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Then and Now: The Suburbs “Love is the Law” graffiti

by Andrea Swensson

July 25, 2013


Text by Andrea Swensson and Steve Cohen

Research and "Now" photos by Steve Cohen

Now that every address is available with a quick Google search and every concert is Instagrammed from 100 angles, it can be hard to remember a time when things weren't so heavily documented.

Even massive concerts like the Beatles' visit to Minneapolis in 1965 and Elvis's stop in town a decade earlier were scarcely photographed (at least by today's standards). It can make photos from that era feel like long lost relics, like rarely opened windows that peer into a forgotten time.

In the spirit of remembering and revisiting our history, we dug through the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society, Minneapolis Public Library, Old Minneapolis, and other sources to find the influential venues that predate today's popular clubs like First Avenue. For the fourth installment of the "Then and Now" series, we'll revisit the spot where Chan Poling was inspired to write the Suburbs' biggest hit, "Love is the Law."

Love is the Law

The Suburbs' best-known song is easily "Love is the Law," a single that was also the title track of their 1983 album on Mercury/Polygram Records. The album came out at the height of the band's career, when they were opening for big-name acts like Iggy Pop and the B-52s and headlining shows at venues like First Avenue.

But the song "Love is the Law" was written in the band's pre-MTV days, when the band would gig around town at clubs like the Longhorn, hang out in Uptown, release music on Twin/Tone Records, and play free shows in Loring Park.


Photo courtesy Chan Poling

Though the popularity of "Love is the Law" endured long after the band's activities died down—it was even played on an episode of Roseanne—it wasn't until this year that frontman and "Love is the Law" songwriter Chan Poling revealed the inspiration behind the song. Between the backstory and the way "Love is the Law" was used as the anthem for the same-sex marriage bill being signed into law this year, the song has more meaning now than ever.

“I was walking down the street, just like the first line of the song says. I was walking down Lyndale towards downtown and Loring Park, and on the overpass that goes up to Hennepin over Lyndale was spray-painted with ‘Love Is The Law.’ This was in 1981," Poling told Jim Walsh earlier this year. “Pretty straight-ahead story, the song. It’s me, walking down the street, thinking about people suffering and needing things and seeing that sign and being enlightened, and that’s the whole damn song."

Poling returned to that historic spot this summer with Steve Cohen, and together they found the exact space where the "Love is the Law" graffiti once appeared.






The Suburbs recently announced that their first new album in 27 years, Si Sauvage, will be coming out August 27. The band is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the album, and have less than $5,000 to go before the campaign ends on Friday morning at 9 a.m.

For more on the new Suburbs album, see our recent interview with Chan Poling. And listen to their first single, "Turn the Radio On," right here:

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Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.