It would be Tuesday night, just after 9:00, I would be waiting in the front room of my parents’ house, watching for John to pull up. Almost like clockwork (he didn’t always arrive at the exact same time) there he was and out the door I went. No honk. No call beforehand. It was just that routine. If one of us couldn’t make it, then there would be a phone call. But we didn’t miss more than a couple Tuesday nights at the legendary Minneapolis nightclub: First Avenue & the 7th Street Entry.
That’s how it was for John and me every Tuesday night beginning in the mid 80s. It was something we felt we were required to do. We just had to get to Club Degenerate.
As I explained last week, Club Degenerate was a night of alternative music, cool videos, and some unusual performance art pieces. But mainly John and I were there to dance to music we liked, not that crap the rubes in the St. Paul “nightclubs” shuffled around to in those days. (Paradise By The Dashboard Light?! Seriously! They would attempt to dance to that dreck.) Besides, the reception of two dudes dancing without chicks in those clubs would not have been very good. But at First Avenue we had that freedom. And, as I said, the music way more betterer. Meatloaf was never played at Club Degenerate!
DJ Kevin Cole would spin tunes from The Smiths, New Order, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Ministry, Nitzer Ebb, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Jam, Love & Rockets, Bauhaus, Tones On Tail, Peter Murphy, Buzzcocks, Wire, Sex Pistols, Joy Division, The Pale Fountains, Au Pairs, Killing Joke. As well as local favorites Husker Du, Rifle Sport, The Suburbs, The Replacements. I could go on (goon?) but you get the idea.
When Cole wasn’t playing music videos on the big screens in front and beside the stage, he would have visuals from cult films such as Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and the very bizarre Forbidden Zone featuring a very young Danny Elfman. There would also be obscure old black and white cartoons. It all combined for some pretty entertaining alternative entertainment.
But there was more!
Each Tuesday night, in the 7th Street Entry, there would be half a dozen bands participating in Battle of the Bands. That was a showcase for local bands that were playing First Avenue for their first time. There was no crossover charge, so if things felt as though they were waning in the main room, we’d head into the Entry to see if anyone good was giving it a go.
Two bands stand out in my memory from that free showcase. One was Breaking Circus a tough, angry, post punk Minneapolis band via Chicago. Founded and lead by Steve Bjorklund, Breaking Circus put on a great show, even if they did scare us a little bit. The other band never scared us. They were Trip Shakespeare. I can still picture the three piece band (they would later expand to four members when band leader Matt Wilson’s brother Dan joined) each wearing grey suits and looking like they were having a great time. The tunes they played were damned catchy.
And Club Degenerate consistently had some of the coolest flyers I’ve ever seen. A fellow named Ron Clark appears to have been the designer of them. I wish I had saved all of them. Not just for the art, but on the back would be the monthly schedule of the musical acts that were flowing through First Avenue’s main room and the Entry. Those would have been important historical documents, but did we save them? Noooo. We made paper airplanes out of them to sail across the dance floor. Oh, well. We just weren’t thinking, I guess.
There is a website that features a few of them. Click here to take a look.
It didn’t take long for John and me to feel like we owned the place. We had our spot at the stage end of the dance floor (stage left). And we’d look disapprovingly at the “tourists” dancing so normally together. “Hey! There’s places in St. Paul for you guys!”
I took to skanking around the dance floor, full or not, when the mood hit. And it hit often. I could get moving pretty impressively around that floor, if I say so myself. I would purposefully dash between a dancing couple, just because.
I’ve been told that a photograph exists of John and me skanking and appearing to converge on some “normal” people. I’m told it’s a great picture, but I’ve never seen it. If only I could find it, but I’ve no idea where to look.
There was one occasion, early in the evening, the dancing mood had not hit most the people in the club yet, so the floor was virtually unoccupied. Well, there were two people on it. I was skanking gracefully along, but I was getting annoyed at the other person on the floor: A “tourist” who dared to be walking on his hands across my dance floor!
Well, this could not be tolerated. I kept on skanking and made my way over to the inverted fellow and just subtly leaned into him as I swept by, knocking him to the floor. He was immediately on his feet and moving along the floor with me. Just inches from my face. I never broke stride as I put on my most innocent face and gave him a look that said, “What?!”
He took no further action. Whew.
Time moved on and Club Degenerate morphed into Club 2 4 1 and eventually First Avenue gave up DJ nights in the main room altogether.
Boy! How I do miss those days!
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