Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Caskets and Carriages under the Torch

(There's got to be a Triangle Bar here someplace)

My wife has become a metal head, a steel worker and a blowtorch Nana. After a career in academia and business, she’s learning to pinch metal around stone like Giacometti and apply torching like Motherwell. She’s comfortable with heavy metal in her hands and blue-yellow flames framing her face. And she’s not alone.

She’s now hanging out in the new bohemia with other artists of a similar ilk.

Fifty years after the West Bank of the University of Minnesota harbored the disenfranchised, the hippies and other malcontents of a similar ilk, that population or their decedents have now moved to the Northeast part of Minneapolis. In an unplanned, almost organic metamorphosis of a cityscape, this unwashed morass of creativity has moved west.

Old Nordeast, an eclectic enclave of blue-collar Eastern European nationalities, has become the new West Bank.

Early in the 70s, the West Bank lost its soul. It imploded with the demise of the hippie culture and developers snuck in under the cover of HRA redevelopment. So, many of those artists moved to Lower town in Saint Paul. That lasted for a decade or two until that area started to become gentrified. So Nordeast has become the new enclave for artists.

But instead of hippies, now people of color, Hispanics, artists of every variety, house flippers, yoga gurus, craft beer specialists, software developers and other creative types are flocking to the area. A new variety of business has also sprung up whose main purpose is to breathe life into the arts for a whole new generation, young and not so young. These include art classes of every type, including metal sculpting.

Sharon got into metal work as a hobby right after we were first married. She did exceptionally well until demands on the job and a move to another state curtailed that activity. Now she’s back at it, taking classes from Vesper College located in the heart of Nordeast. Vesper is one of those non-profit schools offering classes in such esoteric areas as metal bending, torching, welding and stone sculpturing. Sharon loves it. And I love the fact that she’s found a new outlet for her creative juices.

Vesper College is located in the Casket Arts Building. Originally built as the North-western Casket Company building in 1887, caskets were still being made there until 2005. Now the five-story building houses over 100 artists and businesses such as Vesper.

Other notable nests of creativity are the Architectural Antiques Building, originally a coffee roasting plant. The Northrup King Building, originally a seed distributor for the world. The Waterbury Building, manufacturers of boilers and multiple buildings that were part of the Grain Belt Brewing complex.

“Can Love Hold On,” the song for my book trailer, was created at The Library Recording Studio only blocks away. Those studios are located in the Grain Belt Warehouse and bottling building. So far, my favorite coffee house is across the street in the Keg House Arts building. I think you get the flavor.

Now that Sharon is taking classes there, I’ll probably seek out coffee houses, cheap eats and libraries to hang my hat when she is under the torch. It obviously won’t be the same as back when I was past Sheila, hanging with Susan and hadn’t yet met Sharon. But for a part of me this feeding frenzy of creativity will ring true once again.

The rough hewn, anti-fashion, individualistic, truth-seeking individuals whom I find so fascinating all hang out there. Only now the freaks hang out at McDonalds instead of the corner drug store. It’s not as compact as Dinkytown but the atmosphere is the same. The haunts of past lives have come alive again in that charged arena. It’s almost as if inquiring minds once again scream for an exploration of life’s truths in that modern version of old Bohemia.

It’ll be like old times again. And yet it won’t be same. I know I can’t go back. I don’t want to. After my lost years, I began that long slow inevitable slide toward normalcy. Fortunately I didn’t make it all the way. So I’ll visit Nordeast but I won’t stay. I’ve earned my place in Apple Valley and Palm Springs and I’m comfortable there too.

Yet when I’m back in that other part of the world, I’d like to contribute even if I’m not willing to camp on hard wood floors or eat from a can of beans anymore. My Bob Dylan days are over…for whatever they were worth. Inspiration comes in all kinds of strange packages even in a casket shop in the middle of a confused dreamland called eternal youth.

So while I’m there, I want to soak up the atmosphere and perhaps build a nest someplace where I can just write to my hearts content. It seems like a good place to explore the recesses of one’s mind, mining whatever thoughts and ideas might be lingering there. I’ve got a lot of hard miles on that gray matter of mine. Time to go exploring again.

Strange how, after fifty years, some things change and yet many things remain the same.

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