This blog covers everything except sports and gardening, unless we find a really good link about using dead professional bowlers for mulch. The author is a StarTribune columnist, has been passing off fiction and hyperbole as insight since 1997, has run his own website since the Jurassic era of AOL, and was online when today’s college sophomores were a year away from being born. So get off his lawn.

Posts about Minnesota History

What do dogs really want from you?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 5, 2014 - 12:23 PM

The Far Side cartoon is correct; blahblahblah is pretty much all they hear, and they couldn’t care less. Here’s what they want, says i09.. Besides steak.

MOVIES Behind the scenes of Fritz Lang’s “M”, which is better for its visuals than anything else, if you ask me. It’s a great early talkie that would have made a finer silent movie. (Imagine “Metropolis” as a talkie: it would be ruined.) The weakest part of the movie is also its most harrowing; Lorre’s performance is so frightening that his protestation about his helplessness over his urges is almost sympathetic, but it’s self-serving. Of course he could help it, or he would have kidnapped children in front of a cop.

TV Here’s an argument for removing “the stigma that follows Ken Burns.” To which one asks: there’s a stigma?

HISTORY Ancient Roman jewelry found in Britain; it was stuffed under the floorboards during the siege of Colchester, led by Queen Boudicca. The Romans took a pasting, but came back and then some.

DESIGN A place to waste hours and hours: a huge collection of restaurant menus at the New York Public Library, including many from Minneapolis. From the Hotel Nicollet:

1949. I'm just beginning to raid the collection - the stuff from the 40s and 50s is incredible. 

Kodachrome Minnesota

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 11, 2014 - 12:30 PM

A box of old slides yields some Minnesota history over at Shorpy; it’s remarkable what details the old pictures had - and what people uncovered once they started sleuthing. This, for example:

That would be Jerry Adler, a virtuoso harmonica player whose work was heard by millions.

Adler focused on popular music as his career developed, and he soloed in numerous film soundtracks from the 1940s to the 1960s, including Shane, High Noon, Mary Poppins, and My Fair Lady. He also taught actors how to pretend to play the instrument convincingly where their on-screen performances required.

We are well past the days of popular harmonica players.

That’s the easiest detail to run down. The ashtray matchbooks were a bit trickier.

URBAN STUDIES A speculative property venture hasn’t succeeded yet, and may never be occupied. Let’s spin the wheel . . . ah, it handed on Ireland. Here’s some pictures of empty places, followed by the usual comments. One person sniffs at the sameness of the houses, and another notes that the row houses of the cities of the Scepter’d Isle aren’t exactly noted for their stylistic diversity. True. I remember taking the train from DC to New York, and seeing endless expanses of row houses, all exactly the same, distinguished by the occasional attempt to customize. But the suburbs are bland and interchangeable. Right.

MUSIC It’s Weird Al’s moment, Vulture notes, and good for him. Sign of the times: the guy who had the #1 record in America doesn’t have a record contract. In a few years the #1 book in the country will be written by someone who went around the publishing houses and did an ebook on his or her own. TV will be next.

TECH The Man who Liked Everything on Facebook: sounds like an Oliver Sachs essay.

I tried counting how much stuff I’d liked by looking in my activity log, but it was too overwhelming. I’d added more than a thousand things to my Likes page—most of which were loathsome or at best banal. By liking everything, I turned Facebook into a place where there was nothing I liked.

For some people, it’s that already, and you don’t have to click on a thing. Article is notable for some Andy Warhol BS in the opening; why his remarks are still regarded as oracular pronouncements is mystifying.

Also in tech: why are remotes so ridiculous? I have the same problem with my DVD remote, which is replete with buttons that do nothing, or do something I can’t undo. There’s a button that says PRE-CH, which might trigger the TV to enter a state before all the major TV channels were established, and I’d just see a picture of Felix the Cat.

What advertisers thought MN looked like in '47

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 25, 2014 - 12:38 PM

Prince Albert’s 1940s ad campaign went to Minnesota, for some reason. It’s notable for the first panel, which presents what people apparently thought the state was like. For heaven's sake, did that diver have FAA clearance?

These people just can't shut up about Prince Albert. Also interesting that they're taking a canoe from Red Lake to Cass Lake, which is about 60 miles away. Well, maybe the water levels were high that year.

Finally, they reach Cass Lake:

They have to describe Paul, and yet they don't say "That Saxe-Colbert nobleman who married Queen Elizabeth, Prince Albert." It's as if they're not talking like real people at all.

MODERN TIMES This Newsweek story is lightly sourced, but for good reason. It's a look at the daily life of Putin, based on lots of conversations with people who don't want their words attributed to them, lest they get the jab in the shin. One fellow is brave enough to say this:

“. . . he knows he has failed to rule Russia in anything else but a feudal way. And the moment his grip falters... it will all come crashing down and he will go to jail... and Moscow will burn like Kiev.”

Worth reading. 

NIMBY: a new definition

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 11, 2014 - 12:34 PM

Criticizing new buildings has to come with a disclaimer: it’s good to have a boom. Better to see cranes than wrecking balls; better to have ordinary new buildings go up than live some place where the economy is flat on its back and the only thing anyone built in the last ten years is a buck-sucking big-box chain on the edge of town.

But this . . . well.

Never mind the hue, which appears to be product placement by French’s mustard. The yellow hue works off the tint of the Varsity theater down the block, so that works, and it’s laudable that someone tries to bring vivacity to the corner. Residents need never give their address; they can say they live in The Yellow One? in Dinkytown, and that’s enough.

There are two problems. One: the windows. Thin windows.The corner windows are nice, even if it looks like a hinge on a door that never opens, but the thin windows have that punchcard / bunker-slit look from the late 60s / early 70s, and staggering them doesn’t absolve all the sins.

Second: that . . . protrusion on the roof. The meaningless stylized angled protrusion, or MSAP, is practically required on all buildings these days, a stylistic tic that says “modern apartment building with an urban vibe and a gas fireplace in the lobby and it’s not a dorm even though seriously you guys someone barfed in the elevator after the last Gophers game. But otherwise we’re totally adults.” It’s like the brim of a baseball cap.

Then there’s this, a planned three-block development on West Broadway: It replaces a string of old tired buildings. Who could complain?

Well, I will. With qualifications. First of all, it should be built. If someone wants to sink money into that neighborhood and bring it up, applause. The design has enough variety to give it cohesion, but at least it pretends to be different buildings, instead of one long faceless glass thing or faux-historical brick mega-development doomed to fail.

Nevertheless, it’s a missed opportunity. No one’s saying the buildings it would replace have great architectural distinction. They don’t. Mostly one-story commercial structures from the Coolidge era. But a few buildings doomed to die for the development have a quality their replacement can never have: style, size, history, presence. This one:


View Larger Map

These buildings deserve to live. They deserve to be incorporated into a new project, and would lend the new project instant credibility. A newcomer, but not an interloper.

It’s not always done well. “Facadomy” was a term used to sticking big projects behind the fronts of old buildings; 2000 Penn in Washington DC, where I used to work, is a fine example. The buildings have nothing to do with the office building behind them, which looks like a cruise ship that steamed from one suburban office park to another. But it’s better than demolition.

The small-scale brick buildings abound around the city, but there are fewer now than before. We discount them because they’re common. They’re like the old men who hang around the barbershop: they contain the vernacular memory of the neighborhood, and are irreplaceable. You have to pick and choose, which is why the House of Hanson in Dinkytown was not worth saving, but the Simms Hardware building is. Why the middle-of-the-block buildings that would have gone down for a Dtown hotel weren’t worth preserving, but the Old College Inn and Gray’s Drug are.

“You can’t save everything“ isn’t an justification for tearing down anything.

Nice to meet you,  Mr. Strawman, you say. But push comes to shove, yes or no? Knock it down, or wait for a rehab, even if if means the neighborhood has to look at boarded up windows for another 15 years? Because the boom will end, as they always do.

I don’t know. It’s not an easy choice. The people who want to preserve these buildings often seem opposed to any development, and it seems to have less to do with preservation than Change. No Trader Joe’s on Lyndale! People will come here. No apartment building on Franklin and Lyndale! People will come here and it will take longer to get through the stoplight and the building will cast a shadow. No hotel in Dinkytown! Because, well, because. No dense structure in Linden Hills! People will move there and it won’t feel special and there might be noise.

If developers were talking about plopping big blocks in the middle of residential neighborhoods, I’d understand - but these locations are all commercial modes, streetcar stops. Density is in their DNA.

(Oh, the new definition of NIMBY? Never Intentionally Maul Buildings, Yo.)

(Okay, it needs work.)

Goodbye Coquette

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 19, 2014 - 12:21 PM

This is no small change, if you’re a Target shopper:

You may not care, but at least they hope you noticed. The old Archer Farms logo is gone, replaced by something that doesn’t have the same compact, if wordy, logo. Now it’s instructional. The panes on the bottom tell you how to construct a well-balanced meal, I presume.

Pasta is starch? Who knew!

Here’s the old logo that will, I presume, fade away as stock moves through the channels.

(The "Satisfaction Guaranteed" font is Coquette, by local fontographer Mark Simonson.)

MUSIC And she’s borrowing a stairway to heaven: allegations resurface that Jimmy Page’s opening to “Stairway” was, shall we say, inspired by “Taurus,” a song by Spirit. Business Week:

 . . . what if those opening notes weren’t actually written by Jimmy Page or any member of Led Zeppelin? What if the foundation of the band’s immortality had been lifted from another song by a relatively forgotten California band?

You’d need to rewrite the history of rock ’n’ roll.

 In 1968 a Los Angeles area band called Spirit put out its first album, the self-titled Spirit. Among the songs was an instrumental piece, Taurus, written by the band’s guitarist, Randy California. (Born Randy Wolfe, California got his stage name while playing with Jimi Hendrix’s band in New York in 1966. Hendrix took to calling him Randy California to distinguish him from another Randy in the band. California, only 15 at the time, chose to make it stick.) Taurus runs just 2 minutes and 37 seconds. About a minute of it is a plucked guitar line that sounds a lot like the opening measures of Stairway to Heaven.

Yes, indeed. Zep opened for Spirit on their first US tour, and that’s where the surviving band members suggest they heard the riff. The stakes aren’t small; the song has generated over a half a billion in revenue. Listen here, and make up your own mind.

HEY YOU Today’s bossy, know-it-all headline is from Gawker’s “The Vane” site:

I'm surprised the site doesn't say it's so Vane, You Probably Think This Site is About You. It’s about humidity and relative humidity, but you wouldn’t read that if you weren’t told someone is lying to you, intentionally, and that here’s one weird life-hack trick to figure it out. 

Also, WE are responsible for mass murder.

It’s an interesting piece, nevertheless - an interview with an observer of the trial of a Pol Pot prison warden. Relevant graf:

At the genocide museum in Phnom Penh, Duch’s victims are presented as victims, which they certainly were. But eighty per cent of them were themselves Khmer Rouge, and if they instead had been asked to be perpetrators the overwhelming majority would have obeyed. To accept that Duch tells us something about ourselves doesn’t mean we accept his crimes, and it doesn’t mean we risk showing him sympathy. It makes us think in more realistic terms about how mass murder operates and how it relies on people like us.

On ordinary people, in other words, doing horrible things for different reasons. This isn’t news. But the idea that 80% of the dead were Khmer Rouge was news to me.

Anyway, back to the original point: why must everything have to be about YOU to make it interesting?

LITERALLY Disappearing, that’s what the 90s are doing. Literally. You could make the point that they have already disappeared, literally, but what the guy’s talking about are the cultural artifacts in old formats. Salon:

My struggle is partially an artifact of the creakiness of my generation. My kids will never wrestle with this transition. They won’t knock their heads against my nerdy paradox: Even as I hang on to the Neil Young triple-album anthology “Decade” that I purchased as a 13-year-old, and pay 70-year-old men to keep my record player humming, I am letting go of the notion that music is something that should even be owned.

It’s another piece about giving up records and saying goodbye to CDs, which are not eternal. The article’s illustration is a TV with a fuzzy picture of the “Saved by the Bell” cast, which makes you think it’s about VHS. It’s not. The article notes a resurgence in vinyl, which is due to nostalgia and interest in all things “vintage,” not a generational shift to the sound of vinyl. VHS is different; it’s in a dire state. The number of tapes in boxes in basements probably numbers in the tens of millions, if not more; few people have the desire or time to transfer them to digital formats, to say nothing of the means. There might be a market for the old shows, but will people accept the low-res versions when they’re used to HD, or will future generations wonder why everything was filmed through a haze of Vaseline and hair spray?

Unless, of course, they were Super-VHS tapes. Those things were razor-sharp.

VotD If you could see this coming from the first seconds of the video, why couldn’t the driver?

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