This week marks the 30th anniversary of our transition from Sweet Potato to City Pages
City Pages was born before Heath Ledger and Aaliyah and has outlived them both. We're older than Christina Aguilera, Jason Schwartzman, and Cory from Boy Meets World. This week marks the 30-year anniversary of the name change from Sweet Potato to City Pages.
The new name was simply and succinctly described as "a sign of growth," unabashedly hitting stands on December 3rd. (The cover was given to cable TV and Hüsker Dü.) Readers didn't immediately love the name--one letter to the editor matter-of-factly whined that "Sweet Potato is a great name. City Pages isn't." But fuck it, people didn't like the name Sweet Potato either. (A letter to the editor in an early-1979 issue asked "what the hell kind of a name is Sweet Potato?") People always bitch about something.
So yes, the Twin Cities has had a thriving music scene for longer than most of us have been alive (there is a reason all those stars are on the outside of First Ave, you know), and City Pages (and Sweet Potato) has written about a lot of it. Before the 7-day Doomtree blowouts and Mark Mallman marathons, we had the Replacements, Prince, Hüsker Dü and even the musical birthing grounds of Dylan. But those artists--and the countless others who have played our many still-existing and some now-defunct venues--weren't always christened with that word, "influential." Many were buzz bands and some were shit. Some have only been lionized through the kindness of time and some were immediately bigger than Jesus. The years can make things confusing, so we decided to trawl through the City Pages music annals to find out just what the hell was actually going on around here 30 years ago.
After the name change, the first 'official' City Pages issue (Dec. 3, 1981) featured hometown-heroes-and-hardcore-punks Hüsker Dü, then just three years old (this was two-and-a-half years before Zen Arcade). The story explained the band name (Swedish for "Do you remember?"), and mentioned their first Longhorn show (July 7, 1979--barely less than a year before the Replacements' debuted there). Grant Hart also briefly mentioned an early keyboardist, "he didn't fit in...we kicked him out one week later on stage, before the encore." Most of the article was about the band's hardcore ideology, though, and Bob Mould didn't hesitate to wax political. Bitching about punk's preoccupation with style, "they're so concerned with what brand of spikes or boots they're going to be wearing next weekend that they don't even think that there can be political implications in music...you see people wearing a swastika on one shoulder and an anarchy symbol on the other, and they don't even realize the two contradict one another." Mould took on the Flower Generation later, saying, "we're doing the same thing that the peace movement did in the '60s, but the way they did it didn't work. They sat in the park and sang with folk guitars. We take electric guitars and blast the shit out of them over and over again until the message sets in."
The article is a veritable who's-who of now-seminal early-'80s hardcore punk. Bands mentioned as Hüsker Dü contemporaries were Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys (with whom Hüsker Dü had recently played with, to a crowd of 900), Black Flag, Minor Threat, Meat Puppets, and Youth Brigade. The story ends with Mould answering whether or not Hüsker Dü is the fastest band in the world. "Well, I've got the fastest-looking guitar in the world. Oh, I don't know...who knows? Fastest in town, maybe. Probably in the top 10 in the world."
Shows in the Cities that week included Malcolm McLaren's post-Adam and the Ants project, Bow Wow Wow (Duffy's); Muddy Waters (Union Bar); and the Suburbs (House of Happiness). Bow Wow Wow was given a grade of Very Good ("something new, something nifty...cool lighting, cool girls, fast songs...but they were missing something...as if Johnny Rotten's wracked visage had been transplanted into a psychic greenhouse"). Muddy Waters' review was even less kind. "No matter how deserved his acclamation may be, it still comes down to this: Did you play like you might die tomorrow? And though I can't fault anybody for wanting to survive, I'm still disappointed when they hold back. Maybe I expect too much of my heroes." Muddy died less than a year and a half later.
And of course, what early-'80s Twin Cities publication would be complete without mention of the Suburbs, who were back from the East Coast for a homecoming weekend. The quick concert preview included this choice quote: "Has there been a better album than this durable double set made in Minnesota this year? I think not."
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