Jim Harrison (December 11, 1937 – March 26, 2016)
I was only in 7th or 8th grade when I saw my first bar fight. I was standing out front of the Double Front restaurant waiting for a takeout order with my friend Mark Cranston. It was a warm summer evening, so we were just hanging on the sidewalk, probably talking about soccer. Two men came tumbling out the open door of Al & Vic’s, a bar directly across the street. They were pummeling each other. One guy got the other guy down on the sidewalk and was banging his head against it. Then the roles reversed, and more mayhem ensued. Someone inside called the cops. At the sound of sirens, the two men stood up. By the time the cops arrived, the combatants were arm in arm, backslapping, and while we couldn’t hear the conversation, it was clear they were claiming something along the lines of, “Oh, no, officer, no problems here!”
That’s what I recalled when Scott McMillion, editor of Montana Quarterly, asked if I’d be interested in doing a piece for him about the Double Front, which has been in the same family now for three generations. I said hell yes I’m interested. The results are out in the latest issue of the magazine, just hitting shelves today. I wrote and photographed the piece. Besides leading me to go back and back and back eating more Double Front chicken than I have for three or four years combined, it was fun.
It’s my second appearance now in the magazine and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I love print, and I was a huge fan of this particular magazine before I ever started pitching magazine stories anywhere. It’s the best Montana has to offer. You should subscribe.
Oh, and for you trivia buffs, my author photo in the contributors section in the back was taken in the restroom of the textbooks department at the Bookstore at the University of Montana. It has these great white walls. During my time helping out there last summer I referred to it as “Studio C.”
The band Mastodon is coming to Missoula in a couple months. Whenever I encounter a friend or acquaintance from the local heavy rock scene, there is often a moment when they express enthusiasm over the show, and then display befuddlement when I reveal I have no interest in going. When asked why, I say it’s because I hate the band.
This is why I hate Mastodon:
It’s a limited edition “Thanksgiving” t-shirt design they put out in 2013. There was a kerfuffle over it. Of course the band claims they were making a cultural statement. I call bullshit. For a great breakdown of what played out and Mastodon’s response, you can read an excellent piece HERE.
At the time it came out, I had minor interest in the band. I loved their album art, and their noisy kind of prog/metal thing and heavy concept records were interesting at times, but I was on the fence. After this episode I unloaded my CDs and deleted the electronic versions of them and haven’t considered them since. I only think of two words, in fact, whenever they are brought to my attention.
Should I be over it? Nah. Soon as pussy hats aren’t necessary, soon as we don’t need a Black Lives Matter movement, soon as places like Standing Rock don’t have to worry about having their cultural values steamrolled, then I’ll think about getting over it. Until then, lines in the sand, people. Lines in the sand.
For several years now I’ve been in the practice of culling images from catalogs I get in the mail (Patagonia, REI, Filson, etc.) and occasional magazines. I pull them out, then I slip them into plastic page protectors that go into three ring binders that I save as inspiration for both artistic and lifestyle aspirations. It’s like an analog pinterest board of sorts that no one gets to see but ME. Anyway today, in an effort to rest my brain from Trump news for a couple hours, I decided to catch up on a stack that had built up over several months. This image, from a Filson catalog, I love. It reminds me of my favorite book by Denis Johnson, Train Dreams. I know most people point at Jesus’ Son or Tree of Smoke as his best, but I’ll take Train Dreams any day.
Aside from some airport and rental car shuttles, public transit (Chicago, San Francisco), and of course the Monorail in Seattle that connects the Seattle Center with downtown (it’s been years — is it even still there?), I’ve never traveled by train before. I want to. I did take a two hour round trip across Panama in 2011, but that doesn’t qualify either, though it was one of the more enjoyable outings we took on that vacation. No, I’m talking something more epic. Something coastal, or continent spanning. Go to bed in one country and wake up rattling across its neighbor’s countryside the next morning. That kind of thing. Days spent staring out the window, or reading, or writing, or sleeping. A private sleeping car for shiftless sleep-ins and spontaneous afternoon canoodlings. I’m certain I would love it.
I’ve been thinking of trains a lot lately. My friend Owen is not only a great writer but has also become quite a skilled photographer of trains, as seen via his Instagram feed, and the images fire my imagination. I spent a day listening to the hobo songs of Jimmy Rodgers, as performed by Merle Haggard. But what really grabbed me is a two poem series by the writer Robert Michael Pyle about Amtrak, from his collection Chinook & Chanterelle. The final stanza of the second poem is this:
Trips like this, I wish life
could be a little more like Amtrak: usually
on its rails all right, and often a little slower
than we thought we wanted to go.
Isn’t that wonderful?