Autumn is the peak season for the Smiths
Artwork by Chris Strouth
Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.
Symbolically, autumn is when things start to wind down before the big sleep of winter, and it's the metaphor for every standard about getting old. But to me October in particular is about life, youth, and a restart of life. It also makes me "timesick," aka homesick for a time that has passed. In a way, October is the cruelest of months, in part because I feel like I am living half of it in flashback.
All it takes is a grey day, crisp but not too cold, wet streets, and our dusty rose landscape gets the hue of a burnt-out Polaroid. The air seems to fill with just a hint of Clove and Aqua Net. If you want to really understand mid-'80s punk rock, light a clove cigarette and spray some Aqua Net. (Of course, not in that order unless you want nostalgia and some sort of toxic fireball.) It is the time for origin stories, and mine involves my internal cassette deck flipping to whatever Smiths song seems appropriate.
We have a thing as a culture about origin stories, and with each retelling they tend to change just a little -- well, at least in superhero movies. My origin story starts in 1986, the year I graduated high school and moved out of Fridley. I went from boy to man -- well mannish boy at least.
I was a latecomer to the Smiths. For one, it was hard to sneak them in with my other Smith man crush, the Cure frontman Robert Smith. If Adam Ant turned me on to alt culture, the Cure made it a habit. It was new music that made you study to know what the hell they were talking about. Which in turn made me do a great deal better in English classes. I spent a good deal of my time trying to perfect the Robert Smith hairdo, lipstick and pearl necklace. Surprisingly, it did not ever get me beaten up -- as opposed to sophomore year when half the football team held me down and cut off my tail.
My cousin turned me on to the Smiths. I like to think he was who Bart Simpson was based on, which would make me Millhouse. I was his nerdy sidekick in glasses that got dared to do dumb and dangerous things -- peeing on electric fences, being shot with BBs, climbing large objects with no possible way to get down. Boy, 12-year-old boys are assholes.
By the time we had graduated high school, he was into sports and I was wearing a cape, and quoting more Poe than any 17-year-old should. We didn't have that much in common, but still he evangelized for the Smiths. Once he played me "Hand in Glove," I was hooked. A few years later he also tried to convert me to being a Jesus Jones fan, but that one didn't take.
I was a servant of those two Smith musical masters that fall, both of whom eventually made way for the Jesus and Mary Chain, and eventually acid house. The day after I graduated, I walked into the Rifle Sport Gallery on E Block and offered to volunteer at what would become the birthplace of punk and post-punk Minneapolis art. But this is just when it was a dark door on the Cities' most dangerous block.
I started on that Saturday painting walls and sweeping. Within two weeks I was the publicity director, and a month after that I was managing. At the same time I had joined a fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon. Thus, I lived simultaneously in the last gasp of the Greek age and the beginning breaths of the postmodern era.
It really was an amazing time, not because I got to experience the best of alternative culture while still being able to shower daily and wear clean clothes. One of the other smells of the '80s I neglected to mention is how bad so many alternative culture types smelled. For some reason many people were rebelling against soap, but everything was exciting.
Artwork by Chris Strouth
Cities are always in a state of change, and Minneapolis is no exception, the difference between the downtown of today and the downtown of then is radical. There was Northern Lights record store, Let it Be, Hair Police, the New French, Shinders, and of course, Rifle Sport. You could always meander downtown and find someone else with blue hair. There were so few of us that you were guaranteed to find someone to hang out with while you ate Chillitios at Zantigo's.
It was also a time about freedom, when it was easy to go all over the place. Gas was a dollar a gallon. I loved driving around in my 1975 Firebird, a car my parents gave me with the hope that it would make my hair less spiky. It didn't work, and I had probably the only red Firebird with a Bauhaus sticker. I'd explore the city and listen to one Smith or the other sing about sadness while having some of the best times -- doing nothing of real consequence.
Don't get me wrong, I love the here and now, and I like being my age. Age gives wisdom; even if that wisdom is simply to know how much you don't know. I see things differently now in part because of the perspective of having been there. Still I can't help to miss that innocence of a time when danger was far less dangerous, and the world seemed rife with promise.
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