Sunday, March 08, 2020

Blue Guitar Highway (2011)

I am days late and dollars short at this point, obviously, but I'm still having a hard time judging Paul Metsa's jabbering eloquent memoir for what it is. It's possible that you had to be there, though "there" covers a lot of territory. Metsa comes from the Northern Minnesota Iron Range country, specifically the town of Virginia, less than 30 miles east of Hibbing, where Bob Dylan grew up (and about 60 miles north of Cloquet, where I was born and lived until I was nearly 5). Metsa is a long-time Minneapolis blues and folk player, arriving in the late '70s with his band Cats Under the Stars. Full disclosure (as if it matters), I knew him during my tenure at the alternative newsweekly City Pages (in 1984 and 1985) and he was always kind to me during those strange and trying times, having me over to his place to listen to records and always a friendly face out and about. I learned a lot from him and it was always a good time. My own tastes can run a little cool toward his music projects, but he is also one of those restless improvising souls and that means he has nights where he is extraordinarily good, usually on his own with a guitar, electric or otherwise, or sometimes playing the piano. This book tells his story. As a working musician he counts his high points meeting and playing with some of his heroes, such as Bruce Springsteen. His single greatest achievement, of course, is simply surviving as a musician. When this book was published nine years ago, 5,000 was the number he was using for his total gigs played. He's put out several albums over the years and a few singles too. I like this book because I like him so much, and also I love reading about all the Twin Cities landmarks, which bring me back. I haven't lived there since 1985. I especially appreciated learning the inside story of how hard he worked—for five years!—on what was ultimately the losing side of saving the original Guthrie Theater, destroyed in 2006. Metsa rightly refers to it as Minnesota's Carnegie Hall, and the list of shows he saw and played there (including his own sold-out turn in the '90s) is impressive and turns you green with envy. I saw some good ones there myself. I was shocked to learn of its demise and still am. Metsa knew practically everyone in town—he has great stories about Bob Stinson and Bob Mould, and doesn't even deny his friendship with Norm Coleman (though it seems like his acquaintance with Paul Wellstone is what he treasures more). Perhaps best of all, though it should not have surprised me, Metsa is a great writer too, his sheer energy powering torrents of language in terrific bursts. I was as happy to learn of all his further adventures as I once was to let him put on the next record. Long may he run.

In case the library is closed due to pandemic.

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