The Making of a New Twin Cities Record Label (Part 2 of 4)
In the early months of 2009 Mic and I plotted a course for getting him back to Minneapolis. Neither of us had much money on hand, so we shopped our options heavily. I had agreed to make a trip out to NYC and drive the long and winding road back to MN with him. The reality is that the road isn’t all that winding, but I’ll leave that for the next post.
On April 17th I headed down to the Hubert H. Humphrey air terminal to hop a plane to NYC. It’d been about a decade since last I’d flown – pre-911 days. Terminal life had changed, most noticeably the security check points. In the past I remembered being able to freely walk concourses and meeting travelers the moment they stepped off the plane. Now, unless you’re a ticket holder, you’re kept as near the main entrances as possible. I found it disturbing to say the least, especially when they made me remove my shoes to gain passage. I don’t have smelly feet (usually), but I conceptualize the removal of shoes as something one does as a courtesy when entering another’s home, and in this context, it’s comfortable. At the airport it just felt awkward, and even though everyone else was doing it, I couldn’t help but feel suspected. To a certain degree we are all now made to feel like subjects of suspicion.
Part of attaining dirt cheap, $99 one-way tickets to NYC entails putting up with whatever inconveniences are necessary, and usually this translates into layovers. Mine was in Milwaukee, a city I love for the sheer number of neighborhood bars found on almost every corner. Truly, one of the best towns for bar hopping. But my stay was only two hours and not outside the airport. After browsing a terminal book store with a particularly curmudgeony clerk, I sat and read my copy of Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I find it a great book for life’s changing scenery. Aside from the engaging storyline, it is chalk full of little insights and well-placed one-liners. One of my favorites reads as follows:
“Great minds struggle to cure diseases so that people may live longer, but only madmen ask why.” (Pirsig 1981:72)
I’ve never taken this in the literal sense. A “disease” here can be whatever misfortune you want it to be, from depression, injustice, and destitution to a tiresome outlook on one’s own waking minute. As I boarded the plane to NYC I thought about Mic and the plans he had for himself and those folks he planned to work with in Minneapolis. He was leaving a more or less stable life, a life he thoroughly enjoyed, one he worked relentlessly for. In exchange he was receiving a life that some might consider a step in the wrong direction. A life less stable, fraught with uncertainties. But he had identified a disease, and he wanted to help find a cure.
Growing up in the 90’s we slowly accumulated knowledge about the local Twin Cities music scene. The “Golden Age” as some call it (that which included bands like The Replacements, Husker Du, and The Revolution), had passed by the time we were playing music in Mic’s parent’s basement in 1995. We owed much of our understandings to the internet, because without this, it would have been tough for kids in the 90’s to find out about their musical antecessors in the 80’s. For the sake of brevity in lieu of detail, let’s just say much of that scene revolved strongly around Twin Tone Records and the Oar Folkjokeopus record store. Everything was abuzz at that time, and people outside the Upper Midwest knew about it too.
Mic identified that things were different in the cities now. Working in the biz on the national level for seven years, he knew through experience that no record label in the Twin Cities was synonymous with the scene in the same way Twin Tone had been. While Sub Pop in Seattle has endured for two decades, Twin Tone has since become a shell. No longer breaking the best new bands in the Twin Cities, its now largely a part of our local culture’s antiquity. I gathered that this dismayed Mic. He knew the quality of the artists in the Twin Cities. He knew through conversations with friends and artists here that many felt suffocated, like there were no doors leading out from the small, albeit well-furnished, room that is the Twin Cities music scene. For all the luxuries our local scene has to offer, from great venues to great studios, great cultural institutions to great objects of inspiration, there are just too few ways for bands to break out of our little cultural island in the middle of the North American continent. The dismantling of so much national biz infrastructure in recent years has only complicated matters further.
The disease, then, is a lack of knowledgeable helping hands (or simply unwilling hands) and the infrastructure that comes along with so many hands. All for the purpose of helping artists get to where they want to be, whatever and wherever that may be.
As I exited LaGuardia looking for the M60 bus that would take me to the subway and then to Manhattan, all these things continued racing through my mind. The disease was all about people and could only be solved by people – people helping people. As an anthropologist I’ve come to believe through my studies that a tendency to do good towards one’s neighbor is more or less universal in every culture, barring certain circumstances. This circumstance is the rule not the exception, and I thought I might alter Pirsig’s insightful quote to make it even more applicable to Mic’s current journey.
“Great minds struggle to help people so that they may live better, but only madmen ask why.”
(You can read Part 1 of this short article series HERE.)