Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Argus Woes, Part 2 (Or Is It 3?)

Last week, I ranted about the sheer arrogance constantly displayed by our daily paper, particularly in a series of editorials that lectured us to support a new Arena yet used the exact same criticisms leveled against the project to forcefully tell us we’re crazy to even consider a east-west corridor.
Consider today’s rant part two.
This past Sunday’s paper included yet another reader spanking. This time, the naughty people are anybody who dares to say or think anything that could be considered negative about T. Denny Sanford. He’s a saint, after all…a man above reproach.
Bullshit. Anybody has the right to have any opinion, positive or negative, about any citizen, regardless of their wealth or social position. Respect is to be earned, not purchased.
Across two pages, the Argus repeated over and over the greatness of Mr. Sanford. Once again, we heard that he absolutely did not want the hospital’s name changed. C’mon, give me a break. If he’s so publicity shy, why is it that every building he donates a chunk of cash to ends up with his name on the marquee? Maybe it wasn’t part of the contract, but there’s no way that there wasn’t some sort of wink-wink agreement.
My favorite portion of the blowj…I mean editorial was the assertion that anybody who says anything not positive about him is “jealous”. Jealous? That’s the sort of cheesy comeback you see on online message boards. In fact, just the other day I was hanging out on Paltalk, an online video program, and some no-name that felt he wasn’t being treated in the manner he thought he deserved said we were all jealous. That was his entire comeback.
If the word “jealous” doesn’t work in an e-fight, then it certainly doesn’t work on an editorial page. But let’s be real – anybody who criticizes him is not doing it because they’re a “hater”. They are asking tough questions because they need to be raised. There are issues surrounding Sanford’s professional and personal life, and we need our local news professionals to ask these questions.
(By the way, a google search on Sanford’s name led to an extremely interesting website. South Dakota Judicial Watch features some interesting details surrounding his second divorce in 2005.)
Will any tough questions ever be asked of Sanford or the hospital bearing his name? Nope, and that’s the main issue I have with the media in this city. With all the money that non-profit facility throws into advertising on all three local news programs, I have no doubt that nobody will ever ask a tough question. The biggest scandal ever could hit our town, and they’d simply ignore it if that name was attached.
But as a person with high regard to the newspaper industry, I always held out hope that despite their share of the hospital’s advertising dollars they would never allow it to affect their news department. A good friend of mine that works at the paper even recently tried to assure me that they would never ignore a story. After Sunday’s oral…I mean editorial, I’m not so sure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Earlier this year, Minneapolis music writer Jim Walsh contacted me with a surprise request. In the process of writing a book on the Replacements, he had somehow discovered an interview I had published in Tempest with guitarist Slim Dunlap and wanted to utilize a handful of quotes.
Obviously, I was more than honored to say yes, and on November 15 The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting will be available to “Westernerds” all around the world. A few days ago, my promo copy arrived and I did my best impression of Steve Martin’s famous scene in The Jerk to find my name in the Endnotes and Acknowledgments sections. It was a proud moment.
In late September I met the former City Pages/St. Paul Pioneer Press journalist after a Paul Westerberg interview/performance at First Avenue, and he was kind enough to agree to answer a few questions for me.

Prime: How did you discover the Replacements? What was it about them that attracted you?

Jim Walsh: Mars and I went to high school together. His brother, Jim, and I were friends. We all grew up in the same neighborhood - South Minneapolis back then was what my dad calls "the Catholic ghetto." Paul and Chris went to Incarnation with my wife, Jean; I went to Annunciation.
I liked the songs and speed and spirit. For me, there was nothing not to like. They rocked.

Prime: Describe the first time you saw them.

Walsh: Mind blowing. More so thinking about it now, though, obviously.

Prime: What was the best show you witnessed?

Walsh: The night my brother and I rolled a garbage can up on stage and pushed it so it perfectly rested next to Paul. Who looked at it and his face said, "That's about the size of it."
Then they did "Rattlesnake," I think. Bob got in it and during the solo he and the garbage can fell and it all spilled out and he jumped up, buck naked. Fucking magic.

Prime: What is your relationship with the members of the band (past and/or present)?

Walsh: My relationship is with the songs, more than anything. That's why I wrote it: I wanted to map out how and when they happened, if not why. I think they're all a little weirded out by the idea of the book. I would be, if they knew someone like me - a good listener and writer - was uncorking a love letter to the little fuckers.

Prime: Minneapolis seems to be a pretty close-knit city where everybody in the music scene knows each other. Has the fact that you’re inevitably going to run into anybody you write about ever affect your writing?

Walsh: It used to. Not anymore. I've learned a lot in my 48 years. Which isn't to say I don't have my blue moments about all sorts of stuff, but I've been through too muck life and death in the last few years to be worried what people think about me. I'm having a pretty good time, despite the world going to hell in a handbasket and everything.

Prime: Almost all fans of the Replacements play the “what if” game. Do you think they really had a chance to “make it”? If so, what was their downfall?

Walsh: Who says they didn't make it? We're still talking about their songs 15 years after they stopped playing live. Most bands would give their left nuts for that sort of legacy. Their downfall was their almost complete inability to play the game; their bullshit detectors never failed them, and they couldn't bring themselves to really suck corporate cock: it would have been a betrayal of the songs and the band's spirit and the fans.
I told my friend Craig who produces a Hollywood TV show about a rich family and the down-to-earth lawyer that represents them that they should use "World Class Fad" for the theme song. What a great song. (I’m) listening to it right now.

Prime: What is their lasting legacy?

Walsh: Have fun. Let it rock. LIVE.

Prime: What made you decide to write this book? Why did you format it as an oral history?

Walsh: My editor, Denis Pernu, said: "You were sort of doomed to write this book."
An editor at Simon and Schuster a few years ago contacted me about doing a book on the 'Mats. He suggested an oral history then; I never wanted to do it in a narrative form. They were a really impressionistic band, I wanted the tone to be sort of breaking glass-haphazard. I think it works.

Prime: You obviously had twenty years of stories you’ve written not only on the band but other artists. How much of the material in the book come from your archives? Did you do additional interviews with any band members?

Walsh: A lot of the material is from interviews I did over the years, in the Minnesota Daily, SPIN, Rolling Stone, St. Paul Pioneer Press, City Pages.
I did interviews with everybody but Tommy and Paul. Mars wouldn't talk, but he wrote a paragraph about seeing footage from the Entry in 81, and concluding they were a damn good little punk band. Slim and Steve Foley were really fun to talk to. As you know.

Prime: My interview with Slim that you’re using is pretty obscure – it came from a small-town tabloid that had no web presence. How did you find it, and did you discover other “lost” interviews?

Walsh: I kept lots of stuff over the years. Peter Jesperson would xerox stuff for me when they got back from tours. One interview with Paul I tried hard to find was one in Glamour or something, where he talks about how he got started playing rock and roll: "I played in a Neil Diamond cover band. We played a high school dance, and we got paid in amphetamines."
Those guys from the skyway mailing list sent me stuff, too, which was invaluable. Lexus-Nexus or whatever had stuff, too, and Google. But most of it was hard copy xerox or originals.

Prime: While putting together the narrative, did you discover anything that really surprised you?

Walsh: It's a great story, beyond the fact they were a great band. They epitomized so much, they were so human. Brothers.

Prime: You’re used to being the interviewer. With this book you’re now going switch roles. Are you nervous at all about this prospect?

Walsh: Nope. I do interviews with myself all the time when I write my songs or columns.

Prime: The million-dollar question – do you see any chance of a reunion?

Walsh: I'm the wrong guy to ask. I know a lot of people would love it, though.

The Argus Is Against Progress?

I’ve never bought into the theory that our daily paper has a political bias. Hardcore Democrats like to complain that the Argus is a conservative newspaper, while Republicans jam the talk show phone lines with “proof” of a liberal bias.
Most of these conspiracies are the result of near-sighted people who go out of their way to look for clues. They consider it proof if something semi-positive is said about the other side, or they believe anecdotal facts about supposed relationships decades earlier.
There’s certainly much to complain about when it comes to the Argus, but my rant today has nothing to do with the political affiliations of their reporters and columnists. The problem I’ve had for years and years has been their sheer arrogance. When they express an editorial opinion, in their mind that is the official opinion of this city and anybody who goes against them is just a hater who is against progress.
The decade-long fight for a new Arena is a perfect example. From day one, they’ve lectured their readers on how it needs to be built today, and it can’t be anywhere but downtown. Forget about problems with finances, infrastructure, and traffic…and definitely ignore the fact that 40 years of the existing Arena has not produced the economic impact in the surrounding area that they claim a new facility would produce. (And definitely don’t challenge the lack of facts to support their claims we’ve missed out on countless shows because the Arena’s too small.)
This past Sunday, I made my usual morning run to Black Sheep Coffee to gradually shake off a hangover before the day’s football games. As always, a paper was sitting on an unused table, so I grabbed it to read while Teagan the Ipod shuffled my latest purchases. (Damn, that new Radiohead album is fantastic!)
The day’s editorial headline was their official stance on any plan for a midtown east-west corridor. While I was not surprised that they’re against such a plan, I was shocked that the majority of their reasons were the exact same problems we’re supposed to ignore about a downtown events center.
For example, cost is not a concern for this bound to be under-utilized building, yet suddenly the Argus is worried about the costs of extending 26th or 22nd Street to Marion Road? Incredible.
They also are suddenly concerned about the increased traffic around Sanford Hospital and the University of Sioux Falls. Well, of course they’re worried about their biggest advertiser. It’s amazing to me that they’re so worried about bumper-to-bumper traffic in that part of town, but we’re supposed to be patient when trying to get in and out of a 16,000 seat facility situated between two-lane downtown streets.
To these clowns, the interstate is good enough for those that live on the west side of town. Yeah, it really makes sense to make people loop around the outskirts of the city to get anywhere in the central part of the city.
Maybe it is good enough…for now. But the city continues to expand in that part of the city, and plans must be made now to accommodate those people. Actually, it should have been done twenty or thirty years ago.
In fact, it was back then that the city should have made the right move and not only extend 26th Street but widen both that street and Western Avenue. Like it or not, these are both major streets and they need to be treated as such. Since it wasn’t done then, it should be a priority now.
The reluctance to make such a dramatic move reflects the major problem I see with not only the newspaper but our city’s leaders. They want the best of both worlds. They think we can and should be considered a real city and compete with Omaha and Minneapolis, yet they also act like we’re a small, folksy Mayberry-ish town. We don’t fit in either category, although there are definitely plenty of people around here that remind me of Gomer, Goober, and Barney.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Local Stations - Please Fix Your Hi-Def!

Ten days ago, I had this great plan for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Well, truthfully it wasn’t much different than any Sunday this time of year. Why mess with tradition?
Of course, I’m talking about a day spent watching football. We had the Packers playing the Vikings for the early game, and the Colts versus the Broncos for the late game. I had the Windsor all ready for a quiet, drunk afternoon.
Unlike most football days, though, I did have one other task. The previous day I had surfed my way to the high-def PBS channel, and didn’t move for almost two hours watching part three of The War. I decided I needed that series, and set my DVR to record almost eight hours of it on Sunday.
For awhile, things went as planned. The Vikings actually played pretty well for the first three quarters of the game, and stayed pretty close to the Packers for a good portion of the game.
All hell broke during the last quarter, though, and I’m not just talking about the game. Sure, the Packers increased their lead, and Minnesota made a last-ditch effort that just fell short thanks to a tipped interception. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see all of the action.
With just a few minutes left in the game, thunderstorms made their way into our area. Thankfully, our Fox affiliate doesn’t have a weather department to interrupt their programming, but the great minds at our cable company saw fit to continually interrupt the broadcast to tell us about every single cloud that came within 100 miles of Sioux Falls.
Now there’s nothing worse than a cable television weather alert. After cutting into the programming, they emit a number of high-pitch squeals that are not very good for the hangover. Then an AM-quality computerized voice tells us the new alert before more squeals pierce your ears. The cable box flips around a bit before it finally returns to your original channel.
It’s not just the football game that was affected by the multiple interruptions. My series of The War broadcasts were completely screwed up – the seven part series now number over a dozen cut-up recordings. I just erased them all and bought the DVD when it came out two days later.
The worst was yet to come. Guess what network carried the Colts game? Yes, CBS. And guess what channel is our local CBS affiliate? Yep, my pals. So not only was the cable company screwing with my television watching but now my filibustering weather practitioners.
Time after time the game was cut. Brian Karstens did what he does best(?), over-analyzing every cloud formation. At one point he even showed us pictures of hail sent in by senior citizens with too much time on their hand. One of the best games of the year was almost unwatchable due to a normal early-fall rain.
There’s more, though. You may recall a couple of years ago I complained about how our local channels had refused to spend the cash that allows them to keep the high-def singal while imposing things on the screen. They still haven’t, which makes no sense to me since the station in question appears to use nothing but interns as reporters. Because of this, the Colts game never made it to this century’s technology.
At one point, I started to flip around to see how the other channels were handling the weather. KSFY may have plenty of problems, but their programming continued to be in high-def, with a little logo in the upper left-hand corner to tell us to turn to their analog channel for weather information. This is how it should be done, and my hats off to them. Just please get rid of the constant Breaking News crap they pull during every newscast.
Oh, one more thing before I head out. The programming that KSFY was showing in high-def? Nascar. What a waste of technology.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Please Stop the Arena Propoganda!

I shouldn’t have been surprised that the headline story in today’s Argus was another call for a new arena. Timed perfectly with tonight’s controversial sold-out Elton John concert, the paper has a poll that claims that over half of our city believes we need such a facility.
At least the poll also shows that downtown is the least popular location for such a building. What bothers me, however, is the list of opinion-makers in the Sioux Empire section does not include one opposing viewpoint. Hey, I’m always available and it’s not like they don’t know that.
I still believe that the fact that Elton John is here tonight is part of some plan to force an arena down our throats. The very day this show was signed we’ve heard nothing from the Argus and KELO how this show “proves” the need. Even the Argus story that dispelled the various rumors surrounding the quick sellout failed to address the most valid reason – that a person or organization that has plenty to gain was allowed to make an early purchase to ensure a headline-grabbing quick sellout.
Even if there was no monkey business surrounding ticket sales, there is still no real proof that a new building is needed. Our city is famous for not supporting live music, from the club scene to the Arena, unless it’s free. Acts that sell out across the country struggle to find patrons here.
But is this surprising? City leaders like to point to cities such as Omaha and Minneapolis. For those cities to sell out, though, only an extremely small fraction of the city has to purchase tickets. Less than 1% of the Twin Cities needs to show up at a concert at the Target Center or Xcel Building…and only slightly more for Omaha’s Qwest Center. Do the people who believe we need a 20,000 seat facility in this town realize that over 10% of our city would have to attend to create a sellout? It’s not going to happen. (Sioux City is certainly starting to learn this simple fact.)
The music business is going through many changes these days, and despite the rhetoric it’s not due to downloading. There are no longer acts that are popular across the board – no Elvis, Beatles, or Led Zeppelin. Nor are there albums that cross genres and sell to people outside their demographic. In the mid-80’s, Prince, Springsteen, and Michael Jackson had fans across all demographics, but that never happens these days. An artist has their niche, but rarely do their sales cross into other genres.
Even the few remaining acts that do have crossover appeal are unlikely to come here no matter what we build. Gone are the days when artists spent the year traveling around the country. A typical arena tour these days is a two month trek through the country’s biggest cities. Minneapolis is even left out of many of the largest tours. When the inevitable Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin reunions do take place in the next couple of years, they’ll stick to cities like New York, Chicago, and L.A.
I think we’d be lucky for promoters to even consider booking major tours here. Yes, there’d be a flurry of activity once the building was completed, but it would only take one disappointing turnout for them to wipe our city’s name out of their date planner.
If it does have to be built, though, it simply can’t be downtown. One person quoted in the paper related her experience of attempting to leave the demolition of the Zip Feed building. We’re talking about an event that drew a few hundred people, and traffic was deadlocked for a good hour after the hilarity was over. I can’t wait to see them attempt to move out thousands of vehicles.
De Knudson and her ilk respond to this by pointing to Omaha and other cities. Apples and oranges, my dear. Yes, the Qwest Center is in downtown Omaha, but it’s not only surrounded by major streets, the freeway is just a couple of blocks away. Our downtown consists of almost nothing but slow-moving two lane streets that barely can handle the current traffic flow.
All of this criticism doesn’t even take into account the simple fact that our idiotic Mayor and his pals have spent money as if they’re the ones in charge of printing the bills. We’re close to moving into a financial crisis. The Argus has already reported on the upcoming problems we’re going to face in dealing with city employee benefits. One City Commissioner recently admitted to me that at some point we’re going to have major roadwork done on the streets surrounding Sanford Health to accommodate they’re ever-increasing traffic, as will the roads that surround Augie’s new stadium.
Sure, I would love to not have to travel to Minneapolis or Omaha to see Springsteen. But that is one of the negative aspects of living in a smaller city, and simply building a new facility will not increase the likelihood of more shows coming to our city…despite the propaganda our media loves to shove down our throats.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Curtains for MySiouxFalls.com?

A few months ago, billboards started appearing around town promoting a website whose name appeared to be affiliated with out city’s tourism department. Was this another folly for Terry Ellis Schmidt to waste our tax dollars?
Rumors began to circulate that a handful of wealthy investors, tired of the supposed “liberal” bias of our local news outlets, were putting together a local, online version of Fox News. A few semi-celebrities were linked to this venture, including Shawn Cable, whose contract with KELO terminated right around the time of the site’s launch.
Sometime this summer, MySiouxFalls.com did indeed launch…and the city yawned. Boasting to be an independent source of news and weather, it never really captured the imagination of anybody who wasn’t related to somebody involved in the venture.
Why would it? I visited a handful of times, and not once did I come out of there with information that I hadn’t already seen in the local newspaper, or on television or the internet. God bless my friend Shawn, but attaching his name to the same weather forecast that I can get from a variety of sources didn’t set them apart from anybody else.
A few days ago, rumors started to circulate that this venture wasn’t going to make it to showcase Cable’s expertise on marathon blizzard coverage. These rumors were indeed true, as the majority of employees were let go late last week.
Owner Joe Prostrollo claims that the site will carry on, but he just needs a little help. Almost $200,000 of help, which is the amount of money that he claims was invested in this site. Joe must be a helluva salesman, though, as I can’t think of any worse investment than any startup website, particularly one that doesn’t contain porn or videos of stupid people doing stupid Steve-O-ish stunts. The fact that Joe’s investors expected any return on their investment, let alone a full return in less than three months, proves either Joe’s charm or his investor’s ineptitude.
I understand that according to the experts the entire world is going to be online in just a few years – including books, magazines, music, movies, radio, TV, and, of course, newspapers. What is generally left out of these conversations is the fact that the predictors are generally people with a vested interest in the success of online ventures.
These experts are always more than eager to point to statistics to prove their point. Newspaper and magazine subscription rates are down almost across the board, as are television and radio ratings. Obviously, everybody must be getting their news and entertainment online.
Bloggers are the worst of this lot. Talk about a self-congratulatory bunch of douches. (I kid those bloggers who are my friends.) They love to point at their site’s statistics, regardless of the fact that the majority of visits are by the same people multiple times a day.
As a fellow blogger, I would like to say that sorry, kids, we’re not reinventing the wheel here. Yes, a few of us do some great work and discover stories that would otherwise not be heard (I wish I was one of those), but for the most part our words are read by either those who think exactly like us or those who hate us and are just waiting for us to hang ourselves with our own words. The vast majority of the public has never heard of any of us, and never will.
This is why I laugh when I see the mainstream media devoting more and more of their capital to their online presence. Yes, it’s great that I can look up anything silly Lou Raguse has said, or how Robert Morast has pissed off the classic rock crowd. That’s exactly how the internet serves the public – as an online version of the library. I no longer have to sit paging through back issues of the Argus at the library. I can instead attempt to navigate their poorly-designed website, along with almost every other newspaper in the country.
But this idea of the internet replacing the newspaper is absurd. No matter how their website is laid out, you cannot recreate the feel of browsing through every page, glancing at every headline and maybe reading a story or two that you otherwise would not care about. Online, one tends to only click on those stories that truly interest you, which means you rarely pick up information on other topics.
Internet news is an addition to traditional news sources, and for the majority of the public will be for quite some time. The declining numbers of sold newspapers are barely affected by the internet. Newspaper sales are down primarily because the general public as a whole cares less about the news, let alone reading in general, then at any time in our nation’s history. Why do you think so much of the cable news day is devoted to Britney and O.J.?
I’m sure a number of you are sitting there thinking that this is the rant of somebody who is showing his age. Trust me, I am more computer-proficient than the majority of people half my age, and a rather large part of my day is spent online. In my day-to-day routine, though, I encounter a wide variety of people of various ages, IQ’s, and occupations, and I can verify that as a whole people are less informed then ever, despite the fact that there are more sources for information than ever before. It’s a sad state of affairs, and I don’t see it getting better anytime soon. It’s safe to say, though, that MySiouxFalls.com won’t be helping to reverse this trend.