The greatest

Don’t tell a soul, but I just got done practicing Miley Cyrus’s “To See You Again,” a terrific love-lust-lost song I want to learn for the Hoot tonight. In part, I want to sing it so I can continue in my ongoing quest to embarrass my kids at every possible turn, because the way I see it, being embarrassing is a father’s most basic job in the teen and preteen years. So they may not hear it now, running out of the room as they may do and continue to do whenever I open my mouth, but I hope someday they’ll listen to me on this one.

Brad Zellar’s magnificent book, “Suburban World: The Norling Photos,” and its attendant exhibit at the Minnesota Historical Society got me fired up about Minneapolis, the city I grew up in. It’s an amazing blast from the past, a trip to Bloomington never documented before, what with all the unearthed photos of new homes and families that shudder with post-war promise and strangeness, and bearing out what noted British critic and crank Cyril
Connolly wrote: “Slums may well be breeding grounds of crime, but middle-class suburbs are incubators of apathy and delirium.”   

My family grew up in Minneapolis, surrounded by the suburbs of Edina, Richfield, and Bloomington, and I developed an intense fascination with the suburbs and all the ways (books and music, I hoped) that those kids escaped the loneliness of their gilded cages. “The Norling Photos” brought that fascination to the fore in glorious black and white, and one photo that grabbed me was taken at the aftermath of a plane crash on the corner of the Minnehaha Parkway and South Dupont Avenue in 1950.

I had heard stories of that crash my entire life. My dad had been hanging out at his home behind the old Boulevard Theater when the plane went down. Jerry Walsh was one of the first responders. He helped cops and fire fighters pull out bodies, which probably set all six of his kids on a path towards police radio scanners, late-night forays to chase the occasional ambulance or fire, and an insatiable appetite for life and death and disaster.

Around the same time the
Norling photo exhibit went up across the river, my brothers and sisters and I decided to get our old man a giant HDTV for his 80th birthday. A party was planned, and I thought it would be cool if we could have a slide show of all the slides Dad took, a high-tech version of the projector-screen ritual we often partook in while growing up in the little house on 55th & Grand and the big house on 51st & Colfax, but not so much in the last 30 years.

I made my parents dig out all the slides and 8-millimeter film buried in their West Bloomington basement. There were thousands. I sifted through them to find the best 700 or so, bought a scanner, and when the first few slides started coming through on my computer screen, I discovered that my father was the first artist I ever knew.

The photos are glorious. The composition and light is uniformly imaginative, and the overall beauty, sadness, smartness, weirdness, is stunning. Tony Nelson, a professional photographer pal of mine who helped me set up the scanner and taught me how to use it, pointed at a few and said, “Oh, that’s a great one.” They all are, to me. They burst on the screen in otherworldly glory. The Korean War. Times Square at night. Baseball games. Soldiers. Beauty queens. Football games. The White House. Cars. Fedoras. Suits. Dresses. Airplanes. Dogs. Lakes. Ping-Pong parties. Tanks. Rifles. Bunkers. A rainbow. A fire. Forties fashions. Fifties, sixties, seventies fashions. Weddings. Snow storms. A kid on a train track. Incarnation church. Lipstick the color of the Red Scare. Parades. Watermelon. Corn fields. Bright blue Midwestern skies. Strange handsome men. Strange gorgeous women. A typewriter. Ships. Sunsets. The dead. The living. My mom. My mom. My mom. My brothers and sisters.

All of whom were at the party this past Saturday, though it was difficult for me to talk to any of them, to anyone. Understand, I had spent long days and nights the previous week looking at their young fresh faces and feeling a rare intimacy and bond, so much so that to see them in the flesh made me a little sad for some reason. Mortality, etc.

I left the party early, and drove home with my 13-year-old son, who still can’t believe we spent the entire time watching slides of old dead people when there was all that high-def revelation to be had.

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.