Texas Hipster Pudding

Okay, Matty,

You’ve forced my hand.

When we agreed to engage in this project together, I made a personal challenge to myself to try to focus on upbeat songs. You see, I have a record of creating slow, thoughtful songs that people probably don’t much enjoy hearing. I planned to create a new library of punchy, energetic songs that were less dependent on meaning.

Your latest post and explanation of Undecided (In a World with Love) challenged me to reconsider my objective and revert back to my maudlin ways. Here I go, with apologies.

In order to keep you reading, I make this promise: If you continue, I will close the piece with a statement from my Texas-born hipster neighbor. It is one of the funniest and best sentences I’ve ever heard, and I’m happy to memorialize it in the context of our project.

First, a little “bookwork,” as my father used to say. I need to clear up some important details mentioned in your latest post. Your estimation of our age at the time of or exposure to Star Wars is close, but not precise. I mean to impress you with my vivid memory of my first Star Wars experience, mostly because it’s a little weird.

I think we were a little older than you surmised when the first Star Wars movie was in the theaters. I’m pretty sure we were in sixth grade. I was not a science fiction fan, so it was very much not on my list of things to do. Out of the blue, this kid named Alan asked me if I would like to go to Star Wars with him. I didn’t really know how to say I wasn’t into science fiction, so I agreed to go.

As it turned out, this kid named Alan had already seen the movie about a dozen times, and he could pretty much recite the entire dialogue half asleep. Regardless, I think he was just as excited to be there watching it for the 13th time with a neophyte like me, awaiting my every reaction to the developing storyline.

This kid, Alan. He was kind of different. I still remember that he wore button-down shirts with collars, even in sixth grade.  Even if I wasn’t brave enough to declare it at the time, I knew he was different in an awesome sort of way.

Anyway, on to my real story of the week. As I mentioned, you’ve forced my hand through your recent post and caused me to record a song about and discuss the following themes:

  • The meaning of life (yawn)
  • Kids (aww)
  • Science fiction/fantasy (what the heck, John?)

So here goes. Remember: You eat the meat, you get the Texas hipster pudding.

About 10 year ago, my brother-in-law ran Grandma’s Marathon. As you probably know from our conversations, Yuo’s family is a bit hyper-involved, so a bunch of us had to head up there for the event. We all descended on the Zenith City and set ourselves up in a comfortable Hermantown motel for the weekend.

If you’ve ever attended a marathon, you’d know that the organizers wisely arrange a number of auxiliary events around the main race to keep all the supporters busy. Grandma’s is no exception, and one of the events planned was the Whipper Snapper race for young children. It was something like 50 yards, and every kid was Number 1. The assumption, for some sexist reason, is that the fathers do the run with the kids. I think Quentin was about four. I was about a hundred.

Here’s the challenge I faced at this time. It’s a challenge I think many parents encounter at some point in their parenting careers. Quentin was a bit of a timid, sensitive guy. This is great in some ways, problematic in others. By this time, I’d already had to carry him crying out of a few different public-facing activities. I want to nurture his sense of self, but I also want to push him out of his comfort zone. I want him to face his fears sometimes, because that helps later in life. It helps. At least that’s what I think.

Anyway, this kid race is pretty silly. Hundreds of kids gather in this area like cattle, and somebody blows a whistle or whatever, and they all bolt for some finish line. I think there was ice cream or something on the other end.

The signal blows. Everybody begins running. I look back at Quentin, and he’s looking at me with plaintiff eyes, trying to say something. It’s really loud in the throng of kids and their parents, so I can’t hear him. I figure he’s just trying to back out of it, and this is one of those pivotal parenting moments where I need to push him harder. I need to make him do what he doesn’t want to do, even if it makes me the bad guy for the moment. He’ll benefit from it in the long run. I keep running ahead of him, making him catch up with me all the way to the finish line. He’s crying the whole way, but I get him to that finish line.

When we get there, though, he tells me what he was trying to say at the beginning. He didn’t want to back out of the run, but he wanted to hold my hand as we ran. He saw some other kids holding their parents’ hands, and he thought that would make it better.

I didn’t let him hold my hand.

I will never forget that moment. I think we all have parenting failure moments that we will never forget. Like a glutton for punishment, I wrote and recorded Running.

This song now resides on my Bandcamp page, along with several other pieces you and I have recorded and now make available individually and through our Bandcamp label, The Duluth Experiment. Sorry, but I don’t have my handwritten notes for this song. I wrote it more than 10 years ago, and it’s just in my head. I did accept your advice to write the lyrics out on the Bandcamp page, though.

And here’s the Texas hipster neighbor angle that makes this messy story worth reading. I have these neighbors, the best neighbors one could ever have. I love them for two reasons:

  1. They make their own wine and offer me some when I visit them in their backyard.
  2. They’re almost always in their backyard.
  3. They let me play my songs for them, and I think they actually like them.

Not only do they listen to my songs, but they actually let me set my songs up with the stories behind them. I think they appreciate the context. That’s actually one of my inspirations behind this project of ours. I’ve tried some open mic nights, and I never really feel like I get to explain my songs under those circumstances. Call it a weakness in the songwriting if you want, but I don’t care. Perhaps some artwork can stand on its own without context, but mine doesn’t. I’ve got stories behind my songs, and I’m fine with that.

At any rate, I told my neighbors the story behind this song before playing it with a glass of wine next to me several years ago, and one of them made the following statement:

“Oh, man. If you told that story on stage at the Basilica Block Party, or something like that, you’d have all the Ashleighs eating out of the palm of your hand.”

I hadn’t heard this term, “Ashleighs” before, but I was pretty sure I knew what he meant. I looked it up and confirmed my suspicion. It’s poetic and pretty funny. No offense intended toward people actually named Ashleigh, or toward sensitive folk.

This song features dragons, photon rays, and flaming blades. It’s a natural response to your Star Wars/meaning of life discussion. It’s also a way to demonstrate my own fears and concerns. I try not to let those fears and concerns guide my parenting, but I’m quite certain that I don’t do a perfect job of hiding them.

Quentin’s fine, and he’s not as timid as he used to be. He’s actually a bit of a ham. Matty, you’re a few steps behind me in the parenting game, but I’d bet you’ve had similar parenting experiences.



I don’t really hate literature

Hey, Matty,

My disdain for great writers like Mark Twain and Harper Lee is over-exaggerated, and I aim to prove it.

I promised I’d follow up on your original piece that referenced the controversy in Duluth over the district’s decision to eliminate To Kill a Mockingbird and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the English curriculum. I awoke to that news with disappointment, and I knew it would generate controversy.

Several friends expressed similar disappointment on social media, but I’d re-examined my own position by afternoon and expressed my renewed openness to the decision. In short, I’d considered the possibility that nostalgia for what these books meant to me personally drove my reaction as much as my concern for overzealous scrubbing of historical context from our literary tradition. They are great books, but I argued that other books were good too. It wasn’t the end of the world.

My argument didn’t go over very well. It also didn’t go over very well with my retired English teacher mom, who just sent me a bunch of clippings from the Duluth newspaper on the subject. Who sends newspaper clippings anymore? That’s almost a statement by itself.

It also didn’t go over very well with my very much not-retired English teacher brother-in-law, and we got into a discussion about what makes a classic a classic.

I’m not interested in advancing my futile argument further, but I am interested in clearing the record on my own personal attitude toward these books. So great was my concern for the fate of Mockingbird when I heard the news, in fact, that I started writing a song about it right away. The song became Atticus, which I recorded and just posted on my Bandcamp site.

This song is a bit of a nostalgic indulgence, with random and mostly meaningless recollections from the weirdness of our junior high school days. I love randomness and meaninglessness.

I believe I read Mockingbird in Mrs. Alfonsi’s class. Snapping her gum and swishing about in her black skirts and no-nonsense hair, Mrs. Alfonsi used Mockingbird to help us discuss issues of racism and gender stereotypes. We developed an understanding of cultural context, of the complexity of class, of justice and courage.

The book meant a lot to me. I read it to Yuo’s belly when she was pregnant with Quentin. If either of our kids had been born a girl, there is zero doubt that we would have named her Harper. I encouraged Quentin to read the book last year, and I think he read it just because he knew how moved I’d be. I think he liked it anyway.

I wrote this song over a couple of weeks and just recorded it. It’s a little silly. It plays on a joke I made to Yuo about that same time about a person we know who really admires Elon Musk.

“He wants to have Elon Musk’s baby,” I said.

It occurred to me that this was a ridiculous but succinct way to express a man’s unromantic admiration for another man. It also occurred to me that I wouldn’t be particularly bothered if somebody made that same joke about me and my admiration of Atticus Finch.

I have less nostalgia for Huck Finn, but I could probably spend a couple of pages on how Mr. Braafladt’s moustache suggested he wanted to have Mark Twain’s baby.


For your reading pleasure, again I give you my handwritten lyrics. These are actually pretty decent, relatively speaking.

Silly pet videos: The best content available for Valentine’s Day

Hey, Matty,

Your Mediocre Gatsby piece was perfect for the controversy seizing Duluth over the school district’s decision to eliminate two books from its curriculum. I have thoughts on the subject myself, and I’ve even written a song about it. Hold on to that thought for a later post.

In the meantime, I wanted to write about a song I just posted on Bandcamp: Pet Videos. I’m pushing forward with this one for a few reasons:

  1. I’ve been sitting on this song for a couple months, and I really wanted to get it out there.
  2. It’s about goofy relationships, so it’s timely and relevant to the Valentine’s Day season if I get this out tonight.
  3. Since it’s a Valentine’s Day thing, and I can relate it to my courtship (note awkward and archaic use of the word “courtship”) of Yuo, I’ll get credit from her for posting something nostalgic and romantic about us.
  4. It’s probably the most whimsical song I’ve ever written, so I think it’s a great opener for me.

Not sure if this was on your mind at the time, since you were busy being a rock star, but I was working for a small daily newspaper in Stillwater when Yuo and I met. I loved this job and hated it. I loved the work, the role I played in documenting the history of a community and seeing my name in print every day.

The job challenged me too. I barely made rent on my wage, the deadlines never ceased, and I sat on the bad end of many difficult conversations with angry readers who had a lot to say about my work, even before the concept of Fake News and all of the vitriol surrounding it was a thing.

The worst part about the job, though, was the drive. I lived in Uptown and had to drive nearly an hour to Stillwater and back. Due to late meetings, I ended up sleeping on the office couch a few nights a week.

This is where Yuo comes in. Anybody who’s ever spent time around me and Yuo would agree that we have an odd relationship. Our conversations are usually pretty goofy and honest, and most people wouldn’t understand them.

This unconventional element of our relationship began during those days when I worked in Stillwater and spent a lot of late hours with her on the phone with all the lights off in the building. I’m not sure why it ended up this way, but I called her on several occasions really late at night while watching Animal Planet. The animals reminded me of her for some reason, I told her. Very romantic, I know.

It worked, though. We sat on the phone for hours. I was always happy to hear her voice before I fell asleep, with images of lions and sharks glowing in the dark office and the AP server humming behind my head.

Pet Videos is an exploration of what I imagine a budding relationship like ours must be like today. There’s so much more crazy stuff to share, and so many different ways to share it with each other remotely. Even from a distance, young lovers or friends can stay really close with all of the resources we have available to us. Of course, a lot of people use these resources improperly, but social media and electronic communications can be used for good as well. And my very favorite social media content, silly pet videos, is a perfect example of how media can be used well. If we just stuck to this stuff on social media, we’d all be better off.

I wrote and sang this song on a mandolin, which I bought two months ago. I honestly haven’t learned to play it very well, because I just made this song up right away and keep playing it over and over again. Maybe I’ll move on to learning something new, now that I’ve released it.

Please note that I’m also including my lyrics, but as images. I figured you’d have fun trying to read my notoriously bad handwriting.