Transcending Everydayness

by Bruce Carlson

In the course of events in my work as a concert presenter, it came my way to commission an artist to design a bandstand. The commission went to Siah Armajani, a celebrated public artist whose works can be found all over the world. Eventually, a scale model was built featuring a raised platform under a roof. The roof anchors a twelve-foot high aluminum harp with colored fiber optic strings. The bandstand is also festooned with twelve large cast bronze musical instruments as decoration, and several quotations from the philosophical works of Ludwig Wittgenstein grace the cornices. The entire structure is about forty-five feet wide and equally deep. The money has been raised, permits secured, and construction is to begin next summer.

Some people in town don’t like it–too modern. I tell them, “Art is once again ahead of the curve.” They, of course, tell me, “Take a hike.”

Raspberry Island Bandstand (artist's rendering)

What especially interests me is the location for this avant-garde bandstand. It is to be built on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul. I like the River, grew up on its banks, and for the last thirty-four years have lived in a house where I can watch its meandering flow–bisecting the country–from a window in my upstairs study.

Walker Percy has touched on the Mississippi in his observations on the idea of rotations, a concept that has intrigued me over the years. Percy picked up on this idea reading Kierkegaard who revealed rotations as border crossing experiences best described by examples.

Going Backwards on Water

Covenant Chris Craft University College hereby announces it will be slipping out of its upper level curriculum and reconstituting itself as a Junior College offeringthe useful A.A. degree. Instead of competing with larger educational super tankers, the school now sees itself as a smaller craft ... but a tub on its own bottom.

Covenant Chris Crafts: An equal opportunity operation

Rotations are adventures which break the grip of everydayness. First time experiences are usually rotations. They often come by accident and when they come, we cross the border to a new awareness. Why is it that sometimes the best way, even the only way, to make an authentic connection is by accident not by design? If you go on a vacation and someone tells you not to miss a certain restaurant and you plan to go to this restaurant, find it, and eat there, why is it that that meal is not as delightful as the one you have in a small restaurant you stumble on by chance?

Or, if you go to a museum to look at a famous picture, you can never see it as clearly as the time a museum skylight falls out of the ceiling and knocks you out. As you come to, you see the picture from your groggy vantage point on the floor and it is overwhelmingly illuminating in the freshest way.

In The Message in the Bottle, Percy discusses a triple rotation: When Huck Finn escapes from his old man’s shack, he is (1) on a raft on water (the mobile element), (2) adrift, the random on the mobile, and (3) on the Mississippi, which during his entire journey, flows between states; he is in neither Illinois nor Missouri but in the privileged zone between the two. How vivid Huck’s adventures are in these circumstances–the end of the book, when he is ashore, is a let down.

The new Raspberry Island Bandstand isn’t a rotation in itself. An island is fixed and this one is flanked on both sides by just one state, Minnesota. But suppose this case: a person unfamiliar with the Mississippi, in a Chris Craft which is out of gas and drifting, comes around a bend in the River at dusk (between day and night), notices the bandstand and sees and hears Yo-Yo Ma playing some unaccompanied Bach on his lovely Stradivarius cello. It’s not easy to set up. But the music would seem as if it came from the center of the universe.

Bruce Carlson (1940-2006) was the Executive Director of the Schubert Club and Pietisten Editor of Poetry and Navigation.

See all articles by Bruce Carlson