Before Prince put Minneapolis on the national music map with Purple Rain, and before the Replacements broke away from Twin/Tone Records to experience what a major label had to offer, the Minneapolis music scene was small, intimate, and building to explode. In Complicated Fun: The Birth of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock, 1974–1984, Cyn Collins documents space and time by exploring the memories of the misfits who were inspired by what they were hearing from England, Detroit, and New York City—and what they did to shape early punk and indie rock into something unique and different for Minneapolis.
Collins, a local DJ, radio personality, and freelance writer, began a radio show on KFAI called Spin with Cyn in 2010. She produced an hour-long documentary the following year that led to her crafting Complicated Fun, a 392-page oral-history gem, featuring interviews with musicians, producers, managers, journalists, photographers, fans, record-store employees, and stage crew who all shared their memories. “The idea originated when I had an idea to gather interviews with a lot of the earliest musicians that preceded the bands that went national,” Collins told me, “like Hüsker Dü and the Replacements. There wasn’t much written about bands like the Suburbs, or the Suicide Commandos, or Curtiss A, except in newspapers before.”
To create her comprehensive history, which includes several dozen sources and interviews, Collins needed fruitful contacts to help her reach out to the individuals who made up the 1970s and 1980s Minneapolis music community, which really rounded out the book’s focus and structure. She found the support she needed from two people in particular: Chris Osgood and Peter Jesperson. “Chris Osgood of the Suicide Commandos really helped me build contacts because he was so central to everything that happened,” Collins said. “[He] is so articulate and eloquent about seeing the whole picture of it and how things coalesced, and talking about what happened.” Jesperson also offered a special point of view, given that he was involved with several aspects of the music community. “Peter Jesperson, who cofounded Twin/Tone, gave a lot of perspective on what it was like to go from spinning records for small groups of friends to managing a record store, to cofounding Twin/Tone, and DJing at the Longhorn. He was part of it all and so he really gave context to what was happening.”
While crafting Complicated Fun, Collins found the structure for the book built around the city’s lack of organization and facilities to support new and original music, and how the community came together centered around a few key components in the late 1970s: Oar Folkjokeopus record store (located where Treehouse Records is today), Jay’s Longhorn bar, and the creation of Twin/Tone Records. “Something that captivated me was the fact there wasn’t really any place to play,” Collins told me. “The scene was kind of emerging from garage rock, and mainstream music, and cover bands. I thought it was interesting how these musicians had a desire to do something different. She noted how the early Minneapolis punk and indie rockers had to resort to playing unconventional venues, like high-school gymnasiums and ballrooms. “I learned that things were much more difficult than I realized in terms of getting gigs and gaining momentum and popularity,” Collins said.
Even with the help of Osgood and Jesperson and the support of her publisher, Minnesota Historical Society Press, Collins went through a rigorous two-year process before seeing her project come to fruition at the book’s launch party, which was held at the Electric Fetus on May 3. “To select the stories and help it flow was a very complicated process,” Collins said. “Complicated Fun is a good name for the book because there was a lot of fact checking involved, and individuals have different memories of things, so how to make that work and fit together was a little bit challenging.”
The Electric Fetus launch party was as special and unique as the book it celebrated, especially when Flamingo, one of the bands that is prominently featured in the oral history, took the stage to perform a set in front of a store filled with people who looked like they came straight out of the ’70s and ’80s with their old concert shirts and other classic memorabilia. Collins selected Flamingo to perform her release party for two reasons: “I wanted to honor that they were the first band that played the Longhorn and are on the cover of the book.”
In addition to Suicide Commandos, Flamingo, and the support apparatus of Oar Folk, Jay’s Longhorn, and Twin/Tone, Collins’s book chronicles many other bands and vital components that are rooted in Minneapolis’s punk and indie-rock origin story. From the Hypstrz, the Suburbs, NNB, and the Mighty Mofos to the opening of First Avenue’s 7th St. Entry, Collins’s text—with the help of 80 black-and-white photos and illustrations—paints a vivid picture of what the time was like for everyone involved.