"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, July 20, 2018

NY Yankees' history transcends "Mr. Coffee"

Mickey Mantle entranced my generation. Joe DiMaggio belonged to an earlier time. We associated DiMaggio with his "Mr. Coffee" TV commercials. We probably thought of the coffee thing before we thought of Marilyn Monroe. Henry Fonda was parodied for his exaggerated way of pronouncing "GAF" in commercials, remember?
In the days before personal computers, us boomers could be quite glued to the TV. We loved TV but we also loved the parodies of TV that Mad Magazine gave us. And, the comedians who said "GAF" the way an aging Fonda did.
Fred MacMurray made his mark with Greyhound Bus commercials. MacMurray had a reputation in Hollywood of having built his assets very well. He made his mark with boomers, indelibly, with his "Absent Minded Professor" and "flubber" thing. Have you noticed that when you re-watch old Disney movies as an adult, they don't seem as good?
Billy Crystal made a movie that was a paean to the background of sports entertainment for boys. Sure, the boomer boys of Minnesota totally loved our new team. But as much as we wanted our Twins to surpass the Yankees, we developed a soft spot in our hearts for the Yankees. We could be transfixed by Mickey Mantle. Mantle's name probably inspired more awe in us than Harmon Killebrew's. The Yankees echoed history. They were a dynastic team whose history was in grainy old black-and-white film. It was with reverence that we considered the Yankees.
Crystal was obviously in love with the particular generation of Yankees that played in the late '50s and early '60s. That generation touched us with interesting personalities. We learned much more about all that in Jim Bouton's 1970 book "Ball Four." I have written a whole blog post about the Phil Linz harmonica incident. The Yankees became out-sized personalities. Players with borderline talent could become celebrities. The Yankees traded Bill Skowron to pave the way for Joe Pepitone at first base. Pepitone had his assets but his reputation got overblown. Some of that reputation was notorious. Crystal's generation clutches all those memories. I'm in the ranks.

Yanks in a fishbowl
Personally, I loved our Twins but felt fascinated with the Yankees. Our Twins almost caught the Yankees in 1962. But we would have to wait until 1965. The Yankee dynasty of that era ended after '64, a year in which they won the pennant narrowly but lost the World Series to St. Louis. Yogi Berra was manager. Berra dealt with the Linz harmonica thing. The harmonica incident was a microcosm of how the Yankees got media attention even for trivial things. They were the Yankees and the whole world watched.
Bouton bought the premise that the Yankees were justifiably the focus for all the attention. He mined the personalities of that era, gaining considerable fodder for his 1970 book. It was a book that re-defined the boundaries that existed for sports books. The boundaries got wiped away. If Bouton had not written the book (with considerable help from a New York sportswriter), a book of this type was going to be written soon anyway. I was drawn into the "Ball Four" book too much. I bought Bouton's questioning attitudes too much. That's from my 2018 perspective. More mature? I don't know, maybe it's more a matter of prevailing zeitgeist.
It's hard to remember how we might have developed some of our past attitudes. The questioning of orthodoxy, in anything, was quite approved in the '60s and early '70s. Today I'm more inclined to think that a certain level of decorum should be maintained in sports journalism. Respect the old boundaries more. The Internet allows us to explore all angles anyway. It's futile to guard secrets.
I enjoyed those personalities of the New York Yankees in the early '60s. There was Roger Maris with that one incredible season he had hitting home runs. Crystal's movie was based on that '61 season. That was the very first season for our Twins. Phil Linz was basically a utility player. Hardly anyone would remember Linz today if he had played for, say, the Kansas City Athletics. Some historians diss Linz as a less than stellar player from the days of Mantle. Silly rabbit, anyone on the Yankees' roster was worthy of full respect.
I got my parents to buy me the paperback autobiography of Bobby Richardson. Richardson was a fixture in the Yankees' infield, holding down second base. I saw him as the quintessential infielder, a vacuum cleaner for ground balls. It was a more dangerous position then, when baserunners had total license to "take out the second baseman." Our Bob Allison had a reputation for doing that well. The Twins were willing to risk Rod Carew's body at second base. Years later we would risk the body of Joe Mauer at catcher, the most grueling position on the diamond in terms of bodily risk and deterioration. Mauer's bat was too valuable to have his body subjected to that punishment. A simple foul tip to the catcher's mask can send a player into concussion protocol nowadays. How many catchers in the past might have suffered because of the lack of protocols?
Bobby Richardson was a total October player but with one exception, when one looks at two errors he committed in the '64 Series. Those errors could well have cost the Yankees that Series.

Niche as committed Christian
In '64 the Yankees had this one last summer of legendary quality. Their fortunes deteriorated fast after that. I still have the Bobby Richardson book. It seems genuine as a true autobiography, i.e. not ghostwritten. Christian faith has been a defining feature of the man. He grew up as a Southern Baptist in South Carolina. He's from Sumter in that state.
Christians who wear their faith on their sleeve often irritate me. While Bobby is comfortable putting his faith out front as if he credits it for everything - an attitude that I generally don't like - I have always totally liked the man. He must have a nature of not being overly judgmental.
I recall one little passage in Bouton's book that seemed to involve Richardson but not so by name! Bouton referred to a "Fellowship of Christian Athletes" type in an anecdote. A teammate in a hotel room, peering into the neighboring room through some hole, claimed he saw something quite titillating. He swore that it was a must-see! "Boyohboyohboy," Bouton quoted him saying. Even poor Bobby Richardson - I'm assuming the target of the prank was him - had to give in. Once Richardson got his eye trained, he was "treated to the sight of a man sitting on the edge of the bed tying his shoes," Bouton recalled. 
Richardson always looked serious to the point of seeming grim on his baseball cards. His real nature projected much more cheer.
Bouton wrote about "beaver shots." Remember? The less said about that the better - it seems sexist now to recall such stuff.
I liked Bobby Richardson just as much as I liked Bernie Allen, the Twins' original second baseman. Richardson hung around to play two more seasons after the Yanks' dynasty folded. And it really did fold, pretty dramatically. Mantle hung around, belying his physical complications. Maris moved on to St. Louis for 1967 and continued his career surprisingly well there, getting in two more World Series'. Richardson handled his glove at second base in front of the Yankee Stadium crowd, even in the 1966 season when the bottom totally fell out for the team. It was a spectacular drop in fortunes. Bouton had developed a sore arm, so common for pitchers at the time (no pitch count).
The days of Casey Stengel were rapidly receding into the past. I thought Stengel was eased out as manager by the manner in which the '60 World Series slipped away from the Bronx crew, to Pittsburgh. It was in 1960 that the Pirates won the Series with Bill Mazeroski's home run at the end. Sometimes we in Minnesota think our 1991 World Series success ought to be remembered better in our national lore. You just as easily can argue this about the '60 Series, so we're not alone. And the '60 Series had the marquee attraction of the Yankees.

Ode to a second baseman
I have written a song about Bobby Richardson. Let's just call it "Ballad of Bobby Richardson." The melody is strophic - just one melodic idea, very practical for a story-telling song. We'll see if I ever get it recorded. I'm pleased to share the lyrics here - thanks for reading. - B.W.
"Ballad of Bobby Richardson"
by Brian Williams
I can look from the time machine
At Bobby Richardson
Standing there at second
Pinstripes and a grin
He fielded grounders like a madman on a binge
With his New York Yankees
Bobby Richardson
He was steeped in his Christian faith
From when he was a boy
Learning Baptist vision
Finding church a joy
It was a bulwark that he used to move ahead
Never with misgivings
Never with regret
He was born in the southern state
Where tall palmettos bloom
Sumter was his hometown
There he found his groove
He never missed a chance to get out on the field
Baseball was his mission
Baseball his ideal
As a boy he was energized
And found his perfect fit
He could field a grounder
Like it was God's gift
He lived with Casey's growl and moved on up the ranks
'Til he reached the summit
Telling God his thanks
In the fall when the candidates
Were jockeying once more
Kennedy and Nixon
Came out to the fore
Yanks sought a Series crown but it was not to be
Still we saw our Bobby
Getting MVP
Two years hence, in October sun
The Yankees took the field
Cuban missile crisis
There for all to feel
Thanks to God's providence the match was never lit
So we could love baseball
Feel the joy of it
It was down to the very end
And Yankees had to sweat
Giants were imposing
They had quite the threat
Then came a frozen rope just like it was from hell
Bobby reached and caught it
Answering the bell
He would bleed his humility
And share with all who asked
How he made it happen
With his glove and bat
Yes, there was family and friends along the way
And a higher power
He would surely say
I can look from the time machine
At Bobby Richardson
Standing there at second
Pinstripes and a grin
He fielded grounders like a madman on a binge
With his New York Yankees
Bobby Richardson

- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Tom Brunansky: a hit in 1987, not here for '91

Our beloved "Bruno"
The Minnesota Twins gave us one of the most significant chapters in Minnesota, generally seen as between 1987 and 1991. That period was bookended by our championships in '87 and '91. I'm sure some of us need to do homework to clarify details of that heyday, i.e. who played what position when.
When I wrote a song about our '91 campaign, I initially thought Gary Gaetti was still with us. Wrong-O. I discovered in my usual fact-checking that Gaetti moved on, no longer holding down our "hot corner." I reminded my barber Dave that Mike Pagliarulo was a key third baseman for us in '91. "I forgot about him," Dave said. Time can draw a misty curtain.
We might also remember that Scott Leius logged some important time at third that season. I assume it was a platoon arrangement. The lefty always gets more plate appearances in a platoon system. One-time Twins manager Gene Mauch drove me nuts because I felt he got carried away with platooning. I remember Lyman Bostock complaining publicly about being sat down one day against a left-handed pitcher.
Please refresh your memories about Lyman: he was a prodigy type of young player for the Twins at a time when owner Calvin had increasing trouble affording such players. Bostock moved on to the Angels and could be in the Hall of Fame had he not been murdered.
Ah, "Bruno"
We associate Tom Brunansky with the Twins of that heyday period of the late '80s. But as with Gaetti, we might easily forget that "Bruno" was with our team for just one of those championship years. Gaetti and "Bruno" were together for that fairy tale-like season of 1987. The Twins surprised everyone. Only a few years earlier, the Twins seemed genuinely out of favor with much of the state's populace, really. The big league owners truly understood the vagaries of their customers - they just know when a certain franchise needs to be jump-started.
The owners knew that the Twins needed a new venue back around 1980. I find it profoundly sad reflecting on the last few years of our Metropolitan Stadium in the Twin Cities suburbs, that "castle on the plains" as I refer to it in some of my song lyrics. I find it sad because Metropolitan Stadium transformed life in our state at the time it was built. It literally brought big league sports here. Instead of being grateful, within a short 20 years us Minnesotans seemed to be shrugging off the old Met, definitely for baseball. Yes we were enthralled by the football Vikings. And yes we loved the novelty or fad of Minnesota Kicks soccer, which demonstrated simply that Minnesotans were ready for more entertainment options.
We thrashed around looking for such options. The "Carlton Celebrity Room" ended up getting mocked (at least in my interpretation) in the movie "Fargo." The movie was a broad parody on a whole lot. One of the bad guys took his hooker date to the Carlton Celebrity Room, remember? Trivia: who was the singer featured that night? It was Jose Feliciano.
More trivia: Feliciano in the late '60s was perhaps the first "name" singer to perform the Star Spangled Banner in an edgy manner, fomenting some controversy, which looks ridiculous today. Oh, but the late '60s had quite the different cultural air with the Lawrence Welk generation still holding forth. Us young people heard "America, love it or leave it," and many of us were prepared to leave if the alternative was to honor our military draft notice.
Today the National Anthem can be quite the cultural flashpoint with sports. Sometimes musical performers get attention for simply screwing up with the hard-to-perform song. The vocal range is way too wide. But no longer is there any controversy with a performer simply doing it by contemporary popular standards.
Oh, think of the movie "Moneyball!" We hear the National Anthem performed rock guitar style as a bunch of older people unfurl Old Glory out on the middle of the field. The performance totally "rocks" but so what? On the field we see the typical older men wearing suits, ties and American Legion hats, and they totally accept the musician's interpretation. The performance would have been scandalous if done before a World Series game in the late '60s. Remember, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., lionized by all today, was considered subversive in many quarters back in his time, due to being an early critic of the Vietnam war.
Here's a classic "what if" re. history, the most intriguing "what if" I can think of: What if Billy Graham had called a sudden press conference in 1967 or '68 to state strongly that the Vietnam war was immoral and we needed to get our young men out of there. What if?

"Say it ain't so" after trade
Tom Brunansky was traded by the Twins after '87 to the team we had just beaten in the World Series: St. Louis. So it seemed strange seeing the big guy in that Cardinal red so soon. One day when "Bruno" got a key RBI for St. Louis, Chris Berman of ESPN gave a robust pronunciation of "Bruno" with elan. It tugged at my heartstrings.
"Bruno" had a role in 1987 that I would compare with Bob Allison of our 1960s Twins. Both were outfielders. Both had power but not in an overwhelming way. They were secondary stars. Still they are lodged in our collective memory.
Ah, "Bruno." He hit the game-winning home run in the only game I personally attended in the '87 stretch drive. Twins mania had fully set in. Seems that me and my friend, high school classmate Art Cruze, got two of the few remaining tickets that were left that day. We sat way up in the furthest-back seats. But we had a blast. Our starting pitcher was Mike Smithson who was being sent out to the mound on a wing and a prayer, because he was in decline at that point. Just think of the "Hellman" character in the movie "Angels in the Outfield."
Bob Casey announced Smithson's name with great enthusiasm like he was trying to inject a little extra dose of optimism. I recall Smithson pitching good enough to help us to victory, with "Bruno" giving the exclamation point at the end with his home run.
Attitudes altered over time
I had emotional attachment to the Twins up through 1993. It was never the same after that, never, because the players strike of 1994 damaged my outlook. I learned to live without baseball, to go through "withdrawal" as it were. I remember a syndicated cartoon where one guy says to another: "Think of all the time we wasted when we could have been watching baseball." Humorists penetrate our pretenses so well.
I'm probably a better person for having severed my personal enthusiasm for baseball. I don't get dragged into the arcane "baseball analytics" of today. Occasionally I'll experiment with trying to be interested in the Twins again. However, I fail to get to first base, as it were - it's not even close. A televised game is like watching paint dry, IMHO.
Dick Bremer must be on the verge of going nuts as he gets so consumed with analyzing every day's game, all the fine detail. Give me good ol' Halsey Hall and the simple, lively banter he shared. What would Halsey have said about "analytics?" He'd just want to light up another cigar. A toast to him.
I have written a song about Tom Brunansky of the 1987 Minnesota Twins. It's a song with 'A' and 'B' sections set up as follows: AABA-instrumental-BAA. It has a pulsating rhythm. Enjoy the memories from the pre-strike period of joy in baseball!
Oh! I neglected to say how Minnesotans got their increased appetite for entertainment finally satiated. Drum roll. . . Casinos! So much for gambling being immoral.

"Tom Brunansky"
by Brian Williams

Tom Brunansky
Was a Twins fiend
With his big swing
He was something
When the Twins won
He was handsome
And watch those homer hankies wave

Tom Brunansky
Made us happy
In the days when
We loved Reagan
Bruno wowed us
With his prowess
And watch those homer hankies wave

Was it all a fairy tale
Or something that was true?
Twins on top for all the world to see
Just like in the heady days
Of Harmon Killebrew
We were so enamored with our team

Tom Brunansky
Pushed our big dream
Of the big prize
We were wide-eyed
Yes it happened
In the northland
And watch those homer hankies wave

(instrumental interlude)

(repeat bridge)

Tom Brunansky
Sitting pretty
In the five spot
In the lineup
Such a good bet
In the home stretch
And watch those homer hankies wave

Tom Brunansky
Had us home free
Past our rivals
Like the Royals
We just sat there
Rarefied air
And watch those homer hankies wave

We got those memories to save

- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Church & marching bands: fading to twilight?

Two institutions that were strong when I was in high school were, our mainstream churches and marching band. On Sunday we saw a page 1 article in the Star Tribune about the steady decline of mainstream churches. The Strib writer used the term "mainline." I have been skeptical of using "mainline" as a synonym for "mainstream." I associate "mainline" with drug use - injecting a drug into a principal vein. Maybe this is one of those words that is evolving through usage.
Our language is indeed fluid. "Mainline" as used in the Strib piece probably comes to mind subconsciously as an approximation of "mainstream." People can follow their impulse with words, as when we hear someone say "I could care less." Technically it is supposed to be "couldn't care less." Put on your thinking cap about this. Radio host Mark Levin said "could care less" on his show one day and was promptly upbraided by a caller, to which Levin bristled.
We're gradually shrugging our shoulders about "mainline" and "could care less."
Shall I assume that Hancock had its marching band in the July 4 celebration? I observed it through the years when I covered July 4 for the Morris newspaper. I was impressed with how Ken Grunig groomed this group for its appearance. I also freely shared the suggestion that Grunig bring this group over to Morris for our Prairie Pioneer Days. I often got the response that too many of the kids would be "gone." It's midsummer after all, and while these kids would feel enough civic zeal to be there for their own parade, a parade eight miles away in Morris, in "alien territory" I guess, would be a no-go.
When I hear these excuses about people being "out of town" I'm often skeptical. Do people really hop in their vehicle and take off from their homes so often? Sometimes I think people just don't want to be bothered by certain commitments. I'd be nervous if I were gone from our residence for an extended time. I'd want to check the mail daily and in general just keep an eye on the property.
When I wrote sports in summer for the Morris and Hancock papers, I'd have to be aware of certain coaches who might be at the lake. A Benson-Hancock Legion coach had to be gone occasionally for his National Guard commitment. That coach, last name of Mills, was interesting to work with because he was on the ground floor with electronic communications. I learned this when I discovered his phone line to be busy for extended periods of time. "My modem was on," he'd tell me later.
Eventually using the phone became problematic because some people set up answering machines in such a way they couldn't be counted on to answer their phone. This caused some hair-pulling on my part for a while. It took me a while to get used to it. My old systems for collecting sports information, as it turned out, were going to be antiquated in many ways. It wasn't unusual for me to go to a coach's home, not just to gather info but maybe get kids identified in a photo. Over time I sensed there was a change in prevailing attitudes about this, less willingness to allow outsiders, even obviously friendly ones, onto your property.
The town team baseball coach in Benson told me he decided to have an unlisted phone number because "a picture of our house turned up on the Internet," inexplicably I guess.
As time passed, I think an understanding set in that coaches would have the responsibility fall on them more directly, to get info to the media if they wanted to see coverage. Some coaches were coverage-conscious and others not so much. I have been absent from the corporate media for 12 years. I can't be sure how it's all going now. But we do know: the Hancock Record is no more. I hope the Hancock community remembers all I did on their behalf, writing about their youth, for years and years.
Papers are consolidating and closing. Recently we heard about about the Raymond/Prinsburg paper shuttering. My immediate thought was that I wondered if the new tariff wars, which have caused the price of newsprint to go up, is the reason.
We shouldn't care because we have the Internet, right? But I'm not sure youth sports has done nearly enough to establish its coverage online. Instead I have seen only "baby steps." Maybe the broad public doesn't care. But maybe with time we'll see a true migration of high school sports coverage to online. Everything is changing all the time.
What about church? Whether you call them "mainstream" or "mainline" denominations, I do not sense a lot of hope, frankly. I have to wonder how much longer Morris can sustain two ELCA Lutheran churches in town. Some people were concerned when Faith Lutheran chose to build new. Faith Lutheran would have to be the winner if there were consolidation of the two churches now, because of the obvious handicapped accessibility issues presented by First. The issue can obviously get emotional.
It was against my basic nature to go to church for many years. I'm 63 years old which puts me at the heart of the boomer generation. Our parents brought us to church when we were kids but we became skeptical when we got old enough to make our own decisions. I am attending church once again at First Lutheran, the one with all the steps. My future at that church has been determined: my late mother would want me to go there, even when the experience is basically ruined by loud, unruly infants at the Sunday services. I just sit there looking devout.
So much about the experience seems outdated. The offering plates bother me - can't we just make periodic contributions some other way? Well, I do. We look up to the pastor as if he's such a wise guru. This system developed in the days when the pastor might be one of the most educated people around. That's no more. We are annoyed by "evangelicals" around us who seem more interested in politics, kissing the ring of Donald Trump, than in their faith. But as a boomer I must withdraw from my normal instincts of being so analytical. Just go to church, man.
Marching band has a glorious chapter of history in Morris. We hear the name of Bob Schaefer talked up so much. Hardly anyone mentions John Woell. And yet I think Woell kept standards just as high. This lasted until societal pressures built up, with kids getting more diverse interests (including sports camps), and band became too tough a sell. But I was in our marching band ranks during its last grand chapter, when we went to Winnipeg and other places.
A few marching bands are still out there. The Irondale band is coming back to Morris for its annual intensive summer camp session. Unfortunately their public performance will be on the same night as Horticulture Night, according to what I've been told. Man, Morris can be such a slow and lazy time in summer, and now we have two big events on the same night. Everyone at Horticulture Night will be able to clearly hear the band sounds.
I'll give you the heads-up that Irondale is not your father's marching band (in other words, not my marching band). It's quite avant garde but it's wonderfully entertaining. They'll perform at Big Cat Stadium in the most special event to be held there, IMHO. We as a society must eradicate football. We should all be praying for fewer boys going out for football this fall. Let's take care of our kids' health.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The midsummer of newspapers' discontent

We have entered that most blessed time of year known as "midsummer." The weather for June was pretty mild with lots of cool and wet days. That's pleasant enough but it is not the apex of our cherished summer season, a time of year we know has a fleeting quality to it. Right now we can bask in hot and humid weather, overbearing some of the time - make no mistake about it - but a part of us wants to say "hallelujah."
We can reflect on this time period over the very long and overbearing winter. How wonderful now to get your skin baked a little. We see it as an excuse to slow down. The atmosphere seems laid-back for everyone. School activities are suspended. Many years ago I covered the various levels of summer baseball for the Morris newspaper. The newspaper was so much bigger then and I could roll up my sleeves for any one issue and really mine the sports scene.
VFW and Legion baseball were the highest priorities. I never felt totally comfortable around the Little League diamonds, perhaps sensing that these kids should compete free of media attention. Nevertheless I covered both this and elementary softball for girls. Softball for kids did not exist when I started at the Morris paper. The Legion team seemed like a continuation of the high school season.
Our Legion team placed second in state a few years ago. I thought that was such a tremendous accomplishment, so it was with great displeasure that I observed the mediocre coverage given by the Willmar newspaper. That paper prides itself on area youth sports coverage. The coverage goes beyond what you would expect the newspaper there to do. The Legion season of that summer reached its climax on a Saturday, and the Willmar paper has always seemed to have trouble reviewing games played on Saturday. Saturday games are generally rare. I suspect the sputtering has something to do with the work schedules of the Willmar sports people. In the final article that summer, the name "Mac Beyer" was spelled "Mac Beier." Had I been responsible for a glitch like that, it would be cause for serious name-calling.
I wanted to use the Willmar paper as my info source for a final, triumphant blog post to write about the Morris Legion team. Second in state! That was quite a deal. I could not write the kind of post I wanted. Instead I wrote a brief post that mostly complained about the Willmar paper's deficiencies.
How much longer will the Willmar paper try to hang in there with area-wide sports coverage? There are already leaks in the dike: games that don't get reported for whatever reason - uncooperative or lazy coaches? - and mistakes and discrepancies in the coverage.
News reports are telling us that the decline of newspapers continues apace. The trend is not "flattening out" the way Warren Buffett reportedly expected it would. And now there is a new threatening specter for newspapers: the Trump tariff war. The U.S. Department of Commerce levied its first tariffs on Canadian uncoated groundwood paper six months ago. This has resulted in a big increase in the cost of newsprint. Publishers have done what they had to, by cutting page counts, decreasing issue frequency and laying off employees. And, we learn that small, local papers have been the hardest hit! Oh my. You can find case studies in the news about how papers are struggling to adapt. This is after retrenchment had already reared its ugly head like here in Stevens County, Minnesota, where Forum Communications has had to apply the scythe in several ways.
The tariff exacerbates the situation badly, not that we really need papers in our age of the Internet, but we really hate seeing them disappear too. One CEO is quoted saying the tariffs are "a kick in the teeth." And oh my God, the new landscape with tariffs is impacting those ad circulars that come as a stack with each week's Morris newspaper! Maybe some people look at these - Elden's? - but those people are not in the same orbit as me. Mostly the fliers are for Alexandria businesses. I set them aside when I have occasion to page through the Morris paper.
Have you noticed how much "fluff" is on pages 1-3 of the Morris paper? Instead of real hard news, which might be useful for us to comb through, there's feel-good material about people doing good things, to be sure, but so what? A disaster drill? I would expect local agencies to do such drills and for the drills to be successful. Again, so what? If the drill were not successful, would we read about it? I know how these things get covered: some guy with an agency calls the paper and requests it. The paper obliges with a nice pat on the back spread. But do we as readers need to consume this?
Anyway, the tariff thing has caused U.S. commercial printing companies to pay more for paper, thus the increases get passed on to customers, including advertisers who run prepaid inserts in papers. The Alexandria prepaid inserts used to come here as the Lakeland Shopper. The Lakeland Shopper is a Forum Communications product. When the Forum invaded Stevens County to take over our print products (which used to include the Hancock paper), I guess it was a matter of time before that ungodly pile of Alex ad fliers would get pushed into the Morris paper.
Thankfully I don't buy the paper, I just look at it in public places. The circulation of the Morris paper has been in a tailspin - I wonder when we'll see all the fallout from that.
Advocates for youth sports need to pay attention to what is happening with our hallowed Fourth Estate. The decline process of papers means sports will need promotion and reporting from other quarters. Those avenues online certainly present themselves. But youth sports has been way too slow in adjusting, in harnessing the new media to stay high-profile and to make sure it keeps getting the desired resources.
Football practice begins at around the time of the county fair. Maybe football doesn't deserve support any more. I have tried putting forth a clarion call about this. News items surface regularly about how we must simply reject football, and the sooner the better. Most recently we learned of Tyler Hilinski, Washington State quarterback, who took his own life. He had the brain of a 65-year-old, not to disparage people who actually are 65 years old. Hilinski's parents blame the changes in his brain on CTE, a traumatic and degenerative brain disease detected in many older athletes.
I felt defensive in high school over not having the talent or inclination to play sports. It doesn't help that newspapers like in Willmar shower such endless special attention on athletes. Increasingly I feel concern about this. Issue after issue of the West Central Tribune gets churned out, always with a sports section that has the effect of glorifying kids who play sports like football. Are the kids lured by the opportunity for "glory," as it were? Well, I think they obviously are. And I look at the death of a single person like Hilinski as reason enough to negate football, to wipe it out, and to make us look closely at the risks kids take in all sports.
It's nice for someone like me to realize I won't have any cognitive issues related to football, because I didn't play it, but I feel for all my peers who did. Why can't we as a society be smarter?
Enjoy getting your skin baked the rest of July. That's one risk I do take.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, June 29, 2018

Questions of taste in connection to obituaries

(Note: I have had this post in drafts for a while. I wrote it before the item about the nasty obituary for Kathleen Demhlow in the Redwood Falls Gazette.)

Should people only be remembered on the upside? It's a re-occurring question in the journalistic world, even the world of small town newspapers. When someone dies and that person had a dubious part in his/her background, so conspicuous we feel we shouldn't ignore it, should it be in the obit?
I remember here in Morris, we had a short front page article about the accidental death of someone who had allegations connected to him. I vaguely recall the details but won't get into that. I didn't write the article but I witnessed some of the highly-charged reaction.
At the time I didn't understand the severity of the reaction. Some of my cohorts thought likewise, that it wasn't that big a deal. I remember them reasoning that the article was factually accurate. So. . .
In those days, us journalistic types could show hubris about such things. The current manager of the Morris newspaper thought the article was reasonable and even praiseworthy. "Journalism" seemed more on a pedestal then, at least corporate journalism which was the type that still prevailed. Today my perspective is rather different. I'm much less likely to defer to corporate journalistic sources. Corporate journalism is just part of a wide mix of information and opinions that are dispensed today.
Non-corporate journalism is not to be assumed inferior. The reader must use discretion. While some of us do that better than others, the overall landscape seems healthier and more accountable. David Hogg and others use this Twitter thing to have real impact. I have not gotten into either Twitter or Facebook. Admittedly I'm a dinosaur who continues doing "long-form journalism." It's my nature.
Another exhibit of obituary controversy, this at the state level: it's regarding the death many years ago of a guy who ran the Minnesota Poll. I was still at the Morris newspaper at the time. The obit for this poor fellow appeared in the Star Tribune. It included with some emphasis the crash and burn the Poll experienced in connection with statewide political races in the late 1970s. That's going back a ways. As I recall the Poll favored the Democrats which fed into the long-time bias meme regarding the media, and let me tell you, the Star Tribune of the 1970s was truly liberal-biased in a way that was clear as the back of your hand. I say this not as some contemporary Sean Hannity type because I'm anything but, as regular consumers of my writing know. The Star Tribune of the 1970s beat its chest in presenting the paternalistic form of entitled liberalism that had currency.
So the public was revolting against that at the time. They revolted against Wendell "Wendy" Anderson, a Democrat once quite in favor, who crashed politically just like some eccentric guy in a wingsuit. "Wendy" appointed himself to the U.S. Senate. Meanwhile he pushed Rudy Perpich up to governor. I once read that if you watched carefully, you noticed that Perpich never finished a sentence. After I read that, I was always distracted watching Perpich in an interview.
I remember when the state media had a big bulletin about how Perpich would start going by "Rudolph." I remember when Perpich made a visit to Morris and I tried reporting his name as Rudolph but Jim Morrison changed it back to Rudy. Jim was right. That "bulletin" was no big deal because the real story was that Perpich was only intending to sign legal documents with the more formal name, he wasn't intending to become the red-nosed reindeer.
In the wake of the obituary for the Minnesota Poll guy, with the non-flattering paragraphs, there was high dudgeon in certain quarters. I had reason to exchange emails with a Star Tribune obit writer, not the one who wrote the obit in question, some time after that. Her name was Trudi. Trudi remembered well the tempest over the obit for the Minnesota Poll guy. She gave me helpful background about this. She said the deceased was part of a good old boy network connected to the Star Tribune. Thus the reaction of umbrage within the hallowed halls of the Star Tribune.
Factually the obit was right on with how badly the Minnesota Poll misfired. But the question is whether the failure should have been part of the obit when the poor fellow died. My opinion now, as we're surrounded with the new media landscape, is to leave people alone when they die. Report on family and cover the guy's basic bio with nothing dubious or notorious.
Which brings us to the subject of Milt Pappas. Guys my age who followed baseball in the 1960s well remember this name: a guy who was a solid if not outstanding pitcher, very consistent over a number of years. Athletes perform in such a fishbowl. We must step back and realize they're human beings. Pappas died in April of 2016. God rest his soul.
It seemed every obit for Pappas included with some emphasis how he was on "the wrong side" of a major trade (allegedly) gone bad. The ESPN article acknowledged this in the first sentence. Those old good old boy friends of the Minnesota Poll guy should know their beefs were not an isolated instance of media behavior.
Pappas appeared in his first major league game when he was 18. He settled into a pattern of reliably winning 15-16 games a year. His career record was 209-164 with an ERA of 3.40. Special distinction: Pappas was the first major leaguer to win 200 games without ever winning 20 in a season. He just missed winning 100 games in each league: his National League total was 99.
Although several players were included in the trade of note, the key figures were Pappas and Frank Robinson. Robinson went from the Reds to the A.L.'s Baltimore Orioles and blossomed into a total superstar over a long time. He won the Triple Crown in 1966. Were it not for him, our Minnesota Twins might have repeated with the A.L. pennant in '66. And Pappas? The myth grew that he was a dud in the trade.
It probably didn't help that Pappas was an early activist in the players union. He sought the role of "player rep" when it could be contentious. Today's players owe a debt to Pappas and others like him. There was a controversy involving how baseball should conduct itself at the time of the funeral for RFK. I won't wade into all the details, but let's just say Pappas picked up baggage, mostly undeserved, that might have fed a meme about how he was the poster boy for bad trades. It was essentially, factually untrue. Pappas was the same pitcher after the trade as he was before.
I view those errant obituaries as a journalistic embarrassment. But such issues are not unusual and can arise at all levels, even our small town papers. Will my obit someday say "Brian Williams, who resigned from the Morris newspaper amid severe duress in 2006, amid a time of rapid change for the print media?" I don't know. I am of a mind now that obits should be private matters, overseen by the family and not turned over to press people or even the funeral home. But I will note that funeral homes appear to defer totally to the family's wishes, so that's probably a non-issue. The prices charged by funeral homes for everything is the bigger issue!
Let's back off and stay simple and respectful with material published at the time of someone's death. A dry biography is called for. In a previous era, the Norman Rockwell era, obits for many women were loaded with details about what their husbands did, as if their husbands defined them, which unfortunately in many cases they did. That's a whole other subject for examination at another time. Thanks for reading.
From RealClear Politics, Nov. 11, 2002:
The Minnesota Poll has a long and inglorious history in Minnesota. Most famously, in 1978 the Minneapolis Tribune (as it then was) called all three major statewide races wrong by a wide margin on the basis of its Minnesota Poll. According to the Tribune on the Sunday before the election, the Democratic candidates were about to sweep the gubernatorial and two senate races.
Instead, 1978 was the year of the "Minnesota massacre." The Democrats were routed; Republican Al Quie was elected governor, and Republicans Dave Durenberger and Rudy Boschwitz were elected senators.
The Tribune immediately acknowledged the gravity of its errors and promised to set things right. In 1987 the Star Tribune hired Rob Daves to run the Minnesota Poll and the poll was returned to the newsroom. Daves has continued to direct the poll since that time.
In the past two elections, the Minnesota Poll's final pre-election poll results have proved wildly misleading in comparison with the actual electoral results. In each case, the final poll results have dramatically understated Republican support. The discrepancy between the Minnesota Poll results and actual electoral results does not appear to be random; it has consistently disfavored Republicans.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwillhy73@yahoo.com

Monday, June 25, 2018

A St. Cloud State Homecoming for 2018

UMM had an official "poet laureate" as featured speaker for graduation a few years ago. It was a nice presentation, as I recall. Included was an anecdote that involved St. Cloud State University. Immediately I wondered if the speaker would fall into a most familiar theme. Predictably it happened. She invoked the "party school" thing. Her intention was not to rip the institution, just to seek a little levity, I think in connection with a well-known reputation.
I once heard a UMM chancellor, pre-Jacqueline Johnson, diss SCSU as a "party school." It was such an easy potshot to take. SCSU's woes with the image reached its annual climax with - sigh - Homecoming. Homecoming! How many students even know the true purpose of a school's homecoming, and just consider the superficial aspects: royalty and the football game mainly.
I sensed when I was at St. Cloud State that Greek life treated Homecoming as it deserved, mostly. They were "in" with the coronation and showed respect as you'd find at your typical high school. The queen got her crown and reacted ecstatically. Greek life was not without sin in the big picture, naturally.
A wild and disrespectful air permeated SCSU Homecoming in a previous time. I say "in a previous time" because SCSU has not had Homecoming in the past few years. That's how bad it got: the SCSU president, Earl Potter, felt the only approach to a longstanding problem was to get rid of the event. He didn't want to be the one going on the record about this decision in the Star Tribune. He delegated to a former classmate of mine, Mike Nistler, who's associated with the exquisite "Minnesota Moments" magazine. The Nistlers chose to send their own children to UMM. I was pleased to encounter one of them when taking a feature photo for the Morris newspaper at Newman Center.
Mike and wife Jeanine were both in mass communications at SCSU. It was the days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, in other words pre-digital times. The idea of typing with some sort of electronic screen in front of you, was barely coming into the picture when I graduated. The typical newsroom included darkroom chemicals, waxers and scissors, the latter seeming almost so necessary they were like an appendage on your body.
Potter cancelled Homecoming despite knowing there would be ripples of pure amazement. It was so drastic. What school would simply nix homecoming? It was like an advertisement for the severe extent of the problem that existed there. SCSU had issues with Homecoming for a number of years, as well as with its overall reputation, but the apex according to CW was 1988. The Washington Post had an article at the time. You know, if you're going to have a "riot" of this type, it should at least be with some sort of good political cause in mind. It should not just be pure chaos. But chaos it was, as "hundreds of rioting students burned furniture and clashed with police in a second night of Homecoming-weekend violence that resulted in 50 arrests by officers clad in riot gear," the Washington Post reported.
And we learned that as many as 1500 people, including many St. Cloud State University students, were involved in the chaotic misbehavior over a four-block area. Jerry Witt here in Morris teased me (good-naturedly) by claiming to have seen me in one of the newspaper photos. No, I have rarely made the trip back to St. Cloud through the years. My last excursion was in 2006. I went mainly to participate in the morning 5K run for Homecoming, still in existence. The 5K by its nature is not going to be disrupted by idiotic behavior. It's insulated from the foolish stuff.
So I asked myself, why can't all of Homecoming be permeated by this kind of calm, respectful spirit? I guess it makes too much sense. I made that trip just a few months after my departure from the Morris newspaper. Despite having lots of free time to get in shape and prepare, my 5K performance wasn't very good. But it was a fun time and I enjoyed eating at the Perkins restaurant close to campus afterward. I remember being at the Perkins late in the evening, sitting at the counter by myself, when I was a student, and an SCSU custodian who recognized me sat down by me and was most pleasant. Such are the simple things that can get lodged in one's memory.
The rioters in 1988 tore down street signs and jumped on cars. They threw beer bottles and pieces of lumber. About 60 law enforcement officers shot tear gas to disperse the crowd! They made 46 arrests. Some law enforcement were enlisted from neighboring counties. The State Patrol was called upon. The unruly mob was "clever" enough to set a dumpster on fire.
Assistant Police Chief Jim Moline, who I once interviewed for a class project - I forget the nature of that - was quoted in the Washington Post coverage. Alcohol was the devil behind much of the wreckage of SCSU's reputation through the years, underscored by Moline's comments. "The catalyst for this whole thing was a lot of young people with a lot of booze in them."
Why? I must ask that one simple question. What psychological demon sprouted in so many young people of the 1970s, making them think it was necessary to behave in this way? Society did us a "favor" right at the time I graduated from Morris High School, by lowering the drinking age. Society was riddled by guilt over the Vietnam war and figured that if young men had been sent in waves to die in that needless war, their age peers should be able to avail themselves of the "adult trait" of gulping down alcohol-laced beverages.
The parents of the boomers had a lifestyle of going to establishments like the VFW, Legion, Eagles and Elks, there to drink and then to stumble home, in the days before MADD. The kids followed suit. Then society began to wake up, partly with MADD's resolution. I look back and shake my head.
I remember a PSA that actor Art Carney filmed as the change set in. He talked about how we bandied about the phrase "having a drink." It was just so assumed that "having a drink" meant having something that included alcohol, Carney noted. He said we seriously needed to re-think the phrase. Why not think of various juices, soft drinks or even "water," Carney implored. I felt this PSA was so insightful with its simplicity and directness, its common sense as it were.
Society was making progress but these things always take time. It's like turning around a barge in a river. Our parents weren't going to change much. (My own parents did not drink.) The wellspring for hope is always with the youth. Perhaps symbolically, Mr. Potter who was sincere in trying to stomp out the old image (perhaps mandated by the State of Minnesota), had alcohol in his system when he was killed in a car crash where he lost control of his vehicle.
Booze, booze, booze. There was a time when it seemed to make the world go 'round. Perhaps it took hold as a way for World War II veterans to deal with PTSD. Smoking was another vice with a like purpose, perhaps. Weren't the GIs presented with free cigarettes by the cigarette companies in the war? So to get them hooked? Think of the strides we really have made as a society. Today it's unimaginable to think of someone smoking in a restaurant. We accept this value as the norm today. Oh, but to slip into a time machine and go back a few years!
Can St. Cloud put its insidious history of the SCSU Homecoming behind it? There is an effort to move forward, to re-institute Homecoming. Perhaps the institution will benefit from the cooling-off period of a few years sans Homecoming, just like UND had a cooling-off period before adopting a new nickname to replace "Fighting Sioux." Thinking of the old "Sioux" moniker is just like re-imagining restaurants that were blue with cigarette smoke once. In each instance: What were we thinking?
Will SCSU be whistling past the graveyard as it contemplates bringing back Homecoming? Can we count on a new generation of students to be more mature and intelligent? I truly think there is hope. So, plans are in the works for a 2018 Homecoming at my old stomping grounds. Will it have a 5K run? I wouldn't rule out making a trip back for that. This time my "performance" standards would be nonexistent. I'd simply complete the course, then enjoy my little walk to the Perkins restaurant on the other side of Division.
Perhaps the highlight of my 2006 trip was to notice that a left turn lane and left turn signal are installed at the busy intersection there. There was no excuse back in the 1970s for not having that. We must pursue progress on all levels. No more manual typewriters!
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Rain, the Park and The Cowsills

John C. Reilly's parody movie about pop music biopics included a gesture toward the Cowsills. The Reilly movie was called "Walk Hard." Its main inspiration was "Walk the Line," the movie about Johnny Cash. Movies like "Walk the Line," "Ray" (about Ray Charles) and others started becoming predictable. Artist pays dues to achieve fame, succumbs to self-destructive temptations but lands on his feet, mostly.
I saw "Walk Hard" and "Walk the Line" in the theater. "Walk Hard" was brilliant satire. Alas, it seems that too often satire floats over people's heads. It's an indirect form of making a point, like irony. I hesitate making this point because it makes me seem aloof. But I make it out of disappointment in finding that the theater turnout was negligible, even though "Walk Hard" had just been released.
The Reilly character goes through a number of pop music phases, even a protest phase from the '60s. The guy hosts a typical schlock 1970s TV variety show. He does disco (obviously). And there's a takeoff on the Cowsills.
The Cowsills' niche was as a family band. I confess I under-appreciated them at the time. Years later when hearing a reference, I sort of had the group pigeon-holed as a fleeting chapter in our pop culture that evaporated as pop culture chapters do. Although I associated more than one song with them, I thought of them as basically the equivalent of a one-hit wonder group. The one song that pops into my head is "The Rain, the Park and Other Things." Weird song title, actually. It doesn't follow the book for pop music.
What exactly is meant by "other things" which seems like a throwaway part of the title? The explanation, I guess, is that the song was in the midst of the chaotic torrent known as the '60s. There is a psychedelic air to the song. Musically the song has a haunting depth to it. It contradicts the Cowsills' image as being of the "bubblegum" realm.
The Cowsills may have performed in a charming, beat-oriented fashion with Susan doing the go-go dancing thing, but really their music had an impressive sheen of craftsmanship. Maybe you shake your head as you focus on the "bubblegum" aspect. Surely this group was packaged for commercial success. They were disciplined musical entertainers managed by keen marketers, but none of this contradicts the investment of art in the compositions, recordings and performances. I think our world of today, frankly, could use some "bubblegum" sound. It would loosen everyone up. It would make us less "uptight," to use a word from the 1960s lexicon.
To use a cliched term, there was "innocence" to it all. Paul Revere and the Raiders fit in with all of that. The Monkees, never mind that the four guys were sometimes only a superficial representative of their music, epitomized also. Music with "a beat" is not by definition lowbrow. The top songwriters produce lyrics that follow all the rules, even with disco.

An upbeat time capsule
"The Rain, the Park and Other Things" has been described as a "sunshine pop classic." The sheer energy of youth is felt through all such music from the time, in a manner I just do not sense today. Remember when Paul Revere and the Raiders hosted a TV show that was a spinoff from "American Bandstand?" I can still remember the opening to that show that had the guys driving dune buggies. The young generation wanted to have fun and feel love. It makes us sad now, or makes me sad anyway, as I realize that behind the veneer of all the youthful joy, the Vietnam war was reaching its apex with the body bags. It was the older generation who failed to show proper vigilance in guiding us. Remember, there was a profound "generation gap."
The Cowsills had monster hits but a couple stopped their climb at No. 2. Maybe this held back their outright bid for music immortality. A shame of course. I think another factor was that it was a rather large family together for the endeavor. Too many in the group for people to easily memorize names? The Beatles and Monkees were a nice compact four. As for Paul Revere and the Raiders, they were essentially thought of as two people: Mark Lindsay and Paul Revere himself. The namesake of the band was actually not the top banana. Lindsay was the clear star and Revere played keyboards and had a nice smile with gleaming teeth. Revere was a conscientious objector from the war.
"The Rain, the Park and Other Things" came out in a time when executives running major record labels were actual musicians! (And remember, Mothers Against Drunk Driving was once actually run by mothers!) The song was written by Artie Kornfeld and Steve Duboff. The original title of the song did not have "And Other Things."
At first the song was going to be the 'B' side (the flip side) of a record that would have a Motown song, "Come Around Here," showcased. There was no initial sense that "The Rain, The Park" was going to be big. The record company did some testing in radio and learned the truth: "The Rain, The Park" would now seem to be the 'A' side choice. But a key tweak awaited to be made with the song title. Kornfeld made the decision just an hour away from the recording being pressed. You obviously know that vinyl records ruled in those days.
Kornfeld said he tapped something spiritual within him. He said "Let's call it 'The Rain, the Park and Other Things.' " He wasn't sure of the exact wellspring at the time. Just a little 1960s Karma? That's how I view it. So much of '60s pop culture seemed inscrutable. It had a happier sheen that today's pop culture which seems actually troubled. And the irony is that the profound tragedy of the Vietnam war was going on. The war reflected the world of our parents, who weren't stupid but just couldn't see past the machinations of government and the military industrial complex.
Kornfeld seemed to pull the title of the classic tune out of the ether. He later would describe it as a predictor of Woodstock. The song was recorded in August of 1967. The production, arrangement and vocal harmonies warrant an 'A' grade. There's a harp glissando, bells and a rain sound effect. Lowbrow? Certainly not, not even by the "bubblegum" Cowsills.
The family played all their instruments in live performances.
"The Rain, the Park and Other Things" pines for sheer happiness, offered by the mysterious flower girl. It taps the base impulse of love. "Oh, I don't know why, she simply caught my eye." Finally "the sun breaks through and the girl is gone." But the guy still has "one little flower" in his hand. And he realizes "her love showed me the way to find a sunny day." He wonders if she was just a dream.

From childhood to full maturity
Susan Cowsill was integral to the success of the group. She was the cute little tyke who played the tambourine at the start. She surely blossomed. She could dance with the best of the "go-go" performers, a category of dancing that seems to me to have just disappeared. Why? Susan showcased this wonderfully for a Monkees' video of "Valerie."
Susan adjusted well to adulthood even with less fame. She has stayed active in music and has made a decent if unspectacular spark. She showed no signs of being a maladjusted former child star, none at all, and for that I'm very happy. She's the only daughter in the family. At age 9 she was the youngest person to be directly involved in a top 10 record. She developed a professional songwriting skill.
The Cowsills were an indelible part of 1960s pop culture, now evoking nostalgia as effectively as any other act. Having hits climb to No. 2 is phenomenal, but remember that America worships being No. 1. Maybe that's why the group isn't quite in the pantheon of immortals, or don't seem to be. Never mind, I salute the group as much as any other pop act of the time.
Give me The Cowsills and Paul Revere and the Raiders. Why couldn't Mark Lindsay and Paul Revere have stayed together longer? Oh, the name of their TV show was "Happening '68" with a boffo theme song.
Most people who write about The Cowsills make reference to the Partridge Family. I am doing so only as an obligation. The Partridge Family were an attempted clone from the Cowsills. It's too bad Donny Bonaduce couldn't turn out as more of a normal human being. Susan Cowsill most definitely did.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com