Tales of the Idiot

Words

Anthony Ralph Strouth, 1945-2014

Tony Strouth and son

A number of folks have asked me to post the eulogy from my father’s funeral, hence I am posting it here.

I am wearing my dads suit, it’s not that I don’t have other suits , but this is the serious suit, the suit for meeting with authority figures, the suit I wear when I need to look respectable. Its the suit I wear for funerals. When my dad gave me this suit about 3 years ago it never dawned on me that it would be the suit that I would wear to his funeral.

But then we don’t ever really think about that. Truth be told in spite of his many long years of drawn and exaggerated illness and hospital stays, I never thought he’d die. He’d get sick, it would be a very close call, and then he’d just sort of pop up like Willey E Coyote in the road runner cartoons. Dad was like that–not Wiley e Coyote, though I think we all know he’d be the number 1 salesman for the Acme Corporation. Rather, Tony Strouth was a character, someone who is almost larger than life, one that stories seemed to swirl around. And regardless of who was telling it, they seemed to grow in stature. Till they become the stuff of legend.

A few years ago I was buying a suit, I told you I have other suits…and as I was talking to the clerk, a young guy, I was lamenting about the loss of suit salesmen, explaining that my dad had been a suit salesman. Then he told me a story, a story about a sales guy seeing Carl Eller walking down the street and then a salesman running out of the shop and chasing him three blocks, when he catches up to him the sales man says something like the bad news is you look awful, the good news is I can help” he then brought him back and sold him three suits, and shortly after sold the majority of the Vikings suits.

The sales guy was more than a little surprised when I told him it was my dad. But that is thing about him the stories only grew. I remember that day, though I am pretty sure it was Bob Lurtisema, and he only had to run outside the store, but he did wind up seedling suits to most of the team. There is a fine line between story and legend, and dad was a guy who sailed across that line with ease and grace.

The thing about dad is that he was complicated. I can’t pretend that our relationship was traditional father son stuff, it wasn’t. But that’s OK. I think of dad like a diamond, multi faceted with a certain brilliance that at the right angles could be blinding. and you often saw only one or two sides, and no one ever saw those same sides. It made him as charming as it could be vexing; endearing and infuriating often at the same time. A study in contradiction that sometimes all you could do was to shrug your shoulders and say “Eh that’s Tony”.

If I had to pick one word to describe him, it would have to be Salesman. Because as almost all of you know, he was always selling, everything was a deal or a negotiation. And he was a master of it. He could sell ice to Minnesotans or phat laces to the nation. Dad sold a lot of things to a lot of people but that has to be one of my favorite, Tony Strouth as inadvertent godfather of hip hop fashion. He had a remarkable knack for stumbling into the right time and place, not always at the same time, mind you, but when he did it could be magical.

He loved a deal like no man I have ever seen. He could be merciless or your best friend depending on what he wanted. And yet even if it was the latter, you would still pick up the phone the next time he called because “Eh that’s Tony.”

He was loving and caring scoundrel and rogue Samaritan. He was a riddle wrapped in an enigma dressed in Tommy Hillfinger. He touched peoples lives, even if you only met him once, it was an encounter you remembered.

My wife fell under his charm the first time she met him, in part I think because of his crazy optimism. “Prosperity was right around the corner,” a sentiment that seemed to follow him even as he walked along the great wall of health issues.

It’s hard not to talk about Dad’s death, his decline was long and slow with more cliff hangers then seemed possible. I sat by his deathbed so many times that it was hard not going a little numb. But I’d like to ask you a favor, at least for today.

Don’t think about the decline, think about the rise. A dirt poor teenager setting out on his own, who built an empire. Who raised not one but three families., three families that sort of morphed and became one mega family. With branches worldwide. Remember uncle Tony of the ridiculous excess, brother Tony who would help wherever he could.

My dad wasn’t perfect, but who really is. I wear his suit today a bit like armor, hoping to catch some of the near mythical courage he seemed to have. To stand bold and confident when deep inside you are lost. We are all a little lost, especially today, its why I am thankful for this suit. Because it’s going to be ok.

I love you dad, Bon route.

a few words about Sue McLean

"Live Music is good for your soul "- Sue McLean

I wanted to make mention of the passing of Sue McLean , whose funeral was earlier today.  I often refer to the fact that we are standing on shoulders of giants, Sue McLean might be one of the biggest of them.  Independent concert promoters are a vanishing breed, the last line of defense from the clear channel nation,  they give alternatives to the “what we know will sell” to what might sell. She championed the underdog .

Starting in the  70’s  booking bands like the Suicide Commandos and Curtiss A, later moving onto booking as the curative voice of Duffy’s and later still  the Guthrie’s concert series, the Basilica block party,  and the Music at the Zoo concert series.  She gave voice to female artists,  helped to make MPLS the Americana capitol that it is; She believed in the power of live music as a means of bringing community together.

In general the business of music is predominantly male, its a thing that’s easy to forgot living here in MPLS because of the amazing number of  strong women leaders we have here.  Its folks like Sue McLean who helped to make that possible.  I can’t count on both hands how many friends she helped give their starts too. Her loss has left a huge hole in so many hearts.

She and I had never met, save for once, last fall.  Our conversation consisted mostly of how surprising it was that we had never met before. Its an overused metaphor, but it felt like talking to Jackie Robinson, and afterwards I couldn’t help but think of her as the domino that tipped so many others , all of which helped to build the amazing and diverse musical foundation of this city.

We live in a special city, and its special because of people like Sue McLean who took the chance to build what they believed in. I think the measure of a person is part, did they make the world better or worse for being in it,  She definitely made it a better place.  If live music is good for the soul, then she’s probably up sainthood.

The Iffness- the end of Miyagi, and the state of the union

Mr. Miyagi

 

You’ve been taking your time
And you’ve been living on solid air
You’ve been walking the line
And you’ve been living on solid air
Don’t know what’s going wrong inside
And I can tell you that it’s hard to hide when you’re living on
Solid air. – John Martyn, Solid Air

1973 was a really good year for John Martyn. He played the perfect game with not one but two amazing albums, Solid Air and the highly experimental yet incredibly accessible Inside Out. John Martyn isn’t a guy you’re supposed to know.

For about a 10 year period Martyn made profound and beautiful records, and the only thing most people have ever heard is the Eric Clapton cover of “May You Never.” It’s the Mona Lisa, versus a tote bag that bears that image, bought in the gift shop for that aunt that you don’t really like. Yet he is a footnote at best.

Shit happens.

You start with a plan but you don’t always wind up where you wanted to go in the first place, and that, dear and gentle reader, is where I have found myself. Not where I wanted to go, but exactly where I need to be…. I think.

A few years ago my wife and I had a crazy notion: we would open a hair salon. it seemed like the thing to do: create a business that she could run on her own terms. I could quit my corporate clients and concentrate on the artier side my work. It would give us freedom against “the Bastards” (in the us-vs.-them argument, they is them); the business would allow us to have health insurance, which given that I have one of the more documented cases of chronic kidney disease in the us is kind of a big plus.

So that’s what we did and in August of 2008 we opened Miyagi. It was big bold and different. The walls were bright yellow that faded into acid green, with bits of orange, red, and red, there was graffiti, and hundreds of little ninjas hidden inside the brickwork. The music was loud and it was everything from the New York Dolls, to Skinhead head Reggae We bent every rule that seemed worth bending; no tipping, alternate pay systems, you could only where all black if you knew more than one Bauhaus song. It was high end service with rock and roll attitude and a major focus on education.

Opening a business is often compare to having a kid, and where that might be true on a psychological level, its a lot harder to open a business- for one thing there is a lot more paperwork involved. Its bank meetings and loans, meetings with lawyers and landlords; in all we spent a little over a year prepping before we took on a space, and that’s the easy part. Once its born its a whole other ball game, it became an infant on life support that left no other corner of our life untouched.

It challenges who you are as a person and the roles you are cast to play; when it comes to employees rarely it seems do that you both have the same idea of how the characters are supposed to be portrayed. It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world, except for Lola of course.

To make the story a tad more complex, five days after we opened the shop, I started work on what was first a TV show and then what would become a film : “Unconvention: A Mix-Tape from St. Paul,” documenting the wonders/horrors of the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul. It is a feature length doc that we made in something like 40 days, which is comparable to running the three-minute mile…on a pogo stick.

It was all off to a glorious start, as starts are want to be: the shop was the cute new girl at school getting lots of write-ups, and the film was moving along even getting funding from John Densmore from the Doors and getting enough buzz to merit conversations and considerations from Sundance.

The honeymoon was about 6 months; by the time 2009 rolls in, my minor illness becomes a major one that eventually leads to dialysis, and later on a kidney transplant. Everywhere outside of MN passes on the doc, because it’s a new era of “Hope”, and we find ourselves in the worst economy since Hoover.

I don’t get discouraged easily; a lifetime in the music and art world will do that to you. My favorite artists have almost all walked a crooked path to get to their place in the pantheon of swell. Nick Drake, John Martyn’s close friend and label mate(Martyn wrote Solid Air for him): his three records selling a cumulative total of less than 5000 copies. A few high profile fans, but not enough to keep the records in print. Cut to 1999 and a Volkswagen spot featuring “Pink Moon”. Within two weeks, that single sold more than his catalog had till that point. Now there is nary a mix tape of sad ironic hipster music that doesn’t include one of his compositions. Sure he’s dead, but the legacy, the work lives on, and with art isn’t that what matters, or is supposed to at least?

Time passes, the economy gets better, kinda.. The RNC convention becomes a faded memory save for the legalities, with the historical significance of a fifth grader’s birthday party–the whole world may have been watching, but they quickly flipped the channel and in the process forgot the show entirely. I get another person’s organ, and Miyagi, well, that’s the thing isn’t it.
Businesses come and businesses go, and sadly this one went. Lots of reasons, but in the end the reasons are ours and ours alone, but living in public make the loss all the more noticeable. It’s why I have been absent from these pixels the past few weeks. Much how the birth of a business touched every aspect of our lives, so to does the closing. We decided to take the opportunity to change, radically. We got rid of most of our furniture, a small stores worth of antiques. We moved from 2400 sq feet crammed full to 750 sq ft of relative sparseness all to embrace the radical change.
The point being sometimes change can be gift, if you let it. So we accepted and with no return receipt. I often get accused of bravery; it’s a tag that I find laughable mostly because my initial reaction to everything is a cocktail of panic and anxiety. I swallow it down heartily and then dive in headfirst into the unknown anyway, because I refuse to be ruled by anything, and least of all fear. Everything is unknown till we know it. I fear change, so the only way to conquer it is to meet it head on. There is sadness, but the show must go on, much like the clown’s rubber nose and floppy shoes.
The thing about closing a business is that it can feel like failure. It’s not. It’s just a choice, it’s just that the perspectives of it all would give MC Escher a headache. There is a parable about a Zen master who observes the people of his village celebrating that the son of a popular citizen had been given a horse, who were singing of the boys good fortune. “We’ll see,” the Zen master says. Later the boy falls off the horse and breaks a leg, The town in consensus says the horse is a curse. “We’ll see,” says the master. Later still a war breaks out, the boy cannot be drafted because of the injury, and everyone now says the horse was a blessing. “We’ll see,” the master says again.
Shuggie Otis was another guy supposed to be the next big thing; the son of rock and roll pioneer Johnny Otis, with all the talent and baggage that comes along with that. He should have been a Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix and Arthur Lee rolled into one, only he wasn’t. He ran the same race, but the drugs and drink took their toll, which is what they do to those that don’t have the Keith Richards gene. He made 3 amazing records, forgotten to AM radio, and a few young soul rebels. Today Shuggie Otis is bigger than he has ever been.

Sometimes an idea needs to be lost so it can be found again when the time is right. Sometimes that time never comes around, or the audience isn’t as big as you hoped. Shuggie wasn’t a big name ever, not really, and bam! He comes out of the dollar bins to be a college radio all-star.
Shuggie Otis got a second chance; John Martyn didn’t. Oh, he made a bunch of records afterwards, he to got a hip label reissue in the late 90’s and a semi healthy cult status in the UK. He never got the chance to be the soundtrack to kids on a TV joyride. It could still happen of course, but he passed away in 2009, and while the music may be eternal, people not so much. Still, in the UK he is a cult icon. When he died he even got a posthumous OBE. Success is a matter of perspective, its not the cards we are dealt, its how we play them.

You really don’t know how the story is going to turn out, you just play along with the choose your own adventure. While consequences can sometimes suck you never know how it plays out till the end, and even than not always. It all tends to work out as it should.

Miyagi is closed, and even though it should have worked, it didn’t. just because it seems like something should succeed doesn’t mean it will. Things end everyday, some good, some bad; It’s the impact that has the power. We closed it on our own terms, and by our own hands, it ends but its little ripples in that world go on. Mo has a quote that she really likes about people that they are in your lifetime, a season or a reason; has corny as I find that, its pretty accurate. Businesses are like that too.
I think we find out who we are mostly in the worst of times, and in our best. Its fairly easy to be agreeable when its all running at a steady boil. Kippling said it better than I could ever hope to” If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same;” Its those extremes that we find out who we are. Its just life you get up dust yourself off and live to conquer, fail or just exist another day.

As I write this I find that I keep starting out of my new studio window, it looks onto the block where I really started about two decades back a lot has changed, but that’s always the constant: things change. I try and live without regrets or apologies but really that only works in Clint Eastwood movies, that said Miyagi isn’t on either of those lists.

I have stumbled before, I will stumble again; mostly because I am always trying to soar. Its only when we stop trying, that we truly fail.

Goodbye Thomas

Thomas Spiegel, Dj Man-x at the cricket theater 1990- Photo Tony Larson

Thomas Spiegel, Dj Man-x at the cricket theater 1990- Photo Tony Larson

 

Thomas Spiegel or DJ Man-X his nom de guerre passed away this week; he was a friend of mine, he was a business partner, he was a teacher, and for one magical night in 1990 a fellow monster truck enthusiast.

I met Thomas at some point in lets call it 1988 (I suck at dates, and order of things so times may be way off but it gets the gist and that’s something) he had moved back from New York after doing a House Nation night, and wanted to start doing them here in Mpls, he had partnered with Kevin Cole doing some shows and starting their regular Thursday night gig in the 7th street entry opposite More Funk. I think I started working with him on the second night of it. It was during that time with my business partner Sonia (she owned Hair Police, I ran the Gallery and did the events) that together we started doing bigger events late nights at the salon, and eventually turning to what would later be called raves, but to us were just events.

Most “techno” fans know about Detroit, they know about Chicago, but what they don’t know that we had as big a scene here and we did it all without any press or radio. Because at the time this was the real underground music, you had to know someone to be on the in at all. It was wild, reckless and just barely legal; it was glorious. You have to understand that this was a different era, up until this point you never saw the DJs name on a flyer, you didn’t go to a party unless there was beer, and certainly not to dance, maybe drunkenly pogo but never dance. In fact dancing after bar close was a crime in Mpls- seriously. You can thank Sonia for busting that rule up. The point is there was a big secret scene that existed and largely because Thomas wanted to play house music really really loud.

Eventually the band broke up, one by one we all splintered away to do other things, each person moving to the next bright shiny thing (it may sound a tad nostalgic but things did seem much shinier and brighter then) But Thomas always stayed true, he was Deep House through and through. , I always admired his ability to always find new and interesting threads in the same flag; I wish I had told him that. Over the years we stopped speaking as much, because that’s what people do. That said he has never been far from my heart, because those days have never been far from my memory. We started a small quiet revolution that begat some much bigger ones, ones that don’t even necessarily know about the previous wars- it’s the downside of a culture based so much on the” now” that we forget the how, and ultimately the “why”.

I could go on about how many are standing on his shoulders, how many folks got there start there, or it was the inspiration point to start doing something new .the fact that you can here techno and house almost everywhere, and can really only hear the alt rock of the time on oldies alternative. Or that even First Ave, where it was fight to get equal rights for dance nights is more disco than ever. And its not like he stopped- ever, he was a staple of that deep garage scene, and a mentor to generations of up and comers, but in truth that doesn’t matter, not really anyway, not tonight.

Tonight I am thinking about how much I owe this guy, the fact that he let me produce things well before I was of legal age to go to them, that he wanted to make sure that I knew the music, its roots well deeper than my acid house summer of love entry point. Thomas was the guy who always got on my case for not paying myself what I am worth, a problem I still have to day and truth be told when I hear my subconscious telling me that it’s in Spiegel’s voice. He was complex, and difficult, a day trader in dreadlocks, a fighter with a rather large collection of Fred Flintstone items. People are complex, and Thomas wasn’t any exception.

The golden age of anything in music seems to last for 3- 5 years and I don’t know that was any different for House. For a time: it was utter and complete fucking magic. If you were there it changed your life, and if you weren’t than it sill sort of did anyway, we were surfers on a wave of drum machine inevitability.

“From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.” sure Shakespeare was using this as a rallying cry to battle. But I think it covers the battles already fought.

Bon Route, brother I hope Heaven has enough Bass bins for you

 

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  • a little about me…

    A man of many lives-some know Strouth as the filmmaker who behind the documentary "Unconvention: a Mix Tape from St. Paul" about the 2008 RNC, and M-80, some as a writer, or as a producer and musician and then of course their is the whole getting a kidney transplant over Facebook and Twitter thing.
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