SINCE I STARTED THIS BLOG we got Obama, computer-phones, and one less planetSarah saved a school, Johanna attained literacy, and I had Asian food for lunch at least 250 times. Five years is a fair bit in Internet Time, especially for a project that’s as loose and lazy as a tour diary. By a band that doesn’t actually perform.

We are known to tour, though. Sarah’s on an art retreat in Santa Fe, staying in a casita near the home of “Georgie O’Keith” as Jo calls her (which should be a Who song if it’s not). In a colder, less creative venture, I just got back from interviewing farmers in North Dakota about mobile apps, with unexpected detours into raccoon trapping and trade with Kazakhstan. Strange, complicated work, but the wardrobe fits me to a T.


When it’s not -10°, I’m surveying our new ‘hood. There are impressive vistas and ruins if you know where to look. In this depopulated swath between the Cities, transients and graffiti writers rule. Word is some of the industrial barrens may be cleared to build another brewery & tap room, which are to Minneapolis in 2013 what yoga studios were in 2004 and food trucks in 2009.


The attic’s transformation from cramped bat cave (literally) to airy loft workspace is complete. I have to hand it to Sarah, who pulled off a complicated set of requirements—air, electricity, walls, windows—using half a dozen different contractors, some she had to lean on hard. I did the finishing paint job. As I was not paid, she cut me some slack.


I had my own brief residence in Washington D.C. with old buddy Marc and fam. They’ve added a daughter, Vivian, since last I dropped in, who is not just adorable but highly conductive. They share a sweet, spacious rowhouse in a neighborhood called Columbia Heights, which I noted has a Pupuseria density of 3 per block.


D.C. always gives good art, but I got especially lucky this go-around with Ai Wei Wei at the Hirshhorn and Nam June Paik at the Smithsonian. Until I saw Ai’s work in person—vats of handpainted sunflower seeds, rooms full of reclaimed rebar from the Szechuan earthquake—I didn’t get how gorgeous (aside from lovely ideas) conceptual art can be. To paraphrase writer/calligrapher Job Wouters, Why fear beauty?

Nam June Paik is the patron saint of Obsolete Media Nerds (like me). This piece has an Information Age sheen, but most of the show is (de)constructed from TV sets and monitors made in the 60s, 70s and 80s.


Made it out to Mount Vernon, the period-accurate estate of the Father of Our Country. FoOC and Martha had a nice spread (their slaves, less so). I enjoyed the hobby farm and the composting outhouse George invented that seats three at a time.


6/7 of the MakeSh!t Mini Golf Innovation Squad atop our hole in progress, which at this point is a 14′-wide plywood quesadilla. Can we make this thing playable by Memorial Day? We have man power and competing visions in abundance.


A crowd of Nassifs—my uncle, sister, grandmother, dad and aunt—sharing old family pictures on a recent visit to the Mother Land. On the right is my grandfather, Bernie, surrounded by his parents and 6 (!) older sisters. I’ve known several of my great-aunts and can barely fathom the smothering love that kid must have endured.


Here’s a drawing I did of a man who looks something like me crossed with a rodent. On the right, an unintentional visual rhyme, also the most popular picture I ever put on Instagram.


When not heralding the future of farm technology, I’ve been working with a local non-profit that among other things recycles mattresses down to the staples and springs. I toured their facility in Southeast Minneapolis where ex-cons and people in drug recovery disembowel beds (my role is less hands-on, thankfully). Meanwhile, I’m crushing out another endless winter out on some urban cross-country runs with Lucas. This is about as close as I get to catching that guy.

Jo’s earnestly tuneless Jackson 5 rendition, only a bit more recognizable when sung by 50 1st graders at once. Pardon the destroyed kitchen; we are barely civilized at the moment.

>Dorothy Ashby / Afro-Harping – Soul Vibrations
>> David Bowie – Five Years


I HAVE COMPLICATED FEELINGS about corporate philanthropy. They well up as I read this request from Jo’s teacher:

Tomorrow we are taking a school-wide picture at the grand opening of the Target Library Make-over.  We thought it would be fun to wear red for this picture.  If you see this message in time… please have your student wear something red (or close to red) for our school-wide picture.

Seen one way, this is a benign and understandable request made to show appreciation to people who made our school nicer. Urban public schools don’t have enough money for essential supplies and maintenance. Business sees an opportunity to support education (and burnish its corporate citizen rep) by stepping in. Who could object?

Whether corporations build our social infrastructure or we do it ourselves, we still pay. Tomorrow will be Target Day. Our kids will appear on the news with company volunteers in a branded library environment, and later in photos on websites and annual reports (wearing red, for fun!). [UPDATE: Jo reports students and faculty formed the shape of Target’s logo and were photographed from above]. Hereafter, every time they open a library book, they’ll see bullseyes. All these associations steadily accumulate and, it’s hoped, transmute into unconscious preference.

There’s no such thing as a Free Library. I know. I write the script for events like these.

Johanna is wide-eyed about the “sneak peek” she gets in the morning. I’m bothered. First that corporate messages take up so much air around arts, music, education, and stuff I thought was public, but also that we let private companies get the credit for making our schools “good.” Mostly with myself, though, for making Kool Aid I wouldn’t let my own family drink.

>> Bad Brains — Big Takeover

I JUST BAGGED MY THIRD AND FOURTH state parks of the summer, and we’re barely four weeks in. I don’t recall when I became a Minnesota park system groupie. Growing up, I went to exactly one Iowa State Park and that was mostly to skirt parental supervision for the day. Now I’m following some unconscious collector’s yen to see all 38. Johanna is racking up patches, for real.

This despite a massive IT failure of the DNR reservation system this spring, which cramped the plans of thousands of park nerds, us included. When they finally replaced the vacuum tubes (or whatever caused the month-long meltdown), I nabbed a spot at Itasca State Park to coincide with a conference where Sarah was presenting. But her gig was actually the following week, an error we only caught after all other cabins were booked. Systems failing all over.

It’s a tribute to Itasca, then, that Sarah’s return the following week (220 miles each way past strip malls, flea markets and fantastic castles penitentiaries) still felt worthwhile (though Jo and I took a pass). One of the nation’s oldest state parks—second only to New York’s Niagara—Itasca is 32,000 acres of lakes, old-growth pine forest and empty, shade-dappled trails knitting it together. There’s also, of course, the headwaters of the Mississippi, though this primeval origin point had its wildness engineered out to look more like you’d expect it to. Just how they did things in 1905.

Family camping, if you’re lucky, is without high drama or surprise. Still you remember things. The two rangers-in-training schooling us about painted turtles and the vicious fisher (sworn enemy of the porcupine). The sunburned kids with North Woods accents I can only describe as marble-mouthed. Climbing a vertiginous fire tower that swayed in the wind under threat of storm.

And lessons learned: a) don’t bother looking for a decent bite in Bemidji, and b) tuck in shirts if you don’t want ticks.

>> Minor Threat – Stumped

WE TRIED RESURRECTING some clattertrap projectors that haven’t been fired up in years and—with patience and careful tending—they roll. Last night we screened a triple-stack of 16-millimeter films from the archive (“Multiple Tube Bender,” “Springtime,” “Eureka Graduation,” “Canoeing Manitoba,” and others cycled in). Featuring Lucas Alm on bass. Playing both vids at once is a surprisingly good re-creation.

I’d love to emulate an installation at the Tate Modern, called simply “Film” (reviewed with good images here, though this New Yorker profile of the artist, Tacita Dean, was what hooked me). Maybe in a park or back alley this summer? We have operational gear. Now to find more footage, which is too rare to stumble upon anymore, alas.

TWO SIGNS I DON’T BELONG IN THIS COFFEESHOP: it took three baristas five minutes to pour me a mug of coffee. And the only other patron is reading Tim Pawlenty’s “Courage to Stand.” In a town with many excellent cafés, the lameness of others feels like an affront. So let me tell you about the ones I like.

Spyhouse on Nicollet: Art students, restaurant people, transients and low-rent laptoppers (like myself) caffeinate here by day, nodding to Steely Dan, Blondie, Bowie and Stones (The décor is mostly crusty LPs and string-art clipper ships). The vibe is energetic, but with few children or “problem clients.” On the same block, you have your pick of Vietnamese. There is reportedly another location, but why bother?

Diamonds Coffee Shoppe: A maze of mostly windowless rooms in a Nordeast warehouse, this retro-modern spot has the Bohemian vibe of the artist studios nearby (welders, glassmakers, felters), without being too eclectic for the agency types moving into the strip. The furniture is ancient, curling Harley posters serve as décor, and while the food is just OK, the agreeable lady behind the counter makes it from scratch, a rarity.

Urban Bean: This Uptown place tries pretty hard—floor-to-ceiling murals, strict dichromatic palette, way too much merch. But there are lots of tables and power outlets and the owners work the counter like they give a damn. Extra points for scoring a patio table in summer.

2nd Moon Coffee Café: This redundantly named hole in the wall wins for weird juxtapositions. Somali students and grizzled old Communists. Punk Rock Moms Group and Scrabble Club. The mentally ill and the physically disabled. They have to remove ranting people and replace busted windows regularly, and many patrons don’t bother to buy anything. So I forgive the staff for playing Abbey Road a little too often.

Wonderland Park a/k/a Peace Coffee: This sparkling new emporium in lonely Longfellow (my ‘hood) is the headquarters for a local beans-on-bikes distributor. They did it up: high-varnish recycled wood tables (all four legs sit squarely on the floor; nice!), mosaic tiling, giant picture windows, and get this: bottomless cups of mad-delicious brew. Oh come, all ye freelance freeloaders.

>> Cream – Strange Brew

YESTERDAY I AWOKE IN A FOG (literally for a change). It shrouded our ‘hood in mystery and grandeur. A sudden suburban jungle. On my way to get a paper. Click to enlarge.

The crowing of our neighbor’s illegal rooster completes the equatorial village vibe.

Some neighb’s wish this empty school would disappear. And for several hours, it did.

Bright yet obscure. Empty yet full. Familiar yet foreign. Sublimity in seeing less.

>> Lee Perry & The Upsetters – Locks In The Dublight