Posts tagged: Rake Magazine

Getting Away to It All: Storyteller Jim Stowell

Jim Stowell will literally go halfway around the world just to get a good story. A prominent force in the local theater community for thirty-five years, the actor and playwright has developed a specialty in the last decade and a half as a master monologuist. His deeply personal tales—funny, angry, politically aware, and wry—draw from his experiences in places like Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Amazon. His current project, Family Values, was originally produced at Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater in 1999. (You may also have seen him that year in the Jungle’s Macbeth.) Family Values depicts Stowell’s experiences growing up in a small Texas town on the Mexican border, and his late-nineties trip to war-torn Northern Ireland. The play explores why people hate each other, and why anger in the blood so often leads to the spilling of blood. Like many of us, Stowell found his perspective on that subject irrevocably altered in September 2001, and he decided to completely overhaul the play in light of the way we live and feel now.

The RAKE: The original version of Family Values was, to some extent, about the Cold War. You begin with boys throwing rocks at each other, and end with Americans and Soviets threatening to shoot rockets at each other.

STOWELL: That was the original concept, that direction. Guys in jets doing exactly the same thing as those boys. But we got to talking about that ending, and Richard Cook, the director, said, “Because of the changes in the world, I’m already way ahead of that business with the atomic stuff. We’ve just zoooomed past all those things.” And I agreed with him. We’ve completely redone the ending.

Originally published Oct. 23, 2003 in Rake Magazine. Read the complete article.

Straight Talk: Alan Sparhawk of Low

The saying goes that slow and steady wins the race. If so, give Low the gold. This Duluth indie-rock trio—guitarist Alan Sparhawk, his wife Mimi Parker on drums, and bassist Zak Sally—have become internationally renowned for a contemplative, ethereal sound reminiscent of Galaxie 500 and the early Cure. Their new retrospective box set, A Lifetime Of Temporary Relief, collects B-sides and rarities going back to Low’s earliest recorded work, in addition to eleven videos and three documentaries, including the illuminating “Closer Than That.” Essential for any fan, it would be a good place to start for the casual listener as well (say, those who might only have heard the version of “Little Drummer Boy” the Gap used in a Christmastime TV ad). They’re currently working with Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridman on a full-length record, their seventh, which Sparhawk jokes will “sound like Weezer.” Sparhawk will play a solo show at the 400 Bar July 31, and Low appears October 8-9 at Triple Rock Social Club.

THE RAKE: Does Duluth exert a geographic influence on your songs?
I think so. There’s a sort of Scandinavian reservedness about it. And the cold, the long winter, the mini-ocean. We have a definite Midwestern thing going on, a lack of irony. Although we did do a Journey cover.

The “Closer Than That” documentary includes footage from a concert in Amsterdam. How is Low received in Europe?
Pretty well, actually. I think we actually sell more records in Europe and England. I hope we don’t become one of those bands that nobody knows over here but we’re huge in Belgium. We have a great fan base in the U.S., and we’re certainly not slagged or ignored by the press, but it seems like in Europe we’re treated seriously, as a band that’s as valid as anybody else. Whereas in the U.S. we’re still kind of an anomaly: “Oh, yeah, that slow, quiet, indie rock band.” We could tour Europe twice as much as we do.

On the other hand, it’s more difficult to tour Europe because you’re also traveling with your children.
Yeah. In the U.S. you can just hop in the van and go.

What’s it like for Low to be simultaneously a band and a family?
It’s good. It can be difficult, but I’d rather do it this way. We’re lucky to be able to be around our kids all the time. Each side of my life is amplified by the other. The band pushes the possibilities for tension in the marriage, but also the rewards. They play off each other. The bad days are bad for the family, and vice versa. The biggest factor is having children.

You and Mimi just had your second, didn’t you?
Yes, he’s about a month old.

If you keep going, you could transform Low into the world’s slowest Von Trapp Family Singers cover band.
There you go! It could become a family variety show. A friend of mine says, almost seriously, that he wants to film a pilot of us going on the road, and call it Family Band. Sort of an alternative Osbournes—though it’d probably be more like The Office.

Your cover of “Surfer Girl” started as a lullaby to your daughter, right?
Yes. It’s funny, because there’s a moment on the documentary where Mimi and I are sitting on a couch backstage after a concert, and we play “Surfer Girl,” and she suddenly perks up and turns her head to look. I didn’t realize she did that until I’d seen the footage.

Despite your successes, Low’s unusual approach probably means you’ll always be a niche band. But your ten-year career suggests you’ve found the right niche.
It’s been appropriate for us. I’d love to make a record for $200,000 with Brian Eno, but you have to work with what resources are there. It’s not about staying “indie”—we don’t care about that. You have to adjust to the fact that if you have something going on and it connects with people, even on a small level, you can do it if you have the right attitude and the right perspective. You’ve got to work within the limits.

Originally published in the August 2004 issue of Rake Magazine.

Mock & Roll: At the Minneapolis regional of the Air Guitar World Championship

There is a rock god on stage at the Triple Rock Social Club bestriding the speakers like a colossus, his Loverboy T-shirt sacrificed to a Dionysian frenzy, his tongue out and waggling, his fingers pulsating. With a quick kick and flip, he’s down in the crowd, then up on the back bar, strutting around the beer bottles and whiskeys as he brings the music directly to the people. The fact that he has no instrument is of no consequence; this is rock ’n’ roll.

At the Minneapolis regional of the Air Guitar World Championship a couple of weeks ago, nine contestants took the stage to see whose mimicry of real rock-star moves would be good enough to win a slot at the L.A. nationals. There, one lucky American would be chosen to represent the red, white, and blue at the world tourney of “airaoke” in August.

Though amateurs have practiced the art of air guitar for generations (you only start feeling stupid doing it sometime in your thirties), the formal World Championship first took place in 1996 in the city of Oulo in northern Finland. Though the annual Finnish event has been a reliable source of silly-season news stories since then, only last year did the nation that invented the electric guitar finally send a competitor. Davie “C. Diddy” Jung swept the title just the way the U.S. dominated Olympic basketball after NBA players were allowed to compete. And there are signs that the world’s newest Sport of Kings is headed straight for the Hollywood machinery that builds American Idols.

Originally published June 25, 2004 in Rake Magazine. Read the complete article.

The Sharpie Marathon

At one table, two devils wandered through a postapocalyptic wasteland. At the other end of the room, a boy and girl passionately embraced, but tragically, she turned into a robotic killing machine and chased him all over the city. (Modern love is like that.) Across from them was another pair of lovers whose affair was much more traditionally romantic, if you overlooked the fact that he was a square and she was a triangle.

They were all stories drawn in ink, pencil, and marker by a collective of artists—eight bespectacled, nerdy guys mostly in their twenties. They call themselves the Cartoonists’ Conspiracy, and they were hunkered down at three tables at the downtown Grumpy’s. Each was focused intensely on a sheaf of thick, white Bristol one-hundred-pound paper. They were participating in the Twenty-Four Hour Comics Day, an endurance contest that took place a couple of weeks ago. Each artist had a single day to complete a twenty-four-page comic, with no advance planning or preparation.

The idea was proposed about ten years ago by author and cartoonist Scott McCloud. While our local crew was inking away, five hundred others in sixty similar groups were putting pen to paper as far away as South Korea.

Originally published May 20, 2004 in Rake Magazine. Read the complete article.

“Hubert Humphrey Was a Vampire!”

“So you’re telling me,” I ask the Pope of Witches, “that Hubert Humphrey was a vampire?”

“Yes, he actually was. Hubert was a very interesting person.”

So says Carl Llewellyn Weschcke. We are sitting in his spacious office at the St. Paul headquarters of Llewellyn Worldwide, the largest independent occult publishing house in America. At age seventy-two, he’s a sage and grandfatherly figure, like a well-groomed Father Christmas or Albus Dumbledore. He has been president of Llewellyn for forty-three years. The ascendance of his company has both mirrored and fueled the rise of New Age from an obscure fringe phenomenon to the remarkably mainstream movement it is today. And because of his influence, the Twin Cities is one of the nation’s major pagan population centers. Just across town, in fact, the hugely popular Edge Fest conference kicks off later this month. Weschcke can take some small measure of credit—or blame, depending on your point of view.

The Weschcke family has for four generations combined business with an uncommon interest in unusual religions. Carl’s grandfather Charles was a successful pharmacist, patent-medicine inventor, and prominent theosophist who passed his views on to his son and grandson. As a young man, Carl felt his life’s work went somewhat beyond his grandpa’s herbal laxative, and in January 1960 he spent forty thousand dollars on a small mail-order astrology publisher, Llewellyn, and moved it from Los Angeles to St. Paul.

Unless he’s clairvoyant, Carl couldn’t have known how successful this would be. He tells me that if he’d only wanted to make money, he’d have done something else. But he was passionate about the occult, and he identified with the company so strongly that he literally took its name as his own. And his timing was perfect: Llewellyn may have been decidedly fringe in the Eisenhower era, but few people in the fifties guessed that the next decade would be…the sixties. Vision-questing hippies found their needs met in a steady stream of books with the distinctive crescent-moon logo on the spine.

Originally published Oct. 23, 2003 in Rake Magazine. Read the complete article.

Blessings in Disguise: The Central Standard and Sound Unseen Film Festivals

Independent cinema is a bigger growth industry than you might think. A decade ago, there were maybe a hundred film festivals worldwide showcasing foreign films, documentaries, and low-budget fare. Now that number’s about a thousand. Here in Minnesota, the reigning king is the U Film Society’s international festival, one of the largest yearly draws of any arts event in the state. But there’s apparently plenty of room for growth here, too. Two of the newest film fests, Sound Unseen and Central Standard, screen this month, and they ought to be on the radar of any self-respecting fan of indie cinema.

Originally published in Rake Magazine Aug. 22, 2003. Read the complete article.

Interview: Tony Hillerman

Tony Hillerman, The Sinister PigNew Mexican mystery novelist Tony Hillerman has been the unofficial cultural ambassador of the Navajo Nation for more than 30 years. His Indian detectives, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, have introduced thousands of white readers to the rich culture of the tribes of the American Southwest in bestsellers like A Thief of Time and Skinwalkers. Hillerman turns 78 this month, just in time for the release of his 16th Leaphorn & Chee novel, The Sinister Pig, which revolves around an evil billionaire, a murdered CIA agent and the oil pipelines on the U.S.-Mexico border. He’s hard at work on the 17th, with no plans to retire anytime soon.

Originally published in Rake Magazine April 24, 2003. Read the complete article.

Interview: David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg's SpiderDavid Cronenberg is infamous for his unique style of horror filmmaking. His films–among them The Fly, Naked Lunch, and Dead Ringers–gaze with icy formalism on worlds where biology has gone mad. They’re a catalogue of physical breakdowns, sexual dysfunctions, florid mutations and hallucinations. His latest, Spider, based on Patrick McGrath’s novel, stars Ralph Fiennes as a muttering, schizophrenic Londoner who obsessively scribbles notes in an invented alphabet, struggling to make sense out of his fractured relationship with his mother (Miranda Richardson, terrific in a triple role). Quieter and largely grue-free, it’s still a clearly Cronenbergian film, and his best in years. The Rake crashed into the director recently for a Q&A.

Originally published in Rake Magazine Feb. 21, 2003. Read the complete article.

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