I don’t really know what happened when “Dallas” premiered. Or “Eureka.” Or “Portlandia.” Or “Beverly Hills 90210.”
But I can tell you what I now know, which is this. When a TV show premiers and it has the same name as the place you live, as the new FX show “Fargo” did on Tuesday, it’s impossible not to feel something. (In the case of me and the hundreds of people who showed up for Tuesday’s premiere party at the Fargo Theatre, I would classify that feeling as “thrilling.”)
A lot of that has to do with our connection to a place. A sense of place is a precious-yet-evasive concept to pin down, and vitally important to the livelihood of neighborhoods, cities, and whole regions. The concepts we form around a place are significant, and in the case of where you live, that’s often part and parcel with our concept of “home.” Heavy stuff.
I think about this notion a lot and have been especially in the days and weeks in the run-up to the “Fargo” premiere. I love the interaction of a work of fiction with a place. “The Wire” could still be a great show, but it wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t set in Baltimore. The cloudy mood of Seattle was a perfect place to set “The Killing.” And, if anything is set in New York, of course, “New York” is always a character.
Which brings me to “Fargo.” What is the place we’re supposed to get a sense of, and how do both movie and, now, TV show interact with that sense of place?
Let’s start with the obvious: Fargo isn’t the place we’re talking about when we talk about “Fargo.” That place is essentially Bemidji and other locales in rural Minnesota and North Dakota, which means if Fargo doesn’t factor in geographically or if it is to stand in for a whole region, it must factor in with something more abstract. I think it relies on a few things, namely a few popular assumptions about our landscape, weather, and dominant social traits like politeness and stoicism.
But the big operator here is a sense of familiarity. Or rather, just enough familiarity, and it’s where the “Fargo” universe gently plays with the notion of place. Fargo isn’t a large city, but it’s large enough to register every now and then nationally. It’s kind of familiar, but it’s also an elusive place to much of the rest of the country and the world, as it might have been to the St. Louis Park-born Coen brothers. “I’m sure wonderful people live in Fargo,” someone in Baltimore or Portland or Dallas might say, “but I’m not quite sure I’d ever get there to find out. Because … I mean, it’s really cold there, right?”
You betcha, it is. And for that reason, and a few more, Fargo has this history of being a sort of amorphous and anomalous place, a la the Twin Peaks of “Twin Peaks.” Until 1996, very little narrative came out of here other than a faint idea of “desolation.” That’s a perfect place to set a murder mystery – unusual bad guy strolls into sleepy town with murder on his mind, nice guy gets pushed to his limits and acts completely out of character, earnest cops take up the case, all set against a vast expanse of blowing snow and humble houses and plaid shirts and, yes, our accents and vernacular. To borrow from Rumsfeld, “Fargo” presents the larger viewing audience with unknown knowns, a quirky and vaguely familiar set of them.
A lot has changed in both the pop culture landscape and the socio-economic landscape since the Coens first led audiences to “Fargo.” North Dakota is no longer a barren hinterland (it never really was) but a vigorous player in the nation’s energy economy. Fargo is no longer a city people have never heard of or visited – it regularly tops livability lists and is steadily growing, and growing more diverse. Businesses are starting up here, the downtown is hopping most nights of the week, new restaurants seem to pop up on a weekly basis, and owning a home in a good neighborhood with decent schools is well within reach of most. In other words, Fargo now has a very distinct and positive sense of place. It exhibits a palpable identity and a sterling reputation. Meanwhile, the Coen brothers’ “Fargo” universe is equally alive and well … or rather, twisted and bloody and alive and well. It’s now it’s own singular entity, still resolutely off-beat and now invigorated by a new Golden Age of Television that puts an emphasis on long-form, provocative storytelling using A-list talent.
I would love to say something of the city Fargo is “captured” in the show “Fargo,” but that isn’t the case. More importantly, it isn’t the point of “Fargo.” The point is that for some stories to be told, they can’t blast iconic imagery or postcard-ready skylines. They need something murkier, fuzzier, more gray than black-and-white. Somewhere where good folks live, gosh darn it, but ugly evil seethes underneath, and when it lashes out it’s as shocking as the sight of blood on snow.
Stories like that don’t need Fargo, the city. They need “Fargo,” the idea.
Perhaps that’s what made the “Fargo” premiere party so lively and fun. Everyone in the city Fargo is comfortably aware (as is the wider audience) that the fictional “Fargo” really has nothing to do with the city in which we live and work, and so we can acknowledge and enjoy the distinctions. We can even own it. We can wear bomber hats semi-ironically and throw in a few more “oh yahs” into conversation. And, meanwhile, we can enjoy the sensation of our city’s name on the lips of thousands and thousands of people across the country and the world … and of course, we’ll be polite and gracious about the whole gosh-darned thing, by golly.
After all, that’s just what ya do here.
Image: the scene from Broadway before the premiere of “Fargo” at the Fargo Theatre. Photo by the author.
“Clybourne Park” Theatre B Thursday – Saturday, April 17 – May 17, 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinee May 4 at 2 p.m. theatreb.org
“Clybourne Park” director Brad Delzer knew from the start that this was a perfect play for Theatre B.
“I had just finished reading it and, at our season selection meeting, I said ‘we have to put this in our season.’ It’s very funny and fiercely provocative. There are a lot of experiences we haven’t been able to talk about, and this is one of them,” Delzer says.
That experience is the play’s nuanced and often-funny treatment of race and community in the United States. Delzer calls “Clybourne Park” the “spiritual sequel” to the acclaimed 1959 Lorraine Hansberry play “A Raisin in the Sun,” in which a black family struggles with a move into a predominantly white neighborhood in Chicago. The events in the first act of “Clybourne Park” run parallel to “A Raisin in the Sun” and the second act takes place in 2009, where the neighborhood has transformed into a black neighborhood. A white family is poised to move into the neighborhood, mirroring the first act.
The play has quickly become renowned, Delzer says, thanks to its provocative subject matter and its sharp sense of humor. The laughs revolve around comedy of manners and some frank and shocking jokes about race lobbed from either side.
“The playwright manages to have these people who are racist, but in a way that they think they’re doing it for the greater good,” Delzer says. He adds that this is a good time for the Fargo area to have some discussion about these very topics.
“Our diversity level is increasing rapidly, and how are we going to address those questions? What can we learn from places that haven’t done it so well?”
Managing the terrain of the play hasn’t been the most difficult aspect to staging “Clybourne Park.” The play has eight cast members, a large cast size for the cozy Theatre B stage, and features some challenging set design thanks to a 50-year shift in time from the first to second acts. Delzer takes it all in stride and compliments the cast for bringing it to life.
“It’s been difficult but really rewarding. For us as a company, our rehearsals create a community that works well together. There’s a great acting company around this show, and all of us are challenging each other.”
Images, from top: (from l to r) Scott Horvik, Ibukun Awosika, and Pam Strait rehearse “Clybourne Park” at Theatre B; Strait and Belinda Ampofo; Jeremy Ellsworth and Horvik. All photos by Kensie Wallner, Kensie Wallner Photography.
Fargo area arts events for the week of April 17 – 23, 2014
Through the weekend
With the Easter weekend, many museums and other venues will have holiday hours. Be sure to call ahead to see if your destination is open. Happy egg hunting!
Theatre B opens the provocative comedy “Clybourne Park” (video at top) Thursday evening at 7:30 p.m. with additional shows Friday and Saturday at the same time. The Bruce Norris play, which won several awards including a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, uses humor to address issues of race and the meaning of community. The play runs weekends through May 17. Details and tickets: [Theatre B]
At the Fargo Theatre: “Grand Budapest Hotel” and, opening this weekend, “Cesar Chavez.” Click for showtimes: [Fargo Theatre]
Thursday, April 17
MSUM presents the Spring BFA Exhibition #2 with an opening reception from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Roland Dille Gallery. [MSUM]
Cyclist and activist Ana Rusness-Peterson will celebrate World Book Night with an interactive bike trip through Fargo and Moorhead, giving away books at each stop. To participate or cheer on Ana (and literacy!) visit her Facebook event. The tour starts at 6 p.m. [Ana Rusness-Peterson/Facebook]
CD release party for “Love, Loss, and Regret” by the Pat Lenertz Band Thursday, April 17, 10 p.m. The Aquarium Pat Lenertz Band/Facebook
This Thursday, the Pat Lenertz Band is hosting a CD release show for their first album, “Love, Loss, and Regret” at the Aquarium. The full band features a talented range of area musicians including Lenertz on guitar and vocals, Trevor Pearson on drums, Casey Conners on guitar, Mike Jenkins on keyboards, and Travis Atwood on bass.
Lenertz is practially a household name in the Fargo music scene, thanks to his involvement with bands Bad Mojo, The Legionnaires, The Quarterly, and Heavy is the Head.
“It was great to include all the musicians on it from the downtown scene,” Lenertz said. “Fargo is unique in that we facilitate unity and growth in our musicians and I love that. I want our downtown scene to shine.”
The Pat Lenertz Band does indeed shine an the ambitious new album that took a year to record at Legionnaire bassist Ken Davis’ Positively Tenth Street Studio.
“It’s like a club, hanging out with your buddies and making music,” Lenertz said. “The process just fit that. It took a while. We have such a good objective relationship where we won’t hurt each other’s feelings and it totally facilitates creativity. We have a history as we had recorded two albums with the Legionnaires before. From day one, I didn’t want to put any time limits on [the album]. I knew it would take as long as it was going to take and it’s a reflective album.”
“Love, Loss, and Regret” is a concept album that reflects changing seasons of moods. The album is woven with lush and eclectic arrangements that including diverse instruments such as cello and mandolin. Lenertz said that cello “thickens a song” and is the closest instrument to the human voice. The album is “not linear, it is fluid and dynamic reflecting emotions from heartache to love.”
“It tells a story,” Lenertz said.
It’s both a rare and a magical quality when musicians can skillfully translate raw, unadulterated pain into a gorgeous, nostalgic tribute. When listening to the song, “Farewell to You,” the listener viscerally feels Lenertz’ pain of losing his best friend and former bandmate Cody Conner two years ago.
Lenertz’ soulful baritone warbles with remorse: “I can sing with the best of them / but now I can’t make a sound / I feel like I’ve let you down.” A stripped down melodic guitar solo accompanies Lenertz and the song ends on a wistful and nostalgic note: “Farewell to you my old friend / I’m sure I’ll see you again / Never got what you wanted from this life and in the end / Farewell you to you my old friend.”
Along with their music, Lenertz and area musicians have paid tribute to the nonprofit Cody’s Legacy Foundation, which donates music scholarships and instruments in Cody’s memory. The foundation raised $15,000 for its first benefit. While Lenertz was influenced by tragedy and grief, “Love, Loss, and Regret,” primarily features relatable, melodic songs inspired from a variety of experiences.
“I don’t ever question the muse. It’s like a light switch. It comes from a higher place and I am like a vessel sometimes,” he said. “Oddly enough, most new songs were written while taking a class. I probably wrote ten songs in only a few weeks.”
Once inspired, Lenertz then brings ideas to bandmates.
“I’ve learned to have a unified front in song writing. The song should have a skeleton, at least have a verse and a chorus. It’s like taffy, my bandmates all take a piece and pull.”
The song “Minnesota Rose” is a joyful romantic ode featuring the lyrics: “Like the petals of a flower / you are soft to the touch / I am head over heels / cuz’ love you so much / You are my Minnesota Rose.”
Meanwhile, the folksy “Shila” is an upbeat song with infectious riffs, a groovy solo, and rhythmic drum and bass sections. Instrumental songs feature an island flavor infused with roots rock.
Different “NPR-inspired bumper tracks” punctuate songs to literally give it the feel of switching a dial on a radio complete with crackles, hisses, humorous quips, applause, and voice overs. The bumper tracks provide a seamless transition from songs of varying mood and show the influence of its Americana roots. The Pat Lenertz Band skillfully pays tribute to their various influences which include classic bands and artists such as the Grateful Dead, Willie Nelson, John Prine, and Waylon Jennings to modern influences such as Band of Horses, Dawes, and Ween.
Above all, what makes The Pat Lenertz band stand out from others is their positivity, insight, and wisdom.
“It’s been a blessing to be able to play with my friends,” Lenertz said, “I want to keep recording with friends, keep making music, that’s it. That’s happiness to me. I’m going to keep playing until no one wants to hear it anymore.”
About the author: Tessa Torgeson is a social worker by day and aspiring writer, yogi, friend, bass player, and cat lady by night. Follow her via: blog, Twitter, or Facebook.
April is National Poetry Month, and we’re working on a series of YouTube poetry readings in celebration … and we want you to celebrate with us! It’s pretty simple: pick any poem from any poet, record yourself reading it, post that video to YouTube, then share it with us (and all of your friends, of course).
To kick things off, Kris is reading a poem by Heidi Czerwiec entitled “Bettie-Shaped Space” from her book “Self Portrait as Bettie Page,” released late last year at Barefoot Muse Press. Heidi is an assistant professor of English at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, where she lives with her husband and son.