The Replacements, Soul Asylum and the Twin Cities Rock Revolution I Completely Missed

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This post is sponsored by Tell Magazine’s Fluance Loudspeakers Giveaway and is a part of EntertainmentTell’s SoundTrack Stories

When I was growing up outside Minneapolis in the 1980s, there was a musical revolution going on just a couple of miles away from my house. And I had absolutely no idea it was even happening.

A pretty special music scene was taking shape in town, led by bands like The Replacements and Hüsker Dü . Both bands formed in 1979, when I was just a year old; Hüsker Dü  broke up when I was 10 and the ‘mats when I was 13.

But when I was a kid, and even a teenager, I barely knew the name of either band, and was probably more familiar with Paul Westerberg and Bob Mould’s successor projects. I didn’t discover and begin to love the Replacements’ music until I was in my 20s, I lived in New York, and the band had long since broken up.

All I knew about the punk rock scene in the Twin Cities was that it seemed to revolve around a McDonalds (of all things) in uptown Minneapolis, and I’d occasionally see a guy walking around with spikes for hair. I had no idea that Oar Folkjokeopus, the South Minneapolis record store that was the epicenter of that movement, was about a half mile away from the synagogue where I went to nursery school and Hebrew school- but I never even heard the name until I read a book about the Replacements about 15 years later.

What did I know about Minnesota music, as a kid? Well, I knew Prince was from the area, along with the various hangers-on of his crew. And Bob Dylan, too, although when he last lived in Minneapolis my parents were in junior high.

Soul Asylum was the one Minneapolis band that meant something to me back then. They’ve had a 30-year career that continues to this day, but their one and only breakthrough album, “Gravedancer’s Union,” came out in 1993, when I was 15. This was right around when I first got a guitar, and I quickly learned all the songs on the album. I started playing guitar mostly to impress girls, and on one occasion- playing Soul Asylum’s song “Runaway Train” at a camp retreat- I even did. So I just about went crazy when I read in a guitar magazine that the band’s frontman Dave Pirner had gotten his first guitar at Knut Koupee, the same store where I got mine.

I moved away from Minneapolis after high school and didn’t exactly pay much attention to the local music scene for awhile after, aside from keeping up with the career of my friend, the highly regarded singer/songwriter Dan Israel. I was amused to discover that Semisonic, who did that ubiquitous “Closing Time” song in the late ’90s, had two members who went to my high school (one of them, Dan Wilson, won a bunch of Grammys last year for writing part of Adele’s album.)

But that all changed when The Hold Steady came along. Not only was their singer, Craig Finn, from the Minneapolis area, but he was just a few years older than me, also from the suburbs but one town over. He dropped Minneapolis references in song lyrics, appeared on baseball podcasts to talk about Joe Mauer, wore a Twins jersey on stage and even wrote a novelty baseball song called “Please Don’t Call Them Twinkies.” It also didn’t hurt that I loved the music itself, or that Finn regularly named The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and Soul Asylum as influences, along with other favorites of mine like Wilco and Bruce Springsteen.

Sure, they sang about a version of Minnesota- full of Catholic imagery, “hoodrats,” drunken and drug-fueled debauchery, “banging camps” by the Mississippi River- that I never quite experienced. But in the upper midwest, regional pride goes very far. And yes, I lived in New York when I discovered the band, but so did they. When a Twin Cities buddy visited me in New York one time and we walked around the Lower East Side, he pointed out that he recognized all the street names from Lou Reed lyrics. So it was so great to hear the Hold Steady song “Southtown Girls,” and references to Lyndale, 494 and other Minneapolis streets.

I’ve never been in a band, never really had any desire to be in one, and mostly stashed my guitar for about 15 years, until I had a kid who, despite being only 2 years old, wants to hear and play with guitars all the time. And since I have a strong desire to raise my two sons to embrace their half-Minnesotan heritage, I think one day I’ll introduce them to the work of Messrs. Westerberg, Mould, Pirner, Israel and Finn, so they can discover it at an earlier age than I did. Not too early though- I don’t want them knowing about hoodrats before they’re ready.

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  • saminder gumer

    it is a good idea to introduce music to children when they are young. they learn so fast and so much when they are young and can carry it forward.

  • Jack Cotter

    I’m bummed I missed the Hold Steady on Friday at the wxpn music festival. The Hold Steady, young Springsteen tracks and that kind of what I call “city life” music is my soundtrack