I’d been in the Twin Cities for a little over three months, going on four, on Thursday, February 6, 1986.
When I’d moved to the Cities, I’d had a short checklist of to-dos:
- Get a job I liked. Check. While I was making exceedingly lousy money at KSTP-AM, producing the afternoon show with Don Vogel was better than a dream come true; it was a dream I didn’t even know I’d had. I got paid (not well, but paid) to be juvenline five hours a day.
- Find a cool girlfriend. No luck there – but it didn’t matter, I was far too much a workaholic to care about such things. Much.
- Start a band, become a rock star. No, not really a “rock star”, just a local/regional personality in the music biz, someone who could write and record stuff, play out locally, just do music.
I was going to work on that tonight.
Since the day I’d moved to the Cities, I’d been scanning the “Musicians Wanted” column in the City Pages’weekly want ads. I’d been to a few “auditions”:
- One ad sought a guitar player for an original/cover band. They talked a good game on the phone, but something seemed “off”. I trekked out to northeast-suburban White Bear Lake, where I met…a couple of high school kids. We played “Immigrant Song” and the inevitable “Sweet Emotion”. And that was it . Nobody knew any of the same songs; they didn’t know any Clash or Springsteen or Sex Pistols or Ramones; I knew no Metallica or Iron Maiden or Anthrax; I knew one Judas Priest song (“Living After Midnight”, from 1980’s “British Steel”; their knowledge of the Halford/Tipton oeuvre started with “You Got Another Thing Coming”, about the point where I, the purist, cried “Sell-out”). I tried playing them a few of my originals; my Joe Grushecky-like bar-rockdidn’t much mesh with their desire to be “Spinal Tap” but less funny.
- A very gay guy who wanted to be Bono. I went to his place to talk music one Sunday afternoon. Now, I don’t want to say I’d just fallen off the turnip truck – but I pretty much had. I was, at age 23, just starting to figure out what was up with the guys in my high school plays who sat around the piano after practice singing show tunes, and who were all the girls’ best friends. In four years of college in North Dakota, I’d known exactly one person who called himself “gay” – more about that when this series continues into the fall of ’86. The Bono wannabe – and when I say “Bono wannabe”, I don’t mean he looked like Bono (more like Bruno Kirby with excessive skin oil) or sang like him (not even karaoke-quality), just desperately loved Bono and his music – had an apartment off Loring Park that was stuffed with framed posters of David Bowie and Marlon Brando and Morrissey (not that one, this one). I didn’t know much about gay people, but I recognized stereotypes when I saw them. Speaking of which, he played no instruments. As mentioned already, he was an atrocioius singer. What he did was write. Constantly. He was a regular at the First Avenue, the club from the movie Purple Rain; he sat at a table in the balcony, drank house wine, and filled notebooks full of lyrics. I looked at them; they were the sort of self-absorbed (I’d hate to say “whiny”) free verse that’d make Sylvia Plath tell him to pull himself together and grow a pair. I passed.
- A keyboardist, drummer and bass player who lived in a warehouse downtown. I went to the audition, hauling my guitar, amp and harmonica, wearing my army-surplus jacket, through the battered bare-drywall hallways that reeked of cigarettes, cheap wine and urine, up the open-sided freight elevator, and to the fourth floor unit where the guys lived. Three guys that looked like Duran Duran opened the door. An hour of dismal synth-pop later, I grabbed my gear and left.
And so on. I probably did a dozen “auditions” in the first three months.
This night? Back to the dingy, badly-lit, dilapidated blocks of decrepit warehouses that were still about five years away from being called “The Warehouse District”.
I wheeled my old Chevy up Washington Avenue, past strib clubs and empty, seedy storefronts, to Third Avenue. I parked on a dingy street in front of a boarded-up, grafitti-covered building, and walked into the warehouse (leaving my guitar and amp locked in the trunk; I’d been warned about guys getting jumped and losing their gear in these places, and I wanted to check out the digs before I hauled my precious gear into the building), as newspapers blew past me and a drunk staggered down the cross street, kicking a can past vacant doorways.
I went up a rattling freight elevator to the fourth floor, then across creaking, timber floors to a door. The band inside were…a bunch of guys. They’d been playing out for years; they’d even played the First Avenue main stage. They had a few thousand dollars worth of gear, a rehearsal space with a small tab and a view of downtown (even though it smelled of spilled Mad Dog and rodent droppings) and an untold toll on their livers…and not a whole lot else.
I forget the details of the “audition”; it went well, but I suspect the band wanted what most bands that audition for new members wanted; someone who could play really well, and wanted to play someone else’s music, and not agitate to play any of their own music, and do it for next to no money for the foreseeable future. We all looked onward. I don’t think I saw any of them again.
But I saw the room again. In the summer of ’04, I worked for a company in the same, precise space, on the fourth floor of a renovated warehouse near the Monte Carlo bar and restaurant. The Warehouse District is a destination today; the ratty, deserted warehouses are full of trendy restaurants and chi-chi bars and lofts that go for six figures, and office space like the one that occupied what had been the ratty, putrid rehearsal space; the dirty windows were now sunny expanses of thermal glass with a view of downtown that cried “Jing! Jing!”; the dingy flooring, stained dark by decades of machinery oil and hobo vomit, was now blond and clean and had that fussy trendy air about it. The decrepitude on the street outside was carefully controlled – more for atmosphere than anything.
The old rehearsal space, like at least one of the guys who’d rehearsed there, shucked its air of studied rattiness and learned how to earn a living, somewhere along the way.