Moving time?

Once again, as happens every year about this time, the calendar has rolled over to February. Once again, as happens every year about this time, some people (usually, though not always, people of color) start doing things to commemorate Black History Month. And, once again, as happens every year about this time, skeptical souls start making quips about how it makes sense that black folks would be given the shortest, coldest month of the year to call their own.

Now the original rationales for using February as the time to honor black contributions to the US undo some of the truths to be found in all those wry jokes. The fact that a black man started the tradition — and that he picked February because it’s the month when both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born — messes a bit with the fact that February really would have been the perfect “separate but equal” month for white America to parcel out as a token gesture to black America. Perhaps more to the point, back in 1926, when the whole thing started (and when it was only a week), it’s not as if there were exactly legions of white Americans who were actively looking to find even a day of the year — much less a week or a month — to pay homage to black people. If the choice had really been white America’s back then (and perhaps even now), I’m pretty sure that there would have been no debate at all about when to pay tribute to black America, since that tribute simply would not have been forthcoming at all.

But that’s not what led me to fire up the blogging machinery tonight.

No, what occurred to me as I was reading yet another one of those “of course, we got the shortest month” commentaries was that there’s no good reason why Black History Month simply has to stay tied to February. Sure, it’s been that way for almost a century now, but it’s not as if that’s dictated by law. There are no major holidays that would need to be moved that would disrupt the rhythm of school calendars or banks. No annual BHM sale days that would destroy the economy if they were shifted to some other time of year. No government agency charged with overseeing holidays from whom permission would need to be secured. BHM isn’t the sort of tradition, after all, that exists because of any formal mandate from the proverbial Powers That Be — no more so than clearly arbitrary “holidays” like National Sushi Day or National Drink Beer Day — and it’s only “stuck” in February because that’s where it began.

To put it a different way, if we don’t like the fact that BHM is in a short, cold month, then let’s just move it. Who’s going to stop us? It would probably be pretty amusing — and telling — to watch people try to prevent such a thing from happening. I am suddenly flashing on Fox News pundits trying to claim that the very future of the nation would somehow be imperiled if black folks were given positive public recognition during any month of the year besides February.

And if we want a long, hot month, there are some pretty good choices there. The easy one to take would be August. There’s certainly no major holiday then to compete with BHM — or even a minor one. It’s got 31 days, and it’s plenty warm, so there could be lots of picnics and parades and other such festivities.

But I think the far better choice would be July, which — like August — gives us 31 steamy, sultry days to work with. But it also puts BHM and Independence Day right on top of each other. And if part of the point of BHM is to celebrate the centrality of black contributions to the nation, then when better to do that than when the nation itself is being celebrated so heartily?

December notable nine

  1. Mocha. Damned if the old girl isn’t a trooper and a half. The tumor has taken over an awful lot of her face. And she’s clearly not excited about the never-ending snowfall. But the Empress of All North America continues to have noticeable pep in her step more days than not. And so she continues to be the lead item here.
  2. Devious friends. Mocha also makes it into the second item this month, courtesy of two dear friends of mine: one who housesat for me while I was in San Antonio for the ASA meetings last November, while the other served as her partner in crime (and brought along her boyfriend and his photography skills). A few weeks later, they presented me with a series of holiday photos taken chez moi that involved ugly Christmas sweaters, cheesy Christmas decorations, . . . and festively costumed fuzzies.
    xmascard_006.jpg     xmascard_005.jpg
  3. Snow, snow, and more snow. The same storm that broke the roof of the Metrodome was severe enough that both the state and Hennepin County pulled snow plows off the streets for safety reasons. When Minnesotans think it’s too snowy for plows to operate, we’re talking about a lot of snow. And it kept coming after that. In smaller doses to be sure, but every few days since then, another inch (or six, in some cases) has piled up.
  4. Saji Ya. I’ve long thought that the best sushi in the Twin Cities is at Origami in downtown Minneapolis, with Fuji Ya in Uptown coming in as a very strong second. And while neither of those establishments has slipped, I now think that Saji Ya — which I experienced for the first time last month — has to be a part of any serious conversation about the finest raw-fish-and-rice in the area. For now, though, I feel comfortable saying that it’s the best sushi in St. Paul. And if there’s better sushi in St. Paul (or Minneapolis, for that matter), I definitely wanna know about it.
  5. Marwencol. I saw better movies (though not many) in December, but most of those were old favorites (Double Indemnity, Fight Club) or movies you already know you should see (the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit). But you probably don’t know about Marwencol. And you should. If it’s playing near you, catch it before it leaves. If it’s not playing near you, find it on Netflix or at your local video shop as soon as it appears. I won’t try to describe it for you, since I don’t think I can do it justice. Just trust me. If only this once.
  6. Chinook of the North. A few months back, I’d mentioned that I grew my own hops in 2010, and that I was looking forward to using them in a forthcoming batch of homebrew. Well, in December, I finally bottled that first (partially) homegrown batch: a Chinook IPA I’d previously made (and enjoyed immensely) using nothing but store bought ingredients. The version using hops I harvested myself was ready for its first proper tasting right before New Year’s Eve. And it sucked. Badly. Not sure if it was a problem with the hops or if I botched something in the brewing process or what. But it was bad enough that I wound up dumping it all. Which I’d only done once before in nearly two dozen batchs since I started homebrewing again a few years back. You win some, you lose some. We’ll hafta see how the 2011 crop comes in later this fall.
  7. Beg, Scream, & Shout!: The Big ‘Ol Box of ’60s Soul. I’d known about this boxed set for a while. I’ve got at least one friend who has had a copy for years. And somehow I managed to have (most of) a digital copy of it sitting on my external hard drive. But I had mostly forgotten about it . . . until I was trying to locate a suitable Christmas gift for a friend (not coincidentally, one of the perpetrators of the photos directly above), and I had a sudden epiphany that this set would be the perfect present for someone (like her) with a penchant for the likes of Otis Redding and Sharon Jones. The trick, as it turned out, would be finding a copy that didn’t require me to take out a second mortgage — or even finding a copy at all, since the set has been out of print for almost a decade now. But the fates were kind to me. Twice, actually. Since my neighborhood Cheapo turned out to have one . . . and then I found another (for myself) on eBay. Why I never picked this set up before is beyond me. Six CDs, and not a bad track on any of them. Truly funky packaging: each disc comes in an oversized sleeve that looks like an old 45, and the box itself is modeled on an old 45 carrying case. And the set comes with a box of trading cards: one for each song.
  8. All Day. Evidently, the new Girl Talk album dropped on November 15. But I didn’t learn about it till December. Not surprisingly, it’s a damned fine bit of mash-up work. What did surprise me, however, is how I learned about it: I heard a track from it on the radio. And while it still amazes me (even if it also pleases me) that Girl Talk hasn’t been hit with cease-and-desist nastygrams from the RIAA and all their cousins, it amazes me (and, again, pleases me) even more that GT would actually get played on an over-the-regular-airwaves radio station.
  9. The Muppets vs. Nine Inch Nails. Speaking of mash-ups . . . well, why speak at all? Just watch. And enjoy.

The singer, not the song

That should probably be “The filmmaker, not the film” or “The screenwriter, not the script,” but somehow neither of those has the same ring to them.

Anywho, a good friend posted a query to Facebook asking for people to name their favorite holiday movies. I chimed in with a joke answer . . . that, on further reflection, may have been a more serious answer than I originally intended it to be.

My chosen movie features an “everyman” actor who plays a man with a restless soul. He struggles with his inner demons and wins the love of a good woman. Along the way, he also manages to champion the virtues of simple living, fixing up old houses, and fighting off the rapacious ways of evil bankers. The movie ends with the happy couple reunited and smiling as the credits roll.

Sounds a lot like It’s a Wonderful Life. But I hate that movie. No, really, I do. Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are fine, and the scenes of their early courtship are actually sweet. But, in the end, Frank Capra slathers way too much cloying, syrupy sappiness on top of everything, and my gag reflex kicks in.

No, my new favorite holiday movie — now that I realize that it really is a holiday movie — is Fight Club. “The things you own end up owning you.”

November notable nine

Nine days late, I know, but it’s been a busy week or so.

  1. Mocha. She’s still with us. Believe it or not. She’s had a couple of spells where she stopped eating for a few days, and I thought she was ready to go . . . but then she’s suddenly rediscovered the joy of kibble.
  2. In like a lamb, out like a frozen four-pack of lamb chops. Our slow arriving fall treated us mellow and fine deep into the second week of the month, when we had highs in the 60s . . . and then we got walloped with 6-10 inches of snow. By month’s end, the city had already declared its second snow emergency of the season, and we’d all forgotten what outside temperatures above freezing felt like.
  3. The American Studies Association conference. I got to escape some of those early sub-freezing days by flying off to San Antonio for the annual ASA meetings. And, as scholarly gatherings go, the ASA is routinely much more interesting and enjoyable than the annual ICA and NCA confabs. It didn’t hurt that I got to wear sandals for four days in mid-November without putting myself at risk of frostbite. I did struggle to find anything that resembles good beer in San Antonio . . . but the margaritas made up for that.
  4. Town Hall Tap. My fave brewpub in town anywhere opened up a new location at 48th and Chicago in south Minneapolis. And, not surprisingly, it appears to already be a huge success. The official opening happened at 3 pm on a Friday. By 4, the place was standing room only. By the time I left that night, the wait list for tables was about 45 minutes long. The opening was even sweeter for me, thanks to the unexpected pleasure of not one, but two different former undergrads — neither of whom I’d seen in years — spotting me and making a point of saying how much they’d enjoyed the classes they’d taken from me.
  5. The collapse of the Cowboys. It was not a good month to be a fan of Washington’s professional football team. An embarrassing loss to a bad team (the Vikings). A humiliating loss to a good team (the Eagles). A squeaker victory over a mediocre team (the Titans). On the other hand, it was delicious to watch the Cowboys self-destruct so thoroughly. Even more delicious to have The Onion capture the joy I felt so perfectly.
  6. Apple pie. Thanksgiving found me baking my very first ever pie. From scratch, no less. The filling, if I do say so myself, came out quite nicely. At least in terms of its taste. A little more cornstarch would probably have helped it firm up a bit. The crust, on the other hand, needed some serious help. Again, it tasted fine. At least insofar as it stayed intact, since the bottom crust basically disappeared during the baking process. Perhaps it melted into the filling. But there was little to no there there when it came time for dessert.
  7. A kind mention. Proud as I still am of Elvis After Elvis, I also don’t figure it gets much attention these days. It’s nearly fifteen years old (as a book, anyway), and so it’s well past the usual “freshness” date of an awful lot of scholarly volumes. So I was quite surprised to stumble across the brief shout-out for it in this interview.
  8. Bettye Lavette, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook. Wow. Just wow. Worth it for the opening track alone (a stunning cover of an otherwise little-played Beatles track called “The Word”), but the rest of the album is awfully sharp too.
  9. Mavis Staples. Also wow. Only this time for a live performance at The Cedar. If the opportunity presents itself to see her in concert, run (do not walk). You will not be disappointed. Promise.

60 ’65 45s


A fella only turns 45 once (time travel and reincarnation notwithstanding). And, being the pop music geek that I am, I decided to honor the occasion by making a couple of suitably themed mix CDs to give away as door prizes (first 45 celebrants only!) at today’s birthday bashes. And, just to make folks who can’t be here today jealous — or to make the locals who were still deciding whether to show up for the festivities — the playlists and liner notes look like this.

I’m turning 45, which certainly seems like an important number, but I’ll be damned if I know what it’s really supposed to mean.

Growing up, though, “45” meant only one thing: a 7” inch circle of magical, musical vinyl. I can still recall the first pop single I ever got as a gift (Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)”) and the first single I ever bought for myself (the Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight”). I once spent the better part of two straight days in an Austin record store flipping through their massive (and completely unsorted) collection of used 45s for hidden gems. And while it’s been ages since I’ve played any of them, I have several hundred 45s tucked away in my living room. Even hidden and silent, they’re still magical.

Despite growing up in the era of the concept album, I’ve long believed that the single is vastly underrated. Rock’n’roll didn’t really take to the album as a major aesthetic form until 1965. Even then, it took a few more years before the LP truly replaced the 45 as the center of the rock universe. Take away Rubber Soul, Highway 61 Revisited, and Bringing It All Back Home, and all the great “albums” of 1965 are merely collections of singles padded out with a few filler tracks.

So one of the obvious (to me anyway) things to do for my 45th birthday was to create a mega-mix of 45 of my favorite 45s from 45 years ago. But when I sat down to tackle this project, two big problems quickly presented themselves.

First, there was the length problem. I can usually fit 22 or 23 tracks on an 80-minute CD, so a 2-disc set should have worked fine . . . but my mixes typically don’t draw from a pool of songs that mostly run less than three minutes. So either I needed to trim the project down to one 30-song disc, or I needed to scale it up to 60 songs.

Second, there was the “favorite child” problem. My initial list of viable candidates was about 150 songs long. Some of these were easy to eliminate: Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” has its schmaltzy charms, but there were clearly at least 60 better songs on that list. Nonetheless, even after I made those easy calls, there was still a lot of great music to consider. Chopping things down to 30 songs was out of the question. Even getting down to 60 felt too brutal.

I made things a little easier by imposing several rules on myself.

Any eligible song had to have appeared on a single. It didn’t have to be the A-side. It didn’t have to have hit the charts. But if it were strictly an album track (e.g., Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam”), or if I wasn’t sure it had been released as a single, it was out.

The song had to have been released in 1965. A few tunes here may have first entered the world in late 1964, but the historical record is also fuzzy enough that I gave a few tunes the benefit of the doubt.

No artist was allowed more than one slot in the finished mix — which made things easier and harder. I didn’t have to decide whether, for example, Edwin Starr’s “Agent Double-O-Soul” deserved a spot ahead of two James Brown classics . . . but I did have to choose between “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).”
Other obligatory disclaimers and explanations:

These aren’t absolutely, positively, unmistakably the 60 best singles of 1965. My goal, after all, was to make a really good mix: not to define some sort of canon. And the sequencing is more about creating a mix that flows well than about trying to rank these tunes top to bottom.

Still, quality matters. I paid some attention to chart success, but I also didn’t let the vagaries of Billboard’s rankings rule the day. You don’t really want to hear Freddie & the Dreamers’ treacle-filled “I’m Telling You Now” (which was a #1 Pop hit) instead of the Apollas’ totally divine “Absolutely Right” (which never charted at all), do you? And you’d stop being my friend if I’d included any of the seven Top Ten Pop singles (including two #1s) that Herman’s Hermits released in 1965 — especially if I’d left low-charting gems by the Who or Them out of the final mix. If you really want “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” or “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” you can find them yourself. But I don’t have to be party to such insanity.

I sometimes chose tunes that you most likely know from some later version. Gloria Jones, for instance, did the original “Tainted Love” more than a decade before Soft Cell. You may already know “Thanks a Lot” because of Neko Case (if you don’t, you should; it’s on The Virginian), but she clearly owes a lot to Brenda Lee (even more than she does to Ernest Tubb, who did it first). The J. Geils Band would later cover the tracks by the Contours and the Marvelows. “Respect,” of course, was a hit for Otis Redding before Aretha Franklin made it her own. And many of you may not realize that one of Britney Spears’ biggest hits was first recorded by a band out of England called the Rolling Stones. No, really, it’s true. I wouldn’t lie about that.

A few tunes wound up on the cutting room floor because they pushed too hard against the feel of the rest of the mix. The Wonder Who (a pseudonym that the Four Seasons used for a handful of singles in 1965 and 1966) went to #12 on the Pop charts with a so-bad-it’s-great version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice.” The We Five (a semi-folky two-hit wonder) had a #3 hit with “You Were on My Mind” that I’ve always loved. Elvis had a few forgettable movie-related hits (“Do the Clam,” “Tickle Me,” and “Puppet on a String”) that I wouldn’t inflict on you, but he also reached #3 with the genuinely worthy “Crying in the Chapel.” And yet these tracks would have muddled the vibe of all the great garage band and soul that simply had to be included.

The final mix also held a few surprises for me. While he was a true maestro of the pop single, there’s nothing here from Phil Spector’s stable of artists, largely because the great girl groups he worked with didn’t do much of note in 1965 — but also because I’m not fond enough of the Righteous Brothers to include either (yawn) “Unchained Melody” or (mega-yawn) “Ebb Tide.” I expected the Stones would provide me with tough choices to make . . . but none of their other 1965 hits (“Heart of Stone,” “The Last Time,” “Play With Fire,” “Get Off of My Cloud,” “As Tears Go By”) come anywhere near “Satisfaction.” On the other hand, I didn’t expect quite so many great singles from the Animals and the Yardbirds: “It’s My Life,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “For Your Love,” and “I’m a Man” all missed the final cut (though none did so by much). And I hadn’t thought of Nina Simone as a singles artist — or even as an artist who reluctantly played that game to keep her record label happy — so I was thrilled to find that her deliciously smoky version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” made it onto a 45, so that I could share it with you here.

Disc One:
1. Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs — Wooly Bully (#2 Pop, #31 R&B)
2. Animals — Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (#15 Pop)
3. Contours — First I Look at the Purse (#57 Pop, #12 R&B)
4. Marvelows — I Do (#37 Pop, #7 R&B)
5. Shirley Ellis — Clapping Song (Clap Pat Clap Slap) (#8 Pop, #16 R&B)
6. Strangeloves — I Want Candy (#11 Pop)
7. Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders — The Game of Love (#1 Pop)
8. Gentrys — Keep On Dancing (#4 Pop)
9. Dixie Cups — Iko Iko (#20 Pop, #20 R&B)
10. Cannibal & the Headhunters — Land of 1000 Dances (#30 Pop)
11. McCoys — Hang On Sloopy (#1 Pop)
12. Sir Douglas Quintet — She’s About a Mover (#13 Pop)
13. Brenda Lee — Thanks a Lot (#45 Pop)
14. Beach Boys — Help Me Rhonda (#1 Pop)
15. Beatles — Day Tripper (#5 Pop)
16. Knickerbockers — Lies (#20 Pop)
17. Martha Reeves & the Vandellas — You’ve Been in Love Too Long (#36 Pop, #25 R&B)
18. Marvin Gaye — I’ll Be Doggone (#8 Pop, #1 R&B)
19. Jr. Walker & the All-Stars — Shotgun (#4 Pop, #1 R&B)
20. Stevie Wonder — Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (#3 Pop, #1 R&B)
21. Apollas — You’re Absolutely Right (didn’t chart)
22. Ad Libs — Boy From New York City (#8 Pop, #6 R&B)
23. Len Barry — 1-2-3 (#2 Pop, #11 R&B)
24. Lou Christie — Lightnin’ Strikes (#1 Pop)
25. Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons — Let’s Hang On! (#3 Pop)
26. Gloria Jones — Tainted Love (didn’t chart)
27. Edwin Starr — Agent Double-O-Soul (#21 Pop, #8 R&B)
28. Little Milton — We’re Gonna Make It (#25 Pop, #1 R&B)
29. James Brown — Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (#8 Pop, #1 R&B)
30. Fontella Bass — Rescue Me (#4 Pop, #1 R&B)

Disc Two:
1. Sam Cooke — Shake (#7 Pop, #4 R&B)
2. Otis Redding — Respect (#35 Pop, #4 R&B)
3. Betty LaVette — Let Me Down Easy (#20 R&B)
4. Ray Charles — Crying Time (#6 Pop, #5 R&B)
5. Nina Simone — I Put a Spell on You (#23 R&B)
6. Zombies — Tell Her No (#6 Pop)
7. Shirley Bassey — Goldfinger (#8 Pop)
8. Moody Blues — Go Now! (#10 Pop)
9. Who — I Can’t Explain (#93 Pop)
10. Them — Gloria (#71 Pop)
11. Marvelettes — Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead (#61 Pop, #11 R&B)
12. Velvelettes — He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ (#64 Pop, #21 R&B)
13. Mary Wells — Use Your Head (#34 Pop, #13 R&B)
14. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles — Going to a Go-Go (#11 Pop, #2 R&B)
15. Four Tops — I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) (#1 Pop, #1 R&B)
16. Temptations — My Girl (#1 Pop, #1 R&B)
17. Barbara Lewis — Baby I’m Yours (#11 Pop, #5 R&B)
18. Don Covay — See Saw (#44 Pop, #5 R&B)
19. Lee Dorsey — Ride Your Pony (#28 Pop, #7 R&B)
20. Major Lance — Come See (#40, Pop, #20 R&B)
21. Kim Weston — Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me) (#50 Pop, #4 R&B)
22. Diana Ross & the Supremes — Back in My Arms Again (#1 Pop, #1 R&B)
23. Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels — Jenny Take a Ride! (#10 Pop)
24. Dave Clark Five — I Like It Like That (#7 Pop)
25. Paul Revere & the Raiders — Just Like Me (#11 Pop)
26. Yardbirds — Heart Full of Soul (#9 Pop)
27. Rolling Stones — (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (#1 Pop, #19 R&B)
28. Bob Dylan — Subterranean Homesick Blues (#39 Pop)
29. Wilson Pickett — In the Midnight Hour (#21 Pop, #1 R&B)
30. Solomon Burke — Got to Get You Off My Mind (#22 Pop, #1 R&B)

Valentine’s Day — as only The Onion can do it

With a little Minnesota flavor, no less: “The state is full of bland suburbs and buffet restaurants serving endless piles of food.”

New Law Would Ban Marriages Between People Who Don’t Love Each Other

Monday musical mayhem

  1. Patsy Cline, “Sweet Dreams (Of You).” We start it off this week very sad and very weepy. If you can’t feel the heartbreak spilling out of the speakers when this tune comes on, you may simply not have a heart to begin with.
  2. Strangeloves, “I Want Candy.” And now for something completely different. No heartbreak here. A big, bouncy Bo-Diddley beat and a heady dose of young lust.
  3. Tom Lehrer, “A Christmas Carol.” Way out of season, of course. But such is the randomness of shuffle play. And, as Lehrer notes in his lead-in, to get a Christmas song on the radio in a timely fashion, one has to start early. Very early. And given the expanding Christmas creep phenomenon, there may already be Christmas displays going up in shopping malls near you even as we speak.
  4. Solomon Burke, “‘Til I Get It Right.” From Nashville, Burke’s 2006 followup to his surprising (and wonderful) 2002 “comeback” album, Don’t Give Up On Me. They’re both strong, though I like the latter more than the former.
  5. Bonnie Raitt, “(Goin’) Wild for You.” Why did it take so long for Raitt to have a big hit anyway? It’s not like she suddenly got good with “Thing Called Love,” after all, or as if she adopted a new style that worked where the old one hadn’t . . . or even as if her “hit” style was simply something that the rest of the world finally caught up with late. Except in her case. Ah well.
  6. Dominoes, “Sixty Minute Man.” My first MMM repeat track, I believe. And it’s certainly a fine one to revisit. All night long . . .
  7. P.J. Harvey, “Highway 61 Revisited.” On my iPod courtesy of a “Girlfriend Is Better” mix of mine: songs originally sung by men, covered by women . . . who do them better. Or, at the very least (since some of the originals are pretty damned good), the covers still add something wondrous and different to the original. I think P.J.’s take on Dylan’s tune may fall into the latter category. I love them both. But, on any given day, I’d probably reach to play hers before his.
  8. Muddy Waters, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” Another track from the aforementioned “First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record” discs. And a much better candidate for the honor than the Arthur Shibley track. (And, yes, for musical historians keeping score at home, “Sixty Minute Man” is on that list too.)
  9. Tampa Red, “What’s That Taste Like Gravy?” Ahem. Very old, very saucy blues. In multiple senses of the word. And a rare dirty blues — at least among those sung by men — celebrating the glories of cunnilingus.
  10. Gary “US” Bonds, “Quarter to Three.” Probably one of the muddiest mixes to ever hit the Top 40. But some damned fine early ’60s dance party music. And a major inspiration for the E Street Band’s sound a decade and a half later.

Monday not-quite-randomness: Labor Day edition

As mentioned in this space last week, the University is facing a strike by clerical, technical, and health-care workers that’s slated to start Wednesday. Last week’s bargaining[sic] session found the University coming back to the table without budging from the very same offer that workers had rejected when they declared their intent to strike.

So I dedicated a chunk of my Labor Day to writing the following letter to University President Bob Bruininks:

It’s the start of a new school year and — in all sorts of ways — the campus looks gorgeous. I’m especially impressed by the flowerbeds around the Mall area. Two weeks ago, they were nothing special. Today, they’re filled with brightly colored blooms. Minnesota has extraordinarily fertile soil, but I know those flowers didn’t suddenly blossom overnight. They were purchased and planted to make the campus look extra beautiful at a moment when students and parents could be suitably impressed. World class universities don’t look like sandlots. They’re scenic and picturesque.

At the other end of campus, where the old remote parking lots are being torn up to make way for the new football stadium, things may not look quite as pretty as those flowerbeds, but I know that this is growth that the University points to with pride. The temporary ugliness of bulldozers and cranes will give way to a sparkling new facility that will benefit the University community for decades to come. World class universities don’t limit themselves to short-term planning. They think big and they plan for the future.

Last spring, in what was widely hailed as a major coup, the University lured Tubby Smith away from Kentucky to coach the men’s basketball team. Big name coaches like Smith don’t walk away from big time programs for peanuts. Reportedly, his new contract earns him more than $2 million per year. World class universities don’t pinch pennies. They know that a high quality product often costs more, and they’re willing to pay for it.

This summer, some of the University’s lowest paid — but most vital — workers entered into a fresh round of contract negotiations with the University. They asked for a pay raise that would allow their incomes to keep pace with inflation. Reportedly, the gap between what the workers requested and what the administration offered amounts to a bit more than $2 million per year. World class universities don’t pinch pennies . . .

If the University of Minnesota genuinely wants to be one of the top three public research universities in the world, it can not pinch pennies when it comes to paying the people who are essential to making every department, every office, every unit on campus function. It needs to recognize that a high quality product often costs more — and it needs to be willing to pay for it. The University can find a way to pay for new flowers every August that will be gone by mid-September. The University can find a way to pay for a multimillion dollar stadium that will sit empty more days of the year than not. The University can find a way to pay a single coach enough money to resolve the current labor dispute. So why can’t the University find a way to give 3500 valued workers a wage increase that will let them keep food on their tables and a roof over their heads?

I recognize that, ideally, the University shouldn’t have to choose between flowers and football stadiums, coaches and clerical workers. There should be room for a world class university to have all those things — and more. I recognize as well that the University does not simply mint fresh money in the basement of Morrill Hall, and that there are often more demands — legitimate demands — on the University’s budget than it can adequately meet. Faced with the need to make tough choices, however, a world class university does not abandon the people who keep the machinery of the university running. It takes care of them first.

I like the fresh flowers very much. But I’d gladly forgo them — this year and every year — in favor of keeping knowledgeable, efficient staff members working at the University. Faculty can do our jobs perfectly well whether there’s a stadium on campus or not, whether the basketball coach is a Big Name or not. But we can’t do our jobs well without the colleagues who are currently asking for nothing more than the ability to keep pace with the rising cost of living.

I urge you to bring a fair and equitable offer back to the bargaining table — and to do so sooner, rather than later — so that the current labor dispute can be settled and so that we can all go back to the task of making the Minnesota the world class university we all believe it can be.

Gilbert B. Rodman
Associate Professor
Department of Communication Studies

Be careful tonight

A little New Year’s Eve warning from the glory that is indexed.

‘Tis the season…

So how are you celebrating the holiday weekend?

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