The Current's Rock and Roll Book Club: Daniel Corrigan's 'Heyday'

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Replacements 'Let It Be' cover shoot
An outtake from the Replacements' 'Let It Be' cover shoot (Daniel Corrigan)

Paging through Daniel Corrigan's Heyday is like watching the stars on First Avenue come to life. There are the Replacements, there are Babes in Toyland, there are Soul Asylum, there are Hüsker Dü — but there, too, is a young Michael Stipe and Joey Ramone and Zuzu's Petals and the Magnolias.

Scroll to the bottom of this feature to enter for a chance to win a copy of Heyday.

Corrigan has just about seen it all through the lens of his camera since he began photographing the Minneapolis music scene in the late 1970s. He's produced some of the scene's most iconic images — including album covers for Hüsker Dü, the Jayhawks, and the Replacements.

"I probably enjoyed the images from the Replacements' Let it Be cover shoot, during which Bob Stinson pretended to kick a little dog off the roof, a little too much," writes Danny Sigelman, who wrote the text for this new compilation spanning 35 years of Corrigan's photography.

Heyday is out now via the Minnesota Historical Society Press, and Corrigan will be discussing the book tonight at the Mill City Museum as a related photo exhibit opens. Andrea Swensson will moderate a discussion with Corrigan and Sigelman; the free event starts at 6 p.m.

Recently, Corrigan sat in the greenroom at the 7th Street Entry, where Andrea interviewed him for a segment on The Current's Local Show. Here, transcribed by Hanna Bubser, is their conversation.

Andrea Swensson: You actually shot a very interesting photograph down here — something that's really significant to your career. Can you tell me a little bit?

Daniel Corrigan: Yeah. Exactly where I am sitting right now is the spot that the first picture that was ever published nationally in a national publication for me was [shot] — in Creem magazine. It was a photograph of the Replacements down in the greenroom of the Entry where we are now and standing right where I'm sitting basically. That was like '82? '83? Something like that, so a long time ago.

You obviously have a very special relationship with the Replacements.

Well, yeah, I certainly did a lot of work for them. It's curious because at that time, out of all those bands, they weren't my favorite band. I mean, I shot a number of their shows. I liked them well enough, but I was more in like the Run Westy Run camp. I loved Soul Asylum. I did a lot of work with them, traveled a lot with them, and I also did a lot of work with Hüsker Dü. My first wife loved the Replacements and so I listened to Let it Be a lot, and so I know that album really well just because she had it in real heavy rotation. I'm super fortunate to have shot for them.

You've been taking pictures for over 35 years, [and] this is your first book. Why now? How did this come together?

It's very curious that I gave up being a photographer as a living almost seven years ago now, and I always think that's hilarious that I had to stop being a photographer for my book to finally come out. A book has been a great idea for a long time. When I had 20 years' worth of work it probably seemed like a good idea, but it seemed like most of it was is people just trying to make some money off of the content that I generated in that amount of time and there were a number of inquiries — but that's basically what it boiled down to. There's also the matter of [the fact that] my archive is massive and unwieldly, and it was sort of tough. So we had a couple projects move, various progressed to different degrees down the line and I actually came very close to one book, and at the last minute, the editor was either fired or he moved on to another job and all the work we had done just evaporated like that.

I think at that point I just totally gave up on it. Last winter, Ryan Cameron who was at Let it Be Records and actually gave me my very first show ever, he knew that I like to tell stories and they were doing this speaking series about music. I said yeah, sure I'll come and give a talk and Danny Sigelman and Josh Leventhal sat right next to each other just by chance in the audience during that talk and they started talking. It was simply the force of will between the two of them that made this book happen.

I gave them total access to my archives. We spent, I think, a couple months' worth of Sundays digging through, and even for all that time we spent on it we didn't get to quite everything. Mostly Josh, I think, did the editing; I left myself out of it. There's so many pictures, and I would just never be able to edit it down myself. I couldn't be happier with the way that it turned out; he did a beautiful job. The only thing I can really say about it is that I have to do another book.

Because I didn't have that input, which I did on purpose, important clients and friends and important people were left out of the story — that were important to my career and that were great pictures and like, that are really close friends of mine that I personally think I kind of slighted a little bit by leaving out. Anyway, it gives me a great excuse to do another book. I still have easily enough content to fill another book and hopefully this one does well enough that they will say yes.

I want to ask you about this title because we hear this word "heyday" a lot when we talk about music, especially the Minneapolis punk scene. You think about [a] heyday in the 1980s in Minneapolis, but this book really spans decades. What does the word mean to you?

That was another thing I had no say in. That sort of makes me think of this idea of the early '80s Minneapolis sound and I think it's with a certain amount of sort of quaint nostalgia that we look back at that time as being the "heyday." I think one of the reasons Josh gets away with calling it that is the book goes from back when I started my first pictures back here, First Avenue and my early band pictures — but it ends with Bob Mould onstage with the Suicide Commandos for the show that happened right after Prince's death, so it actually spans that width of time and you know what? Maybe it's the "heyday" now. I think the future is the heyday of music.

People will ask me what my favorite show is. and it's like the next one that's coming up. I love that potential. First Avenue's just four years shy of its 50th birthday as a music venue and right now the club is so strong and running so well that I see absolutely no reason that it's not around for another 50 years after that. I just love that — that, you know, every morning the garage door opens and another bus and another trailer pulls in, you know, anything's possible.

So, you work at First Avenue now. As you're walking through the halls here during the daylight hours when it's empty, are you thinking back on memories of shows you've seen, or are you kind of in the moment just thinking about that day?

First Avenue's a living and breathing place. We're a working night club, and that doesn't mean we just have to have shows. I'm here at 8:00 in the morning for a reason, and that's because that's when we start working. We have deliveries all day long. I've likened First Avenue — well I actually didn't start it out, Micah Ailie once said First Avenue was a pirate ship that goes nowhere. I always just really love that quote,on a bunch of different levels.

One is just that First Avenue, like the building itself, is kind of like an old ship — and, you know, old ships need constant maintenance. Constantly scrubbing and scraping and painting and fixing leaks and making sure just everything works good. This place does need that. We're really lucky that the owners have made a commitment to basically keep this place top end. I've been here a long time and right now the club looks and works better than it ever has. I think people that have worked in the club for that span of time will agree with me, almost unequivocally.

So, it's only with that sort of quaint nostalgia that you look back at it. I mean, First Avenue, there's been beautiful shows, but 20 years ago it was kind of hellish in some ways. I mean, the ceiling, we had that partial ceiling collapse a little over a year ago and that in a way was just a blessing in disguise because — I don't know if you remember, but there was a soundproofing that had been put up there sprayed on to the ceiling like in the probably early '80s and it was kind of fuzzy and you used to be able to smoke in the bar, so it had 20 years worth of cig smoke, and people are just dusty, and we put a lot of people through, so there's a lot of dust.

So anyway, the ceiling looked kind of like it was alive — and, you know, not in a good way. It had sort of a sickly sort of look to it. So the ceiling falls down — and, you know, we're lucky no one was really hurt, but that required us to remove all the lights, all the sound system, all the air handling system and remove the rest of the ceiling — including all of that terrible, you know, that ugly and horrible soundproofing stuff.

We got rid of just all the extraneous stuff that had been there. The place was built originally in 1937 as a bus depot and so it had still a lot of the old wiring and stuff up there that just didn't have to be there anymore. We were a little bit worried that when the ceiling came down that it would change the sound of the room because the room really does have a special sound to it, and that's for a couple reasons. I'm not a sound expert, but I think the room sounds bigger.

So everybody's happy, but I think another reason that the room sounds so good is that we're an EV Showcase club so we have a top-of-the-line system maintained by top technicians. They bring their clients here to show off the room. Another things is, and I think it's funny since the place was built as a bus depot, that it wasn't intended as a music hall. But if you look at the design, the main room is basically one big oval. With the front of the room being the front of the oval, you can't see the back of the oval, the other end of the oval, because it's behind the stage. But it's so perfectly behind the stage that I think it actually acts like an amphitheater. It has an amphitheater effect, like a parabolic dish — for projecting not just sound, but psychic energy, performance energy, from the stage out towards the audience.

I'm curious to know more about your love of photography and your career. What came first for you, the love of music or the love of photos?

Oh, love of music, for sure. When I was in high school I was the fourth member of a three-piece. I did sound and lights and I was a roadie and built shows. So actually, my relationship with the music business started out from the production end. My best friend was the guitar player in the band and we moved into the big city together, so we went to shows together. Before I was a photographer I was very involved with that end of the music scene, and so I wasn't intending to be a photographer at all. I came across photography just totally sideways. I was in my third year at the University of Minnesota. I was doing Spanish and Linguistics. The U.S involvement in Central America was really big back then, so my idea was, I was gonna get a job with the CIA and go to Central America and be a spook.

I was mostly interested in cryptography and that sort of communication stuff. I needed an art requirement for my distribution, my credit distribution for a liberal arts degree at the university. I figured that photography would be the most practical for what I wanted to do for my job — and, just by chance, I was able to get into it right away. It was the most popular art elective that you could get into, so it was very hard. They had a lottery to pick who gets into it, and I think the winning lottery for that one was CA-CO in the alphabet.

I understood the mechanics of [photography] right away — but what really changed it, and I clearly remember it to this day — we had to do this project where we had to shoot an object, and I picked an egg. So I picked an egg and carried it around for a couple days and did different pictures with it in different situations but then we had to develop the film, which is interesting and you get to "Ooo I made these, they're really nice," but I'll never forget the very first print that I made.

It was an egg sitting in all this busted-up concrete, and looking back at it it's classic beginning photographer. But watching this image come up in the developer in the dark room — which is kinda magic anyway — but watching it come out from this blank piece of paper, all the sudden there's your image. And it was literally like the waters parted before me. I never seen anything so, I never felt anything so amazing and I just wanted to do that over and over and over again. I don't think I have any particular knack that makes me a great photographer, but if anybody, if anybody, had made as many pictures as I have, they'd probably be a better photographer.

So I'd make a picture and we'd get done, I'd look at it and I'd go: "How can this picture be better?" And hopefully the next time I made a picture I'd be able to bring that to bear and make a better picture and...rinse and repeat for the next 25 years, you know? So I do, I really do, love it.

I started out at the Minnesota Daily and I actually had a picture in the old Sweet Potato before it became City Pages. I worked for City Pages for a long time, I worked for the Twin Cities Meter for a while, which was the competition. And so I worked for publications for a long time and I loved the idea of a field trip. Every day is different, you have no idea what it's gonna be. Somebody's gonna hand you a piece of paper and it's gonna have a name and a location and maybe a slight angle of the story and maybe a phone number and that's all you get. You get to go and discover what the heck it is, you get to see. I love that, because it's usually something interesting. Somebody believes it's interesting enough that it's gonna be in the paper.

Not only do I get to see that, but I usually get to see it from a very close perspective. An insider's perspective or a behind-the-scenes perspective. I always really loved that part of it. I think that's another thing about shooting live stuff that I'll never get sick of doing it. I love seeing how live shows are put together, how they're orchestrated. In my photographs, if you look at my earlier stuff, it's a lot more concentrated on the individuals and more close-up.

If you look at my stuff now, I try and get the entire stage and the entire band and everything in one picture at once, because I think that all the info that's contained in there, it's interesting. I love that people can say, "Oh look he's still using that amp." Or, "He's got that guitar" or, "That's when so-and-so was playing in the band." So I try and include as much information now in a single image, whereas before I think I was just going more for the dramatic.

What, to you, makes a successful photo of a live experience?

That's changed, for me. Photography is about telling a story, visually. It depends what the story it is that you wanna tell. Right now I try to tell as complete a story as possible, and that's, for me, by getting as much as the thing in the picture. I was just thinking, though, the other day, I'm not above using the wonders of digital photography to put pictures together. I'm not above that at all if it will help me to tell the story better. But then I was thinking, for all this digital manipulation, it's clearly lying. So what it is, is I'm trying to be an excellent liar, so I can tell the story more completely and truthfully.

I mean, photography is about a lie anyway because you have this 32-degree field in front of you but all the rest of it is gone. Everything outside the frame isn't included, and so you're just taking a part of the truth anyway. If it's just part of the truth, it's still kind of a lie. For City Pages, I actually got in trouble. This was kind of the start of the digital age when you could do this. I did a picture of the garbage burner. They needed a picture for the story on the garbage burner, and I did it with a wide-angle lens. With the wide-angle lens, out at the edges of the lens it makes the lines curve.

So, they were curving outward and in Photoshop I took it and I straightened out those lines. If, in your head, you can see it, something has to give somewhere and so what that happened is it turned a little arch in the bottom — it changed, where the aberration was. So it ran in the paper like that, it's such an obscure thing. Who the heck would even notice? After it ran in the paper, I told the art director. I said, "Did you even notice this? That I did this trick?" and the art director said "No I didn't." Well it got to the editor at the time that I'd done that and that was manipulating a photograph which is, when you're in the news business, is verboten.

So that's maybe why I was never really known for my news photography. Also, I don't think I have any natural sort of natural inclination as a news photographer because I can just count dozens of times where I've stood slack-jawed at something in front of me with a camera right around my neck. It doesn't even occur to me that I should be shooting this.

So I want to know a little bit more about working with Danny on this book and going though the process with him.

I've known Danny for a long time. He was one of those interesting field trips I got 20-plus years ago to do pictures of him for a story. That's how I first met him. And then he's good friends with Nate Kranz, the general manager here who is like my benefactor — just me being able to work here. When I couldn't be a photographer any more, I basically came to him and said that I need a job and he said, "we will help you" and they have all along. I'm super, super lucky that is the case.

So, as you're looking back at all of these pictures from throughout your whole career, I'm wondering if you've picked up on some kind of characteristics — or, like, a style you have that's your own style.

My first show was 100 pictures with Ryan Cameron at Let it Be. My second big show was 1,000 pictures with John Oulman at his gallery. That's what the name of the show was: 1,000 Pictures. As we're putting it up, I notice flat out I do the same trick over and over and over again. The next big show I did was the Mill City Museum show [several] years ago. We actually did a slide show of 3,000+ images that rotated every like six seconds or something like that. If you take out the live stuff — well, even the live stuff, but if it's a portrait or photograph or something that I've composed it is clearly the same trick over and over and over and over again. Putting up the Oulman show I was worried about, I'm showing my hand here, that's all I'm doing. Anybody could look at this and analyze it and do my pictures easily.

What's the trick?

Well, I mean, there's a composition. There's certain compositional tricks. One is just breaking the frame up into thirds. Every good picture has a strong vertical element and a strong horizontal element and a strong diagonal element. Mixing light sources is really key. If you can mix natural daylight and electrical light and flash and whatever, the more the merrier, the more interesting the picture is gonna be. Filling the frame; I usually shoot really tight so it's stuff like that.

Is there one photograph that people ask you about all the time?

Well, it's the rooftop. It's the roof picture for sure. I mean, that's pretty cool. To have a picture...I don't know, people say it's iconic. Now, I don't know if I'm qualified to say that, but I know that it's been imitated a bunch of times. I mean, I guess that's something that's cool. I've seen some interesting fan art that had came from that. Somebody took that, took the picture and then actually painted it out how it would look if you kept on going outside of the frames. They turned it into a panorama picture, so you could see the neighborhood and stuff going off to either side. And I thought, wow, that's pretty cool.

Filter did a take-off, they did a cover picture of Always Sunny in Philadelphia. They re-created the picture — I mean, they actually had a set-maker and build a set for them to be in. I thought this is crazy, because whoever built that set made way more money than I ever made on that picture. I bet the photographer that did the picture also did. But you know, like I said, I'm super, super lucky to have been there. So much of just success is just being in the right place at the right time, I suppose — with the right attitude.

Heyday Giveaway

Use this form to enter The Current's Heyday giveaway between 9 a.m. CDT on Wednesday, Nov. 16 and 11:59 p.m. CDT on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016.

Ten (10) winners will receive one (1) hardcover copy of Dan Corrigan's Heyday: 35 Years of Music in Minneapolis. Three (3) back up names will be drawn.

Prize retail value: $35

We will contact the winners on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. Winners must accept by 10 a.m. CT on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016.

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