Looking at Daniel Corrigan’s photographs is like taking a time-lapse tour through four decades of the Twin Cities music scene.
The veteran local photographer has shot hundreds of legendary bands and musicians since the early ’80s. His indelible images have graced the covers of numerous record sleeves — most notably the Replacements’ iconic Let It Be cover, taken on the roof of Tommy and Bob Stinson’s house on Bryant Avenue in Minneapolis.
Now, after years spent taking pictures that illuminate the raw energy and creative potency of countless artists, it’s time for Daniel Corrigan himself to be recognized. Heyday: 35 Years of Music in Minneapolis will be published Tuesday by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. The gorgeous volume — which will be celebrated Friday at 7th St. Entry — collects a wide array of Corrigan’s best work alongside the informative text of writer Danny Sigelman.
Corrigan was born in New York City in 1958, but moved to Minnesota at the age of two. He grew up in Marine on St. Croix, and attended Stillwater High School. But Corrigan didn’t get into photography until his junior year at the University of Minnesota, when he took a class as an elective to fulfil an art requirement.
“It was the darkroom that really changed everything,” Corrigan reflects over coffee on a lovely fall day in northeast Minneapolis. “Doing the first print, and seeing the print come up in the developer, was seriously magic. It was like the waters parted before me. It changed everything — completely changed everything.”
He honed his skills as a printer and photographer at campus newspaper the Minnesota Daily, and befriended the paper’s arts and entertainment editor, Dave Ayres, who would eventually go on to manage the Replacements and do A&R for the band’s label, Twin/Tone. That professional connection, as well as Corrigan’s deep-rooted ties to downtown Minneapolis music mecca First Avenue, would help shape his entire career in photography. It also put him front and center while the local music scene flourished around him.
“It’s like my home,” Corrigan says affectionately of First Ave, where he’s worked as in-house photographer for more than 20 years. “I got the opportunity to come to any show that I wanted to shoot, and I did. Having that kind of access was really key.”
Corrigan also was a primary photographer at City Pages for much of the ’80s and ’90s, typically shooting three stories a week. He even got a photo into Sweet Potato, the early version of what eventually became City Pages. He’s seen the Twin Cities and its music scene change dramatically over the years, though he says he never got the sense he was capturing mythical moments in time. He was simply doing his job, and doing what he loved.
“It was a special time, because there wasn’t this sort of social media, digital edge to everything,” Corrigan says of the ’80s scene. “The sense of community then was different than it is now. It was quainter.”
That “quaint” time in the Twin Cities would definitely change the direction of modern music forever, and Corrigan routinely captured it while it was happening in front of him. His vivid photographs document early performances from the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and Prince, as well as initial area gigs by future superstars U2, R.E.M., and the Cure (to name just a few). And then there’s the famous Let It Be cover from 1984, which remains one of the most famous photographs in Corrigan’s vast catalog, as well as one of the defining images of the Minneapolis music scene itself.
“I can’t 100 percent say that it was my idea to go out on the roof. But it just seems like something I would do,” Corrigan says of the shoot. “I have this theory that people look different when they are in danger — that they take on certain mannerisms that are evident in the picture. I liked the enclosed space idea, especially with these guys because they were so wiggly. Putting them someplace where they really couldn’t move around a lot was kind of key to shooting them.”
Throughout the 224-page book, Danny Sigelman’s text connects the photographs with their respective eras, as well as shares Corrigan’s insightful backstories to the pictures. The pair are old friends as well as music scene mainstays. Sigelman (along with editor Josh Leventhal) spent six months organizing Corrigan’s sprawling life’s work into a gorgeous volume that should resonate with fans of both music and photography.
“Working on this certainly brought back a lot of memories for me, because I think we went to a lot of the same shows,” Sigelman says. “At first, I thought I could go through the photos and do the writing at the same time. But it was really hard. So, what we did to inform the stories is, once we started narrowing down some of the photos, I started asking Dan to tell me stories about the bands. Or certain photos that popped out that were really interesting, I’d ask him, ‘What were you guys doing that day?’”
And Corrigan is far from done photographing memorable musical moments in the Twin Cities. He still shoots six shows a month at First Ave, in addition to working as a stage hand for the club. Music and photography are a big part of who he is, and he remains tightly connected to a scene that wouldn’t look the same without him and his work. Corrigan’s photographs allow us to relive moments we were lucky enough to witness, or teleport others there for the first time.
“This has reinforced to me just how lucky I am,” Corrigan admits. “And I still think that every day. I’m the luckiest man in the world.”
Heyday book-release party
With: The Mighty Mofos, Dosh, Porcupine, Lori Barbero, and DJ Paper Sleeves
When: 8 p.m. Fri., Oct. 28
Where: 7th St. Entry