Artists of the Year

Makers who mattered in 1995

Julie Caniglia is Associate Arts Editor of City Pages.

FRANK VIVIANO

by Greil Marcus

Random headlines and news items on an office wall: a 1990 report on Romanian elections, featuring the Barking Dog Party, running just above a small ad, "GORBACHEV T-SHIRT DESIGN CONTEST WIN $100 MAKE HISTORY"; "RUSSIAN RIGHTISTS GROUPS UNITE, DEMAND A CZAR" ("The Pamyat Union for Ethnically Proportional Representation called for the KGB intelligence agency to wage war on Jews and Freemasons"); a letter to the editor on the occasion of German reunification from one Joseph O. Hedgpeth of Carmichael, California ("The German nation is reborn! Long live the Fourth Reich! All Germans everywhere are touching the beach of Heaven.... And if fate decrees that there will be a return engagement on the home field, then what will be will be"); and, in the midst of this randomly assembled Europe-in-Flames gallery, the only item that was not pinned up as a joke, the item that turned the jokes sour: "A New Iron Fist Rises in Europe," by Frank Viviano.

It was 3 a.m. in Rome, March 28, 1994, and Viviano had just filed a report on the landslide victory of Italy's new rightist coalition: "I found myself walking the streets of a nightmare. The Via de Corso, Piazza Navona, Via Nazionale--the heart of the lovely, ancient city--had become the playground of black-shirted young men. Astride roaring motorcycles and packed into cars, they waved fascist banners, gave the open-palmed salute and chanted 'Duce!' 'Duce!' 'Duce!' into the Roman night." "Will the Italians once again spin the wheel for the rest of Europe?" Viviano asked. "There is such a thing as real fascism, and it is loose in the streets of Europe today, everywhere that the iron fist has recovered its appeal as the primary instrument of governance."

This is what we have learned to read as extremist or paranoid writing, but Viviano--48, from Detroit, a veteran of the Michigan Daily and the Pacific News Service, author of Dispatches from the Pacific Century--is a foreign correspondent for a major American daily (make that as Hitchcockian, as Joel McCrea-Herbert Marshall-George Sanders, as 1930s as you like). Viviano's work suggests Eric Ambler's pre-World War II Mr. Not-My-Fault-in-Fascist-Jeopardy thrillers (Viviano doesn't know them) as strongly as they do postwar Italian neo-realist cinema (The Bicycle Thief, Umberto D, and Open City are his favorites). Never injecting himself into a story, yet achieving a mood of suspense, of clandestinity in the public square (someone is asking the ordinary people in Viviano's stories the plain questions for which they have such terrible answers), Viviano gets flesh and blood into everyday newsprint. In his hands, words mean what they say. A fascist is a fascist, never a "neo-fascist"--and think how comfortingly that prefix softens the hardness of the real word, bleeds its real history right out of it. Events are at once tiny and huge: Suffering is the possession of an individual who is speaking and the common tongue of a civilization that is coming apart.

Whether writing about Mafia trials in Italy or women organizing for themselves in Russia, Viviano maps a Europe that is groundless--a place that offers nothing solid beneath one's feet, and a place that no longer has a rational explanation for itself, and may not want one. His stories come every week or so--more familiar, closer to home, each time--but only in the San Francisco Chronicle, which is not an insurmountable obstacle in the Twin Cities. You can look into Shinder's; you can log onto the Chronicle's Internet edition, The Gate, or call for this fine paper to find room for Viviano in its own pages. Atrocity reports you can get anywhere; history as it creeps down real streets, like tendrils in a Bodysnatchers movie, is something else.

Greil Marcus is a Bay Area writer whose most recent book is The Dustbin of History.

BILL KUBECZKO

by Will Hermes

The thing with Bill Kubeczko is this: He always seems to have a cold. His wife Mag will tell you that he does sleep from time to time--but it's clear the man who runs the Cedar Cultural Centre is on a mission. Nursing the sniffles at home simply checks in at around #32 on his list of priorities. As he assures his friends, he'll get around to it soon.

Since taking the helm of what was essentially a sinking ship in 1993, Kubeczko has transformed the Cedar from a mismanaged, moribund performance hall into an internationally recognized world music club. It hasn't been easy. First there was the massive debt inherited from the previous regime. Then the collapsed air-conditioning system. Then two office robberies in one week. Then a mortally wounded heating-oil tank. But through it all, he never lost sight of his priority: Bringing to the Twin Cities the best musicians from around the globe, and making them feel as comfortable as possible given his limited resources. In the past that's meant putting artists up at his home (some, like British guitar great John Renbourne, for days at a time), showing them the sights (like spending an afternoon with Mali's road-weary Ali Farka Toure at Minnehaha Falls), or dealing with disasters (driving to nearly every music shop in town when the musicians in Brazilian superstar Marisa Monte's band arrived to find their delicate traditional instruments destroyed in shipping). Even the little things--flowers onstage for Canada's McGarrigle Sisters, a favorite red wine for Irish folkies Altan--get done religiously, the idea being that the best concert experiences happen when everyone feels at home. Judging from this year's embarrassment of musical riches, it's been working.

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