“I Don’t Know What to Do Now That Pink Has Turned to Blue”: Punk’s Story in the Twin Cities
Doors open at 8:00 p.m, opener goes on at nine. Outside, an eclectic crowd waits for the headliner to go on. Attendees complete their messenger bags with Black Flag pins purchased from Extreme Noise, Uptown’s underground record store. Attendees are let into a small dark room, with a tiny one-foot high stage centered at the front. Bad Brains roar through the speakers while conversation is shared over PBRs at the back bar. The stalls and mirrors in the bathrooms, covered in creating slogans and drawings, function as a canvas for the artistic expression of those attending the show.
The band takes the stage: no lights, no fog machines, just visceral energy. These punks find sanctuary at Minneapolis’ late Triple Rock Social Club , a dive that was committed to preserving the Twin Cities’ punk community.
Minnesota punk, marked by its DIY ethos, anti-authoritarianism streak, and primal instrumentals is most notably represented by three iconic acts: The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and the Suburbs. But the road to prominence was first paved by one lesser known but revolutionary act: The Suicide Commandos. The trio (Chris Osgood, Dave Ahl and Steve Almaas) paralleled the rise of The Ramones. “The Suicide Commandos formed in the summer of ’75. The Sex Pistols came along the next year. “And we heard the Ramones in the summer of ’76; we were just floored, because it sounded so much like us,” Osgood of the Commandos explained to Magnet Magazine.
With the enthusiasm for punk ignited by Our Folkjokeopus, the only record store in the cities making a concerted effort to sell punk rock albums in the 70s, a stage was needed. The burgeoning New York scene at CBGB inspired Jay Berine. Looking to emulate that raw energy and passion in the Midwest, Berine reinvented his country-western club into a shelter for the emerging counter-cultural movement. Jay’s Longhorn Bar opened its renovated doors in June of 1977. The Suicide Commandos were the second band to play. And with their fast, aggressive, stripped-back sound, they were able to catapult a movement in the Twin Cities, and it would reverberate throughout the US.
First Avenue might be one the most important America music venues, but it owes a lot to the Longhorn. After Suicide Commandos warmed up the stage, Hüsker Dü and The Replacements made their debuts. Longhorn was early on booking pinnacle acts like Iggy Pop, Blondie and The Talking Heads.
Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü (translating to “do you remember” in Danish and Norwegian) refers to the Longhorn as their first “real gig.” While studying at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and working at a sales clerk at Cheapo Records in Minneapolis, Mould met his bandmates for Buddy and the Returnables: Greg Norton, Grant Hart and Charlie Pine. The quartet originally performed classic rock staples and Ramones’ covers. Pine’s keyboards didn’t mesh with what the rest of the band heard in their heads, so the other three members fired him. They changed the name to Hüsker Dü. Favoring a more hard-edged sound. Hüsker Dü pioneered the sound of Minneapolis hardcore. It was more abrasive, faster, and louder than any form of punk rock before it.
As Sam’s Club was rebranding to First Avenue in the early 80s, Hüsker Dü was a featured mainstay. They played the 7th Street Entry over 60 times between 1980-1981. Steve McClellan, First Avenue founder, and Bob Mould developed a deep camaraderie. Pockets of hardcore punk were sprouting all over the United States, but Minneapolis especially left a profound impact.
Hüsker Dü’s second studio album Zen Arcade was canonized, gaining status as a cult classic, and setting the blueprint for compelling, heavy, energetic rock. When Krist Novoselic, Nirvana’s bassist, was asked about the originality of their sound by Kerrang magazine, he said that it was “nothing new; Hüsker Dü did it before us.”
Standing in contrast to Hüsker Dü’s highly conceptualized hardcore anthems was the raw, youthful angst of The Replacements. The Replacements took punk in a direction that was more heartfelt and self-aware yet equally unhinged.
When Replacement’s vocalist Paul Westerberg was 17, a friend turned him onto the Sex Pistols. Westerberg was enthralled. “That is my music,” said Westerberg. The noisy, no-frills approach to song writing inspired a frustrated Westerberg who couldn’t seem to master the folk songs he was trying to learn on his acoustic.
While walking home from his job as a janitor, he overheard a band rehearsing a Yes cover in a basement on 36th and Grand. One day, a curious Westerberg mustered up the courage to knock on their door. He left the house as a member of Dogbreath, a trio ranging in age from 12-19.
But their gaudy classic rock shtick did not cut it for Westerberg. He pushed his love of punk on them, handing his new band mates LPs by the Buzzcocks and the New York Dolls. Westerberg fabricated a story about the band’s distaste for their current vocalist who was convinced to ditch Dogbreath. Westerberg volunteered his own vocal talents.
Dogbreath’s name changed to mirror their new sound: The Replacements. It reflected their identity as social outliers. Westerberg wrote self-deprecating lyrics, capturing youthful awkwardness in their music and stage presence.
The Replacements played their first show at Jay’s Longhorn in 1980, a year after Hüsker Dü made their eruptive debut. Peter Jesperson, from Minneapolis based label Twin/Tone Records, was enamored by The Replacements frenetic performance and immediately signed them.
Their live show was chaotic and abrasive. Seeing the Replacements was a risk; one had no way of knowing if the band would be sober enough to play or not. Their apathetic rowdiness became their calling card.
The Replacements were subversive and influential. The loveable rejects, they reveled in their success and failures with unpretentious honesty. All that the Replacements embodied was shown naked through every performance, in the design of every album cover, and in their demeanor of every interview.
An overview of Twin Cities’ punk would not be complete without mentioning Babes in Toyland, a band who took punk to a whole new level of harshness. Formed by Kat Bjelland, Lori Barbero, and Michelle Leon, the band had a ferocious and visceral sound that was highly influential to Kathleen Hannah of Bikini Kill.
Today, the legacy of these local heroes is lived vicariously. Young punks can journey to Lake Street to visit Extreme Noise Records, a volunteer co-op designated to preserving the punk lifestyle in Minneapolis ,filling the void that Our Folk left when closed its doors in 2001.
In the midst of Minneapolis thriving music scene, stowed away in numerous Twin Cities’ record collections, are the tunes produced by a rag-tag outsider community of punks who just feel a bit disillusioned by the status quo. In the words of Paul Westerberg, “We are the sons of no one, bastards of young.”