Madonna forever

When Madonna calls, who wouldn't answer? Late on the night before her first concert at Xcel Energy Center, the Material Health Enthusiast summoned local longevity expert Dan Buettner to her Graves 601 Hotel suite. Buettner, whose "Blue Zones" research champions the diets and routines of various world peoples with long life expectancies, had met her manager at a Google event. Buettner figured he'd be with Madonna for a mere half-hour before she got bored, but he wound up staying for 90 minutes. He was surprised at "how intellectually curious and engaged both Madonna and her backup singers and dancers were," he told I.W. "They were all halfway through a grueling concert tour, and I was impressed that she was taking time to nurture everyone like that." For his trouble, Buettner got a fistful of tickets in the coveted "golden triangle" near the stage. Now what you really want to know: Madonna looked fabulous in a black Chanel robe, sneakers and bicycle gloves -- post-workout, presumably.


Big in Japan

The Minnesota Orchestra's locked-out musicians have received a touching shot of encouragement from a Japanese superfan who's had her own share of troubles. Eriko Matsukawa is an English translator from Miyagi, the region hardest hit by the devastating 2011 tsunami. She sent a passionate, 15-page letter hand-painted on washi paper-- written in Braille, because she is blind -- detailing her singular love for the orchestra and imploring them not to give up. As a college student in 1998, she heard the players when they toured Japan, and she was so moved she has since bought every recording she could find. She credits their music, which she calls "audio painting magic," with helping her survive post-tsunami, homeless and traumatized on the streets with only her dog for company. Matsukawa also sent the musicians 100 of her handmade origami cranes and a gift of $5,000, an impressive sum from a translator's salary. The musicians, who have been locked out since Oct. 1, now display the cranes at their meetings, and have expressed their gratitude. Wrote Ellen Dinwiddie Smith, a horn player who also organized the orchestra's benefit concert for the tsunami victims last year, "I can read your letter and be satisfied that no matter what, we have created something very special and sacred."


A wise man

National Book Award winner Andrew Solomon explained his new "Far From the Tree" to a full house at Macalester College on Tuesday evening. The 900-page work is about families with children who are very unlike their parents -- such as kids who have autism, deafness, dwarfism and other characteristics that their parents find, at least at first, baffling and difficult. It's a serious topic, but the evening began with laughter when Solomon stumbled right out of the chute. "It's a pleasure to be here in Minneapolis, where I did a lot of research for this book," he began, and then broke off when he heard mutterings from the audience. "St. Paul!" Solomon cringed. He apologized. The crowd laughed. "Suitably chastened, I go on," he said. And so he did, for an hour, holding the crowd spellbound with his stories of parents finding love and joy in children who were, in the beginning, quite disturbing. Solomon did a lot of research at the Hennepin County Home School, a residential treatment center for juvenile offenders and a place, he admitted, he was afraid to enter. But this time -- and every time he mentioned Minnesota -- he was careful. No more Minneapolis or St. Paul. Instead: "the Twin Cities area."


PSY style

The entire world knows about PSY and his "Gangnam Style," the most viewed You Tube clip of all time. But who knew he would be so genuinely moved by the reception he received from 15,093 people at KDWB's Jingle Ball Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center? He hijacked the eight-act show by performing his four-minute song twice -- once with full production and again, at his insistence, with the houselights on. As he took a photo of the Jingle Ballers, the Korean star said, "Wow! This is the biggest volume ever I got from the United States. My first time ever been in Minnesota. This is impressive, touching moment. In my college life in Boston in 1997, I didn't expect things like this." After his 15 minutes of stage time and fame, PSY declared: "Minnesota, I won't forget this evening forever." That is, until, he finds bigger audiences at Jingle Balls in Philadelphia, Tampa and San Jose.


Rambo on

Can Rambo be "The Biggest Loser"? Lisa Rambo, a 37-year-old high-school special education assistant from Houlton, Wis. (a town of fewer than 400 people on the St. Croix River, just across from Stillwater), will compete on the new season, which begins Jan. 6. Rambo, a 246-pound mother of four children, said she wants to lose weight so she can go kayaking, among other things. A couple of twists this season: Three kids will compete against the 15 adults as the show focuses on childhood obesity, and Jillian Michaels is back.


Dance notes

The national nonprofit United States Artists (USA) Foundation has awarded a $50,000 fellowship to Ranee Ramaswamy, founder and artistic director of Ragamala Dance in Minneapolis. The Los Angeles-based USA awards 50 such grants each year to artists nationwide. Ragamala practices bharatanatyam, a popular form of dance in India with ancient roots. Ramaswamy said she will use the grant for two projects, including a collaboration with her daughter and co-director, Aparna Ramaswamy, and New Zealand choreographer Lemi Ponifasio. By the by, Ben Johnson, who books dance and other programs for Northrop Auditorium, will become the program director for United States Artists Foundation. After four years at the University of Minnesota, he leaves at the end of this year. No decision has been made about replacing him.