‘Complicated Fun’ Is a Thorough Study of the Glory Days of the Twin Cities Punk and Indie Scenes

The tales of a record store, a set of like-minded club owners, and a record label all tie together into a beautiful narrative of the burgeoning Minneapolis music scene.

Dig, if you will, a picture. It’s October 1984 in Minneapolis, and the preceding four months have seen the release of Prince’s box office smash film Purple Rain, the soundtrack to the film (which has since sold over 13 million copies), and the epic double album Zen Arcade from Hüsker Dü. The fourth album from the Replacements, the cheekily-titled Let It Be, is released on hometown label Twin/Tone Records.

Prince, of course, had preceded Purple Rain with a multi-platinum album in 1999, but Purple Rain was beyond massive. The Replacements had built up a steady following with several records and a ramshackle live show that veered between brilliant and tragic (“one foot in the door / the other one in the gutter”, as they would say) but broke big in 1984 and moved to a major label for 1985’s Tim. Hüsker Dü, shortchanged by local label Twin/Tone because label co-founder Peter Jesperson didn’t think his more straight-laced partner Charley Hallman would “get” their more aggressive hardcore sound (“I just didn’t think it was the right thing for Twin/Tone at the time,” says Jesperson on page 273), was forced to self-release music and then turned to California punk label SST Records, releasing an astonishing eight sides of amazing vinyl from July 1984 to September 1985, a double album and two full length single albums.

But here’s the astonishing thing: Complicated Fun: The Birth of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock, 1974-1984, Cyn Collins’ excellent and meticulously researched story of the Twin Cities scene pretty much ends in 1984, before Prince’s most massive success and the major label boom that sent the Replacements to Sire, Hüsker Dü to Warner Brothers, and Soul Asylum to A&M Records. The amazing back story that allowed many of these artists to flourish is relayed here in a detailed and thorough fashion by many of the important folks who were there. What’s recounted in these pages are the individual tales of a record store, a set of like-minded club owners, and a local record label that helped build a scene literally from the ground up. The strands that draw these things together tie themselves together like a series of interconnected yet independent vignettes that lead to a beautiful narrative of a burgeoning music scene in a pre-Internet world.