Sunday, January 31, 2021

Winter Dance Party 1959: Revisiting three days before "The Day the Music Died"...

Today is the anniversary of the Winter Dance Party Tour in Duluth on January 31, 1959,  three days before "The Day the Music Died." I've written my account of attending that historical event (along with famed Bob Zimmerman, now known as Bob Dylan) many times, most recently here on this blog. Buddy Holly and tour musicians died in a plane crash shortly after they performed in Duluth, sadly and abruptly ending the tour.

Click HERE to connect to my most recent blog post about this concert.  Kevin Pates, retired DNT sportswriter and preserver of pop history, ran a wonderful and comprehensive story in the DNT for a past anniversary of that concert. You may find related photos and his story HERE in the Attic of the Duluth News Tribune.

The Duluth National Guard Armory where this event took place is under renovation with hopes to resurrect to it's former days of glory. The Winter Dance Party Tour in Duluth on January 31, 1959 was promoted by and emceed by my old friend, Lew Latto. Latto, now deceased, was a youthful entrepreneur and radio personality while in college.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Between heaven and that other place...

Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune on Saturday, January 23, 2021

Cooped up avoiding COVID-19, witnessing history in which American Democracy is seriously challenged, and not getting any younger prompted some of these devilish thoughts:

 When I was growing up I was told that when you die you either go to heaven or to hell. If that is true, and it should turn out that I end up in hell, I’ll be interested to encounter some people I assume are there or will be coming as time goes by.


I don’t mean the usual suspects like Adolf Hitler and his team, Benito Mussolini, Joe Stalin, Genghis Kahn, Attila the Hun, Roman emperor Caligula and quite a few others who have made names for themselves doing bad things.  Who would look forward to meeting them?


Not that I am responsible for condemning these men to eternal fire (yes, all men but there probably are women in hell too; read on). “Judge not that ye not be judged,” the Good Book says but I think we can agree this bunch of evildoers is roasting down there with many others of similar ilk.


Women? I had to dig a little in my memory bank, but you’d think Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose would be holding forth in the fires along with others of their gender like Lizzie Borden, who took an ax and gave her mother and father 40 and 41 whacks respectively. Their exploits in life might send them downward. Many younger people might not be aware of the exploits of Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose during World War II. Google them and you’ll find out there were several of each.


But that was long ago. Surely we have more recent malefactors to populate the place of perdition. It’s not my place to condemn anyone but if I could I’d recommend certain robo callers who telephone me several times a day to inform me that my computer has gone awry (lie) or my vehicle warranty is running out (ain’t got one) or my credit cards are being hacked (by Russians?). There’s a special place down there for them.


And then there are the young-sounding guys who greet me on the phone as “Grandpa” and want me to send money to bail them out of jail, where they are ensconced for a crime they didn’t commit. These guys are well on their way to hell at a very young age as far as I’m concerned.


Or how about some of the U.S. Capitol invaders on Jan. 6? One of them showed up doing an actual devil impersonation — horns, flowing mane, bare chest, painted face and body. Just think how proud the now ex-president must have been to have that clown among his fervent supporters. Is hell their destination? You be the judge.


Still, hades might not be all that bad all the time. There have to be some interesting people who didn’t go around starting holocausts and world wars or sacking Rome or the U.S. Capitol or whatever. The other night I was watching a movie channel on cable TV in an effort to escape that day’s news when on came “Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn, the best of many actors who took that role on.


Flynn might be largely forgotten by many or unknown to today’s generation, but he was pretty hot stuff in his prime as a movie actor. Provenance of the expression “In Like Flynn” is said to have been inspired by his chosen lifestyle. Still, he seemed like an amiable guy who might be interesting to talk to if, as many surely assume, he became a denizen of hades, joining others with similar proclivities like Donald “Don” Juan and Casanova. The composer Mozart sent Mr. Juan into hades in spectacular fiery manner in one of his operas, “Don Giovanni.” Juan, Giovanni, same guy, same destination.


But there are many whose dissolute lives overlapped my own generation you’d want to avoid down there. Gangster Al Capone comes to mind. How about infamous bank robber-killer John Dillinger? Or the gang in the airplanes who were responsible for 9/11, inspired by Osama bin Laden. You can’t go around blithely murdering people and not eventually meet up with the devil himself.


In my growing-up years I was often told that any man “who never stuck his nose inside of church” would be headed in the wrong direction when his time came. I don’t know if regular church attendance is the sole criterion for eternal salvation or lack of it. I have noticed at times that when final rites are pronounced for such a person it’s said they were saved at the last minute from heading toward perdition. Good for them.


But I have to admit old Beelzebub can’t be all bad. He came up with some pretty good eats like devil’s food cake and deviled eggs.


But enough Faustian folderol. No one can be sure where one is headed or where others are going or if they’ll be going anywhere at all. It could be a surprise to some, such as the person quoted on a bumper sticker I once saw: “Where am I, and why am I in this hand basket?”


Like the great singer-songwriter Iris DeMent put it in a memorable song, I think I’ll just “Let the Mystery Be.”


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

Saturday, January 9, 2021

When hair decides to part for good...

New York Magazine
Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune on January 9, 2021 

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m pretty bald (and there’s nothing pretty about it). Calling it “pretty bald” is a caveat; I still have some humdrum hair on my pate but it’s nothing to run the fingers through.


Most of us balding men (some women are balding too, but that’s an entirely different issue) have spent years of denial and cockeyed optimism that it somehow will cease and desist, that you’ll end up with a full head of hair in the long run. Doesn’t happen.


So we live with it as it progresses, doing our best to try to disguise it, with varying degrees of success. In some cases, these vain efforts can be an outright embarrassment, employing something called a “combover” which involves growing healthy hair remaining on the side to an ungodly length and then spreading it across the baldness on top. See Rudy Giuliani before he gave up and now just dyes his remaining hair as the dye runs down his cheek on national television. Our politics has come to this?


Speaking of politics, outgoing President Trump apparently goes to great lengths to cover a degree of baldness — who knows how much? Only his hairdresser knows for sure. It actually works pretty well most of the time. When the wind isn’t strong, his hairdo actually resembles a popular style in the 1950s, with lots pushed on top and long sides swept back almost into what we used to call a D.A. The initials stand for duck’s…well, duck’s behind.


There are certain contexts of words that are not deemed appropriate in a family newspaper like this one. You could say Biblical Samson defeated a charging lion with the jawbone of an ass (the donkey euphemism) but you shouldn’t write that Trump’s hairstyle is swept back in a duck’s same word, different meaning.


Not to pick only on outgoing President Trump. Nobody seems to mention it, but I clearly remember many years ago when President Elect Joe Biden was in the Senate and he showed up on TV with bandages on the forefront of his head after undergoing a hair transplant. I think it works better than a D.A. but I’m prejudiced. Transplants are OK as long as corn or grass onions don’t come up.


Speaking of sitting presidents, outgoing presidents, presidents elect and past presidents, I have always believed that a good head of hair is almost a requirement for getting elected president of the United States. Think about it: most of the successful presidential candidates have had pretty good heads of hair. Oh, I know President Eisenhower was quite bald, Lyndon Johnson had thinning hair and Gerald Ford was as bald as a billiard ball (to put it unkindly in a cliché) but take a look at most of the others in recent memory.


John F. Kennedy, succeeding Eisenhower, had thick hair that was a great asset to his youthful robust appearance. Johnson followed him, but then Richard Nixon, with a somewhat receding hairLINE, appeared to have a full head of healthy, rather curly, hair.


Hair-needy Ford succeeded Nixon, of course, but he was never actually elected president, having assumed the office upon Nixon’s resignation and then defeated by hirsute Jimmy Carter, who shifted his part from one side to the other during his presidency. (Just think, that used to be considered news.) Carter served just one term before Ronald Reagan showed up with a Hollywood head of hair that nobody could top…or stop.


I once read that actress Jane Wyman, Reagan’s first wife, recalling their marriage, remarked that Ronald had a great head of hair. I’ll say. It helped get him into the movies and the White House, no small accomplishment in one lifetime.


I’ll jump to Bill Clinton next, passing on George H.W. Bush, who had a fine head of hair but unremarkable. Clinton seemed to be all hair, and he’s never lost any of it to this day. Taking us to the present, the younger George Bush had a full head of unremarkable hair like his dad, ditto Barack Obama, who defeated Mitt Romney, who you’d think would have been elected on the basis of his own thick head of Hollywood hair, and John McCain, very thin on top.


So here we are in 2021 with a president-elect sporting transplanted hair and an outgoing (boy, is he outgoing) president with a doo so complicated it’s distracting. Vice President Elect Kamala Harris has a thick mane of brunette hair, with perhaps some shards of glass remaining from breaking through the glass ceiling.


I’m going to dispense with Vice President Mike Pence, whose snow-white full head of hair suits him fine. It’s been said that snow on the roof means a fire in the furnace. You decide.


Hmmm. Dispense with Pence. That has a ring to it.


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