It was sometime in late summer 1984. I walked into Hot Licks Records on White Bear Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was just a couple blocks from where I was living then. Hot Licks was an honest-to-goodness record store, complete with incense, posters, concert t-shirts, and those special devices for smoking… tobacco, ahem. It was my regular habit to go in each week to look through the new and used records and listen to what the store employees were playing.
The employees were actually pretty cool. They knew I was interested in expanding my musical horizons and tried to help me discover the good stuff. They also knew I was a huge fan of The Who (still am), so one fellow suggested I check out The Jam and played their first album In The City for me. I was intrigued and later became a big fan of that band. One time a store manager was checking in some used records and I saw that the vinyl version of The Who’s Quadrophenia came with a picture book. Only having the album on cheap cassette, I didn’t have that special item. She gave it to me on the spot. Score!
One weekend afternoon in the fall of 1983 I was working at Wendy’s Restaurant, when a different manager of Hot Licks came in for lunch. He spotted me and called me over. “Hey, Jim! You’re a fan of Cheap Trick, aren’t you?” I was (still am). “Come by the store later. We have a band promo display of them. It’s yours if you want it.”
I did and I scarfed it up. I wish I still had it, but, sadly, a flooded basement destroyed it.
So, 1984 was at the beginning of my pursuing cool music phase. I had completed my first year of art school, at which I learned there was more (and better) music out there than just what was offered on Top 40 radio. Cool stuff. I had really only heard of punk while I was in high school, even though I did know the two hits by The Clash (Should I Stay Or Should I Go and Rock The Casbah) and some Talking Heads. It was at art school where I discovered punk, post punk, goth, industrial, and pretty much what would later be labeled as alternative music. And Hot Licks was helping me find more.
But my visit to the store that late summer’s day in 1984 was different. There was a band playing an in-store show. They were a local punk band and they were promoting this big album they had just released. The album was the critically-acclaimed Zen Arcade and the band was St. Paul’s Husker Du. (Yes, I know. They’re nearly always credited to Minneapolis, but the band members met, formed, and rehearsed, at least in the beginning, in St. Paul. So, I’m giving credit where credit is due.)
I walked in just as the band was… putting their equipment away. I had missed it. Store employee Marty greeted me with a disappointed, “Oh, Jim. You should have gotten here earlier. Husker Du just played!”
“Really? Oh, gosh, my timing was off. Dang it.”
If you think that reaction sounds a little unenthused, well, it was. You see, at that time I was only vaguely aware of a local band called Husker Du. But I didn’t want to appear uncool, so I acted disappointed.
Within weeks my friend John, a partner of mine in the pursuit of the music of the cool, had picked up a copy of Zen Arcade and the two of us were digging it as we drove around the Twin Cities with it blaring from John’s car stereo. We agreed that this band kicked ass! And we must see them in concert. As soon as possible.
It turned out that possible was January 30, 1985 at the legendary Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue and the 7th Street Entry.
John and I were still pretty early in our attending punk rock shows and we hadn’t quite gotten a handle on the whole slam-dancing thing, so we figured it would be safer to hang back for this first experience with the Huskers. Future viewings of the band would find the two of us slamming and skanking our way through the scrum in front of the stage, but that night we preferred to take it all in from the relative safety of the back of the main floor.
We had met up with some friends of mine from art school. They were at the other end of the main floor when the show started and we lost sight of them. Well, that was until art schooler Gene got up on stage and began skanking around. First Avenue frowned on concert-goers getting onstage and they downright scowled at the notion of doing a stage dive. Gene was not onstage for long, because he hurled himself off in what was the most beautiful stage dive I had ever witnessed. Why even the daily newspaper of the University of Minnesota, in its review of the show, called the dive “Louganis-like”.
I didn’t see Gene again until the next day at school. Upon completing his aerial feat, he was immediately ejected from the club. Well, liability insurance is kind of a big deal.
The band was loud, fast, and aggressive. Guitarist and vocalist Bob Mould with his low slung Flying V guitar would do a sort of hop/run in circles and back and forth when he wasn’t growling and bellowing into the mic. Drummer and vocalist Grant Hart would play about as fast as I had ever seen a drummer play and he would sing. I always found it most impressive when a drummer sings while playing. And bassist Greg Norton was a pogo master. I swear he never stopped jumping. Husker Du could put on a hell of a great show.
There is video footage of the band playing Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill at First Avenue on that date. The handbill posted above has reminded me that there were two shows that day. I was at the later show. Since the time I discovered this video from an unreleased documentary about the world famous music club, I had assumed I was there. Well, I was there but there’s a 50/50 chance the footage is from the earlier show. I’m going to say it’s from the show I saw and leave it at that.
Incidentally, the documentary is called First Avenue: Hay Day 1985-1992. It has only had a handful of showings, but I hear it won’t be widely released due to the high cost of music licensing. I would think a Kickstarter or GoFundMe campaign could easily raise the money needed. I would give money and would love to own a copy. 1985-1992 is exactly the same time period I did most my hanging at the club. Coincidence? Yes. (Here’s the trailer for the documentary.)
There was a time. A time when I would seek out cool music and go to concerts. It seems as though I was taking in at least one show every week. To look at me now, kids probably think I might be nice, but I’m awfully square. It doesn’t show, but there was a time when I was cool.
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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.