Friday, July 02, 2004


Adieu, Marlon Brando. Here's a blog entry I wrote about A Streetcar Named Desire a couple of years ago.
Who will teach the teacher

Did I ever mention that I work for the Simpson Street Free Press, the nonprofit teaching newspaper for kids? I'm an editor and teacher there, and I have one main gig: I take groups of kids to Wisconsin museums and historical sites, and then I help them write about their experiences in newspaper articles.

It's fun work. On most trips, I'm learning right along with the students. (In that regard it's sort of like being a graduate teaching assistant.)

I can't speak for the kids, but this job has taught me far more about Wisconsin than I ever managed to learn on my own. Events and sites we have covered include Fighting Bob Fest, in Baraboo; Cave of the Mounds, in Blue Mounds; Grant County's Pleasant Ridge, a 19th century settlement of freed slaves; an exhibit of African art at the Elvehjem museum; an exhibit about Hmong refugees at the Madison Children's Museum (the exhibit is interesting, though its name, "Hmong At Heart," is a groaner); the Waukesha County Historical Society, which is soon to collaborate with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on a large exhibit about Waukesha's own Les Paul; the Octagon House in Watertown; the Palmyra Historical Society; Aztalan State Park, site of some really spooky Indian mounds; and, most recently, Taliesen, Frank Lloyd Wright's home.

As you know, some places are more fascinating than others. Taliesen, especially, is a gem, and I loved the Indian mounds and the Octagon House.

Less successful are the small historical societies. Often these are run by well-meaning history buffs, who have shoestring budgets and not lots of curatorial experience, and the quality of the exhibits varies. The organizing impulse often seems to be: let's display, without explanation, a bunch of old stuff we found. Any history is better than no history, I suppose, but I worry that the kids find these places confusing; I know I do.

I'm thinking especially of the Lancaster Historical Society, which we sought out because it has an exhibit about the freed slave settlement at Pleasant Ridge. (The settlement is long defunct; the last African-Americans in the area moved away decades ago.) When I arrived at the society with seven kids in tow, I guess I didn't say clearly enough that we were interested in Pleasant Ridge, and the staffers began showing us their collections of beer bottles and firearms; my students, bless 'em, dutifully took notes. I asked about the Pleasant Ridge collection, which turned out to be a baffling jumble of photographs and artifacts. (My favorite detail was a tiny wooden crib that held a plastic, African-American baby doll.)

Actually, I think there is ambivalence in Lancaster about the Pleasant Ridge settlement, and that may be why the exhibit is so weird. The historical society's staffers cheerfully told us that race relations in the area were great, but they also hinted at lynchings. If they knew these were contradictory notions, they didn't let on. I found the whole experience unsettling.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Good word

"You said that irony was the shackles of youth."

--R.E.M., "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"
The color of money

Contemplating my new (to me) Duran Duran LP, Seven and the Ragged Tiger, I got to thinking: what's the deal with bands whose members have similar coloring? The Strokes are one recent instance, and other examples are this band, and this one, and this one.
Movie love

Recently someone told me they don't like Kirsten Dunst, who these days is staring at me from the cover of our new copy of Vogue. This got me trying to think of movie stars I don't like, until I remembered that I am wholeheartedly starstruck and easily dazzled, and I adore nearly all celebrities, especially movie stars. The only movie star I don't like is one of the biggest: Tom Hanks, who unfortunately appears in a lot of films by Steven Spielberg, another movie star I adore.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Built for speed

So the fastest text messager in the world thumbed a 26-word message in 43.66 seconds. If I have done my algebra correctly, that comes out to 35.73 words per minute.

Out of curiosity, I tested my touch typing a moment ago, and according to the computer program that taught me to touch type about 10 years ago, I type at 87 words per minute, albeit with a handful of mistakes.

It's clear that not only do I think faster than I write longhand, but I also think faster than I could conceivably text, if I ever wanted to text, and I don't really want to. Touch typing is closer to my speed. I'm sticking to a Qwerty board for the time being.
Good word

"The only paradigm they know is cronyism."

--Michael Fleischer, director of private sector development in Iraq, on the Iraqis (as quoted in the Chicago Tribune). Fleischer is the brother of former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer

Monday, June 28, 2004

Addendum to my mom's directions

In the Real file, my appearance starts at about 2:08:20.
A note from my mom to her promo list

Hi everyone,

Thought you'd enjoy knowing that Kenneth played at the Green Party's convention in Milwaukee last week, and he is on the C-span archive. If you want to check it out, go to and click on the Green Party Convention. When it comes up, move the arrow at the top over to where there are four or five white dots left on the right side. The man who introduces him is Adam Benedetto, so if you get him, you are almost there.

I don't have any video enhancements, so it's fuzzy for me, but the sound is okay. It's national exposure for him - which is exciting. And, as we all know in show business, you don't KNOW who is watching when.

Congratulations, Kenneth.


Sunday, June 27, 2004

Bein' Green

So as has already been noted on here (that was fast!), I performed at the Green Party convention in Milwaukee, and Kenny was on him some C-Span. Afterward people kept asking me, "Have you ever been on national TV before?" Well, no. Once I did live TV at the CBS affiliate here in Madison, and it was the only time in my life I ever got stage fright. But Saturday at the Midwest Airlines Center, I was cool as a big green cuke.

You might wonder why I was there. The story is that my friend Adam Benedetto, who recently ran on the Green Party ticket for Dane County (Wisc.) sheriff, called and asked me to appear. Adam (who did substantially better in his race than anyone expected him to) was in charge of organizing the convention, and after some sort of snafu involving Michelle Shocked, he got in touch with me. I hesitated--I'd describe my politics as somewhere left of Kerry but somewhere right of Nader, who I think is unstable--but after much thought and consultation, I decided: why the hell not? So down I-94 to Milwaukee I went.

I was a little panicky as I rolled in, because the massive Summerfest music extravaganza is going on in Milwaukee, and I thought downtown would be tricky to navigate. As it happened, downtown Milwaukee was as subdued as it always is when I am there, and I had no trouble parking and finding the convention center.

I came thinking I would play a whole set, at least half an hour, but when I saw the schedule, I saw I was slotted to play for three minutes. The organizers I talked to seemed a little mortified about this and made frantic calls to Adam, but I figured anything would be fine. I dropped off my stuff and began strolling around Milwaukee.

Milwaukee and Madison are very different. I've found that when I walk around downtown Madison before a show and am duded out in cowboy suit and hat, people studiously ignore me, or perhaps peek at me out of the corner of their eye--part of that famous Wisconsin reserve. In downtown Milwaukee, though, I created quite a stir. People yelled and honked and waved and complimented my hat. I smiled and waved back. I grabbed a bite to eat, then headed back to the convention center.

I settled in for the meeting, and I learned that nominating conventions are as dull in person as they are on TV. Actually, many of the talks were interesting, but there were an awful lot of them. I did get excited about the appearance of Frank Ziedler, 92, the former Socialist mayor of Milwaukee. He gave a great speech and then sat down right in front of me.

Finally the nominees spoke: Pat LaMarche, the vice-presidential candidate, talked mostly about ballot access, and prez nominee David Cobb gave a fiery speech about this and that. Actually, I didn't pay much attention to his speech, because I was due to perform right after him and was busy with a technical matter: the battery for my guitar's pickup had come loose from its mount, and I had to fish it out. A security guard backstage watched me do this and offered advice.

Then it was my turn. For many of the conventioneers, the show was over after Cobb's speech, so lots of people were filing out as I performed. Cobb's speech ran short, so I had time for two numbers: the proletarian anthem "It's Hard to Win a Woman (When You're Working For the Man)," which my friend Thomas Crofts and I wrote; and the earnest Nick Lowe song "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding)." The crowd that remained was in a party mood and clapped along.

And that was it! I had to get back to Madison, so I packed up to go. As I made way out, a hippie looked at me and said, "Hey! What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?" I smiled, shrugged, and kept walking.

On the phone later, my mother asked what songs I played. She'd never heard of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding," and when I mentioned it, she asked, "So what's the bottom line?" I told her it's a rhetorical question.

What is so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?