One night in Minneapolis

It’s Sunday night, last Sunday night, the Twins have swept the Razorbacks, the latest rainstorm has vamoosed, and the sun is setting over the summer-starved city. I am sitting on the rooftop of a condominium on Franklin and Nicollet, where a DJ is spinning reggae, jazz-hop, and reggaeton. The rum-dipped and weed–baked rhythms sail out over the city on a crisp breeze, and the glowing neon light of the Franklin Nicollet liquor store sign is, along with the slow to-and-fro traffic at the intersection, fast becoming the only source of light.

There isn’t a gnat or mosquito in sight.

Across town at the Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis rock historian and hero Curtiss A and a bunch of kids young enough to be his kids are playing a memorial for a friend of a friend’s kid who was murdered not far from the club a few weeks ago. In Southern Wisconsin, a 25-year-old autistic friend of a friend is found, just hours before a week-long search is called off. In Hitsville, Minn., somewhere, my music head friends Pat and Jessica are celebrating their first day of marriage, my sister Molly is preparing to put her dog Dino to sleep, and my nephew Charlie’s South High graduation party is wrapping up with a game of street football and do you
wanna dance?

On the rooftop, a group of beautiful Scando-rastafarians sit in the corner on lawn chairs and on the ground. The introduce themselves to each other, and to a few strangers, and their mellow milling feels more feline than human. I move into the kitchen, where the singer/emcee/songwriter Maria Isa is telling my veterinarian friend Krista about the night Isa and her band opened the Frida Kahlo exhibit at Walker Art Center. Isa talks impassionedly about Kahlo’s ability to convey pain, outrage, and desire, all the while flanked by a Kahlo painting that hangs on the wall like a holy card.

I go back out onto the rooftop and take a look at the Minneapolis skyline, which partially eclipses the sun. I take a seat far in the back by myself. There is a tall blonde Spanish-speaking woman sitting 10 feet away from me who is wearing a red dress the color of the Lake Harriet Rose Gardens, and she exudes the sort of natural beauty you don’t dare stare at, but look away from in reverence.    

The dancer/choreographer April Sellers takes the DJ’s microphone and talks about her journey as an artist. She is surrounded by people who believe in her ability to bring people together and to try to do something with art, music, and dance; something that goes beyond “risk” and “cutting-edge,” the words most often applied to her nude performance pieces.

She gives a shout-out to the writer J. Otis Powell, the dreadlocked lion who sits near the makeshift bar and who told Sellers during an artistic crisis, “Do what makes you sing.” She chokes up a bit as she talks about bringing her latest piece to life, and I’m thinking about the conversation Isa and I just had about how the Twin Cities produces so much memorable art because there is a history of artists who open their veins and let it bleed. The clouds in the sky are thinning, and taking on the texture of dead bugs on windshields.      

The dancers take their positions and slowly disrobe. Painted on one is a bloody, battered heart; in homage perhaps to Kahlo’s heart-attached masterpiece “Two Fridas.” The performance is powerful, a serious work that seeks to make sense of the world’s changeling moment that does John and Yoko and Jesus and you and me proud. There are no naked male dancers, and, thinking about bravery and courage, it occurs to me that while the men of the world are finding different ways to kill themselves and each other, the women are getting naked and dancing.

“And I watched with fascination as the generations moved forward,” quips an older, jaded male dancer and choreographer nearby, but not even his cynicism can torpedo the moment, because that is exactly what is happening as  the younger, stronger, fed-up generation seizes its moment. It is, in fact, undeniable.

Isa delivers a fierce set that seems to represent us, herself, Kahlo, and the entire planet-in-transition. The DJ cranks up the reggaeton, the cops show up but they’re cool, and the party goes on into the night. After a couple more memorable stops, I ride my bike home through the silent 2 a.m. streets, and nod to the smattering of other creatures of the night who are still up and practicing the age-old ritual of windowing: sitting on a porch or stoop on a cool summer night, listening to the quiet and crickets and car alarms and each other.

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.