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A dog's life

Metsa one-man show a personal journey

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 10/19/17

COOK—For 15 years of tumult in his personal and professional life, Paul Metsa says he had one constant— a dog named Blackie that ap-peared to have come with de-mons of its own.

Metsa recounts …

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A dog's life

Metsa one-man show a personal journey

Posted

COOK—For 15 years of tumult in his personal and professional life, Paul Metsa says he had one constant— a dog named Blackie that appeared to have come with demons of its own.

Metsa recounts tales of Blackie and much more in a new one-man show that he performed last Saturday night at the Comet Theater in Cook.

Metsa combines a few of his favorite songs with storytelling and a background slide show that reflects years of history, from his childhood spent on the Iron Range, to his more recent years as a well-known performing artist based in the Twin Cities. It was rough around the edges at times, but it was only the show’s second performance and Metsa acknowledged from the beginning that it’s a work in progress. “You have to play in Peoria before you hit the Big White Way,” he said.

Yet it was heartfelt throughout and an audience of about 50 people was enthusiastic to have Metsa back on the Comet stage. Metsa hit the highs, such as his successful and lucrative stint as musician in residence at Famous Dave’s, to the lows, such as the death of his father and former Virginia Mayor Elder Metsa. Along the way he was laid off from Famous Dave’s, wrote a successful book, Blue Guitar Highway, and met Amy, the current love of his life at a rally in support of union workers in Wisconsin.

For those who have followed Metsa’s career, the show offers a deeply personal glimpse at the man behind the music, blended into a guiding narrative about his improbable canine companion. Blackie, a mixed breed dog that Metsa obtained from Contented Critters in Makinen in 2002, had spent a full year living feral before ending up at the no-kill shelter, which Metsa likened to a kind of Noah’s Ark, a place of rescue and solace for down-on-their luck animals of all size and stripes. Yet even in such a place, Metsa said Blackie stood out as particularly troubled. He had a penchant for running, as if his feral nature was never quite soothed by the comforts of a real home. Metsa took Blackie’s escapades in stride, even as the vet bills mounted from Blackie’s various encounters with vehicles during his runabouts.

Yet Blackie eventually settled into domestic life, particularly as he came to spend more time at Amy’s farm, which gave him plenty of room to roam. Even then, however, Blackie had his moments, when something or some memory would cause him to bolt and Metsa would find him standing in the middle of a busy highway. “He just had to show me what he could do,” Metsa recalls.

It isn’t entirely clear how old Blackie was when he died on April 7 of this year. Metsa said Blackie “rescued” him in 2002, but the dog had lived at least a year on its own before that.

In his final year or two, Blackie showed his age, with health problems mounting, including what appeared to be a stroke at some point that restricted his movement. Toward the end, Blackie could barely stand and Metsa eventually made that painful call to the vet, setting the date for the big goodbye. Metsa slept beside Blackie those last few nights, comforting him and adjusting his position to reduce his pain. Dog lovers, who have experienced the loss of their own best and most loyal friend, would do well to bring a few hankies with them for this part of the show. Blackie is now at rest near a white pine at the Metsas’ Lake Vermilion lake cabin, complete with a sitting area and small grave marker.

Metsa connects with his fans, and the hour-and-a-half long performance will undoubtedly be popular with many. It will no doubt evolve over time— the rough edges and transitions smoothed out with repeated performance— but hopefully without losing some of the raw emotion that Metsa displayed.

In keeping with his abiding love for his late companion, Metsa took up a collection and donated proceeds from merchandise sales to Contented Critters. And he asked every dog owner to do him one favor. “When you get home, give your friend a little attention, and an extra treat in honor of Blackie.”

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