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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
They didn't get to jam with Keith Richards, but at least they got to raise the ghost of Alex Chilton on national TV.
The Replacements hit "The Tonight Show" on Tuesday night for their first TV gig since reforming with a new lineup a year ago August. Richards was also on the set earlier in the show plugging his new children's book but never mingled with the 'Mats on air.
Introduced by a genuinely excited-looking Jimmy Fallon as a "massively beloved and influential rock band in the midst of their first tour since 1991," the Minneapolis legends tore through their classic 1987 tribute to the late leader of Big Star, "Alex Chilton." Word is the band also played a second song that wasn't aired but will hopefully be posted on Fallon's site later Wednesday.
While bassist Tommy Stinson wore a slick pinstripe jacket and guitarist David Minehan stuck with the kind of plaid suit of Replacements lore, frontman Paul Westerberg looked like he was headed to school with his 16-year-old son Johnny the next day in a plain red T-shirt. He and Stinson exchanged several devilish smiles throughout the performance that suggested they were either having a blast or couldn't wait to be done (50-50 odds).
Having Richards on the set the same night added excitement and speculation among Replacements fans, especially those who remembered that the Minneapolis rockers opened for the British rock legend at his birthday bash with his side band the X-pensive Winos in 1988. Odds weren't good that Keith remembered, though. The musicians did at least get some hang time together backstage.
The build-up to the appearance was peppered with Instagram pics and tweets from the 30 Rock earlier in the day Tuesday, including an excited selfie from the Roots' drummer/bandleader Questlove with Tommy Stinson. It read: "Friggin Tommy Stinson! #TheReplacements return to NBC!!!!! #NewEra! #Legends"
The "Tonight Show's" music booker Jonathan Cohen -- who tweeted last week that he had been following around the 'Mats for a year trying to book them on the show -- sent out this photo of them with Richards. It read, "Keef and the Mats in the hallway after @fallontonight. I am a very happy and lucky fellow."
We're still looking for Westerberg to set up his Instagram account but can't hardly wait.
“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.
Go big or go home. That must’ve been Jeremy Messersmith’s thinking as he headed to the Ed Sullivan Theater in Manhattan yesterday to make his network TV debut on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
In addition to his regular, four-piece backing band, the Minneapolis pop craftsman brought the Laurel Strings Quartet and his non-touring guitarist Brian Tighe with him all the way to New York for the show – the same large ensemble he employed at Rock the Garden in June. He admitted via Twitter afterward that his entourage was too bulky to fit in the “Late Show’s” puny dressing rooms. “Lots of hanging in the hallway,” he said. Long before the performance aired, Messersmith posted a selfie on Instagram during the band's ungodly early 4 a.m. rehearsal on the Letterman set (reposted to the right).
Not only was the band big, but so was the song. He picked one of the grander, more challenging tunes from his “Heart Murmurs” album, “Bubblin’.” I’d say it paid off, but judge for yourself in the clip below.
Touring hard since February, Messersmith will scale back to his smallest incarnation for the next few weeks playing a string of the "supper club" solo shows he has long favored. He and the band do have one big gig in the area coming up soon: a pairing with Mason Jennings at the Vetter Stone Amphitheater in Mankato on Sept. 5.
Right on cue for next week’s release of their seventh album, “Wild Animals,” Trampled by Turtles are predictably picking up steam. The band just announced it will return to “The Late Show With David Letterman” next Tuesday night, July 15, the day the record comes out. That’s in addition to other East Coast media gigs that week including a CBS “Early Show” appearance (airing July 19), a WXPN/World Café Live noontime broadcast on July 18 and a “Tiny Desk Concert” at National Public Radio headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Trampled will head east right after its special hometown release concert Thursday at the Cedar Cultural Center, tickets for which were given out free with pre-orders of the album from the Electric Fetus. Otherwise, the fellas won’t have another gig locally until their Sept. 20 Festival Palomino at Canterbury Park.
Meanwhile, NPR got the exclusive “First Listen” stream of “Wild Animals,” which debuted this morning. Writer Stephen Thompson called it “a thoughtful, stately grower of a record.” You can stream the album in full here via NPR. Here's the recently released video for the new title track, directed by local filmmaker Phil Harder and starring a less-than-Har-Mar-like Har Mar Superstar.
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