Who: Dan Buettner and his hoodrat friends
What: ButterBall 2009 or is it BuettnerBall?
Where: Graves 601 Hotel
When: Saturday, November, 21, 2009
Why: A benefit for Open Arms of Minnesota
It’s been two years since I wrote about Dan Buettner’s blue zones, and our relationship is still stuck in a weird blue period of our very own, but despite that fact (or maybe only because Mpls.St.Paul Magazine is a media sponsor), I got a media pass to Buettner’s big party, The ButterBall, held at the fifth floor ballroom at the Graves.
The ButterBall is always a pretty good party, benefiting a great charity, Open Arms of Minnesota. Always draws a weird mix of hipsters and media types and both old and new Minneapolis money. And they always get a big time local legacy band—a few years ago it was The Suburbs and two years ago it was Soul Asylum. This year I was especially excited, because not only was The Hold Steady performing, but CJ had written that Mariel Hemingway was going to be there (evidently she’s a friend of Buettner). That’s bone fide literary royalty—her grandpa Ernest wrote one of President Obama’s favorite books, For Whom The Bell Tolls. And Mariel’s no slouch herself; as a teenaged actress in Manhattan, she had to pretend to be in love with an already-middle-aged Woody Allen.
As soon as I arrived, there she was: CJ. “Mariel blew us off again,” she said. Damn. I went back to the bar and asked the bartender to pour me a Dewars over ice. I took the drink and diluted the whiskey myself with some bottled water and sipped it while standing up and looking into the ballroom. My eyes narrowed as I felt its heat coat my insides and bloom at the bottom of my guts. And it was fine.
Sorry. Always wanted to write some bad Hemingway.
I ran into my friends Ben Wessner and Jaymi Holt. They’re a fine looking couple, one of the finest looking couples in Minneapolis. And Jaymi was excited to see The Hold Steady. “Her other favorite band is The National,” Ben told me, “and we got to hang out with them last time they were in town.”
Then I saw John Hermanson, half of the folk duo Storyhill. Storyhill started out at St. Olaf College with a simpler name, Chris and Johnny. And I told Hermanson I graduated from St. Olaf and actually used to have one of his tapes. “Those are actually collector’s items now,” he said. He said it like he couldn’t believe it himself.
I clinked glasses with Clint Roberts and his wife Lisa. Clint had left Olson Advertising to start his own branding company, One Simple Plan, last year and he told me it was doing pretty well. Looking across the room, I saw a man whose fortunes have been stumbling in the opposite direction—Dean Vlahos. I went over to Dean and introduced myself. He was just in the papers last week when he testified at the Tom Petters trial. He was friendly, and in fine enough spirits for a man who was betrayed by, as he put it in the Strib “his best friend”, but he didn’t want to talk about anything Petters on the record.
The City Pages EIC Kevin Hoffman was there with his wife Erin. We talked a little mixed martial arts even though I’m a boxing man, because he had just gotten back from a big fight in Chicago. He defended his sport and accused boxing of too much clenching. I laughed, because anybody who’s watched an MMA bout recognizes this as a ludicrous criticism. MMA wholly consists of two men on the mat, locked in a sweatier cinch than two male protagonists in the most erotic DH Lawrence story.
The downtown PR mogul Stacy Bee was there, looking like a widow in black, complete with hat and veil, insisting that her husband was still alive somewhere over by the bar. Rick Kupchella, now unfettered enough by his network duties to grow noticeable whiskers, talked to me about his new Internet venture, BringMeTheNews.com.
The Hold Steady went on. They rocked as hard as they always do, and there was a group of young men by the front of the stage that sang along to every lyric, but the other half of the party was stubbornly mingling in the other bar. Either they didn’t get Craig Finn’s adenoidal spoken word delivery or just didn’t care that Finn’s songs were about the very teenagers that they had left back at home in Edina, probably making their own Hold Steady songs somewhere out there at that very moment.
Finally, I got to talk to Buettner. He’s no longer with Cheryl Tiegs—who I suspect was the real reason he didn’t like the story that I wrote about him a couple years ago (the factcheckers got her age right). Dan is an interesting guy, and he’s working on another interesting project for National Geographic—this time “Happiness.” He had recently been in Copenhagen, the so-called “happiest place in Europe” (trust me—that title is as inflated as the Danish crown) and we talked about hygge, a Danish word meaning “cozy” that all Danes—even their gloomy patron existentialist philospher Kierkegaard—use as the highest compliment to an evening spent with loved ones. It’s an idea Minnesotans can relate to, a way to cope with the cold and with the dark. And I had to admit, even though we were in a cavernous downtown ballroom with an indie band from Brooklyn, there was some hygge at the party. But Dan didn’t want to engage in too much theory—he fashions himself an empiricist. “Going back to Aristotle, so many people have written about happiness,” he said, “So I wanted to do something different. I wanted to ground my research in science.”
I went back to watch the band, and before the last song, Craig Finn brought a surprise guest, Brother Ali (he had just played a concert across the street at First Ave), up on the stage to rap “Forrest Whitaker,” Ali’s song about being an obese albino rapper, and loving himself no matter what anybody else thinks. He rapped over a wicked Hold Steady mashup based on the keyboard sample of Ali’s song and the chords from their own “Little Hoodrat Friend.” And I thought about all our tribes, both inside the ballroom and out, hunkered down somewhere, just trying to find enough hygge to make it through the night.