His People Were Weird and had Stars in their Beards: Gary Gygax R.I.P

[Ciaran Daly, reporting]

As some of you may have heard, Gary Gygax, the father of Dungeons & Dragons, lost his last Hit Point/failed his Saving Throw vs Death a few days ago at his home in Wisconsin. Geeks everywhere observed a moment of silence. I really wasn’t expecting to hear that much about it, but then bam!–there it was on the front page of CNN.com. Hell, the guy is getting more ink then William F. Buckley at this point, which got me thinking: Could the hobby myself and my troubled loner/nerd buddies used in high school to Save Us From Girls really have had that much of an impact?

I mean, you didn’t exactly brag about your weekly D&D session in mixed company back then. Hell, I’m not bragging about mine now (and for your information it’s GURPS we play, you twenty sided die chucking Philistines – a real nerd’s game). As the old saying goes, all the world’s lonely think their loneliness is unique. Most of us played the game in a Secret Pit of Shame (that’s the rents’ basement, for those of you watching at home). Getting an invite to that secret club was pretty hard. You couldn’t ask just any outcast – high school was harsh enough for most of us without risking the added ostracism of the dreaded “D&D Nerd” tag. And you never knew which parent or teacher might have got the loony idea that instead of drinking too much Mountain Dew and laughing at Andrew because his character was eaten by a Tyrannosaurus while he was in the bathroom (“Rough break Andy!” “You FUCKERS!”), you were in fact summoning Beelzebub using your dog-eared copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide and maybe a Ouija Board for backup.

It turns out a hell of a lot more people must have been doing this thing than we thought. Fast forward from Gygax’ invention of the game with co-author Dave Arneson in 1974, and Dungeons & Dragons and its offshoots are a multibillion dollar industry. Ok, the movies were unbelievably bad. Not even fun bad (rent-a-Brit gravitas of Jeremy Irons notwithstanding). And don’t get me started about the cartoon. But the LoTR movies were brilliant (Legolas’ extreme sports moments aside). If not for Gygax, I’d bet the farm they wouldn’t have happened. And tell the truth, ye geeks of America (nay, the world!) – if you had known the future would be a place where you could have your very own lovingly rendered 3d Level 70 Blood Elf Paladin capable of busting into the actual dance routine from Napoleon Dynamite at any moment – you would have cursed your own mothers for having you too soon (I may own a copy of World of Warcraft. Ok, it may be the Collector’s Edition – don’t look at me that way: it came with an art book, a soundtrack CD and a virtual pet baby netherdrake. Having read what I just wrote, I may have to shoot myself).

It’s a strange, beautiful new world we live in where a guy can have his career launched instead of buried for playing Aragorn. Saying the name “Aragorn” aloud when I was in high school was like walking down the hall with a sign that said “wedgie me, and hard”. Hobbits were girl repellant. Years later, the month Fellowship of the Ring came out on DVD, I watched it on a lucky first date with a smoldering redhead that ended with Viggo’s life-size cardboard cutout gazing sternly down upon the bed of sin. That’s a far cry from the mix of pride and dread I felt when one of my best friends signed my yearbook in Elvish (“Have thee a bitchin Summer, dude!”). Mark Hamill? He’s crying in his apartment right now over all this, don’t think he isn’t.

And before you start with your smug comments, more than a few indie rockers of my acquaintance know from a polyhedral die. I’ll out you fuckers in a second, don’t think I won’t. Quake in your skinny jeans, furtive hipster RPGers: your $50 haircuts and vinyl collections cannot hide you now. Of course, while the skinny jeans set might not always cop to it, the sound guys, bartenders and doormen of the world have no such misplaced scruples. I just finished playing a show at the Triple Rock with Great Lakes Myth Society–a band that name checks the ur-Jethro Tull, British band Fairport Convention, as an influence – and by the time we were done loading out I knew which server half the staff at the Triple Rock played WoW on (Horde side, before you ask: and don’t act surprised).

But really, if the outpouring of love for Gygax this week (I mean, uberhip indie web comic Achewood even got in on it) is an indication of anything, it’s that perhaps all this shame, faux or not, is misplaced. This crap is a huge part of popular culture now, and it’s a fun part of it. And it’s older than you think. How many times have you sung along to Robert Plant wailing “in the darkest depths of Mordor”? And was it ironic every time? If so, I’m a little sorry for you. You don’t think Marc Bolan is maybe tossing a polyhedron somewhere while he’s riding his white swan? Ok, maybe not, but if you can’t imagine it you’ve never had the universe reclining in your hair my friend. D&D and psych rock go together like warlocks and Flying Vs. So conquer your fear. Get together with your friends. Put on some Wolves in the Throne Room or Mastodon and roll up an imaginary sword-swinging barbarian (or barbarianette) and name him Crud. Or Thud. Or whatever. Let’s not be humanocentric, roll up a goblin. Bring a six pack – you’re old enough to drink and do dungeons at the same time.

You can even bring girls.

“Ciaran Daly…the Geraldo Rivera of the MPLS indie rock scene.”

Props to geoff for the video.

Clubhouse Jager Uber Alles?

A true crime post sent in by Stephenhero North Loop correspondent Ciaran Daly:

What’s a scene, exactly? What does it ask from you, and what do you owe it?

These thoughts have been bouncing around my head for the last few days since my last ill-fated visit to Transmission, the weekly 80s/British/indie themed night hosted by local DJ Jake Rudh at Clubhouse Jager on 10th & Washington. Long a favorite of local bands as a hangout night, Transmission landed at Jager about a year back after its last run at the Hexagon Bar. It’s more successful than ever in its new surroundings, regularly packing the house. It’s been a fortuitous match for both venue and DJ–yours truly has been going to Transmission on and off for over 5 years, and it’s morphed from a notoriously uneven night that was either dead or packed, to one that always has a respectable draw.

Clubhouse Jager is a new venue going through the usual growing pains. After several unsuccessful events nights, they recently fired general manager and founding partner Rickert Whyte and replaced him with former bartender and new GM Angie Heitz. By all appearances, Jager and Transmission is a marriage made in heaven. Rudh’s Transmission has long been one of the few local dj nights that supports local acts and regularly plays and promotes their new releases. (On that note, btw, check out Minnie Indie’s new night, Swyndle, Mondays at the Uptown Bar.) Local bands have repaid Jake’s loyalty, recently throwing a benefit at the Fine Line headlined by Tapes ‘n’ Tapes for his fiance Mercedes Gorden, who was badly hurt in the 35w bridge collapse. Turn up at Transmission on any given Wednesday over the last year, swing a stick, and you’d hit members of any number of the local bands on Transmission’s Myspace Page, whose “top friends” reads like a who’s who of local indie rock talent.

But show up over the last 6 months, and you might have witnessed members of those same bands getting attacked.

The aggressors in both instances were members of a tight-knit crew that often show up dressed identically, with very short or shaved hair. Sources identify them as former West Bank skinheads. The first incident took place in October of 2007, when the crew in question showed up at Transmission wearing black suits and red shirts. Dan Larsen of White Light Riot was talking with a woman who had appeared in the company of the half dozen or so men dressed and asked (not unreasonably, given their attire and grooming), “Are those guys Nazis or something?”

It earned him a beating.

One of the men charged, and struck him. When drummer Mark Schwantz ran outside to Jager’s busy enclosed back courtyard to aid his friend, he was hit by another of the men who was waiting by the door, Chris Miller. Rickert Whyte, GM at the time, recalls “I heard about it after the fact. I was for 86ing them, but Angie (current GM Angela Heitz) and Julius (Julius Jaegar de Roma, the owner) vouched for them. A few days later I was let go. No one there has returned my calls or e-mails since.”

He also mentioned that the next two staff members to leave or be forced out due to a sudden lack of hours were both Jewish. When I asked Schwantz about the night in question, he referred me to a member of local band So It Goes, who prefers to remain anonymous. This gentleman had a bizarre experience with owner Jaegar de Roma in July of that year. He introduced himself to the owner of the beautifully appointed new club, only to have the conversation immediately take a bizarre turn as he was interrogated at length on his ancestry. The young man replied he was Icelandic.

“That’s good Aryan stock,” Jaegar de Roma noted approvingly.

A joking reference to his blue eyes earned further such comments on his “race.” Troubled by this conversation, he decided never to return to the venue.Former GM Rickert Whyte corroborates the stories of his mercurial former boss’ “eccentricities.”

“I would sit in that bar while it opened and literally watch him drive people away,” Whyte said. “He would sit down at their table and start talking about the Holocaust and customers would leave and never come back. Eventually I just asked him not to come down to the bar because it was hurting business.”

Jake Nordin, sound man at The Guthrie, reports a similar conversation about politics with Jaeger De La Roma in which an errant comment had him asking “Julius, I have to ask you – do you think the Holocaust actually happened?” After some hemming and hawing, he recalled saying that it was a simple enough question, requiring only a yes or no answer. Nordin recalls hearing something which shocked him: “I think 40 or 50 thousand people died, and that’s terrible, but no I don’t think 6 million.”

He became another of Club Jager’s ex-patrons that night.

In February of 2008, Chris Miller–the backdoor man Jaegar de Roma vouched for in the first attack–would make his presence felt at Jager again. On February 6th, he was passing by a Transmission regular of 7+ years, Allan Kleckner, in the crowded bottleneck leading to Jager’s bathrooms. On several previous occasions, he had elbowed Kleckner, who is Jewish, hard in the back as he passed by. On the third occasion, in front of several witnesses, Kleckner stepped back, and Miller rounded on him, looming over him and glowering down at him with his face perhaps 6 inches away from Kleckner’s. Bizarrely, he asked Kleckner, the smaller man, what his problem was. It was at this point that I stepped between the two, asking Miller his name (he refused to give it), and to calm down, telling him that no one here was going to get in a fight.

Miller proved me wrong by punching me repeatedly in the face.

In the scuffle that ensued I came away with nothing more serious than a goose egg on the back of my skull when I fell and struck the floor. Miller outweighs me by at least 100 lbs, so either the big man can’t hit or I’m very lucky.

Whether the next person he attacks at Jager will be so lucky is anyone’s guess. The reaction of the staff I found particularly telling. Miller, whom multiple witnesses indicated was the aggressor, was allowed to stay and pay his tab. I was hustled out the back. Later, I learned that the cops arrived almost immediately and were told by the bar staff that they were not required. I would have been happy to give a statement, but it was too late–they were gone. I asked for my attacker’s name. It was refused. I asked that he be 86d. GM Angie Heitz told me, “No one will be 86d. No one will go to jail. That’s how I want it.” After multiple requests online indicating a name was needed to file a police report, I was given a name on February 10th, four days later.Jake Rudh contacted me about the incident the next day, expressing his concern. He said he would “give his 2 cents” to the management but that he “just plays the tunes” and could do nothing more. He also confirmed that the people in question had been given a warning by the bar, but would still be let back in, noting “they always bring $ down to the bar.”

What do I think about all of it? In the end, Jager’s a private establishment. They can act as they please. If they continue to let a violent element into their bar, it sends the clear message that those people are more important than their customers feeling safe. That should shake itself out pretty naturally. Jake has a fiancee in ongoing physical therapy with a ton of ongoing medical expenses, so I can understand his not wanting to rock the boat.

But thuggish people have a way of forcing you to make decisions.