'Complicated Fun' documents the birth of the Minneapolis music scene

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Katy Ryan Levin

Call this a book report rather than a book review.

I haven't read all of Cyn Collins’ Complicated Fun: The Birth of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock, 1974-1984 -- An Oral History, a $19.95 paperback just out from Minnesota Historical Society Press, and it may be a minute before I do. But I couldn't be happier to own it, not least because as a native Minneapolitan it fills in so many blank spaces for me --and, even better, for the music that made a young me realize that the place I came from was actually pretty great.

Collins, the host of KFAI’s Spin with Cyn since 2010 (and an occasional City Pages contributor) organizes her history into 18 chapters, each tied to a specific aspect of the Minneapolis rock scene's beginnings, but they’re loosely bound and overlap plenty. This is a useful strategy, especially if you love local music history but aren't necessarily steeped in it. Complicated Fun is full of use value -- names, places, dates galore are casually slung through the narrative. It’s not a reference book, but it’ll do.

What's most striking is the tone. Particularly in the wake of Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me (1996), the usual stance of both participants and authors in books about city-based punk scenes is arrogant defensiveness -- often, these books can read like a tough-guy convention. A little grating, even if punk, especially hardcore, always was full of tough guys, and even when, as with Please Kill Me, the book is a stone classic.

Complicated Fun, on the other hand, reads like a bunch of folks happy to help get the chronology straight. Maybe it’s because the scene evolved in large part from record geeks taking matters into their own hands. One of the book’s key figures, Twin/Tone Records co-founder Peter Jesperson, says near the end:

“We might’ve had a little bit less of the ‘fuck the old’ attitude. Maybe there was a little more respect for what had come before, more than what is the clichéd version of what punk rock did, like Joe Strummer singing ‘No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones in 1977.’ We didn’t really think that way . . . We loved Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf. We didn’t have any problem with that stuff or the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. We thought all that stuff was cool, and it was just a continuation.”

Collins interviewed 105 people and covers just about everything, from the New York Dolls’ 1974 appearance at the State Fair (!) to the aftermath of Purple Rain. The chapters on Jay’s Longhorn and Oarfolk are revelatory. She shrewdly lumps Duffy's, Goofy's Upper Deck, and the 7th Street Entry together, since the three overlapped heavily in the 1980-82 timeframe. And she gives the Suburbs their due as the pivot between what I'll refer to very loosely as the ‘70s and ’80s. It’s a serious contribution to our understanding of Minneapolis music history -- and Minneapolis history, period.

Complicated Fun book launch party
With: DJ Kevin Cole, Flamingo (Flamin’ Oh’s) featuring original members Johnny and Jody Ray
When: 6 p.m. Wed. May 3
Where: Electric Fetus
Tickets: Free


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