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Late Night at the End of the Year

I’m at Barnes and Noble, which is open until midnight through the Dec. 22. And I’m reflecting on the past year.

These holiday hours are a throwback to the days when B&N was open regularly to eleven, then to ten, now to nine each night, except Sunday, when they close early, at seven. When I moved to Duluth in 2005, the late hours of Barnes and Noble was a last vestige of “civilization” as I knew it.

In 2005, many, many things in Duluth closed at six or eight. I missed the world of the 24 hour Kinkos, where creative types would hang out at midnight making posters and zines. There was no overnight Kinkos here. [In 2018, kids no longer even know what I am talking about.]

Duluthians of 2005 who wanted to hang out after eight somewhere “cool” kept inviting me to the Brewhouse. I went, but it was a one-trick pony of beer, and I am more a late night coffee guy. Jitters, Beaners, Dunn Brothers, they all closed at nine or ten — but B&N was open until eleven, until sleepiness and caffeine met their match in each other.

Being open from nine am until eleven is what enabled B&N to kill local bookstores, although in St. Paul, where I lived before 2005, local bookstores killed themselves. [Odegaard’s was a glorified travel bookstore; Hungry Mind expanded too fast and lost money in the process.]

I still value B&N. It’s true, they were predatory to the local bookstore market, but they keep some forms of publishing alive. My local St. Paul Barnes and Noble carried one of each Loeb edition of classical philosophy at a time when no sane general market bookstore would do that; the same with a line of Black Sparrow Press poetry books. Last year, “Barnes & Noble [sold] more than 1 million unique physical book titles every year.” When you sell a million unique titles in spaces with leases negotiated cheap, you can afford to give a bookcase to small green and red hardcovers with Greek or Latin on pages facing English. Those books may have turned once a year, but their presence was one of the reasons I kept going back.

The resurgence in local bookstores is awesome, but the loss of more than six hundred Barnes and Noble locations would transform publishing. Seeling six hundred copies of a book can make or break a publisher; needing only to negotiate with one bookbuyer to place copies in six hundred stores is also a radical efficiency for a small publisher. Small publishers get a leg up from the very existence of this behemoth, and large publishing gets a baseline, a safety net that they don’t get even if Target orders similar volumes of copies of a select number of bestsellers.

That said, me, sitting here, nursing a mocha for three hours, that won’t do a lot for sales at Barnes and Noble tonight. But it’s late, and I feel nostalgic, and I am thinking about the last year.

So, this year, I developed an appreciation for music. I saw some great live shows. I saw Cloud Cult at Lutsen. Cloud Cult is a new favorite band for me, most deeply appreciated after I saw them two years ago, courtesy of the Reader. The Lutsen show was a getaway, time to get coffee at the Java Moose and to sit in the outdoor hot tubs at Bluefin in twenty degree weather. The glass walls shelter from the wind, but the sounds of the lake crashing against rocks is still calming and just a bit eerie.

This video is not of that show, but it’s my favorite Cloud Cult song. It’s a meditation on grief, with a beat. Grief has been essential to the Cloud Cult catalog, and at the moment I discovered them, I was working through my divorce while dating, while in love with, a widow.

One of the unique powers of divorce is the possibility of healing. I managed to convert a failed marriage into a friendship. Death does not allow that kind of healing. It’s fun when pop music becomes a vehicle for these kinds of reflections, instead of the heavy books of Joan Didion or David Whyte. Cloud Cult has given me that.

[Cloud Cult will play Lutsen again at 9:00pm, Saturday – February 9, 2019.]

I saw Low broadcast live from the Fitzgerald Theater online. Low was one of the bands I would drive to Duluth to see, in 1998, all the way from St. Paul, back when the Norshor was a place I wanted to be. Heck, I saw Low in Madison. I embarrassed myself gushing at Sparhawk in a gym locker room about the Low concert at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis — the best concert I have ever seen.

The new videos for the new album have made me fall in love with Low again; the new songs have an emotional resonance I haven’t seen in their work in a very long time. I felt old, watching a show online instead of driving to Mpls, but wow, how amazing to watch such intensity from my flannels.

Outside of live shows, I nurtured a love for local music. I bought two custom instruments from Tim Kaiser and a copy of his flexi-disc. Kaiser is the local genius who underestimates his own worth, which makes me want to sing his praises even more.

I feel similarly about Kathy McTavish, whose Chance installation was amazing. The installation inspired me to write a grant to support collecting the work of several poets inspired by the work. I feel about the resulting collection, Chance: Poems, edited by Kathleen Roberts, the way I feel about a great conversation that happens at a dinner party. I put the cheese tray on the table, but it is my friends who made it happen.

And not all my music love was local. I was in Minneapolis for Record Store Day, where the lines were long and the goods sold out far too fast. I got back to Duluth several days later and visited the Electric Fetus, where the disc I wanted most was still on the shelf. It’s magical to live in a town that is [a] cool enough to have such a thing available but [b] not so cool that it sells out before I get one.

Vinyl is everywhere — even Target is selling it for the holidays, at preposterous prices relative to my memory. I remember the 1990s, when I was still buying cassettes because they worked in my Walkman, vinyl because it was cheap, especially used, and CDs because they felt permanent. A band I follow, run by a millennial, laughs at me, gently, when I want an actual disc when most of their audience wants streaming, now. [See: Dissociate.]

I dumped most of my vinyl before I moved to Minnesota, twenty years ago. I kept some DJ mix lps of Depeche Mode, some Joy Division and New Order 7″ records. Two years ago I bought another turntable, specifically to play some new Kaiser vinyl, “Inferior Planets.”

Anyway. I miss the world of the 1990s, when bookstore chains were open until I was sleepy and there were cassette-only b-sides on European import singles. But 2018 is alright.

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