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Eaux Claires narrator Michael Perry talks Prince, Chance the Rapper, Montaigne in new book

Jay Gabler/MPR
Jay Gabler/MPR

by Maia Jacobson

November 07, 2017

Midwest music enthusiasts may know him best as the poetic "narrator" of the Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival, but New York Times bestselling author Michael Perry has a new, and frankly quite funny, book out today.

Born out of the chance discovery of 16th century essayist Michel de Montaigne's work as Perry was doing some research on kidney stones, having recently passed one of "the Devil's own gobstoppers" himself, comes Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy. Perry introduces and unpacks Montaigne for the recreational reader through chapters that are sure to make you smile in their autobiographical honesty.

Here are 10 memorable quotes from Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy laced with sarcasm, self-deprecation at times, and even some sincere thoughts on the impact of Minnesota's beloved Purple One.

"I come from a family of eminently practical people, most of them equipped to perform fundamental functions along the lines of heavy machinery operation, projects involving electricity (on purpose), the design and production of roads and basements and cellphone cases and hay bales, military service, and so on. Whereas I peddle words and three-chord songs." (p. 4)

On the demolition derby at Winona's Great River Shakespeare Festival, 2013: "I was hoping my daughters might intuit that cultural consumption can be effected on a sliding scale, including down there where it's greasy. That both couplets and carburetors sing. They seemed to take the point, and I did not want to overdo it, so I turned the radio on and handed off to Justin Bieber." (p. 25)

"Now and then I perform a humorous monologue that includes a bit on 'non-spill' nozzles. There are always plenty of your NPR environmentally friendly types in the audience, and yet the wry laughter of recognition during the show and the comments in the signing line afterward (including surreptitious notes and whispered tips on how to obtain old-school fuel nozzles on the down-low) bolster my sentiments. When your NPR types are trafficking in black market nozzles, you know you got a problem." (p. 36)

"Based on a calculus including the number of days I work from home per annum, the hours I spend at my desk per day, and the amount of coffee I drink, I forgot to grab my glasses 1,590 times this year alone." (p. 67)

"If I think of Rickie Lee Jones, I am immediately reminded of  — but can't recall the name of — Joni Mitchell, and vice versa. Same with Kurt Russell and Jeff Bridges. And sometimes Kirk Douglas and Lloyd Bridges. It is as if each resides down an adjacent hallway, and once you visit one you can't visit the other." (p. 70)

"Generally by the time I'm within an hour or so of home I have managed to re-imagine myself as the Conquering Hero Returned (yes, that was me, cruising northbound in a Toyota van full of empty book boxes and Ozzy Osbourne's 'Mama I'm Comin' Home' rattling the defroster vents) and am therefore perplexed when I fail to find the family waiting at the mailbox, confetti cannons charged, ready to huzzah my homecoming." (134)

"But then came Prince. And my perception of masculinity, of beauty, of my own Midwest, expanded. Expanded a tad more than was sustainable, as it turned out, but expanded. Prince was not my single motivator, but he lit the incense." (p. 142)

"Long before Kardashians roamed the land, Montaigne fretted 'I hate our people, who can worse endure an ill-contrived robe than an ill-contrived mind.'" (p. 152)

"When I saw Prince on the big screen, I felt some draw, some desire to be more than I was. To make some incremental move in his direction. The initial steps were ludicrous but necessary: The leaden-footed white boy lip-syncing 'When Doves Cry' in the mirror (knowing full well he couldn't even polka in wafflestompers let alone pirouette on stilettos) was dancing — via cosmopolitan tension — toward Montaigne's most gracious, most definitive, aesthetic decree: the greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself." (p. 158)

"Recently I told someone I was learning a lot from Chance the Rapper. The person responded with a chuckle, but I was dead serious. I wasn't looking to co-opt the art of this twenty-three-year-old man, or dress like him, or try to fake up some hip appreciation of his oeuvre; rather, I was observing how he carried himself as a citizen, as a partner, as a father, and as a self-employed artist." (209)

For more coverage of books for music fans, follow The Current's Rock and Roll Book Club.

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.