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The good life in Minnesota.

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News item: Former Minnesota Gov. and U.S. Senator Wendell Anderson is dead at 81.

Wendell Anderson appeared on one of the great Time magazine covers of the Seventies — in my twisted estimation, anyway — and it is for that, not his political achievements, that I recall him.

I am not old enough to remember this cover in real time (no pun intended.) I found it quite by accident while researching a Hope Street post, and it’s stuck in my mind ever since.

(For copyright reasons, I won’t post an image here, but you can click here to see it in a separate window.)

What makes it memorable?

The lurid cherry hue of Anderson’s turtleneck. Doesn’t look like he’s run that thing through the wash more than once, and it certainly doesn’t look like he’s made a habit of wearing it in the great outdoors. (The shirt’s color does match the red of Time’s cover almost perfectly; I can’t imagine he planned that, but it was a fortunate accident.)

The complete absence of any fight, flop, jerk or twitch in Anderson’s fish. Either it’s stuffed, or the governor’s been holding that sumbitch proudly aloft for at least 90 minutes.

The presence of a mysterious Bob Dobbs-ish smoking man in the background. Not only is he enjoying his pipe in close proximity to the boat’s gas tank, but he’s dressed in a way that contradicts the governor (baseball cap instead of bareheaded; short sleeves instead of flannel and turtleneck.)
He raises more questions than he answers; I wasn’t even 100 percent sure at first glance that he and the Gov were captured by the same click of the camera lens at the same time.

Anderson landed on that week’s cover thanks to some sort of economic upturn in his state. But I think the real impetus behind his appearance — or at least his appearance in an outdoor setting — was the perpetuation of an ongoing American myth:
When things are going sideways in New York, D.C. and L.A., as they were in 1973, people there like to imagine there are still places in flyover country where upright Americans are wrestling fish out of pristine lakes and drinking grape Nehi from the bottle on the front porches of general stores.
(Not at the same time.)
I don’t know if that myth still has any purchase today; maybe nowadays we figure meth and the Internet have dragged small-town America into the same cesspool as everywhere else.
But I can imagine a magazine editor in Richard Nixon’s America touting “The Good Life In Minnesota” as a tonic for the times — a cheering, restorative, all-American break between two Watergate covers — while muttering to himself, “Nice to know someone’s leading the good life.”

For all the posey corn inherent in this photo, Anderson’s expression has a certain degree of charm; he seems genuinely happy.
(Of course, if I knew I were being photographed for a Time magazine cover story that was going to boom my state’s success to millions of Watergate-sodden readers, I’d be pretty jazzed too.)

Wendell Anderson, in this summery moment in 1973, might not quite have the whole world on a string; but he has more than just a prop fish.

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