Thinking quite a bit about Prince's death. Coincidentally, I'm currently reading Trouble Boys, the recent biography of those other Twin Cities icons, The Replacements. I have Minneapolis on my mind.
Just a warning: This is not the story of a cool kid who was hip to the 1980s music scene in Minneapolis, but a somewhat dorky teen who had little idea of what was happening but could definitely feel the vibe of a hip city. Though I didn't know about the Replacements and Husker Du until 1986, I had the sense that Minneapolis had it going on like few other places I'd ever been to before.
Now a little backstory...
I may have mentioned this before, but I took trips to Minneapolis in the summers of 1981, '82, '84, and '85. My uncle Jim worked for the chief of the Baraga (MI) Ojibwa Tribal Community and made business trips to Minneapolis. I don't know if this was coincidence, but almost every time I went up north to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins it coincided with one of their trips to the Twin Cities. I suppose it's possible that they purposely planned my visits for these trips, knowing that it would be fun for me.
When we went, my aunt and uncle preferred to stay at the Normandy Inn at 405 S. 8th Street in downtown Minneapolis. I have fond memories of the place, and am happy to see that it's still in business (now under the Best Western umbrella). The Normandy had (and perhaps still has) a good restaurant, and one of my fondest memories of my uncle is him becoming particularly ebullient and playful after a bottle of wine (or two) when we all dined in the restaurant on one particular evening (I don't remember the year).
The Normandy is where I played foosball with a friendly kid about my own age from Winnipeg, Manitoba. I also remember watching, with my cousins in our hotel room, the cheesy Sylvester Stallone/Michael Caine soccer flick Victory and equally corny Saturday Night Fever sequel, Staying Alive. I'm not really sure why I remember those movies, but it might be because I had so much fun laughing with my older cousins and hooting on the movies while we watched them. I think it also felt very "adult" for the three of us to have our very own hotel room away from the adults.
Minneapolis is where I saw Brian DePalma's Blow Out in the summer of 1981. I'm pretty sure my aunt, uncle, and cousins wanted to see it because it was the latest John Travolta flick, not quite realizing the graphic subject matter. However, I don't think I was scarred from the experience.
I'm straying a bit from what the focus of this post is supposed to be, which is the first year I went to Minneapolis alone, 1985. As it turns out, that's the last time I've been to the Twin Cities, even though one of my cousins currently lives in the suburbs of Minneapolis.
If 1984 was the pinnacle of the Minneapolis music scene--which with the exception of Purple Rain, I was completely oblivious--1985 was the victory lap. Unfortunately, I was still pretty clueless about Minneapolis music in '85. One thing that was clear to me though was that Minneapolis was the most cosmopolitan city I'd ever seen. It was clear that the people, buildings, streets, restaurants, and retail establishments were much more happening than anything I'd experienced in Michigan. If only I'd been aware of The Replacements, Husker Du, Suicide Commandos (who I believe were defunct by 1985), and to a lesser extent The Suburbs were, my mind would've been completely split open. (I actually kinda knew who The Suburbs were, and will explain later).
So how did I end up in Minneapolis in 1985, you might ask? (if you haven't already bailed on this long-winded blog post). By 1985, my two eldest cousins were out of college and both living in Minneapolis. (Coincidentally, my cousin Joe worked at the Normandy Inn). After visiting me and my parents in Michigan, the plan was for me to drive with my cousin Joe back to Minneapolis where I'd stay for about a week and then take the bus to Baraga. My aunt and uncle would then drive me to Mackinaw City and hand me off to my parents, and we'd head home from there.
After failing miserably in my attempts to master driving his automatic transmission Subaru, Joe ended up driving the two of us all the way back to the Twin Cities. If I remember correctly, Joe lived with two roommates in a St. Paul apartment. It was here that I got my first taste of fresh-out-of-college bachelor life. Actually, both of Joe's roommates were still students, though I believe one was a grad student at the University of Minnesota.
In the Twin Cities, I quickly learned the...er, excitement...of public transportation. I witnessed a guy on the bus have a seizure and flop around like a fish on the floor. When it was over, he sat back in his seat as if nothing had happened. Quite an eye-opener for a 17-year-old kid.
After that initial bus trip that took us from St. Paul to the Dinkytown section of Minneapolis (home of the University of Minnesota), I saw two men affectionately holding hands. It was the first time I'd ever witnessed two gay people openly expressing themselves. At the time, it was akin to seeing an exotic animal in the wild for the first time. I hope that comparison doesn't sound flippant, it's not meant that way. It's just at the time, I'd only heard of gay people and had never "seen" a gay person, at least not to my meager adolescent knowledge. It was all a part of my education. I wasn't shocked by what I saw, but certainly intrigued.
My cousin Joe and his friends like to blow off a little steam after work and school, so I remember tagging along with them. One time they had drinks at Nicollet Mall while I poked around the stores and bought (gulp) Duran Duran's Seven and the Ragged Tiger. (Did I mention that I wasn't that cool when I was 17? Though I did also buy two other albums on that particular trip to Minneapolis: Simon & Garfunkel's Bookends and The Best of the Doors. Slightly less dorky, perhaps).
On another evening, Joe and his two roommates took me to the restaurant on the top floor of the IDS Center, the tallest building in Minneapolis. They drank Grolsch beers and I was so intrigued by the fancy bottles that I took them home with me. Stowed them in my suitcase. I had those empty bottles for several years.
On my last day in Minneapolis, I had some time to kill downtown before my bus left town. I wandered around and stumbled into the First Avenue/7th Street Entry. I remember thinking that it looked shabbier and seedier than I expected. (For some reason, Purple Rain gave me the impression that it was a gleaming club. Watching the movie again now, I don't know why I thought that way). I also saw a flyer posted on a street advertising a show by local music heroes The Suburbs. "Who are The Suburbs?" I thought. Now I wish I'd had the forethought to rip down all the music flyers I could find and save them for posterity. If only I had a WABAC Machine.
Regrettably, that's the last time I've been to Minneapolis. A flurry of visits from 1981 to 1985, but none in the last 31 years. I think it's about time I went back and took MY family.
In the autumn of 1986, as a college freshman, I learned about two Minneapolis bands called The Replacements and Husker Du. I liked those bands when I heard them, and I still like them to this day. Between the two of them, I own almost everything they ever recorded.
And them there is the late, great Prince. As I have been dusting off the Prince albums I have in my collection (almost everything from Dirty Mind to Diamonds and Pearls--I've never pulled the trigger on Prince's first two albums) I am struck more than ever before at what a genius he was. How is it that I never truly appreciated how amazing he was until after he is gone?
So there is my Minneapolis story. I hope I didn't lose your interest too badly. A dorky teenager who received at least a little education from that fine Midwestern city.