Minneapolis: The Rise And Fall Of The ’80s Scene

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All the brilliance, beers, breakups and bastards of young: MAGNET presents an oral history of the ’80s Minneapolis scene and the stories of Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, told by the band members and those who were there.

A Tale Of Twin Cities: Hüsker Dü, The Replacements And The Rise And Fall Of The ’80s Minneapolis Scene
Bob Mould Returns With Body Of Song
Flip Your Gig: Leading The Post-Rock Lifestyle
Key To The City: A Minneapolis Glossary

A Tale Of Twin Cities: Hüsker Dü, The Replacements And The Rise And Fall Of The ’80s Minneapolis Scene

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Twenty years ago, the sound and fury of the Minneapolis scene defined the shape of alternative rock to come. At the forefront were Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, two bands driven by booze, boredom and a burning desire to conquer the world.

Photos by Daniel Corrigan

Who’s Who In MAGNET’s Minneapolis Story:
Ed Ackerson (singer/guitarist, the Dig, Polara)
Lori Barbero (drummer, Babes In Toyland)
Bill Batson (singer, the Hypstrz; soundman, 7th Street Entry)
Karin Berg (A&R person, Warner Bros)
Peter Buck (guitarist, R.E.M.)
Joe Carducci (co-owner, SST)
Angie Carlson (writer, Minnesota Daily)
Kevin Cole (DJ, First Avenue)
Daniel Corrigan (freelance photographer)
Peter Davis (editor/publisher, Your Flesh)
John Doe (singer/guitarist, X)
Slim Dunlap (guitarist, the Replacements)
Craig Finn (singer/guitarist, the Hold Steady)
Steve Fjelstad (engineer, Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, Soul Asylum)
Lou Giordano (soundman, Hüsker Dü)
Grant Hart (singer/drummer, Hüsker Dü)
Tom Hazelmyer (owner, Amphetamine Reptile; singer/guitarist, Halo Of Flies)
Michael Hill (A&R person, Sire)
Peter Jesperson (manager, the Replacements; co-owner, Twin/Tone )
Terry Katzman (soundman, Hüsker Dü; co-owner, Reflex)
Martin Keller (writer,
Sweet Potato/City Pages)
Maggie MacPherson (production manager, First Avenue)
Scott McCaughey (singer/guitarist, the Young Fresh Fellows)
Steve McClellan (manager, First Avenue)
Colin Meloy (singer/guitarist, the Decemberists; author, Let It Be)
Bob Mould (singer/guitarist, Hüsker Dü)
John Munson (bassist, Trip Shakespeare, Semisonic)
Dan Murphy (guitarist, Soul Asylum)
Greg Norton (bassist, Hüsker Dü)
Chris Osgood (singer/guitarist, the Suicide Commandos)
Dave Pirner (singer/guitarist, Soul Asylum)
Jack Rabid (editor/publisher,
The Big Takeover)
Paul Stark (co-owner, Twin/Tone)
Tommy Stinson (bassist, the Replacements)
Jim Walsh (writer, City Pages, St. Paul Pioneer Press; musician);
Paul Westerberg (singer/guitarist, the Replacements)

For a few years in the mid-’80s, not long after Athens and sometime before Seattle, the epicenter of American underground rock was Minneapolis. Before Prince came along, the northern city was mostly known for being really cold. (“Funkytown,” a number-one hit for Lipps, Inc. in 1980, is an expression of boredom with Minneapolis and the urge to get the hell out of there.) But genius can put any town on the map, which Prince accomplished for his home city with 1984 album and film Purple Rain, whose prominent concert footage was shot at a local club called First Avenue.

Though they played the same venues as Prince, the spotlight wasn’t necessarily looking for Hüsker Dü and the Replacements. Given the groups’ determination and originality, the Hüskers and the Mats—who both evolved from Minneapolis’ do-it-yourself punk scene—would’ve existed anywhere, anytime.

Formed in 1979, Hüsker Dü believed in speed. But the band’s breakneck tempos—a velocity that’s been attributed to the trio’s amphetamine use—could barely conceal the pop melodies put forth by singer/guitarist Bob Mould and singer/drummer Grant Hart. Musically, the two-headed songwriting team was a great success; personally, it was a disaster. Whether due to opposing personalities or too much time spent in close quarters (the band recorded and toured constantly), Mould and Hart eventually became bitter enemies. (Mould and Hart are gay; despite persistent rumors, they claim they never dated.) Hüsker Dü, which also included bassist Greg Norton, imploded on the road in December 1987, when Hart’s heroin use prompted the band to cancel its last two dates of the tour. Furious, Hart quit the group; Mould threw in the towel the next month. Since, Mould has released a handful of albums, including three successful outings with Sugar in the early ’90s. Hart has also released post-Hüsker records (solo and with Nova Mob) as well working as a visual artist. Norton played briefly with an outfit called Grey Area before concentrating on a career as a chef.

If listeners hadn’t heard anything quite like Hüsker Dü, they sure hadn’t seen anything quite like the Replacements. The band also began in 1979, with the lineup of singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg (a wry, wickedly funny songwriter), guitarist Bob Stinson (a lovable, if troubled, cut-up), bassist Tommy Stinson (Bob’s 12-year-old brother) and drummer Chris Mars (the quiet one). The Replacements drank more than any other band, ever, and their live shows were accordingly either epiphanies or trainwrecks. The indulgence took its toll: Bob was kicked out of the band in 1986 and replaced by Slim Dunlap, who stayed on until the Mats called it quits in 1991. A lifetime of drinking and drugs caught up with Bob in 1995, when he passed away at age 35. Mars eventually quit music and became a painter, Tommy released a few records (solo and with Bash & Pop and Perfect) and now plays in Guns N’ Roses, and Westerberg has a solo career. (For a more complete history of the Replacements, see issue #55.)

Hüsker Dü and the Replacements seemed to run on parallel tracks. They shared a New York City debut on April 17, 1983, at a club called Great Gildersleeves. Both were among the first indie-punk bands of their era to sign to a major label. Both wield enormous influence. There may not have been a Pixies if not for the Hüskers; remember that Kim Deal responded to Black Francis’ want ad for a bassist into Peter, Paul & Mary and Hüsker Dü. (And what would Nirvana have sounded like had Kurt Cobain not worshiped the Pixies?) Without the Replacements, it’s hard to imagine the careers of Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown—and, by extension, Wilco and Ryan Adams.

The greatest irony of the Minneapolis music scene is that neither the Hüskers nor the Mats ever made it big in a commercial sense. Soul Asylum—the perennial opening band and often seen as understudies—did. MAGNET’s oral history of the Minneapolis scene isn’t a comprehensive one: There are probably holes in the story big enough for Prince and all his bodyguards to walk through. And the truth—about Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, the ’80s—is all between the lines, anyway.

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What About Bob?: Mould Returns With “Body Of Song”

bobmould500Back in 1998, feeling ignored and more than a little bored with loud guitar rock, Bob Mould took a semi-permanent vacation from the grind after touring out the aptly titled The Last Dog And Pony Show. Mould moved from New York to Washington, D.C., began dabbling in electronic music (culminating in 2002’s syncretic Modulate) and started DJing a gay-friendly dance night at the 9:30 Club. Now comes the return of Bob rock, with Body Of Song (Yep Roc) splitting the difference between Sugar’s blast-furnace emo and Modulate’s laptop pop. Just don’t call it Moby Dü. He hates that.

Let’s go back to The Last Dog And Pony Show. What’s going through Bob’s mind? Bob is tired of …
Bob is tired of a couple of things: Bob is tired of playing the same old guitar music he’s been playing for 20 years. I was starting to hear other music that was interesting, whether it was hip hop or dance music. I wasn’t particularly happy with Rykodisc at the time; it was a label that was in definite decline and in “sell” mode. Overall, I just wanted a break; you know, being in my late 30s, living in New York and wanting to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Just spend a few years taking care of myself and having a good time with life and figuring out a new way to present myself.

You look a lot healthier than you did in, say, 1985.
I’m fucking buff. [Laughs] I’ll put you through a fucking wall.

What’s your secret?
I’m a gym rat. I work out six days a week, usually nine times a week. A lot of lifting. I hate cardio. I am a clean-living machine right now.

You don’t drink anymore?
No. The last time I had a drink was at Greg Norton’s first wedding in 1986.

What prompted you to make guitar-based rock ’n’ roll again?
From 1999 to the beginning of 2004, I just spent a lot of time on the computer. A lot of time with loops, a lot of time with samples and listening to house music. And trying to merge that with the rock stuff. It wasn’t like I was trying to double back with the guitar; I just started writing those kind of songs again.

Reading through your blog and talking about your DJ nights, you sound really happy and well-adjusted. But when you strap on the guitar, the old Bob Mould—sour, glaring, accusatory—seems to come out again.
I think as Bob Mould records go, this is a pretty sunny record. But if all I ever wrote was, “Yeah, had a great workout today and finally nailed that perfectly rare steak on the grill,” it would not make for the best lyrics. So I draw on relationships: personal, temporal, political.

—Jonathan Valania

Flip Your Gig: Leading The Post-Rock Lifestyle

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When Hüsker Dü officially ended in January 1988, bassist Greg Norton was 29, decidedly unwealthy and unemployed. He ended up in the restaurant business, first as a server, then as a chef. “I had some natural ability and a good palate, so I dove into that,” says Norton. “My only training was just on the job.” By 1995, Norton had attained the position of head chef at Staghead in Red Wing, Minn., where he met his second wife, Sarah, in the kitchen. In 2003, the couple opened their own place, The Nortons’, in Bay City, Wisc., about 60 miles from Minneapolis. The Nortons’ serves contemporary American cuisine and boasts an award-winning wine list. Says Norton, “It’s not a novelty act: ‘Ex-punk rocker becomes chef.’ We actually know what we’re doing.”

After leaving the Replacements in 1990, drummer Chris Mars continued making music: From ’92 to ’96, the “quiet” member of the Mats released four solo records. What might’ve begun with creating his album covers has blossomed into a full-blown visual-art career for Mars, who now paints full-time. “Some call my art surrealist, because I like to work with lots of detail,” says Mars, who still lives in Minneapolis. “But I think of the work as closer to expressionist, except perhaps that I’m not investigating the self as much as the world outside of me.” According to Mars, the imagery in his paintings is also informed by his older brother Bill’s battle with schizophrenia. His artwork is on permanent display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and has been purchased by celebrities such as Prince, Tom Petty and Michael Stipe, not that Mars cares very much. “My mom and my wife own some of my work,” he says. “That makes me most proud.” Mars declined to speak about the Replacements, saying, “I’m just not living in that space anymore. It’s been so long, I feel more and more removed as time goes by, and I’m on another path.”

Chris Osgood—pioneering punker, guitar teacher and benevolent godfather of the Minneapolis scene—has continued to be a paternal figure around town since the Suicide Commandos called it quits in 1978. “We were the only band I knew that broke up with assets—stuff to sell, a PA,” says Osgood. “We cashed out for a few hundred bucks each.” As director of artist services at Springboard for the Arts, Osgood counsels artists, musicians, writers and actors on how to manage their assets and market their work.

Key To The City: A Minneapolis Glossary

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All Shook Down: the Replacements’ last album (1990)
Jello Biafra: Dead Kennedys frontman
Candy Apple Grey: Hüsker Dü’s first album for Warner Bros. (1986)
Creepers: thick-soled, often two-toned, rockabilly-style shoes; an ’80s fashion staple
Bob Dylan: the best writer from Minnesota
Everything Falls Apart: Hüsker Dü album (1983); reissued with “Statues” and other bonus tracks as Everything Falls Apart And More (1993)
First Avenue: nightclub made famous by Prince’s Purple Rain
Flip Your Wig: Hüsker Dü’s last album for SST (1985)
Greg Ginn: Black Flag guitarist and co-owner of SST
Jay’s Longhorn: punk/rock venue
Land Speed Record: Hüsker Dü’s first album (1982)
Let It Be: the Replacements’ last album for Twin/Tone (1984)
Loud Fast Rules: Soul Asylum’s first moniker
Macalester College: liberal-arts college attended by Bob Mould
Mats: shorthand for Replacements
New Alliance: Minutemen-run label that released Land Speed Record; it was later bought by SST
New Day Rising: Hüsker Dü album (1985)
Oar Folk: record store (a.k.a. Oar Folkjokeopus)
Pleased To Meet Me: Replacements album (1987)
Punker: slang for a punk; a punk rocker
Reflex: Hüsker Dü-run label (1980-1985)
7th Street Entry: smaller venue attached to First Avenue
Sire: Warner Bros. subsidiary; home to the Replacements (1985-1991)
SST: seminal hardcore/punk label; home to Hüsker Dü (1983-1985)
“Statues”: Hüsker Dü’s seven-inch debut (1981)
Seymour Stein: president and co-founder of Sire
Stink: Replacements mini album (1982)
Tim: the Replacements’ first album for Sire (1985)
Twin/Tone: the Replacements’ label (1981-1984)
Warehouse: Songs And Stories: Hüsker Dü’s last album (1987)
Warner Bros.: home to Hüsker Dü (1985-1987)
Young And The Useless: early-’80s NYC hardcore band featuring Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz
Your Flesh: Minneapolis-based fanzine
Zen Arcade: Hüsker Dü album (1984)

Q&A With Moby

moby62qa550Like fellow one-named, slightly built, narcissistic workaholics Prince and Beck, Moby (the most charming and humanistic of that club) has slowed his output in the new century. Almost three years have passed since he released 18, a bloated album that still managed to soak up a wave of critical backlash. Moby’s new, sample-free Hotel (V2) is scarcely slimmer, even without its bonus ambient disc. While the first half of the record is stripped-down and kinetic, much of the second half—the primitive, sex-with-an-Atari-2600 burble of “I Like It,” the Vangelis-flying-too-close-to-the-ground “Homeward Angel”—never comes into focus. But even on 1995’s Everything Is Wrong and 1999’s Play, Moby’s industry trumped his inventiveness. His sense of economy—not no-wasted-gesture economy but rather bargain-basement, wow-it-has-a-shitload-of-tracks economy—holds up here as ever. Moby’s bang-for-the-buck philosophy seems tied to his relationships with various commercial users of his music. He revealed as much in a recent entry in his online journal, which cited childhood poverty as a possible reason for his shrewdness. Does the guy get a bad rap for issuing more licenses than a Las Vegas justice of the peace? Even he doesn’t know, and Moby is an expert on himself first. Hotel is another chapter of Moby’s meta narrative on the succor he finds in, well, being Moby. He can check out any time he likes, but he would never leave.

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The Wedding Present: A Career Overview

“It’s not quite as romantic anymore, is it?” asks David Gedge, who, with the Wedding Present and Cinerama, has made a career of describing the travails of romance. But this time, he’s talking about the state of the music industry, not love. “Downloading files onto your laptop is not quite the same as going into the shop and buying a single.”

Gedge has been sending people into record stores to buy singles—and EPs, albums and Peel Sessions—for two decades. His conversational tales of jilted suitors and helpless love slaves made the Wedding Present one of the best-loved bands in Britain, post-Smiths and pre-Blur/Oasis. Now, after an extended hiatus—his Cinerama years—Gedge has resurrected the Wedding Present with the new Take Fountain (Manifesto).

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John Davis: God Only Knows

john-davis350Growing up in a devout Baptist household in Knoxville, Tenn., John Davis also worshipped deities like John Lennon and Pete Townshend. He was conflicted, believing true salvation might not be divined from the word of Jesus but rather the lyrics of musical gods.

Davis did find glory, if it can be measured by Superdrag’s outstanding albums, critical success and fan adulation. He wasn’t saved by rock ’n’ roll, though. In fact, its excesses nearly killed him.

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Damon & Naomi Make MAGNET A Mix Tape

Husband-and-wife duo Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang are a psychedelic power couple. Since first making the scene with Galaxie 500 in the late ’80s, they’ve served as ambassadors of international acid folk (collaborating with Japanese gurus Ghost) and have acted as at-home historians (performing with Pearls Before Swine’s Tom Rapp). The Earth Is Blue (20/20/20) is a pristine reflection of Damon & Naomi’s vision and taste, featuring eight gauze-pop originals alongside covers of songs by George Harrison and Caetano Veloso.

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Elliott Smith: All Things Must Pass

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Elliott Smith, 34, died on Oct. 21, 2003. He is survived by a private history, his personal demons, questions about his death and some songs that make sense of it all. By Jonathan Valania

Something terrible happened on the night of Oct. 21, 2003, in the cozy, box-like bungalow at 1857 1/2 Lemoyne Street in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles where Elliott Smith lived with girlfriend Jennifer Chiba. In Chiba’s version of events, the couple had an argument that grew so heated she locked herself in the bathroom. At some point, she heard Smith scream and unlocked the door to see him standing with his back to her. When he turned around, there was a knife sticking out of his chest and he was gasping for breath. Panicked, Chiba pulled the knife out of him, and Smith turned and took a few steps before collapsing. Chiba called 911, and an operator talked her through CPR until the paramedics arrived. Smith was rushed to a nearby hospital, where emergency surgery to repair the two stab wounds to the heart couldn’t save his life.

Back at the house, police found a note written on a Post-It:
I’m so sorry.
Love, Elliott
God forgive me.

When the coroner’s report was finally issued in January 2004, the nature of Smith’s death was maddeningly ambiguous. While the circumstances of the case had most of the hallmarks of a suicide, certain factors also pointed to the possibility of a homicide: the absence of hesitation wounds (the nicks and cuts that come from tentative initial attempts to stab yourself), the fact that Smith didn’t remove his shirt before stabbing himself, a pair of cuts on his hand and arm that could’ve been defensive wounds incurred while fighting off an attacker. There’s also Chiba’s removal of the knife and what police characterize as her refusal to cooperate with investigators, all of which leaves the precise nature of Smith’s death in limbo. Chiba has since refuted police reports that she didn’t cooperate, but the case remains officially open and under investigation.

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