Local Music Writer Jim Walsh Talks Concert Memories, Prince, and Beauty in Many Forms

Jim Walsh sits at a table with a guitar

Jim Walsh warms up before playing a show at Studio 2 in Minneapolis on March 24. Photo by Paul Patane

Jim Walsh is an artist who wears many creative hats. He’s a freelance journalist, author, songwriter, musician, husband, and father—and in the last few months, he’s released two new books, Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes: Jim Walsh on Music From Minneapolis to the Outer Limits (November 2016) and Gold Experience: Following Prince in the ’90s (January 2017). Published by University of Minnesota Press, the books collect many of the columns, articles, and features he’s written as a Twin Cities music journalist over the course of three decades. The origin of both goes back to the beginning of 2016, when Walsh set an ambitious slate of goals to complete before the year ran out, which included publishing a couple books.

Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes cover

University of Minnesota Press

Bar Yarns, a stunning hardcover with an elegant dust jacket that commands attention on any bookshelf, had been an idea percolating in the back of Walsh’s brain for a long time before coming to fruition. “The way I was writing, and the columns I was writing, with the particular voice I was writing with—I could kind of see one day being in a collection,” he said. “That was decades ago, and I kind of forgot about the idea because I’ve just been doing other stuff.” A read through the book is like opening a time capsule to explore the Twin Cities’ past music landscape; from the musicians who came to town to which clubs were popular for live shows, Walsh’s prose has something for everyone looking to go on a written odyssey. Music aside, his unique style of journalism bares his mind and soul to readers, inviting them to place themselves in his shoes. “Even though they’re about the past, I love the ideas that are in those books. I love the people in those books and the music in those books,” Walsh told me. “It’s crazy to go through your stuff like that. It’s trippy.” A collection of pieces previously published from all over covering the 1980s to last April, Bar Yarns includes copy previously published in the City Pages, Southwest Journal, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minnpost.com, and other outlets.

Gold Experience, on the other hand, collects Walsh’s columns covering Prince for the Pioneer Press between 1994 and 2002. The timeline highlights a controversial period that culminated with the musician deciding to go by the Artist Formerly Known as Prince while he fought for his music independence against Warner Bros. Records. When Prince unexpectedly died at his home at Paisley Park in Chanhassen last April, Walsh felt uniquely qualified and determined to get Gold Experience into circulation as quickly as possible. “Prince is my age, and he died. And I felt like this book was going to die with me because I was the only one who gave a shit about it,” he said. “I was the only one who knew it existed, really—that I covered him that hard for that decade. But I remembered it, and I wanted to read it all again.”

Gold Experience cover

University of Minnesota Press

Part of the intrigue, and what makes Gold Experience stand out from the pack of Prince books that have flooded bookshelves over the past 11 months, isn’t just how comprehensive it is but the fact that it has a Twin Cities slant focusing on the artist during a time when he was most controversial. Republished in chronological order based on date of original publication, Walsh’s purple softcover compilation belongs in any music fan’s library—it’s packed with details that can’t be found anywhere else, it’s well written, and the vast majority of the articles republished aren’t available elsewhere. Walsh himself had to go through a third-party service to reacquire his old copy because most of it’s so old and hasn’t been archived online.

For Walsh, revisiting his Prince-centric journalism from the ’90s was an experience in itself. He said, “That Prince book is a very good example that’s very in-the-moment. You’re in the ’90s reading that stuff. I read that book now and I can see the ads from 1994 and 1995.” During the time he was writing his Pioneer Press music column, Prince was constantly a favorite for him to cover: “I was always looking to write about Prince. I thought he was just extremely interesting. Even in those odd years—odd for everybody else—he was making great records, and he was fighting Warner Brothers over his independent recording rights and how he wanted to bestow his gifts on the world.”

Gold Experience has been on bookstore shelves for a little over two months, and its release has brought its author mixed emotions. “It’s a very bittersweet book for me, but I’m so happy that the University of Minnesota Press said that’s worth putting out and having published,” Walsh said. Even though he stopped writing for the Pioneer Press in 2002, he still feels very connected to Prince and how his music and life impacted the Twin Cities community in particular. “When you were going out, or when you were just hanging out in town, and you were feeling connected to music, you would feel Prince’s energy out in Chanhassen,” Walsh said. “You would feel it pulsing from Chanhassen, like this throb.”

While both titles hold up remarkably well as standalone reads, Walsh thinks they work best as companion books given there are only a couple of Prince-centric pieces published in both books. “I do think they’re companion pieces because they’re kind of a summary of what I’ve been listening to hard, and therefore covering—Prince especially,” he said. In both books, Walsh’s acquired wisdom is on display as he artfully navigates his way through 30 years of Twin Cities music history with an open and thoughtful mind. After reading them, it’s easy for readers to appreciate the wisdom, experience, music, and beauty the author managed to capture throughout the years.

Now that he’s brought these two collections into the world, Walsh is keen to publish another nonfiction book—one that isn’t necessarily limited to music as a subject. “I have a lot of life, and family, and love, and Minneapolis-based columns that are not specific to music,” he told me. He also mentioned that some of his music-focused pieces didn’t make it into Bar Yarns because they simply didn’t fit for one reason or another. “I think in the next book there would be a chapter of music stuff that I had, and wanted to publish, but for whatever reason I didn’t. It’s just like putting together mixtapes—they sort of didn’t fit,” he said. “There’s about a dozen music pieces that I would love to see in a collection still.”

Jim Walsh in a black hat and jacket

Jim Walsh at Studio 2 in Minneapolis. Photo by Paul Patane

“Beauty comes in tons of forms—spiritual, musical, emotional,” Walsh said. “I just hope to be adding to the culture.”

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