Not Dark Yet

David Wellstone and the promise of music

It's difficult to visit the offices of Wellstone Action! in St. Paul and not think about how the hush that permeates the place would mollify the Park The Bus clan. The famous green lawn signs, buttons, and bumper stickers are stacked in various corners of various rooms, and a few computer monitors glow with activity, but that's about it. And while it would be heartening to report that the office visibly bustles with activity--what with the ongoing activist training of Camp Wellstone and all--the fact is that it feels the way so many people have felt since last October: hung over.

David Wellstone looked that way a little bit last week, too. Paul and Sheila Wellstone's son sat in a small conference room at Wellstone Action!, drank a cup of coffee, and talked about his parents and sister, who were killed in what David refers to as, just once in a 30-minute interview, "the crash." Sit with him long enough and have those Wellstone eyes and that Wellstone grin blaze into you, watch him dab self-consciously at his sideburns, and you'll suddenly be sobered by the fact that you may have lost the only man you were ever truly proud to call "my senator," but this guy lost his father, mother, and sister.

So what do you do with that? First, you tell him how sorry you are and call it "terrible," because that is the only word for it, and he tells you that he appreciates it with a let's-not-go-there nod. Then you tell him the only thing you want to talk about this morning is music, and you see him grin and his eyes drift up and you see him relax in his chair. Music. Yeah. Great. Let's talk about music.

Let's talk about how, as David was growing up, the Wellstone household was filled with every record by Simon and Garfunkel, and every one by Bob Dylan, who on last October 30 dedicated "The Times They Are A-Changin'" to "my man, who reached the end of the road up there in Eveleth." Let's talk about Dylan's "Masters of War," which David remembers being played off the family copy of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan when he was a kid, and about how his dad wanted his sons to have long, not short, hair, and about how he wanted them to listen to different kinds of music and challenge things if they didn't think they were right.

Let's talk about his mom and her favorite musician, Buddy Holly, and the time she visited the Buddy Holly museum in Clear Lake, Iowa. Let's talk about his dad and his favorites--Dylan, Jane Oliver, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand--and about the memory of Bonnie Raitt doing "Angel from Montgomery" at a memorial benefit last fall, which still gets to him.

Let's talk about what a son buys his parents for gifts: CDs by Otis Redding and Crosby, Stills, and Nash; the soundtrack to Rent; and the memories (sad, happy, both) that certain songs conjure. About his dad's two favorite songs, Jerry Lee Lewis's "Great Balls of Fire," and Tommy Roe's "Sheila," which he didn't sing to his wife, not in public anyway, because God knows he didn't have a great singing voice.

Let's talk about David's favorite music--blues, classical, hard rock, bluegrass, the Stones, Aerosmith, the Dead, Pink Floyd, depending on his mood. About the most recent concerts he saw--Nelly and the St. Lunatics at the Orpheum with his 12-year-old daughter, and Martin Zellar at O'Gara's--and about the next one he hopes to see, Simon and Garfunkel at the Xcel Center. And about Wellstone World Music Day on October 25, which will feature some of the brightest local music names and venues, as well as smaller, more personal commemorations. Let's let him talk:

"A lot of musicians were supportive of my dad, especially for his environmental stuff. They saw him as a real leader, somebody with integrity and courage, who was maybe a little different than [the] status quo politician, which is something that allowed them to connect with him. Because I don't see your typical musician as being someone who connects to politics as we think of it.

"My dad was an artist in his own right. He was an artist with respect to vision, and making people's lives better, and his dedication to those principles. Much like another artist that does something that touches people's lives, whether it's music or art or film, my dad did it with direct action. I think that's what people can relate to. It wasn't this fake 'blow with the wind' kind of stuff. It was 'Wow. The guy's feeling it from his heart, just like I'm feeling my tunes from my heart or I'm feeling my poetry or my writing.'

"And I do believe that that's the connection and the kindred spirit of a lot of these musicians and artists. You see that on this day [Wellstone World Music Day]. You see the kindred spirits. I mean, a lot of these people involved might not have been political animals. But what they may say is, 'There's something there. There's something there that I liked and believed in, so I'm going to do my best to honor that.'

"I'm excited that people are doing what they're doing that day. I'm very supportive of it. I'm touched. Myself, I don't know. It'll be a sad day. A sad day for everybody. I don't know that I'll be in a mood to join any of the gatherings, but I certainly find it touching. People always were asking, 'Are you going to do anything with Wellstone Action! (on October 25, the anniversary of the crash)?' And I was like, 'No. I don't think so.' And then all of a sudden this got going. And it's a wonderful thing, because I know that people wanted to have a way to have the memory and honor their memory, so it's like, wow. I'm pretty amazed.

"If it was a wonderful day for me, I'd go hit 'em all for 10 minutes just to see. But I don't know. I think it'll be good. I don't know what goes on when people die, I don't know what the deal is. But if my parents and sister could see, I think they'd be happy."

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