My favorite things Minnesota

by on September 7, 2013 at 1:15 am in History, Music, The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

I am here for but a short time, speaking at the university, but here is what comes to mind:

1. Folk singer: Is that what he is?  Bringing it All Back Home remains my favorite Dylan album, of many candidates.

2. Rock music: The Replacements were pretty awesome for a short while.  The Artist Formerly Known as Prince has an impressive body of work, with Sign of the Times as my favorite or maybe Dirty Mind, though when viewed as a whole I find the corpus of work rather numbing and even somewhat off-putting.  Bob Mould I like but do not love, the peaks are too low.

3. Jazz: The Bad Plus come to mind.

4. Writer: Must I go with F. Scott Fitzgerald?  I don’t like his work very much, so Ole Rolvaag is my choice.

5. Coen Brothers movie: Raising Arizona or Fargo.   The more serious ones strike me as too grim.

6. Director: George Roy Hill, how about A Little Romance?

7. Columnist: The underrated Thomas Friedman, who ought to be considered one of the world’s leading conservative columnists but is not.

8. Scientist: Norman Borlaug.  I hope you all know who he is by now.

9. Advice columnist: Ann Landers, most of the time she was right, much better and sharper than her sister Dear Abby, plus she coined better phrases.

What else? Garrison Keillor belongs somewhere, even though he isn’t funny.  Thorstein Veblen is often unreadable but on status competition, and its Darwinian roots, he was way ahead of his time.

Overall this is a very strong state, and on top of that I feel I am missing some significant contributors with this list.  Are there painters or sculptors of note from Minnesota?  I can’t think of any.

1 zbicyclist September 7, 2013 at 1:27 am

“Garrison Keillor belongs somewhere, even though he isn’t funny.”

He’s had better compliments.

2 Matt September 7, 2013 at 1:50 am

I like this list, but Re Coen Brothers: is “too grim” really a criticism? Surely films/novels/art can be of very high quality across the entire spectrum of moods. I suppose a list of “favorites” by definition has a large subjective element. By then why not phrase it as “are too grim for me,” rather than “strike me as too grim”? The latter implies that an aesthetic flaw has been identified. I’m sure a lot of people find both Fargo and Barton Fink to be too grim for their taste.

3 Thiago September 7, 2013 at 11:02 am

“Strike me as too grim” is “are too grim to me”, isn’t it? “They are too grim” would be a more absolute statement, wouldn’t it? It is not my native language, I am just asking.

4 dan1111 September 7, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Any list like this is opinion. It should be able to go without saying. By your logic, every single sentence in the post would have to start with “In my opinion…”

5 Thursday September 7, 2013 at 2:03 am

Novelists: Sinclair Lewis can be clunky, particularly with dialogue, but he can still be very good.
Poets: James Wright and John Berryman spent a lot of time there. Timothy Murphy is very good.

6 Therapsid September 7, 2013 at 3:06 am

Sinclair Lewis towers above everyone on this list except F. Scott Fitzgerald. Far more underrated than… good Lord, Thomas Friedman.

7 Fred September 7, 2013 at 11:05 am
8 Sunset Shazz September 7, 2013 at 2:05 am


I don’t understand why both you and Bill Gates have such admiration for a second-rate thinker and abysmal writer such as Friedman. I could think of a couple of dozen people who could better fulfill the Platonic ideal of Grey Lady columnist. You, for example. Or Bill Gates.

9 Live-Evil September 7, 2013 at 2:29 am

Wow, that backhanded-compliment (or was it a front-handed insult?) towards Prince kinda sucked.

10 TMC September 7, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I agree with your last three words.

11 J1 September 8, 2013 at 3:02 pm

I agree; I couldn’t stand him. Well, his “sound” anyway. Still, given his sales he’s obviously doing something right.

More importantly, the switch from “Prince” to the symbol: weirdness, or brilliant circumvention of intellectual property rights? I’m going with the latter. BTW, isn’t he calling himself Prince again?

12 Ben L September 7, 2013 at 3:35 am

Paul Manship, Leroy Neiman and Charles Schulz are Minnesotan artists of note. Maybe not to your taste though.

13 William September 7, 2013 at 10:41 am

A visitor knows Charles Schulz was from Minnesota when there are Snoopy statues all over downtown Minneapolis.

14 AR September 7, 2013 at 4:07 am

Its Econ Department!

15 Marian Kechlibar September 7, 2013 at 4:17 am

My most favourite Minnesotan is Bruce Schneier.

16 Alexander September 7, 2013 at 4:30 am

As a native of Minnesota, I feel I should chip in. In terms of literature, Tim O’Brien and Louise Erdich are probably the two most notable contemporary authors from MN. I don’t think any very famous artists were born in Minnesota, but Charles Biederman was a pretty interesting sculptor and Mary Abbott, who taught at UMN, was an underrated abstract expressionist (aside: lol, oxymoron). Favorite robber baron has to be James J. Hill.

17 Tyler Cowen September 7, 2013 at 7:35 am

Tim O’Brien, good pick, thanks.

18 bklyn14 September 7, 2013 at 5:12 am

Athletes count??

Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, Jack Morris, Kevin Mchale…Bronco Nagurski

19 prior_approval September 7, 2013 at 5:43 am

‘The underrated Thomas Friedman’

I’ll take the over – the very overrated, that is. And since when has anyone considered Friedman anything but conservative? ‘Pro-business conservative,’ in that left leaning Reagan style, admittedly.

This is another one of those moments where an exceedingly slight remark makes me realize that the U.S. continues to shift more to an extreme than imaginable a couple of decades ago. Much like anyone with any experience of other media sources merely within just the English speaking world would ever consider such war mongering papers as the Washington Post or NYT as ‘left wing media.’

20 TMC September 7, 2013 at 8:17 pm

“U.S. continues to shift more to an extreme” Correct. When one considers Friedman to be a conservative you know the nation has gone hard left.

21 dan1111 September 7, 2013 at 9:10 pm

I was a skeptic about Friedman, but I read some of his recent columns with Tyler’s endorsement in mind to see if I was missing something. I still don’t see it. I don’t think he is a conservative, and if he has great, interesting ideas, I have not read those columns. (If you think Friedman is a conservative, fine. He is certainly more conservative than you are. But you are definitely wrong in claiming that everyone thinks of him so.)

More generally, I am skeptical of the idea of a great opinion columnist whose genius goes unrecognized. That can happen in fields like art, obviously. But punditry is all about winning people over with the power of your ideas to actually influence the debate. An unrecognized columnist seems to be not a great columnist by definition.

22 Vanya September 9, 2013 at 9:10 am

Liberals tend to hate Friedman. Maybe that’s what Tyler means by “conservative.” I don’t find Friedman in any way conservative – he strikes me as a technological positivist, with a huge amount of faith in the good intentions of our elites. Conservatism, to me, means having more skepticism about human nature than Friedman or Tyler generally evince.

23 Charlie McDanger September 7, 2013 at 5:47 am

“The underrated Thomas Friedman”…sounds suspiciously like somebody overrating Thomas Friedman. Problem solved!

24 prior_approval September 7, 2013 at 6:24 am

Normally, Prof. Cowen is not that subtle. At least when talking about current colleagues, that is. After all, both Friedman and Prof. Cowen are NYT columnists. They even address much the same audience in much the same way, with much the same dedication to actual understanding of what they are writing about.

25 Andrew' September 7, 2013 at 6:52 am

Whoa Whoa Whoa. Keillor is funny. And why is sign o the times still so expensive. I have held off for over 20 years.

26 Walter Olson September 7, 2013 at 7:41 am

Ann Landers and Dear Abby were born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa. While Wikipedia suggests they may both have been in Minnesota for a while as young marrieds, Landers’ professional life was spent largely in Chicago.

27 Rick Cornish September 7, 2013 at 8:01 am

Wasn’t Norman Borlaug from Iowa?

28 dude September 7, 2013 at 10:26 am

Yep. But became a scientist at U of M.

29 Eric September 7, 2013 at 6:56 pm

I have heard estimates of up to a billion people who have his work to thank for not starving to death. Should have his own category of awesomeness!

30 Andrew' September 8, 2013 at 5:37 am

Existing because of increases in food is very different from starving to death from a decrease in food. One might wonder if it’s too soon to tell.

31 Fred September 7, 2013 at 8:38 am

Garrison Keillor maybe in the least favorite things Minnesota?

32 Artimus September 7, 2013 at 9:20 am

No Hüsker Dü? A great and influental band from the early ’80’s. Also Thomas Friedman is overated.

33 Artimus September 7, 2013 at 11:15 am

My bad. I didn’t notice the Bob Mould reference

34 Skip Intro September 7, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Bob and Prince both get very short shrift here.

35 Steve C. September 7, 2013 at 9:36 am

Other than his “brand”, what does Friedman conserve?

36 Dude September 7, 2013 at 10:28 am

A modern poet from Minnesota. Recently popular.

Also, no mention of Jesse “the body” Ventura?

37 Ryan T September 7, 2013 at 10:44 am

I think you mean Friedman’s taxi drivers are underrated columnists. I find him a very lazy writer.

AT just quoted from Margaret Wente, who is also a conservative writer. I think she has far more integrity and insight than Friedman. I first encountered her work in “The Globe and Mail,” though it’s been a few years since I’ve read the “Globe” regularly. Now that I think about it, I recall the “Globe” having stronger conservative columnists than most of its American counterparts. Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder.

38 Yancey Ward September 7, 2013 at 10:44 am

Wow, Tyler, the NYT columns that important to you?

39 Bill September 7, 2013 at 11:17 am

You can have a gay marriage on the weekend, relocate, and purchase the cheapest healthcare in the country through their exchange.

Per national newstories and their exchange website, average monthly healthcare premium (bronze plan) for a 25 year old in Twin Cities: $91; for a 40 year old: $115; and for a 60 year old: $272.

I predict you will see 60 year olds who have stayed on in their jobs to keep health benefits retire earlier, making more room for younger college grads. Per BLS, Minn unemployment rate 5.3% v. Wis rate of 7% and Texas rate of 6.5%.

40 Ted Craig September 7, 2013 at 11:22 am

3.2 percent for its next door neighbor, though.

41 Bill September 7, 2013 at 1:30 pm

What, North Dakota? Are you kidding. Want to work and live in a mobile home on the prairie or live in a hotel room so you can get up at 6am to work on a drill rig and get home at 630pm so you can get out to a bar? How long will that work last?

Or, were you talking about working on a farm?

42 Ted Craig September 7, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Well, I just thought it was a more relevant comparison. I mean, if you just want to two pick two states at random with worse unemployment rates, why not Illinois (9.2) and California (8.7)? How about Maryland (7.1), where you can also have a gay marriage?

43 Bill September 7, 2013 at 8:21 pm

You thought North Dakota was a “more relevant comparison”? Minnesota does very well with a highly educated workforce, good public education, and high taxes to pay for it.

Some of the other states you mentioned have high state taxes because they are constrained from raising property taxes to pay for local education, or have low state taxes and lower per pupil education spending and consequently a less educated workforce.

Is that what you’re trying to say?

44 Bill September 7, 2013 at 8:24 pm

As between Maryland at 7.1 and Texas at 6.5, which one has more interest in your bedroom? Which one wants to have you recite a prayer in school?

45 byomtov September 7, 2013 at 5:00 pm

The presence of oil in a state is evidence of its marvelous economic policies, I hear. At least that’s what Rick Perry says.

46 Bernard Guerrero September 9, 2013 at 3:09 pm

It’s not how big your oil reserves are, it’s what you do with them:

47 Brian September 7, 2013 at 11:32 am

Some notable Minnesotans I haven’t seen listed yet:
Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam was born in Minneapolis.
Assosicate Justice Harry Blackmun is from MN as well
Charles Lindbergh
Paul Manship, who sculpted Prometheus at Rockefeller Center in NYC is from Saint Paul…

Notable MN made businesses:
Hormel Foods (makers of Spam)
General Mills
Best Buy
The Mayo Clinic

48 horrified September 7, 2013 at 11:38 am

bob mould’s peaks were too low? the man changed how guitar was played/how guitars *sounded* for a broad swath of post-punk/alt-rock for the last 30 years. his songs are different than westerberg’s, but no less brilliant – to my taste, superior

49 rd September 7, 2013 at 11:46 am

a gaping hole in the great polymath’s knowledge? lebowski is now obviously best non-grim coen bros (and definitely obviously better than raising AZ)

50 CD September 7, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Ha! _A Serious Man_ is obviously the best of the non-grim Coens.

51 Brian Donohue September 7, 2013 at 11:56 am

Mitch Hedberg

52 Bjartur September 7, 2013 at 10:32 pm


53 JJ September 8, 2013 at 12:13 am


54 On Thomas September 7, 2013 at 12:05 pm

To sum up the comments, we’ve learned that you have a personal incentive to bullshit about the quality of Thomas Friedman. Thank god, for a minute there I was doubting your intellect!

55 nl7 September 7, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I don’t disagree that Thomas Friedman might be called conservative. But he offers incredibly trite observations and bland policy prescriptions, interspersed with self-congratulatory amazement of his own cosmopolitanism. Simply arguing ad nauseam that Chinese authoritarianism is awesome is not very original or helpful. We get it, Tom, you’ve been to China and you wish you could shoot people who disagree with you.

56 Mike September 7, 2013 at 12:11 pm

The LA Lakers. They should be on your list somewhere.

57 Neeraj Krishnan September 7, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Do read Taibbi on Friedman. (language warning)

58 freethinker September 7, 2013 at 12:37 pm

“Thorstein Veblen is often unreadable” Tyler, are you joking?

59 prior_approval September 7, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Well, considering just how effectively Veblen punctures so much of what is held in high regard here, Prof. Cowen likely hopes no one will read the three books freely available on the web – (and nope, no commission for that link).

60 Klaatu September 7, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Seconded. I find Veblen is often eminently readable.

61 Bradley Gardner September 7, 2013 at 12:38 pm

John Wesley Harding has turned into my favorite Bob Dylan album over the years.

Norman Bourlag died the same week as Patrick Swayze. I know this because my Facebook stream has very different content than my friends.

62 AMW September 7, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Garrison Keillor is one of those people that you either love or hate. I think the deciding factor is your connection to small-town America, or lack thereof. If you grew up in a small town or connected with people in a small town, you’ll get Keillor. If you didn’t, you won’t. My father grew up in a town of 300 and we took many trips out there when I was a kid. For my money, Keillor is one of the funniest men in the country.

63 Andrew' September 8, 2013 at 5:41 am

He’s not DOING standup comedy but runs a very meta-humorous comedy troupe. He’s doing exactly what he’s trying to do. That tells me nothing about whether he COULD do stand-up observational comedy. He’s a bit like the rural version of a Larry David.

64 Phil September 7, 2013 at 12:40 pm

From your Ann Landers link:

“No one has the right to destroy another person’s belief by demanding empirical evidence.”

65 freethinker September 7, 2013 at 12:41 pm

You forgot to mention your favorite restaurant in that place

66 Tyler Cowen September 7, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Coming Monday…! and if we ever needed proof that Thomas Friedman is underrated, this comment thread is it.

67 Russ Wood September 7, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Thomas Friedman … underrated? … conservative?

It never occurred to me to think of the statist, corporatist Friedman as conservative.

And I’m certain he’s not underrated. When I read him on things I know little about (especially foreign countries), I’m somewhat impressed. The more I know about the subject, the less impressed I am.

68 byomtov September 7, 2013 at 9:54 pm

So the fact that lots of people don’t like Friedman proves he’s underrated, as opposed to overrated by those who like him? Is this sort of like Keillor, where Tyler Cowen’s ex cathedra pronouncements cannot be questioned?

69 Artimus September 7, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Wow. Tyler Cowen is a troll on his own blog!

70 Careless September 8, 2013 at 4:38 pm


71 cthulhu September 7, 2013 at 12:45 pm

As far as the Coen brothers go, “Blood Simple” is still the best of their serious movies – suspenseful as hell and very dark humor (as befits an homage to James M. Cain). Plus Frances McDormand and the great character actor M. Emmet Walsh. “Miller’s Crossing” is right up there too; Gabriel Byrne and Albert Finney have terrific chemistry, plus the story is an homage to Dashiell Hammett. And somebody else pointed out that their best comedy is “The Big Lebowski”, which of course is their homage to Raymond Chandler…

Fully agree with all of the hate for Thomas Friedman expressed in the comments.

72 Vanya September 9, 2013 at 9:15 am

The line between “comedy” and “serious” in a Coen brothers film is pretty hazy. I would call “A Serious Man” a dark comedy. Some people apparently consider it “serious.” I don’t think they’ve made a “grim” movie since “Miller’s Crossing.” Even “No Country for Old Men” has a very dark comedic edge to it.

73 vetr September 7, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Not mentioned so far – Frances Gumm, Paul Bunyan, Laura Ingalls, and worth repeating – Snoopy and his pals

74 fasolamatt September 7, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Sculptor Paul Granlund. Musician/poet Dessa from Doomtree. Hope you make it to Kielbasa Fest over in Nordeast today while you’re here.

75 K Banaian September 7, 2013 at 1:57 pm

James Earle Fraser is certainly our most famous sculptor. Pretty much all our most famous artists draw comics.

Thanks for the Replacements. They were THE band when I moved here 30 years ago, and still worthy of listening. But for best columnist? James Lileks, hands down.

76 albert magnus September 7, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Lileks is also probably amongst the best internet curators anywhere.

77 Dave Backus @ NYU September 7, 2013 at 2:27 pm

The Jayhawks.

78 George September 7, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I think the replacements just got back together.

79 Mike September 7, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Whoopee John Wilfahrt and the band will play.

The guy recorded over 1000 songs.

I will admit you have to know a certain type of Minnesotan to know of Whoopee John. Probably not many of them in the econ department at the U.

80 Mike September 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Prince is given short shrift. A true polymath. 1999 and Purple Rain are excellent as well. The later albums are uneven but there are gems all over.

81 Lou the Jew September 7, 2013 at 7:26 pm

With all due respect everyone has left out the best and funniest writer from Minnesota (really from anywhere), Max Shulman.

For the best 10 minutes of your life read “Love is a Fallacy”.

82 byomtov September 7, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Great piece, Lou. Thanks.

In one of Shulman’s books, I think, he talks about a kid named Joe DiMaggio. Growing up, he really doesn’t enjoy playing baseball but because of his name he is constantly pressured into playing on school teams, in various amateur leagues, and so on. Eventually, by playing so much, he gets very good at baseball, and ends up a star centerfieder for the Yankees.

Who knew the guy was from Minnesota?

83 superflat September 7, 2013 at 10:14 pm

prince’s only real competition is likely stevie (perhaps paul). let’s see: dominated for a decade, wrote (hit) songs for everyone, incredible multi-instrumentalist, incredible live performer, had number 1 record, single, and movie all at same time, generated songs like “kiss” that almost no one can resist (wedding reception music, in a good way), and on and on. prince is like the beatles: you may not like him yourself, but that just means you’re missing something awesome that’s readily apparent to most. is there a better record than purple rain? (or 1999, for that matter?) funny thing is, prince is deeply conservative in a way, very johnny cougar, working at the 5 and 10, boss is mr. mcgee, stealing away in his dad’s car with some girl, worrying about god, etc. oh, and his b-sides (erotic city, always in my hair, etc.) are better than most great bands’ a-sides.

84 Andrew' September 8, 2013 at 5:45 am

I agree with all that, but then why does he have to pretend to jerk off at the Super Bowl.

85 M. Cole Chilton September 7, 2013 at 10:24 pm

Lifter Puller has a richer, more concrete fantasy world than Dylan ever got close to-

… and they are completely inspired by the states greatest literary figure, John Berryman.

86 Bjartur September 7, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Rock Music: Husker Du (don’t forget Grant Hart!)
TrippyNeoHippy Rock Music: Cloud Cult
Hip-Hop: Atmosphere
Culinary Development: Jucy Lucy/Juicy Lucy
Writer: Bill Holm (try “Coming Home Crazy” for a smart, funny, and well-written, Icelandic-Minnesotan take on China in the 80’s (despite the obvious politics))
Bank: Wells Fargo (thrived through the financial crisis due to Norwest/Midwestern-style conservative management, CEO is still a small-town Minnesota guy)
Architecture: the Sullivan Building in Owatonna (note the town of slightly more than 25,000 has a Frank Gehry building as it’s second most important building)
Geographic feature: the lakes
Medicine: the Mayo Clinic
Sports: the 1980 Gold Medal hockey team (subcategory coaches: Herb Brooks & Bud Grant)

87 Chakolate September 7, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Friedman might be more popular if he wasn’t locked behind the NYT paywall.

88 Careless September 8, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Or less.

89 Mike September 8, 2013 at 12:15 am

I hate to have to do all the heavy lifting here: The Andrews Sisters.

I’m also with everybody else wondering why you think Friedman is underrated. The guy is an awful writer. I’m with K Banaian on Lileks. I’ve been reading him since his days at the Minnesota Daily.

90 prior_approval September 8, 2013 at 6:26 am

‘The guy is an awful writer.’

Well, Friedman is a very distinctive writer, which is not exactly the same as awful. Here is a quote from Matt Taibbi –

‘Friedman came up with lines so hilarious you couldn’t make them up even if you were trying – and when you tried to actually picture the ‘illustrative’ figures of speech he offered to explain himself, what you often ended up with was pure physical comedy of the Buster Keaton/Three Stooges school, with whole nations and peoples slipping and falling on the misplaced banana peels of his literary endeavors.”‘

Friedman might be underrated by some – but as Taibbi notes, what Friedman does is hilariously beyond the reach of mortals. Making him a truly enjoyable writer, if one’s tastes run that way. Taibbi’s article can be read here –

Here is a taste of its style –

‘It’s not that he [Friedman] occasionally screws up, and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It’s that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it’s absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that’s guaranteed, every single time. He literally never misses.’

91 David N September 8, 2013 at 1:54 am

You forgot Maria Bamford.

92 Samsondale September 8, 2013 at 8:31 am

I think you have to include Herb Brooks in any list of things Minnesota, no?

93 Jeff September 8, 2013 at 9:40 am

I think you forgot the Mayo Clinic. I think you have to actually be a patient (or accompany one) to appreciate the scale of operations.

94 Rachmananon September 8, 2013 at 2:38 pm

One area of Minnesotan supremacy somehow overlooked so far is orchestral labor/management disputes. The lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra by its Board of Directors – now in its 11th month – leaves other recent orchestral labor conflicts looking wimpy, and I read somewhere that it already takes the longevity record for American orchestras (too lazy to look that up). Not even George Mitchell, who negotiated settlements in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, could get the board to agree to a framework for talks. Minnesota nice is not a problem for these guys.

95 Alex September 9, 2013 at 1:35 pm

What about our favorite former Greek PM? Mr. George Papandreou is from the Gopher State.

96 Barry "Nuke Syria NOW" Soetoro September 9, 2013 at 3:26 pm

This list is painfully obviously missing the Best wiffleball league in the nation

97 Michael September 9, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Low deserves a mention here. Amazing MN band who to a certain extent created their own genre of music. If there were a soundtrack to the north shore of Lake Superior in the winter, their music would be it.

98 Beth September 9, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Winona Ryder

99 Jon Moen September 9, 2013 at 9:12 pm

SPAM? And Peggy Lee.

100 Ben Lima September 10, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Leroy Neiman (painter), Duane Hanson (sculptor), and Minor White (photographer) were all from MN

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