by Andrew Knighton
Pulse of the Twin Cities,
July 7, 1999
Minneapolitans suffer no shortage of
municipal pride. Many of us tend to sound like Chamber of Commerce
propaganda when asked to hold forth about our native city; one could conceivably
spout for hours about our plethora of ethnic restaurants, our supposedly
world-class arts, our ubiquitous facilities for "rollerblading near water,"
(as The Baffler once put it).
It is, however, easy to mistake our media-generated
visions of consumerist plenty and technologized sterility for the real
city. This city is a real place, populated by real people with real lives
-not simply a museum exhibit or a stunning commercial storefront. Streets
of Minneapolis, a night of poetry and music organized by local poet-philosopher
Christopher Shillock, sets about unearthing and representing the side of
Minneapolis life that is often neglected in favor of "City on the Grow"
The show's three pieces combine to portray
a city that very few of us can say we intimately know, though many think
they know it. Equally many have sadly chosen ignorance altogether. Hesitantly,
we begin by going along for a ride with Scott Vetsch, cabbie and poet,
as he introduces us to the faceless passengers and placeless thoroughfares
populating his journal. Drawn from his book, "Hauling Ass: Cab Stories",
Vetsch's poetry careens around the city, conjuring up scenery which is
at once familiar and foreign.
When have I been here before? Never before,
not quite like this. Each character - from the drunks to the prostitutes
- to the suits pulls us with them into a new context, a new perspective on
how the underside of this city really works (or, doesn't work, as is often
the case). Vetsch at times becomes for his fares both courier and counsel,
all the while trying to avoid getting cast as customer, pimp or victim.
Mostly, though, he is our tour guide to those places we ourselves don't
want to see at three in the morning.
Shillock's "Testament of Fear" follows,
an imaginative piece inspired by last year's AnnPrazniak murder on Park Avenue and l8th Street, It depicts a series
of poetic exchanges charting the loneliness and isolation in the times
leading up to her death at the hands of invading thugs; who killed her,
wrapped her in plastic, and stored her in a closet for week while using
her apartment as a staging area for drug dealing and whoring.
Local comic and storyteller ColleenKruse joins with Shillock and Ed Jirak. in what becomes a three-way
conversation between the two aged Phillips residents and the media reports
read robotically from the other side of the stage. The three combine to
reveal some of the realities of being old and alone in the city when getting
to the store becomes a juicy conversation topic, and when the amount of
trust you have in your fellow city-dwellers can ultimately be the difference
between listening to the news and being on it.
Shillock's heavy piece is followed up with
a performance by Larry Havluck, a local song-writer and street performer,
whose easy manner and comical songs provide a necessary uplift after the
bleak recasting of the Park Avenue events. Havluck reminds us that the
cacophony that cloaks the city is a human creation, and within its swirling
chaos, beneath the honking horns, the revving engines, and the hurried
business conversations, there is occasionally struck a chord of beauty.
Whether you see him at the People's Center or on a downtown sidewalk, don't
be afraid to request a little ditty called "Die Yuppie Scum," and feel
free to sing along if it moves you.
The performers who make up Streets of Minneapolis
magically manage to make you love this city even as you think about its
more evil and less public sides. Such reflection is a necessary corrective
to the homogenized drivel we are spoon-fed, and which we tend to
ourselves parrot as if we somehow were in the know. In a lighthearted and
touching way, Streets of Minneapolis reminds us that we have a lot more
City to experience.
St. Paul residents are also welcome.