The Meridian Bridge Is Alive (And Growing As An Attraction)

The Meridian Bridge is alive.

It is growing, evolving — becoming more and more of a gathering place and attraction.

The latest evidence of that was the successful first installment of the City of Yankton’s “Music at the Meridian” series last week.

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In the distance, you can see Omaha Street Percussion performing. More importantly, notice all the people gathered in the Meridian Plaza!

As a Yankton City Commissioner and Yankton citizen, I was beaming with pride at the work our Parks and Recreation Department did to bring more than 200 people to the foot of the Meridian Bridge to enjoy music and food, as well as awe at the wonderful natural view. If you didn’t make it to the first concert, plan to attend one of the shows from 6-8 p.m. on Thursdays throughout July.

The bridge has also grown in other small but fascinating ways.

People continue to adorn the bridge with locks of love, a custom that interweaves humanity into the very fabric of the steel and concrete structure and becomes an attraction all its own.

The National Park Service has developed educational displays that provide people with background on the natural and historical elements of the area.

The Yankton Parks and Recreation Department collaborated with the Yankton Community Library (and a variety of sponsors) to create Story Walk, a series of children’s book panels that encourage children and adults to exercise while also enjoying a story.

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The new campground on the Nebraska side of the river has also changed the Meridian Bridge experience. While I sometimes miss the serene environment that portion of the walk once represented, I now can also find charm in the human activity that takes place there. People sing songs, enjoy the beach and cook over campfires. These are activities that represent a joyous part of the human experience and, even being on the periphery of those activities, I find the joy contagious.

All of this is a long way of saying how fortunate I feel to have such an amenity in my back yard. The experience of walking the Meridian Bridge and taking in the vistas of the Missouri River never fails to inspire introspection and gratefulness. The act of making that voyage on a regular basis is, I think, a prescription for becoming a better human being. And I’m glad so many people from near and far are partaking in it.

My Favorite Movies Of 2014

(This article ran in the Jan. 16 edition of the Press & Dakotan and can be found here.)

When I look at my list of favorite movies for 2014, I am struck by how many of them pushed boundaries from both a storytelling and technical level.

Despite the many challenges that face the film industry, people who want to create find ways to do it and are not settling for the status quo.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Birdman” have received the most Oscar nominations this year, and they also feature on my list. “Boyhood” also received some Oscar love. The fact that some of the other films on my list — particularly “Under the Skin” and “Nightcrawler” — received no major recognition is a crime against celluloid. But if I wasn’t upset about a snub, it wouldn’t be the Oscars.

Unfortunately, if you didn’t travel to theaters outside of Yankton, you didn’t see more than one of these films on the big screen. (I believe “Nightcrawler” had a run in our community.)

Without further ado, here is the list:

10. Snowpiercer

This was a smart and very fun piece of science fiction from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. It follows a rebellion of the oppressed on a train racing around the world. The elaborate locomotive holds the remnants of humanity after an attempt to halt climate change miserably fails. It is at times scary, thrilling and absurd, and it definitely has some analogies for our current times with its depiction of a class system and the privileged elite.

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

This is Wes Anderson’s most complicated vision ever to be brought to life — and that’s saying something. The visual flair and intelligence on display in “Grand Budapest” is sometimes hard to keep up with but worth the investment. Ralph Fiennes shines.

8. Boyhood

What can I say about “Boyhood” that hasn’t already been said in the volumes of critical praise it has received? It is an ambitious cinematic experiment filmed during the course of 12 years, and it succeeded in capturing the growth and life experiences of a fictional boy and his family members during that time. It’s such a simple idea, but one that could have failed at so many turns. I feel like its impact on me was not as profound as it apparently was with many other critics, but it was an incredible journey, nonetheless.

7. The Rover

I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic films that explain little, and “The Rover” fits into that category. In it, a man (played by Guy Pearce) is hell-bent on recovering his stolen car. Along the way, he picks up a mentally handicapped man (played by an impressive Robert Pattinson) who accompanies him on the long trip in the Australian outback.

6. Force Majeure

“Force Majeure” is an examination of male and female gender roles and how different rules apply. It is also a look at how fast family dynamics can change based on a split-second decision. Despite the beautiful and tranquil setting, the film is both a comedy and a drama that, if you watch with a significant other, will fire up some potentially heated conversations once the credits have rolled.

5. Nymphomaniac

I love movies that have an energy that invigorates me while giving me little idea of where they will go. There is a thrill in the unknown. Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” is hours and hours of sexual and psychological exploration. Ideas are clutched tightly and then let go. It’s certainly not a journey for the faint-hearted soul, because — as you may have guessed from the title — it does not shy away from its subjects. Von Trier has never been known for his timidity. Hop on for the ride, so to speak. Try not to fall off.

4. Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The slick cinematography and jazzy soundtrack make the audience feel like it is actually in a New York City theater following the behind-the-scenes dramatics of an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Michael Keaton shines as the former cinema superhero Riggan Thomson, who is trying to revive his career without the use of a mask and costume. The film is a reflection on the creative impulse and the feelings of self-doubt that so often accompany it. Edward Norton is great, too, as an indulgent, unpredictable actor.

3. Only Lovers Left Alive

Do you sometimes feel like a vampire who has lived for centuries and has become bored with the petty pursuits of humanity? If so, this is the film for you. Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” is the best thing the iconic director has made in a long time, and it is damn cool. I mean, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s cool. Except it has a lot more brains than those now ubiquitous pinup posters. The devotion to art and human creation expressed in the film is exhilarating, as is its expression of frustration and disappointment in where the human race has landed.

2. Nightcrawler

“Nightcrawler” is about an entrepreneurial young man on its surface, and many people are tempted to see it as a critique of a bloodthirsty and craven media. But I think that is severely underestimating the palette of this film. To me, “Nightcrawler” is a condemnation of the inhumanity of capitalism. Look at the United States and its total devotion to the religion of hustling. We live in a society where almost all human interaction and activities have been reduced to a dollar value. Lou Bloom is the coyote who comes in from the hills surrounding Los Angeles to scavenge the city for sustenance. He is America — a place where we’ve almost universally chosen to judge each human being’s worth on his or her ability to earn money doing whatever task necessary. The more disregard you show to your fellow human beings in the pure pursuit of the almighty dollar, the bigger hero you can become in the cathedrals of American thought. Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were reading this for my political rants. On to number one …

1. Under the Skin

With shades of such cinematic luminaries as David Cronenberg and Stanley Kubrick, as well as director Jonathan Glazer’s utter determination not to hand things down to the audience, I was mesmerized by this film from its opening scene to its last. The role of Mica Levi’s hypnotic, alien and downright creepy soundtrack in transporting my mind into this universe cannot be understated. By showing us what it’s like to be an alien in a human’s clothing, “Under the Skin” shows us what it means to be human on a very functional level. This is not only a movie of the year, it’s quite possibly a movie of the decade.

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Honorable mentions for 2014 include: “Inherent Vice,” “Whiplash,” “Selma,” “Ida,” “Happy Christmas,” “Stranger by the Lake,” “A Trip to Italy,” “It Felt Like Love,” “Dear White People,” “Obvious Child,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Babadook,” “Locke,” “Starred Up,” “A Most Wanted Man,” “The Drop,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Calvary,” “Frank,” “Wild,” “A Field in England,” “Top 5,” “The Congress” and “Listen Up, Phillip.” That’s a lot of good film watching.

Best documentaries I saw? “Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets;” “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia;” “The Missing Picture;” “Whitey: The United States of America vs. James J. Bulger;” “Happy Valley” and “20,000 Days on Earth.”

Most overrated film I saw in 2014? “American Sniper.” It was much too simplistic for my taste.

Favorite Cover Songs Of 2014

While I’m covering 2014, it would be worthwhile to point out some of my favorite cover songs of the year.

Here we go:
1) J Mascis – Fade Into You (Mazzy Star)

2) Icky Blossoms – Evil Voices (The Faint)
(This is technically a remix, but I consider it more of a cover.)

3) Sturgill Simpson – The Promise (When in Rome)

4) Charlotte Gainsbourg – Hey Joe (Jimi Hendrix)

5) Bryan Ferry/Todd Terje – Johnny & Mary (Robert Palmer)

6) Chvrches – Team (Lorde)

7) Moto Boy – Half Gifts (Cocteau Twins)

The 10 Best Albums Of 2014

My look back at the year in music began yesterday, and it continues today with a list of my favorite albums of 2014.

10) CEO – Wonderland

I love the playfulness and profanity of this album. There is so much going on in these songs it’s like being in a funhouse.

9) Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

I did not fully appreciate the power of Lana Del Rey until seeing her live. Seeing her in person and the many fans with tears in their eyes made me understand the potent, and sometimes troubling, world she has created, one in which people find ways to make close personal ties. I really dug into this album after returning from that experience and found it mesmerizing and addictive.

8) Wrekmeister Harmonies – Then It All Came Down

Taking inspiration from a Truman Capote interview with Bobby Beausoliel of “Manson Murder” fame, “Then It All Came Down” is, according to composer JR Robinson, “an examination of lightness into dark, how human beings gravitate from circumstances that are considered inherently ‘good and of the light’ and decline into occurrences that are considered obscene and barbaric.
Discovery of the album for me coincided with heavy contemplation of similar themes, and when I listen to “Then It All Came Down” it reignites those thoughts. This is a powerful composition that crosses into musical territory I don’t normally visit but which I find a perfect fit in this circumstance.

7. The Juan MacLean – In a Dream

Catchy, smart dance music. I can’t get enough of it.

6. Post War Glamour Girls – Pink Fur

This is a ferocious, political rock album that calls to mind artists like Nick Cave and the Pixies, but this Leeds, England, band makes a sound entirely its own. Did I mention it also contains moments of real beauty — I’m thinking of the guitar line on “Jazz Funerals.” “Pink Fur” also contains one of my favorite lyrics of the year: “You strike me as the kind of person who has never made love before – therefore you are easily satisfied in general and with everything.”

5. Future Islands – Singles

The album certainly lives up to its name. There are so many highlights (besides “Seasons”), including “A Dream of You and Me” and “Fall From Grace.” But, really, just pick any song and you can’t lose.

4. Lisa Gerrard – Twilight Kingdom

With little fanfare, the Dead Can Dance singer released “Twilight Kingdom.” It is perhaps her most mournful and serene album ever, but I think possibly her most beautiful, as well. Gerrard maintains the otherworldliness we’ve come to expect of her music, but there are instances where she becomes more accessible than usual, too (“Too Far Gone”). At times, this album reduced me to a pile of rubble and tears. Gerrard has that kind of voice that can take your soul to flight.

Spoon – They Want My Soul

Even by Spoon standards, this was a masterful collection of songs. It kind of blows my mind. Twenty years in and they just keep getting better at what they do.

2. The Raveonettes – Pe’ahi

The Raveonettes released “Pe’ahi,” named after a legendary Maui surf break, with little advance warning, and it probably stands as my favorite album from them to date.

It expands their sound and goes to some very dark places — so it’s not for the faint of heart. Perhaps ironically, I found the album life-affirming and energizing. Usually that energy was directed at starting the album over from the beginning.

1. Nothing – Guilty of Everything

I’d never heard of Philadelphia’s Nothing until I caught a listen of “Dig” early in the year. It was instant love. The heavy barrage of guitars reminded me of their shoegaze forebears such as My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, but with a rockier edge. Headbang to it. Chill out to it. Its effects vary. Ultimately, I was excited to share this music with everyone I know so they could ride the waves of guitar with me …

The 10 Best Songs Of 2014

It’s that time of year when An Inland Voyage looks back at the year in music, starting with my list of the best songs.

If you’re like me, you love these year-end lists because they give you a chance to hear what everyone else was listening to and to find new, great music.

I hope you find something on this list that you hadn’t heard and will come to love.

As always, feel free to share with me your favorite songs of the year in the comments.

10) Chvrches – Dead Air

This was Chvrches’ contribution to the newest “Hunger Games” soundtrack, and it certainly matches the grandeur of the series’ mythos. (And it is thankfully free of cries for Peeta, which to my ears is one of the most annoying character names ever. Please don’t bombard me with arrows, “Hunger Games” fans!)

9) The Raveonettes – Endless Sleeper

I love how the surf music explodes into a wall of sound that takes my mind into the depths of the ocean.

8) TV on the Radio – Happy Idiot

When TV on the Radio gets a driving beat going, it’s hard to stop them from racing right into my aural sweet spot.

7) Post War Glamour Girls – Sestra

“I just want something to talk about that doesn’t involve you.” This is an angry, political manifesto that is ferocious and fragile. It’s all the more wondrous that such a perfect epic came from a band making its debut.

6) Sun Kil Moon – Carissa

It’s a beautiful ode to a woman whose life was sadly taken while doing a mundane chore. It almost seems like a cosmic joke because it’s so ridiculous. But, unfortunately, it is not a joke. And it’s toll on her loved ones is deep.

5) Royksopp and Robyn – Monument (The Inevitable End Version)

Introspective lyrics and killer synths from two of my favorite Scandinavian musical artists.

4) The Antlers – Palace

This song suspends my heart every time.

You were simpler,
you were lighter when we thought like little kids.
Like a weightless, hate-less animal,
beautifully oblivious before you were hid inside a stranger you grew into,
as you learned to disconnect.

3) Nothing – Somersault

Turn it up loud and tune everything else out.

2) Spoon – Do You

I don’t have anything to say about this song that it doesn’t say for itself.

1) Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting on You)

This was the year of Future Islands, and this song started it all. I had been watching the “Seasons” video for months in anticipation of the song being released. I love everything about it — the opening synth line, the lyrics, etc. Like David Letterman said, “I’ll take all of that you’ve got.”

Here is a Spotify playlist with these and more favorite songs from 2014:

Three New Music Documentaries You Should Be Watching Right Now

I often find that silence is unlistenable.

I want the chatter of the human voice. I want instruments to play.

My mind opens in their company.

So I let them enter, I let them breathe.

My cathedral is full of echoes as they perform sacred ceremonies …

Nick Cave: “Mostly I write. Tapping and scratching away, day and night sometimes. But if I ever stopped for long enough to question what I’m actually doing — the why of it — well I couldn’t really tell you … I don’t know. It’s a world I’m creating, a world full of monsters and heroes, good guys and bad guys. It’s an absurd, crazy, violent world where people rage away and God actually exists.

Jarvis Cocker: “The great thing is, nothing is going on at all. You get to lose yourself a bit …”

Depeche Mode fans: “It’s my religion … It’s the soundtrack of my life … Depeche Mode means to me everything …”

I had the unintentional pleasure recently of watching the three above documentaries on consecutive days.

It was a revealing journey into the souls of three very different musical legends in a short period of time.

If you’re looking to go higher, I recommend the same dosage. There is no danger of an overdose, but the comedown can be rough.

If you find yourself losing control, simply fire up these docs again.

Push the sky away and take a tour of the stars.

Allo Darlin’: I Kissed Your Lips — And They Were Kind Of Salty

Allo Darlin' at The Icehouse in Minneapolis Nov. 1, 2014.

Allo Darlin’ at The Icehouse in Minneapolis Nov. 1, 2014.

I know you’re online looking for election results tonight.

But maybe you need a break.

For the first time in more than a decade, I’m not required to be at the Yankton County Government Center to report the results so I’m blogging about music.

I was at a special show recently at The Icehouse in Minneapolis.

It was for Allo Darlin’, a band that I have admired for years due to their catchy melodies and often thoughtful lyrics. Elizabeth Morris has a great voice, and I can listen to it for hours.

Meeting her in person, she seemed to emanate the same sweetness and intelligence that shines through Allo Darlin’s songs.

I had a great vantage point from which to shoot video at the show, so I happened to catch the evolution that took place. You see, the venue was set up for people to sit and eat, so early on Elizabeth beckoned the crowd to get up and dance. People politely declined. However, they could not ultimately resist Allo Darlin’s charms, and by the end of the show there was a lot of dancing.

The next day, Allo Darlin’ tweeted that the Minneapolis show had been the best of the tour so far. I was grateful to be a part of it.

Check out the tug-of-war:

And here was one of the more intimate moments of the evening, where Elizabeth sang the poignant “Tallulah”:

“As the DJ played another terrible song
But lucky for us, we found a bar with The Replacements on
And it’s been a long time
Since I’ve seen all my old friends
But I really love my new friends
I feel I’ve known them a long while

I’m wondering if I’ve already met all the people that’ll mean something
And I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that’ll mean something …”

Funnily enough, I had played The Replacements on a jukebox in a bar earlier in the evening. It was a great night.