Saturday, July 11, 2020

A lesson in how not to be cool...

Little Richard
 Written by Jim Heffernan, for the Duluth News Tribune, July 11, 2020

A few weeks ago, the world of entertainment lost legendary rocker Little Richard, and this this week Charlie Daniels joined him in the great rock’n’roll beyond. Also the other day, Beatle Ringo Starr turned 80, an age with which I am intimately familiar.


Great balls of fire! The times they are a-changing.


I was not a fan of Little Richard or any of his contemporaries in the world of popular music. Oh, I bought Elvis when I was in high school. Who didn’t? Elvis and Richard and others — Jerry Lee Lewis, for example — arrived when I was a high school student and, looking back, it changed everything. But not me.


The reason is that right around then, after surviving “Marizy Doats and Dozy Doats and Liddle Lamzy Divey” as a child, I came to appreciate classical music more than anyone else I knew. I went through the motions of digging the pop music of the day, but my heart was in the classics even as I watched Buddy Holly and Co. in the Duluth Armory three days before they died in a plane crash. I have written about that so often even I’m sick of it.


I suppose my music appreciation proclivities are and were rooted in my childhood-teen-young adult home. My mother was an accomplished pianist with a classical background and also a church organist who could blast Bach from a two-manual instrument through the ranks of pipes in the Lutheran church where she played. It can get your attention.


So when we played records (now known as “vinyls”) at home it was classical music coming out of the phonograph (now known as CD player, rapidly being eclipsed by other advances in technology I can’t begin to understand). And when music was played on our grand piano at home, it would be the likes of Chopin and Schumann and only on special occasions “The Irish Washerwoman” accompanying my father who could do a passable Irish jig. Ah, the memories.


Cool, huh? Not very. In my teens I started making my way through the great dead Germans — Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner and others with the Russians — Tchaikvosky, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich — not far behind, blah, blah, blah. I could go on but nobody cares. Almost nobody.


When the Beatles came along I was already in my 20s (around the same age as the Beatles themselves). I ignored them. Then there’s Duluth-born Bob Dylan. A local area kid just a bit younger than me becoming a worldwide phenomenon, but his art meant nothing to me. He’s an amazing poet and interesting personality I came to realize years after most people embraced his music. 


Why all this now? The other night I watched the movie “The Seven Year Itch” starring Marilyn Monroe and a now forgotten actor, Tom Ewell. He plays a bumbling husband left alone in his New York City apartment for a few weeks in the hot summer when his wife takes their son to camp. Marilyn plays an aspiring actress who lives upstairs and who inflames his imagination while being fiercely loyal to his wife.


In one of the movie’s funniest scenes, he imagines himself as an accomplished pianist sitting on the piano bench with Marilyn beside him while he plays — here comes the classical music — Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a gorgeous romantic piece. As he frantically plays, he turns to her and intones, “I’m going to take you into my arms, and I’m going to kiss you, very quickly, and very, very hard.” About then, she falls off the bench.


Great humor, and great music. Fed right into my appreciation of classical music. I’d always liked the Rachmaninov Second.


In those days — the ‘50s — it was common for teenage boys in cars to cruise along London Road in Duluth near the old Curling Club at night when roller skating there ended to see if any of the girls walking along the sidewalk would like a ride home. I know this sounds incredible today, but it was pretty common and innocent at the time. Teens meeting teens.


One such night in summer, a buddy with a convertible and I decided to cruise past the Curling Club to see if any girls might like a ride home. Just as we arrived, incredibly, the Rachmaninov second piano concerto came on the car radio.


I was thrilled. Who could resist this romantic music. Girls would flock to our convertible dying to meet us and, perhaps, get better acquainted. I imagined myself embracing one of them and saying, “I’m going to take you into my arms, and I’m going to kiss you, very quickly and very, very hard.”


Never happened, of course. Even a girl inclined to meet boys in that manner would be repulsed by such music emanating from the car. Not cool. Who are these squares? (In today’s parlance, squares have become nerds.)


It was, I must admit, a hard day’s night. Almost as bad as when Long Tall Sally saw Uncle John and jumped back in the alley. But not quite.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Duluth statues appear safe from toppling...

UMD statue of Daniel Greysolon Sier DuLhut
created by French sculptor, Jaques Lipschitz
 Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune on June 28, 2019

Statues are falling all around the country but I think our statues in Duluth are safe. We haven’t got too many, and those we do have are pretty innocuous.

Take Daniel Greysolon Sieur DuLhut up at UMD. I covered the unveiling of that statue–high on a pedestal in Ordean Court on campus–for the paper in the mid-1960s. It was a cool, crisp but beautiful autumn day. Folding chairs were set up for maybe 200 people to witness the great unveiling.


The sculptor, Frenchman Jacques Lipchitz, whose name was very hard to say out loud without blushing, actually came to Duluth for the unveiling. It was quite exciting to see this world-famous sculptor that almost nobody around here had ever actually heard of.


Then in his 70s, Lipchitz was every bit the French artistic gentlemen on his Duluth visit. I think he might even have been wearing a beret, although I might have fancifully added that to his image in my memory bank because…well…because he was a French artist. Who can imagine a male French artist without a beret?


Anyway, the great sculptor was difficult to interview because he knew very little, if any, English, and I don’t recall that they had a translator handy. I considered throwing out a few Frenchy words like “fond du lac” and “grand marais” to demonstrate my remarkable Euro centric sophistication, but thought better of it.


As the formal program began, speeches were given by the mayor and other local dignitaries as we all listened attentively, anxiously awaiting the big moment when Jacques Lipchitz would pull the cord, the shroud covering his depiction of our city’s namesake would fall and we could see what the French explorer looked like.


When it finally happened, applause ensued, but it seemed that many in the audience were surprised and a bit nonplussed. For one thing, everyone thought Sieur DuLhut was a lot taller than he is portrayed to be in the sculpture. And many were wondering what he was doing pointing toward Wisconsin. And was that a hot dog in his hand?


Still, it was exciting, seeing our namesake in all of his regalia, flowing garments on his body, an imposing hat, a sword on his hip. He looked a little rumpled, as though he had been sleeping in a canoe.


It was considered such an important artistic occasion that Time Magazine ran a story and photograph of the sculpture.


Several years later, chatting with a high-level UMD official about the statue, he noted that Sieur DuLhut, in the heart of the Minnesota-Duluth campus, seems to be pointing toward the University of Wisconsin Superior and saying, “Don’t ever lose a football game over there.”


I always think of that when I encounter the statue on visits to UMD. Come to think of it, I don’t think the denizens of the gridiron ever did.


But onward. Famed Viking explorer Leif Erikson is brought to life with an imposing statue in Duluth’s park that bears his name. I have heard people who know a thing or two about art maintain that, unlike Lipschitz-wrought Daniel Greysolon Sieur DuLhut, Leif is not…well…not distinguished art.


It looks as though Leif, in his Duluth stone incarnation, is holding up his hand to block the sun from his eyes. Really, of all the great deeds of this Viking explorer (like finding America), shielding the sun from his eyes does not seem to be a signal accomplishment, but then those other Vikings never won a Super Bowl either.


Or maybe Leif is squinting from the sun and thinking, where’s my boat?


Which brings us to bearded Jay Cooke and his collie, seated with his leg crossed over his other knee where Superior Street and London Road split up. Jay Cooke was an extremely wealthy financier from the East who was highly influential in the very founding of Duluth in the 1800s. Of course he is blamed for causing the fabled Panic of 1873 that brought the entire country to its knees, but that doesn’t mean you can’t name a state park after him.


The Duluth Cooke statue is one of the few sculptures in existence that depicts the subject with his dog. The collie by Jay’s side is not named, unfortunately, but he or she (Lassie?) protects the statue of its master from ever being defiled in any way. Who would tear down a statue of a dog? Horses, yes, but surely not a dog.


Old Albert Woolson is brought to life with a statue showing him seated outside the Depot downtown. Woolson, 109, was the last surviving member of the Union army in the Civil War. When he died here in 1956 a massive funeral was held in the Duluth Armory, a venue better known as the place where teenaged Bob Dylan (then Zimmerman) saw Buddy Holly perform his hits like “That’ll Be the Day,” presciently referring to completion of the Armory’s restoration.


That completes the list of major statues in Duluth that I can think of off hand. Oh, there’s a Roman centurion in the Civic Center and the mini Statue of Liberty down by the DECC. Very inspiring. Very patriotic. Very much resembles Elvis Presley, I’ve always felt.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at