Saturday Essay Posts

Obituary of Peter S. Svenson, Minnesota’s Rogue Historian

August 23rd 1947-January 24th(?) 2022. The historian Peter Sven Svenson died without heirs sometime last week according to his autopsy. He will be buried in Forest Hills cemetery in Duluth after the spring thaw. Speaking as one of his only friends, I have penned this obituary.

A document hoarder, Svenson was practically the state’s analog back-up brain for decades, and its conscience.

He was a popular history professor at UMD from 1973-2002. However, he tussled with the university over the legitimacy of his sources. Then they disavowed his work altogether when issues arose about his statistical analyses. Under pressure, he took early retirement, but sued the university for defamation. He lost.

Svenson went on to self-publish books, monographs, and articles, but struggled to find a paying audience. His most important work was produced during this period. Being his friend enabled my access to his research and unpublished manuscripts.

Ripped at Molly’s in 2003

[Editor’s note: For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who served as Duluth’s “booze connoisseur” from 1999 to 2009. One of Slim’s favorite old stops was Molly’s Tavern in Superior, which had a sign outside promising “dancing & sandwiches,” neither of which could be found inside. The bar closed in 2005 and later became Tower Avenue Tavern. Twenty years ago the Sultan of Sot paid a visit to Molly’s and wrote the article below for the Jan. 22, 2003 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]

Whenever I find myself at Molly’s, I’m usually there to “finish up.” Usually, it’s late, I’m half in the bag and I have little interest in anything other than the square foot of bar top directly in front of me — the magical zone in which I lay down money and it miraculously turns into booze. But tonight Sean the Locksmith and I end up at Molly’s relatively early in evening. And I’ll be damned if Molly’s isn’t a pretty sweet place.

This doesn’t really surprise me. I’ve heard many tales of the coolness of this bar: the cheap booze, the weird and amazing antiques scattered about, the mother of Darryl Hall’s child pouring drinks. But maybe it’s to its credit that I’ve never really analyzed it. I go to Molly’s because I want to drink undisturbed. The appreciation of the bar among homosexuals and its seedy location at the very end of Tower Avenue help to keep away most of the local dillweeds.

Avant-Garde Women: Review of the novel “Branded” by founding Dadaist Emmy Hennings

Contents
-Introduction
-The Key to Dada
-Hennings on Language
-Hennings and Expressionism
-Hennings as a Burroughsian Beat
-Technology in Branded
-Fashion/Style Notes from 1908-1910
-The Branded Playlist

Introduction

Just last year I pointedly wondered why the books of founding Dadaist Emmy Hennings remain untranslated into English after more than 100 years. I threatened to translate them myself even though I don’t know German. Thankfully, I caught wind of a forthcoming English edition of Hennings’ autobiographical novel, Branded (edited and translated by Katharine Rout). Since I demanded translations and one appeared, now I demand this book become a film. It is Hennings’ origin story, the often hilarious tale of a proto-Dadaist navigating contradiction, absurdity, and lies.

Note from a Fellow She-Traveler

Travel days scramble my perspective. Routines, habits, and thoughtless movements slide off my character while I grasp for rudimentary survival gestures in order to hold on to my mental acuity. Or, maybe in my case, find some mental acuity.

This fall my husband and I biked through the Driftless Zone of Wisconsin while small and large events mostly pleasantly surprised us. For example, on our second travel day I was surprised by the delectability of flathead catfish. But there were also unpleasant surprises, like the fact that (future) Secession President Jefferson Davis spent time in Prairie du Chien subduing Indigenous warriors. I was also rudely surprised by a Border Collie who spent his day sitting by the mailbox waiting for just one slow lady cycler to pedal by so he could give chase. I was not completely surprised by Google maps, which couldn’t properly inform the googler on conditions of rural Wisconsin roads.

But in the midst of that day, I received lovely encouragement in the form of a note. It was from a fellow traveler. This was someone on the journey of humanity — I assume simply trying to make it easier for the next person in line. It was forged in kindness. And I noticed.

I’m showing you so you can notice the kindnesses of fellow travelers. Here’s what I saw.

Duluth View Checklist

From the Institute for the Study of Light and Water. There are three main components to your scenic view from Duluth, Minnesota: the sky, the lake, and in between those, whatever Wisconsin is doing. These components have been sorted below into color and texture for your convenience. Using the provided ingredients, you should be able to record and/or recreate any Duluth view. Print out and carry with you. Circle all that apply.

Date/time: __________

Sky Color: Sky blue. Teal. Blueberry. White. Pink. Lavender. Burgundy. Violet. Subdued sunrise/set like a natural gas flame. Blazing sunrise/set like an atomic bomb. Black. Gray. Red. Magenta. Periwinkle. Pastels. Peach. Indigo. Orange. Layer cake of colors.

Sky Texture: Cloudless. Partial cloud cover. Full cloud cover. Full cloud cover allowing sliver of sky at horizon. Fog. Partial fog. Brooding twisty clouds. Washboard/fishbone clouds. Cigar-shaped clouds. Strips of clouds like filets. Pulled cotton clouds. Clouds underlit by sun or city. Towering cloudbanks like Southwestern mesas pregnant with lightning. Two or more unique cloud layers moving independently. Crisscrossing white contrails (gold/pink at sunrise/set). Single contrail (gold/pink at sunrise/set). Aircraft. Laced with birds. Single bird. Gulls making a racket. Gulls in great gyres. Raptor/s. Sheets of rain. Sprinkles. Sun shower. Mists (glowing/not glowing). Rainbow/s. Snow flurry. Blizzardous. Big fat snowflakes practically hovering in the still air. Sleety. Full moon. Middling moon. Sliver of a moon like God’s fingernail clipping. Moonlight coming from somewhere but you’re not sure where. Full of stars. Intermittent stars. Single star. Electrifying auroras. Auroras so faint you’re not sure if it’s a thing, but maybe. Antenna farm. Antenna farm in fog. Antenna farm in deep winter frosted white against blue sky. Layer cake of textures.

Saturday Essay: Select Gems from 2022

Saturday Essay logo genericWe stand on the precipice of a magnificent achievement in the category of literary endurance. Next week Perfect Duluth Day will launch the seventh year of its “Saturday Essay” series by publishing the 300th essay. Did we think when we launched with the first essay in 2016 it would last this long? Of course we did. We like to write; you like to read. Duh.

At the end of each year we briefly rest our typing devices and look back at some of the highlights of the previous year. Last week we focused on the most read essays of 2022. This week we ignore the numbers and look back at a few select essays of similar quality that might have been missed by non-compulsive followers.

The Most Read Saturday Essays of 2022

Saturday Essay logo genericSeason seven of Perfect Duluth Day’s “Saturday Essay” series has drawn to close, and it’s time to look back with the usual popularity contest. In 2021, Jim Richardson pulled off an unprecedented sweep of the top-five most read essays; this year he remained the click hog, but holds a more reasonable three out of five works deemed by Google Analytics to be your favorites.

Next week we’ll highlight a few “select gems” judged by attributes other than page views, but this week it’s all about which ones had the most people tap the Read More button.

Ripped at My Neighbor’s House in 2002

[Editor’s note: For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who served as Duluth’s “booze connoisseur” from 1999 to 2009. Twenty years ago the Sultan of Sot spent an afternoon obstructing someone’s homebrewing plans and wrote the article below for the Dec. 25, 2002 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]

It all started about two months ago, when my neighbor came pounding on my door with a bunch of little pumpkins in his arms. By his report, the pumpkins had sprouted up without being planted, putting him in the unexpected position of having to come up with a use for them.

You see, my neighbor is a go-getter. He’s one of those people who actually mows his lawn, trims his hedges and shovels his sidewalk. He’s the kind of person who notices when pumpkins spring up on his property.

“Look at them. Just look at them. I didn’t even plant any seeds,” he raved to me in astonishment, as if he was holding eight little baby Jesuses birthed from the Virgin Mary’s garden. “What do you think I should do with these?”

“Make beer,” I responded, as if the answer wasn’t obvious.

Boots: A Love Story

“A hoarder is someone with an unusual ability to see beauty in the ordinary.” I heard Malcolm Gladwell say that during a harvest, and had to pause and write it down (the Dragon Psychology 101 episode, which aired at the midpoint of 2020).

Exactly two years and twenty days ago, I rescued these ancient Red Wing boots from the trash. The sound of the garbage truck trundling down the alley produced a pang of regret, so I pulled them from atop a frozen bag of excrement at the last possible moment:

Reunion with these works of art wrought rhapsodic joy. A rabbit hole opened. I dove way down, even though I knew it didn’t make much sense. Every drop of value had been squeezed from them already, or so I thought.

I set them in the sun, and admired them. My adoration, combined with the angling sun’s illumination, bordered on the beatific. I shot several photos. Perhaps that would be enough to say goodbye. Sensing more, however, I kept going.

Lord, to be 35 Forever

I wish I could remember more about the first Hold Steady concert I saw. I know it was in 2005 at the Duluth Pizza Lucé. I know I went alone. I’ll never forget how Lucé felt during shows back then. But beyond that I’ve got almost nothing. No memory of specific songs they played or how big they sounded in that small room or what happened in my body and brain while it was going on.

I can’t even remember why I went. I wasn’t a Hold Steady fan. For most of 2004 I’d seen music magazine stories about how supposedly great they were, and that was my reason for ignoring them. I was early-30s going on 15 in some ways. One way was that I resisted music other people liked, as I’d done since junior high, because how would anyone know how special I was if I didn’t oppose things other people supported? (Ask me how I still feel about U2, REM, Faith No More, and INXS.) Maybe I went because curiosity wore down my resistance and misjudgment. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong and I’d been listening to them for a while.

A fan site says the show was on March 12 (a Saturday). I think I remember Lucé being full but not as packed as I’d seen it for the Black-eyed Snakes, Brother Ali, Dillinger Four, or Trampled by Turtles. Not chaotic like those shows. I think it was for sure the first time I’d heard any Hold Steady songs. Did I get bored? Sometimes that happens if I don’t know the songs, even when a band is good. Could I make out any lyrics? I had to like the actual music, which sounds like classic rock, punk, power pop, and other genres the Gen X music omnivores in the band would have inhaled while growing up.

A Psychogeographical Map of Duluth, 2004

I drew this conceptual map of Duluth’s arts-and-music-scene in 2004, then filed it away for 18 years. The details may only interest old-school scenester hipsters, but the broad strokes reflect my thinking on what makes Duluth cool, and the nature of scenes as social units. The word “psychogeographical” refers here to the artistic arrangement of my little sociological analysis.

Local rocker Nat Harvie once observed to me that old-school Duluthians gush about these bygone days with little provocation. True. I moved to Duluth in 1998 in what is widely regarded as its heyday, its coming-to-awareness-of-itself as a music-and-arts scene. This can be roughly correlated with the formation of the Ripsaw News, now long defunct. That storied rag began in opposition to the Reader as the premier alternative newsweekly and we were off to the races. I remember an early Ripsaw meeting with Brad Nelson and Cord Dada and a room of creatives, and the question was, “Who can do what?” I said, “I am a writer and cartoonist,” and I was in.

Duluth had everything I wanted in its vital percolations. I graphed the scene as I saw it, below:

Ripped on Arrowhead Road on 2002

[Editor’s note: For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who served as Duluth’s “booze connoisseur” from 1999 to 2009. Twenty years ago the Sultan of Sot took a rare trip to Hermantown and wrote the article below for the Nov. 11, 2002 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. Since then each of the drinking establishments mentioned have changed. The Afterburner Bar & Lounge was replaced by Arrowhead Tap House. The Runway Bar closed in 2011 and the site became home to the Kolar auto dealership. The Local Bar & Grill is now Foster’s Sports Bar & Grill.]

Laugh all you want, but on Election Day I like to be near the Duluth International Airport. I mean, you never know: We’re on the brink of destruction, and, in the event of a sudden military coup, I want to be the first to take off to another land. But, security being what it is these days, I’ve unfortunately had a bit of trouble just hanging out and getting drunk at the official airport bar, the Afterburner. I’d rather not go into the details.

The Runway

So I find myself a mile or two away from the airport at the Runway Bar and Grill, hunkering down, waiting for the inevitable and having a few beers in the process. I’ve got three problems with this place: 1) They use the kind of pitchers that have the “ice reservoir,” thus cheating the customer out of valuable pitcher space. 2) They’re not showing election coverage on TV. 3) The man/woman ratio in this room is at least 20:1.

Duluth’s Granny: Nazi Sub Hunter

August 8, 1945. Duluth, Minn. Heavy with depth charges and a crew of four, the B-25 bomber Beach Baby grumbles off the dusty airfield into the sky on routine sub patrol. The pilot, a Jewish kid from St. Paul, heads into the sun over gleaming Lake Superior. He is the oldest aboard at 22. Light moves around the cabin. The shore drops away and open blue water comes into view all around.

The tail gunner, a mook from Milwaukee, pipes up on the com: “Everybody knows there ain’t no Nazi subs in the Great Lakes. Hitler’s been dead three months.”

“Tell that to Granny down there,” the pilot says, “War’s not over.”

They spy the fishing boat to starboard and the zig-zag black-and-white lines of its weird paint job. The navigator speaks with his Michigan accent:

“She’s doing up here what Hemingway’s doing in the Caribbean: hunting for U-boats at the bottom of a whiskey glass.”

The side gunner laughs like the North Dakota yahoo that he is. “Well what do you expect, she’s from Duluth.” Now they’re all laughing.

His Body

It was his 73rd birthday. He’d been taken into inpatient psychiatric care the night before, a phone call I had received while out at a bar with a group of friends. We were watching a Minneapolite musician, Dessa, play at Pizza Lucé in downtown Duluth. I liked Dessa’s music, but I really liked her writing. She’d detailed her experience rewiring her brain to forget a dangerous, almost obsessive love affair: the mechanics of love, told in poetry and electromagnetic imaging. Before the psychological intervention, she said, she had a kind of wild and inevitable connection to this man who could not be trusted with her heart. They were incendiary together, in good ways and not: a fire started with a glance, burning down the house with everyone inside. I’ve never had a love like that, but I could feel it anyway — her despair, her passion, and the terrible realization that whatever was happening in her was above or beneath her conscious mind, scratched into her whole brain. Every thought she had about anything traversed the rough path of that scratch — removing him from her heart was reductive: she needed to remove him from the apparatus of her Self, the thing that made her her.

I didn’t understand why this was so moving to me at the time, but now I do.

Index of the Duluth Superhero Community (the Richardsonverse)

(Co-written with Allen Richardson. Illustrations by the Richardson brothers using craiyon.com and stablediffusionweb.com)

500+ entries, 100+ illustrations, 50 footnotes

Contents
1. Preface: I Destroyed the Universe
2. Introduction: Superhero Exegesis
3. Index of the Duluth Superhero Community
4. Footnotes

Preface: I Destroyed the Universe

From the Journal of the Morphogenetic Field Technician: I am trapped far beneath the UMD campus in the Novelty Sphere as the global catastrophe intensifies. My team’s experiments in this underground lab are directly responsible for the apocalypse overtaking the planet. The quakes grow steadily. Portions of the lab visible through the Sphere’s cyclopean porthole have caved in. Soon the roof will collapse releasing tons of basaltic bedrock. If the Sphere’s integrity holds, I will have limited air. One thing I have an unlimited supply of: claustrophobia. It is as if I am in an untethered bathysphere sinking into the mounting pressures of the deep. The Sphere’s instrumentation confirms my worst suspicions: this is no mere global extinction. We destabilized probability itself, and the vertical line on the catastrophe graph indicates structural failure of the universal constants. Like a landslide, the cosmos races toward physical destruction. Gravity will be the first to fail, centered on the Sphere. The well of the Earth is popping like an old spring.

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