The Day the Muzak Died

More treble, less trouble: The Block E speakers

The Day the Muzak Died

PEDESTRIANS AND BUS commuters using the sidewalk on Block E between 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. have been noticeably edgy and agitated in recent weeks following the loss of soothing, loudly amplified Muzak from nearby speakers. The constant nighttime soundtrack of classical and off-season Christmas music, normally blaring from above on the outskirts of the city-owned parking lots, fell silent sometime earlier this month and hadn't yet resumed at press time. When asked about the absence of "Jingle Bells" on the block, one downtown passerby commented that it made him feel "violent," while another worried aloud that the urge to break into nearby parked cars was growing too strong to suppress.

Reached by phone for an explanation, city of Minneapolis parking czar Tim Blazina says that transporting the Shubert Theater down the street from its old home at Eighth Street and Hennepin Avenue may have resulted in wires being cut, thus preventing the speakers from functioning. Many downtowners, however, claim to have heard Block E's comforting mood music since the big move--perhaps a lingering auditory hallucination--and profess a fear that a city policy shift may be under way. Blazina assures City Pages that, whatever caused the breakdown, the speakers will be up and running "any day now," providing much needed relief from the everyday stresses of downtown urban life. "It has a psychological soothing effect on people," he says. "Lots of studies have shown it."

Indeed, city governments from Seattle to Portland, Maine, as well as 7-Eleven convenience stores across the continent have used Muzak to soothe would-be loiterers right out of public spaces--the absence of foot traffic presumably making the urban nightscape safer and more comfortable for everyone. "Over the years we've had problems with large crowds gathering, gang activity, drug dealing," says Blazina of Block E. "We don't seem to have the violent problems we've had in the past."

One Minneapolis city official apparently unconcerned by the recent quieting of Block E is Anne Stahn of the city's environmental management office, which oversees noise pollution. In fact, Stahn was surprised to learn about the four-year-old Muzak-blasting policy. "I didn't know they had that," she says. "If it's causing a problem for people who work down there, or it's a public nuisance, we'll probably have to take it down." (Sonya Geis)

Local Rock, the Sitcom

DISPARAGING SCENESTERS HAVE sometimes called local music a joke, but now it's official: In January local cable-access will begin airing a weekly comedy series satirizing the Twin Cities rock scene with a show that creator Maureen O'Brien calls a cross between The Monkees and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. O'Brien says Rock and Roll Girl! will draw on her own experiences in the scene and those of the title star, Jennifer Weglarz, who fronted Girl Friday in the mid-Nineties. "It's about a woman who moves here from L.A. to make it in the music scene, only to find out it ended ten years ago," says O'Brien, who has lived in Minneapolis since 1989.

Shot on location in local clubs and record stores (dubbed with names like Garage Odor and Acoustic Fetus), the ten-part series is still in the read-through stages, but the outlined plot will follow "Jen" in her climb from obscurity to near-obscurity--the series climaxes with a long-sought-after gig at the 7th Street Entry. Along the way, our heroine joins a band called the Meltaways and befriends its manager, Thurston Todd Moore, played by Minneapolis Sixth Ward council member Jim Niland. Todd is so inept at band handling that he can't book an in-store gig at his own record shop. In one scripted fit of desperation, he pounds on First Avenue's front door, cocks his head up at the second-floor office, and screams the last name of club manager Steve McClellan, Streetcar Named Desire-style. (McClellan says he hasn't yet agreed to play himself.)

Meanwhile, Jen finds a Rhoda figure in her scenester friend Stevie, played by local actress Elizabeth Nerud, and even digs up a Schneider figure (to mix our sitcom metaphors) in landlord Brett, played by Mighty Mofos frontman Bill Batson. O'Brien and company will raffle off a few roles in a fundraiser at Lee's Liquor Lounge on July 30, with the Mofos and Selby Tigers performing. Shooting starts in August. Anyone interested in reading for parts can send e-mail to O'Brien before July 6 at [email protected] (Peter S. Scholtes)

Run to DMC

KNOWN IN LOCAL rap circles for his Cheshire Cat grin and drool-inspiring scratchwork, St. Paul hip-hop turntablist Gregory "Max" Keltgen--a.k.a. Abilities--took first place in a Cincinnati DJ competition held by the prominent Disco Mix Club (DMC) on June 5. The 19-year-old will go on to a nationwide championship in San Francisco on July 10, along with local DJ whiz IXL. From there, if successful, both will travel to New York for the world DMC competition held in September.

Abilities had already taken third in a 30-contestant Chicago showdown back in April, but he says he had never won a battle until the Ohio match, where he tested his record-juggling skills against 16 other fader-flickers. His MC partner in Sixth Sense, Mike Averill, a.k.a. Eyedea, says the gold-winner was visibly overwhelmed by the honor. "When they announced it, he had to walk around the block by himself for a minute," Averill says. For their SF trip, Sixth Sense plan to bring along local break dancers the Battlecats. (Peter S. Scholtes)

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