Thursday, August 02, 2007

Joe Klein is Home. Phew.

So my dear friend Mary Jo Klein calls me up and says, "yeah, I'll join you for Swing of Pearls at Humboldt Park, and Joe will be there too!" MaryJo is also the mother of two of my favorite kids (that aren't mine) and she's actually the one who turned me on, many years ago, to the idea of packing a pic-a-nic basket, going to a park, and enjoying some outdoor live music offered by the county while the kids ran around. (This was back when Jazz in the Park was still a managable size.) While JITP has expanded, so has the whole "concerts in the parks" series, and now there's some music somewhere in some country park pretty much any weeknight during the summer.

Joe Klein, as you may know, is a Milwaukee legend. It was Joe Klein who introduced me to usenet news (google that one up, kids, I'm not explaining its importance to you now). He pretty much set up all the computer operations for the (then) Crazy Shepherd, and most older Riverwesterners have their "Joe Klien Story" to tell. (Mine involves former Shepherd Publisher Marty Genz, a usenet news posting about a New Year's Eve party on the East Coast, a road trip with bratwurst and Wisconsin Cheese, a car on the brink of repossession, and some amazed AT&T employees). He was a write-in candidate for Milwaukee County Register of Deeds many years back -- he thought the entire system should be online and computerized and back then people laughed at him. Two years back he took on County Executive Scott Walker himself and while he didn't win, fared well considering his relative lack of name recognition, not to mention his budget. Last year, this 47-year-old National Guardsman father of two was deployed to Iraq.

He's home now, safe and sound, and that's a relief, and putting his life back together. We're all sitting on the hill at Humboldt Park, listening to Swing of Pearls, who, while good at what they do, aren't grabbing me. I think "swing" in their name, while a clever pun on the Glenn Miller standard, belies what they were about. Compared to the Swing-O-Matics last week, they were fairly tame. I rode my bike up, with Stella at my side and Sammy in the trailer, to a nice rendition of "Take the A Train" and they competently went through similar American big orchestra standards, but never really raved it up. I thought more "ballroom during dinner at a high end wedding" rather than "swingin' at a VFW post in 1948." It would be cheap and ageist to say that this was more to satisfy the largely elderly population in the crowd -- there was a similar percentage of age demographics over at Boerner last week and they were jitterbugging it up. Many times their lead singer made references to her parents (in a touching moment, she said she would often consult them on a song she didn't know), and I got the overall impression that this band existed to impress somebody's parents, rather than for the musicians' own enjoyment. Still, it at least facilitated chatting with the Kleins, while their youngest rode bikes with Stella and entertained Sammy.

As Joe Klein is a tireless environmentalist and promoter of mass transit (especially light rail -- if you're against light rail I challenge you to hold your own in an argument with Joe), I felt rather proud that we arrived via bicycle on this gorgeous summer night. I couldn't help but note the irony of this guy who has been touting green living and leaving a small ecological footprint having to serve in a war that many would argue exists because of oil. He's doing well and seems to be back in the swing of American life after only a week.

But I'm sure he's got a lot on his mind. A letter he wrote to Vital Source editor Jon Ann Willow while overseas asks the hard questions and clearly those questions have gone unanswered.

I don't know where I'm going with this blog entry. I'm watching friends of mine in transition from being split apart by this war that more and more people are admitting they don't want. I'm watching a band that, while competent, isn't moving me. All I can do at this point is pour more wine into Mary Jo's (and my) glasses, and escape by taking in the gorgeous sunset, which did not go unnoticed by our kids whose playful laughs counter the deeper issues at hand. We put our helmets on and ride home.

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