It Tuesday, April 25, 1988.
My band had a gig. In the several months since we’d recorded a demo, we’d knocked around with a bit of this, a bit of that, a few practices, a few parties, a little schmoozing…
…and, finally, our band – “Joe Public”, this time – had a gig. Mark, Bill and I were playing yet another Tuesday “New Band Night” – our third – at the Seventh Street Entry. Their older brother Chaz was sitting in on the sax for a few songs.
To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much about the evening; I could name probably half a dozen of the ten songs we played, because we played them at all our gigs, songs I’d written two years earlier and that went over OK with audiences, whenever we had audiences; “Great Northern Avenue”, “Fourth Of July”, “Long Gray Wire” and “Five Bucks and a Transfer”, from our demo tape, and a few others I’d written since that are long lost to my memory. It was a decent gig, although Chaz’ contributions on the sax were a little incongruous; Mark, Bill and I were a pretty tight rock’nroll power trio by this point (think “Gin Blossoms meet the Iron City Houserockers”, not that that’ll help you much), and Chaz was more into “free-form jazz”, meaning honking on more or less random notes and scales as the spirit moved him, which made for a few interesting moments; he took a solo on “Great Northern” that sounded a little like hindu raga music on the sax, albeit in a key utterly unrelated to my little three-minute rock-and-roll tune.
What I really remember about the evening were the other bands that night. We played third out of the four bands that balmy late-April evening. The two before us were a couple of sloppy, dissipated groups of college kids who strummed gamely away at first-position chords and did more-or-less-random songs about not a whole lot. The fourth band of the night – “Full Metal Hangover” – was a trio of local bartenders who, being bartenders, were everyone’s best friends (I knew a couple of ’em); they thrashed gamely away at first-position chords and did more-or-less-random-sounding songs about being incapacitated in one way or another.
The unifying theme? They were what someone’d call, at another place and time, “bad”. But on that evening, it snuck up on me; the Minneapolis music scene I’d moved to – a combination of ultra-motivated R’nB bands (Westside), glibly-vocational new wavers (The Suburbs, Limited Warranty, Figures, The Shoes) and raucous punks with ferocious chops (the ‘mats, the Hüskers, the Clams, The Law) – had given way to a new generation. And to this new generation, detached cool was king; part of “detached cool” was detaching from the newly-uncool idea of “playing your instrument well”. The new cool, proclaimed via the official bibles of the Twin Cities music scene, the Twin Cities Reader and City Pages’ various music columns, was angsty, noisy or jangly (Sonic Youth, Killdozer and REM seemed to be the big influences), and seemed to actively eschew the notion of competence, much less proficience on one’s instrument. It was they heyday of groups like ZuZu’s Petals, the Cheap Dates, and a slew of other noisy, sloppy, angsty bands.
I remember nudging Bill the Drummer as we watched Full Metal Hangover. “It’s getting to the point where playing your instrument well is a handicap”. He nodded, not for the first or last time on the subject. It seemed to us – to me – that the Twin Cities music scene I’d moved to the Twin Cities to be a part of had died and gone away.
Call it sour grapes; I don’t think was an entirely inaccurate assessment, then or now.
But what had died and gone away was my future as a rock and roll star. Oh, I still loved playing. I still do. But little did I know that that would be the last time I’d play in a band of my own in a Twin Cities rock and roll bar. The scene had left me, and I’d left it, driving in opposite directions, although I doubt I knew it at the time. I had one more gig in one more band coming up – but that’d be in July of 1996, a one-off…
But that’s a story for another day – seven years from now.