Off Beat

Swing Vote, Indeed

THE MAN WHO gave us official Minneapolis proclamations declaring Yo La Tengo Day and The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group Week is insinuating himself deeper into the local arts scene: City council member Jim Niland is poised to take over booking duties at Lee's Liquor Lounge. The former Devo roadie says he'll begin his new job at the wood-paneled downtown watering hole January 1. The news tripped Off Beat's conflict-of-interest detector, but Niland insists there won't be any funny business: "I just won't vote on things in regard to Lee's," he vows. "And it's usually just once a year anyway, for renewal of their liquor license." As for adding employment to his full-time council gig, Niland adds, "it won't be much of a change for my workload, with Lee's being pretty much part-time. Know what I mean?" Off Beat noticed a certain ebullience in the Sixth Ward representative's voice, especially when he repeated the phrase "know what I mean?" a couple of dozen times during a brief interview. We do know what he means when he says it's been "a rough year for lots of clubs"; even Lee's has seen crowds dwindle, leading to rumors that Nate Dungan--the incumbent booker and leader of Lee's Wednesday house band Trailer Trash--isn't leaving voluntarily. Groundless speculation, says Dungan: He was simply burned out and eager to hand the job to someone he describes as having "a mind like a titanium trap." "Lee's has problems that other clubs wish they could have," adds Dungan. "It's a hip place on the circuit, and that makes booking more of a gamble. Like the Uptown [Bar] in its heyday, Lee's is stuck in a sort of Yogi Berra-ism: It's too popular, so people don't go there." As for Trailer Trash, Dungan notes, the band will keep its Wednesday-night slot "until we fall flat on our face."

Voters to Red: Right Time, Wrong Team

VIKINGS OWNER RED McCombs must have felt a pang of envy when voters in Bexar County, Texas, approved a publicly financed arena for the San Antonio Spurs on the same day St. Paulites overwhelmingly rejected a Twins-stadium referendum. After all, Minnesota, not Texas, is where McCombs--a former Spurs owner--now does his sports business. So what sort of lesson might the divergent results hold for the Vikes' arena quest? Curious, Off Beat turned to Neil de Mause, co-author of a book called Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit. "There seem to be two main strategies when teams want public money," de Mause avers. "Make a run at a championship and get people so delirious that they'd give over their firstborn child if the team asked; or gut the payroll, plead poverty, and swear that your team will never win a game until the public coffers are opened." The latter tactic, of course, failed miserably with the budget ball-playing Twins. So de Mause expects McCombs will employ a strategy more akin to the one adopted by the Spurs. Among other things, the NBA champions trotted out their towering front-court talent, center David Robinson and forward Tim Duncan, to pitch the deal as part of a $4 million campaign to sway voters. "I'm sure [McCombs] will pull out all the stops for a new stadium in Minnesota," de Mause offers, "even if he has to go around poking his star players in the eye so they have more time to campaign for him." Off Beat's calls to the Vikings front office were not returned.

Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say at Ragstock

THE NIGHT BEFORE Halloween, Off Beat--which for the past decade has alternated between dressing up as a cowboy and a pirate--headed off to Ragstock for a new eye patch. It was nearly 6:00 p.m., and the place was packed to the rafters with patrons desperately seeking last-minute costumes: potential Hugh Hefners eyeing the selection of Italian robes, wannabe doctors rummaging through the hospital scrubs, and young women grabbing fishnet stockings, short skirts, and tiny tops for the lady-of-the-night look. As we stood in line, we glanced at Ragstock's posted list of costume suggestions: Laverne and/or Shirley, Partridge family members, Bert and/or Ernie, Elvis, John Travolta, New Kids on the Block, Princess Di, prom queen, police officer, cowboy, soldier... Okay, where was "hooker"? Or, for that matter, "pimp"? "We couldn't use those words," explained the clerk who rang up our purchase. And what about those head-toppers in the box labeled "Mr. Brady wigs?" Why not call them Afros? "Couldn't write that, either," said the staffer, who wished to remain nameless. "But at the same time, we can sell skinhead wigs that have two cartoon-figure skinheads on the package. I mean, people come in and say, 'I'm going as someone from the Seventies,' and I say, 'You and everybody else in the tri-state area.' They go over and get one of those wigs and say, 'How would I look in this Afro?' Nobody ever even associates them with the dad from The Brady Bunch." Kathy Topp, store supervisor for several of Ragstock's outlets, says higher-ups made the decisions on what to include on the signs, but adds that the suggestions shouldn't be taken too seriously anyway: "People are not going to be something on our list," she opines. "They're obviously going to Ragstock to be whoever they want to be."


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