Six Degrees (Below Zero) of Separation

Prince b&wTracy McMillanLouie

Tiny TimDylanJudy Garland

When an event occurs half way around the world, my husband and I frequently joke what is the “Minnesota Connection”? We typically only need to tune in at 10:00 pm to our local television stations to find out, they unabashedly report with this angle on a regular basis. It’s a scoop if the cousin of a passenger on a downed flight can be interviewed. A former babysitter, hairdresser or Tupperware Lady to the stars comes with it’s own cachet in Minnesota.

The winters here may be brutally cold but our affections for those who lived here, loved here, died here or simply passed through here are warm.

Last weeks passing of Prince, our native son of funk (who not only was born and raised here, but never left) continues to cast a purple shadow over our airwaves. Just when you think that any story that could be told has been shared, a local radio station will take a call from a former McDonald’s employee who served Prince at the drive-thru once. Saturday night (I guess that makes it all right) the best man from our wedding shared his remembrance of being a young dad in Chanhassen Minnesota over twenty years ago. After being awoken one too many times by his eldest son (crying over being unable to locate his pacifier) he drove to the 24-hour grocery store and bought the entire display of glow-in-the-dark pacifiers, and ran into Prince. His wife shared more typical memories of being an ’80s club kid. She’d gone to Washburn High School, I’d gone to Southwest High School and Prince had graduated five years ahead of me from Central High School. We were all Minneapolis kids, went to the same beaches, took the same buses, roamed the same streets.

As speculation continues over the cause of Prince’s death, I question what criteria makes a person’s HIPPA rights go away. Some have suggested that pain relievers for hip and ankle discomfort had contributed to his plane making an emergency landing in Moline Illinois the week prior to his death. Rumors abound that rather than being treated for the flu, that he had been administered an Opioid antidote. Prince was notoriously private when not on stage and while I understand the curiosity of his fans, I question the necessity and legality of such disclosures. Just like with Michael Jackson and Elvis before him, I am saddened that a contributing factor was potentially a product intended to improve quality of life, not end it. I am not a doctor, I’m not a lawyer. I’m simply a fan who wants to remind people that all celebrities, all icons, are simply people too, with vulnerabilities despite their immense talents and contributions.

As a kid it was actress Judy Garland who I recall being my first known Minnesota celebrity. The Wizard of Oz remains my favorite movie to this day. Born Frances Gumm in Grand Rapids Minnesota, she left long before she became a household name. She was nominated twice for an Academy Award but only ever received a juvenile version. She was the first person I was aware of who died as the result of drug use. Her death was described as an accidental Barbiturate overdose. I was just shy of my sixth birthday.

The year after Garland’s death not only was my state on the map but the very city I lived in. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a situation comedy about a single woman living in Minneapolis who worked at a local television station. The show ran until I was a teenager and likely had some impact on my decision to be a Mass Communication TV/Radio major in college. Wholesome, though edgier than other shows of the era, the best part of the show for me was the opening credits with fictional Mary Richards driving around familiar parts of my city and ultimately tossing her  knit beret in the air. It was not a raspberry beret, Mary was fashionable but not a second-hand store sort of character.

In the last week I’ve seen many references regarding Bob Dylan being a native Minnesotan, most with the the tagline “but he left”. Grief can make people bitter but it’s true that where Bob Dylan rejected his roots, Prince embraced his. Prince’s many talents and pop culture contributions do nothing to take away from the talents of Robert Zimmerman, the impact was just different. Prince hit notes Dylan would never dream of trying to and most of his lyrics wouldn’t make your parents blush and question if you knew what that song was even about. Prince might have referenced used clothing in a song but Dylan looked like he might have acquired his wardrobe from the dumpster behind a second-hand store. Prince impacted youth fashion unlike any other male of the era. As I noted in my blog-post on the day he died; he was wearing fancy gloves in the late ’70s, much earlier than Michael Jackson who is often credited with the trend. I had friends whose parents were the same age as Bob Dylan, Prince was our contemporary. Dylan is bad hair and good harmonica, his essence can be captured in black and white. Prince was at his best in full color, he was was both audio and visual!

Minnesota is a percolator for talent and creativity of all types. We produce writers for TV and movies, musicians, photographers, artists, comedians and authors. Realistically there are reasons people take their skills elsewhere, for some it’s a logistical situation. We as Minnesotans love to claim those who were born here, we embrace those who stay and accept those who choose either Minnesota as their home or Minnesotans as their significant others:

Lizz Winstead the co-creator of The Daily Show graduated a couple of years ahead of me at Southwest. She is back in town annually for a New Year’s Eve stand-up gig. She was a sorority girl and young comic at the University of Minnesota when Prince was only known locally. Both she and Prince can credit First Avenue with memorable moments in their early careers. Gene Winstead, her brother, is my mayor.

Tracy McMillan who graduated a year behind me from Southwest wrote for United States of Tara, Mad Men and other projects you would recognize. Oprah has interviewed her. She’s written a memoir and more recently published her first work of fiction. For two years she had the most read Huffington Post piece Why You’re Not Married…Yet.  She was a youthful patron of First Avenue as well.

The Coen brothers were raised in the neighboring suburb of St. Louis Park. Like Prince, they are also Oscar winners.

Pete Docter of Pixar grew up on the next block right here in Bloomington, where I reside. His parents still live in the house where they raised him and his sisters and come to our annual block party. You recognize his name from Toy Story, Up and more recently his Academy Award for Inside Out. His entire family was inducted into the Bloomington Kennedy High School Hall of Fame a few years ago. He returned to Minnesota (as did his sisters) to receive the recognition before a school play.

Comedian Louie Anderson (who portrays Christine Baskets on the outstanding FX series Baskets) grew up across the river in St. Paul. He was back in town just last week to perform.

Tiny Tim opted to make Minnesota his home with his wife Miss Sue later in life. My peers recall the unusual looking and oddly voiced performer for his ukulele backed song Tiptoe Through the Tulips. I recollect his appearances on shows like Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and his 1969 marriage to Miss Vicki on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson (it was viewed by 40 million people). He died nearly twenty years ago and his remains are located in the mausoleum at Lakewood Cemetery. If you’re ever in Minnesota, you can locate him under his given name of Herbert Khaury. The historic cemetery is adjacent to Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, between the Linden Hills neighborhood I grew up in and Uptown. I have a number of my own relatives buried in the sprawling urban cemetery, going all the way back to 1888, which doesn’t have the same musical ring to it that 1999 seems to.

I know many people have made pilgrimages to Minnesota this last week and many more will come. It’s a beautiful place, with lovely lakes, fantastic museums, amazing theaters, good restaurants, fun bars, losing sports franchises and a good sense of humor about itself. Come tiptoe through the tulips, in the purple rain and you might think you’re somewhere over the rainbow! Maybe it’s not just our news stations that find the “Minnesota Connections” wherever they can.



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