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.
Americans build monuments at sites where great ideas were birthed and history was changed. Or we turn them into retail stores. In New York, CBGB's became a John Varvatos store, and in Minneapolis an Apple outpost rose from the dust of our own sacred institution of cool.
The Uptown Bar shut its doors for the last time five years ago this month. If you're new to town or under 27, you might have no idea what it was or why it mattered -- especially since it spent its last few years of life as a bar formerly known as a rock club. But oh, how it did matter.
I recently spent some time in Uptown -- the south Minneapolis neighborhood east of Lake Calhoun now choked by new condos and some hot tub -- to try to re-familiarize myself. Even though I am there somewhat often, it's never just to be in that neighborhood. It's to go to a specific spot. A good chunk of my life (and Craig Finn's) before I was 25 was the opposite.
Breakfast at noon, go say "Hi" to friends working at Ragstock or Calhoun Square, browse magazines at the bookstore, make my way the six blocks down to Lyn-Lake, and do it all over again. That is, if you didn't run into someone you know and then go off and do something completely different.
A lot of that sort of golden era of punk came down to one thing -- the ability to loiter. To hang out and do nothing with other people doing nothing. It would then lead to deciding to start a band, or a label or a zine. Back then, we didn't have Netflix. So trying to master that certain sound has gotten replaced to some extent by binge-watching Orange Is the New Black.
The Uptown -- formerly a gin joint that had lived for 80 years prior and hosted the occasional blues show -- was the temple of sonic wonder and delight. It served as a landmark. Not the way the Uptown Theater does for tourist selfies, but rather a cultural landmark that reminded you this was the first neighborhood outside of downtown that had been taken over by the counterculture. There were boutiques like Gabriela's, head shops, and a McDonald's that became the prime place for people with mohawks to lean against a wall.
Plus, the Uptown was a restaurant too. That worked out well since it gave the First Avenue crowd a place to have lunch, and of course, day drink. Which at the time was just called drinking, or you know...Tuesday.
Before the Uptown neighborhood rose to prominence, Minneapolis held Goofy's Upper Deck, Jay's Longhorn, and a million other important places that had closed by the time I turned 21. One thing that made the Uptown Bar so great was its connection to that past -- but unlike the CC Club, it wasn't a past that you needed to feel guilty about.
The Uptown was anything but formal. A world-class venue that showcased the best music of the era, that had this Mom and Pop feel. Unlike the Entry, the Uptown had a sense of whimsy, a lot of which had to do with their signature booker Maggie Macpherson. Her taste set the tone for the era, and her love for alt-Americana made it a haven for those who loved Alex Chilton just as much as the Ramones. Nights like Picking and Grinning sometimes featured a who's who of indie rock royalty playing not because they had to, but because they wanted to.
"I am sure people still do that sort of thing, but to us it was just a Tuesday night," Macpherson said recently. "People that are really involved in the music scene right now have a great community -- just in just different way. I think we feel like we created it all."
"Well, you kinda did," I replied.
"I don't know if we did or not," she continued, "but we felt like it, and I am sure the people that came before us felt the same way... It was an amazing time when everyone you knew lived in the same area. If you lived from Hennepin over to Nicollet, you were in the rock 'n' roll ghetto. You knew where everyone lived and you'd walk to their houses at two in the morning."[page]
Our great American cities prove that hipsters are a bit like scout dogs. They find undervalued areas with great bones and start to clean them up. They bring in their boutiques that sell ill-fitting trousers, and food that smells different from what the "straights" eat. They sell hats and quirky jewelry and they open hair salons, lots of hair salons. They get nice write-ups, and then more write-ups. Eventually, your mom wants to go check it, because it "sounds fun." Which leads to more people moving in, higher rents, housing construction, and major retailers.
Hipsters move on, and -- bam! -- the former epicenter of cool has two subways and a place that sells $300 keychains. Suddenly there's a J. Jill where you heard your first Buzzcocks record.
Before it closed, the Uptown changed itsfocus from being a real music venue to a place that sold beer on a patio. It was the end. Sure, it limped along trying to be cool, but like a geriatric in an Ed Hardy shirt, it didn't acknowledge death was around the corner.
Of course, I had to visit the grave site. As many know, it's an Apple store sandwiched between the dead historical landmark that is the Suburban World (a marquee that always seemed like a bit of foreshadowing) and a Columbia sporting goods store -- not to be confused with the North Face sporting goods store that's next to it. Now, that block on Hennepin feels a bit like it could be in any city -- well, any city that has an H&M, at least.
In an effort to get an anonymous soundbite, I asked a floor leader if he knew anything about the Uptown Bar. He didn't. Nor did the manager who kept suggesting that I call the Apple press office. It's what you'd expect from a major corporate entity, but still it seems indicative of the era, and the new geography of the area. It's safer to deflect than to answer, and safer to deflect than to question.
It reminded me of a trip I made to Ann Arbor, Michigan. I had flown in for some meetings and had a few hours to kill. I decided the best way to assimilate was to visit the School Kids record store where Iggy Pop worked as a lad.
I wanted to find it on my own -- just discover it. After an hour, I gave up and got a sandwich. Like a lot of smaller towns, the only option was a chain. In this case, Potbelly Sandwich Works. While there, I explained to the guy behind the counter my quest. He then explained to me that I was already inside what used to be School Kids. That was one of the most depressing sandwiches I ever ate.
Progress marches on, as progress as wont to do. Though sometimes progress feels like a jackbooted thug. I get that I might come across as a geezer reminiscing about how much better the past was, and the kids are in my lawn, etc. But here is the thing: I appreciate the past, but I love the now and I so want to feel that vitality that I felt in Uptown when I was a kid. It was that feeling of never knowing what could happen, but just knowing that it would happen.
Sometimes what makes the music -- or for that matter, any art form -- possible is the ancillary stuff around it. Good hashbrowns, cheap coffee, and a place to hang out. The closest the Uptown/Lyn-Lake area has had for music lately was Cause, which went away a few months ago. There are promises and rumors of it coming back -- kind of the exact same thing as when the Uptown Bar closed.
It's true that you can't go home again. Still what I wouldn't give for one more night.
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