“Have heart” and “keep heart” were my mantras of the year, for by now I know that the purpose of life is to gather heartful things and hold them close, like family and friends and music and books and movies and life itself. “We’re only here for a minute,” said the late, great writer Brian Doyle to fellow writer David James Duncan in a recently published book of Doyle’s essays, “One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder.” “We’re here for a little window. And to use that time to catch and share shards of light and laughter and grace seems to me the great story.”
New York Times columnist Timothy Egan referenced that Doyle quote in his column “There Is Light in This Dark Season,” about keeping the faith in humanity and our selves during the Trump impeachment, and the spirit of those words — much like Billy Bragg’s song “I Keep Faith” — is what kept me going in 2019. Among many other profound and personal experiences I’ll keep to myself for the moment, these are some of the shards of light, laughter and grace that helped me keep my faith, lifted my heart and made me want to share:
- Sharon Von Etten. Her album “Remind Me Tomorrow” was on repeat-play, with her truth-telling voice keeping me company so much of the year, and she proved to be as captivating a stage presence as I’ve ever witnessed — which I had the pleasure of doing twice this year, at stunning shows at First Avenue and Lincoln Hall in Chicago.
- Peter Perrett, “Humanworld.” Is there a more remarkable comeback than the leader of the Only Ones over the last few years? Amazing to hear that timeless voice singing about these times, be it on this urgent epic, or Perrett’s brilliant 2017 album “How The West Was Won,” or the increasingly regular live reincarnations of his solo band and a revamped Only Ones. Long one of my singer/rocker/songwriter heroes; long may he rock.
- The Waterboys, Varsity Theater, Sept. 28. My favorite live show of the year came courtesy of this exhilarating and ferocious band, which led to repeated listens to the new songs of head Waterboy Mike Scott, who, like Peter Perrett above, has been writing tunes like his life depends on it.
- The 2019 Minnesota Twins. Not even a post-season sweep by the hated Yankees will dim my Bomba Squad-fond memories of this, one of the most exciting baseball teams and seasons in Minnesota history.
- Stephanie and Henry Wedding Mix (Spotify playlist). Yep, I did a very DAD thing and made a mix for the best party of the year, the wedding reception of my son Henry and his wife, Stephanie. I still dial it up weekly to hear all the love songs and re-conjure the faces of all the happy wedding people, all falling in and out of their various versions of love.
- Billie Eilish, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” This was the year I rediscovered the immersive world of my headphones — not earbuds — and this pure, from-the-heart-guts-soul masterpiece was my main addiction of the year (along with Sneaker Pimps radio on Spotify and the deep dark beautiful rabbit hole that is Cleaners From Venus).
- Martin Keller and Greg Helgeson, “Hijinks and Hearsay: Scenester Stories from Minnesota’s Pop Life” (Minnesota Historical Society Press). Felt like I was going through the scrapbooks of my old friend and fellow scribe Keller, listening to music and him telling stories about the heyday of alt-journalism and the nascent Minnesota music scene, all chronicled with world-weary context, wide-eyed romanticism and lyrical prose.
- Bruce Springsteen, “Western Stars.” Last summer I listened to the Boss’s audiobook memoir on a solo road trip to and back from Montana. The desert, hot springs, mountains and western skyline were the perfect backdrop for all those stories about America, creativity and rock ‘n’ roll, and this lush, timeless classic feels like it was Made In Montana. Thanks for riding shotgun, Bruce.
- Better Oblivion Community Center, “Dylan Thomas.” How many million times did I love this tune over the last 12 months? Let Spotify count the ways.
- Good neighbors keeping me good company at all hours of the day and night: Sarah Morris, “All Mine”; Little Fevers, “Strangers”; Prince, “Originals”; David Huckfelt & The Unarmed Forces, “Stranger Angels”; Doug Collins & The Receptionists, “Good Sad News”; Sam Cassidy, “Running Blind”; Humbird, “Pharmakon”; Lizzo, “Cuz I Love You”; Craig Paquette, “Won’t Last Forever”; Jack Klatt, “It Ain’t The Same”; The April Fools, “Third”; Lolo’s Ghost, “Sunday Sermon Live From The Driftwood Volume I”; American Pleasure Dome, “American Pleasure Dome”; Katy Vernon, “Suit Of Hearts”; Jeff Arundel, “Now We Go”; Dan Israel, “Social Media Anxiety Disorder”; Last Import, “Last Import”; The Cactus Blossoms, “Easy Way”; J.S. Ondara, “Tales of America”; Mike Owens, “The Right Kind Of Crazy.”
- Mark Engebretson, “Jay’s Longhorn.” An incredible documentary, lovingly and expertly put together by first-time filmmaker Engebretson, that chronicles the foundations of the Minneapolis scene that lives and rocks in the here and now. Bonus: The release parties/celebrations at the Parkway Theater, highlighted by performances from Flamingo, Curtiss A, the Hypstrz, and the Suicide Commandos, were nothing short of time-warping shots in the arm.
- Wilco, Palace Theater, Nov. 24. A sprawling, epic, intimate, beautiful gala, all powered by the light of Jeff Tweedy’s huge heart.
- Joe Henry, “The Gospel According To Water.” Speaking of lights and huge hearts, this gorgeous and graceful batch of tunes was my late-night go-to fix for wisdom and warmth.
- Billy Bragg barnstorms Minneapolis. He read from his great new book “Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed The World” at Magers & Quinn; ripped it up on “Tupelo Honey” with St. Dominic’s Trio at the Driftwood, rocked a “Teenage Kicks” session on The Current, and played the most unforgettable three-night stand in the history of the Fine Line Music Cafe. All the while, he engaged fans like friends and provided rays of hope like only Uncle Bill can. More please.
- Bob Dylan, Mankato Civic Center, Oct. 24. A few songs into the set he did “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” and by the end of the night I couldn’t help but think that this was it, Dylan’s greatest Minnesota show ever, his finest live concert achievement to date, with the best touring band on the planet and revamped songs that demanded listening and no singalongs. “Gotta serve somebody,” he sang near the end, and so he did — us, him, music itself.
- “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” Give this dude a citizenship medal, already. I’m tired of thespian Stephen and singing/musical theater-fawning Stephen, but his monologues holding Trump’s feet to the fire and his journalist/interviewer skills more often than not made me feel sane amidst the insanity.
- Reasons to venture out from my happy hermitage: Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Mears Park, June 22; Lemonheads/Tommy Stinson, First Avenue, May 11; New Power Generation, Fine Line, April 27; Jayhawks/Semisonic, Basilica Block Party, July 12; Little Fevers album release party, Cedar Cultural Center, Dec. 20; Doug Collins & The Receptionists, Turf Club, March 15; Hot Pastrami/The Trashmen/Black Widows, Grumpy’s Big Kahuna Bash, July 27; Melvins/Red Kross, First Avenue, Sept. 24; The Shackletons, Hook & Ladder, June 26; Cornbread Harris birthday party, Hook & Ladder, April 23; Robyn Hitchcock, Dakota, April 6; Genital Panic/All The Pretty Horses/Mark Mallman, Bryant Lake Bowl Pride party, July 8; Mott The Hoople/The Suburbs, First Avenue, April 2; Golden Smog, Jefe Urban Hacienda basement, July 13; Dave Rave and the Governors/Rich Mattson & The North Stars, Driftwood Char Bar, June 7; Capybara Lounge Summer Series (St. Louis Park backyard house concert, monthly); Ingrid Chavez, Hewing Hotel, June 6; Lolo’s Ghost CD release party, Driftwood Char Bar, April 28; Nils Lofgren, Dakota, May 10; Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express/Katy Guillen, Turf Club, March 13; Rosanne Cash/David Huckfelt, Weesner Amphitheater at the Minnesota Zoo, July 19; Johnny Montreuil/Whale In The Thames, 7th Street Entry, July 15; Bob Mould/Last Import, Turf Club, April 1; The Chills, Turf Club, March 1; Belfast Cowboys/St. Dominic’s Trio (Brit’s Pub, July 21; Lake Harriet Bandshell, June 15; Driftwood Char Bar, Tuesdays); The Ike Reilly Assassination, March 15, Dubliner Pub, and Aug. 18, Tilia Block Party; Wussy, Nov. 15, Four Square annex.
- Terry Katzman’s memorial, Hook & Ladder, Nov. 24. I’m still in shock and so saddened by the death of this great friend of all musicians, but this gathering was a balm. I can still hear Baby Grant Johnson and crew’s version of Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” clanging through that room, after which I did as told from the Hook and Ladder stage/altar and told Greg Norton, my old friend and restaurant co-worker and bassist for Husker Du and Porcupine, “I love you, man” — a line I repeated all week to old friends, and for that we have to thank Terry, a music lover, a great listener, a great appreciator of life, gone far too soon.
- The Replacements, “Dead Man’s Pop.” More nuggets unearthed from my all-time favorite band, as lovingly culled by ace author/archivist Bob Mehr? Yes, please—and hearing Paul Westerberg telling Slim Dunlap to “count it off, Slim” alone is worth blasting back to the past.
- Steve Earle & The Dukes/Jason Isbell/Amanda Shires/Josh Ritter/The Mastersons, The Town Hall, New York City, Dec. 17. Hard to recall a better night of songwriters on one stage, all delivering modern classics of their own penning, all harmonizing in a hopeful and joyous noise, with one of the best coming from the Mastersons, whose “No Time For Love Songs” speaks to the artist’s plight during dystopian times. Then again…
Happy new year! Love and good tidings to all. For my last column of the year I want to tell you, my dear “My Minneapolis” reader, how much I genuinely appreciate this columnist-reader bond we share. It’s something I’ve been drawn to since reading columnists as a young newspaper reader, so I’ll end this one on a note of gratitude to you — for reading to the end of this column today, and all these years. It remains an honor to be part of your day and I’ll continue to work hard to fill this page with good stories in the new year.
Tenacious in 2020, baby. Let’s do this. Cheers…
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].