Daydream Believers

Five skeptical spin doctors probe for local music's pulse -- a City Pages roundtable

And that for me is the essence of the Clash's greatness, over and beyond their music, why I fell in love with them, why it wasn't necessary to do any boring interviews with them about politics or the class system or any of that: Because here at last is a band that actually preaches something good, but practices it as well.

--Lester Bangs

Try to say that in 1998--about a band, hell, a whole genre--and you're left feeling kind of hypocritical. Don't believe it? OK, how many shows did you see last month? How many records in your collection were released in the past 12 months?

Don't worry, it's not your fault. Malaise is the craze in rock these days. Supposedly massive music trends have the staying power of Saturday night sitcoms. No one has as yet shown to replace Kurt Cobain. The winner of this year's City Pages New Music Poll sounds like the goddamn Rolling Stones.

But the faithful remain faithful. And so, we at CP recently gathered a gang of fans and musicians as passionate as any the Twin Cities have to offer. We kicked the proverbial corpse around for a while and came up with a heartbeat.

Actually, a few of 'em. Some were out of sync and a couple were in dire need of CPR. But hey, you gotta start somewhere. And if what follows reads like a whodunit, it's actually more of a "who's doing it," or better yet, "who's going to be doing it"--this year, next year, and well past the daunting year 00 that's just around the bend.

The Panel of the Faithful consisted of:

Jon Dolan, City Pages music editor;

Simon Peter Groebner, frequent CP contributor;

Lori Barbero, Babes In Toyland drummer and "House of Babes" DJ at the 400 Bar every Tuesday night;

Bill Sullivan, owner of the 400 Bar and former road manager for the Replacements and Soul Asylum;

Kim Randall, owner of No Alternative Records;

Slug, local rapper and member of the Rhyme Sayers hip-hop consortium;

Rod Smith, longtime local DJ, co-proprietor of the Electric Polar Bear Club, and possibly the owner of the most omnivorous pair of ears in town.

CITY PAGES:Let's start with the hipster complaint of the decade: When did you realize that "alternative music" was a meaningless term?

BILL SULLIVAN: It is?

CP: You don't think so?

SULLIVAN: It's not an empty term for me, because I use it all the time. "What kind of band do you guys have tonight?" "Oh, they're college alternative." Or, "Oh, they're alternative rock." I say that to people, and people say, "Oh, OK." If a metal band calls me up and says, "Can I have a gig?" I can say, "We only do alternative music." They say, "Oh, OK man, bummer," and I get to hang up. I can actually talk to some people and describe a band like, "They're a little more alt-country than Americana, but they're definitely not No Depression," and people will go, "OK. Cool!" I mean, we actually know what the hell we're talkin' about.

CP:So these are totally meaningful terms?

SULLIVAN: They mean a lot to me. But I know what you mean. In 1986, when I was a little punk, the band that I worked for [The Replacements] signed with a major label, and suddenly you were talking to people from "alternative marketing" instead of people from "rock marketing." You talk about empty terms--well, I say there you go, now that the major record label has a marketing department for it, it's basically over. They make fun of David Geffen on sitcoms at this point, you know?

ROD SMITH: In the post-Nevermind era it's a marketing strategy. In the period, say, from '91 to '94 or '95, what was marketed as "alternative" was so much like the mainstream. I think that's when it really became an empty category.

CP:So what was the difference between a pre-Nevermind post-punk band and a post-Nevermind alternative band?

SULLIVAN: The Replacements were definitely post-punk, 'cause they stole all of [The New York Dolls'] Johnny Thunder's songs for their first gig. And that's kind of the definition, right? "Who did you cop?" Alternative bands are the ones that listen to the Jam...

CP:Or the Replacements?

SULLIVAN: Or the Replacements. Alternative bands listen to the Replacements.

LORI BARBERO: I've always hated the word "alternative." I've always hated "alternative," "grunge." And--what's it called? "Girl rock"?

CP:Riot grrl?

BARBERO: Riot grrl! Oh, whatever! I hate it. Hate it!

SMITH: They were calling you "foxcore."

BARBERO: I remember when [Sonic Youth's] Thurston Moore did an interview in some magazine, and he did a list of his favorite "foxcore" or "superfox" bands. I remember reading that, and thinking it was kind of cool because it was Thurston. That actually didn't bother me as much as "riot grrl" or "grunge."

CP:Do you remember the first time those words were used to describe your band?

BARBERO: I remember the first time I ever saw grunge. It was our first show in Seattle, so it was probably about 1987. We were playing at the Central Tavern, and the posters for the show said, "Menstrual Grunge from Minneapolis." I was like, "Whoa!" It's one of the only posters that I really remember. Except for one time we played in Atlanta. We played the Masquerade and I remember the poster had "Three-Piece Female Band!" in huge letters and then "Babes In Toyland" was, like, one-third the size. And I thought, "That pisses me off!" If Hüsker Dü was playing, who's gonna go, "Three-Piece Male Band"?

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