Writing Samples


Everyone at the IFP Party at the Varsity Theater was loosened up a bit by the time I arrived. There was plenty of finger food on silver trays and a too-sweet blue concoction dubbed the “IFP-ini” available for free at the bar (my theory: it was so bad they were giving it away simply to get rid of it). It was a night for women to wear their evening gowns and men to don smart sport jackets; people wandered throughout the theater and bobbed in time to The New Standards who were playing on stage, awash in purple lights. Paul Clark, Carrie Volk, and Dan Orozco who currently run Cinema Lounge, a weekly film series at the Bryant-Lake Bowl were enjoying the band, but not so much the “martini.” “Be a man,” Paul chided Dan, who was drinking a Tecate. “Drink the fruity blue drink.”

The evening included a live auction to raise funds for IFP. Kieran Folliard, owner of The Local, Kieran’s, and The Liffey, demanded attention from the stage with his loud Irish lilt; he must be an auctioneer in his spare time. When auctioning off a weekend vacation, he riled folks to bid by shouting, “Put your kids in another room to watch Shrek! You can go in the suite and watch The Crying Game!”

Peter Bradely and Jan Heasley, on separate occasions, started buying me real cocktails. I wasn’t sure if the bartenders were mixing them especially strong or if I was simply seeing things, but shortly after my third (or fourth?) drink the tables started rolling out of the room. Turns out there were people behind those table who were kindly removing them so the folks could dance to Ipso-Facto.


I’m awfully keen on parties. I think everybody should be at a party, or be preparing to attend a party or preparing to throw one, all the time. And they’re undeniably important here in Minnesota. This is a place where any act of self-promotion is seen as being some sort of unforgivable boasting, which is frowned on. You don’t call attention to yourself here. You keep your head down, do your work, and, if you’re lucky, somebody will notice you. But parties? Oh, by all means, throw a party, and send out invites. That’s just being social, and if it’s OK for a Lutheran church to do it for its hotdish potlucks, it’s OK for anybody.

And so local businesses, when they are especially clever, try to pass everything off as a party. For those of you with long enough memories, this is why car dealers used to have clowns and balloons and soda pop at their sales. It’s why, when Kieran’s moved from its old, lamentably now closed location to Block E, its had a parade led by bagpipers. Because who can resist a party?

I can’t. And I’d like to suggest, if you’re to throw one, it is incomplete without the presence of at least one arts writer. From MinnPost. I can’t promise to make it, but I promise I’ll try. I don’t even mind when they’re nakedly commercial, existing as a promotional gimmick. I respect a good gimmick. You may yet see me wandering around an automobile lot, sipping a wax-coated cup filled with Coke and applauding the clown. Parties were so important to Andy Warhol that he wrote an entire book on the subject, just before he died, consisting mostly of black and white photographs of him with Grace Jones, or Sting, or Joan Collins. If it was good enough for Andy, it’s good enough for me.

I went to two parties this past week, and both were, in their way, quite memorable. Firstly, the Minnesota Opera has a club, of sorts, designed to drum up interest in younger people. Opera tickets can be pretty spendy, and opera is seen as a sort of rarefied world. So how do you get young people involved? Quite smartly, as it turns out. This club, Tempo, decided to throw a party on the 10th anniversary of Baz Luhrmann’s entirely preposterous film “Moulin Rouge!

If you’ve seen the film, you know that it’s a rather dopey love story, set in fin de siècle Paris at the eponymous cabaret, in which Ewan McGregor woos Nicole Kidman by singing Elton John songs as she dies of whatever makes people cough blood in a handkerchief every once in a while, but otherwise show no symptoms of any illness. Despite its perfectly idiotic storyline, the film manages, at least for its first half, to be an utterly enjoyable confection, a pyrotechnic wonder of jump cuts, bombastic choreography, and an astonishing soundtrack of anachronistic pop songs. When you have an entire room full of top-hatted men dancing together and singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” well, you’ve got something.

Why “Moulin Rouge”? Because its idiotic narrative is stolen, in part, from Minnesota Opera’s next production, “La Traviata,” in which a courtesan finds true love and then dies from tuberculosis — the story works quite a bit better when addressed by Verdi. But I suspect the film was also selected because it has a bit of a cult following, and so Tempo showed it in the only venue in the Twin Cities where it makes perfect sense: The Varsity Theater, which looks like somebody has taken over a basement bistro in bombed-out Dresden and thrown glitter everywhere. And Tempo didn’t just show the film, they made it a proper event, in the style of Sid Grauman, who built the Chinese Theater in Hollywood and would always begin a film with an elaborate floor show.

So Tempo invited fortune tellers to set up camp in the building’s nooks, where they did rather typical cold readings (“There’s a blond in your life who is rather important. No? There must be somebody with blond hair. Light colored hair?”) In the balcony, a photographer set up a Moulin Rouge-themed canvas backdrop and photographed people on a park bench, digitally manipulating the photograph so it was sepia and had that blurry oval framing we associate with early photography. And, on the stage, there was Cafe Accordion, a local band that plays the sort of music you might imagine Maurice Chevalier would have on his iPod, had he lived long enough to have an iPod. Tango dancers danced, opera singers offered a selection or two from “La Traviata,” and, when the movie started, dancers performed burlesques in front of the screen as the audience sang along with the pop songs on the movie’s soundtrack.

All told, it was well done, although my one piece of advice is that there should have been a specialty cocktail. There should always be a specialty cocktail. Absinthe is drunk in the film, and it’s legal again in the U.S. There should have been absinthe. Then, when Kylie Minogue leaps off a bottle of the liqueur in the film, quite literally taking the role of La Fee Verte, it would have seemed a delightful hallucination, rather than ridiculous.

Last night I went to Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine's Best of the Twin Cities party, up atop the IDS building in a banquet space called Windows on Minnesota, which, once upon a time, was the building’s observation room, and has an extraordinary panoramic view of downtown Minneapolis. The last time I was up here, the top of the IDS also had a museum called “UFO Alert,” as I recall it, which focused on human contact with the extraterrestrial. But I seem to be the only person alive who remembers this museum, which wouldn’t surprise me, as, whenever I went, I was the only person there. But it’s all starting to feel like some strange “Twilight Zone” episode, in which I was the only one who ever went to the museum, and, for everybody else, it didn’t exist at all. So I make a habit of mentioning it when I get a chance, in publications like this one, in the hopes that somebody can confirm my memory, and provide some physical proof. Without it, I am simply going to go ahead and presume I was actually abducted repeatedly by aliens, and this is how I am choosing to remember it.

But I was talking about the Best Of party. It was purely commercial, for the most part consisting of booths set up by vendors who had been declared the best of something or other. They served food samples, most of which I couldn’t eat, as I have the dietary restrictions of a pet cat who has been losing its hair and vomiting in shoes. They also had cocktails, served by a Polish vodka company called Sobieski. Now, this is a very good vodka, made from rye, which gives it a bold enough flavor that it can be drunk straight and be quite enjoyable. But Americans have always been a bit odd about vodka. They like it, because they are afraid of brown liquors, and positively terrified of gin. So vodka, which is relatively flavorless, can easily be mixed with stuff that Americans already know they find palatable, such as chocolate, or Red Bull, or orange juice. However, as Americans are also easily bored, eventually they were going to want vodka with some flavor to it, and so the phenomenon of steeping things like strawberries or melons in vodka became popular in trendy nightclubs a few years ago. And so vodkas started releasing their own flavored vodkas to capitalize on the trend. And that’s the tale of how Americans started drinking schnapps without having any clue that’s this is what they were doing.

So Sobieski was there with orange vodka, and they had three cocktails made with them, which went from bad to worse — one, called a fizz and made with orange juice and vanilla vodka atop the orange vodka, tasted alarmingly like those Orange Creamy ice cream bars that seem intended to send you into a diabetic coma.

Fortunately, Cosmos offered little shots of liqueur mixed with real fruit juice and something in the middle — perhaps a boiled grape — that exploded in your mouth like a little bomb of fruit flavor. These were quite good, although quite small, and perhaps that’s for the best. I was there with my girlfriend Coco, and we had smartly decided to leave room for cocktails by not eating, and so after we sampled three of the orange vodka drinks the room was spinning. We noticed that the evening’s sponsor, Sun Country Airlines, had, for some reason, set up beds in each of the four corners of Windows on Minnesota, and it seemed like a good idea for me to lie down and wait for the aliens to take me again. But the moment we lay down, the bed broke under us. I leaped up, of course, and cried out “That’s the fastest that has ever happened,” of course, and that made us sort of heroes to everybody around us. But if I had been able to drink as many shots of the Cosmos explosive fruit shot as I wanted, I might have slept through it all.

I may be making the party sound like a bit of a drag, and I don’t mean to. There were shirtless Chippendales-style dancers wandering around, and I got my photo taken with them, and there was a deejay playing some terrific Afro-Cuban R&B, and two semi-clad women in knee-high, fur covered, high-heeled boots, and they somehow danced in them. We danced, too, although we were the only ones to do so and the deejay immediately punished us by throwing on some post-bop jazz with some sort of odd time signature, but that was all right, as the room had started spinning again. The party might have been improved with the additional of a clown, but, then, what party wouldn’t?


Downtown Minneapolis nightclub Envy opened their doors earlier than usual to host Manicures and Martinis, an event mostly geared toward women. As a result of combining these two ideas for a party, the environment became a bit silly, and now I’m convinced that cosmetics are the new party drug. Suddenly women were fanning their outstretched fingers. There would be a laugh heard from here and there, as women found they could not shake hands in introduction for fear of smudging their wet paint. Wet nail polish will turn a woman into a paranoid fool in her own house, much less a party. But the ladies didn’t let it get too distracting: many held lengthy conversations while nonchalantly flailing their arms.

Manicurists from Tigg’s Salonspa provided their services, having fought a hail storm on the way from Wayzata to downtown Minneapolis. In addition to painting nails, they offered makeup touch-ups as well. One implement proved to be a perfect counterpart to the wet nails: a recreational cosmetic known as the Lip Plumper. So along with seizing, outstretched fingers, there were plump, tingling lips as well. Surely an outsider would have thought we were all on something besides wet lacquer and NIACIN, the vitamin that pulls collagen up into your lip wrinkles.

Alisun Abbott was a lovely hostess, bobbing in and out of the crowd in an adorable black and white pin-up-girl-esque dress. Abbott’s mother, Denise, made an appearance and Alisun was nice enough to introduce us. Although all we could do was simply display our fresh manicures instead of shaking hands hello, and we could barely say hello as our lip plumpers had just reached full effect. The summer clothing was out en force; everyone seemed to be wearing an airy, brightly colored, floral or otherwise bold patterned dress. Courtney Smallbeck, owner of clothing store Drama, brought even more summer clothing and jewelry available for purchase. Dresses were flowing back and forth throughout the evening as women picked them off the rack to bring to the restroom-turned-dressing room.

For $10.00 each guest could get a manicure from the ladies at Tigg’s, a drink ticket for a martini, and there were sample size bottles of shampoo on all of the tables, free for the taking. I searched Envy’s martini menu online before heading over and saw a list of twenty sweet cocktails. When I arrived at Envy, I was told I had a choice of four “martinis”: a pomegranate, a cherry, a triple espresso, or “a classic vodka martini,” an odd choice of words, as a classic martini is made with gin. One lady commented on her pomegranate martini saying with a grimace, “I thought I was drinking corn syrup.” She put the drink back on the bar and exchanged it for something less sweet.

I took a break to use the restroom and noticed a bright, blinking contraption hanging on the wall near the bank of sinks. I took a closer look and found it was a breathalizer test. Could I kill the Pac-Man ghosts while testing my blood alcohol level? It really looked like a game. But I digress. I found my way back to the party and saw three tightly balled up napkins laying in the middle of the floor. I looked to a woman nearby, pointed at the napkins and said, “Well, things are getting crazy now!”

If the name Tigg’s Salonspa is ringing familiar, you may remember it from television. Shauna Raisch is the owner of Tigg’s Salonspa and she made her reality show debut (it’s just a matter of time for all of us) on Split Ends this past May. She made a particularly memorable appearance in which she stormed out of a salon screaming, “Gucci does not do daycare!” Gucci is the name of her diminutive underarm dog. Raisch made an appearance with her salon staff at the party this evening; surprisingly, she was sans Gucci. Hope the little pup is okay.


City Pages had their Best Of party last night. I remember writing for that issue, years ago. I don’t think they completely trusted my tastes, because while other writers snapped up “best local celebrity” or “best manicure,” I was always saddled with “best bathroom” and “best adult gift shop.” And so be it. I was always a little suspicious of best-of issues anyway. They always struck me as being crassly motivated. Readers snap up best-of issues, but are they really that useful, especially now? Best bike shop? Best florist? I can go online and get recommendations, or see reviews of local businesses. I don’t really need to wait for the one time per year that City Pages’ readers and staff pick winners, and their choices always seem somewhat arbitrary. Heimie’s Haberdashery gets listed as best men’s clothing store, and so it is, if you have a waxed mustache and wish to dress like you’ve joined a barbershop quartet. However, if your tastes are for lizard-skin cowboy boots and Nudie’s of Hollywood-style western shirts, Heimie’s is not your place.

I know a newspaper’s sales staff positively drools over best-of issues. It’s one of the few times in the year the wall between editorial and sales breaks down, and perhaps this isn’t worth remarking on. Newspapers have to make their nut somehow. If it’s by declaring a bunch of local business to be the best at something or other, well, maybe this sort of mutual back-scratching society has its uses. At the very least, we get a party out of it.

The party was at Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul, which is one of the great St. Paul eating institutions, a swank steak house with an accompanying bar that’s just loaded up with leather-bound booths, looking like the sort of place Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. might meet at after hours to plan a heist. Mancini’s was credited with having the best martini in the Twin Cities, and I had one at the party and immediately threw it out. A vodka martini is not a martini, and this is the sort of thing I throw embarrassing fits about. I’m also quite specific about the vermouth used, and will send a martini back if it’s not cold enough. I am so particular about my martini that I should be the one writing about who makes the best one.

(I’ve had very good ones at the Bradstreet and at Cosmos, which are convenient just upstairs and downstairs from each other, which makes it easy to stagger from one to the other and back again; I especially recommend Plymouth or Boodles gin, although I’ll sometimes have Old Raj if I’m feeling spicy, and I like Noilly Pratt vermouth when I can get it.)

However, I suspect it is my extreme finickiness that guarantees I will never be asked to write about the best martini. Most people drink vodka martinis, and don’t want somebody like me coming up behind them and shrieking that what they’re imbibing is actually a drink called a Kangaroo, and its only defining characteristic is that it mostly tastes like olive and rubbing alcohol.

Ketel One was offering samples of other drinks, though, and it had one that combined its Citroen-flavored vodka with lemonade that I rather liked, and so I drank about 40 of them. I was there with my girlfriend, Coco, who writes for City Pages’ Dressing Room blog, and when the drinks took effect she grabbed a plate of cookies and walked around Mancini’s bar like a cigarette girl, offering baked goods to anyone seated at a booth. We then settled in to chat with a woman we’ve seen for a few years tootling around town on a motor scooter, which had always struck us as seeming very chichi, so we had been wanting to meet her for years. At it turns out, she manages bands, and so she immediately whisked us off to Seventh Street Entry to see Phantom Tails, whom City Pages selected as their best new band.

I don’t write about music as much as I’d like to, and, when I do, I usually try to focus on the sorts of noises that go uncovered or little-covered elsewhere. There are, after all, quite a few rock journalists in this town, and they seem to do a good enough job covering the scene as to make anything I might write redundant. But I do like rock music — I am, after all, in a punk pop band that I expect will be declared the best new band of 2012. And I like the Seventh Street Entry, although I rarely go. I expect it’s because somehow I always manage to show up when something extraordinary is happening, and I don’t especially want my track record ruined. I’ve been there on the first night Babes in Toyland ever played the Entry. I saw Gwar there once, which was a preposterous show to see in such a tiny space, as the band dresses like villains from The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and acts out scenes of brutality and dismemberment, with accompanying geyseric eruptions of fluid.

The last time I went to the Entry was to see a psychedelic noise rock band from Japan called DMBQ. At the end of the show, the lead singer dissembled his drummer’s trap set as the drummer valiantly attempted to keep playing it. The vocalist moved the drum set out into the crowd and built a little tower out of it. He then climbed to the top of the tower, opened his pants, and set fire to his pubic hair.

That’s a hard show to top.

Fortunately, as it happens, last night didn’t break my Seventh Street Entry streak. Phantom Tails aren’t quite so outré, but they are excellent, combining poppy guitar and bass riffs with a drum machine and a Korg synthesizer, and the results sound a little bit like somebody decided to base a rock band around the soundtracks to home computer games from the ’80s. They were followed by a two-person band called G-Biz, who got in a bit of hot water some months back for promoting a show with a flier that coupled Michele Bachmann’s name with an obscenity. I believe they were in earnest with this expression of contempt for the congresswoman, but the results functioned like a classic piece of trolling. She got upset and made a public stink about it, which gave the band a lot of free publicity and some street cred, and made her look a little silly. After all, who cares what a rock group you have never heard of says about you? When you’re going to feud, always feud with people who are at your level or higher; that’s just basic PR.

For some reason, G-Biz is sometimes identified as hip-hop. Maybe they made hip-hop at one point. Last night, they mostly produced what I recall as one long, uninterrupted roar of noise, all coming from a little electric box and the singer’s relentless vocals. (The singer’s name is MC Gringo Blingo, by the way, which is impressive.) I had been exploring Seventh Street Entry’s selection of rums for about two hours at that point, so I apologize that my memory isn’t clearer, but I do recall liking it quite a bit. I guess I just like noise, and a lot of it.

I was also impressed with the lead singer, who disrobed during the show, ending up in his underwear. He seemed to be in some sort of ecstatic trance, and would leap off the stage every so often, and just plummet off it now and then, taking part of the sound system with him and causing tech guys to scramble out from wherever they usually are to pick up scattered amps. MC Gringo Blingo then danced in the audience, some of whom attempted to dance with him; he ignored them, and also ignored Coco, who had similarly been exploring the rum and was now standing on one end of the stage, shouting at the performer to take the rest of his clothes off.

I suspect Michele Bachmann would have hated everything about this show. But, then, I’m guessing she can’t make a decent martini, either.