I am standing
in the northwest corner of Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, in
front of a silver monument that looks like a heart, a broken heart
really, and I am thinking about how wrong the world has gone,
how Minnesota Mean it all feels. I'm thinking about how much everyone
I know misses the man I've come to visit, how sick I am of sitting
around waiting for change, and about what might happen if I ask
you to do something, which is what I'll do in a minute.
most Minnesotans, I met Paul Wellstone once. It was at the Loring
Playhouse after the opening night of a friend's play. He and Sheila
were there, offering encouragement to the show's director, Casey
Stangl, and quietly validating the post-production festivities with
his presence: The Junior Senator from Minnesota and his wife are
here; we must be doing something right.
year before (1990), I'd written a column for City Pages encouraging
all local musicians and local music fans to go vote for this mad
professor the following Tuesday. He won, and, as many have said
since, for the first time in my life I felt like we were part of
something that had roots in Stuff The Suits Don't Give A Shit About.
That is, we felt like we had a voice, like were getting somewhere,
or like Janeane Garofalo's villain-whupping character in Mystery
Men, who memorably proclaimed, "I would like to dedicate my
victory to the supporters of local music and those who seek out
the election, Wellstone's aide Bill Hillsman told me he believed
my column had reached a segment of the voting populace that they
were having trouble reaching, and that it may have helped put him
over the top. I put aside my bullshit detector for the moment and
chose to believe him, just as I choose at this moment to believe
that music and the written word can still help change the world.
I introduced myself to Wellstone that night as "Jim Walsh from
City Pages," he broke into that sexy gap-toothed grin, clasped
my hand and forearm and said, with a warm laugh, "Jiiiiim,"
like we were a couple of thieves getting together for the first
time since the big haul. I can still feel his hand squeezing my
forearm. I can still feel his fighter's strength.
those of you who never had the pleasure, that is what Paul Wellstone
was--a fighter-despite the fact that the first president Bush said
upon their first encounter, "who is this chickenshit?"
He fought corporate America, the FCC, injustice, his own government.
He fought for the voiceless, the homeless, the poor, the little
guy-in this country and beyond. He was a politician but not a robot;
an idealist, but not a sap, and if his legacy has already morphed
into myth, it's because there were/are so few like him. He was passionate,
and compassionate. He had a huge heart, a rigorous mind, a steely
soul and conscience, and now he is dead and buried in a plot that
looks out over the joggers, bikers, rollerbladers, and motorists
who parade around Lake Calhoun daily.
and Sheila Wellstone and six others, including their daughter Marcia,
were killed in a plane crash on October 25, 2002. I remember where
I was that day, just as you do, and I don't want to forget it, but
what I want to remember even more is October 25, 2003. So here's
what we're going to do.
going to start something right here, right now, and we're going
to call it Paul and Sheila Wellstone World Music Day. It will happen
on Saturday, Oct. 25th. On that day, every piece of music, from
orchestras to shower singers, superstars to buskers, will be an
expression of that loss and a celebration of that life. It will
be one day, where music-which, to my way of thinking, is still the
best way to fill in the gray areas that the blacks and whites of
everyday life leave us with-rises up in all sorts of clubs, cars,
concerts, and living rooms, all in the name of peace and love and
joy and all that good stuff that gets snickered at by Them.
This is no corporate flim-flam or media boondoggle. This is me talking
to you, and you and I deciding to do something about the place we
live in when it feels like all the exits are blocked. So: First
of all, clip or forward this to anyone you know who still cares
about grass roots, community, music, reading, writing, love, the
world, and how the world sees America. If you've got a blog or web
site, post it.
you're a musician, book a gig now for Oct. 25th. Tell them you want
it to be advertised as part of Paul and Sheila Wellstone World Music
Day. If you're a shower singer, lift your voice that day and tell
yourself the same thing. If you're a club owner, promoter, or scene
fiend, put together a multi-act benefit for Wellstone Action! (www.wellstone.org).
If you're a newspaper person, tell your readers. If you're a radio
person, tell your listeners. Everybody talk about what you remember
about Wellstone, what he tried to do, what you plan to do for Wellstone
World Music Day. Then tell me at the email address below, and I'll
write another column like this the week of Oct. 25th, with your
and others' comments and plans.
isn't exactly an original idea. Earlier this year, I sat in a room
at Stanford University with Judea and Michelle Pearl, the father
and daughter of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was
kidnapped and murdered by members of a radical Islamic group in
Pakistan in February of last year. After much talk about their son
and brother's life and murder, I asked them about Danny's love of
music. He was a big music fan, and an accomplished violinist who
played with all sorts of bands all over the world. Unbeknownst to
me at the time, Pearl was also a member of the Atlanta band the
Ottoman Empire, and his fiddle levitates one of my all-time favorite
Irish jigs, "This Is It," which I found myself singing
one night last fall in a Sonoma Valley bar with a bunch of journalists
from Paraguay, Texas, Mexico, Jerusalem, Italy, and Korea.
Pearls talked with amazement about the first Daniel Pearl World
Music Day (www.danielpearl.org), the second of which happens this
October 10th, which would have been Pearl's 40th birthday. I told
them about attending one of the first Daniel Pearl World Music Day
activities at Stanford Memorial Church, where a lone violinist silently
strolled away from her chamber group at the end, signaling to me
and my gathered colleagues that we were to remember that moment
and continue to ask questions, continue to push for the dialogue
that their son and brother lived for. I vowed that day to tell anybody
within earshot about Daniel Pearl World Music Day, and later figured
he wouldn't mind a similar elegy for Wellstone, who shared Pearl's
battle against hate and cynicism.
didn't lead any bands, but he led as musical a life as they come.
He lived to bring people together, to mend fences: Music. When he
died, musicians and artists were some of the most devastated, as
Leslie Ball's crest-fallen-but-somehow-still-beaming face on CSPAN
from Williams Arena illustrated. Everyone from Mason Jennings to
Larry Long wrote Wellstone tribute songs in the aftermath, and everyone
had a story, including the one Wendy Lewis told me about the genuine
exuberance with which Wellstone once introduced her band, Rhea Valentine,
to a crowd at the Lyn-Lake Festival. Imagine that, today.
ignore this or do whatever you do when your "We Are The World"
hackles go up. I'd be disappointed, and I suppose I wouldn't blame
you; in these times of terror alerts and media celebrity, I'm suspicious
of everything, too. But I freely admit that the idea of a Wellstone
World Music Day is selfish. That day was beyond dark, and to have
another like it, a litany of hang-dog tributes and rehashes of The
Partisan Speech and How It All Went Wrong, would be painful, not
to mention disrespectful to everything those lives stood for and
I don't want anyone telling me what to think or feel that day, or
any day, anymore. I want music that day. I want to wake up hearing
it, go to bed singing it. I want banners, church choirs, live feeds,
hip-hop, headlines, punk rock, field reports, arias, laughter. I
want to remember October 25, 2002 as the day the music died, and
October 25, 2003 as the day when people who've spent their lives
attending anti-war rallies and teaching kids and championing local
music and independent films got together via the great big antennae
of music and took another shot.
am standing in the northwest corner of Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.
In front of the silver broken heart, three workers stab the fresh
sod with shovels and fumble with a tape measurer. Flowers dot the
dirt surrounding the statue base. I pick up a rock and put it in
sprinklers are on, hissing impatiently at the still-stunned-by-last-autumn
citizens who work and hope and wait and watch beyond the cemetery
gates. The sprinklers shoot horizontal water geysers this way and
that. They are replenishing patches of grass that have been browned
by the sun. They are telling every burned-out blade to keep growing,
and trying to coax life out of death.