Todd Takes On… A Questionable Piece of Op-Ed

Photo Credit: Kyndell Harkness / StarTribune

(Disclaimer: Please note that the following are just my opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone I work for or am associated with.)

Oh look, Todd’s talking about local music. Again.

Yeah I know, but this article got my blood up and you know what that means… Another op-ed post by me.  Yes, I know it’s Memorial Day and we should all be sunning ourselves and gorging ourselves with barbecued things. But that said this needs to be addressed.

(Note: As a preface, read this piece by Marianne Combs on the new “Golden Age of Minnesota Music.”)

Today on the Minneapolis StarTribune‘s website, there was an op-ed piece by a woman named Laura Buchholz (a writer for A Prairie Home Companion) offering a contrarian take on the new musical golden age, which set off a round of wailing and teeth gnashing on Twitter from the music-ati in town (myself included). So I’ve decided to write an open letter to Ms. Buchholz with my rebuttal.

(Disclaimer: Once again, these are opinions of mine and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone that I am associated with or work for.)

Dear Ms. Buchholz:

I have just read your op-ed piece in today’s Strib, and frankly I was concerned by what I read. Now, while I am a deeply entrenched member of the Minnesota music scene and thus have a biased view, and while I slightly agree with your thesis in spirit (that the music scene can sometimes cross the line from supportive to self-congratulatory and that we need smart, balanced criticism of our music scene), I’m afraid I can’t agree with your basic attempts at “criticism.”

First off, if you were trying for an honest critique of the Minnesota music scene, your tone does you no favors. As Christian Erickson said on twitter, it sounded like an Andy Rooney knock off; old, cranky, and feeling out of touch. Also your attempts at humor, while understandable given you APHC background, just feel forced and only add to take your criticisms towards a snarky tone. While I appreciate humor (and when used correctly, it can be effective), in this case it did not work.

And while I understand an op-ed piece is just that – an opinion – it would have helped your cause if you had more research to back yourself up with more concrete examples. For example, while Mark Wheat may be “the local music mixologist with the Cambridge accent. It’s a lovely accent. Sounds like champagne.”, it also helps to know that Mr. Wheat has been one of the most influential and important DJs in this city for over a decade. (Don’t believe me, read his bio.)

And what brought out this screed of what you termed “wretched band names?” While some bands do have truly goofy names, at the same time that is often part of a band’s charm. Would you dare to say that Hüsker Du is a wretched band name? Or Stereosonic? Or Trip Shakespeare? Or Prince?

Now you may be thinking to yourself “He thinks we’re in ‘A Golden Age’!” Truthfully, that kind of assertion is something that can only be declared years away from where we are now. But I do believe we are definitely in a very good time where the scene is very healthy. Here are some examples:

  • Doomtree, one of our biggest hip hop collectives, has received national acclaim not only for their full crew album last year, but also for all of the collective’s individual projects and side projects.
  • Rhymesayers Entertainment, the other major hip hop / rap powerhouse in town, has had a string of critical successes under its label and just had a huge triumph yesterday with Soundset, their annual hip hop festival, which has grown over the years to include some of the biggest names in hip hop (Lupe Fiasco, Raekwon, and a lot more)
  • While we’re on the hip hop streak, it speaks volumes about the state of our music scene when we have artists of the caliber of MaLLy and Astronautalis who moved here after having established themselves in other towns just so they could be part of what we have going on.
  • Another sign of the health of this scene, the cross pollination amongst artists in town leading to a crop of exciting side projects. Even if you don’t count Ryan Olson’s work (which of late has been all about interesting collaborations), there are bands like La Liberte, Kill The Vultures, and Villa Rosa just to name three of the many examples of this intriguing trend.
  • And while you may snicker at Trampled By Turtles, you can’t deny that they are at the forefront of the indie folk movement. And they (along with Poliça) have both been featured on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (with Gayngs being featured on that same show two years ago).

In closing, I agree with the basic tenant of your argument; that Minnesotans often have an over abiding love with anything local at times that it tends to blur any legitimate criticisms that can be made. But as I said, your “critique” was frankly snarky and reeked of the old man shouting “Those darn kids and their loud music.” And while it may or may not be a Golden Age, it is a really good time for the local music scene right now.

(Disclaimer: Please note that the following are just my opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone I work for or am associated with.)

UPDATE: My fellow l’etoile colleague Rob Callahan weighed in on the piece as well, in his inimitable style.

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