Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bring your sweater; it's 'cooler near the lake'....

Everyone who lives in Duluth knows that you have to bring a sweatshirt or sweater if you're heading to the lake. No Lake Walk walker of any merit comes unprepared to walk by the lake. That "lake effect" is the secret of the charm for our fair city. And it means that those of us who live here know the secret for enjoying the charm or our lake... just bring a sweater! It's been pretty nice here the past few days, but a few days have been quite chilly by the lake while up on the hill or by the mall Duluthians are sweating

Many of you have asked me to reprint my poem, "Cooler Near the Lake," originally printed in the Duluth News Tribune a number of years ago and reprinted again in my book with the same name. I reply to all, "buy the book!" I guess you don't have to buy the book afterall because I've reprinted it here at the bottom of this page. Every now and again I'll notify you to "scroll down" to check out something I've added on the page in a somewhat permanent spot so you'll know when I've made a change.  So... scroll on down to see the poem, "Cooler Near the Lake."  But I hope you'll still buy the book, of course!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Enger Tower: The saga of our 70 year-old landmark

Today's Duluth News Tribune reported that Enger Tower is due for repairs and may need to be closed for as long as one year during repairs. Click HERE to read that story. And... the project may require all of us who cherish this Duluth landmark to pitch in and help. The Duluth Heritage Preservation Commission is supporting this challenge to support the repairs and we all may be called upon to help save this hillside beacon. As you may remember, I wrote about my latest visit to Enger tower on the very day in June of it's dedication by the Prince of Norway 70 years ago. You can click HERE to read about my visit and that history.

Monday, August 24, 2009

So Favre, so good...

By Jim Heffernan

To begin with, I am not a Vikings fan. I am not a Green Bay Packers fan. I am not a sports fan. Not that you should care.

But this business about Brett Favre (pronounced FARve, for reasons unknown to mortal man or, of course, woman) has got my attention. How could it not? It’s all over everything in the media. In the upper Midwest it threatens to eclipse the passion of Michael Jackson.

So yeah, as a non sports-page-reading, non TV-game-watching person, I am very well aware of the controversy surrounding Favre’s decision to quarterback the Minnesota Vikings this season, wearing No. 4, his fabled number when he was the idol of the Dairy State, playing for the Green Bay Packers for quite a few years (I wouldn’t know how many, not being a fan).

This switch to the Vikings, by way of the New York Jets, after “retiring” from the Packers, really seems to matter to many people on both sides of the St. Louis, St. Croix and Mississippi rivers. It’s like Jesus deciding to go with Satan.

Even some Vikings fans are upset about it. They seem to resent the fact that Favre held off in announcing he was coming back out of retirement in the state of Mississippi, where he lives, in order to avoid the dusty, hot playing fields of Mankato (Minnesota) where the Vikings gear up for the season.

Hailing from Mississippi (if not Mary), one might think Favre well knows what hot weather is like, but training camps must not be fun, what with a lineman’s actual death during a stifling drill at a Vikings Mankato camp a few years ago.

But I go on, when I probably shouldn’t, insulting Jesus, Satan and Mary along with Michael Jackson and that poor Viking who was stricken at training camp, not to mention the intelligence, where it can be found, of rabid Vikings fans to whom the team’s fortunes are the be all-end all, the alpha and omega, of human existence in the United States of America, as the politicians always put it, apparently assuming their listeners do not know, when they utter the words “United States,” that they mean those ones in America. You know, there are 50 of them.

So to my point: I subscribe to the Jerry Seinfeld theory of professional sports. He noted on Leno or Letterman (can’t recall which, but I was watching) a few years ago that those rooting for pro sports teams root for laundry. Some player fans worship changes jerseys and they hate him.
I guess that is being borne out in spades by Favre.

As for me (and why should you care?), I’m rooting for Favre to do well as a Viking, not that I’m likely to be watching if there’s a good old movie on TCM. I like it when old guys keep trying to do what they did when they were young, being one.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mixing it up with book signings and opera....

Had a fun Saturday...Barnes and Noble in the afternoon and the opera in the evening. Thanks to all who stopped by to buy a book or chat on Saturday afternoon at Barnes and Noble. There was a nice turnout for the big Duluth Public Library fund raiser event there.... and I sold lots of books too! The evening was spent at a wonderful performance of La Boheme at the DECC. The Duluth Festival Opera singers brought the house to tears with their beautifully performed music combined with their sensitive acting of the saddest story in history. All in all, it was a very nice day.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Are movie stars a thing of the past?

"A" list movie stars like Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, Eddie Murphy, John Travolta, Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks and Adam Sandler have failed to deliver at the box office this spring and summer, according to the NY Times. (Click HERE for a link to the story by Brooks Barnes, "Starring in Summer's Big Hits, Virtually Nobody" in today's NY Times.) Big movie stars have always in the past saved the movies, even the not very good movies. Everyone has a theory for the recent changes in this trend from faulty scripts and timing of movie releases to the increase of social networking (Twitter and Facebook) where moviegoers can tell their friends right away if a movie is worth their time or not. But if the movie is a good one, they don't have to worry, right? And then.... what about the big sports stars? Will this trend follow for them as well? What do you think.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

An obituary for American daily newspapers?

Is it time to write the obituary for the American daily newspapers? What do you think?

I wrote this column below for the Duluth News Tribune in May 2008. Since then talk of the demise of newspapers has not abated at all -- it's increased. Most of the time the commentary about the future of newspapers is pretty serious, so I thought I'd post this somewhat light-hearted take on it. About a month after this column was published, the Duluth daily newspaper discontinued my column, so my concerns about my writings showing up in the bottom of bird cages have ceased. -- J.H.

Don’t count newspapers out quite yet...
By Jim Heffernan

Is it time to write the obituary for American daily newspapers? Hearing all the talk about the way newspapers are struggling, it sounds for all the world like they’re finished. Kaput.

As we used to say in the West End (now known as Lincoln Park), “Who’d a thunk it?”

Well, I thunk it years and years ago. At least 20 years ago, as a full-time journalist on the very paper you’re holding at this moment (unless you’re reading it on line), I said: “Twenty years from now they won’t be cutting down trees to deliver this rag to people’s porches.”

But I was wrong. Here it is 20 years later and newspapers are still being delivered every day to willing subscribers. So what will it take, another 20 years to kill off newspapers as we have known and hated them for, what, some 300 years?

Hated them? What kind of talk is that, especially from someone who has spent more than 40 years as a “print” journalist; someone who has never eaten a scrap of food that wasn’t bought with the ill-gotten gains of newspaper publication? (Well, there was that short period as a railroad clerk, but the newspaper rescued me from that.)

I say “hated” because it’s been my experience that many, many people think they hate the newspaper but still read it and even subscribe just to see what those dummies are putting out today. That is until one of their children or grandchildren ends up in a picture in the paper for some great achievement, or the paper does a nice feature on their church or club. Then, for the time being, they love the paper until they see something in it they don’t like, and the circle is complete.

And many of those people let the paper know in no uncertain terms what they think of it. Disgruntled readers who have contacted me are often practitioners of the “fish wrapper” and “bird cage liner” schools of journalistic criticism. “All it’s good for, you know, is wrapping fish, you know,” is an example of a typical quote.

Well that’s something, isn’t it? Especially with Minnesota’s fishing opener this weekend with 5.1 million anglers expected to participate. Wait a minute, that’s the entire population of the state. Surely someone will stay home to honor mom on this important Hallmark holiday.

If the ice is out and fishing is good on the opener (ever hear that happening?), think of the thousands upon thousands of newspapers that will be needed in the cleaning and wrapping process. I can’t see the demise of newspapers anytime soon as long as there is a fishing season.

They’re not quite as useful as birdcage liners, but useful nevertheless. I once saw a birdcage lined with the very page this column runs on, with my mug staring up at the underside of a parakeet. Humbling.

Newspapers are trying like mad to transfer their product over to the Worldwide Web, but I don’t think it’s ever going to catch on. What are you supposed to do if there’s a pesky fly buzzing around the room, fold up your computer and swat it?

I predict that newspapers will be around for a long time. After all, what else is black and white and red all over?

(originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Sunday, May 11, 2008)

Monday, August 17, 2009

"La Boheme": An opera for people who don't think they like opera

By Jim Heffernan

Ah “La Boheme.” Such a tragic tale of unfulfilled love. Such pathos. All to the accompaniment of some of the most romantic and stirring music in all of opera.

Bring a hankie to the Duluth Festival Opera’s concert production of Puccini’s grandest opera Thursday (Aug. 20) or Saturday (Aug. 22) in Duluth’s DECC auditorium (both performances at 7:30 p.m.).

But forget the hankie during my favorite part of “La Boheme,” when cast, chorus and orchestra (Duluth-Superior Symphony) all join in one of the most festive parties in all of grand opera.

Bohemians might be huddled in a chilly Paris loft for much of “La Boheme” but there are few more joyous acts in all of grand opera (“all of grand opera” comes up a lot in discussing “La Boheme”) when the young lovers Rudolfo and Mimi join their friends, especially the lovely Musetta, in a street café to toast … well … toast life, and maybe bum a scrap of food from some unwitting benefactor. After all, it’s Christmas eve.

That’s exactly what happens, but as the group toasts and celebrates, out steps the lovely Musetta singing the glorious aria best known as “Musetta’s Waltz.” Even in a concert presentation, it will be hard not to smile from… Well, there’s no other way to say it: Smile from ear to ear.

Smiles are not usually associated with “La Boheme,” but the party scene has always been my favorite because it involves everybody – chorus members, a children’s chorus, the leading singers and an up-volume orchestra. It can’t miss.

I’m a member of the Duluth Festival Opera’s board, so maybe I’m prejudiced, but I don’t think “La Boheme” loses much in a concert performance. It’s the music that wins the day. Besides, half of this opera is set in a drab garret, except for the great party scene and one other.

“La Boheme” is hands down the best opera for people who think they don’t like opera to find out they like it better than they thought. Musetta and her waltz – together with her flirty, devious ways – helps a lot. Go see for yourself. You won’t be sorry, except at the end, when you’ll FEEL sorry for these doomed lovers. That’s where a hanky will be handy.

Plenty of tickets remain for both performances through the DECC or Ticketmaster.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Keeping a news source balance....

Here's a letter to the editor I wrote in today's (Aug. 15) Duluth News Tribune. The writer of the letter it refers to warned his readers against getting their information on health care reform from single sources, mentioning a couple of liberal commentators. He appears to have forgotten about conservative commentators.

Click HERE to see my "letter to the editor" in today's Duluth News Tribune. The letter appears in full below.

Duluth News Tribune (8-15-09):
"Reader's view: 'Different' doesn't mean O'Reilly, Limabaugh

The writer of the Aug. 13 letter, “Serious concerns underlie health-care heckling,” wrote that people should get their information on the health-care issue from different sources and further stated that “different” didn’t “mean Rachel Maddow and again from Keith Olbermann.”

The writer must have forgotten about the comparable perils of only getting information from a few other opinionated sources — and I do mean Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

Jim Heffernan"

Friday, August 14, 2009

Heffernan and the War of 1812

My wife caught some reviews of my book by readers on the Barnes and Noble and Amazon sites and called them to my attention. I thought this one below from a reader was complimentary and really fun. I feel quite distinguished to have written my musings since the War of 1812! Thanks to that anonymous reader and to the others who wrote nice reviews!

A great regional columnist
"If you have a relationship to the Duluth, Minnesota area, you'll enjoy this book. Jim Heffernan wrote for the Duluth News Tribune from the War of 1812 to a couple of years ago when they gave him the boot because they wanted a more puerile writer in the spot. His love for and intimate familiarity with the region comes through in every column."
by Anonymous

Reader rating
Posted on August 8, 2009 on

Book Fair on Saturday, August 22

Just thought I'd send a friendly reminder that a fun event at Barnes and Noble is scheduled for Saturday, August 22 from 9 am until 10 pm. A book fair sponsored by the Friends of the Duluth Public Library and Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Duluth will raise funds for the library. There will be a story time for the kids, animals visiting from the Lake Superior Zoo, music and local authors signing books. Yup, I'll be there and signing copies of my book, Cooler Near the Lake, from 2-3 pm. Come on down to say hi and support the library and books!

Click HERE for more info and for a fund raiser coupon.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Return to Duluth...

Thanks to Laurie Hertzel, an old Duluth News Tribune colleague now working with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who found and passed along this You Tube, Return to Duluth. Click HERE to see this masterpiece.

Thinking of Laurie and the old days (well, she doesn't go as far back as me at the DNT though), I recalled this picture she sent of the newsroom a while back. Ah... the times, they are changing. That was in the days when it was a Knight Ridder paper and newspapers were, well–you know, the way they were.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A & Dubs: Old time drive-in

Jana Hollingsworth of the Duluth News Tribune recently tapped my "Everything Duluth" expertise to highlight A & Dubs drive-in restaurant in Duluth's West End. (I guess I've lived here so long, that I've inherited this expertise.) A & Dubs was a former A & W drive-in on the way to and from my high school alma mater, Duluth Denfeld High School. It's a throwback to those days long ago and still lends the feel of those popular spots of the fifties. Don't think there are any other drive-ins around here with that link. Not a lot of changes either, except for the car hops, of course. And the food is still great! Click HERE to read Jana's review found in the DNT Area Voices web page.