanted. The ball went into the left field bleachers on a line. It was like Muhammad Ali knocking out an opponent. The Yankees faded and it was the Twins who went on to take the 1965 American League pennant. We played the Dodgers in the World Series and lost in seven games, never able to overcome Sandy Koufax and his fierce lefthanded deliveries.
Here's some trivia: The first home run Killebrew ever hit at the Met was in 1958! He was playing with Indianapolis in the American Association. The last home run he hit at the Met was in 1975 when he was with the Kansas City Royals and past his prime.
We cherish all the memories of Harmon Killebrew, whether in his prime or not. And, let's never forget Metropolitan Statium, where you could buy the "large size" beer for a dollar! Ah, those lazy, hazy days of summer out at "the Met." Harmon, Tony, Rodney etc.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com