His Izzyness

 Open the door, Homer
 I’ve heard it said before
 Open the door, Homer
 I’ve heard it said before
 But I ain’t gonna hear it said no more
— Bob Dylan, “Open The Door, Homer”

On the south side of town, there’s a small one-room office space that looks like a living room. It’s on the street level, in the corner of a big building, and with its big windows opening on two streets, it would be perfect for a small store. It’s not a store, though, it’s a folk music center. Or, rather, a Folklore Center. Or, even more accurately since we’re in Sweden, a Folklore Centrum.

It used to be called Folklore Center, way back in the 1950s when it was located in the Greenwich Village in New York, and when Bob Dylan used to hang out there. The founder, Izzy Young, produced Dylan’s first concert at the Carnegie Chapter Hall in New York in 1961 and when he moved to Sweden in the 1970s, he took the center with him and turned it into a centrum.

Basically, Izzy’s been a folk music legend for a good five decades, but up until last winter, I had never heard of him (and that says everything about me). Then I got a new colleague, Danny, who told me stories about Izzy – he helps Izzy run his small concerts in the small space – and we laughed, and then I forgot about Izzy and folk music again.

And then Bob Dylan got the Nobel Prize in literature.

img_5820

Continue reading

Inside the box

Jens Bergensten, the lead creative designer of the hit game Minecraft, doesn’t mind being boxed in sometimes. It’s a challenge that just keeps his creative juices flowing.

It’s been a whirlwind of a spring for Jens Bergensten. Not only has he seen the release of Cobalt, a game that took six years to develop, he also ­became a father for the first time.

And as lead creative designer of Minecraft, the award-winning, first-person sandbox video game, he is also kept busy ­overseeing its development.

It’s been less than six years since the lanky redhead started at Mojang, the game development company behind Mine­craft, which had been released about a year earlier. Bergensten was hired to work on Scrolls, another Mojang game. But over the Christmas holidays, when his colleagues left the office for vacation, ­Bergensten added a few things to Minecraft, such as a way to add color to wool blocks in the game.

Jeb

Continue reading

Straight to the heart

Emmylou Harris doesn’t care about labels too much. All she wants to do is sing, and tell stories with her songs. A lifetime of stories brought her the Polar Music Price in 2015.

You can’t tell stories without looking back, because without looking back, you can never tell which way the story goes. But in every story, if you do look back and look hard enough, you will find the point where it turns, and where the story begins.

For Emmylou Harris, that moment was when Chris Hillman saw her singing at a Washington, D.C. Coffeeshop, and suggested to former Byrds bandmate Gram Parsons that he check her out. Parsons was working on an album, and Hillman thought Harris would be an asset.

“When I got his call I didn’t know who he was. We met at the train station. I was playing Clyde’s that night. We worked up a few numbers between sets and sang them to this tiny crowd. Gram said it sounded good and he’d call me. I thought, ‘Oh, sure…’,” Harris has said.

She was on her way to the stars. The year was 1972.

emmylour-harris-600

Continue reading

Comedy masterclass

One of them compares the relationship to a perfect marriage. The other says they’ve never had a fight. Comedians Henrik Schyffert and Fredrik Lindström are in perfect sync.

The first thing you notice about Henrik Schyffert and Fredrik Lindström is that they are big. Big men, that is. Both are tall, and both have what people call “presence.” In short, you will not fail to notice them entering the room.

That’s a good thing when you’re an entertainer working a room, which is what the duo has done most recently, touring the past two years with their two-man show Ägd (“Owned”).

(Full disclosure: My son played a small part in the show between 2014 and 2016, and as his traveling companion I’ve seen the show dozens of times.)

Schyffert and Lindström take a bow with Son.

Continue reading

Duck så mycket

Sweden is a country where “lunch” is not just a meal but a concept of time. Meetings are booked either “before lunch” (11am) or “after lunch” (1pm) – except on Christmas Eve, when everything is different. First, not many people book meetings on Christmas Eve. Second, people may skip lunch altogether and rely on a heavy breakfast to carry them through to the dinner feast.

At Christmastime, Swedes use another concept of time. It’s used only once a year, and it’s not an actual time, either, but it does dictate the movements of an entire nation.

It’s called “Kalle Anka.” You may know it as Donald Duck.

dd

Continue reading

Eighty-eight miles per hour

Oh, we’re finally here. But, as all fans of Back to the Future know, the appropriate question is not “where the hell are we?”, it’s “when the hell are we?”

That’s what Marty McFly learns from inventor Emmett “Doc” Brown when Doc demonstrates his time machine for the first time in the 1985 film “Back to the Future”, and sends Einstein the dog one minute into the future in a DeLorean sports car.

By the time the sequel rolled around four years later, McFly had learned his lesson:

McFly: “Where are we? When are we?”
Doc: “We’re descending toward Hill Valley, California at 4:29 pm, on Wednesday, October 21, 2015.”

jlqmil0gv5r3xp2vexbw

Continue reading

Why be good

An old man in Indiana named Glenn was once asked at a church meeting about his religion. He replied, “When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad, that’s my religion.” Now, Glenn’s words of wisdom probably wouldn’t have spread much farther than Indiana if Abraham Lincoln hadn’t heard him speak and later repeated Glenn’s words to describe his own moral compass.

Altruism as a concept isn’t very old. The word itself didn’t exist until 1851 when the French philosopher Auguste Comte coined it based on the Latin word alteri, “others,” but the act of giving may go back to the beginning of time. “When I do good I feel good” is something most of us can relate to.

A good deed does make us feel better. A smile of thanks after you’ve helped a person lift a stroller off a train, or the gratitude in the eyes of a beggar when a few coins land on the bottom of their paper cup, will make you feel like a good person.

And most of us want to be good people. It’s the definition of “good” that varies.

1219933689_7993 Continue reading

Make ’em laugh

There’s a circus in town. The trucks and caravans rolled in late the night before, and by morning the big red tent has taken over the parking area of the town’s sports grounds. The entrance is set up, along with the popcorn stands, the candy store, and the ticket booth.

That same night, a bit before 7pm, the band starts to play. As soon as the audience find their seats inside the tent, the ushers close the doors, and with every beat the anticipation rises.

Then a tall man in shoes and pants that are several sizes too big stomps in with a big smile on his face, waving his hands like a conductor. The first laughs echo inside the tent – and the big man hasn’t done anything yet except show up.

clown3_850 Continue reading