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Joan Rothfuss, author of "Topless Cellist: the Improbable Life of Chralotte Moorman."
Forget Pablo Casals and Yo-Yo Ma. Sure they were, and are, brilliant cellists, but those guys kept their clothes on. For sheer spectacle, madcap antics,exhibitionism and a generous dollop of cello skills, you want Julliard-trained Charlotte Moorman, a gal from Little Rock, AK who grabbed the avant garde by the scruff of its self-absorbed neck and -- in the 1960s and '70 -- dragged it onto the public glare of television variety and talk shows (Mike Douglas, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin), shopping malls and prisons, and to New York City's Central Park, Shea Stadium and Grand Central Terminal.
In former Walker Art Center curator Joan Rothfuss, Moorman has found her perfect biographer. Rothfuss's "Topless Cellist: The Improbable Life of Charlotte Moorman," (MIT Press, $34.95) is fast paced, thoroughly researched, amusing, witty, compassionate, deeply informed and filled with jaw-dropping stories. Rothfuss will talk about Moorman and sign copies of the book at 2 p.m. October 5 in the Walker Cinema, 1750 Hennepin Av., Minneapolis. Free. 612-375-7600 or www.walkerart.org
Moorman played the cello while suspended from balloons floating over Australia's Sydney Opera House, performed on a cello made of ice, and often did her shows topless, in the buff, wrapped in cellophane, or wearing the "TV Bra," a contraption that sported two mini-televisions, one for each breast, in plexiglass boxes attached to transparent straps.
In February 1967 she was arrested (during a topless performance), tried and, in a sensationalized trial that generated huge publicity, convicted for violating "community standards of decency." Though humiliated by the incident, she embraced the "Topless Cellist" nickname that it spawned.
"TV Bra," was designed and built by Moorman's longtime companion and fellow avant-gardist Nam June Paik and is sometimes blamed for the breast cancer from which she died in 1991, age 57. To test that assumption, Rothfuss had the bra checked by a physicist who measured the radiation it emitted and concluded that it was highly unlikely that Moorman would have gotten cancer as a result of her performances while wearing it. "TV Bra" is now in the collection of Walker Art Center along with Paik's "TV Cello" and other Moorman/Paik memorabilia.
As a friend, colleague, pal and sometimes irritant to many contemporary artists, Moorman is remembered in Rothfuss' book by Yoko Ono, Jasper Johns, Allan Kaprow, and others too numerous to mention.
"Topless Cellist" is a brilliant portrait of a true original and the chaotic, confrontational, destructive, absurd era in which she lived. It's also a must read for anyone who was flirting with Artland back then, or wishes they'd been on the scene. A portrait of the times as much as the woman, "Topless Cellist," gives a full measure of a life lived with "extreme passion, extreme sex, extreme beauty."
RIP Charlotte Moorman, 1933-1991
Garrison Keillor reports he is "feeling good" after surgery Thursday at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
"The IV went in and night fell and a couple hours later I woke in Recovery, no fuss, with a very pleasant nurse who gave me some ice to chew on and we chatted like old pals and at noon I got wheeled up to my room for a lovely lunch of vegetable broth, coffee, cranberry juice, and orange Jell-O," he posted on Facebook.
The Minnesota writer and "Prairie Home Companion" host has not disclosed the precise nature of the procedure, but earlier this month when he announced he was canceling Saturday's "PHC," he wrote: "If you've noticed my upstairs bathroom light go on at 10 p.m., 10:10, 10:25, 10:40, etc., you know all you need to know."
No word on when he'll leave the hospital. In his Facebook post he joked, "The Scot in me says, 'you will pay for this someday' and maybe so but meanwhile I am having a very good day, made all the better by a funny phone call from my daughter. Who reminded me that long ago in this hospital coming out of a tonsillectomy she stuck her tongue out at me. Despite anesthesia she remembered that I was the Judas who took her into the OR."
Keillor, 72, is scheduled to return to the Fitzgerald Theater stage Oct. 4 for a "Prairie Home" show featuring bluegrassers the Gibson Brothers and local singer/songwriter Ellis.
But don't be surprised if he makes an appearance this weekend at the History Theater in St. Paul, where his playwriting debut, "Radio Man," opens Saturday night.
(In the photo at right, Keillor clowned with actor Pearce Bunting, who plays his alter ego in "Radio Man," during a rehearsal earlier this month. The play has a preview staging Friday night.)
P.S. After this was posted, a friend shared a letter to the Anoka County Union that Keillor wrote two weeks ago after an outing to his old high school. It's quite sweet:
To the Editor:
Last Friday, I drove up to Anoka for the Anoka-Coon Rapids football game and sat in the bleachers about 10 feet below the pressbox where, as a 14-year-old kid, I sat and wrote up the games for the Anoka Herald.
Goodrich Field looks so much the same as it did back then and off to my right was a student cheering section, about 300 strong, distinguished by wearing odds and ends of white, white shirts, headbands, caps, one boy in a white off-the-shoulder toga, tossing white streamers, setting off white smoke bombs – a solid block of high spirited goofiness and tumult and swaying and dancing in the stands – in their whiteness, the opposite of goth, more like moths fluttering at a porch light, and so utterly different from the self-conscious solemnity of the Fifties teenager. I know alcohol and this was not alcohol: this was joy and humor and hormones. The band got to play the Fight Song a couple times and I joined the throng in the end zone and the game ended, Anoka up 14-6, and the kids in white bolted for the field and a huge mash-up of bodies at midfield, arms in the air, chanting the Fight Song, and then headed for the exits, a river of youth with a happy alumnus of 72 in their midst. If these folks represent what it’s like to be young now, I am all in favor of it.
A joyful September night in my old town and the downtown cafes crowded and my old stately junior high standing big and proud on Second Avenue, where my dad graduated in 1931. Go, Tornadoes.
Garrison Keillor, St. Paul
Bill Pohlad, right, directing Paul Dano in "Love & Mercy," in a scene showing Brian Wilson producing the Beach Boys' landmark "Pet Sounds" album." (photo by François Duhamel)
Minneapolis filmmaker Bill Pohlad and pop visionary Brian Wilson got a standing ovation Monday night at the Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Love & Mercy,” the Wilson biopic that put Pohlad back in the director’s chair for the first time in decades.
Early reviews suggest a smash.
The highly influential trade magazine Variety called it a "finely crafted split portrait" -- Paul Dano plays Wilson in his hitmaking prime, while John Cusack represents his older, embattled self -- that is "miles removed from the cookie-cutter approach taken by so many other rock bios."
"An unusual, moving portrait stuffed with the thrill of music-making," summed up the Hollywood Reporter, adding that Cusack (pictured at right with Elizabeth Banks) "gives one of the best performances of his career."
The Los Angeles Times report echoed a common thread in the reviews -- that while music biopics are typically tedious, "Love & Mercy" is a "refreshing surprise" that breaks the mold and invigorates the form. No doubt part of the credit belongs to screenwriter Oren Moverman, who also scripted "I'm Not There," the kaleidoscopic Bob Dylan portrait that featured six actors portraying different facets of the enigmatic singer/songwriter.
Pohlad told the L.A. writer that he dusted off an old screenplay about Wilson and enlisted Moverman for a rewrite. “If it was just telling young Brian’s story about the music, I don’t know that I would have done it,” he said. “But there were a lot of different levels besides that. On another level it’s about creative genius vs. madness. And it’s also a story of how [his future wife] pulled Brian Wilson out of a deep hole.”
After the disappointing reception of his feature debut, 1990's "Old Explorers," Pohlad kept close wraps on "Love & Mercy," showing it to virtually no one until its premiere Sunday, as he told the New York Times in a piece last weekend.
He also -- cannily, it appears now -- held off on striking a distribution deal for the film. Do we smell a bidding war?
As a side note, I want to mention that our own critic, Colin Covert, had planned to attend Monday's premiere. Regrettably, he suffered a bicycle accident last month but is now recovering at home and eagerly monitoring the news out of Toronto. I can't wait to read Colin's own take on this film.
There's no trailer for the film, so it seems fitting to give Wilson the last word:
“I’m sure you’ve heard this until your nauseous: What does Hüsker Dü mean?”
While barely even qualifying as a footnote in a 50-year career that ended with Joan Rivers’ death today, the scene of the legendary comic welcoming the members of one of Minnesota’s most influential bands to the set of Fox's "The Late Show With Joan Rivers" in 1987 is one permanently etched in the minds of local music lovers.
The appearance followed the release of Hüsker Dü's second album for Warner Bros. (and last record, period), “Warehouse: Songs and Stories.” Besides proving they were one indie band not beholden to image or fashion in the slightest, the Rivers gig also demonstrated how they were more than willing to play the music industry game. It proved Rivers was game, too. She misstates the title of the song -- “You Could Be the One,” instead of “Could You Be the One?” – but goes on to ask relatively pointed questions about them leaving the “radical” underground for the corporate music world.
“As you get older, your emotional spectrum becomes a little more involved, a little wider,” Bob Mould responds. “It’s not just screaming about how messed up the government is and how much you hate your parents anymore.”
Things get a little awkward from there. It’s pretty clear the band members -- who also went back and played Grant Hart's "She's a Woman (And Now He's a Man)" to end the show -- weren’t exactly best buds by that point. Still, Mould seems to hold a fond memory of that TV appearance: He dedicated “Could You Be the One?” to Rivers just this past Sunday during his Hüskers-heavy surprise gig at 7th Street Entry.
A few thoughts on the performance by Jeff Bridges and the Abiders at the sold-out Pantages Theatre Sunday:
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