Rock and Roll Book Club: Cyn Collins's 'Complicated Fun'

'Complicated Fun' by Cyn Collins
'Complicated Fun' by Cyn Collins (Jay Gabler/MPR)

Cyn Collins's new book Complicated Fun accomplishes a lot, and one of the most important things is that it defines a scene and an era.

If you had to pick signposts for that era, you might start with a 1974 performance by the New York Dolls at the Minnesota State Fair. Just about everyone at that show, it seems, went on to start a local rock band.

At the other end, you might pick Purple Rain. When that movie was released in 1984, it made Minneapolis iconic. That wasn't so much the cause of any change in the local music scene as it marked the end of an era: the end of a scrappy period during which everyone was fighting to make the city into the music mecca it ultimately became.

Prince is a fairly distant object of veneration for the sources of this oral history, which focuses on the largely white rock scene that sprang up as part of the nationwide punk and indie rock explosion in the the mid-70s.

Along with the Dolls and Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and the Ramones were among the leading lights of that movement — and one of the revelations of Complicated Fun is that those artists weren't just posters to tack on the wall. They treated their Minneapolis compatriots like peers, hanging out at their house parties and bringing the Minnesotans on tour.

As described in these pages, Minneapolis punk hotspots were like wormholes to another world: step into Jay's Longhorn, and you were practically at CBGB's. Rockers running across the snowy intersection of 26th and Lyndale were in step with New York hipsters trying to keep their cigarettes lit as they crossed the Bowery. Oar Folkjokeopus was "the internet of the mid- and late 1970s," says Kevin Cole: instead of checking Twitter, you'd check the new-release bin.

With chapters focusing on key bands including the Suburbs, Hüsker Dü, and the Replacements, Complicated Fun helps to sort out the distinctions in personality and influence among bands who are often now simply lumped together. The Suburbs were consistently fun, the band everyone loved. Hüsker Dü "bulldozed" the scene with their speed and power, remembers the quotable Cole. The Replacements were divisive: the people who got them, really got them, and those that didn't thought they were sloppy and overrated.

Other chapters center on the legendary Jay's Longhorn (now an Xcel Energy storage facility), Twin/Tone Records, and the early-1980s rise of the 7th Street Entry as the go-to venue for indie shows as the Longhorn and other spots shuttered.

The book also highlights the crucial cross-pollination between the rock scene and institutions like the Guthrie Theater (which hosted shows by the likes of Frank Zappa), the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. If you think the Walker Art Center only hosts Rock the Garden because they have a convenient garden, check out Chapter 14, which highlights the Walker's 1979 M-80 Festival — advertised as "a preview to rock in the '80s." Even the Helvetica font will look eerily familiar to Rock the Garden regulars, who will also recognize the mix of national acts (Joan Jett, Chris Stamey) with locals (the Flamingos, Fingerprints).

Of course the book has a lot of great stories — the Suburbs regretting not taking Bruce Springsteen's advice not to sign to a major label, the "Cold Party" held with no heat in the dead of winter — but it's clear that Collins didn't just turn on her recorder and say, "Okay, tell me the craziest thing you ever did in the '70s." She asked these artists to provide context and commentary, making Complicated Fun an essential guide to Minneapolis rock in its peak era.

Collins is appearing at several events to celebrate the release of Complicated Fun. Tonight, there's a reading at the Electric Fetus along with a performance by Flamingo. This weekend, Collins will be joining the Suicide Commandos for a listening party and "acoustic hootenanny" as that band releases a new record. On May 19, the official release show at the Hook & Ladder will feature Hypstrz; Flamin' Oh's and that band's predecessor Flamingo; Curtiss A & Dark Click; and Gondwana. For details, see mnhs.org.

The Current's Complicated Fun Giveaway

Use this form to enter The Current's Complicated Fun giveaway between 8 a.m. CT on Wednesday, May 3, 2017 and 11:59 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

Three (3) winners will each receive one (1) softcover copy of Complicated Fun. Three (3) back up names will be drawn.

Prize retail value: $19.95

We will contact the winners on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. Winner must accept by 10 a.m. CT on Thursday, May 11, 2017.

Contact Information

You must be 13 or older to submit any information to American Public Media. The personally identifying information you provide will not be sold, shared, or used for purposes other than to communicate with you about things like our programs, products, and services. See Minnesota Public Radio's Terms of Use and Privacy Statement.

This giveaway is subject to Minnesota Public Radio's 2017 Official Giveaway Rules.


comments powered by Disqus