Young Spuds in a Longhorn Daze

The late Seventies weren't exactly an era for what the Clash called "the career opportunity (the one that never knocks)." Unless you were making Minneapolis your hang. With inflation and unemployment under President and peanut farmer Jimmy Carter at an appalling high, the big small town germinated the impossibly named Sweet Potato monthly music publication in August of 1979, offering work for anybody hungry enough to work for peanut shells and free records.

The city already cradled a lot of flammable contents under pressure in its now historical music scene, with Sixties hi-fi bands from the Trashmen to the High Spirits (then all but forgotten) to the R&B likes of Willie Murphy and the Bumblebees; the Explodo Boys; Koerner, Ray & Glover; Lamont Cranston; Inside Straight; and more. Folkies such as Larry Long, Cowboy Pop Wagner, Peter Lang, and many others still held forth at the Coffeehouse Extempore on the West Bank and often were a resource for the formative days of Garrison's Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. There were a couple of token jazz joints, Yanni was still in town working with Chameleon, and a few noteworthy "world beat" bands like Shangoya made a living with their day jobs. Eventually the supremely influential indie label Twin/Tone Records and a south Minneapolis neighborhood record shop, Oarfolkjokeopus, would help spawn the next generation of rockers, including the Replacements, the Suburbs, Flamingo, Hüsker Dü, Soul Asylum, Jayhawks, Curtiss A, and countless others. All Big Hitters of Mid-America.

The paper, derived from a Maine version of the same and named after the ill-begotten ocarina, a screwball instrument Harpo Marx used to play, succeeded in spite of its agrarian moniker (imagine the time it took to explain to smarmy record-company publicists on the coasts who verbally wondered why a farm journal would want to interview the B-52's or Talking Heads). Still there it was, the old right-place, right-time Spud, targeted at lake-locked left-brainers in windchill land who were raised on downright bad local radio, remnants of a musician's fish-wrapper called Connie's Insider and that old local Maoist hippie rag A Hundred Flowers.

Sweet Potato first sat five floors up on Lake Street off Lyndale, in an old half-vacant office building where the janitor and his wife lived upstairs. There was a podiatrist on the first floor named Dr. Keister and no AC for the few new computers to breathe. By the time the paper had its weekly plans in mind, along with a move to the swanky Butler Building downtown, the Spud was already targeting its arch nemesis the Twin Cities Reader. Randy Anderson was editor (the guys called him "Pops"; one eventually fired calendar editor called him "fuck stick"). Dick Dahl, who dug monochromatic British angst bands whose lead members committed suicide, was news editor. It was a cheerful place, without roaches. Freelancers hauled in copy regularly. Since marketing had yet to take over every nanosecond of our lives, the stories and the writing really sold the rag. But the times readily inspired the writers.

It was an era when you could wax or rip about the Police or Elvis Costello and the Attractions in the Longhorn, where maybe 60 people would be at the gigs. Sam's, soon to be called First Avenue and the 7th Street Entry, where you could see Hüsker Dü flailing about in front of another 60 folks, was "transitioning" out of its heavy dance-club era, with manager Steve McClellan "officing" upstairs in the same vault he's in today. "Impactful," "cyber," and "phat" were not in the popular lexicon. But McClellan, whose facial hair had a future-tense body language all its own, truly kept up on world culture and with the help of Walker Art Center czar Chuck Helm booked the first hip-hop act into the club. Lipps Inc.'s "Funkytown"--written by that nice Jewish boy from Highland Park, Stephen Greenberg--broke like a tsunami right before the dawn of Prince. Even then, when it had crossed over onto every Billboard chart including the Hasidic Top 10, the downright bad local radio wouldn't play it because--like the many Prince records that followed--it sounded "too black."

The Suicide Commandos were the leaders of the punk pack back then, and played a scheduled Longhorn show the night Jim Jones and his commune went out with the Kool-Aid cut with poison. It didn't matter what the occasion; there was something essential to see and hear just about every night of the week for about eight years straight. Duffy's over in no man's land at 26th and 26th, got hot for a while, showcasing everybody from William Burroughs the beat writer to Wendy Williams the porn actress. It was a small room, but the Time used to gig there occasionally, unannounced, to balance all the unadvertised Prince shows downtown on the Avenue. The Upper Deck catered to new bands and lots of punks until there was a Final Conflict show that ended in a good riot with the cops.

Meanwhile, Pops got fired before the move downtown and tried futilely to organize the freelancers and editorial staff to strike. Dahl got his shortly thereafter, inside the Butler building. Tony Schmitz came in as editor, along with Patty Ohmans (an omen, fer sure) and Dahl's job was taken by a New York scribe named Philip Weiss, who today writes for lots of big-name pubs and believes Clinton has struck a Faustian deal with the devil.

But I digress. Local filmmaker Chuck Statler was making a name as a pioneer of early MTV clips, shooting the first Devo, Costello, and Graham Parker vids. With his British editor Dale Cooper, he threw some defining parties from the period in what then constituted part of the Warehouse District loft scene. One night in Cooper's loft space over the New French, Dylan and Costello came to such a bash, where there was a lot of New Orleans music playing loudly on the tape deck, Bob with his kids in tow and Elvis with his band, who ate all the food. Nobody could hear what the two yakked about, but somebody said they were just talking about the business, their managers, and who they knew in common.

Back then photographer Greg Helgeson--"the Helg"--zoomed just about anybody who was anybody (and piles of nobodies, too) locally or internationally. The other day he reminisced in awe about how much access there was back then: Helg and I interviewed U2 on their first U.S. tour for about three hours the night of their first Minneapolis gig at First Avenue, where earlier that day they wrote much of the album October during an extended sound check. Another three hours we spent in the St. Paul Radisson in the Ganja Honeymoon Suite talking through Rasta esoterica and the haze with Bob Marley, who truly glowed from the inside out.

It wasn't always that great: Joe from the band Flamingo was murdered one summer in what is still an unsolved local crime. And the janitor at the old Spud building, well, he got sliced up pretty bad with a big-ass knife by his old woman who went mad, and nobody felt good about that. But for sheer fun, those days prolonged our collective adolescence by at least six or seven years. One of the two best rock 'n' roll shows I ever saw was at the Longhorn, featuring David Johansen with a guest harp solo spot from Tony "Little Sun" Glover (who started writing for the paper early on). The other was at the State Theatre, back then just a dark tomb of a place. The fuckin' J. Geils Band, a group I always staked to be a second-level Beantown attraction, blew it apart. It's not good to have presumptions--not in rock 'n' roll, writing, or songwriting.

Some funny stuff went down in that period, too. One day Helg and I went over to the Fair Oaks (where all the imported Cabooze blues acts seemed to stay) to interview John Lee Hooker, the father of the boogie and one of the last truly great surviving blues masters. At three in the afternoon, John Lee was still in bed, with his lime-green polyester suit on, watching The Streets of San Francisco, hoping to catch a glimpse of his used-car lot in one of the scenes. Another time I dragged myself out of bed at 9:00 a.m. to do a phoner with Albert King cuz he was gonna play with Lamont Cranston in New York. After about fifteen minutes of a dangling conversation at both ends of the phone, I asked King another question and got complete silence for about five minutes. Eventually I heard snoring.

Replacements shows were always a must, mostly to see how drunk or brilliant they would be. Offstage they were nice enough guys; hell, one time in Westerberg's apartment over on Lyndale and 33rd, he was playing Ricky Nelson records through an entire chatty interview. A couple of years after I got my tail fired and was interviewing the band for the arch-nemesis Reader over a pitcher of beer at three in the afternoon, back before PW quit drinking and Slim Dunlap had replaced Bob Stinson in the group, we were talking about tragic rock and literary figures. Westerberg snapped silently when I asked if the 'Mats were such a band. He did an eloquent tribute to Bob after he died of substance abuse a few years ago.

Today it all seems like a million miles away and as close as the CDs on the shelf. Some of the writers from the paper have gone on to make names, some have stayed here true to the trade, still cranking it out for relatively low pay, free records, backstage passes, the sheer love of it, I guess. The rest are lost to time and their own lives. Writing at a local weekly paper is a tough thing to make a career out of--rock or pop music itself is finally not a careerist's game, unless you want to play casinos and endless reunion tours.

Sweet Potato and the early City Pages were just little dinky papers that thought large while covering the scene. But it was our scene, and we recorded it fairly well, often with hangovers, or car trouble, or devastating breakups with lovers, before life pulled us and the Spud in directions we never dreamed. As any good rock 'n' roll writer will tell you, the rock 'n' roll capital of America unexpectedly packs up its wares over a long weekend like a bad carpet sales company and moves on about every five years. One day it's Motown, the next day it's here, then Seattle. Then Pisgaugh. Sweet Potato survived against Mystic Lake odds to become the more respectable and weekly monopoly it is today. Its survival instincts rested largely on the writing talent it haphazardly assembled with their collective good, bad, and goofy habits, old typewriters, shitty wages, pushed deadlines, mild ambitions, and other personal peccadilloes, but all ultimately bent on covering a scene that was quickly slouching toward American Bandstand. Newspapers like this, when they are any good at all, get people talking while everyone else is "dialoguing." That sounds like a pretty good deal to me, even if the pay's not great and the paper's become just another piece of the multimedia matrix that saturates our lives while our consciousness asks that timeless Peggy Lee question, "Is that all there is?"

 

Martin Keller, the first staffer hired at Sweet Potato, is a Minneapolis-based writer and publicist.


 

Guitarist Bob Mould recalls the first encounter with Grant Hart and Greg Norton: "It was at the Ramones/Foreigner concert; we came late, our seats were up in the balcony so we knocked over about five security guards but we made it, right up front." In this state of reckless fervor and unbridled excitement the seeds for Hüsker Dü were planted.

Terry Katzman, November 26, 1980

 

On their first U.S. tour, the Stones played one or two shows on each coast plus a single date at Big Reggie's Danceland, Excelsior, Minnesota. A month later "Not Fade Away" would smash its way into the charts and the Rolling Stones would bring their running battle with the Beatles stateside. On this night, however, they were just another unknown band. A three-dollar cover charge further deterred the curious and only a few hundred spectators showed up. Those that did were hostile....Some of the local toughs sidled up to Keith Richards and taunted him until a boot in the mouth closed off the insults. The Stones didn't play long and left the stage spitting backwards at the audience.

Daniel Gabriel, July 22, 1981

 

No doubt it was due to nefarious corporate machinations, but the simple fact is that Dayton's in the Sixties was hip....Dayton's didn't stop at selling clothes. They also imported bands. Sometimes the bands played in the aisles on the second floor. More often they appeared in the eighth-floor auditorium....Two occasions in the auditorium deserve special mention. One was the appearance of the Yardbirds. Then at the height of their fame (summer of '66), London's finest opened their show with "Shapes of Things" and stomped their way through a rousing 40-minute show that culminated in a raving "Heart Full of Soul."...The other occasion was the appearance in the spring of 1967 of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band...the show remains historic as the first full-bore psychedelic light show to be seen in the Cities.

Daniel Gabriel, July 22, 1981

 

On a crisp fall evening in 1976, two dozen people crammed into rock writer Andy Schwartz's south Minneapolis apartment...to "figure out how to start a scene."...[T]he brainstorming session [included] members of the Suicide Commandos, Prodigy (the nucleus of which would later become Flamingo), Riff Raff (the nucleus of which would later become the Pistons), Spitfire, Rockola, writer Tim Holmes, Oarfolkjokeopus store clerk Peter Jesperson, and Curtiss A....

"It was kind of silly and cute, like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland," says Curtiss A.... "We each were assigned a different part of town to patrol; we were to go ask each different bar owner if we could play at his bar. And I guess it did make a difference. There finally were places to play."

Jim Walsh, December 20, 1989

 

City Pages: How'd you lose the Wednesday night Uptown gig? Curtiss A: I got fired. There was a guy up there I didn't like, who was rude to me, a creep who drinks there. And one night I yelled at him, the next night I spit all over him, the next night I choked him. And they threw me out every night and then they said, "Anything else and you're out of here." And the next week, [band member] Caleb informed me after we got done playing that he wouldn't be there the next week....And I just started to boil, it just made me mad....So I went and talked to my therapist--what I was going for this whole time was anger, I wasn't addicted to any drugs or anything, no matter what anybody said....I asked her: I said...I like him but I wanted to hit him and she said, "Why don't you try taking it out on an inanimate object?" So the next morning on the way to group I stopped in at the Uptown and I was having a cup of coffee and somebody came over and said something to me and it had something to do with Caleb, and I just got really mad and went up onstage and took a knife and stabbed his amp--took it out on an inanimate object. And that night I got a call from Dale and he said, "You're out of here."

Michael Welch, February 24, 1988

 

In the late Seventies, the two friends from grade school were first musically united when keyboardist Harris joined Flyte Tyme, a band led by bassist/vocalist Lewis. Before and after Harris joined, Flyte Tyme didn't play around that much because only a few clubs would book them even though they played all the popular black tunes of the day. Prince chroniclers have commented on how smart the kid was to not play around Minneapolis, instead taking his act straight to the major labels and make his shows special events. However, Prince and the acts that followed them...went right to the top because nobody at the bottom--local radio, press, and clubs--would give them the time of day....

That ignorance of what local black musicians were doing bothers Harris in retrospect, but at the time Prince set an example that inspired other acts. "[W]e said, 'That's the way to go.' So rather than pouring all your money that you'd make from gigs into band equipment, you'd put it into going into a studio and doing a demo tape. It just changed everybody's perspective."

Michael Welch, April 22, 1987

 

The Reverends Jim and Steve Peters, pastors at the Zion Christian Life Center in St. Paul, don't like all this talk about shades of gray....Looking at the evil discs the Peters Brothers could come up with only one conclusion: destroy them....They don't really burn the vinyl because to do so creates illegal toxic fumes; they just break them to tiny bits and burn the album covers.

Jim walks over to a box in his comfortable office...."This is the Stones' album, Some Girls. As you begin to look at Mick Jagger it's fairly obvious from the lifestyle of Mick and also from Saturday Night Live last year when he kissed Keith Richards on the lips during his performance, that he's a homosexual."

Dick Dahl, January 21, 1981

 

The Replacements are working in a Minneapolis venue that will remain unnamed. About four songs into their set, the owner informs them to either "turn down the volume or get off the stage." Paul surprises the owner by quickly initiating a rather pertinent financial discussion. The miffed owner promptly storms away. Paul replies by turning up his amp while the band launches into "Shut Up," replacing the title chorus with "fuck you" while the owner watches. After the song, the band leaves the stage, vowing never to return.

P.D. Larson, February 18, 1981

 

City Pages: Are you satisfied with most of the records you make?

Dylan: No, no, it's unbearable to hear some of them. I hear them, and I want to shut them off. The sound of my own voice...I can't get used to it, never have gotten used to it. Makes you wanna hide....

CP: Do you believe in reincarnation?

BD: Yeah--I do. I don't think there are any new souls on earth....Spirit talks to flesh--flesh talks to spirit. But you never know which is which. I'm not seeking the truth--nor was I ever. I was born knowing the truth. Everybody is. Trouble is they get it knocked out of them before they can walk.

Martin Keller (interviewer), July 13, 1983

 

Bob Dylan makes an easy target. He can't sing, he's ugly, and he's getting older every year. The lyrics for his last album would embarrass a well-read six-year-old. His live shows have become legendarily indecipherable. He hasn't made a uniformly solid album since Gerald Ford was president. Anybody who can wheeze can do a passable imitation of what's become of his singing voice. Worst of all, he just won't go away.

Burl Gilyard, August 26, 1992

 

Prince's ballads--the ones that last year made girls of all ages squeal with dee-light at his premiere concert--seem for now to be his forte.... What we have here is genius unfolding. Prince is still in the bud. Where else did you think a groove got started?

Frank Schwartz, December 1979

 

Clad only in matching zebra-striped vest and briefs, high-heeled boots, and thigh-high stockings, Prince prances about the Orpheum stage like a stripped-down version of Gene Simmons in a drag show....

At the time of the first interview, he shunned local radio....When asked to name musicians and songwriters whose work he admires, he came up with Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian, and then randomly listed names off the top of his head, like he was dialing a car radio in search of a sound. Nobody he mentioned was black.

Martin Keller, January 21, 1981

 

This brazen little genius from Minneapolis is such hot stuff that I, for one, have no doubt he'll take over the world. It's not too early to claim two honest-to-God musical history makers from Minnesota: Dylan and Prince.

Randy Anderson, March 18, 1981

 

Honoring Koerner, Ray & Glover after all these years as the Best Folk Group was a bit of collective inspiration on the part of the voters. And the sight of these three aging West Bankers clad in their street duds presenting the Best Musician Award to Prince was indeed a rare, incongruous moment. (Koerner wore his "joke hat," a Japanese head umbrella.) ...There His Royal Badness stood in a swashbuckling pose among his band members, sporting different-colored cowboy boots, wrap-around shades, a shirt open to the navel, and the familiar studded trench coat. "When will they give the award for the Best Ass?" Prince quipped as the crowd roared out with a standing oh.

Martian Colour, May 27, 1982

 

[N]obody has it that perfect, nobody wears purple shiny plastic Revolutionary War coats around the house. Nobody's baby cums all day and all night....That's just high school cool gone mad.

Look who comes to your birthday party. Microskirts and chains. Black white girls and white black girls....Chilly groovers with hostile intentions. Look-alikes who imitate you like hollow canyons. Clockwork purple. See, no matter how princely you be, we've been fed this entrée before. If you sell us this hero sandwich and we find out it's dead meat, we're gonna be mad. Or we're gonna be broken-hearted. Again. Maybe we'll kill you, and maybe we'll just shed you like yesterday's worn-out costume....Give it up and introduce yourself as a human instead of a divine ghost. Tell us why you are not home tonight blowing out candles.

Happy birthday, Prince. You're gonna need it. You've created yourself and you've created us in your own image, and you've got the hardest job in the world.

Greg Linder, June 13, 1984

 

Dylan pretty much invented the singer-songwriter genre...and that's still what he does best...when he observes he "put a stop" to the songs manufactured out of Tin Pan Alley, your first reaction is to write that off to ego, but when you think about it, it's just fact. After Dylan's pop success, a group or soloist that didn't write their own material didn't have much credibility.

Tony Glover, October 20, 1985

 

Sex is supposed to be the driving obsession at the heart of Prince's records, but it's really always been community: how to belong, how to overcome loneliness. Sex is just part of that equation. The prodigious urge to merge in his early music may have sounded like hedonism pure and simple--sometimes it was--but more often it was a matter of struggling to get outside one's own skin for a while.

Steve Perry, August 22, 1990

 

Prince's post-show party at Paisley Park, "A Lovesexy Affair," provided a beautiful example of the kind of dichotomy common to the music business. On one hand, the gala was a full-on, star-studded bash; a place to eat, drink, gawk, and rock. On the other hand, it was a bunch of people standing around in a parking lot in Chanhassen in the middle of the night. (The Muppets were using the sound stage, so the party was set up in tents.) I never saw Miles Davis, but people said he was there....Chaka Khan never made it to the stage either, but George Clinton and his lime-green wig did, which was a blast, and Mavis Staples took command when she strolled up. The guy I went with says he danced with Sheena Easton and while I didn't see that either I did see many women wearing their underwear as outerwear and lots of music business biggies getting really drunk and trying to pick them up.

Michael Welch, September 21, 1988

 

Clearly, Automatic for the People would make a more honest title for Crystal Ball, which marks the ultimate downsizing of Prince's community-building worldview--from the mythic, all-inclusive "Uptown" in 1980 ("White, black, Puerto Rican/Everybody just a-freakin'"), to the blockbusting First Ave., the impenetrable fortress of Paisley Park, the ill-fated Glam Slam and NPG stores, and now, finally, his sweatshop mail-order outlet and Web site peepshows.

Rob Nelson, March 18, 1998

 

May....The month in 1980 when a 19-year-old kid by the name of Paul Westerberg came into Oarfolk and dropped off a tape of his band for [Peter] Jesperson, who was DJing at the Longhorn Bar and managing Oarfolk...."He came back into the store a time or two and asked if I'd listened to it, and I said I hadn't gotten around to it yet....And one day when I was feeling particularly guilty, I took a pile of tapes back in the office with a boombox and was just putting them in one after the other while I was doing paperwork, and the 'Mats tape came on. 'Raised in the City' was the first song and...[f]or me it was as magical as anything'll ever get. I didn't even get through the first song before I stopped the tape and called three of my best buddies and said, 'Get down here right now. Either I'm nuts or this is the coolest thing.' I called Paul back and I go, 'Were you thinking of a single or an album?' And he goes, 'I was just trying to get a job opening for somebody at the Longhorn. Do you think this is worth recording?' And I was like, 'Absolutely.'"

Jim Walsh, July 14, 1993

 

They don't give a wee particle of fecal matter. They dismiss people and situations with profound concepts like "fuck," "goddamn," and "shut up."...They're the Replacements--they stand against the few, the stupid....The 18-song album represents the recorded debut of this young Twin Cities band...."Johnny's Gonna Die"...conjures up grim prophecies concerning ex-New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders, saying, "Johnny always takes more than he needs...Johnny always needs more than he's got." You get the sense, though, that the band members themselves are aware that they are not immune to their own tale of excess and that the song could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jimi Nervous, September 10, 1981

 

There are many useless schools of thought for what motivates the Replacements to commit all these supposed acts of self-defeat. The Class Clown Theory is self-explanatory. The Drunken Fuck-up Theory is now rooted in past history turned pop mythology.

Too melodramatic is The Freudian Theory...that the 'Mats want or need to fail and their self-sabotage is poetic.

"I can't explain what we do," Westerberg offers. "We find it difficult to suppress it if we feel like doing something."

Eric Lindbom, October 16, 1985

 

I am a fan of spectacle, not a music critic. So the following is a list of the coolest shows to look at in 1987....Soul Asylum: Doing Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" with Chris Osgood and Heather from Heathen. Flying bodies, thrashing guitars, and Pirner a demon puppet with gut strings. A true spectacle. I wanted a smoke when we were done.

Daniel Corrigan, December 28, 1987

 

While out to see former Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner, Westerberg was introduced to George Wendt (Norm on TV's Cheers), who was out back of the club blowing a j with "one of the Turtles, Flo or Eddie--whichever one has white hair." Upon sighting him, George exclaimed, "It's my idol, Westerberg." The duo went on to have a grand old time and Paul says George is an awful lot like Norm, a real regular guy. Apparently, Wendt had at least some 'Mats albums and asked if "Here Comes a Regular" was about him.

Michael Welch, September 21, 1988

 

Since peaking in 1984-85 with Let It Be and Tim, the group's albums have grown progressively weaker....Although Westerberg's affected adolescent worldview has grown wearisome--how many loner songs does a loner really need?--I'm convinced he could still get it across if it had the hooks, humor, and passion of his best material. But where he was once crazily self-assured yet reckless, he's now obsessively self-conscious and calculating....Which means we're stuck with a harder truth to swallow: That Westerberg has peaked as a songwriter. Harder still might be the realization that he didn't just throw his talent away, but that it threw him away.

Burl Gilyard, October 3, 1990

 

Last week it seemed that everyone had a Bob Stinson story to tell. Some of the snapshots were happier than others: Bob with his little boy. Bob with his guitar. Bob giving a big, no-holds-barred hug to a suffering friend. But in most of the stories, the suffering friend was Bob Stinson. Like the party he'd gone to back in 1991 or 1992. Bob was in the bathroom getting ready to shoot up. A friend of his had brought a camera that night, and the man started snapping pictures of Stinson cooking a fix, injecting himself, breaking off the tip of his rig. Oliver Stone's movie about the Doors had come out not long before, and the friend had a thought. "I said, 'Bob, do a Jim Morrison for me.' And he got in the bathtub and put his head way back and his arms up on the side of the bathtub and I snapped his picture."

It seemed like a funny idea at the time. Lots of people, friends and perhaps especially strangers, did that sort of thing all the time. Coax Bob to get fucked up, to do something stupid, to be a wild man. Buy him beers, give him drugs if you had them. It was the least a person could do for Bob Stinson From The Replacements. Sitting in a bar a couple of days after Stinson's funeral, the man who got Bob to play the Lizard King hung his head over his drink. "His fans killed him, man. I really think they did." For Bob Stinson, part of the peril was that his fans in many cases became his friends.

Joseph Hart, March 1, 1995

 

Like it or not, a reigning cultural ideal in this country says that you learn and grow old gracefully. However, if there's a secondary American dream besides that of prosperity and propriety, it's that of influencing culture and/or changing history--which Stinson did, subtly but surely.

Jim Meyer, March 1, 1995

 

A wall of sound quite unlike Spector's, quite unlike the Ramones'--but a sound that never has a top, is never hermetically sealed. In ten minutes, they will be halfway through a 16-song set....As many as five or six fans will be wrestling on the stage. Hüsker Dü, seemingly oblivious, plays on...."Are you the fastest band in the world?" I finally ask Mould. "Oh, I don't know.... Fastest in town, maybe. Probably in the Top 10 in the world."

Mike Hoeger, December 3, 1981

 

There are many people who dismiss the Hüskers as just another hardcore punk band. That perception is not only fallacious but downright irrelevant....As a matter of fact, the self-limiting, auto-destructive nature of the hardcore scene is the jumping-off point for many songs here. Blind devotion, conformity, passivity, hollow communication, living in the past, random violence, even apocalyptic dread are all attacked, then filtered through the Hüskers' unique musical meat grinder.

P.D. Larson, February 2, 1983

 

The Hüskers played a couple of 17-second outros for the [Today] show before they were actually given an extended spot for "Could You Be the One?" preceded by a short interview with Bryant Gumbel, who seemed to believe that the Hüskers should be frustrated with their "underground" status....Anyway, the band didn't even finish "Could You?" before a high-strung producer was giving them the cut-off signal. Mould stared the guy in the face and kept right on going.

Michael Welch, May 27, 1987

 

Over a beer some years ago, Bob Mould told me that if he wasn't playing in a band, he'd probably go crazy, get a gun, and start killing people....And while the years may have mellowed--and altered--Mould's warfare tactics, he's still of the mind that he'd be a psychopath if he never discovered his purging rock vehicle.

"Even more so these days," Mould says.

Jim Walsh, October 10, 1990

 

City Pages: All of your material makes an attempt at connecting with people on an emotional level. Why is that important to you, rather than just trying to be entertaining? I mean, it's a risk to expose yourself that way.

Dave Pirner: You gotta believe that your take on things is a little bit more together than other people's. Which is kind of an egomaniacal situation, but you want your music to represent who you are. And who you are is somebody who goes up and down on this weird scale of emotions every day. And some of these emotions, you go, "This makes me what I am." And some of the other emotions, you go, "This makes me like everybody else." And you try to take what's unique about yourself and fit it in to what seems tangible.

Jim Walsh (interviewer), September 9, 1992

 

Rap has its limitations; it doesn't adapt well to the stage--being essentially an amateur's street gig; it's repetitious as a broken record; and the unlimited macho posing can grind down even the most open-minded spirit. And methinks the subgenre has long since worn out its welcome.

R. Anderson, July 22, 1982

If Jimi Hendrix had ever hooked up with the Last Poets, they may have created something as crunchingly potent as what Run-D.M.C. have birthed on King of Rock.

David H. Adams, February 13, 1985

 

[N.W.A.'s Niggaz4Life] is an album of hate-filled songs that glorify gang rape and beating women to death, an album so nihilistic that its lyrics brag about making money from those topics. It's the most vile, rancid, festering pile of crap I've heard in my life. It is also one of the top-selling albums in America for the third week in a row.

Jim DeRogatis, July 3, 1991

 

An example of just what sets [Babes in Toyland] apart from the rest of the stir-and-serve college rock pack came a few Mondays ago in Loring Park....As the band took the stage, a tearful [Lori] Barbero went to the mic and dedicated the set to her father, who had passed away just days before; in attendance were several of her dad's co-workers. At the same time, Warner Bros. had provided...a half-dozen "Babes clones"--young blond women dressed in vintage white wedding Katwear--to wander the crowd and force-feed ambiance for a promotional video they were shooting.

As Babes the band kicked into the first song, Babes the clones rose up in front of the recently married [Kat] Bjelland like little bad seeds.... Then the crowd took over. Midway through that first song, the Babes faithful beat the crap out of the clones and forced them from the fray, then commenced stage-diving into the grass. They know, as does Fontanelle, that there's no substitute for reality.

Jim Walsh, August 19, 1992

 

"Bitch betta have my money," croons Compton's AMG, he being a moderate on the female issue. N.W.A.'s Eazy-E sings about torture and murder of "skeezers" and "hos." Bandmate Dr. Dre believes the hype: He was convicted of assaulting Dee Barnes, female host of BET's rap showcase, Pump It Up! Dre felt Barnes has dissed N.W.A. by playing up ex-member Ice Cube....But here's the rub: I enjoy and endorse the music of all these artists. Where does that put me on the sensitivity continuum? If you called my woman a bitch, I like to think you'd have some trouble on your hands. I honor my mother, treat my sisters well--but I listen to gangsta rap. How do I do it? You may as well ask me what I would have done had I witnessed Dr. Dre kicking Dee Barnes down a flight of stairs. I don't know.

Jae Bryson, October 14, 1992

 

But if All Eyez on Me is a triumph, it is a haunted one. Time and again, Tupac claims not to fear death so much as a reincarnation back into this life and this world. Yet the CD...sounds like nothing so much as a man who has died, and somehow lived both to tell the tale and to return to the jungle. All eyes are on him, creating a claustrophobic intensity that both stretches and hardens his tunes. Rarely has a rapper's self-absorption been so justified or so compelling.

Britt Robson, March 6, 1996

 

Everything about the Born in the U.S.A. phenomenon cried out for the anthemic gesture, and Springsteen obliged.

The burden of the performances on the current tour is different; it rests entirely on the music. It's rare to see a popular artist step back this way, to try and shed the trappings of identity without disavowing his past work or his audience....I'm not sure anyone has ever slipped the noose as masterfully as Springsteen is doing it, at least for this moment. What's saved him is his faith in the integrity of the music and his conviction that it can give up something more if one doesn't abandon that faith. And it does.

Steve Perry, October 9, 1996

 

Pop music critics can be a lot like those boys who give girls reputations and then won't go steady with them....Enter Madonna, This Year's Model. In less than a year, she's garnered more negative press than any other musical act of the Eighties. That's ironic, because aside from a couple of good singles, Madonna's music is simply thin and forgettable. The real issue is her persona. Never before has it been so easy for music writers to sound progressive about feminist issues--a genuine 1980s sore spot for predominantly male chroniclers of a predominantly male form. Just sneer at the Boy Toy reference, mention how tossed-off the music sounds, and you're in. But it's become too hip to hate her. You have to suspect it. And the more she emerges from her one-dimensional music video image--with movie roles and interviews--the less the charges of sexism seem to fit. Smart, outspoken, and deliberately outrageous ("Crucifixes are sexy because there's a naked man on them"), she makes herself impossible to ignore. The effect is anything but servile and toylike.

Steve Perry, April 24, 1985

 

Sub Pop's new big deals Nirvana don't just copy Soundgarden's destructo-throb--they worship it. As a result, Bleach, with the exception of a couple of tracks, is totally worthless.

John Dougan, March 21, 1990

 

When I first heard the single "Smells Like Teen Spirit," I was catapulted back to my first punk rock show; I remember how amazed I was to find people like me--self-conscious, alienated geeks--making a noise, a celebration out of their loneliness. In a room bulging with discontent, we saw ourselves in each other's faces, and all that shame just melted into a healing rage. This song is that huge--cleansing, drenching guitar chords cascading out of delicate, hoarsely melodic verses, drums flying everyplace as the band lunges into the chorus: "With the lights down/It's less dangerous/Here we are now/Entertain us." This isn't "The Kids Are Alright" or "Won't Get Fooled Again"--Nirvana knows the kids aren't and will. But "Teen Spirit" is brighter than, say, "Welcome to the Jungle" in its desperate trust.

Terri Sutton, October 9, 1991

 

[I]f, to quote Michael Stipe, everybody hurts, Cobain does so louder, more acutely, and more tunefully than the rest of us, making his anger catharsis-ready for a shockingly wide audience.... Of course, it stood to reason that the megastardom that followed would prove antithetical to what Cobain's art was all about, which was the exorcising of childhood demons and the preservation of a childlike state of innocence.

Will Hermes, December 8, 1993

 

Whether he liked it or not, Kurt Cobain changed my life. He changed yours too, whether you liked it or not. Anybody who goes around wanting to change lives through their music is full of shit; Kurt just did what he did and it changed people because he was not full of shit....I don't think any rock star has made so much of being who you are, despite the consequences, except John Lennon, and the same kind of reactions followed each of their deaths. The difference is that Lennon became a martyr. Cobain will never be one. He was so unsentimental that it's hard to imagine anybody who really loved and understood his work making him one.

Michaelangelo Matos, April 20, 1994

 

[Matt] Wilson's strategy for Burnt, White and Blue involves releasing his album independently across the Midwest, between Chicago and Kansas City, while shopping the release to labels on the coasts. This procedure, however well-planned, seems the rough equivalent of conducting a public ritual to lure the idiot rock gods from the 808 area code where they anoint themselves at poolside with ablutions of absinthe and Bain de Soleil whilst half-naked Ivy League interns fan them with back issues of Billboard.

"If I had to predict what would happen," Wilson says, "I would say that I'll probably end up selling 3,000 CDs. And then it will either trickle off from there, or that will cause something good to happen and maybe it will get picked up by someone...."

"Just having the record out is a wonderful thing for me," he adds over the phone a few days later, while noting that he's already ordered a second pressing of 1,000 copies. And though he doesn't recite the Serenity Prayer, Wilson suggests that measuring the success of the project based on the whims of the market is not a tenable position. "To remain a musician you have to maintain these blind spots, because it's too painful to know about what goes on. I'm genuflecting on the earth right now just to have the record done."

Michael Tortorello, April 22, 1998

 

The rise of electronica is allowing creative DJs to populate Entry and Mainroom bills [at First Avenue] like never before. The dance scene itself might be the strongest province of the new all-ages generation. Especially as rave and techno edge closer to large-scale acceptance, younger audiences may be developing more interest in turntables than in guitars--and, more important, be less interested in watching bands perform onstage that in performing themselves on the dance floor, and in watching each other....

Ultimately, there seem to be two ways to run a nightclub in Minneapolis: Have a small room geared to a more specific audience (like the Cedar, the Front, country/roots bar Lee's Liquor Lounge, and to some degree the 400), or have a large, multiplex venue that reaches out to a number of specialized (but not too specialized) audiences. The solution for a big, scene-defining venue like First Avenue comes down to figuring out, as Steve McClellan puts it, "what street-level music's going to rise to the clubs." If a venue can't afford to advertise with a radio station, McClellan reasons, it shouldn't be courting its format. And with "alternative" radio stations in an increasingly powerful position, the extent to which labels need a national network of clubs like First Avenue to market their alt-rock bands has subsided. All signs say that now is a transitional era, time for a new approach.

Simon Peter Groebner, August 20, 1997

 

The music was endless and everywhere. Bass-heavy ambient techno wafted over from one campsite, old-school breakbeats from another, hi-tech dub from yet another...the effect was that of a perpetual sonic Disneyland. Of course, the bands were tangential to the DJs, who took the main stage in force about 10:00 each night and dropped beats until 8:00 each morning....And listening to the mad roars each time Phantom stopped the record to allow a few beats worth of sonic freefall, it was impossible not to see that the music being made was easily as exciting, and vastly more revolutionary, than anything commonly called "rock."

Will Hermes, May 29, 1996

 

Inside the fly-by-night club, it's loud. And warm. And very dark. We stumble through bodies to a bit of wall space. My friend leans over to my ear: "The rule seems to be, techno, lights on, but jungle...." Deep bass notes move through us like weather fronts, amphetamine snare beats skipping and skattering before them. This is drum 'n' bass, dance music's newest offspring.

Terri Sutton, November 6, 1996

 

Let's get cynical. About two months ago, prior to any U.S.-chart success, the musical style of drum 'n' bass, or "jungle," made its way into every home in America via TV commercials. It worked best hawking cars, but I swear I heard its violently fast breakbeats and techno drones coursing through self-reflective shoe and soda ads as well. The cultural implications are--to steal a phrase from the drum 'n' bass vocab--Massive! It took Motown twenty years to make car ads; it took U.K. techstep six months.

Jon Dolan, November 26, 1997

 

Though she won't admit to it, you can tell right away: DJ Bionic wants to be massive. Massive you say? What is this, this massive?

Massive means Massive.

Massive means it's four a.m. and she's headlining a stadium-sized warehouse rave in some beautiful future she can barely conceive. Five-thousand red-eyed, baggy-pantsed, lysergically fueled flower puppies are going out of their flower-pickin' minds, popping plugs in their ears and leaping like lemmings against backstop-sized speakers so loud they beat the kids down like Chilean storm troopers.

Massive means they fly her to Germany.

Massive means the monitors actually work and she doesn't have to bring her own fucking power strip. It means that she gets more than ten lousy bucks a set, and it means no more ten-hour-a-day temp jobs--like the one she has right now at the corporate lair of the Doughboy. Massive means masses. Massive means love....

And it's going to happen. It might be ten months from now when Bionic gets her own club residency. It might be three years from now when she stockpiles enough savings to get the right equipment together, make her own tracks, and put out a record. Sure, it might not be this Sunday when the only junglist in the now-and-again bunglist DJ gaggle, the Groove Garden Collective, does her regular gig at the 400 Bar. But it is going to happen.

Jon Dolan, April 1, 1998

 

But assuming we weren't dyed-in-the-wool, funk-retardant racists, Jam Master Jay's drum break and that sweet little slice of Joe Perry guitar wankery suckered us into kinda digging rap. That was until the Beasties put a jammie upside our collective cookie-puss, shook our ruuuumpa, and forced us to truly dig rap. And we know what happened next: First it was Superfly, then Sly, then "That's the Joint," and on and on until we were all ganja-goofed interns in Dr. Lee Perry's beat pharmacy. And that's what a remix should do: recontextualize not just sounds or artists but entire musical (hell, social) histories.

Jon Dolan, August 5, 1998

 

The buzz around [Abstract] Pack is genuine, an old combination of underground pride and reluctant pop hopefulness that one would have thought died long ago in the uphill battle to break open the local scene. Not that the crew's debut CD isn't tailored to the streets: It's grounded in jazzy, stop-sign-rattling bass figures and the usual hardcore waterfall-of-lyrics. But the lush, fluid song structures of Bousta Set It (For the Record) contrast starkly with the dirty-snare minimalism and intricate thought balloons of rappers Atmosphere and Beyond, who each released remarkable underground breakouts last year on Rhyme Sayers Entertainment.

This latest album harnesses the Pack's long-cultivated live energy and distills it into hook after hook, sprinkling local references into the mix ("Shots Paul," "Minnesota nice") for flavor. "I think they're one of the first real rap groups ready to come out of Minnesota," says Smoke D, co-host of KMOJ's (89.9 FM) Smoke & Delite radio show, which has helped push the crew into regular rotation at the station. At the very least, Abstract Pack has dropped the local hip-hop album of the year.

Peter Scholtes, August 26, 1998

 

[L]ike few Minneapolis musicians of the decade, [Jake] Mandell has inspired not just a national, but an international buzz. In England, he's as big as, say, R.E.M. was in 1981, or the Jayhawks in 1989. There is an excited awareness that this 23-year-old devotee of Schoenberg, Mary Renault, and the Ken Steiglitz tech-manual A Digital Signal Processing Primer might attain something akin to hipster celebrity. Parallel Processes is probably the biggest thing the Upper Midwest electronic-music scene has produced since acid house stars Freddie Fresh and DJ ESP put the "Minneapolis sound" on the international dance map five years ago.

Jon Dolan, January 27, 1999

 

The meeting is adjourned, and one of the most productive, efficient groups of young businesspeople you'll ever meet wanders toward Thai's bedroom down the hall and soon launches into what becomes an hourlong wrestling match. The battle royal begins with the breaking of Thai's bed frame and continues into the living room. J.R. tackles Skye, gleefully yelling "the Afro versus the Italian 'fro!" in reference to Skye's puffed-out 'do. J.R. sends him into the wall, smashing a framed picture, and for a moment it seems like common sense and rug-burn have worn the combatants down. But after a short series of tests, Skye's shoulder seems in good enough shape to begin the match anew, and he lunges into action.

Finally, the fight comes to an end with Long Nguyen giving J.R. a three-minute sleeper hold. But the unwieldy celebration continues the next night. J.R., Ed, Long, and Thai have just finished DJing at the Foxfire Coffee Lounge, and the gang, about 14 strong, winds up at the Riverside Avenue Perkins. They ask their waiter to indulge them with a mountain of straws, which he provides, and J.R. and Jeff set about fashioning a five-foot-long überstraw. J.R. attempts--and fails--to drink water out of a glass placed two tables away, and when that grows tiresome, his wandering eye falls on the glass of a Werker who has made the mistake of leaving his drink unattended. Grinning, he pours an array of condiments into his friend's beverage, and, with reserved glee, remarks, as much to himself as any possible spectator: "Think about it. We throw $20,000 parties."

Michaelangelo Matos, March 3, 1999

 

Do rock "critics" dance? I mean, can you imagine Dave Marsh hip-hopping to that 2 Live Crew record he wrote had good beats? Have you seen Jon Bream shaking a leg at a Prince show? And that guy on MTV--Kurt Loder--can you imagine him with hips?

I worry about these things, because popular music and dancing runs deep and wide. And how can you say you've experienced, say, Public Enemy, if you didn't stop gawking--even for a moment--and start translating beats to feets?

Terri Sutton, September 5, 1990

 

What was it about this man in the casket that signified so much to so many? I take a last look. Laid out with his ukulele on his belly, a stuffed white Easter Bunny at his side, a children's rosary book in his hand, and a smiley-face tie around his neck, Tiny Tim looks smaller and somewhat more dapper than he did in real life; his final makeup job, in truth, is more flattering than his usual pancake....

[L]ike many kindred obsessives--most of them shut-ins and misfits of one type of another--he was a walking encyclopedia of certain periods in American pop-music history. But it wasn't his knowledge of Rudy Vallee that stunned folks at Lee's Liquor Lounge in September. It was his ability to step out of a black stretch limo with a paper shopping bag, waddle into a working-class bar, and sing and play ukulele off-key for the better part of an hour--and make it seem like so much royalty--that drove people crazy.

Will Hermes, December 11, 1996

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