Sunday was the second Minnesota Youth Symphony concert, the middle tent-pole in the season. The February concert is the “Salute to Teachers,” and I usually ask them all to stand for applause. I considered saying “That was very nice – now I want you to stand again, but slower this time, and with your knees together.” But you never know how those things will go over, so I just said “Very nice standing! I can tell you’ve been practicing.” (Hardy har, I know.) Usually I walk out, adjust the mike, start talking, and we’re off – but this time was different. The moment I began to speak I almost stopped, because I had VOICE OF GOD power I’ve never had before. This was the most amazing mike I’ve ever had. Slim little thing, a little foam-covered thumb, but the sound was astonishing – people in the third balcony heard every word. People in the third world heard every word. Just wish they’d been better words, but my job is to be short & bright. (At least half of that comes naturally.) Bound on, bound off. Ed, not Johnny.

It does put a hole in the day, though. You wait to get dressed, then you get dressed and wait to go; you get there and wait to go on, then you wait some more. Occasionally I would go back to my dressing room, wondering who else has stood here, adjusted his tie, checked his fly, flipped through the old programs; given the number of speakers and guest musicians who’ve lounged around in the room in the last few decades, it’s too bad they didn’t install a camera that snapped a few shots every time someone walked in and out. Just imagine that.

And if you’re like me, you’re imagining a parade of guys in tuxes and women in long gowns, and you don’t know who any of them are, honestly. Well, if you did know, it would be remarkable.

There’s always down time in a show. I would go back to the room, get a cup of vending machine coffee and read “The Godfather Returns.” That’s show biz. I did listen to a few pieces – the Symphony Orchestra took on the fourth movement of Mahler’s First (or the fifth movement, if you must) and shook it by the neck. Yes, that’s right: a high school orchestra played the last movement of the first, and not some Little Golden Book version either – the real thing with all its smashing ecstatic explosions. Hell on the horns, but it takes the roof off. There was also the premier of a new work by Russell Holsapple, the fellow whose first symphony was premiered at a concert a few years ago. He’s completed his degree in film scoring, and now lives in SoCal, scoring films. The new work was pure Russell; somewhere Bernard Herrmann is smiling. Or nodding in such a way as to indicate approval; he didn’t seem like the smiling kind.

Afterwards I got Russell’s permission to post the last movement of the First, so here it is. Remember, this is a high school orchestra playing an original composition by a guy who was playing in that orchestra just a few years before he wrote this. No one under 25 should have such a instinctive understanding of 40s noir scores. T’aint fair. As for the last four minutes, it always chokes me up, and not just because I was there.

In case you’re curious, he’s about the most normal down-to-earth-hey-how-are-you sort of fellow you can imagine.

Afterwards everyone all went to a local pub and celebrated with fried foods, as is the way of my people.

Saturday we had a sleepover with two of Gnat’s friends, so I have little memory of anything. The usual riot. When all was quiet I watched “F/X,” which seemed so cutting-edge in 1985. Now it seems quaint and almost cerebral, like a Merchant-Ivory action movie. Nothing like hearing Huey Lewis on the soundtrack to shave away 20 years, and remind me of sitting dateless in a Dinkytown pub hating Huey Lewis for “Heart of Rock and Roll” but nevertheless waiting for that whang-de-whang guitar riff at the end, which they swiped from “Funkytown” anyway. Good movie, in any case. Bryan Brown - back then, he was the thinking man's Mel Gibson! He's slated to be in the Poseidon remake, to which I am unaccountably looking forward. It's "Titanic 2," except that it's standing on its head.

Obligatory distancing: So Ann Coulter called Arabs “ragheads” and made some Shocking Jokes about poisoning Supreme Court justices who were insufficiently Coulteresque in their opinions. Fine. Be that way. I wouldn’t bring it up, but every time I mention some peculiar utterance of people with whom I disagree, I get email saying “what about Ann Coulter?” Well, what about her? Call me when she sits next to GW 41 at the next GOP convention. I suspect the remarks were made with the usual acidic sarcasm, which is why they trouble me less than some of the counterpart pronouncements whose speakers seem rather agitated and furious and regard their fury as prima facie evidence of their sentiment’s correctness. But if they trouble me less, it’s not by much. There are many who applaud her forthright descriptions of Arabs – why, she’s only speaking truth to glower – but the term “raghead” reminded me of a guy I knew back at the Valli. An anachronistic Elvis manqué who hung around the pool table, bedded the waitresses who wanted a little bit of bad-boy nasty. Always the Marlboro. Always the pool cue. Always the sneer. Every night he played a guy named Mohammed, a thin reedy-voiced Tunisian character who smoked and drank and swore and looked about 40, or 25, depending on the light. Smoked aviator-framed glasses over half his face. Verne, he vanished; Mo I ran into a few years back at a tony restaurant, where he was was a waiter. Hail-fellow-well-met-how-you-doin’. I know that Verne and Mo got along, however warily, because they inhabited the same corner of a common demimonde, and as long as Mo never brought around that crazy-eyed Libyan guy with the straw hair, and Verne never started getting on Mo about the Aya-fugin’-tollah of Iran or wherever, they did okay. If Mo had walked in front of a car Verne would have carried him to the hospital, I think. But in the back of his mind, he’d be thinking: raghead. That’s who Mo was and that’s what Mo would always be. And so when Coulter uses the word I think back to this ridiculous tough guy who who ruled six square yards of a college weak-beer joint, and called all the Arabs ragheads. Maybe that’s unfair, but there you go.

I still keep in touch with my old Valli Pub comrades, and while we sometimes wonder what became of Verne, he never comes up when we’re discussing current events. Neither does Coulter, for what it’s worth.

Now I have to get back to work – two columns due tomorrow at 10 AM, a magazine feature due at noon, two more columns to write by 11 PM, plus another Bleat. New Quirk, new Matchbook – with a name that, once googled, should send 60s architecture enthusiasts on a nice little voyage – and of course the aforementioned symphony. Could be worse! Tomorrow: Clara Bow and the BeeEffGee. See you then.


c. 2005 j. lileks. Email, if you wish, may be sent to "first name at last name dot com."