That Was Then, This is Now…

Portraits of the artist as a young man. Words from the now.


I was on the edge of 14, in a hot summer, sitting on a lifeguard chair ’round about 11 PM. The beach was unaffectionately known as Heavy Metal Beach by the denizens of Nordeast, back when it was called that without the sense of irony. Before breweries, and when the only taquerías had “Bell” in their name. The suburb was Fridley, but not the Fridley you know now that shines with an almost sparkling progressiveness: This was the Fridley just north of intolerance, located between not-quite-Roseville and nowhere-near-St. Anthony, a middle-class suburb not entirely sure which direction to go. To me, it will always be just north of hell. MTV was maybe a bit over a year old. It had changed the landscape in ways you can’t really explain, sudden and infinite: Just like that, the whole country had an instantaneous pipeline into the jugular of cool music. And Huey Lewis…so very, very much Huey Lewis.

It changed my life the way it changed countless others—it literally saved it. But that isn’t this story. I was a 120 pounds of purplish, spikey-haired misfit with absentee parents and four friends—three, if you didn’t count my dog. But sitting there watching traffic and the reflection of the lights on the water heading to downtown, which was in my mind filled with cool nightclubs and bars, to hang out and be interesting, in sharp dress and cool music. Each evening a sort of endless possibility of mystery and adventure—certainly more choices than going to Northtown to hang out at the Nut Hut. That traffic in an endless stream towards the direction far, far away from here, which is exactly where I wanted to be in the city. I wanted to be part of it, I wanted to be integral to this place in some way, shape, or form.  Because I was a blank, albeit broken, slate. But, like the night, I was full of endless possibilities.

We all have had a moment similar, at least I hope you have. If you haven’t, dear and gentle reader, you have my sympathies, because you simply haven’t lived. Whether it’s about a person, or a place, or a situation where you knew where you had to be or you would explode—then you likely aren’t in the right place now.

If my goal was achieved or not is moot. Arguments can be made both ways, depending on if you’re a friend or a critic, or a critical friend. It is immaterial because that night, the possibilities were truly all possible and my only limits were fortitude and imagination. I will say this, I tried to live up to that desire that somehow became responsibility with all of my might.

But that was then and this is now, and in the now I am not sure those possibilities are endless, because that horizon line seems so much closer than it did. All that forest that was so foreign and unfamiliar are now well trodden, to the point that the paths are so trampled over that they are lost in the maze of random footprints looking to leave some mark of permanence.  

With all new technologies, we win some things, but we lose others. When MTV came to town  we lost the slow burn of random discovery in obscure places. It ignited a rocket that rose to never-seen heights; but like all rockets, the descent back to the ground wasn’t guaranteed. It could end in a painful crash.

Here in the Twin Cities, our world changed because the economics changed, everything changed. Tom Cochrane got it wrong, life isn’t a highway—it’s a river. It is a river in a constant state of change, because that’s what rivers are: continual motion towards a destination.  We can stand like stone and try to be unmoved, but anyone who has traveled on the Mississippi can tell you the rock does not have a chance—the river will always win.

Still we cling to the past like flotsam after a shipwreck, sometimes holding so tight that we lose sight of the fact that if we let go, we can swim to nearby shores. Instead, some castaways hold tight to the loose boards of the Longhorn, and the old 7th Street Entry like a life preserver, but that can only drag them under the tide. Because that was then and this is now, and now has the potential to be wonderful. Tomorrow, can in fact be damn exciting—if we aren’t be drowned by tsunamis of nostalgia.

As you read this it is 2023, and punk rock was a thing that started more 45 years ago. Maybe it is time to let go of it being a cultural lodestone. It would be like if I was in high school and my primary cultural anchor were the Andrews Sisters. You might think you can make a similar argument about hip hop, except it has evolved, morphed, and become so many things—things the originators couldn’t have imagined. When I see a 19-year-old in a Black Flag shirt it makes me a bit sad, because the culture of my youth should not overshadow their own youth culture.Thing is, it’s up to the next generations to lead the revolution, to take us to the new places, and stomp out historical reenactments of CBGB’s leftovers. Give me raw power, gimme danger, gimme something I hate because I don’t quite get it, and love the instant I do. The older generations have our place too, but whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are the middle now—yes, even you are growing older—and in doing so we become the status quo, and while that doesn’t make us matchstick men, it does mean we need to encourage and support, agitate, educate, and organize, not to mention help the ideas happen and not get in the way with the past like every single song reference in this paragraph. And kids, if no one seems to understand, start your own revolution and cut out the middleman, cause I am still—and will forever—be waiting for the great leap forward.