The Ink Tank

The trusty, theoretically unopinionated American Heritage Dictionary defines opinion as: "A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof." Which works equally well as a high-falutin' description of bullshit. No doubt many City Pages readers would refer to the likes of Mike O'Neill, Steve Perry, and Terri Sutton as bullshit artists--some with scorn, others with admiration. But what these three (and most of the others who have written columns during the paper's first 20 years) have in common is a creative passion that quickened our minds and provoked debates both internal and external.

O'Neill's first-person rants, culled from his experience as a gadfly about town, were gleefully scabrous broadsides against the strictures of political correctness, conservative both in their preboomtown provincialism and their macho sense of entitlement (although many of his best columns, like his rumination on marriage and relationships, honestly acknowledged as much). A half-decade later, Sutton provided the antidote to the poison in O'Neill's pen. Also rigorously self-referential, Sutton didn't leave the sisterhood, or herself, unscathed, yet her feisty feminism continues to inform most everything she writes, resonating like a tuning fork as she challenges the overt and subtle gender assumptions that pervade the way we deal with each other.

During his tenure as editor, Steve Perry used his columns and editorials to set the tone he strove to instill throughout the paper: He questioned authority, something much easier said than done. A voracious reader, Perry marshaled a phalanx of facts--and a withering sarcasm--in polemics powered by an acute appreciation of the way political and economic systems operate. And where most alt weeklies toe a comfortably liberal line, he--to the consternation of many--reserved a special scorn for the duplicitous rhetoric of Democrats such as Bill Clinton and Sharon Sayles Belton. Once in a blue moon he'd even drop his guard and praise somebody (local civil rights matriarch Nellie Stone Johnson and AIDS writer Randy Shilts come to mind).

Last but not least, mention should be made of the writing of James Lileks, whose late-Eighties pieces for the paper were often purposefully harmless, deliberately apolitical, and hilarious. Like most good humor, they contained a nugget of truth--witness the first piece in this section, written some 11 years before Lileks started his present gig as a columnist for the Star Tribune.


For the Minneapolis Star and Tribune: We will continue to improve the Variety section until copy vanishes altogether. By July, the topic page will be nothing but the words Survey, Gardening, VCRs, etc., all in 96-point type. We will combine our advice columns into one feature for divorced, chemically dependent infants considering buying Nautilus equipment. Elsewhere, we will continue to ignore issues until we have an eight-part series on them; also, we will do an eight-part series on "Why No One Reads These Eight-Part Series."

James Lileks, January 8, 1986


Some things are as predictable as a roach in the ashtray of a Volkswagen bus. Hence the outcry of my article two weeks ago suggesting that foundations should curtail funding to the arts. The truth hurts, or as it is written in those religious tracts that are distributed by fundamentalists on the mall: "How Loud the Heathen Rage!"

I know more artists in Minnesota and Manhattan than most curators: The response from them was universally "Good boy, Mike," or "You didn't go far enough." These are dedicated artists who, like myself, will continue to create regardless of the money dispersed by Klingon foundation employees. Marks for free money have little to do with the art involved. The lucre is freely given to artists on the basis of their bedside manner or their ability to small talk with insufferable dilettantes.

Mike O'Neill, April 16, 1986


It happened on the West Bank a long time ago...years between 1969 and whenever the shooting stopped in the early Seventies....The upper-class hippies were way into the "New Left" and, if they were emancipated from Wayzata, the "Old Left." It was all the vogue to accuse each other of "elitism" during those days. Lots of People this and People that. People's Press and People's Pantry. The "che" in psychedelic stood for Che Guevara....Slogans like "Shoes to the Workers," "Smash the State," and "Rip the Ass of the Ruling Class" got way too much mileage until high school classmates got out of Vietnam and made the movement a little more practical. Free love was traded for basic tips on homemade demolitions.

What finally came down was, a lot of flower children who now work in advertising agencies learned some fine points in guerrilla warfare, and a lot of fairly harmless black labs named "Che" became social outcasts, pariahs when the revolutionaries got their first condo.

Mike O'Neill, August 13, 1986


When the invitation to my high school reunion came, I debated replying. You can't go home again, I thought. Especially when everyone there knows you failed gym....The reunion was held at the Doublewood Inn in Fargo, a motel that sounds like a high-fiber chewing gum....I was given a nametag. It read Jim Lileks. Jim. I realized there were three hundred people in the next room about to call me Jim. I hate Jim....

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