"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)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Morris paper's front page seems like groveling

It's hardly necessary for me to present any criticism of the Morris paper, or as they might call themselves, the "Morris-Hancock" paper. Since the paper has grown not at all since the purported "merger" began, it can readily be described as bogus. I have called it a lie. But does anyone care?
The paper has nakedly tried cutting its way to profit over the past decade. As time marches forward, an increasing number of people are not going to realize the paper was once twice a week. Perhaps a simple weekly is suitable for Morris. But it has become such a small paper.
Has the media landscape changed that dramatically? The Elbow Lake newspaper remains generous in size. The popular "Senior Perspective" has not shown signs of retrenchment. Why the disparity? Maybe we ought to theorize that the Morris economy has something to do with it. I have wondered if there might be a "Hector phenomenon" here. The Star Tribune had a story on how the town of Hector MN was having its economy suffer because of being just a half hour's drive from a cluster of big box stores. In Morris we're just 45 minutes away. Also consider that Alex (or "Alec") is most inviting. It's not only inviting for shopping, it's inviting as a place to live. Think of many of our friends who have re-located there.
We get showered with advertising circulars for Alexandria businesses due to the fact the Morris and Alex papers have the same owner. I suspect those Alex businesses get exposure in Morris as a "perk" for advertising with Forum Communications, the owner. Elden's would never pay the same price as Willie's to reach the specific Morris audience, would it? We get circulars for "your hometown Sears store."
Peculiar front page
I'm writing this post because of what the Morris (or Morris-Hancock) paper shoved at us on Saturday (8/19). The paper is its normal size of 18 pages. Remember that for quite a while, it sat at 24 pages. So the 18-page current paper burns up its front page with a self-serving, desperate sounding, groveling type of message simply telling us to keep patronizing the paper. In effect, "Give us your money."
We're supposed to wonder what life would be like without our local paper. I suspect many Hancock residents are sifting through the reality of having the Hancock Record taken away from them. If there's no real shock yet, perhaps there will be with the onset of fall and the start of school activities.
It's interesting: we're told that newspapers generally are fading because people get their news and information online. However, as I pointed out in a conversation with Randy Thielke last week, schools have not taken it upon themselves to report and promote sports teams on their own website. Nor are coaches taking it upon themselves, so it's really up to the local paper in one way or another. Ten years ago I was expecting schools to get much more involved, to establish platforms like what we see with the UMM website having a big, dynamic sports element where you can find everything you need at all times.
Sports competes for support from the school budget along with everything else. So why shouldn't schools and their sports programs roll up their sleeves more? "We don't have time." There's a knee-jerk response. Well, accept the consequences if you find the visibility of your programs lowered. How in heck is Hancock sports going to get its due in the Morris-based paper if the Morris paper is no bigger than before? It's elementary: something will have to be jettisoned. If the Morris paper goes out of its way to accommodate Hancock, I assure you there will be blowback from Morris interests.
The paper's personnel are not above misrepresenting things. Here is an email I got from a main street business friend on June 12:
The new ad guy was in today, saying that the new "Stevens County Times" will run anywhere between 20-25 pages per issue, depending on content from both Hancock and Morris. They are re-doing the website to use the same template as the Forgo Forum, West Central Tribune etc. Apparently there will be some "free" content (a selection of stories from the paper edition), but only the people that pay for a paper subscription will get access to the full Monty. Those of us that pay for space ads will also get digital versions, and for an extra fee will get "search optimization" links from choice words therein.
The newspaper was actually just 16 pages recently, if you exclude the  county fair wrap-around. BTW remember those Denny Hecker wrap-arounds that were with the Minneapolis paper for a long time? It's unconscionable for the paper to "burn" its whole front page - such a limited resource - using large headline type to basically grovel at our feet, to plead for enough support to stay in business, I guess.
You know what? Millennials do not believe in paying for information, period.
The email quoted in this post suggested that we will accept the Sun Tribune as a "middleman" for getting information, with the paper able to scrape in money for this. I don't care about the newspaper's website. We can read obituaries on the funeral home's website and in a much more timely way. Ten years ago people weren't that adept at search - today they are much better. It's no sweat to navigate around the web with good ol' Google.
And, to hell with "district court news." It's simply a vehicle for supplying the local gossip mill, so we can whisper about who's getting minor citations. A former First Lutheran pastor was livid about having his minor speeding ticket get in the paper. "Why does it have to be in the paper?" he said.
Well, we can all choose not to do business with the paper. Please give this option greater consideration. And, I will implore local business people one more time: stop supporting those "sucker ads." The county fair wraparound was an example of this. Lists of businesses that are simply there to have their name with some good cause or idea. Let the paper do this promotion on its own. Don't let yourself be taken advantage of. Use ads to inform the public of your products and services. That's what it's for.
However, more and more people will probably go to Alex anyway. In summing up my thoughts about that current front page, allow me to use a word that I found was a favorite of the newspaper manager: "asinine."
A final thought/aside: Why should the school give the paper any exclusive access to info pertinent to the school, when the paper just tries monetizing it? The school should go directly to the public, which makes total sense if you apply a few brain cells. Get into the year 2017.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, August 18, 2017

Teacher and coach Roger Schnaser, RIP

(Oak Ridge Funeral Care image)
The boomer generation of Morris lost another of its teachers in June. We had been distant from this fellow for a long time. Upon hearing his name, a flood of memories comes back. I associate this guy with my adolescence. Ah, adolescence: a time of life that can have anxiety and insecurity. Roger Schnaser was there to hold our hands. He taught phy ed and health and was a coach.
"Tall" might be the word coming immediately to mind. He was a rangy fellow and used that attribute in basketball. He learned to play basketball on the dusty floor of the barn on the family farm. He had a lifelong attachment to the sport. He coached varsity for a time in Morris. I think my classmate Gary Lembcke was already playing varsity at that time. Gary completed his hoops career under Wayne Haugen.
We hear a lot today about "retention" at our University of Minnesota-Morris. In other words, a lot of students start their education at UMM but don't finish it here. Roger Schnaser was the opposite. He began at Willmar Junior College (before it was called a community college or Ridgewater) and then came to UMM. He played basketball in a superlative way here. I assume that was at the old P.E. Annex. The Annex had personality but was rather primitive, like the gym we associate with "The Absent Minded Professor" with Fred MacMurray. The pool was downstairs. The science facility sits there now.
Junior college students have a reputation of being a notch or two below the brilliant minds we associate with our UMM, right? That can be a nasty stereotype. Schnaser handled UMM just fine and got a degree here in 1967. He began teaching in the Morris public school system. I have warm memories of the towering fellow, this in spite of the fact that one day when returning graded tests to us, he said to me "were you asleep when you took this test?"
My fondest vignette is from the annual Olympics Day in spring. I was in the pole vault and had readied myself using a makeshift system in the back yard. But I wasn't feeling real comfortable or confident. Suddenly, just before I'd make a run at it, I saw Schnaser poised on the opposite end of the pit, pointing his home movie camera right at me! I didn't want to let him down. I charged furiously toward the bar, planted the pole and got sufficient momentum to get over the bar! Thanks Mr. Schnaser. I remember I was competing with the late Gary Michaelson.
Schnaser's tenure came to an end here. He got his Master's in Recreation Administration at the University of Northern Colorado in 1973. But his next career chapter was in insurance. He was an agent for State Farm from 1975 to 2009. His obituary states that "he developed a strong network of friends, co-workers and policy holders who were subjected to many pranks and jokes."
He didn't leave basketball behind him. He found avenues for coaching. He was active in the Lutheran Church, assuming leadership roles. It was ditto with his daughters' schools. His humor and love of life were endearing. He cherished the Bible passage John 3:16.
Mr. Schnaser passed away peacefully on June 6, 2007, at Good Shepherd Forsythe Hospice House in Auburndale, Florida. He left us too soon at the age of 72. He came into this world when the U.S. was engaged in World War II, in 1944. His obit says he had "an idyllic rural upbringing and education." He graduated from Appleton High School in 1962. A trivia question: what was the sports nickname for Appleton? It was "Aces!"
A legacy of family
Roger is survived by his wife of 47 years, Linda. They had two daughters: Joa and Jill. His brother Kenneth is still a resident of Appleton. There are three other siblings: Pat, Mary and Don. He and Linda had four grandchildren. Brother Gene Schnaser preceded Roger in death.
Let's note that in addition to all the other components in his active life, Roger was in the National Guard.
Memorial services were on June 10 at Grace Lutheran Church in Winter Haven FL. Additional services were at Lutheran Church of the Redemption in Bloomington MN. Memorial donations to the American Cancer Society are encouraged.
I remember Roger had a ping pong tournament in phy ed class. Having had experience with the paddle, I did well and ended up in the championship showdown with John Martin (Liz Morrison's brother). The other students in our class assembled in the bleachers. I lost, which didn't surprise me because I've never been good at performing under pressure. Roger asked for applause for both of us at the end. Thank you, Mr. Schnaser.
And thanks for the little incentive you gave me in the pole vault. I hope that in heaven, you can stay in shape with that "Chicken Fat" record you played for us! "Give that chicken fat back to the chicken, and don't be chicken again." Rest in peace, Mr. Schnaser.
Addendum: Del Sarlette tells me that during the Morris Centennial in 1971, Roger's name was announced during the program whereupon our classmate Terry Rice shouted, without missing a beat: "Hey Shorty!" I remember noticing Roger right away at the funeral for Don Chizek, because he stood out so much with his height at the Assumption Church sanctuary.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

4-H foodstand loses some of its appeal

The family went out to the county fair for 2017. Last year we passed because of confusion over the changed fair schedule. Last year we made an attempt to come out on Wednesday only to be put off by the "private parking" signs at the road leading to the main fair parking lot. I was flabbergasted. It turns out the fair doesn't really get going on Wednesday, even though the community supper has been changed to Tuesday.
This is one of those things, I guess, where you just have to be in the know. Call it one of those small town things. "Didn't you know that? Everyone knows that." Well sorry, guess we're out of the loop.
Superior Industries has moved into the fair and taken a chunk. I guess that explained the "private parking" signs. I was told to check the Lee Center parking area. That's a long walk to the 4-H foodstand which has been our main priority. Last year Mom was not yet wheelchair-bound. The walk from Lee Center would have been too much for her. But even if we had made it, we would have discovered that the 4-H foodstand wasn't open on Wednesday. That would have upset me. I'm sure people checked out the foodstand on Wednesday expecting it to be open. A 4-H parent tells me the organization doesn't have the resources to open that early.
We returned to the 4-H foodstand for the 2017 fair, but that was not a wholly happy experience. In the past when there were three of us, we'd automatically order the "plate special." It included a sloppy joe, chips and coleslaw. This year there was no plate special on the menu. Why not offer fairgoers a nice little meal special?
I also found that the prices at the foodstand seemed high. I discussed this with a long-time 4-H leader on Sunday, and he said "you have to charge what other places charge." Nice little rationalization. Well, you don't "have to" charge what someone else charges. The fair is a tempting opportunity to gouge the public. I would just like to suggest that Stevens County 4-H should be above that. We all want to have warm feelings about Stevens County 4-H.
I heard someone on Monday say the soup seemed awfully "thin" at the 4-H foodstand. My family got overcharged for dessert on Sunday afternoon and of course I decided not to make an issue of it. Sometimes those very little kids working at the foodstand can be overwhelmed. Maybe the very youngest kids should be excused from doing that. Let the older kids and adults handle it. I was told that one pie a la mode and one brownie sundae came to about $9.50. I knew that was wrong but I let it go. I assumed it was an honest mistake. I hope it was.
Here's a theory: Maybe the person in charge of the 4-H foodstand this year wanted to show off about how much money he/she could make for 4-H. Well, money's honey, I guess, especially in the year 2017 when our happiness is determined by how the "Dow" behaves each year. I'm waiting for our benevolent Lord to straighten us out on this. God never rewards sheer materialism.
Next year I think we'll switch to the Hockey Association (VFW) foodstand. At least you have adults waiting on you there. I have fond memories of the VFW foodstand going back to when the VFW's people actually ran it: an endearing crowd with the likes of Darlene Olen. You'd order eggs over easy and Darlene would bark back "over hard." I'd chuckle. I guess Darlene preferred making them that way. At a certain point in the morning, the Elmer's Distributing crew (with Oscar Brandt) would show up and get seated at a couple of picnic tables there.
I loved those peaceful times at the fair when I wasn't preoccupied with newspaper duties. 4-H at the fair no longer needs a newspaper person around. They can do all that work themselves and I think that's nice.
I remember the fair from when it was much smaller than today. The late 1970s saw the fair at a rather rinky-dink level, prompting one to think the end might be near for the event. Commercial exhibits were in a rickety old building. The 4-H foodstand with Flossie Mathison in charge - bless her memory - had seating only around the perimeter. A big deal was made of getting an "indoor livestock arena" but this was really just a roof.
We went through a phase of having big-time country musicians here. A huge deal was made of this. The casinos came along and attracted all the performers. We still have those great "dirt" events. Well, here in the year 2017 our fair certainly seems healthy. We just don't want people getting too greedy, right?
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

When a deep dark tan in summer was nice

I hate to let go of this summer. Summer never lasts long enough. My generation when young thought it desirable to get a rich "tan" in summer. It was a sign of being "cool" to get such a tan - something that made you stand out in a positive way.
Our band director introduced his own daughter as "Miss Lobster" at the start of a summer rehearsal. We all laughed. Her tan was the optimal one. She was attractive too by the standards of that time. Being thin was a factor that went into the mix of being considered attractive. We have changed that yardstick, for the better to be sure. The human race has evolved since the days of the "wolf whistle" and females being called "babes" or "dames," the latter term tossed out by Frank Sinatra and his peers.
Do kids put any value in having a "tan" anymore? I read once that in pre-baby boomer times, a tan was something associated with having a hard labor type of job out in the fields. It was not desirable at all. My generation came along and suddenly thought it was quite fashionable, along with various behaviors that had questionable value: listening to loud "stereo" music, smoking dope and having a slouched posture. Ah, that was my generation.
I was acquainted with a female in the summer of 1973 who sat outside for long hours, letting the sun bake into her skin so she could get that much-sought deep tan.
My generation tried to act like we didn't care about money. Maybe this was because we didn't feel communism was worth fighting in Viet Nam. Let's try to sympathize with the values of the enemy, then. There was a professor on the St. Cloud State campus who was reputed to be openly favoring the North Vietnamese. Today he'd be "ambushed" and shamed by a Fox News reporter. The institution would apply the clamps to him. I won't type his name here.
At a certain point, the scientifically-affirmed dangers of sun exposure changed everyone's attitude about tans. My generation whimpered into a corner about that. Today the idea is to be protected when you're outdoors in summer. Be under some type of canopy. Get all the fresh air you want - that's great - but protect your skin from sun abuse that could lead to cancer.
My generation would be reluctant to admit much about our past values. I'm an exception writing this post. But I've always felt like an outlier relative to my generation.
I thought it was ridiculous, all the self-destructive behavior we put our imprimatur on, when young. Loud stereo music on expensive systems, which were status symbols, keeping our classmates awake at night. It was socially discouraged to complain about loud stereo music. This scourge was embraced by our young culture. Be ready to hear the Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein" play when you're trying to sleep. Watch your peers go to the downtown bars on weekends. This despite the fact these kids pleaded poverty all the time, like they had no money to spend. Where did the money come from to support their wasteful behavior? Hey, let's go to the "Cantina." There was free popcorn, I guess. Listen to Starbuck's "Moonlight Feels Right" on the jukebox. You know why this song hooked us? It was because of the little instrumental fill after the hook line.
I wandered about a bit in this sea of debauchery. I knew what it was like to sit at a table and occasionally "buy a round" and get a wave of thank yous from everyone. We watched shallow TV shows like "Happy Days." This time of year we'd be appreciating the extent of the tan we had achieved. We equated this with sexiness. In the old days it was associated with field labor. Today it's associated with cancer risk. Buy my oh my, my generation sure made its mark with the values it chose, whether counterproductive or not.
And hey, it could have been worse: what if we had supported the Viet Nam war? What if we had been lackadaisical about racism and sexism? So we were forward-looking in some respects. We were also disingenuous or schizophrenic or something like that, because we were all too ready to discard the left-leaning political philosophy we once had. We planted the seeds for the "tea party." We went from not caring much about money to being totally money-grubbing. We have done much to ensure we have Republican leadership in all three branches of government, meaning there is absolutely no hope for the time being of getting humanistic health care reform. People will die because of our foot-dragging. Children will die.
We were the ones who thought it was so unconscionable for 60,000 young men to die in Viet Nam. We shift and ruminate at least on a subconscious level. That's because we are so human an animal. But no more do our daughters seek to get the moniker "Miss Lobster." That was cute, John.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A cup of coffee and thoughts re. mortality

God bless our old Radarage "Cookmaster" microwave oven, by Amana. It's ancient. So simple to operate. Just a few buttons to deal with. So contrary to the trends of today. I see microwave ovens for sale today and there are all kinds of buttons to push. Our old Radarage is like a rock I can depend on. I approach it every morning at 5 a.m., give or take an hour, and prepare my hot morning instant coffee that activates my mental function.
My mother doesn't drink coffee and it was ditto with Dad. Mom has wheat bran flakes, the store brand from Willie's, every morning. Dad enjoyed his raisin bran. Our dog Sandy had his Cesar's dog food. Dad knew that as soon as I got in my recliner, Sandy would come along within seconds and ask to be fed. It became a morning gag in our household. We had Robin Meade of the HLN network on TV in front of us.
These days I watch "Morning Joe" with Joe and Mika - I'm not going to review the spelling of Mika's last name - discussing the notorious issues associated with Donald Trump and his administration. Is it Watergate redux? No one can predict of course.
Mom is 93 years old. Home health nurses visit us. I have never bet against my mother living longer. But of course no one lives forever. I am thankful she does not have the kind of cancer pain issues that I have long been familiar with through acquaintances. I am told that weakness will set in. As I write this, I sense that process is underway. She has enjoyed life to a great extent since coming home from Barrett Care Center.
We were in Barrett so long, it really did start feeling like home. I miss many of the people we shared time with there. Some of them, I'm sure, thought I was a little too overbearing or involved as a caregiver. Some of them seemed to like me totally and that's nice. A fellow caregiver who was also there a lot said to me: "You keep close watch on your mother all the time, and they (staff) don't like that." Perhaps staff fears I'll file some sort of complaint based on an alleged misstep in care. Nursing home residents present a heckuva challenge, and I fully support and admire those who work at these institutions.
Mom, in spite of her challenges, has enjoyed life just fine since coming home from Barrett. We have gone to church regularly along with the Wednesday night ELCA Lutheran sessions at the Met Lounge side room. Bridget serves us wonderfully there. Church at the Met Lounge? We must emphasize it's the side room.
It has always been folly trying to predict how much longer Mom will be with us. She will leave this life and join her husband Ralph in heaven. There she can play the "UMM Hymn" on the piano for Dad's enjoyment.
Mom will also join her sister Mildred and brother Edwin. Mildred of Oregon passed away a couple years ago from esophageal cancer - an unfortunate way to die. She was under the care of home hospice at the end, just like Mom is now. She stayed at the home of her stepdaughter and her husband. Aunt Mildred's husband was Ray Riedberger who had Hawley MN roots. She had a first marriage that produced five children but ended sadly. Let's just leave it at that. Many years passed before I saw any of those cousins again.
Edwin of San Diego had a son, Norman, who won high honors for his service in Viet Nam. My father always wondered if Norman had to do some very unpleasant things to win that. Norman had a twin brother Allan. Norman died of a heart attack several years ago. I regret not seeing more of them over the years. So, Norman will be in heaven awaiting my mother too.
My mother never liked it when I swore, so when she passes to the next life, I will have to resolve to never again utter a cuss word. I will have to remember to keep attending church like the Jimmy Stewart character in "Shenandoah," honoring his late wife's wishes. Stewart would sometimes go to his wife's gravesite and "converse" with her. I asked Del Sarlette once whether this kind of thing is normal or proper. Del said "yes" but he added: "Don't get too carried away with it."
Aunt Mildred was cremated and there was no service and not even an obituary. I will have no problems going that route again.
People come and go in this life. But our Radarage cooker is certain to go on forever, just like the cockroaches and Cher (according to the old joke). Indeed, contemporary products are made more complicated than their predecessors. Dave Barry wrote a column about this. He was inspired by an article he read quoting industry leaders lamenting the fact that consumers don't seem to spend enough time reading their owner's manuals. Barry sided with the consumers, writing that "products are made with too many functions, whereas people buy them to do one or two things." He talked about the "picture within a picture" feature of TVs made at the time. "It's hard enough to find one good thing to watch on TV," Barry quipped.
(Remember how "Radarage" inspired a bit of humor in the movie "Airplane?")
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Making a $ commitment to U of M-Morris

Dave Mona used to tease Sid Hartman about being tight with his money. People who grew up during the Depression have peculiar traits about money and material possessions, peculiar at least by today's standards. It's quite understandable in the context of what these people experienced in the 1930s.
Of course that time period gets ever more remote. People were defensive and protective. They wouldn't discard anything. We're 180 degrees opposite in our tech age of today, where we discard generations of that stuff and acquire a new generation. Obsolescence is so rapid. We have come to accept that as the norm. Our family still has a bulky, heavy TV set which we thought was so shiny new when we got it.
I grew up in a family with parents who were clinging to values nurtured in the Depression. I considered getting a second bicycle once and my father had reservations. As a kid, I wore clothing too large because "I'd grow into those" (and then they wouldn't have to be replaced as fast). Bless my parents because they dealt with their environment as best they could.
Our family has been blessed by having had our assets increase thanks to compound interest, going back to that time when banks paid interest. Remember those times? Given that blessing along with general prudence, we are in position to share a little with the institution that brought us to Morris.
We did make a gift at the time my father passed away four years ago. Was it a large donation? That is very subjective to judge. I think that two or three decades ago, it would have been considered large. The endless bull market of the recent past has shifted our standards for judging what an appreciable amount of money is. So, our donation of four years ago sort of came and went.
We're trying to do a little more now. So I got out our checkbook in a manner just as novel as if Sid Hartman did it. This is just as unusual as if Hartman were to pick up the tab for a lunch gathering of sports VIPs! I wrote out a check for $10,000 to the University of Minnesota Foundation. The point is to help the music department. I'm told this will be a quasi endowed fund. We're not in a position at least at the moment to make it a perpetually endowed fund. There are deep pocket people or corporations way above us, of course. We're just a family that happens to be associated with UMM's origins.
I'm getting to an age where my personal memories are getting more important. I witnessed the campus right from the get-go when it was in rapid transition from being an ag school. I was struck by the campus "circle drive." Music concerts were at Edson Auditorium. The music headquarters was the old historic building that now serves the multi-ethnic element. I once watched football from an upper level when it was played at the old P.E. Miller Field.
Football moved to a new facility where it enjoyed its glory era under the likes of coaches Al Molde and Mike Simpson. A football program of that caliber served its purpose at the time. Fortunes later faded whereupon we "solved" that by getting into a new conference. I will always miss the days when we played the well-known state universities. I guess the end had to come, but I cannot shed too many tears because football may be losing its cultural relevance due to the health issues. Soccer promotes much pride.
Music has marched forward through all of this. The Homecoming concert may be the most special day all year for UMM music. There is a whole succession of concerts through the school year, some more esoteric than others. They all serve the grand purpose of celebrating the music discipline on the UMM campus. I feel highly confident that UMM music represents a terrific investment for people like Mom and I who are contributing funds.
Regardless of the direction and priorities of higher education in the years ahead, there will always be a need for a vibrant, exciting music department. It enriches and it entertains. It is a PR ambassador. And it is safe. Nothing like the 2005 goalpost incident would ever happen in connection to music. Leave it to sports for silliness like that. The UMM Homecoming concert is like a refuge on Homecoming weekend. It has nothing to do with knocking an opponent on his keister.
Remembering the very start
Let's drift back in time to November of 1960. Winter was setting in. Let's imagine the grand old armory building in Morris, located where the public library is now. The UMM band made its debut performance on Saturday, Nov. 5. My father Ralph E. Williams was the director. He was UMM's only music faculty in the institution's first year. He did more than was technically required of him. I think the whole faculty was like that.
Those were seminal days when the very future of the institution seemed not fully assured. We seemed experimental as this small publicly-funded liberal arts institution on the prairie. My father grew up in Glenwood (high school class of 1934) and was familiar with the environment.
On November 5 of 1960, Ralph E. Williams directed the UMM band adorned in its navy blue uniforms trimmed with maroon and gold.
We regularly hear comments about how we need more of a bond between campus and community. The comment surfaces so regularly, I'm almost inclined to laugh when it comes up. UMM's debut band concert epitomized that hoped-for bond because the audience was Stevens County 4-Hers and their parents! An audience of about 1000 was present. Our band had about 50 pieces with the roster including six selected players from the Morris High School band.
"A band of this size was not anticipated the first year," we read in the Morris paper. The armory burned down in about 1966. The campus got through its experimental phase and became quite permanent. And today the Williams family, Martha and Brian, is pleased to renew its commitment, lest people think we're just yesterday's news.
Click on this link to read about the UMM men's chorus' trip to the New York World's Fair in 1964:
Here you can read about the historic trip in 1962 of the men's chorus to the Seattle World's Fair a.k.a. Century 21 Exposition:
You may listen to the sounds of the early UMM men's chorus, from YouTube, via this link. It's exciting:
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, July 24, 2017

"Eddie and the Cruisers II, Eddie Lives!" is OK

I thought I would never see the sequel to "Eddie and the Cruisers." I remember that release landing like a thud. I discovered the sequel on the "Charge!" TV network while surfing the other night, rather late at night. It was a pleasant surprise.
Certainly I was interested to see what this movie was all about, "dud" status notwithstanding. Sometimes when you examine something that has "dud" written all over it, you discover something redeeming. If you look at the "Eddie" sequel on its own terms, it has its moments. This is especially toward the end. It becomes like a big Bruce Springsteen concert.
Of course the "Eddie" sound parallels Springsteen quite a bit, and it's like Dion and the Belmonts if you go back to "Eddie Wilson's" formative times. The first movie presented this sound as cutting edge for its time. Wild rock 'n' roll was controversial in the pre-Beatles age. Eddie Wilson (fictional of course) went further. He got into a real progressive sound that was way out of whack for the early 1960s. The record company bosses would have none of it. A climactic scene has one of these typical shallow corporate music types telling about "a bunch of jerk-offs making weird sounds." That line stuck with me.
People in the music business will slam the door on anyone. The Internet and its immense possibilities has widened the horizons for all creative people. You don't have to try to get past that (expletive) velvet rope to try to enjoy the success of that very exclusive group. Small-time acts can pull their own weight. It's a blessing. Remember how the Beatles failed an audition with Decca? That shows how bad it was.
The sequel to the "Eddie" movie has some issues with how it's tied to the original, IMHO. Eddie explains that he did his disappearing act because of the insult of how he was treated by the company guy. Eddie had worked so hard on the new innovative album. I think there was more at work than that. There was a love angle in the first movie that sort of got buried. "Eddie's girl" was in that band, remember? And remember how Eddie saw his girl smooching with the Tom Berenger character at the college appearance? Remember how that incident launched Eddie into an angry dissing of the Berenger guy during the college concert? Remember the demoralizing effect this had for the whole band? I even saw this as a reason for the saxophone player's suicide that happened soon thereafter. The sax player was dragged into depression, as I saw it. The joy seemed gone.
The Berenger character named "Ridgeway" had the nickname "word man." The college incident nearly drove him away. Ridgeway in fact seemed the primary character in the first Eddie movie. His perspective prevailed. Berenger is not in the sequel.
Eddie explains in the sequel that he actually had a legitimate accident on the bridge, hitting the guard rail, whereupon the mishap developed into an opportunity to disappear. I always felt the disappearance was orchestrated all along. "Disappearing" is not something you can do on a mere whim. The Eddie in the first movie pulled it off, fulfilling the same destiny as that fellow who wrote the poem "Season in Hell." Really it was a masterful plot with a well-defined beginning, middle and end. Therefore a sequel would be quite challenging to plot, eh?
The first movie had belated success, only hitting paydirt when it found a home in the early days of HBO. It never succeeded on the big screen even with renewed tries.
A sequel represented a new attempt to juice this storyline up. The sequel was not successful. That doesn't mean we can't enjoy it if we just put certain expectations aside and give it a chance, on its own terms. That's what I did watching TV late at night.
I thought of the horrible reviews at the time of release. Bad reviews can get to be like a snowball rolling downhill. The critics really start pouring on the snark. Like in one review where I read that Eddie's girlfriend spent the whole movie crying. I didn't find that to be true at all. I think this actress did fine in her unpretentious way as a struggling young artist.
I found it charming and inspiring the way the great Michael Pare as a rejuvenated Eddie was a mentor for his group of young musicians who were finding themselves. The music and the sense of triumph at the end is boffo! Eddie finally introduces himself with the "Eddie Wilson" name.
At that point I wondered about the legal entanglement he'd end up in, by virtue of his re-surfacing after years of being considered "legally" dead! My, there would certainly be consequences to be faced. What if a life insurance policy had been paid!
Oh, but it's all about the music for Eddie and his mates! I suppose we can be inspired by that.
I didn't consider the sequel movie to be a waste of time at all. Oh, maybe it's an acquired taste. But I'm happy for Pare who gave us such a distinctive role. "Eddie and the Cruisers" helped define the 1980s. It showed that an artistic creation didn't have to get past that old "velvet rope" to get on its feet, make a profit etc. This is a consequence of tech expanding the boundaries for how art can be disseminated. I would recommend that you watch "Eddie and the Cruisers II, Eddie Lives!"
Here's a wrinkle: The first Eddie movie was nostalgic about the early 1960s, but when we watch it today, it's more nostalgic about the 1980s! Look at all the cigarette smoke floating around.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, July 21, 2017

Oh to see a Cheshire Cat grin in D.C. thicket

I have written before that the "Beltway" around Washington D.C. is a unique and rather bizarre place that should not serve as an example for how anything else in the country should run. I was reflecting on Watergate. Young writers at the time looked up to "Woodward and Bernstein." Fine, but once again, don't think the Beltway operates like anywhere else. Old white men with personal baggage and failings go there to wield power.
Watergate was a ridiculous ordeal with so many players, so many people protecting their own narrow agendas, a series of trading cards could have been issued. Now we're seeing the same kind of thing. Amazingly the U.S. chose Donald Trump as its president. We chose a man with no experience in government or the military. We elected a total clown. So once again we are reminded of what an unusual place the Beltway is.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough: the Beltway is not to be viewed as a template for anything outside of its boundaries. Outside of its boundaries, institutions are run in a sensible way by reasonable and qualified people. We rub shoulders with them every day. But in Washington D.C.? There are sensible people there like our Senator Amy Klobuchar. But there's this big clown car populated by Republicans. It is becoming childish how they always cry out to "repeal Obamacare."
This was a nice little dog whistle proclamation for a long time, for as long as Republicans lacked real power to enact stuff. We are now seeing Republicans confront the reality of the power they have. They are dealing with a president who at least nominally is like them. But Trump is an inscrutable, dangerous mystery in so many ways. He never asserted himself to try to sell any sort of Republican-shaped package for health care. A responsible president would have given a nationally-televised speech on something so important.
Maybe subconsciously the Republicans know their ideas will never gain traction. They know that their "repeal Obamacare" cries were really rooted in racism, a desire to stigmatize our president of eight years as "the other." It's rather amusing now because Obama is out of power. There's no need to focus on him so much, but Trump flails away still trying to blame him for whatever. Does anyone think this is not child-like?
Rand Paul absolutely rants. But he's drifting in a far-off universe of ideas that are not rooted in reality. They simply appeal to a base of tea party-like zealots who also are not rooted in reality. They are an annoying peanut gallery. And it's becoming less and less funny.
Rand Paul is fine as an unusual personality or curiosity, but we don't want him impacting the kind of health care we receive. The common folk would get abused. Trump said in front of Australia's leader that Australia has superior health care. Australia has universal coverage.
David Brooks observed that Obama had "civility" of the kind that would be missed once he gave way to his successor. Many Trump supporters assumed that their guy would learn to be presidential and put aside a lot of the nonsense. What an incredible gamble that was. Trump is as silly as ever. But we have seen this before in that mysterious "Beltway," that "Alice Through the Looking Glass" kind of place.
We saw Nixon degenerate so badly, he was not even allowed to be commander in chief at the end. Bob Schieffer wrote about that. Had Nixon attempted some sort of direct order to the military, it would have had to get relayed through other parties. I wonder if the same type of arrangement is now in place for Trump, lest he try to launch nuclear weapons. And yet the American people elect these guys, through a long and wearisome process.
Remember all the Republican debates? They seemed endless. Weren't there something like 17 candidates? The irony is that all Republicans stand for the same things. No need for such endless discussion on "issues." Republicans want to slash regulations and cut taxes, period. Everything else is for show. Republicans pretend to bond with so-called social conservatives. They'll parrot the pro-life (anti-abortion) line. But as Thom Hartman has pointed out, Republicans "don't give a rat's patootie" about those issues. Republicans just want those votes in their back pocket - it's all expedience.
I have a friend who was right in line with the tea party movement and still forwards me emails reflecting that. I warned him once that his crowd underestimated the popularity of Obama in the broad public. I pointed out to him that there was a good barometer for understanding this. I told him to consider the frequency of Michelle Obama on the cover of women's magazines at the supermarket checkout. (I suppose it's sexist to say "women's magazines" but you know what I'm talking about.)
Americans knew the Obamas were working on their behalf. Our current president certainly is not. The current administration is devolving into a sinkhole very much like what we saw with Nixon. It's the "Beltway blues" once again. "Alice Through the Looking Glass." It would be nice to at least see a Cheshire Cat grin.
I have written a song in tribute to Barack Obama, simply called "Barack Obama." The chorus is sort of stretched out so I only have three verse sections. Most of the significant music about Obama is hip-hopish. My song is the standard style. I don't know if I'll have it recorded. Here are the lyrics:

"Barack Obama"
by Brian Williams

They said he was the "other"
Who came from who knows where
He could not be our leader
If he came from out there
But in his soul was greatness
In his mind a plan
With his vision he was the man

Barack Obama, Barack Obama
A man with the will to go and get Osama
Barack Obama, Barack Obama
A man with a style to get him called "No Drama"
Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Barack Obama

He came from warm Hawaii
A paradise on Earth
He conquered all the mainland
With his inspiring words
He moved into the White House
With his spouse Michelle
And their girls who sparkled so well

(repeat chorus)

It was his inspiration
To help the common folk
No matter what their color
No matter what their vote
He felt it in his bosom
Lifting up our lot
With that chicken in every pot

(repeat chorus)

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Music: natural bedfellow of politics

Robert F. Kennedy used "This Land is Your Land" as his theme song. Kennedy picked up the torch from Gene McCarthy, remember? I'm not sure Minnesotan McCarthy really wanted to give up the torch. He lit the fire of the anti-Viet Nam War crowd. His success signaled to LBJ that the status quo was about to be torpedoed.
"This Land is Your Land" is the populist anthem written by Woody Guthrie. It displaced the more pompous "God Bless America." I drove to Alexandria to see the movie "Bobby."
The U.S. makes such a big deal about how we cannot tolerate chemical weapons anymore. We drew a supposed "red line" in Syria and then kept raising the bar. We were supposed to intervene at a certain point. Barack Obama, averse by nature to war, couldn't pull the trigger. Maybe it's just as well he didn't. Sometimes intervention can turn into a sink hole.
What a vivid lesson in Viet Nam, where by the way, the U.S. used chemical weapons. That war happened during my formative years along with Watergate. I'm conditioned to expect really bad things happening with our nation's leaders. I suppose this explains the ironic title of the David Halberstam book "The Best and the Brightest."
Halberstam visited my alma mater of St. Cloud State while I was there. I read his book "October 1964" about the 1964 major league baseball season. He may have put a little too much symbolism in that season. I'm not sure the Yankees lost the World Series because they represented some sort of "old order." They were a good team as was St. Louis. The Series went seven games. St. Louis with a young Lou Brock won.
Brock played in St. Cloud MN on his way up. The St. Cloud team was the "Rox." St. Cloud has a team today that started out as the "River Bats" before adopting the old "Rox" name. I wonder if there were legalities or something to deal with. Several major leaguers polished their skills with the old "Rox" such as Gaylord Perry, Matty Alou and Orlando Cepeda, in addition to Brock.
Why did the Rox fade away? It was probably because of the creation of the Minnesota Twins in 1961, which monopolized all serious baseball interest from around Minnesota.
BTW the comic strip Doonesbury suggested a sequel of sorts to Halberstam's book, concurrent with Watergate: "The Worst and the Stupidest."
"He Never Thought He Would win"
Music and politics would seem to be natural bedfellows. Both are infused with emotions and symbolism. They can galvanize our thoughts and our ideals. The other night, I wrote a song inspired by the early days of the Trump administration. It's called "He Never Thought He Would Win."
I think the people around Trump performed in the campaign through a combination of fun, novelty and endorphins, as if it were really a lark. Hey, a presidential campaign! What a rush. They didn't really think they would win, did they? Did Trump himself think he would win?
How many of those people, such as those now under scrutiny in the Russia collusion investigation, now wish he had not won? Think of that Manafort fellow. Or my goodness, Flynn!
How many front-line Republicans, now scared because they actually have to take responsibility for U.S. health care, wish Trump had not won? Had he not won, Republicans could still feel their oats by continuing to throw stones at various things the Democrats did, like "Obamacare." Now they must be feeling rather a siege mentality. And what if the economy starts to collapse? In the end that's what brought Nixon down.
It's hard to believe a sane nation would elect Trump, he of the "Access Hollywood" embarrassment. Why wasn't that the end for him?
Will Trump be forced from his office through some kind of misconduct that is found? Would Federal marshals show up to arrest him? What if he as commander in chief directs the military to protect him and his family? Guess I'm thinking like the late Tom Clancy now. Imagine the movie.
I invite you to read the lyrics for my song "He Never Thought He Would Win." I have a nice melody for this. Will I have it recorded? As always I don't know. I write music and poetry all the time. I loved the opportunity to rhyme with the word "weird" (with Vladimir). Maynard Ferguson once sang a song where he rhymed with "weird." Here we go:

"He Never Thought He Would Win"
by Brian Williams

Eight years came and went for Mr. "O"
He was suave and classy, don't you know
Never one to show misogyny
He took care of us so faithfully

Now we say hello to Mr. Trump
So much like a bear with boxing gloves
Did he really plan this in advance?
It was like a sudden avalanche

He never thought he would win
And now he's our president
Though he bragged a bunch
I just had a hunch
He never thought he would win

I thought Russia was our enemy
In the Cold War it was plain to see
You can't trust the Russians, we were told
Maybe it's a sign I'm growing old

So in touch with Mr. Vladimir
We might think that it was awful weird
Still we gave our nod to Mr. Trump
Now we wonder what we've went and done

(repeat chorus)

Jared Kushner is the son in law
He got power from Ivanka's pa
Donald Jr. has entitlement
They all understood what victory meant

On his way to being No. 1
Our new leader had a lightning tongue
He gave speeches that could knock 'em dead
If he only knew what lay ahead

(repeat chorus)

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Like Watergate? That was then, this is now

My father reminded me of some wisdom from time to time: "Analogies are dangerous." This is reflected in Godwin's Law: Do not compare anything bad today with Hitler and the Nazis. Sean Spicer had to backtrack on a statement because of this. It is an amateur's mistake in Washington D.C. to say that any current thing is like the Nazis. Hitler and the Nazis were unique.
I'm bringing this up now because of comparisons being drawn with Watergate. It's so easy to talk like this. An administration is on the ropes for lots of suspicious behavior. So the media begin spewing out this meme that it's rather like Watergate again. Except that it isn't, except in the obviously superficial way: an administration is in trouble. Watergate was what it was.
I feel as though I'm transplanted to the summer of 1973. Headlines peeled away all sorts of layers of Watergate in that distant summer. How distant? I was fresh out of high school, having crossed the stage to accept my diploma at the 1968 gym. The times were far less optimistic than they are now.
Our current scandal with the Trump people hasn't even put a dent in the financial markets. I theorize that the direction of the financial markets in the near future will do much to determine if the Trump regime will collapse. Here's another old saying: "If you wait long enough, the bears are always right." My father probably never said that because he was never into stocks.
America was dragged down severely by our experience in the Viet Nam war. Imagine having to worry about being drafted and sent to Viet Nam. We cannot predict how the current travail with the Trump administration - affinity with Russia - is going to turn out. We cannot be certain of anything. So let's tone down the parallels with Watergate.
David Brooks has been foreseeing quite bad things all along, since Trump got momentum in the campaign. He suggests that a "Gerald Ford solution" is likely. We need a calm, temperate and common sense leader with political credentials to steer the nation out of this frenetic pace where we are assaulted by daily "tweets." We are assaulted by absurdity. We wonder how this became the new norm. Brooks projects an ending with a sensational climax, like Nixon waving those "V" signals by the helicopter, after which we'll gently descend to a new normal with temperate political minds, all led by a Gerald Ford type.
It happened before, right? But here we're falling into that fallacy where "analogies are dangerous." Watergate was about mendacity. About a president drunk on power with so many years of D.C. experience behind him (or literally drunk on alcohol). Mendacity doesn't seem to be the point now. It's about the novelty of a president who seems to have arrived at the position by accident, by virtue of his sheer performance capability and vanity.
The greatest wisdom may have been projected by Howard Stern. Stern implored Donald Trump on how he'd be better off not running for office. Trump is guaranteed the happiest life possible by virtue of his vast assets. Why would he want the headaches and stress of high political office? Maybe that's what scares me: wondering why Trump wants all that power. It's not like he has a Bernie Sanders vision where he wants to improve everyone's lot, to guarantee the poor greater comfort and hope. I could understand this altruistic motivation.
Trump actually seemed sympathetic once to progressive ideas. But now he's so totally wedded to the far right of American politics. We should be scared about this. Attention David Brooks: Mike Pence is no Gerald Ford. Pence once supported a measure to require funeral services for fetuses. He is more ideologically pure than Trump. I wonder if Trump could even define an ideology with precision. He just comes up with buzzwords like "Make America great again." For who? Who will benefit from this purportedly greater America? The richest one percent of our populace?
I laugh as I ponder the Republican majorities having the responsibility of creating a health care bill. Republicans do not forge new and generous entitlements. They never do. There isn't a trace of this in their DNA. Democrats carry the load for this, and the Republicans eventually say it's OK as they now do with Medicare. Satisfactory health care reform will come when Democrats climb back into the majority, but can we wait?
Hillary Clinton annoyed us in some ways, to be sure. She was the loyal wife when her husband coaxed oral sex from an intern in the White House. But our personal thoughts about Hillary should not have registered much. It's not personal. Just think if Hillary were president now. The Affordable Care Act would be getting fixed and improved. Our international relations would be vastly better. The ship of state would be sailing in spite of the few stones thrown by Republicans.
Many of us would now want to reverse our vote and let Hillary in. Brooks thinks we need a Gerald Ford type. Where will that come from? If you expect a scenario like Watergate with a like resolution, remember what my father told me: "Analogies are dangerous."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, July 7, 2017

When the All-Star Game was truly transfixing

I remember getting myself excused from a marching band practice. It was the night of the baseball All-Star Game and I felt I had to watch. We took a trip to Glenwood to visit my aunt and uncle which was certainly a most pleasant thing. But I was able to watch the All-Star Game.
Those were the days when 90 percent of all TV viewers at a given time were watching one of the "Big 3" TV networks. It seemed there was only one alternative: public TV (boring by definition). Baseball's All-Star Game had a greater appeal then. Quite unlike today, we could not "surf" through channels to find various non-Twins baseball games. We watched Twins games almost exclusively, the main exception being the "Game of the Week" on NBC with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek at the mike. Big special games like the All-Star Game were another exception.
Fans who followed the star players thus had quite limited opportunities to see them perform on television. That's why the All-Star Game made them feel like a kid in a candy store. That's why I suggested the family trip to Glenwood as a way of missing marching band practice.
Marching band was still at its height as a summer activity for kids here. This was the John Woell era as director of the band. Morris historians always put Bob Schaefer on a pedestal for making the marching band special. Woell took it over and kept standards high, perhaps just as high, for a long time. Eventually certain forces emerged to make marching band a tougher sell. Athletics burgeoned with girls finally getting equal opportunity with boys - a good thing, certainly - but sports perhaps started commanding too much of the focus of our kids. The kids felt they had to start going to sports camps in summer.
Woell ran the marching band with a disciplinarian's air. It worked for as long as the kids were really willing to prioritize marching band in their summer lives. I don't think it meant anything for advancement toward graduation. So it had to be fun, and kids considered it fun even with Woell hovering with his sometimes stern temperament. He could kick a kid out of practice and that kid would come back.
All-Star Games come and go today and I'm barely aware they happened. In those bygone analog days, there was a sense of scarcity about the media. That's hard to believe based on the media world in which we bathe today. The Minneapolis newspaper published baseball stats for both leagues only on Sunday. It was under the heading "Major averages." The hitters were listed in order based on batting average. We put so much stock in batting average then. Bill James would come along and enlighten us considerably.
Us Minnesota fans still felt a little defensive about our place in the baseball world. We were thrilled to hear about any Twins making the American League All-Star roster. We were on edge of seats hoping for these Twins to do well in the game. It would prove we were to be taken seriously in the pseudo-sacred world of big league ball. The parochialism continued for a time. I remember being at Wells Park covering the local Little League championship game on the same night as the All-Star Game, years later. Kirby Puckett was coming on strong in his career. I believe the P.A. announcer was Jim Tanner, who interrupted his main duties to say Puckett had just singled! Yea for Minnesota! Would this happen today if a Twin got a hit in the All-Star Game?
Baseball used to market itself to the broad public. That was in the days before the niche media that we take for granted today. Network TV similarly tried to appeal to the broad public. It was probably rather daunting. Today the entertainment world finds its desired audiences and sustains itself quite fine though those more specialized lenses. We are all better off.
The year I went to Glenwood, we were solidly in the three-network environment where we consumed the likes of Johnny Carson, even though such shows were incredibly superficial. My college advisor once said to me: "You could watch that show for years and not learn anything." No need to knock the likes of Carson as he was just delivering the kind of product that worked then. Norman Lear found a gold mine with urban-oriented comedy that appeared at least to be more cerebral.
But the big change would come with technology. No longer would we "change channels" by turning a knob. We suddenly sensed that TV was becoming more respectable. We were no longer as inclined to call it the "boob tube." If you used that term today, you'd be met with puzzlement. It used to be that afternoon TV in particular was vapid, so much so, you might be a candidate for mental illness if you watched a lot of it.
I had a friend who dissed a local important person by making gestures that indicated pushing buttons on a TV remote: In other words, that person watched a lot of TV and was thus vacant. Again, puzzlement if done today.
Today we have the History Channel which is currently trying to sell us an Amelia Earhart revelation. I was immediately skeptical when hearing about that story. Let me count the ways I'm skeptical. The bombshell photo seems very rough and inconclusive. Why was the photo even taken? Remember, in 1937 our photographic resources were limited, not at all like today when people take pictures on a whim. It's a non-descript photo. The revelatory portion is a small portion of the total photo.
I would consider the Earhart mystery to be like "Fortean phenomena," something we are intended to never find the answer to. If the Japanese had her as a prisoner, why didn't they parade her or negotiate something? Too many questions.
The All-Star Game came to Minnesota in 1965. The Twins also played in the World Series that year. We must remember the fascination we all felt. Up until 1960 there were no big league sports in Minnesota. Met Stadium stood there from 1956 to 1960 with no big league team here yet. We had the Triple-A Minneapolis Millers. The Millers were so quickly forgotten starting in 1961.
The weather was ideal for our All-Star Game played on July 13 of 1965. The sky was high and blue and the temperature was 78 degrees. The attendance was 46, 706. My, we could see Willie Mays and Hank Aaron in person, stars of the National League. Our Harmon Killebrew hit a two-run home run for the American League! But it was the Nationals winning 6-5. Killebrew batted third. I smile to learn that the great cult power hitter, Rocky Colavito, batted fourth. I have written a song about Colavito.
Our catcher Earl Battey batted eighth. Milt Pappas was our starting pitcher.
We must remember those early exciting times for big league sports in Minnesota, a universe we have come to take for granted. Our World War II veterans were middle-age men in the mid-'60s. Surely they were transfixed as were the rest of us. What heady and special times.
Oh, and the Beatles played a concert at Metropolitan Stadium in 1965!
Click on the link below to read the review/essay I wrote about the movie "Amelia" in 2013:
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The "dogleg road" takes us where, exactly?

Back when I had more time to take solo bicycle jaunts, I'd park the bike for a few moments of solitude next to Pomme de Terre River. This was at the spur that goes down to the riverside on the west side. A gazebo is there. Surely it was an ideal escape place when I was still with the newspaper. A dirt road was in the vicinity. Brent Waddell, the late Glen Helberg and yours truly called it the "dogleg road." It's actually a rather curious road because its purpose isn't clear.
Today there's a little more justification because of the development of townhomes next to the bypass (where, reportedly, we have the nuisance of truck drivers using their "Jake brakes"). In my teen years the bypass wasn't even there.
I got familiar with the dogleg road in my one year of cross country running in high school. Our ragtag group ran along there in the early-morning, before school hours. Tom Watzke was our best runner. I'm glad Gary Lembcke, the great hoops star, chose to run cross country with us rather than punish his talented body in football. He probably could have been a fine tight end, using his height to grab passes. Jim Satter was the football coach. Am I correct in asserting the team didn't accomplish up to the level of his football knowledge?
Anyway, us cross country runners were under coach Jerry Miller, a math teacher in school. I probably had no business being there. I was naïve and lacked basic understanding of the sport. I thought it was a big deal to simply jog three miles, or heck maybe even two miles. We didn't hear much about specialty running shoes in those days. For athletic endeavors we simply pulled on a pair of "tennis shoes."
The team voted me "hardest worker" probably for no other reason than I stuck it out. At the fall sports banquet, Miller reported my award and didn't say anything else about me, unlike the manner in which he gave other awards. My shake of the hands with him was totally obligatory. I'm not sure we even made eye contact. I wasn't real pleased with that. I was just a kid and you have to give kids some slack to fail or to even feel confused.
I felt pressure to take part in some sort of athletic activity. Perhaps that was misdirected. I spent time in dental offices paging through old MHS yearbooks in which I saw the athletes so glorified. Cheerleaders too. I guess I was too impressionable.
The cross country team was male-only in the fall of 1972. I could not have imagined girls in the sport. Education goes through sea changes from time to time. Expanded athletic opportunities have been not only good for the kids, it has made it easier for athletic programs to get the resources and support they need.
Our meets were at the Pomme de Terre Golf Course just like today. I don't believe our team reached any great height. Gary Lembcke gave me moral support and was so much more understanding than coach Miller. Gary and I are both blessed by having our mothers still be alive. Our moms have both needed some medical attention in the past year. We're past our 40-year reunion. As we approach the 50-year, the ranks of our parents will be thinned further. Our own ranks will be thinned some.
Ted Schmidt, son of Jerry, was on our team. He was rather a character and in an uplifting way. I set my alarm so I might join those workouts along the dogleg road. Les Lindor once told me that this curious road with no apparent purpose got built because of leftover money from some other government-supported project.
Isn't that also how we got the tennis courts to the east of the high school? I once mentioned this rumor with the tennis courts around Wally Behm and he showed mock anger toward me. He said I'd "get in trouble" with Dennis Rettke if I was known to make such comments, because obviously those courts were built because of solid fiduciary responsibility in the school district. Not with "leftover money" (which sounds like largesse).
For the record, Wally said "you'll get in trouble with Dennis. . .again!"
Bob Stevenson and his dogs
In my post-newspaper years, I'd often go out to that spur along the bike trail and be in a hurry to do nothing. Every so often, a slow-moving vehicle would come along that dogleg road. I came to recognize this individual: Bob Stevenson, using this lazy cruise to take one of his dogs on a run. He and I would sometimes chat for a few seconds.
I am writing this as we approach the Fourth of July holiday. Bob was born on the Fourth of July right here in Morris, to Floyd and Bertha (Nicely) Stevenson. Mom and I attended his reviewal rites last night (Friday, June 30). He died a week before on Friday, June 23. He looked to be in failing health the last time I saw him. We cannot know for sure when our day will come. Jesse Ventura once said that such a date is set in stone by our Lord, and nothing we do can change it.
Bob was 89 years old at the time he left us. His family "clan" has lost too many in the recent past. The sands of time simply move on. Bob enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1945 and served in that great war. My late father Ralph was in the Navy too. Bob and Ralph developed a very close friendship. They had mid-morning coffee together countless times, mainly at the restaurant where Riverwood Bank is now located. I think our town misses that restaurant.
Bob and Ralph had a hunting connection. Bob will probably be best remembered as a Stevens County commissioner. He retired from that in 2006, the same year I left the Morris newspaper. His family clan was involved with the newspaper. We lost Ed Morrison not long ago. We lost Sterling "Tommy" Tomlin, Shirley Tomlin, Ed Morrison and James Martin too. Too many losses in fact. But there's
nothing we can do to change that, according to Jesse "The Body" Ventura.
I'm writing this on the day of Bob's funeral, Saturday, July 1. Bob Stevenson, RIP.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoocom

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Another 18-page paper from Morris/Hancock

The Morris newspaper was 18 pages again on Saturday. It was 18 pages the previous Saturday when with fanfare the paper announced its new "combined" effort with Hancock. The paper put its new name at the top of page 1 with a reference to Stevens County. So it's now a Stevens County project in an official manner.
Everyone who remembers my years at the paper will remember that we actually covered the whole wide area pretty well. I'd sacrifice my Memorial Day weekend to, among other things, cover the Chokio-Alberta graduation. You could set your clock by that C-A graduation: 2 p.m. on Sunday every year! I'd grab a chair in the front row. Blake Knudson sat right next to me one year even though he liked yelling at me over the phone sometimes. There's an old saying that you can learn a lot about someone in matters relating to money. I would suggest you gain similar insights when it comes to newspaper coverage. I remember Lyle Hettver saying "thank God for small schools" with a real sincere reverence in his voice.
I covered lots of C-A activities, even the spring arts festival at the Alberta school. The Alberta school was odd for watching basketball: bleachers on just one side of the gym. There was a feeling of congestion for "big" games and of course the Homecoming coronation. The gym had a tile floor which I gathered coaches were not fond of. I remember Paul Daly looking forward to an occasional game at Herman which had a wooden floor.
Daly had an agreeable personality for working with, provided he was home when I called him and not ice fishing! I remember wondering what the h--- is the attraction of ice fishing?
I'll never forget the atmosphere at C-A football games. Neal Hofland had a stature like Bear Bryant there. Even though the Spartans' offense could be predictable, they just ran over people. I remember going to the Old Lumber Yard at an ungodly early-morning hour to board the bus for the Metrodome, for football.
I remember the cheerleader character named "Betty Boom-Boom" who had to cast aside "her" costume because of complaints that the act was disrespectful, even if well-intentioned. Coach Hofland described "her" as "buxom!"
So today's Morris newspaper is billing itself as a combined Morris-Hancock paper even though it hasn't shown us anything special yet. The two issues under the new name have been 18 pages, which was at the low end of the scale when Morris was by itself. Let's face it, Morris is still by itself, for all practical purposes. There is no change.
There might be an effort to shoehorn in some Hancock material, a little more than before. But it's cosmetic unless the staff can pump up advertising enough to really add content. I have to be skeptical for now. All of the trends with newspapers are down. This is no time to try to bounce back from a slump. A slump just gets people to shrug and to disregard the paper.
One thing is clearly not cosmetic: the cancellation of the Hancock Record newspaper. We might have guessed what was coming when Katie Erdman resigned. She wrote a cryptic column that indicated she was discouraged, and she's normally a very upbeat person.
The paper tries to put a smiley face on everything by saying the Morris and Hancock papers are combined. By raw empirical standards, this is not true. It's a ruse. Of course we can easily be more blunt: it's a lie, a bald-faced lie. It isn't necessary for those ink-stained wretches to insult our intelligence so much. The Hancock paper has been ended. The Morris paper survives at a small size, as really just a cover for trying to distribute all those ad circulars (many notoriously from Alexandria).
There are more and more low-consumption families among us, largely due to demographics. Most people feel no need to get a pile of advertising flyers. We get flyers for Alexandria grocery stores. The Morris paper has discontinued its free-circulation shopper, the Ad-Viser. So Paul Martin of Willie's has decided to go direct mail. I think it's kind of nice. I am now much more likely to examine the Willie's circular, so I can find out if they have a free breakfast upcoming! (Why do they make us stand for that?)
I was probably more involved covering Hancock events than C-A. I remember that for the Hancock Homecoming coronation, I felt so conspicuous because I had to get out on the middle of the gym floor. At Morris I'd just kneel in the aisle.
I had special feelings about the Hancock graduation. I had already submitted my resignation when I covered my last Hancock graduation. For the last time, I had to be prepared for Ken Grunig's band to scare me with the percussion opening to Pomp and Circumstance. People feared I might have a heart attack. The Hancock graduation seemed so wholesome, like what America is all about. They'd show young and old pictures of all the graduates on a screen. I remember the theme song played in the background. I had trouble getting outside at the end for when the grads tossed their hats in the air. Katie did better than me at that.
At my last Hancock High graduation, Katie sat beside me and said "would you like to call me and talk about it?" I appreciated the gesture but I just figured "what's done is done." I wonder if she'd like to talk to me now.
I followed the same routine every year covering the Hancock Fourth of July. I remember that year after year I'd chat with Chris Ver Steeg who'd be sitting on the same church steps. Maybe if I go to heaven, I can re-live some of these things.
In the meantime, let's all give a middle finger salute to the company that owns the Morris or Morris/Hancock paper or whatever you want to call it.
Addendum: That predictable but effective Chokio-Alberta football offense featured the "toss-sweep!"

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Local newspaper in spasms of retreat

The newspaper that purports to be the Morris newspaper is going through changes again. The changes all fall in the category of retrenchment. The ownership tries putting lipstick on a pig of course. What would you expect them to do? The strings are being pulled from elsewhere. The local management can always just claim that it is responding to directives from elsewhere.
It's like those poor Wells Fargo employees who had to do terrible things. There was no local owner who had to face his customers in church on Sunday. In this sense maybe we can bemoan the loss or severe decline of mom and pop businesses in America. A local bank owner would never do the kinds of things that Wells Fargo was caught doing. Now we have the local newspaper with non-local ownership cutting expenses to try to keep profit margins up, extracting enough money from legacy customers to keep profits decent at least in the short term.
I saw the "new" Morris paper on Monday. I was at the Morris Senior Center. I did what I always do: check out the size of the product. Surely this "new" product, which purports to include the discontinued Hancock Record, would be larger. A business friend of mine on main street told me that he had been told by a paper rep that the typical size would be 20-26 pages. I'm not sure we should even be wowed by that. Didn't the paper put out many editions of at least 20 pages in the days when it was still twice a week? The paper was twice a week through my whole tenure there. We didn't charge to run obituaries.
The June 17 edition of the paper, newly named the Steven County Times, is 18 pages. There is no increase in size. And yet the paper trumpets that it now includes the Hancock paper. I might suggest this is outright fraud, right out of the Wells Fargo playbook.
What will happen when fall comes? Hancock residents will expect to see a decent amount of space allocated for Hancock sports coverage. And if the paper does that, it will alienate many Morris readers. Katie Erdman, when she was at the Hancock paper, would devote considerable space to photo spreads on the Hancock Homecoming coronation, the graduation and some other big events. If the paper remains at 18 pages, can this really be in the works? My closing months at the paper eleven years ago, an experience somewhat like being waterboarded, exposed me to lots of talk about how the paper's website would be so super dynamic - apologies to Willie Martin, RIP. I don't check the paper's website often. I doubt that it's a full-service site for local news and sports - it's more of a tease.
I actually got along well with the Forum when it first took over from the Morrisons. This was despite the fact I knew I wasn't their type. The co-existence worked for an extended time. And then the climate changed abruptly as if a directive came down. The Forum is like that. I was able to parachute out of there. And then the paper went through stages of retrenchment or downsizing. That was also "spun" as something positive.
Now we have an 18-page paper, same as before, that presents itself as now including the Hancock Record. Surely my fellow Morris residents will see what's happening.
The names "Morris Sun Tribune" and "Hancock Record" appear under the new "Times" nameplate. But surely there is more to Stevens County than just Morris and Hancock. Is the new paper going to try to usurp the role of the Chokio Review? Oh, of course not. The paper is just toying with names and cosmetics. It's like these "redesigns" that newspapers are always trumpeting. As if a redesign will have any substantial positive impact on how the paper fares. They are just a turn-on for the paper staff. Paul Gillin of "Newspaper Death Watch" calls them "lipstick on a pig."
The Canary supplement has shrunken down to an average size of 16 pages, whereas in the past we only saw the 16-pagers during the typical "slow" times for the press. The current Canary has "filler" feature articles, of all things, and other fluff just to try to pump up the size. The Canary is supposed to be advertising. Wait until Jim Gesswein catches up with the times and starts cutting back on his print advertising. Car dealers don't have to advertise as much because cars are made better today. People don't have to buy cars as often. I used to take car photos for three major dealers every week for a long time, and I often wondered: Why are people buying cars so much? Can't they keep their old ones going a little more? Well, now I think they do.
Of course, car dealers now use the electronic media like all get-out. All of our other local institutions should do that too. Let's get local sports reporting established online. The sites could be like what we see for the UMM teams. It would be fun. You could click to see a schedule page, a roster page, a coaches page etc. I actually expected this trend a long time ago but it didn't happen. "Maxpreps" already has pages set up for the Morris teams. But we need more coaches and fans submitting material for those pages. I write lots of local sports and submit links to the Maxpreps pages. It's fun.
A big difference between now and when I was with the Morris paper, is that now I'm not expected to cover every team all the time. I write what I feel like writing. I don't pretend to cover anything comprehensively. The sports section of the local paper is like a political football: It strives in vain to report, promote or puff all the teams that consider themselves important. The great Marv Meyer once said to me: "Brian, there are people who read your articles because they have an ax to grind, and that's the only reason they read them."
How nice to be away from that now. I don't have to work with Trent Oberg anymore. I don't have to work with Steve Harter anymore. In the late 1980s the whole Morris community blew up with controversy over the management of high school sports. Anyone at the paper would have had trouble navigating through all that.
Let's detach more
So, the days of being interested in how the Morris (or Morris/Hancock) paper is functioning are waning. The local paper and its non-local ownership is rapidly making its product less relevant. Do you really need to pay to get an obituary published? Isn't the funeral home website, or better yet an independent website, good enough for this? Change takes time.
The paper has completely axed its free-circulation shopper, the Ad-Viser. Cut, cut, cut. The newspaper will remain stable only to the extent that it accentuates pure service, and of course it is not doing that. Willie's Super Valu is now forced to use direct mail to get its flyer out. I actually get to see the Willie's flyer now. Many years ago I informed the paper that I didn't want that bulky Ad-viser in our mailbox, so full of Alexanrdia stuff. Our family hardly ever visits Alexandria, and besides, we're a low-consumption family. More and more of our local families or individuals are going to be like that now with our "graying" demographics.
Stop buying the paper and stop advertising in it. Sheesh, stop supporting those "sucker ads," like even for the honor roll. The paper should just publish the honor roll. It doesn't need "sponsors" though I'm sure they're glad to get some sucker businesses to do that.
Wake up and smell the coffee. The paid circulation of the Morris paper is only about 40 percent of what it once was. And it won't even help to "absorb" Hancock (not that the paper is really going to do that). Forum Communications is a charlatan in the Morris business community.
Addendum: The Elbow Lake newspaper gives its customers 26-28 broadsheet pages a week. Why the disparity vs. Morris? Also, the cutting of the Ad-Viser has apparently opened the door, as expected, to the Lakeland Shopper making a new invasion here. I even noticed the Lakeland Shopper using a Senior Perspective display stand at the entry to DeToy's Restaurant Wednesday morning. I advised Jim Palmer of this. Detoy's often has a biscuits and gravy special on Wednesday a.m. I recommend it. 
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, June 17, 2017

County fair confuses us once again

The Stevens County Fair appears to be sticking with the format it had last year. As I left DeToy's Restaurant this morning (Saturday), I noticed a flyer on the billboard that had August 8-13 as the fair dates for 2017. Last year I got totally confused as to what was going on.
The community supper was switched to Tuesday. I thus thought the fair would be open to all, including all the standard attractions, beginning on Wednesday. I felt the fair had simply expanded. We were shocked upon arriving at the fairgrounds and seeing "private parking" signs at the entry road north of the ethanol plant.
"Private parking?" I couldn't believe it. I drove all the way in to find someone I could personally ask. I was told that yes, it was indeed private parking. On an official day of the fair, Wednesday.
The fair was promoted on at least one billboard as beginning on Tuesday. What if an out-of-town person were to drive by, see those dates and plan accordingly? I know that the year I went to the Appleton fair, I probably saw the dates on some promo material. What if I had driven all the way to Appleton only to find that the fair wasn't really on yet? I'd be very upset.
Did the Stevens County Fair switch its community supper to Tuesday just to try to accommodate the Superior Industries people, so they could attend both that and their own private event? Why has the fair board allowed a big local private company to essentially reserve a chunk of our county fair for private purposes? Do they cut a nice big check to the fair board for having that privilege?
I realize we're living in times where private business interests are absolutely paramount and we're supposed to defer to all these business interests just like we elected big business tycoon Donald Trump. I remember a time when public interests and public purposes were really important. They in fact had primacy. I guess no more.
Whether I like it or not, the big business interests are taking over. We're not even supposed to question them. We're supposed to bow down to the Apostolic Christian big business bigshots who reflexively vote for Trump (that famous groper of women) and Republicans. They no doubt support the health care proposals coming from the GOP-controlled House and Senate.
I'd like to share some questions about these health care proposals, as presented by Eileen Gleason, a retired Federal prosecutor who has been a judge and in private practice. Her questions originally appeared in The Advocate, May 31, 2017.
- Who asked you to strip health insurance from 23 million Americans? Really, exactly who? And why?
- Do Americans want the freedom to not have insurance they cannot afford? They had this freedom all their lives and didn't like it.
- Why hand out windfalls to the wealthy? Why not write a bill providing the most protection using funds available without a tax cut?
- Why not fix the problems with the ACA? Why throw the baby out with the bathwater just because the baby was dubbed Obamacare?
- Why rush to vote without a Congressional Budget Office score? Now that it is out, why not repudiate this bill?
- Do those with mental illnesses want no coverage for mental illness or lifetime coverage limits?
- After this bill, who will care for the uninsured mentally ill? Prisons? Homeless shelters?
- Why abolish the Medicaid expansion, which allowed life-threatening conditions to be diagnosed and treated, and saved lives?
- The experience of states with underfunded high-risk insurance pools is not good. Will you commit to adequately fund these pools?
- Why leave it to the fifteen male Republican senators to negotiate behind closed doors about this important issue? Why are birth control and maternity services in jeopardy?
- Why defund women's health services at Planned Parenthood, while funding treatment of men's health conditions (erectile dysfunction, prostate cancer), without limiting where men can be treated?
- Why are Republicans threatening to withhold cost-sharing insurer subsidies and destabilizing the insurance marketplace?
- Why let insurers charge the elderly five times the premiums charged to the young?
- Why permit the sale of policies which do not cover the current essential health benefits, thereby sharply increasing costs to those covered?
- Why are the AMA and AARP, among others, against this bill?
- How about a waiting period of one week between finalizing the Senate bill and voting on it? Are you afraid of the feedback?
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, June 12, 2017

Listen to my song re. Sam Smith, his statue

A striking monument at our Summit Cemetery: Samusl Smith
The years pass and the U.S. Civil War becomes ever more remote. We get refreshed in textbooks. We have emotional distance because our forebears fade into the mists of time.
Us Morris MN residents can feel a surprising connection to those mid-19th Century events. You might think we are too far to the West. No we are not. A stroll through Summit Cemetery can reveal for you a most striking reminder. There is one monument that will jump out at you. You will notice the "running rifleman" statue. It's the final resting place of Samuel Smith, Civil War veteran on the Union side of course.
Samuel was a significant early resident of the Morris area, a farmer. He and wife Catherine had 12 children, eleven of them boys. Thus the name has gotten passed on pretty well. You have likely crossed paths with at least one of the descendants. I believe it's important that we continue to remember the significance of the monument.
I have written a song called "Ballad of Sam Smith." It was recorded at the Nashville TN studio of Frank (Franklin) Michels. I invite you to listen by clicking on this link from YouTube. Thanks.
Thanks to Brent Gulsvig of Gulsvig Productions of Starbuck for his wizardry getting the song online. It wasn't until about three years ago that I realized you can get music placed online with such ease. It seems like a miracle.
Frank Michels' studio is what you'd call a demo recording studio. I first had some demo recordings made in the 1980s. Back in that pre-digital age, the purpose of a demo recording was to pitch your material to a music publisher. In other words, the goal was to have the song become commercially successful. I suppose you'd want the song to end up in the proverbial "top 40." You can imagine what the odds are of this. It was very hard getting any kind of audience for your work. You'd have to play a cassette for someone.
Today the whole landscape is much different. Songs can be placed on YouTube pretty routinely, at least for someone like Mr. Gulsvig. You won't make money but you can get a fair number of people to listen to your work.
The doors have been opened just like for those who self-publish books. As a C-Span commenter put it, "the barriers to distribution have come down." Self-publishing of books has become respectable, as opposed to the days when self-publishing companies were treated almost as unethical. "You too can be an author."
Doug Rasmusson of the Morris area self-published delightful collections of his writing. It was tough getting your creative material out. Not at all today. Blogging has enabled me to feel like a legitimate writer still.
Meanwhile the legacy media crumbles. The Hancock paper is now discontinued. The free advertising shopper called "Ad-Viser" is no more. Of course, the more the newspaper company reduces its services, the faster its decline will be. I would advise everyone to just move on from the print media.
Now, how do I work with a demo recording firm? I send a package that includes a melody sheet with chords, a lyric sheet and a rough tape of me singing. I had to special order a cassette recorder because you can't even buy these things at RadioShack anymore. The Nashville people do not work with microcassette players/recorders.
The studios can get the job done surprisingly fast. Michels sends me an email with a song attachment. Bob Angello, another pro I work with, puts the song in an online "drop box." An advantage to Bob's approach is that he can make changes and adjustments right at the source and doesn't have to send me the song again.
I enjoy writing topical songs. My next one to be recorded might be about the First Minnesota Regiment in the Civil War, called "Take Those Colors." That song title is based on the abrupt order given by General Hancock on the night of the First Minnesota's fateful charge at Plum Run, Gettysburg. The First Minnesota had to plug an opening in the Union line while reserves were on the way. "Take Those Colors." Sam Smith was assigned to the ambulance corps for the Battle of Gettysburg.
Here is the link to a blog post I wrote on Sam Smith and his statue. This post is on my companion blog site, "Morris of Course."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com