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Rock and Roll Book Club

Rock and Roll Book Club: 'Hijinx and Hearsay' documents Minnesota music in the '80s

'Hijinx and Hearsay: Scenester Stories from Minnesota's Pop Life.'
'Hijinx and Hearsay: Scenester Stories from Minnesota's Pop Life.'Jay Gabler/MPR

by Jay Gabler

April 24, 2019

What's the most incredible photo in Hijinx and Hearsay? It's hard to pick just one.

The Replacements spoofing the Abbey Road album cover by walking across Bryant Avenue in 1984, in front of the house where their own Let It Be album cover was shot?

Tony Glover, cigarette hanging from his mouth, using a switchblade to open the Musician of the Year award envelope at the 1982 Minnesota Music Awards, as his bandmate John Koerner looks on wearing an umbrella hat? (The name inside the envelope was Prince.)

Roger Daltrey, looking like a million bucks as he chats on a land line at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in 1982?

Bob Marley sitting on a bed at the downtown St. Paul Radisson in 1983? (Looking out the window, he said, "That's it? That's the Mississippi?")

Cynthia Johnson, Steven Greenberg, and David Z (wearing a "David Who?" t-shirt) recording a Lipps, Inc. track at Sound 80?

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis tandem high-stepping at the Guthrie Theater in 1984?

The list goes on and on. Hijinx and Hearsay, out now from the Minnesota Historical Society Press, is a look back at the Twin Cities scene in the '80s. Writer Martin Keller and photographer Greg Helgeson often worked together, initially for City Pages predecessor Sweet Potato — which is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a First Avenue party this Friday. That earned them the moniker "Spud Boyz"; Hijinx and Hearsay captures their journeys from 1979 on, with new words by Keller and vintage photos by Helgeson.

It's a loose chronicle, organized by artist. That includes larger-than-life figures like Prince, who Keller first interviewed on Bobby Z's kitchen floor in 1979; it also includes unsung locals like Chuck Statler, the local videographer who helped define the look of music videos with Devo and Elvis Costello but who also shot plenty of videos for local artists, including the Suicide Commandos playing "Burn It Down" in front of their own flaming practice space. (The fire was a training exercise.)

Keller doesn't quote his original profiles at length; Hijinx and Hearsay is a combination of recollection, perspective, and update. His Hüsker Dü chapter, for example, starts with Keller running into Bob Mould and a stack of ironic promotional photocopies of Keller's middling review of Zen Arcade. It ends with the band's 1987 breakup, which left Keller knowing he'd missed the boat.

Fortunately, Helgeson didn't. He caught a brilliant portrait of the trio, looking up a ladder; a photo of Mould, Greg Norton, and Grant Hart signing their Warner Bros. record contract; and a surreal shot of the three holding white cubes in their subterranean St. Paul office.

That pattern holds for the rest of Hijinx and Hearsay: Keller's text is alternately poignant and plain, but the photos just keep pulling you in. The book covers a mix of local and national artists, reflecting the collegial cross-pollination in a scene where David Byrne would jump onstage with the Wallets at the 7th St Entry, or where Bonnie Raitt could be spotted at Elko Speedway with her brother Steve and the Lamont Cranston Band.

Bonnie Raitt has one of the best quotes in the book. Recalling her late brother, who ran sound and served in a wide variety of other capacities for various artists, she writes, "Wherever he is, he's probably yelling, 'More bass! More bass!'"

The other best quote comes from Texas rock legend Doug Sahm, who calls Minneapolis "one of the last great American cities that hasn't been spoiled." An avid baseball fan, he liked going to the Metrodome and was delighted to hear the venue's sound system thundering his then-new song "Daydreaming at Midnight" between the fifth and sixth innings of a Twins game.

Hijinx and Hearsay will leave you impressed with just how many famous musicians have made themselves at home in the Twin Cities, whether for a single night or in recurring bouts spaced across decades. Helgeson caught Richard Thompson goofing around and biting his dreadnought backstage at First Ave; Devo doing a promo stunt in their plastic wigs at a Lyn-Lake diner; James Brown sweating it out in a white turtleneck and matching pants at the Cabooze (!) in 1981; and Frosty Freeze breakdancing on the Mainroom floor during one of the first hip-hop shows to hit Minneapolis, a Fab 5 Freddy appearance in 1982.

For those images and stories to be mixed in with tributes to longtime First Ave manager Steve McClellan (captured in a portrait that Keller aptly likens to Jack Nicholson in The Shining), Dr. Seuss (attending the first stage adaptation of his work, at the Children's Theatre Company in 1979), and Joel Hodgson (goofing around with his pal Jerry Seinfeld in matching leather jackets) makes Hijinx and Hearsay an encapsulation of the nexus that few outside the media get to experience.

These are the people who made great art in Minnesota in the '80s; whether or not they're all "from here," they were all here, together.

The book's final page is reserved for Helgeson's portrait of the late David Carr, a colleague at the Twin Cities Reader before going on to national fame at the New York Times. Helgeson ran into Carr while doing a photo shoot at the rehab facility where the famously iconoclastic writer and editor was getting clean. (Carr's daughter Erin Lee Carr has just published a memoir, which complements Carr's own acclaimed account of his turbulent life.)

When Carr learned that Helgeson was going to be seeing local media critic Brian Lambert soon, Carr asked, "Give him this, would you?" Then he flipped the camera off.

Keller and Helgeson will be celebrating the release of Hijinx and Hearsay with a conversation and book signing next Wednesday, May 1 at the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis. The event will include a performance by the New Standards, whose members are captured in the book with their earlier bands Trip Shakespeare and the Suburbs.

The Current's Rock and Roll Book Club will be part of the Lit Crawl MN on May 11, in association with the Loft Literary Center's Wordplay festival. Rock star author Steven Hyden will read from his book Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock, and then spin a few of his favorite classic rock LPs, sharing stories about the albums' origins in conversation with host Jay Gabler. This free event will take place at the Bryant-Lake Bowl.