Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Long Now; The Short Now

The clock is ticking, ticking, ticking on our farewell to 2008. I thought it was a wonderful year. I hope 2009 isn't too bad in comparison (all the advance hype leaves my usual optimism with so little wiggle-room!)

In San Francisco recently, I went down to the headquarters of the Long Now Foundation.

I was excited to see their cool brass-and-stainless-steel clocks and planetary orreries, and the turning of another new year seemed like a good time to visit. Unfortunately, the museum/bookstore/headquarters was closed for the holidays. Since the Long Now Foundation is an organization dedicated to shifting our frames of reference from short-term and local horizons to longer and broader ones, I guess I shouldn't sweat the fact that I'll have to wait until later to visit the Long Now Foundation. I will come back sometime in the next thousand years or so, to contemplate the difficulties and complexities of the long-term protection and preservation of human knowledge and culture.

I've been reading about this organization with much fascination, especially since I've recently learned that it got its catchy name from Brian Eno, who seems to be a board member or some such thing. Another notable involved in the group is the wonderful author Neal Stephenson, whose recent novel "Anathem" was inspired by the Long Now Foundation's "Clock of the Long Now" project.

It's very interesting to think about how music fits in with a super-long frame of reference... I guess my favorite Bach two-part inventions are almost three hundred years old. But most of the music I love is a tenth as old as that, and I have to admit, when I think about who I'm writing for, it's not people three hundred years from now, never mind people ten thousand years from now. If I'm making music for people alive now, then my music is for the Short Now. Time can tell how the Long Now will deal with it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Your Voices" at the Minneapolis Star Tribune

Oh, here's the artwork for the Star Tribune's community blog.

The Strib is calling their community blogs "Your Voices." Here is the Dan Wilson blog at the Star Tribune.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Voice on "Your Voices"

I'm going to be occasionally blogging on the Minneapolis Star and Tribune's "Your Voices" page. It's not going to be much different than this blog so I thought I'd post a link to those pieces when I put them up.

Star Tribune's Your Voices Page

Christmas approaching fast and everything seems under control. Illusion? If so, a lovely one.

Peace and Joy to you all!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Set List for Pantages Show

Here's the set from the Pantages, for those who asked. Read my reaction to the show on the previous blog.


Solo set

Hand on My Heart
Across the Great Divide
One True Love
Honey Please
Brad Gordon joins
Singing in My Sleep
All Will Be Well


Band Set

Easy Silence
Against History
Willie the King
Baby Doll
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
Secret Smile
She Can't Help Me Now
Free Life
band off
All Kinds


Everything Green - everyone
Eric & Steve off
John & Brad on pno, then Brad trumpet
Made to Last

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pantages Theater, Minneapolis, 12/13/08

What a night. My favorite show so far. Ever. It felt like the first truly rocking DW solo gig. I did the first set alone & then with Brad Gordon on piano for the last two songs. Then John Munson, Eric Fawcett and Steve Roehm joined in for the second half. The group moved like a school of fish through the dynamics - turning together and not knowing why, just going with it. Brad's clarinet on "Baby Doll" was pure joy. The "Secret Smile" jam still makes me smile.

I snuck in some Bob Dylan in the middle of "Hand on My Heart" and then later in the set sang Dylan's "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" with the full band in nasty, groovy, greasy stomp mode and it was hilarious. I had never been able to cover a Dylan song but after I spoke at the "Blood on the Tracks" event in November, I got inspired to try again. And this song seems like I can get inside it pretty well.

Did you hear the travelogue in the first four songs? "Hand on My Heart," "Turtledove," "Across the Great Divide," "California." I felt the room was with me all the way. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Up to Me, Tangled Up in Blue, Isis

"... The only decent thing I did when I worked as a postal clerk
Was to haul your picture down off the wall from the cage where I used to work..."

-Up to Me, Bob Dylan

I'm still buzzing from the "Blood on the Tracks" book party/performance I took part in last month. Kevin Odegard, one of the Minneapolis session musicians who played on about half of the Dylan album, wrote a book called "A Simple Twist of Fate" which details Dylan's fits-and-starts-filled process of making the record.

It's a really fast, fun read, and it's full of unexpected insights into the creative process in general. Recounted as though for the history books, "A Simple Twist of Fate" is an account of the last stage of the process of making "Blood on the Tracks", when Dylan came to Minneapolis to re-record many of the songs with a group of young and little-known session players. The album was already finished, the artwork finalized and the musician credits printed up, but the vinyl was not yet pressed, and Dylan, in a last-minute change, swapped in the Minneapolis versions of the songs into the final pressing. The new musicians were never credited for their amazing performances, always referred to in the press as "a group of Twin Cities unknowns," or some variation of that. I think this phrase actually became part of the mythology of the album, and that probably removed Dylan's and Columbia's incentive to credit the musicians more clearly.

So Kevin and the most of the rest of the group that played on "Tangled Up in Blue," "Idiot Wind," "If You See Her, Say Hello," and other songs, got up onstage and played those and other songs. Which was beautiful to hear.

What I haven't expected is for the album to have taken hold of me so powerfully since then. I am neck-deep in the mystery of Dylan and I love it. Not only "Blood on the Tracks," but also "Desire." If you want to hear what I would dream of being able to do as a songwriter, listen to "Isis" a couple of times. It'll be worth it just to hear a master yarn-spinner at work.

Griffin House was in Minneapolis last week working on some new songs with me and during a break we listened to "Isis" together, first the version on "Desire" and then the live version from "Biograph," which is from a Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Is it funny? Sad? Epic? The ground shifts beneath your feet. All I know is I laughed a lot.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Back From Australia

Just got back from Australia, a short and sweet tour. For a lot of the trip I wore the Obama shirt my brother Matt gave me, a limited edition gift he made for friends and family a few weeks before the election. The shirt shows a victorious Muhammad Ali exulting over his defeated foe (Joe Frazier?) at the end of a boxing match, with the simple title "Obama" over the image. Matt said he saw this photo in the background of a picture of Barack Obama's office in Chicago. To me it's the expression of not only victory but of the toughness and single-mindedness that it took for Obama to win the election.

While I was in Australia, many people asked me about the shirt, both on the street and at the shows. It gave me a chance to talk with Aussies about our election, which I was hoping it would. Even so, I was pretty blown away by how emotional they were about it. During my shows I mentioned Obama's election and how relieved and happy I was about it, and how even some of my Republican-voting friends are kinda excited about it. I also told the people there that I was aware that our country has lately been like a dark cloud on their northeastern horizon, but that the weather hopefully is changing. People cheered wildly.

After my shows, the Aussie fans really wanted to talk more about this, and many of them got tears in their eyes while trying to express to me how much this change meant to them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


On the flight home from Sydney, I had the leftmost seat in a four-seat row with an irritable Aussie Mom and her two boys aged 11 and 7. They were all blond with very short haircuts. The older one sat down next to me looking pale and peaked and made gagging noises. He turned to me and said in a very cute Australian accent, "I got a piece of lolly THIS BIG stuck in my throat and I'm choking on it." I told him I hoped it came out. He then gagged until he threw up on his brother and his blanket. His mother yelled at him in a harsh Australian accent.

The 11-year-old told me that they were all going to fly to America where they would see their Dad. "My Dad is going to take us to the place where he makes special dune buggies with a Jamaican dude!" he said. "I bet you wish you could have done something that cool when you were my age! Do you ever wish you could turn back time and live your childhood again?"

"Not really," I said. "Only a few small things I'd do over."

"When you were naughty," he said, nodding in agreement.

A little while later, after I had told the 11-year-old to stop violently elbowing me during the process of deeply scratching his ass within his pants, he went circling in his seat with his blanket wrapped around him to find a comfortable position to roll up and rest. Literally going in circles like a puppy on a big floor pillow. The vomit spot on the blanket passed me several times, rubbing against our shared armrest each time.

I fell asleep to the sound of the tykes listening to "The Dark Knight" on their in-flight headphones at earsplitting volumes, the two soundtracks slightly offset in time.

A sensation of cool wetness along my right leg woke me up.

"What are you pouring on me?!?" I loudly asked them. Luckily it was a large glass of water which the older boy had spilled, and not orange juice or Sprite. The mom asked the older boy (who somehow was now two seats from me) if he had lost the use of his mind. She then flung her airline blanket across the older one onto the soaked lap of the younger boy, who began wiping off his share of the water. None of them spoke to me as I stood up to find paper towels to somewhat dry my pants.

I fell asleep to the disconcerting flurry of the two boys surreptitiously provoking each other.

I woke up in a drowse to find that my carry-on bag had migrated to a position directly under my feet. I hooked my foot under the bag to shove it back into its place deep beneath the seat in front of me. But it was stuck and didn't move. So I gave it a second, stronger heave, and it gave me a defensive slap. My eyes opened to reveal that my foot was grappling not my bag but the older boy, who had taken up a supine position to sleep under the seats. His little brother's bare feet were resting on his chest, footrest style. I guess that's where my large shod feet had been in relation to his head before I woke up.

The next time I opened my eyes it was to discover the older boy next to me making a tower of drink cups with his full and opened can of lemonade at the top.

"I don't want that lemonade on my pants," I said, "So please stop playing with it."

"I'm not playing with it," he objected.

"It looks like you're playing with it. Put it on your tray right now."

"Sorry." (Cute Aussie accent.)

I could go on. The breakfast meal came and both boys ate their scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes with their hands. The excess was wiped on the blankets, but only when their hands were excessively covered with wet food. Their mother said, "I suppose you're going to eat with your hands in the restaurants in America!" They said no, they wouldn't.

Twelve hours into the flight the older boy said, "We've been flying for so long, I feel like I'm in a dream of being on an airplane."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"Free Life" and Alaska

Click here to see the National Wildlife Federation clip

The National Wildlife Federation has created a short film about Alaska set to the song "Free Life" which I found to be simple, beautiful, thought-provoking. I was proud that they thought my music could help them get people involved in protecting our environment from harm. I'm not prepared to have a debate with the "climate change debunkers" out there; all I know is that I hope a lot of talented and energetic people will be drawn into the environmentalist movement in the coming years. Look at the pictures in the clip and ask yourself, do I want these beautiful animals and settings to exist only in video clips for future generations to look at? They will be so mad at us if we let that happen!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Every New Beginning

Comes from some other beginning's end. I joked at the Provention concert that "Closing Time" could easily be about the end of a presidential administration, with the old regime being bounced at the end of the night. Well, I was kinda serious, of course, and now we get to test out my and a lot of people's idea for how to do it.

I am glad to be able to breathe again now that the election is over, and I confess to feelings of optimism and hope for a fresh start. Fixing what needs to be fixed in our country is not a one-party job, and I do hope that this is the message our leaders have received.


Friday, October 31, 2008

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Less than a week before the election, and the world seems to be moving in slow motion. I have been anxious and jumpy about the outcome - will my candidate win but then have the victory stolen? Will my candidate lose and confirm my worst fears about my country? It all seems so crucial and our country seems to balance on the edge of a knife.

Yet the other day I read a newspaper article featuring several small interviews with voters supporting my candidate's opponent. And they were expressing the same fears, the same anxious conviction that the "wrong" decision would lead to disaster, to a country that they no longer understand.

National affairs of recent years have been so discouraging, so vengeful, so muddled, so seemingly guaranteed to emphasize our divisions and differences, and I am no less susceptible to this effect than anyone else. But I have to admit that when I read about the fears of those who oppose my candidate, I felt a pang of sorrow and brotherhood. In that sharp moment I felt a unity with and compassion for them that I rarely allow myself to feel.

I am trying to remember that presidential terms are short, the history of our country longer, and our hope for humankind's future is longer still. As MLK said, "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." The waiting of the next few days is nothing compared to this arc whose slow bending we await and try to hasten, each in our own way.

Peace and Love

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Anathem" by Neal Stephenson

Okay, every several years I get sucked into a new Neal Stephenson book and it's happening again: "Anathem," the latest, is chewing up and digesting great chunks of my time and I am very happy about it.

This is all the better because the past several weeks have found me in airports, planes and train stations, with just the right kind of time for escapism. This book is so beautiful; it's like an extended discussion between really smart but also funny and entertaining philosophers, scientists and mechanics, punctuated by occasional bursts of action and violence. It starts out like "The Name of The Rose" but ends up more like "Foundation and Empire." Okay, I'm not going to try to explain any further, just to say I love it.

And, just to warn you, "Anathem" is putting you all in grave danger of me going on another Douglas R. Hofstadter blogging bender, because I can't help but thinking that Stephenson has been reading "Godel, Escher, Bach."


Went out to see Gabe Dixon at the Varsity the other night - they invited me onstage to sing "All Will Be Well" with them and I was reminded how proud I am of that song. Every once in awhile I write or co-write something that I can listen to with utter unself-consciousness: no self-criticism, no would-a, no should-a; in the case of this song, when I hear it I even forget that I wrote it with Gabe. Everyone likes to get out of themselves, and I'm no exception.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Me and "Against History" back in love

John Munson and Steve Roehm and I were rehearsing this morning for my set at the ProVention concert on Tuesday. I had figured out the six songs I was going to do, there are lots of performers so we all have to keep it short. Anyway, when I told John and Steve the songs I planned on singing, John said, "You aren't going to play 'Against History'?"

"Your best song," interjected Steve (I'm not sure if he was serious or not, a common experience with Steve.)

I said, I think it's a good song that makes a great point. John liked that comment but he said, "It really would be a perfect song for the ProVention."

Which suddenly struck me as completely and obviously true. So I started playing it in a way very different from the version on "Free Life" and the three of us ran it down a few times. I think I'm in love with the song again. "It's you and me against history; it doesn't have to be the way it's always been. You and me against history; we'll never let it be that way again."

People can never be perfect, we are by nature flawed; but songs can express perfection and righteousness and immortal love, and be the things that we only dream of.