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.