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Posts about Minnesota History

The real story behind Prince's junior high basketball photo

Posted by: Jon Bream Updated: March 6, 2015 - 1:49 AM

The Afro is back. The one like Prince sported when he played basketball for Minneapolis' Bryant Junior High in the early 1970s. He was an, um, undersized guard – a talented reserve (No. 3 in the photo), according to one of his coaches -- but one of the stars of the team was his half-brother Duane Nelson (No. 21 in the photo).

The photo of Prince the hoopster went viral today because Libor Jany, one of the Star Tribune's newer reporters, discovered the clipping in our library and posted it on Twitter. The photo has been picked up by Deadspin, Slate and others with titles like "Prince was an Afro-rocking, coach-hating schoolboy basketball player."

This photo, taken from a Bryant Junior High School yearbook, was published in July 1984 in the Star Tribune as part of a multi-day series on Prince leading up to the premiere of his movie “Purple Rain.” For the series, I interviewed countless people in Prince’s life – from his parents and his high school music teacher to various classmates and musicians.

As he moved on to Central High School (class of 1976), Prince, who still likes to play basketball (even wearing his high-heeled shoes), gravitated more toward music, especially since he wasn’t getting much playing time on the court.

Two quick memories about the series:

The publisher of the Star Tribune told me that the series accounted for the biggest newsstand sales of the paper ever – figures that were later eclipsed when the Minnesota Twins won their first World Series in 1987.

At the post-premiere party for “Purple Rain” in Hollywood, a member of Prince & the Revolution told me that the series “blew our minds.” The musician said the band talked more about the series than about the movie.

One thing the series disclosed: Prince’s true age. I tracked down his birth certificate and learned that he was actually two years older than he had purported to be. He was born on June 7, 1958, as Prince Roger Nelson, according to the birth records.

Oscar winner Marisa Tomei's back in town (this time on screen)

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: February 12, 2015 - 2:36 PM

Marisa Tomei and Hugh Grant in "The Rewrite." Photo: Lionsgate

Marisa Tomei and Hugh Grant in "The Rewrite." Photo: Lionsgate

 

 

Marisa Tomei came to the Twin Cities for a longish stay twice in the last 24 years. She returns Friday at least in film form, co-starring with Hugh Grant, J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney in “The Rewrite,” a light, charming comedy showing at AMC Arbor Lakes.

She last visited Minneapolis in 1992 to make “Untamed Heart,” a four-Kleenex weepie with Christian Slater, where they played soulful, lonely restaurant workers in a bittersweet romance. She was just a year off winning the Oscar for her hilarious turn in the legal comedy “My Cousin Vinny” as Mona Lisa Vito, a witness so lovely that lawyers kiss her hands in the courtroom. That seemed like the perfect time to take a role that required her to march across piles of Midwestern snow.

“I really did love Minnesota,” she said in a recent phone call. “A lot. I always did want to go back there,” even though she was filming in the winter. 

“It was so beautiful and I really, really, really loved the people. They’re very open-minded, people who just seem really awake, really conscious. I didn’t really know what to expect, because it was a long time ago. I was really young and hadn’t really thought about them when I got there. “

“I just felt like, ‘These are my people!’ I thought I’d so like to be there in the spring,” Tomei said. It wasn’t until 2005 that she came back to shoot in Minneapolis in short sleeve weather. She starred in the funny and grim comedy/drama “Factotum.” She was good in the role of a wealthy barfly, drinking alongside Matt Dillon as he played an unkempt version of novelist Charles Bukowski.

In “The Rewrite,” Tomei plays a lead role as a bright adult student in a college class being taught by Grant’s character, a cad whose Hollywood career is on the skids. Writer/director Marc Lawrence, who made “Two Weeks Notice,”  “Music and Lyrics” and “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” with Grant, felt that Tomei would make his ideal costar. What pulled her in was “that everyone loves Marc Lawrence, he’s so passionate and easygoing and very, very collaborative,” and the chance to play against Grant.

“To be able to do every scene with him was just totally exciting. He’s one of the greats, the best dance partner you could ask for. When you get in the zone with him you feel like you’re flying.“

Equally attractive, she said, was playing “a role that doesn’t require overthinking.” Tomei, who began her career at age 20 in the 1984 horror spoof "The Toxic Avenger," has spent the last three decades making a staggering variety of movies. She has combined iconic dramas like “The Wrestler” and “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” with studio-backed comical fare like “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and indie romps like “Cyrus,” where her manipulative grown son, played by Jonah Hill, tried to sabotage her affair with John C. Reilly. Her multiple next projects are equally mixed. “Loiter with Intent,” currently in limited release, puts her and Sam Rockwell in romantic comedy territory, while the upcoming “Let it Snow” is a Christmas satire with Diane Keaton and John Goodman.

“It really depends what comes up and sails over," she said. "I’ve been around for a long time, so I’ll just take whatever is up. I really don’t have much control over what comes my way. Whatever is around. The way it works, I’ll go for whatever’s around.”

Joe Cocker's death sparks memories of First Ave's 1970 opening night

Posted by: Chris Riemenschneider Updated: December 22, 2014 - 3:07 PM
Joe Cocker performed on opening night at the Depot, now First Avenue, just a week after his iconic performance in the "Woodstock" movie hit theaters in 1970. / Photo courtesy Metro Goldwyn-Mayer

Joe Cocker performed on opening night at the Depot, now First Avenue, just a week after his iconic performance in the "Woodstock" movie hit theaters in 1970. / Photo courtesy Metro Goldwyn-Mayer

While it’s only a footnote in a storied career that included one of Woodstock’s most memorable performances, many Twin Cities rock fans will remember Joe Cocker as the guy who opened Minnesota’s most legendary nightclub, First Avenue.

The raspy-voiced, soul-inspired British singer -- whose death at age 70 was confirmed today -- came to Minneapolis to play two sets in one night on April 3, 1970, the night First Avenue opened as the Depot (so named because the building was previously Minneapolis’ Greyhound bus station).

Cocker's star on the wall inside First Avenue.

Cocker's star on the wall inside First Avenue.

Cocker was something of a coup for the new venue at the time. The Minneapolis date came just a week after the “Woodstock” movie hit theaters featuring Cocker’s career-making, body-coiling version of the Beatles’ “A Little Help from My Friends” -- later spoofed by John Belushi and used as the theme song to “The Wonder Years.” He followed up Woodstock in 1970 with his Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, a fabled/notorious outing that included around 30 musicians and, yes, actual dogs on stage.

“Everyone was buzzing; the air was filled," Minneapolis music scenester Marilyn Percansky remembered in a 2005 Star Tribune article about that opening gig. "It was like a circus. Kids and animals on stage."

“The place was so full that you literally couldn't see the floor," recalled photographer Mike Barich, who covered the Twin Cities rock scene in the `60s and `70s. "It was certainly the most exciting thing they ever had there. That night it seemed intimate, even though the place was packed."

A 1970 write-up in the Minneapolis Tribune, recently uncovered by City Pages, described the night this way: “Not since the truck drivers' strike of 1934 is it likely that there has been such excitement, such chaos, such congestion, such noise just off Hennepin Av. as there was Friday night.” It listed tickets as $4 for general-admission and $10 for a table and went on to refer to Cocker ‘singing like a black man’ and dancing ‘like a spastic.’”  

Cocker return to the club one more time when it was called First Avenue in 1994, the same year he played the 25th anniversary Woodstock festival. However, he could not remember the 1970 gig nor the venue when Jon Bream interviewed him in 2009 before what would be his last Twin Cities area performance, at Mystic Lake Casino. He said, “"The Depot? I'll have to run it by Chris Stainton [his longtime keyboardist]. It doesn't ring a bell at all to me.”

First Avenue certainly remembers him, though. The club’s general manager Nate Kranz said Monday, “It’s been almost 45 years, and I still hear often from people who were there that night and remember it well. He holds a special place at this club, that’s for sure – almost right up there with Prince.”

Unlike all of Prince's lock-and-keyed video footage, we can actually see Cocker’s legendary performance at the club thanks to YouTube. This clip below of him singing the Box Tops’ “The Letter” – which would later be a hit for Cocker – features footage from the Depot that was filmed as part of a documentary on the tour. As the cameras span the crowd at the very end, you can see the same two-tier layout that the club still has today. Throughout, you can also prominently see Cocker’s MVP sidemen at the time, including Leon Russell on piano and Bobby Keys on sax, the latter of whom just died earlier this month.

House of Balls is having a moving sale

Posted by: Kristin Tillotson Updated: November 19, 2014 - 2:39 PM

Allen Christian surveys which art to put up for sale this weekend in his crowded House of Balls before moving the studio to a larger space.

The House of Balls is rolling down the road to a new and bigger home, so owner Allen Christian is having a moving sale this weekend. After 28 years in the North Loop (current studio location is 212 Third Ave. N., across from the Monte Carlo), the artist/ oracle-on-demand is setting up shop just off the Cedar/Riverside LRT station in a much higher-profile spot, a 2,800-square foot building, most recently home to the underground music club Medusa, that features twice the space he currently has plus a 1/3-acre outdoor plot for larger-scale work.

To habitues of the Warehouse District, the House of Balls has been much more than your average gallery or studio. Opening hours were random, but you could push buttons on the door that would light up figures inside and allow passersby to record messages or hear Christian's answers to life's knottiest questions. 

Christian, whose signature carved bowling balls have expanded to all sorts of sculpture and multimedia works made with recycled everything, said he sees the move as a way to “just let everything go and re-create myself.” The sale is noon- 8p.m. Fri. and Sat. p.m. ,with more than 120  artworks plus art materials priced between $30 and $3,000.

Over the years, the House of Balls has attracted curious people of all stripes — most recently, with the addition of Target Field and sports bars to the neighborhood, people looking to buy baseballs and footballs, a trend likely to skyrocket when the new Vikings stadium, from which the new House of Balls site is visible, is finished. No worries, says Christian. “Once you get them across the threshold, you’ve got a chance to start conversations about everything from repurposing all the stuff that’s around them to what they’re doing with their lives,” Christian said. “If they’ve got the balls.” If they don’t, he’s got some to spare.

Poets recall John Berryman

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: October 25, 2014 - 3:52 PM
 
Seven poets remembered John Berryman (above) Friday afternoon at the University of Minnesota. It was the kickoff of "John Berrryman at 100," a three-day conference organized by the university where Berryman taught from the mid-1950s until his suicide in 1972.

The conference site, the Elmer Anderson library on the west bank, is literally a stone's throw from the spot where the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, who suffered from alcoholism and depression, leapt to his death from the Washington Avenue bridge.

At a late-afternoon event, more than 100 people showed up for a reading by actor/writer/director Ben Kreilkamp and poets Jim Moore, Joyce Sutphen, Michael Dennis Browne, Peter Campion, Ray Gonzalez and Wang Ping.

Kreilkamp put an actor's topspin on five of Berryman's Dream Songs, including the powerful #384, which opens, "I stand above my father's grave with rage."

Moore remembered taking a class from Berryman and read "The Ball Poem" and "The Traveler."

Sutphen recalled once seeing Berryman walking out of Walter LIbrary, "talking wildly to himself." She regretted not following him to hear one of his famed lectures. Sutphen read her own poem "Berryman's Hands," as well as a Shakespeare sonnet.

Browne, who has taught at the university for 39 years, read an elegy Berryman wrote for his good friend, poet Randall Jarrell, as well as some of Berryman's favorite lines from Shakespeare.

Campion movingly read a section from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," as well as his own poem "Blood Brook" and Dream Song #75.

Gonzalez read from a biography of Berryman, plus several Dream Songs and his own prose poem, "John Berryman and Robert Lowell Switch Hospitals."

Wang Ping, who teaches at Macalester, read one of her poems from her new book, "10,000 Waves," and the famous Dream Song #14 ("Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.")

Full conference schedule here.

From left, poets Ray Gonzalez, Wang Ping and Peter Campion at "Berryman at 100" conference at the University of Minnesota on Friday, Oct. 24
 
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