Tuesday, January 27, 2009

KUWS hosts Winter Dance Party anniversary program...

Just one more thing about the 50th anniversary of the Winter Dance Party Tour held at the Duluth Armory 50 years ago this Saturday (see previous posts)....

I'm scheduled to join an on-air conversation with some folks who, along with me, were there that evening 50 years ago at the Duluth Armory. I'll be recording a session tomorrow that will air on Friday at 5 PM (Final Edition program) on KUWS  (91.3 on your FM dial or live stream at www.kuws.fm  on the web). We'll be reminiscing and sharing some lore about Duluth's connection to rock 'n roll history. Be sure to tune in as who knows who'll join us in this on air conversation. Bob Dylan attended that event at the Armory 50 years ago and, just maybe....well, tune in and find out.

If you want to learn more about all the hype involved with the now famous Buddy Holly rock 'n roll tour of 50 years ago, click on this NY Times link to learn about the coming invasion of Clear Lake Iowa, the last stop before "the music died."

Saturday night: I'll be there...

Well–not physically, but in spirit. Saturday night, January 31, is the 50th anniversary of "Three Days Before the Rock Stars Died" at the Duluth Armory. (See the previous posts.) We had a bit of rock 'n roll history right here in Duluth that night fifty years ago and I was there, along with Bob Dylan and a couple thousand area teens. (It really was cooler near the lake that night.) I'm heading for a long vacation in a warm part of our country soon and will have to miss the in town salute to Buddy Holly and the now famous Winter Dance Party this Saturday. 

I'll have the lap top along on my travels and will be writing my Duluth~Superior Magazine in print columns and some musings on that web site as well as my regular posts right here on this blog. So please continue to stay tuned...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Howie Hanson Live at 2 pm Today....

Just a reminder...
     If you're so inclined, listen to me and Howie Hanson discuss world and local events (and–oh yes– perhaps my book) on his "Howie Hanson Live" web broadcast at 2 pm today. Go to his  Duluth Journal blog at www.howiehanson.com and click on "DJ Radio" on the top grid to find the link. Or... go directly to Howie's DJ Radio link right here.  

Sunday, January 25, 2009

More on the Winter Dance Party in Duluth

A great story in today's Duluth News Tribune by Kevin Pates, DNT sports writer and pop culture aficionado, tells more about Buddy Holly and the Winter Dance Party. He interviews Lew Latto, a friend from my youth who was then a popular young DJ and was the promoter and MC of the Duluth Armory event. Kevin does just a great job of pulling together the aura of that event as it was then and is today. The DNT web site also includes links to great pictures discovered by locals attending the event and a bit more about the armory, those who follow the road of "The Party" each year, and more. Kevin, as usual, creates a story that is well worth reading. Check it out...  

Also if you missed Kevin's annual year end column in the DNT, you can find it on his Rink and Run blog where he makes reference to the Winter Dance Party and me. 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

50th Anniversary: The Day the Music Died...

“…when I was about 16 or 17 years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory, and I was three seats away from him, and he looked at me and, …I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way.”     
   Bob Dylan,  accepting the 1998 Grammy for “Album of the Year”

I, Bob Dylan and other area youths packed the Duluth Armory on January 31, 1959 to take in the performances of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, three of Rock and Roll’s most promising musicians of that era. “The Winter Dance Party Tour” began on January 23, 1959 with performances scheduled for 24 cities. The Duluth appearance took place three days before the tour tragically ended. Duluth radio talk show host and broadcast executive, Lew Latto, was then a popular young DJ who promoted the event and served as the MC. 

On a cold winter’s night, the small private plane carrying the performers crashed, claiming their lives. The plane was heading to Fargo, North Dakota following what ended up to be the tour’s final performance in Clear Lake, Iowa. As Don McLean wrote in his classic music parable, American Pie, the plane crash resulted in "the day the music died."

While I had a different experience than Bob Dylan, neither of us forgot that moment in Duluth history. The 5oth anniversary of “Winter Dance Party Tour” is taking place this week–with the anniversary of the Duluth performance coming up next week, January 31st and the anniversary of the now famous plane crash this February 3rd.

To commemorate this moment in Rock and Roll history, I'm including one of my Duluth News Tribune columns about the Duluth event as I remembered it, Three Days Before the Rock Stars Died.” The DNT column is included in my book, Cooler Near the Lake, in a section titled, “The Rich and Famous Collide With Duluth.” That section of the book also includes writings about Calvin Griffith, Hubert Humphrey, Jessica Lange, John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Gregory Peck, Johnny Cash and Paul Wellstone. The column follows in the post below...

Buddy Holly: Three Days Before the Rock Stars Died

by Jim Heffernan

Every time it comes up–and it keeps coming up more often as time passes–I find myself somewhat of an oddity among younger people when I tell them I was there the night Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper played Duluth three nights before they died in a plane crash.

When a movie based on Holly’s life was released a few years ago, there was a lot of talk about the Duluth connection. Now the movie “La Bamba,” which portrays Valens’ life and career, is showing here.

Many people from around here know the entertainers played Duluth shortly before they met their deaths in Iowa, but I am not aware that anyone has written a first-person account of it. So that is what I am up to today. These are just my recollections–and impressions–of the occasion. Memory is not always accurate, but this is how I saw it.

It was Saturday night, January 31, 1959, that the “Winter Dance Party” played the old Duluth Armory on London Road. My friend Lew Latto, now owner of several local and area radio stations, promoted the concert. He met the performers. I was just in the audience.

The program was one of a succession of “Armory dances” held in those days and they drew big crowds of teenagers. The audience did not sit down. The Armory floor was left clear for dancing. Holly and Valens, along with the Big Bopper, were all hit artists at the time. Duluth often gets entertainers on the way up, on the way down or on the way to nowhere. These guys were somewhere right then. They were on the charts, and they were here in person.

Everyone was aware it was a special Armory dance because of that. Holly was the headliner, but Valens had made such a hit with his tune “La Bamba” he wasn’t very far behind. If you were young and in Duluth that night, there was absolutely nowhere else to be. I was a 19-year-old UMD student, and half the campus was at the dance.

Reading old newspaper clips, I see that Dion and the Belmonts were on the program, too, but I don’t remember them. And I only vaguely recall the Big Bopper as a novelty act. He was supposed to be funny and yelled a lot (“Chantilly Lace!”).

The social dynamics at those dances, it need hardly be pointed out, involved meeting members of the opposite sex as much as artistic appreciation–probably more. The dances were largely attended by boys and girls (young men and women) who would go “stag.” For many, like myself, the performance was secondary to the other. Maybe lightning would strike and you’d meet the love of your life, the thinking went. Maybe not, life often shot back. It was the ‘50s.

Anyway, I remember standing maybe 75 feet from the stage during the performances. The girls went absolutely gaga over Holly–screaming, jumping, clapping. When he sang “Peggy Sue,” the place went wild. I couldn’t figure out what the girls saw in him. Dressed in a sport-coat and tie, he wore horn-rim glasses and had a mop of dark hair, but he was as plain as the Texas countryside from which he had sprung. 

I couldn’t understand all the fuss.

Valens was a classic Latin type¬–black hair, even features–but I thought he was kind of chubby for a singing idol. He wore black, but it didn’t hide his baby fat (he was only 17). He had a great song in “La Bamba” and, once again, the crowd went wild. But as with Holly, I couldn’t understand why the girls were so crazy for him.

Holly and Valens must have had something, though. I went to a lot of those Armory dances, and that is the only one I can remember so clearly. Perhaps it is because three days later the news broke that they had been killed. It was the Tuesday after the Saturday Duluth performance.

Everyone around UMD’s Kirby Student Center was talking about it in hushed tones. The reaction of young people to death is often emotionally askew, but I don’t remember anybody crying or hugging.

One boy I was talking to about it that morning captured the moment. I think I can quote him precisely: “Why did it have to be Buddy Holly? Why couldn’t it have been me?”

I didn’t believe for a moment that he meant it. Or, as Holly put it himself, “That’ll Be the Day.”

Originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Wednesday, August 5, 1987 and reprinted in Cooler Near the Lake: Fifty Two Favorites from Thirty-four Years of Deadlines by Jim Heffernan in 2008.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Howie Hanson Live on January 26th...

I'm going to be a guest of local web journalist, Howie Hanson, on "Howie Hanson Live" from 2-3 PM on Monday, January 26th.  Check out the Duluth Journal web site at: www.howiehanson.com for more information about Howie's blog, journal, and live broadcast on the Internet. Here's the direct link to his live web broadcast: http://www.live365.com/cgi-bin/mini.cgi?membername=duluthjournal&tm=7914.  

Howie says we'll be talking about my book, local politics, the national situation and whatever direction the spirit moves us. Hope you can tune in!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ferreting out truth about Vicks VapoRub

By Jim Heffernan

Word this month that Vicks VapoRub might be harmful to small children, especially if applied around the nose, must have shaken the long-held beliefs of people who have forced this smelly nostrum on their kids at the first sneeze of a cold.

We were Vicks VapoRub people when I was growing up, firmly believing that the menthol-gel would “cure” the common cold, and who cared that the Vick people didn’t even know how to use an apostrophe.

A recent study at Wake Forest University has found that putting Vicks on or in the noses of very small children – up to age 2 or so – could actually cause breathing problems, it was reported by the Washington Post and propagated on Minnesota Public Radio. They learned this by putting Vicks VapoRub on ferrets (honest). (This was also reported in the scientific journal “Chest,” a much more serious periodical than either Penthouse or Playboy, which nevertheless focus on similar things.)

Just think what a surprise it must have been to the poor ferrets, going about their business of ferreting things out, to have some guy (or gal) in a white lab coat stick Vicks VapoRub up their noses? Where’s PETA when they really need them?

But back to me.

I checked the Wikipedia entry on Vicks VapoRub before writing this and learned that it was concocted (my word) in the 1890s but really took off during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, when people thought it helped ward off the dreaded flu bug. This epidemic should not be confused with the Spanish fly epidemic of the 1950s

My parents lived through the flu epidemic (they weren’t Spanish) and probably put great faith in Vicks, maybe even using it themselves at the time. In any event, it was always in our medicine “chest” (not to be confused with the journal “Chest) at home when I was a child, and at the first sign of a cold, out it came and on it went – nose and throat with eyes and ears spared.

I hated it, but there’s little a child can do to fend off a parent intent on curing him or her of suspected ailments. Well, the child can run. In one Vicks episode I was wearing my new World War II official Navy sailor suit when my father attempted to corner me for the application of VapoRub. I ran. He chased. The sailor suit suffered – was ruined, actually. I probably got the cold.

We, like just about everyone in those days, used Vicks three main ways: 1) Smearing on the neck and chest; 2) smearing on the neck and chest with a rag – preferably a wool sock to enhance discomfort – wrapped around the neck, and 3) smearing also beneath the nostrils and even up into them. A fourth method, scooping globs of VapoRub into a sauce pan of boiling water and breathing in the menthol-laden steam, was also popular but it didn’t work any better than the other applications.

As I grew older and up, I came to believe in Vicks VapoRub, just like everybody else who didn’t know anything about medicine. Long after I shed my belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and all other fairies, guardian angels, the wily snipe, or that for every drop of rain a flower grows, I believed in Vicks VapoRub.

It took a few hundred colds to make me realize that Vicks didn’t help cure them at all, and I finally gave up on it. Besides, it gooed up the hair on my chest (not to be confused with the journal “Chest”) in unsightly ways.

Obligatory disclaimer: The American College of Chest (not to be confused…well, you know) Physicians says parents should consult with a physician before administering any over-the-counter medicine to infants and young children. Furthermore the college says that all applications for admission have been filled through 2018 but that there are still openings at the Electoral College, although college isn’t for everybody.

Friday, January 9, 2009

My year of the book...

Have you been wondering what ever happened to Cooler Near the Lake, my book that was launched this fall? Well, maybe you haven't exactly been wondering...but I thought I'd update you anyway on "my year of the book."  

Just to recap a bit... I ended my DNT stint as a columnist in June and began some other post-retirement writing in the Duluth~Superior Magazine. Also my arm was twisted to finally do a collection of some of my DNT columns in book form. I turned down the offer made by local publisher, Tony Dierckins of X-Communication, to publish such a book previously and was told in June by Tony that this was most certainly the time if ever I was to do this book. Tony took on the publishing of my book and gave me a deadline of September 1st to have a finished manuscript.

This deadline resulted in a lot of hard work and little summer fun for me and my wife. Together we poured over hundreds of clippings of all the old DNT columns spanning decades and somehow finished a manuscript of 52 of the columns just in time. (Fifty-two columns–one for every week of a year.) The rest is history. The official book launch took place in November and throughout the following holiday season, I appeared on TV and in print to plug my book. I additionally was scheduled throughout the holiday season to sign books at area booksellers in Duluth and the Iron Range communities.  It was quite a whirl for me to get the word out to everyone that the book was available with the hope that many of you would buy it. 

I've been told that the book was a good seller during the holiday season and I really have to thank all of you who bought the book. Believe it or not, even though the holiday bookselling season is over, the bookselling goes on. Cooler Near the Lake continues to be stocked in local bookstores and may be ordered on line through the publisher, X-Communication. So if you have a birthday gift to buy or just want to buy the book for yourself, consider a book! 

My wife and I have decided that Cooler Near the Lake is a good "bathroom book." You know... the books that are found in that private room for those of you who like to read there. Fifty-two fairly short columns that can be read in any order make darn good bathroom reading. 

So help me spread the word...a bathroom book for every American! Seriously, thanks to all of you for supporting me in this venture. It's very much appreciated. And... help me spread the word that the book is still for sale!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

State of the Mayor...

Check out this Duluth Journal link to find out how some locals perceive how Duluth Mayor Don Ness is faring at the end of his first year in office. Here's what I said:

— “Counting on my fingers, as a member of the media I have viewed at least six Duluth mayors up close. Mayor Ness’ willingness to confront daunting problems head-on is unique, and impressive. He has been the bearer of bad news not of his making, no doubt at the cost of political capital.”

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Lions in Winter...

By Jim Heffernan

Actor Pat Hingle is dead of natural causes, the New York Times reported on Monday (Jan. 5). He was not – repeat NOT – devoured by Lions (upper-case L intended).

Hingle, who was 84, had a distinguished career on Broadway and in movies, but he was far from a household name. Yet he was on the tip of everyone’s tongue in Duluth some 40 years ago when he gave a fine performance before the local unit of the Lions Club in the Hotel Duluth ballroom.

Hardly a man (there were no women in the Lions Club in those days) is still alive who remembers the infamous day when Hingle stood before them and gave a rousing speech, as his service-club audience of businessmen cheered.

What’s a well-respected Broadway actor doing performing before a service club in Duluth? Maybe he was between shows like “J.B.” or “Dark at the Top of the Stairs” or “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” some of the plays he appeared in in New York.

In any event, Hingle took up an offer by CBS to come to Duluth and give a speech – actually recite a speech – while a film crew recorded the performance and the audience’s reaction. The local Lions were delighted to have such a distinguished speaker, although you wonder how many of the men had heard of him. And CBS television, too. That was Ed Sullivan’s network, for crying out loud. (There would be plenty of crying out loud before this was over.)

So Hingle showed up at the noontime meeting, the CBS crew showed up, the Lions showed up, and after a fine meal Hingle got up to speak. And speak he did. Witnesses said he was a spellbinder in a speech containing the verities and convictions of your average businessmen of the day.

Audience members didn’t know Hingle was acting as he presented the George F. Babbitt speech from Sinclair Lewis’ acclaimed novel, “Babbitt.” Lewis was a Duluth resident for a couple of years shortly after World War II but he didn’t write “Babbitt” here. Still, many people think the city called Zenith in the book was based on our own Zenith City – a nickname for Duluth you don’t hear much anymore.

The fictional character of Babbitt became so well known it became part of the American lexicon. Here’s how a recent Webster’s collegiate describes the noun Babbitt: “A member of the American middle class whose unthinking attachment to its business and social ideals is such as to make him a model of narrow-mindedness and self-satisfaction.”

Hmmm. As Hingle spoke, the CBS film crew captured Duluth Lions enraptured by the speaker’s words, not realizing they were hearing Sinclair Lewis’ words. Then, on the weekend, the CBS film crew joined the Lions on a club-sponsored train junket to see a Vikings game in the Twin Cities. Duluth had trains in those days.

A few local Lions, as Lions will occasionally do, imbibed a bit on the train ride, some spilling the beans on camera about the joys of extra-marital affairs (wink-wink) and the like. Words were slurred, along with reputations.

After everybody sobered up, though, it became known in Duluth that everything – the Babbitt speech and its rousing applause, the train trip – would be shown on CBS television – for God and everybody in the United States tuned to the Tiffany Network to see.

Hoo, boy. Not good. Not a bit good. Lions, of course, are a national, if not international, organization, and a contingent of national Lions officials visited CBS headquarters in New York to tell – well, maybe ask – CBS not to air the program. Word got out and widely read newspapers ran stories with punny headlines about Lions being thrown to lions and the like.

CBS declined to kill the broadcast. Everyone who was anyone in Duluth – oh heck, that’s everyone isn’t it? – tuned in when it ran. I tuned in. As a reporter for the Duluth newspapers at the time, I had been involved in some of the coverage of this all-too-human comedy, which Lions found to be decidedly unfunny.

Sad to say, careers were altered as a result. Well-meaning, capable businessmen working their way up corporate ladders were halted mid-ladder, never to make it to the top, or anywhere near it. I could name names.

You wonder what Pat Hingle might have been thinking as his life passed before him in his last moments: Perhaps about his movies, like “Splendor in the Grass,” his plays, like “J.B.,” a modernization of the Biblical story of Job, or that day in Duluth when he played George F. Babbitt in a solo performance before a Lions Club.

He should have received a Tony for the performance. That’d be Tony the Tiger.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Bringing in the new year...

by Jim Heffernan

Jan. 1, 2009

Ah yes, I remember it well – as though it were yesterday, or maybe as though it was yesterday. Come to think of it, it were yesterday. Make that it was yesterday.

We were all gathered at a New Year’s Eve gathering (you gather at a gathering, right?) in a private home, friends who have gathered in the same home for years to welcome the new year and bid farewell to the old one.

There is always more talk of the new year than the old, however, and with good reason this year, it turns out. But it’s the same every year. Whether the old year was a good one or bad, we focus on the new one with the greeting, “Happy New Year.”

How many times do all of us repeat that greeting on Dec. 31 each year, and to some extent on Jan. 1 and on into the following week until about Jan. 5 when you utter it one last time and wish you hadn’t? By then the infant new year is starting to sprout whiskers.

The greeting was still fresh last night (Dec. 31, 2008), though, as a couple of dozen of us toasted anything and everything worth toasting, sometimes quietly toasting to one’s self if there’s no one with whom to toast. I toasted up a pretty good headache by New Year’s morning, but there’s no need to go into that.

At some point on this Dec. 31 my thoughts ranged back to the same day one year ago, Dec. 31, 2007 (just think, 2007 was just a year and a day ago and now it’s 2009) when many of these same partygoers extended sincere good wishes all around for 2008, and look what happened. Well, at least Obama made it.

The Great Depression of the 1930s was fresh in the minds of my elders when I was growing up. The hard times made a big impression on that generation, to the extent that many of them were very careful with money for the rest of their lives, and they shunned luxury. Just think how you’d feel, the thinking went, if you spent hard-earned money (provided you had a job) on something luxurious one day and were unable to provide food for the table and pay the rent the next.

Can’t blame them. Some of it rubbed off onto me. To this day I am wary of luxury and feel a little guilty when I partake of it. I only buy ties on sale, for example, because I refuse to pay $40 (cheap in some places) for one. Absolutely refuse.

Somewhere in the book of my past newspaper columns published this holiday season (title: “Cooler Near the Lake"– and information about it is all over this blog) I determined in one of the columns that “I am the trouble with America today.”

Not to sound like a megalomaniac or solipsist or user of big words, but I can’t help but think if I’d just go ahead and pay the asking price for a silk tie it would help the American economy. If everybody did that, maybe men would start wearing ties to church again.

Bringing this to an abrupt close (we just passed 500 words, and I hate to go over 550, one complete newspaper column at about 14 picas), I will finally make my point: Let’s see…oh yes, it was a year ago when we wished everyone a happy 2008 it didn’t turn out so happy macrowise, although I was happy enough microwise.

We are all hoping 2009 is better. At least that’s the impression I got last night when everyone wished me a happy new year, and I wished them the same thing back. And you too (provided you read this before Jan. 5 or so).

Happy New Year!

It's official–the calendar now reads 2009. My wish for all of you is good health, happiness and (especially in this new year) economic security. My wish for the world is also for a healthy world, a happy world–with everyone getting along with each other peacefully–and an economically secure world.

I can't think of a better way to begin the new year than to take time to enjoy the beauty and peace right here in our own backyard. Enjoy our local beauty vicariously through these winter photos taken by talented Duluth photographer, Dennis O'Hara. Check out his web site, Northern Images Photography, for more beautiful scenes in Duluth and along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Happy New Year!