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We Regret Nothing

Dear Pete A. from South St. Paul,

Got your letter to the editor. It was passed around the City Pages offices the day after the election. It had some real knee-slappers. Especially the first line, "Yep, its official. Kerry is a looser." And the last, "Anyway, that's one less moron on the planet to worry about. Thanks for your non-slanted view of the election, City Pages. See you around First Ave...oh wait...no you won't!"

Funny. Funnier still is what happened that night of November 3. I went to the Cedar Cultural Center to see Jonathan Richman and Robyn Hitchcock, two old mystics who had been scheduled to play First Avenue, which, you're right, was closed and left for dead by its businessman owner the day before. But bars and nightclubs aren't made of bricks and money, they're made of people, drinks, music. Sort of like the Cheers reruns you hole up with every night.

The Cedar is an old building. It smells of history, hops, grains, cookies, and Indian spices from the tandoori dishes that folks serve up in the lobby with dollops of punk-hippie love. When I arrived, the first person I saw was Louie Dunlap. He looks like his mom, Chrissie, who booked bands at First Avenue, and talks machine-gun fast like his dad, the legendary guitarist Bob "Slim" Dunlap. Dunlap the Elder, who was also a janitor at First Avenue, was last seen tearing it up at the Turf Club on Wellstone World Music Day, a modest little gig named for the "looser" whom Bruce Springsteen quoted from a windswept stage in Cleveland the night before the election.

I've got pictures from that night at the Turf. There's an American flag behind the stage and Vote November 2 Kerry/Edwards for a Stronger America signs on the monitors, and bumper stickers plastered on the faces, breasts, eyes, and crotches of the dancers on the floor. The bands are frozen in this moment of promise, purpose, and pride, and they all look like the Clash. You've probably heard of the Clash. Tommy B. plays them on KQ in the morning, in between Foreigner and Journey.

Anyway, Louie works at First Avenue. He was at the Cedar the night after the election helping with the show, alongside a bunch of other First Avenue staffers who had no place to go but out. Robyn played a balm of a set to a few hundred "loosers" and some of their kids, and said he was going to stick around the next day, find a coffee shop, and "try to cheer people up."

Then Jonathan sang about love and danger in English, Spanish, Italian, and Hebrew, and afterward First Avenue manager Steve McClellan took him across the street to KFAI, the "looser"-run radio station where Jonathan ranted on-air about the state of the union for a half-hour. You probably missed it, just like you missed the historic creative/cultural revolution that has quietly fomented over the last two months and which, I swear, has only just begun.

Robyn made good on his cheer the next night at the Kitty Cat Klub. The crowd was made up of independent music and film fans, and the set was heavy on hope and love and between-song banter about the evil empire that controls America. The encore was a song about three gay "loosers" who soap each other up in the shower and decide to get married. You would have been repulsed, but I had a hard-on in my heart.

The rest of the weekend was spent with Paul Westerberg, who sang his guts out at the Pantages Theatre on one of his greatest misses, "Left of the Dial." Back in the day, that song was an anthem for all the "loosers" who felt out of touch and unheard, and as of last Tuesday, that describes millions of us.

If we don't look too down about it, Pete A. from South St. Paul, it's because we've been here before. We've spent our lives listening to music no one gives a shit about, championing silly causes and candidates, and explaining ourselves, constantly, to people like you. We're used to defeat. We've had our radio stations bought out, our clubs closed, our newspapers corporatized. We've seen our country go soft and stupid, and still we get up to fight the good fight. At the moment, I couldn't be happier, because First Avenue is born again, and I'd much rather be a looser than a wiener.

Jim Walsh can be reached at 612.372.3775 or [email protected] .

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