Rock nostalgia is having a pretty good run these days. And I’m not talking about the next big Lynyrd Skynyrd show at the Hinckley casino.
Minnesota rock music fans of a certain age have already snapped up enough copies of former Pioneer Press media critic Rick Shefchik’s book, “Everybody’s Heard About The Bird: The True Story of 1960s Rock n Roll in Minnesota” to send it into a third printing. Next up are projects from Star Tribune music critic Chris Riemenschneider on First Avenue and ex-PiPress music critic/MinnPost colleague Jim Walsh’s “Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mix Tapes: Jim Walsh on Music and Life from Minneapolis to the Outer Limits” a memoir-ish collection of some of his reviews from back in the day.
Says Shefchik, who also has four novels under his belt, “It’s fair to say the response to [“The Bird”] has greatly exceeded expectations.” Adding, “But this is an arts town. There’s an appetite for this sort of thing, and I think the book fills in a few gaps in music history around here. I mean, it sort of counters the notion that the so-called ‘Minneapolis Sound’ was born in the ‘70s. It goes back further than that.”
Walsh, who is looking at an October release for his book, jokes that for years he looked at clippings and artifacts piling up in his basement and vowed the time would inevitably come when he would have to turn it into something permanent.
Known (heck, loved and admired) by many local music fans for his unflinching personal, soulful style, an approach he concedes didn’t always endear him to traditional editors, Walsh says the finished product will be a fairly straightforward republication of his original columns. He won’t, he says, be adding much in the way of eminence grise reflections. What will be included will be graphic tchotchkes like, well, like the personal note he got from Bruce Springsteen thanking him for one of his reviews. (Take that, editors!)
Disarmingly open about his battle with depression, Walsh says he decided long ago that if he ever landed a gig with a daily paper he’d continue doing exactly what he was known for, downside be damned. “I said to myself, ‘I’m going to go for it.’ It was going to be something different for a daily paper. No one else was writing about music so personally. But to me it felt honest, and real. And I think it had the effect of creating an intimacy with the readers. That made some people uncomfortable. But that was the risk you take.”
Come fall, readers will be able to decide which approach to an uniquely emotional art form — conventional third-person or from the heart personal — has more value and permanence.
For his history of First Avenue — working title: “First Avenue: Five decades as Minnesota’s landmark nightclub” — and its run as one the country’s premier pop music venues, Riemenschneider has cast a net toward managers, employees, musicians and fans. Only a few days back, he sat down for one of the big “gets,” an interview with Steve McClellan, the joint’s, dare we say, extraordinarily colorful cofounder, co-owner, manager, booker and unofficial historian.
Said Riemenschneider in an email: “He has very conflicted feelings about the club and doesn’t want it to be the only thing people know him for. We should all be so lucky to have an admired legacy like his, though. He really is the protagonist of the book, despite his oftcited antagonism.”
Riemenschneider says he’d toyed with idea of a comprehensive history of First Avenue “for a while” but the wheels began rolling when the Minnesota Historical Society Press approached him. “It was pretty serendipitous,” he says, since the urge was fully upon him.
Blessed with easy access to the Strib’s archives, both prose and photos, he quickly dug out material on Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Ike & Tina Turner and on and on, a trove of stuff from the 1970s, “kind of considered by some the greatest era.” But a full history is just that, so his task has been collecting and collating from then and every decade since, including, of course, an entire chapter on Prince and plenty on Husker Du and The Replacements, already the subject of two books by Walsh.
In the context of McClellan, Riemenschneider feels obligated to explain the bankruptcy, court fights and bitterness of the early Aughts. (What is rock, I ask you, without a clash of egos?) “There was quite a lot of drama during all that and lingering hurt feelings. A lot of people thought the club was done. But it not only has survived but remains one of the most successful independent clubs in the country.”
Several years ago he put out the call for personal remembrances of First Avenue shows.
Among the best (and typical):
Back in ’83 or ’84, a friend gave me her real ID that got me through the doors to some of the best memories of my life. The Red Hot Chili Peppers playing an awesome show (wearing only tube socks). Jane’s Addiction in the Entry (Perry Farrell swinging from the pipes). Going to see Peter Murphy, with some warmup band no one had ever heard of: Nine Inch Nails.
Nirvana on 10/14/91. It was packed, the house was shaking. [Kurt Cobain] smashed his guitar. The crowd was just wowed. Perfect night, perfect show, except for the Minneapolis cop that stole Kurt’s jacket.
The Pretenders in the early ’80s. I shot a few games of pool during the opening band’s set. The guy holding the table was a tall guy with blond hair and a British accent. When I sunk the 8-ball somebody said, ‘You just beat a pretender.’ Then I realized he meant a ‘Pretender’ specifically, founding member and lead guitarist, the late James Honeyman-Scott.
With a publication date tentatively set for next year, Riemenschneider says, “I’m absolutely still soliciting audience anecdotes. I’m taking all the stories I can get. I can’t use them all obviously. I mean, I’ve already got quite a few about Joe Cocker’s first show. But there are a lot of people out there with very fond, very funny memories of nights they spent in that place.”
(If you’ve got a story — hopefully more culturally significant than the time you threw up in one of the rest rooms — you can get ahold of Riemenschneider at: Chris.Riemenschneider@startribune.com).
Finally, Riemenschneider says the historical society has cooked a side deal with photographer Dan Corrigan, essentially First Avenue’s official shooter, for input into both Riemenschneider’s project and a separate photo book of his own.