BACKFENCE ALERT! I need your help for Thursday’s column. Subject: childhood nightmare Valentine’s Day moments. Grade school tales preferred, but not necessary. Send it to, so I can fill up Thursday’s column with tales of sweet childhood woe & forsakenness.

It’s snowing again. Again! Every day, every night. Jasper’s beloved hedgehog has been buried under a drift two feet deep, and won’t be seen for a month. From my window upstairs I just saw the salt truck barrel past, fast; many streets to grit up before the night’s done. Gnat got to skate today for the first time, and she was in Minnesota heaven. Blue sky, white world, snowbanks up to her sternum, hot chocolate in the warming hut. And in one hundred days sunshine and shorts.

Saturday I wrote the following.

O Joy. Tomorrow I’m MC’ing the 2nd Minnesota Youth Symphony concert, and they’re ending with Rhapsody in Blue. Right now I’m listening to the Whiteman version, which sounds nothing like the version everyone knows. (The orchestration included a banjo, for one thing.) It’s all hopped-up, disjointed, sentimental, boastful, drunkenly maudlin, disdainful, and jump-in-the-Plaza-fountain ecstatic – the best piece of American music ever created, I think. If you had to boil us down to one thing, it would be this - the quintessential example of the American Romantic spirit.

Through the miracle of computers you can hear George play the piece himself, you know. He recorded several songs on a Duoart, which was a player piano capable of registering inflection. Seventy-odd years later someone married the Duoart rolls to a Disklavier piano (I’m leaving out the details, obviously) and brought his sessions back to life.

This is him; this is Gershwin. Anthony Burgess once sa id that given a choice between a new play by Shakespeare and a grocery list, he’d want the grocery list. Anything to illuminate the man a little more. When it comes to the great artists who flourished before video was ubiquitous, we want the little human proofs (as I wrote that, Gershwin just applied the dampening pedal; you can hear it.) We can reconstruct how Beethoven wanted his symphonies to sound, based on his notations and the orchestrations of the era, but if you had a choice between a live recording of a final performance, and an audio-only track of his instructions during a rehearsal - complete with jokes and gruff observations about the oboe's tone - which would you choose?

Perhaps we take these guys more seriously than they take themselves. Remember: musicians love to screw around. The famous glissando at the beginning of Rhapsody was supposedly improvised by the clairinetist after an interminable rehearsal – his way of complaining. But if that’s the case it had to be a pretty loose rehearsal; Whiteman wasn’t riding them too hard if someone felt comfortable doing that for sport. And everyone loved it, so it stayed in. So the story has it, but it doesn’t strike me as unplausible; musicians can be utterly unserious people right up to the moment they pick up the instrument and produce something absolutely heartfelt and true. So it wouldn’t be too surprising to hear Beethoven joking with the orchestra. And who wouldn’t love to hear him tell a joke?

Mahler, I don’t think, joked with the orchestra.

I’m listening now to the Concerto, which always seemed to be hobbled by unexpressed expectations. You can’t overlook the cut-and-paste aspects, and in many ways it feels less like a Piano Concerto than a symphony being harassed by a piano. I love it anyway. The second movement in particular. It’s the sort of music that used to say “New York” to people in Peoria. It has that “Chorine on the A train at 3 AM” feel - tired of being sophisticated, tired of the pose, tired of living up to its own dreams and expectations. But when the piano comes in it’s like Gershwin himself in a white suit entering an Automat painted by Edward Hopper - he pops the cigar out of his mouth and says why the long faces? This is New York, pal. Let’s go stand on the corner and watch it ramble past. Whaddya say? There's no other city in America that can inspire these aural evocations - it's not like anyone listens to Boston's debut album and thinks I am so walking around Nob Hill right now. San Francisco to me is tied to the "Vertigo" score, but that's a trick of fiction. Chicago has one song: one. It informs us that State Street is a Great Street, and we go along with the assertion because it rhymes. But all of Gershwin's work is saturated with New York, and you know it. It's the love that doesn't have to say its name.

And the end of the movement! It sums up just what you feel when you're looking g up at the Empire State Building, and looking down from the top of the same. And tomorrow I get to introduce the Rhapsody and stand backstage and watch it all happen.

The kid playing the piano is in the 10th grade.

It’s Monday for you, but Saturday for me. I’ve got this thing down pat now. Weekends I write the Monday Bleat, leaving Sunday open for the Tuesday newspaper column. The weekly site update takes the place of a Wednesday Bleat. While I miss the weekly remakes of this page, I’ll get back to that later in the year – I’ve been working behind the scenes on the annual clean-up, fixing dead links and repairing the archives, etc. By next Sunday the New Site should be up in all its glory, and I thank you for your patience. Or your indulgence of my conviction that you care.

Went to the Ice Palace on Friday. The temperature, with the windchill, was about naught and change. Here’s the drill: crawl through traffic. Park in ramp. (Ten bucks.) Get child from ramp to the elevators, across the street in the skyway, through the Excel center, outside down the street, past the food vendors (“I want a hot dog!) and into the Ice Palace itself. General impression: well, it certainly is a palace made out of ice. It’s more impressive at night, when the lights play inside the structure. But after a while you think, well, here I am in a big ice palace. Now what? You head to the warming tents, examine the merchandise that proves you did indeed visit the Ice Palace Merchandise Warming Tent. Gnat was ready to go after ten minutes, because she wanted a hot dog. Back inside the Excel center. I went to the concession stand to get some hot chocolate; there were five teenaged girls working behind the counter, and they were all knockouts – big white smiles, unabashed enthusiasm for getting you that hot chocolate, here’s your change, thank you! We are so high on life!

Could I have a small cup so we could split the hot chocolate?

Uh oh. Gloom and dread struck the Sirens.

Um, we can’t give extra cups, because they’re inventoried?

Oh! No problem.

Sorry! And they meant it. This was a major bummer. I wanted a cup and they really couldn’t do it, because that was the rule. Horribly caught between sympathy and duty. We raise them well up here, for the most part. We really do.

Back to the car; long trip back home via “surface streets” to avoid highway congestion. On the way back she said she wanted to watch “Felix, and you tell me what Felix says.” We’d done this once a month ago. So once back home I put in a DVD of Felix the Cat cartoons from the 20s, and I narrated the action. She was enthralled. For her Pixar exists on the same plane as Otto Meisner.

If there’s anything better in life than sitting on the sofa with your little girl, the family room fireplace glowing, describing the antics of an ancient cartoon cat, I have no idea what it could possibly be.

But I'll probably find out tomorrow.

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