"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, June 15, 2018

Public school no prerequisite for greatness

People who know me know I was a long-time fan of Maynard Ferguson the trumpet player. I'm still a fan after MF left us for that ballroom in the sky. The great MF came here to play at the UMM P.E. Center twice. He was known for visiting academic institutions quite often. The music of him and his band won high-level artistic kudos. His foray into disco in the 1970s didn't put much of a dent in that. Artists do what they have to do sometimes.
I saw a photo of MF late in his career accepting an award for all the efforts he made visiting academic institutions. He played events like our Jazz Fest even though he wasn't an actual guest for Jim Carlson's big event. Carlson seems to have disappeared from the face of the Earth. Actually I think he's in Florida. His Jazz Festival once seemed like the biggest annual event on the UMM calendar.
There was a major irony staring right at us, in connection to MF's high standing and the respect he won among academic types. Like many brilliant people, people who were pacesetters in their fields, MF dropped out of high school. He dropped out as a child of 15 in Montreal, Canada. He wanted to leave school to more actively pursue a musical career. I thought our public school system was supposed to be such a big boon for everyone. We always place it on a pedestal when talking about it. I would suggest a lot of that was just feel-good rhetoric.
Our public schools do appear to reflect lofty principles. It would seem ludicrous to suggest otherwise. So why would the likes of Ferguson and others see fit to dodge it? I would say the answers are readily apparent. Now, let's consider that there have been constructive changes, albeit carried out rather haltingly. The change is reflected in how much longer the honor roll lists are today. It's a sea change from when I was in school. Schools are much more inclined to give kids positive feedback and to nurture them.
We are in early summer as I write this, a time of year when kids could savor being early in the "summer vacation" which was their reprieve from the drudgery of school. 4-H gave them a better environment than did school. It was assumed that kids would groan about the thought of going back to school. There seemed to be an ethos of "pain equals gain." Except that pain does not equal gain unless you're a young man going through boot camp. And that's part of the problem: fathers of the boomers were involved in World War II. They literally learned to respect their drill sergeants. The result of all that is that we won WWII, never mind that its veterans would pray that we never go through such a thing again.
Parents of the boomers had survived the Great Depression. Pain led to gain as they learned to overcome adversity. Adversity is not an inherently good thing. Today in our age of a constantly healthy stock market and digital/tech blessings, we are not nearly so inclined to see obstacles. Where our kids are concerned, we don't want to think of obstacles at all. We focus entirely on positive, uplifting opportunities to be seized. Our economy is so different. It totally rewards the entrepreneurial spirit. Our public schools needed to adjust to accommodate the new values.
So, progress has been made, but it may not be nearly enough. Before the evolution to our current world, our clunky and monopolistic public school system was developed within the model of the industrial age. The goal was to nurture a submissive working class. We wanted obedient factory workers.
Why do kids learn music within the framework of band and choir? Why not coax them to develop with the guitar and piano, clearly lifelong instruments. A child wanting to learn piano must seek independent lessons. Guitar? Try to order a self-help course. Our education system was skeptical of the lifetime instruments because those instruments might facilitate individual expression. Such expression might be carried out in a rebellious or nonconformist way. In band and choir the director rules, sort of an extension of the drill sergeant.
I played in band for years but learned nothing about popular music song construction. The directors tended to diss popular music as if it lacked rigor or something. As if it were cheap. Well, talk to professionals who actually work in popular music, even country music. It is not cheap or lowbrow at all. It just reaches people on a more organic level. It touches their soul and relates to their lives. It wouldn't enjoy commercial success if it didn't. But of course, so many in academia, at the time I was trying to ascend that ladder, would vigorously dismiss artists who found commercial success, like Leroy Neiman. We were coached to laugh at the mere mention of his name.
Maybe this attitude is less noticeable in academia today. The influx of private money into education has probably helped to solve that. Education drifts off course when the sole source of its funding is government. I was in college when there were so many hippie-type instructors who thought we should flush down the toilet everything we thought we knew. They would want to make a face if they learned you grew up in a typical outstate Lutheran or Catholic church. They'd view such a background as being one of pathology, something to be overcome. But if you told those same hippie types that you adhered to something exotic like Baha'i, they'd gush with interest and admiration. Eastern religions interested them.
Maybe we are more inclined to admire what we do not know. Adherents of all religious faiths are the same human beings with human limitations and weaknesses. Christians accept the premise of sin and believe we can overcome it with faith. It is not a belief system that is worthy of outright dismissal.
Many of the hippie-type instructors began to notice the tremors of change as years progressed. They adjusted for the sake of sheer survival, learning to put on the cloak of societal norms and pretend they never really promoted all the revolutionary garbage. It is true we needed a revolution of sorts to get the U.S. out of the Vietnam war. There was collateral damage from that. We never really wanted to embrace Communism.
I remember my public school years like I was in some sort of prison, especially from the seventh grade on. I never made any decisions about what I wanted to do. You couldn't challenge teachers. Administrators? We viewed them like they were ogres. You see, our elected leaders were lobbied by the corporate world for schools to promote a conformist sameness. That was the world, after all, most kids would enter, holding a job like what we saw with Fred Flintstone. Flintstone's world was the model for the middle class: a dolt who stayed out of trouble, sought fun in innocuous ways and believed in showing up for work on time.
In reality, school administrators should have a beloved position in society as really the best friend of parents, not the ogre who calls only when a child is "in trouble." Why are they in trouble? Are they in trouble because they can't stand the school environment with its smothering influence? I'm writing about education as I remember it, with the knowledge there has been positive change as with honor roll expansion.
We still require students to get up too early in the morning. My God, lighten up! I read many years ago that the reason kids hate school is that "the purpose of school is to prepare them for a world of work which they will often find to be unpleasant." Work has changed, not that it's exactly joyful now, but it's more a matter of stress rather than drudgery. Our high-tech age has wiped out whole swaths of workers who did the tedious stuff. What's left, then, is work that requires analysis. And yes, this brings no small amount of stress. But the discomfort isn't quite as stultifying. It's not like the pathetic husband of the Mary Hartman character in the Norman Lear 1970s sitcom.
There are strategies for dealing with stress, strategies that most companies are quite happy to help dispense. The drudgery of the old days seemed to make people want to consume alcohol. They did their networking not with high-tech means but at the Elks or Eagles clubs on weekends. They drove home impaired by alcohol and we found amusement in such things. Shriners conventions! There's a big slice of Americana.
Shriners did great things. They could have lived without a lot of the social stuff. Today the law combats driving while drunk most decisively. Personally, I consume no alcohol at all, so as not to take any chances. I don't feel I'm missing anything. I occasionally notice people around me ordering an alcohol drink at certain restaurants, and I have to wonder "why?" It was an old badge of maturity.
Our contemporary world is a combination of old and new. Some vestigial old habits and notions remain. Our public school system still seems overly tilted toward the values of the industrial age. Do kids even have to go to a school building every day? Look at the sheer risk of using motorized transportation so much. The recent Hancock school van accident illustrates that. No amount of education received by kids at the Hancock school can ever negate what happened to those injured kids.
Maynard Ferguson built his whole storied career by being freed from the shackles of the public school system. And yet academia came to admire and love him. Ironic and rather strange, I think as someone who was once taught the "B-flat concert scale." In high school I'd be in marching band now. Now there's a quintessential model for conformity.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Chief Bender, MN native, invented the slider

Chief Bender did not deserve to be called Chief. It's not surprising that the moniker got attached to this (part) Native American. That's because Mr. Bender's talents were in baseball which could be a rather Neanderthal world. People could get categorized in crude terms. I suppose it can still happen, but I think so much money has washed into baseball, it's less likely. Money brings civility.
Crudest of all was how Jackie Robinson was berated when he made his heroic entrance to big league ball. Interesting how "Negroes" were disallowed for so long in baseball, yet a Native American or "Indian" like Chief Bender could be assimilated. That was one blessing for this talented man who was outside the Anglo norm.
Let's emphasize his real name: Charles Albert Bender. He was the consummate baseball man and baseball talent. How long ago? His heyday was before Babe Ruth. He began pitching around the turn of the century. Unlike so many stars who have their storied ups and downs, turbulence in their personal life etc., Bender was remarkably mature and stable. His pitching arm was resilient, carrying him through a most productive career.
He has a very significant niche in baseball history, separate from his non-Anglo background: he is credited with inventing the slider! That's quite a mark to be made. We hear about the slider pitch all the time. While effective, it can be hard on the already-delicate arm of a pitcher. It's a curve ball with extra speed. A pitcher had better have some ice packs handy.
Some reports have Bender as a native of Brainerd. That's my late mother's hometown. Most likely he was a native of the general Brainerd area, most certainly North Central Minnesota. He was the first Minnesotan elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, getting the nod in 1953. He doesn't seem well remembered in Minnesota, due most likely to having spent relatively little time here.
Bender's status as Native American followed him. He was proud of his Ojibwe heritage. However, after his ascent to fame in 1905, after pitching a shutout, he said he didn't want his name presented to the public as an Indian. He said he simply wanted to be known as a pitcher. A laudable aim to be sure, but one that would, alas, be elusive. We still remember him as "Chief" Bender. He endured hackneyed war cries.
We haven't advanced so far as a civilization, have we. I mean, it was like pulling teeth getting University of North Dakota to scrap its "Fighting Sioux" nickname. I remember when some crude hockey fans somewhere, I think in Duluth, taunted the UND team by chanting "smallpox blankets!" The horrible chant referred to a dark genocidal chapter of U.S. history.
Tom Swift wrote Bender's biography. Swift noted that the great pitcher was subjected to caricature treatment because of the Indian heritage. There were crude cartoons. Swift talked about all the exhibits of "narrow-mindedness," a phenomenon that would certainly stick around as we saw with Robinson's entry into the game. Bender threw one of the most dominating games in the early years of the American League, only to be subjected to being depicted in a drawing wielding a tomahawk and wearing a headdress.
Jackie Robinson was taught to disregard the taunts like those from the "evil" character in his biopic: Ben Chapman. Chief Bender indeed took his share of taunting from the bench or the stands. A fan might yell "back to the reservation!" How Bender handled it? Quite admirably, I'd say. He didn't get shook, and actually would smile at times. And then after he handled an inning with a real flourish, he'd get cocky himself and yell back "Foreigners! Foreigners!"
We know that Chief Bender was born in Crow Wing County. The exact date of birth is open to some debate. He was not 100 percent Native American as his father was German. His mother was part Chippewa. As a kid he got the Indian name "Mandowescence" which means "Little Spirit Animal." His family had 160 acres on the White Earth Indian Reservation.
He really found his home in baseball at an early stage of the sport's development. He's one of only a few pitchers to throw 200 or more innings at the age of 19. He was fortunate to not show evidence of arm overwork henceforth. Some pitchers like Gaylord Perry just seem immune to that. Bender threw a no-hitter in 1910. The 1911 World Series saw him tie Christy Mathewson's record of three complete games. His career win-loss record was 212-127 for a .625 winning percentage. His career ERA was 2.46.
Bender was known for unflappable poise in the World Series. A movie ought to be made about this guy's life.
Was it a case of "Minnesota Nice?" Bender was well-liked by his fellow players. Ty Cobb described Bender as the most intelligent pitcher he'd ever faced. Bender had a reputation as a sign-stealer. His groundbreaking slider pitch was called a "nickel curve" in its early years.
Bender came from a large family. He was just age seven when leaving to attend a boarding school in Pennsylvania. He graduated from Carlisle Indian Industrial School. He began his pitching in Harrisburg PA. Thus he is not closely associated with Minnesota. It wasn't long before Connie Mack, famous leader of the Philadelphia Athletics - yes, Athletics and not Phillies - signed the budding pitching prodigy to a $1,800 contract.
By the end of his rookie year, Bender fashioned 17 wins. The young man was on his way, building a reputation for consistency and resilience. He deserves to be better remembered today than he is, in Minnesota and everywhere.
He never encouraged the "Chief" name. But he never reacted to it in a visceral way - he kept his cool and let his pitching do the talking, thank goodness. He gets a pass for responding to his detractors with that "foreigner!" putdown. At the time of his death, at least one media account tapped into the regressive attitude by reporting that the great man had "gone to the happy hunting ground." Sigh. (Oh, but remember when our late State Senator Charlie Berg talked about "smoke signals!?")
Major League Baseball in pre-Babe Ruth times can get lost in a fog, like it's just too remote for us to understand or appreciate. I think Chief Bender would be a successful pitcher today! I refer to him as "Chief Bender" in the headline for this post because it's what stuck with him, and I feel most fans did not intend to be disrespectful with this reference. In researching for this post, I typed "Chief Bender" into search.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, June 8, 2018

Please listen to my song about Kent Hrbek

Image result for kent hrbek wikipediaI'm pleased to announce I have an original song about the great Minnesota Twin Kent Hrbek online. My song "Buy a Vowel, Kent Hrbek" is on YouTube. I remember watching a televised game one day where a fan held up a sign, "Buy a vowel, Kent Hrbek." The announcers were amused and certainly this message was clever. But I don't recall that it ever caught on. It did stay in my recollections though, and upon deciding to try to write a song in tribute to the Big Guy, the quip popped back into my head. It seemed perfect.
My song is in 3/4 time. I think it has rather a singalong feel to it. Mr. Hrbek is a fun-loving character so I feel he'd have a sense of humor about it. I think at some point he'd discover it and I hope he enjoys it. The song was recorded at the Frank Michels studio in Nashville TN. I love the Nashville music community. I'll give you a heads-up that my Christmas song for 2018 will include the pedal steel instrument. What a unique and lovely instrument, quite demanding to play. It's closely associated with country/western.
My Kent Hrbek song was ably put online by Brent Gulsvig of Gulsvig Productions, Starbuck MN. If you have any media transfer work needing to be done, call Mr. Gulsvig. The Gulsvigs have a friendly orange cat! Hey, I hope you enjoy my song! So, here's the link and thanks:
 
Kent Hrbek! We associate the Big Guy with a real golden age of Twins baseball. He helped define that team as it won championships in 1987 and 1991. He was ample in size and some fans thought he could have controlled his weight better. Yes, and fans thought Mickey Mantle could have taken better care of himself. I would never second-guess Kent Hrbek's approach to life. He was the Twins' mainstay at first base.
In 1987 he hit that memorable grand slam against St. Louis in the World Series. The most dramatic Twins home run ever? It would certainly be a candidate but I'd put it at No. 2. Perhaps the greatest moment in Minnesota sports history was when Harmon Killebrew hit a blast just before the All-Star break in 1965. Besides the sheer drama of that, the homer had symbolism because it showed the curtain was closing on the New York Yankees' dynasty. The team closing that curtain, our Twins, were only in their fifth year of existence (although they came here as an existing franchise).
Would you believe that before 1961, we were in "the bushes" with the AAA Minneapolis Millers? Would you believe that before 1956, the Millers played in modest old Nicollet Park? But there we were in 1965, a guaranteed-not-to-tarnish major league team, making the daily big city newspapers all over. Our weather even made national news because it was a factor for our big league games. And there we were in the summer of 1965, not only looking legitimate as a big league franchise, but giving a knockout blow to the one and only New York Yankees, those fabled Yankees, so long a darling of the national media.
There we were, our Minnesota Twins.
Of course the success of the 1965 season would be bittersweet: we lost to the Dodgers in the World Series in seven games. We were really stopped by one guy: Sandy Koufax. David Halberstam wrote a book in which he noted that Koufax became great not because of how he developed his pitching craft, but because umpires started calling the high fastball a strike! The lefty Koufax could throw letter-high fastballs like he was other-worldly.
We waited until 1987 and Hrbek's career before we could savor a world championship. A part of me was actually sad in 1987 because I knew that the new Twins were going to upstage the 1965 team in the state's collective memory. What a shame. The '65 team besides being great helped establish that Minnesota could nurture a big-time and successful pro sports franchise. Before 1961 all we had was the U of M Gopher football team, right? It's interesting how the Vikings and Twins got started at the same time, truly transforming our state's whole persona. We needed to pinch ourselves to see if we were dreaming.
Vic Power, Bob Allison and Don Mincher were early Twins first basemen. Killebrew would ply his glove there too. But Hrbek was the institution at first base for our glory Twins in the late '80s and in '91.
For a long time I considered myself an old-timer with how I considered the '65 memories so important. But now, you increasingly sound like an old-timer if you pine about those '87 and '91 campaigns. It recedes in time like all memories do. The '91 Series was so dramatic it could inspire a movie. Hrbek had his indelible moments in the spotlight.
I'm proud to have written my song about the Big Guy who played first and hit powerfully.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

My "Joe and Mika" song is now on YouTube

"Mika and Joe"
I'm old enough to remember watching Barbara Walters and Frank Blair together on "The Today Show." Ah, the days of the "Big 3" TV networks. Our Channel 7 out of Alexandria would go off the air for the night. Early risers might see the "test pattern" on the screen, complete with the Indian headdress.
What a vast new media world we are in now. I'm watching "Morning Joe" on MSNBC as I write this early Tuesday morning. The media are harvesting the Trump scandals and controversies. Day after day it rolls on. Just imagine how "Morning Joe" would have helped us explore Watergate. Or, how such shows would have revealed the travesty of the Vietnam war, and most likely gotten us out quicker.
"Morning Joe" features Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski - I always have to look up the spelling of her last name - and it comes on at 5 a.m. CDT. It runs for three hours. Their guests are the sharpest for sifting through the issues of the day that are bubbling in the Beltway. Even us denizens of Flyoverland, here in Minnesota, can keep up with the insider Beltway whispering and gossip, thanks to "Morning Joe."
The Today Show still airs. But it seems superficial and dated now. I need the insider stuff!
In a previous blog post I shared lyrics for an original song of mine, "I'm Watching Joe and Mika." I'm pleased to announce that I have had this song recorded, at the Angello Sound Studio of Nashville TN (actually in Hermitage, but Bob Angello presents the address as being Nashville). I wrote one new stanza of lyrics since the post.
OK so I'd like to invite y'all to give a listen to my song! I'd sure appreciate it. Imagine you're snacking on a Goo Goo Cluster, a treat staple in the U.S. South. I hope Joe and Mika themselves eventually discover the song and enjoy it. I incorporated names of some of those regular guests like Heidi Przybyla whose last name I also have to always look up. I invite you to click on this YouTube link to listen to "I'm Watching Joe and Mika." Again thanks.
 
"Morning Joe" has been more than a TV show to me. It has been like a daily companion. It was on the air for all eight years of the Obama presidency.
Much was made of the Michael Wolff book that came out about the early Trump presidency. Thanks to our Morris Public Library for ordering the book for me. All the hype about the book made me most eager to read it. A similar new expose type of book about Trump is by David Frum: "Trumpocracy." I read both books for only a portion, maybe one-fourth, and then I had difficulty reading further. Why? It's because I watched "Morning Joe" for nearly the full three hours every morning, so I felt I was already aware of everything in the books!
It also helps that I watch Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell in the evening. No shows of that type were available for us to watch in the evening hours in "the old days." We'd watch "Bonanza" with Lorne Greene. Expose-type shows would have shown us that the Smothers Brothers TV show was right about Vietnam! I'd like to see a reality-based movie based on that edgy (for its time) Smothers Brothers show. The Smothers Brothers took on all the bulldog-type older Americans - "America love it or leave it" - who insisted we could "win" the war in Vietnam. The memories are so unpleasant, I have to dismiss them quickly.
The movie "LBJ" glossed over Vietnam. The movie "All the Way" showed the president too distracted to pay proper attention to early developments in Vietnam. The Gulf of Tonkin "incident" never happened - nothing happened.
So here we are, summer of 2018, and the media daily gives us exposes about Trump and his crew. I'm troubled because normally when the media does exposes, it forces resolution, i.e. the problems get solved due to public pressure. The big worry for me is that this process isn't happening. We're just filled with information every day about how Trump is unacceptable as both president and human being. It ought to be plain as the nose on your face. But the status quo just rolls on and on.
Trump is a slick-tongued demagogue just as George Wallace was. We see this story unravel every morning on the "Morning Joe" show with Joe, Mika and their guests. I keep watching even though the daily reports don't seem to lead to the proper resolution. But Mike Pence might be even more dangerous than Trump. Paul Ryan appears to have tail between legs - he will be remembered with the likes of Neville Chamberlain.
Maybe with some luck we'll get through the thicket of all this dangerous stuff. Hang in there, y'all, and keep watching Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on "Morning Joe." Encourage your friends to listen to my song. My recently-deceased mom liked to see me engaged in songwriting. She was more encouraging than my father about this. I guess my dad knew the rat race of the music business. One of the songs I may have recorded soon is "Ralph Williams Wrote the Tunes."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Movie "LBJ" (2016) adds nothing to "All the Way"

My first reaction to "LBJ" could have been the same words used by Roger Ebert after seeing "The Three Stooges" movie. The movies shared a nostalgic purpose. Their creators no doubt sensed grand purpose. The real Three Stooges entertained a generation of moviegoers during the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood. And "LBJ?" We're making contact with the sweet part of the bat in connection with the boomers. Boomers can tell you in great detail where they were and how they heard about the JFK assassination. I was in Mrs. Peterson's third grade class at Longfellow Elementary School in Morris MN.
The two movies I'm referencing seemed to get a fair amount of traction in reaching an audience. But Roger Ebert said of "The Three Stooges" movie: "Was this necessary?" And I'll staple that comment to the 2016 cinematic offering "LBJ." The basis for my feelings? It's odd this movie should come out so closely on the heels of "All the Way." I found "All the Way" to be a more effective movie. It's about the Civil Rights Act but it could just as easily be seen as a biopic about Lyndon Baines Johnson. I'll never forget the scene where Johnson takes Hubert Humphrey across a lake, by surprise, in his amphibious car! A conspicuous portrayal of Humphrey would seem necessary in a movie about Johnson.
Because of my fondness for "All the Way," I found "LBJ" to have a redundant quality about it. "LBJ" takes us further back in Johnson's career than we'd really care to go. OK so he was a cunning politician who knew how to climb the ladder of power. Nothing unique or distinctive about that. His wife is seriously downplayed. I wish we'd heard the quote from her about how "I spent my inheritance to finance Lyndon's first campaign, and it was the best investment I ever made."
Somewhere I'm sure you can find a definition of "riding coattails." Such a definition should surely be accompanied by a picture of Lyndon Johnson, because he most surely rode the coattails of the deceased JFK to win in a landslide in 1964. Surely this decisive win had little to do with any inherent charm or heroic characteristics of the man himself. He seemed as unglamorous as JFK was glamorous.
Chris Matthews of MSNBC told us that when Lyndon Johnson left the presidency, "he went back to Texas and smoked himself to death." Did we see that habit in "LBJ?" I'm not going to re-watch the movie to see. I remember a critic putting down the movie "Pearl Harbor" because none of the GIs were seen smoking.
Many critics have pointed out the excessive makeup applied to Woody Harrelson in order to play LBJ. But they don't seem to use this as a serious point of indictment for the movie. Most are inclined to admire Harrelson and to consider him a trooper for making this movie. The extent of makeup bothered me. Such makeup can endanger the health of the wearer. I'm reminded of the makeup job for Howard Stern, when he had a TV show many years ago, when he tried to portray William Shatner in Star Trek. Stern didn't even look like Captain Kirk but he rather looked like a monstrosity, sort of like the Phantom of the Opera.
I felt sorry for Harrelson under all that makeup.
"All the Way" had already made the point about Lyndon Johnson that needed to be made: he was a southerner who was readily amenable to bending on racism to accomplish an outcome he felt was inevitable. "All the Way" showed us Johnson's masterful cajoling techniques. Humphrey was the northern liberal who didn't have to bend at all. Johnson had to implore fellow southerners on how "the train is leaving the station." In "All the Way" he tells George Wallace "I'm not going to be remembered in history with the likes of you."
It never seemed a matter of pure principle with Johnson. He was master of he pragmatic.
The movie "LBJ" would have achieved a grander purpose, setting it apart from its predecessor, if it had probed further our slide into the Vietnam war, and Johnson's negligence in connection with this. "The train is leaving the station" meant that fundamental civil rights legislation was coming no matter what. The tragic escalation of Vietnam seems not in retrospect to have been inevitable. Maybe movies shy away from this because it's embarrassing to consider such failure and mendacity by our leaders.
Civil rights accorded basic rights to countless people for whom it was a huge step forward. Vietnam cost the lives, literally, of tens of thousands of young men who should have had their future in front of them. Our leaders lied to us because they didn't want to admit it was a mistake. Their fear was of "losing" the war. Well, we sure did go and lose it. Think of those images of desperate people trying to cling to helicopters at the end. The 1970s developed into a "funk" because we seemed rather ashamed of ourselves.
Now, here's a more novel and interesting movie idea than "LBJ": a movie about the then-controversial Smothers Brothers TV show!
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Matthew Gruber stymies Tigers from hill

'Waska 4, Tigers 0
MACA diamond play has ended for the 2018 spring. First the curtain came down for MACA softball, now it's over for the boys of baseball too. MACA bats went quiet in the Tuesday Section 3AA game that had Minnewaska Area as the foe. Matthew Gruber was in top form pitching for the Lakers. Indeed he kept the MACA bats quiet.
Gruber struck out four batters and walked none in his full seven-inning performance. He gave up five hits in this 4-0 Laker victory over the Tigers. The site was Montevideo. Brock Anderson was the pitcher for Motown and he fanned seven batters but had control difficulties, reflected in six walks. He allowed just three hits. The four runs he allowed were earned. Neither team committed an error.
Parker Dierks had two hits in three at-bats for the Tigers. These three Tigers each went one-for-three: Kevin Asfeld, Alex Daugherty and Anderson.
For the Lakers, Ryan Christenson had a double and a run scored. Gruber didn't have a hit but he scored a run. Colin Weidauer crossed home plate once for the Lakers. Sean Kelling added to the winning effort with a hit, an RBI and a run scored. Ryan Amundson was hitless but drove in a run. And Jake Hoffman doubled and drove in two runs.
This game was scoreless through five innings. Anderson was certainly hanging in there against Gruber. But in the sixth, the Lakers broke through to score all four of their runs. Gruber handled the Tigers in the top of the seventh. Anderson was reminded of the old saying "walks will haunt." Now let's turn our attention to Legion, VFW and Babe Ruth ball. Bring on summer!
 
The majors in early summer
MLB teams are still establishing their personalities at this early stage of the summer. It's a time when kids have greater opportunity to get down to the big city and see a Twins game or two. School is out. The high school sports teams are winding down. My today's post marks the end of my Tiger baseball/softball posting for 2018.
I might have expected softball to get a little further. Baseball would have surprised me to get further. So the end is reached. Kids can now do what they're entitled to do in summer: have a lot of fun with not a lot of boundaries.
High school marching band was a big deal in Morris when I was a kid. It definitely imposed boundaries. I once told director John Woell I wasn't going to make a particular evening practice because my family was going to visit my uncle and his wife in Glenwood. That date was not arbitrarily set by us. I wanted badly to watch the MLB All-Star Game on TV! So I got my wish, dodged the practice and watched the All-Star Game in which Reggie Jackson launched that very long home run. Harmon Killebrew homered too as did Frank Robinson. I'm not going to look it up but I think it was 1971.
Us kids took marching band so seriously, we could be disciplined, even harshly, and we'd want to continue participating. I never thought about dropping out. I remember once when our drum major Scott Groth, a bravura sort of guy, heard some chatting in the ranks and wanted to cut it out. "Timmons!" he hollered at the top of his voice. After a moment of silence, Peter Timmons muttered "what." Groth answered at full volume: "Shut up!"
I remember Woell kicking out of practice a young lady from a prominent family, I think because she gave him a little "lip." You didn't want to do that in those days. I think it's different today where I'm told "the kids walk all over the teachers." Anyway, that young lady came back for the next practice and life went on.
Looking back, I wish I had sung in choir over band. I'd just go and tell Ms. Hjembo "hey, I want to get a few credits for singing in choir - please, please don't treat me special because of my dad, and do me a favor and don't assign me any solos." I'd just go for a 'C' grade. George W. Bush is perhaps the most famous 'C' student of all time. I'd be happy to be in his company. It takes talent riding a 'C' grade. You have to be just good enough to keep from falling into the D-F disaster area. To be frank, I'd like to see the A-F grading system just be jettisoned. I'm still haunted by that.
Is the Irondale marching band coming back to Motown this summer to practice? That's the highlight of the whole year for Big Cat Stadium - to heck with football.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Graduations, receptions and Memorial Day

A unique serenity surrounds us on Memorial Day weekend. Maybe I feel it more than most. In the "old days" when I was active with the Morris newspaper, in its heyday you might say, we put out a "bulldog" edition going into Memorial Day weekend. It was the Tuesday issue that we put out on Friday, so in theory to get some time off for newspaper staff.
The bulldog issue was our third to produce for the week. You might say it all had a "bat out of hell" feeling for us by the time we were done. There is a former Morris dentist who would object vigorously to the "bat out of hell" expression. Wasn't that a Meat Loaf song?
The weekend had its share of rest for me, compared to what led up to it, but I certainly kept my journalistic engines humming. The Morris graduation on Friday night was a big deal. I only covered one graduation at its present location. I was struck by how much easier it was to hear the class speakers at the new place. It was always a struggle at the "old" 1968 gym. I put "old" in quotes: the '68 gym seemed nothing short of a miracle for the community when it opened in, well, 1968. Today it is an obscure and largely forgotten place.
The 1991 gym seems never to have made much of a splash either. We build these additions and then the school advocates just talk about how we need more. Here's a truism: the reason government is inefficient is that it has no incentive to be efficient. Jim Morrison once wrote one of his sage editorials, wondering if Morris was trying to become "the gymnasium capital of western Minnesota." Silly rabbit, all school-based referendums in Morris pass these days. They should keep striking while the iron is hot, I guess. What a contrast to the 1960s! It was like pulling teeth to get a school referendum passed then. The school got desperate and set up "split shifts" for a time, due to the burgeoning numbers caused by the cotton pickin' "baby boom" (me included).
Oscar Miller was our superintendent. He was a real PR type of superintendent. But I think eventually the board, according to what I've been able to ascertain, felt he wasn't maximizing school resources enough. In other words it came down to money. So exit good ol' Oscar (our neighbor) and bring on Fred Switzer, not a PR man but assuredly an expert with money, so much so, it seemed the teachers never trusted him.
Fred was close personally with board member (and chair) Les Lindor, our neighbor on the other side, who was a salt of the earth person but he carried traits often associated with those alive in the Great Depression, IMHO. My dad was just like that too. Dave Nelson was amazed at how my dad memorized prices at the grocery stores all the time. Bless that generation which has been heading for the exits for some time now.
High school softball has had an odd trait of having major post-season games played right on Memorial Day weekend. It was hit-and-miss for me to try to reach coaches after the end of the school year.
Toward the end of my tenure with the paper, a tenure in which the breadth of my coverage of activities was wider than that for any other media person in the history of Stevens County, I got the heads-up for kindergarten and sixth grade graduations. No one would have suggested this when I was that age. But then, I guess, we entered the age of "everybody gets a trophy." It seems innocuous but superfluous.
Parents really treasure their kids. Just think back to the time when parents had to risk having their sons drafted and sent into the Vietnam war. Parents today really want their kids to have pleasant experiences in school and not to be "pushed" by teachers unduly. The honor rolls have expanded. Oh, I think that's a good thing.
 
Fine time at a reception
I am heartened these days, during the "winding down" part of my life, to get invited to an occasional high school graduation reception. This year I had the honor of being invited to Taylor Clemensen's. So I made the jaunt to Cyrus on a sunny Saturday and had a great time with the likes of Brent Waddell and Keith Davison. Fancy potatoes were the featured fare. I wish the late Glen Helberg could have joined us. Maybe someday we can make a hologram of Glen.
Congrats Taylor!
You might think that I at least got Sunday off during Memorial Day weekend in those bygone times. Oh no, because like clockwork, Chokio-Alberta had its graduation at 2 p.m. on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. I'd go over to Alberta and grab a folding chair in the front row so I could hear the speeches well. Lyle Hettver would proclaim "thank God for small schools." It's hard for me to imagine a world without C-A sports teams. I made trips to the Metrodome for the Spartan football team. It's all gone with the wind now.
Blake Knudson grabbed a seat next to me for the C-A graduation one year. Nice to see him so friendly in light of how he'd call me sometimes and practically scream at me about my alleged shortcomings as a journalist. Knudson was softball coach. Maybe he had been drinking too much cranberry juice or something. CAHN softball is gone with the wind.
The retrenchment of rural schools just doesn't seem right.
Let's move on to the Monday of Memorial Day weekend: the services honoring our fallen soldiers. I'm old enough to remember Willie Martin saying "there the ground is hallowed" but he'd always pronounce it "hollowed." Joe Tetrault told me that good ol' Willie was corrected on that but he'd revert to the habit anyway. Maybe too much cranberry juice.
Willie was the epitome of his generation and he practically defined Morris. His funeral was held at the National Guard Armory. That was a "prime time" eulogy for the St. Paul's Lutheran minister to give, to be sure.
The first year I covered Memorial Day, Glendon Rose walked up to me at the cemetery and said "there's beer at the Legion." Glendon too was the epitome of his generation.
I worked at the paper when photography was a very exclusive skill. Not just anyone could take photos on a whim (like these days), unless you wanted to spend tons of money doing so. Even writing was considered specialized in those pre-digital times. I had a degree in mass communications. People respected me. So much of that is now gone with the wind as we see the Morris newspaper having cut back so incredibly far.
I remember walking back to the shop from the cemetery at the conclusion of the Memorial Day doings, feeling such a sense of peace and calm. That's the way it should be on Memorial Day.
Both my parents are interred there now. If you notice that Mom's date of death isn't engraved yet, I'll inform you that this has been arranged and paid for, and will get done presumably soon.
Now let's all slow down a little for summer!
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com