Thursday, May 26, 2016

Concert Review: Paul McCartney at the Target Center



Paul McCartney at Target Center, Minneapolis, performing "Let's Go Crazy" in tribute to Prince, May 4, 2016.

I’ve seen Paul McCartney in concert five times. I reviewed his shows in 2013 and 2014 on this blog. So, what more is there to say about him in 2016? He’s still the same amazing, energetic, engaging performer he’s always been. He seems ageless, as he looks and sounds pretty much the same as he did back in his Beatles days. He’s still able to hit all of those high notes on “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” 

McCartney’s current tour is called “One On One,” which doesn’t seem to have any deep meaning, since it’s not a solo tour, but he’s Paul McCartney, and he can call his tours whatever he wants to. McCartney has toured with the same band since 2002, and they are all well-versed in bringing his timeless songs to life on stage. Keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens has been with Macca since 1989, and he is an expert at capturing the diverse sounds of the Beatles songs that Paul plays. Guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray and drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr., have all been with McCartney since his 2002 tour.

While the set list features many familiar McCartney classics like “Live and Let Die,” “Hey Jude,” and “Maybe I’m Amazed,” Paul has been performing some songs he’s never sung before in concert, like “You Won’t See Me,” from Rubber Soul, and the Beatles’ first single, “Love Me Do.” It’s a treat to hear these songs live for the first time. Incredibly enough, Macca even started playing one of his oddest songs, “Temporary Secretary,” from 1980’s McCartney II, in 2015, and it’s made the set list for the “One On One” tour.

Some of the highlights of the concert included a beautiful version of “Here, There and Everywhere,” played by Paul on the piano, “Here Today,” and “Something,” the always touching tributes to John Lennon and George Harrison, and the rocking “Back in the USSR.” As a nice touch for the hometown crowd, Paul played a little bit of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” at the end of “Hi, Hi, Hi.” Paul also shared a story about staying at the same resort as Prince on New Year’s Eve 2015, and watching Prince perform to bring in the new year. 

To sum up, Paul McCartney always puts on a great show, and I’m very happy that he included the Twin Cities on his tour itinerary for 2016.

Setlist:
  • A Hard Day’s Night
  • Save Us
  • Can't Buy Me Love
  • Letting Go
  • Temporary Secretary
  • Let Me Roll It
  • I've Got A Feeling
  • My Valentine
  • Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five
  • Here, There And Everywhere
  • Maybe I’m Amazed
  • We Can Work It Out
  • In Spite Of All The Danger
  • You Won't See Me
  • Love Me Do
  • And I Love Her
  • Blackbird
  • Here Today
  • Queenie Eye
  • New
  • Fool On The Hill
  • Lady Madonna
  • Four Five Seconds
  • Eleanor Rigby
  • Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!
  • Something
  • Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  • Band On The Run
  • Back In The U.S.S.R.
  • Let It Be
  • Live And Let Die
  • Hey Jude
Encore:
  • Yesterday
  • Hi, Hi, Hi
  • Let's Go Crazy (Prince tribute)
  • Birthday
  • Golden Slumbers

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Book Review: St. Paul's Historic Summit Avenue, by Ernest R. Sandeen (1978)


Cover of the 2004 reissue of St. Paul's Historic Summit Avenue, by Ernest R. Sandeen, originally published in 1978. (Photo by Mark C. Taylor)


The James J. Hill House, completed in 1891, is one of the landmarks of Summit Avenue.
An essential book for anyone who is interested in one of the great residential avenues in the Twin Cities is Ernest R. Sandeen’s 1978 book, St. Paul’s Historic Summit Avenue. Summit Avenue runs for four and a half miles, from the Cathedral of Saint Paul to the Mississippi River. It was the site of many of the most impressive houses in the Twin Cities, and it’s still one of the premier addresses in town. In his book, Sandeen brings to life the history of Summit Avenue, and describes the architecture and history behind some of its most notable houses.

Most of the great mansions that are still standing on Summit Avenue were built between 1880 and 1920. Summit Avenue features an eclectic mix of architectural styles, from Italian Villa to Queen Anne and Georgian Revival. At the time Sandeen published his book in 1978, Summit Avenue was just starting a rebirth after a nearly 50-year down cycle. The Great Depression, combined with the migration of residents from Saint Paul to nearby suburbs, meant that these beautiful houses were for the most part neglected, and the neighborhood was on the decline from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. Finally, during the 1970’s and 1980’s, more preservation-minded people starting buying homes on Summit, and many of the houses have been restored to their full luster. 

The largest house on Summit Avenue, and the largest house in Minnesota when it was built, is the massive James J. Hill House. (Full disclosure: I’m a tour guide at the Hill House and I also give walking tours of Summit Avenue, so Sandeen’s book is sort of like a Bible for us tour guides.) Hill was a railroad tycoon who built the Great Northern Railway. Hill’s massive Richardsonian Romanesque mansion is an imposing presence on Summit Avenue, and, depending on which direction you’re going, either begins or ends Summit Avenue with an emphatic exclamation mark. 

Sandeen’s book is an important treasure trove of Saint Paul information, and while it’s great that it was reprinted in 2004 by the University of Minnesota press, it’s also too bad that it wasn’t updated with a history of what’s happened to Summit Avenue since 1978. But those are small quibbles for an excellent book about the history of a neighborhood.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Book Review: Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, by Tom Wolfe (1970)


Another look at my Tom Wolfe bookshelf, highlighting his 1970 work, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. (Photo by Mark C. Taylor)


Felicia Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein, and Don Cox, field marshal of the Black Panther Party, 1970.

Tom Wolfe, resplendent in his white suit, sometime in the 1970's.
Tom Wolfe entered the political fray with the two essays in his 1970 book Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. “Radical Chic” describes a fundraiser that Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia held at their Park Avenue apartment for the Black Panther Party. Wolfe wasn’t actually invited to the party, but he saw the invitation on David Halberstam’s desk at Harper’s magazine. Halberstam wasn’t in, so Wolfe pocketed the invitation and RSVP’d to the party. Wolfe was struck by the incongruity of the Bernsteins hosting a fundraiser for radical black socialist/communist militants in their two-story, thirteen-room penthouse duplex, and it’s this irony, this inherent satire, that gives “Radical Chic” it’s bite. 

At the time the Bernsteins hosted the party, on January 14, 1970, what Wolfe calls “radical chic” was definitely a part of some elements of the liberal culture. It was considered hip and groovy to support very radical political causes. In 1969, various Black Panthers were arrested and accused of trying to blow up a number of buildings in New York City, including that bastion of racism and oppression, the Bronx Botanical Gardens. The party the Bernsteins hosted was to raise money for the defense fund of those Panthers who had been arrested, who were still being held in jail. Don Cox, field marshal of the Black Panthers, spoke at the fundraiser. 

Wolfe’s writing is as sharp as a knife throughout the essay: “God, what a flood of taboo thoughts runs through one’s head at these Radical Chic events…But it’s delicious. It is as if one’s nerve endings were on red alert to the most intimate nuances of status.” (p.8) Wolfe is always on red alert to the most intimate nuances of status! That’s his calling card! This is right up his alley! 

Tom Wolfe wasn’t the only journalist who was at the fundraiser that evening. Also present was Charlotte Curtis, a reporter from The New York Times who actually captured what’s probably the best-known exchange of the evening, between Cox and Leonard Bernstein:

"'If business won't give us full employment, then we must take the means of production and put them in the hands of the people'

'I dig absolutely,' Mr. Bernstein said."

Curtis’ article on the party was published the next day in the Times, and the party was considered so intriguing that a few days later a Times editorial was published about it, attacking the Bernsteins for hosting such a radical organization. Felicia Bernstein then wrote a long letter to the Times defending their hosting of the event, and protesting the fact that it was reported as a “party.” The Bernsteins split hairs by saying that the fundraiser was really for the defense fund of the accused Panthers, and that it was all about free speech rather than backing everything that the Panthers stood for. You can make that argument, but why not just give money to, say, the ACLU if you’re so concerned about the Panthers’ civil liberties?

The whole event became something of a media circus, as pundits from both political sides weighed in on the party. Wolfe was quoted in Curtis' 1987 obituary in the Times, saying, "It wasn't anything she wrote that infuriated them. It was that she put down exactly what they said. That's always what seems cruelest of all, to hold up a mirror to people that way."

Wolfe’s own article, titled “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s,” was published in June, 1970, in New York magazine.  Don Cox was not happy about Wolfe’s article, as related in his 2011 New York Times obituary:

“He added that ‘it was those media freaks and that bloodsucking Tom Wolfe’ who exploited the cause of black liberation to make money from it and ‘to be part of the machinery that tried to ridiculize {sic} it.’” According to the obituary, “Cox was charged as a conspirator in the July 1969 murder of Eugene Anderson, a Panther who had been a police informer in Baltimore.” Cox left the United States when a warrant was issued for his arrest and never returned.

On the official Leonard Bernstein website, run by Bernstein’s estate, there is a lengthy section on the “radical chic flap,” which is quite an interesting read. 

Wolfe had some difficulty in writing the essay, and in a 1980 interview he said: “I started writing in the first person, which was a big mistake, telling how I saw this invitation, how I wrangled my way in. I wrote about thirty pages like that, and then it dawned on me that it was useless information and really detracted from the scene, which was the important thing.” (Conversations with Tom Wolfe, p.136) 

Wolfe was criticized for not taking a political stand of his own in “Radical Chic,” and like other works of Wolfe’s, critics at the time used him as a tabula rasa to imprint their own feelings about what Wolfe’s politics might be. Appearing on William F. Buckley’s show Firing Line in December 1970, shortly after Radical Chic was released, Wolfe spoke about the role of the writer, saying, “The real contribution of a writer is not to make the moral point, it is to discover. I think of a lot of moralistic writing as a moral cop-out. If you have your mind made up, or if you have a cause in mind, why should I really wear myself out gathering evidence when we already know the conclusion? This is the greatest vice of journalism in our time.” 

The point of “Radical Chic” is not that you learn about Tom Wolfe’s own political point of view. He’s a reporter, not an editorialist. If he had presented the book from a liberal point of view, liberal critics at the time would have cheered, but would the book have been valuable? Or would it have just been preaching to the choir? Likewise, had he written the book from a conservative point of view, liberal critics would have just attacked him because he was taking a conservative viewpoint. By making the book not have an editorial point of view, Wolfe ultimately wrote a better book. He leaves it up to the readers to come to their own conclusions.

Every work of art doesn’t have to be political. But the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s were an extremely political time-in the lingo of the time, you’re either with us or against us, part of the solution or part of the problem. We live in a similar time now, when every decision people make seems to be politically informed, or is thought to somehow be a window onto one’s politics. 

“Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers” describes how various minorities groups in San Francisco would intimidate government programs into giving them money. Wolfe calls the process “mau-mauing,” after the Mau Mau Rebellion that took place in Kenya in the 1950’s. Wolfe is superb as he shows how a combination of bureaucratic ineptitude and white guilt combined to give money to groups who might not have been pursuing the agendas of the anti-poverty programs. 

My favorite part of “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers” is Wolfe’s description of the “flak catcher,” the government employee who takes the heat, or catches the flak, from the minority groups:

“All you have to do is look at him and you get the picture. The man’s a lifer. He’s stone civil service. He has it all down from the wheatcolor Hush Puppies to the wash’n’dry semi-tab-collar shortsleeved white shirt. Those wheatcolor Hush Puppies must be like some kind of fraternal garb among the civil-service employees, because they all wear them. They cost about $4.99, and the second time you move your toes, the seams split and the tops come away from the soles. But they all wear them.” (p.93) 
Wolfe is so good at painting such a vivid picture of a person by just using a few key details like that. 

In his profile of Wolfe in the November 2015 issue of Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis described the experience of reading Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers when he was 11 or 12 years old: 

“At some point came a thought that struck with the force of revelation: this book had been written by someone. Some human being must have sat down and scribbled the Hardy Boys series, along with the Legends of the NFL-how else would I have ever known that Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Bob Lilly lifted a Volkswagen by himself? I’d never really stopped to ask who had written any of those books, because…well, because it didn’t matter to me who had written them. Their creators were invisible. They had no particular identity. No voice. Now rolling around a living-room floor in New Orleans, Louisiana, howling with laughter, I asked a new question: Who wrote this book?”

Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers is one of Tom Wolfe’s essential books, and Wolfe once said in 1987, “As a piece of sheer writing, it’s my favorite book.” (Conversations with Tom Wolfe, p.213) It's a terrific read, with a very strong authorial voice.