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'The Minneapolis Sound' Made MN More Than Almost Famous

By Jess Bellville

If Minnesota's thousands of lakes are the body, then the "Minneapolis Sound" is the vibrant, wild, beating heart. Others may label the state "flyover country," but anyone who ever hears the likes of The Time, Hüsker Dü, Alexander O'Neal, The Replacements or, without question, Prince, knows that Minneapolis has a pulse unlike any other American metropolis.

The city's musical flowering in the 1970s and 1980s - not to mention its collection of musical languages ranging from R&B to punk - is fueled by legend. An endless string of pop-chart hits flowed out of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis' iconic Minneapolis studio, Flyte Tyme. Hüsker Dü simultaneously mesmerized and confused crowds at venues such as Jay's Longhorn. The state's first all-female rock band, Têtes Noires, spurred a legion of loud-and-proud women to take up guitars and drum sticks.

And Prince. The Purple One. The Man of Many Names. Prince's influence laces around the rhythms and the riffs. Some aura of him lingers in the places where he used to play. Some element of his musical audacity - his sheer genius - figures directly into the sonic essence of Minnesota.

In 1988, then-Twin Cities PBS producer Emily Goldberg set out to understand the ephemeral roots of the "Minneapolis Sound." The result, aptly named "The Minneapolis Sound," chronicles the stories behind many of the state's most famous (and infamous) musicians - but the documentary is also very much about Goldberg's quest to arrive at some working definition of Minnesota's musical soul, in all its multi-faceted, winter-given glory. In that version, Prince's music floats in and out of her interviews and adventures about town, though The Artist remains physically absent despite her best efforts.

Thirty-one years later, the dust on that original documentary has been blown off and a new edition will debut as an episode of TPT's weekly history series, Minnesota Experience. The bones of that vintage version still form the architecture of the story - but due to a change in licensing rights, Prince's music had to be stripped out.

Maybe it's because we don't hear his music in this new version that we hear him loud and clear. Maybe it's because we don't see him in either the 1988 or the 2019 documentaries that we see him in living, undeniable color.

No matter. The film is peppered with a slew of interviews, performances and slices of MTV music videos that serve as an instant, irresistible time machine. Here are a few favorites:

Jimmy Jam Harris, a.k.a. Just a 'Normal Guy'


Janet Jackson. Chaka Khan. The Human League. Aretha Franklin. Jimmy Jam Harris, producer and musician extraordinaire - and founder of Minneapolis band The Time, along with Terry Lewis - is anything but a "normal guy." But at least Minnesotans respect a certain anonymity. After all, when it's minus-35 degrees on the tundra, scarves are the great equalizer.

First Avenue. Before the Stars.


Once upon a dark, music-less time, First Avenue was a Greyhound station. But Prince's 1984 film Purple Rain features a dazzling collection of performances by The Time and his own The Revolution on the First Avenue stage - so the venue plays a starring role in the semi-autobiographical story about "The Kid's" (a.k.a. Prince's) rise to fame.

If First Avenue is the glamorous diva, then 7th Street Entry is her snarling little terrier. As Goldberg discovers, the Entry served as ground zero for a different kind of "Minneapolis sound."

The Class A Touch Football Runner-Ups


Also known as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Because everyone needs a trophy for participation in life. Also, Grammy Awards are basically toys. Enough said.

Prince Could Play the Solo in Chicago's 'Make Me Smile' Like No One Else


Prince, a.k.a. the "baddest guitar player around," may provide an air of mythology and mystery to the documentary. But Jimmy Jam is the hero. Every second he spends on camera offers up a sly charm that makes you feel like you're having an actual conversation with an actual famous person. Also, he takes viewers on a tour of the former Flyte Tyme studio and - whether he's visiting the mail room, pointing out Gold Records or stepping out into a genuine Minnesota winter - the experience provides one of the through-lines of the film.

Fast forward to the present. The music venues, the hair styles, the cut of a sequined jacket may have changed, but the Minneapolis sound persists, despite the break-up of legendary bands and the trials of a genuine Minnesota winter.

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This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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