The Uptown Bar Is Five Years Gone, But Not Forgotten

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Artwork by Chris Strouth

Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.

Americans build monuments at sites where great ideas were birthed and history was changed. Or we turn them into retail stores. In New York, CBGB's became a John Varvatos store, and in Minneapolis an Apple outpost rose from the dust of our own sacred institution of cool.

The Uptown Bar shut its doors for the last time five years ago this month. If you're new to town or under 27, you might have no idea what it was or why it mattered -- especially since it spent its last few years of life as a bar formerly known as a rock club. But oh, how it did matter.

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The Most Important Article on Music Hype Ever Written

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Artwork by Chris Strouth

Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.

You may have noticed people on the social networks touting the virtues of the new up-and-comer "ello.co." This new alternative to Facebook touts that it was created by artists, and is anti-advertising. To quote from their manifesto: "Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that's bought and sold. We believe there is a better way... We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency."

Hey, wait a minute... Isn't that just the "not selling, sell" tactic? You crazy kids. It's HYPE. Super-effective hype, but hype nonetheless. Eight weeks ago, Ello had 90 users and is now reportedly getting 31,000 requests for invites per hour.

The reality is that good work is important, but hype is what gets you to experience it. I ask you, dear and gentle reader, what was the last new record that you listened to? But add this caveat: Make it the last time it wasn't prompted by a magazine, website, podcast, radio station, or the cool girl at your office? Don't feel bad if the answer is a shrug followed by a frown.


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What If U2 Threw a Party and Nobody Came?

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Artwork by Chris Strouth

Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.

We are living in strange and confusing times. Arguably the biggest band in the world just gave their brand-new 13th studio album Songs of Innocence record to everyone with an iTunes account, a.k.a. the vast majority of the world's record-buying public.

Not that this is big news if you live any of your life online. You almost have to work to avoid it, and everyone seems to have an opinion. What's stunning is that it mostly seems to be variations of the same sentiment about the album being an unwanted gift. You'd think people were forced to listen to it. For all the myriad articles on the subject, almost none talk about the record itself. This is because we are in the post-unifying album era. The meme concerning the record's means of distribution are the only thing holding this narrative together.


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RIP Rik Mayall of The Young Ones fame

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Artwork by Chris Strouth

Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.

Rik Mayall passed away this month. Most folks under 40 in the U.S. probably have no clue who he was. (Aside from obsessive Black Adder fans or those familiar with the truly awful 1991 film Drop Dead Fred -- shot right here in Minneapolis.) However, if you were of a certain age, he was your gateway into alternative culture.

American television in the '80s was a lot different than it is now. For one thing, it was a lot more white and a lot more middle class. You didn't see a lot of images of alt culture -- well, at least not on TV that didn't start with M. When alt peeked through it was a moment of excitement. I could show my parents and say, "See it's not just me, lots of people have big spiky hair." Not that it ever really helped me all that much.

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Graduation Day: Words of wisdom for the class of 2014

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Artwork by Chris Strouth

Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.

I get asked to do speeches a few times a year -- usually involving kidneys, some times about art, music, or tech. No one has ever asked me to do a commencement speech of any kind. But given that this is the year that all of my friends' teenage children seem to be graduating from high school, I decided that I would give my own. I will say the things that I really wish some esteemed alumni had told me at 17 -- as opposed to "the treasure the family" and something about Jesus riding beside me (I went to a Catholic school).

Note: Please picture me wearing a ceremonial cap and gown and a fancy sash as you read this.

Today is graduation, the end of an era. But with every ending there too must be a beginning. It's the beginning that you should really be celebrating.
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Becoming a rock star: It's possible, but unlikely

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Artwork by Chris Strouth

Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.

I get a surprising amount of emails from people asking questions about how to succeed in music, how to get publicity, and how to get music heard by others. These inquiries seem to be  seeking how to get what it is these nascent creatives think they want. In reality, it's not that they can't get the right answers, but they are asking the wrong questions, and most definitely at the wrong time.

We are in the post-music age. Music is no longer the force leading popular culture. Sorry, it just isn't. Sure, tour revenues are up, but so are ticket prices are too. In pure economic terms, fewer people are paying more. The dollars go up, but audience is essentially squeezed out of the market. If you can't engage its hard to be part of the culture. Music is now less a stand-alone and more part of a bubble. It's all merged in with merchandise and software. A concert is no longer just a concert -- it's an "experience."

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The death of the Belmore/New Skyway Lounge

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Artwork by Chris Strouth

Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.

Last week the Twin Cities lost a club, the Belmore/New Skyway Lounge. It was the most recent entry from Minneapolis iconoclast and character Doug Anderson. Chances are pretty good that you didn't know it closed; chances are even better you didn't know it was open in the first place. The Belmore stood alone in the downtown club scene. It wasn't fancy; it had the stripped-down sensibilities that made it feel more like a New York neighborhood bar -- not the slickness that tends to dot the downtown landscape. No perfectly untucked shirts over jeans that cost more than a 40-hour week of minimum wage at this establishment.

The Belmore had a definitive curative style, and one that I may add was not for everyone. It was noisy and chaotic with an ear toward the guitar heroes of generations past: definitive for post-punk, guitar-noise rock. It was a temple for bands that loved Television, which makes sense given Richard Lloyd's residency there. It was home to cult acts from Curtiss A to Hugh Cromwell, and a lot of music that doesn't rate much more than a mention on the Current, but is the stuff of crate diggers' deepest fantasy baseball team.

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Lady Gaga, will you please put on some pants?

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Artwork by Chris Strouth

Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.

When Lady Gaga first hit the scene, no one was indifferent about her. You either loved her or hated her, and usually to a large extreme. But now, as we as a culture have had to live with her for five or so years, she has gone from the elephant in the room that you can't help but notice, to the elephant in the room that you're not sure if you should keep around, mostly because it is such a hassle to dust it.

I started off liking Lady Gaga in a big way. She was big and goofy, sure stunningly derivative, but she was the first pop diva since Pink that was remotely interesting. Pink was a radical because of her confessional style, like Jewel only without the annoying cloying poetry and twee acoustic guitar and sincerity. Gaga was anything but sincere, her bit was more akin to Ally Sheedy's character in The Breakfast Club, doing whatever was going to grab our attention. And in a world of 24-hour news cycles, internet granny porn and hobo shock fights, not much is going to grab our attention long, unless it's really weird (like the Balloon Boy) or really messed up (Two Girls One Cup, The Kardashians) and lucky for Gaga she sort of filled all the checkboxes.

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Lou Reed embodied what becomes a legend most

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Artwork by Chris Strouth

Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.

We don't really use the word "legend" the way we should. It has fallen into the same misunderstood ghetto as "awesome," "literally," and "love." Next time someone says something like "I literally love this awesome hot dog, it's legendary," you have my permission to punch them in the groin -- figuratively, of course.

An actual legend in their respective field is for the myth bigger than the man. The stories, the fame, the work, and the public's reaction cast a shadow so long, it's like a castle keeping its citizens calm in its shade. Lou Reed is legend, his death leaves a huge leather jacket-shaped hole in the soul of cultures both popular and counter.

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Autumn is the peak season for the Smiths

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Artwork by Chris Strouth

Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.

Symbolically, autumn is when things start to wind down before the big sleep of winter, and it's the metaphor for every standard about getting old. But to me October in particular is about life, youth, and a restart of life. It also makes me "timesick," aka homesick for a time that has passed. In a way, October is the cruelest of months, in part because I feel like I am living half of it in flashback.

All it takes is a grey day, crisp but not too cold, wet streets, and our dusty rose landscape gets the hue of a burnt-out Polaroid. The air seems to fill with just a hint of Clove and Aqua Net. If you want to really understand mid-'80s punk rock, light a clove cigarette and spray some Aqua Net. (Of course, not in that order unless you want nostalgia and some sort of toxic fireball.) It is the time for origin stories, and mine involves my internal cassette deck flipping to whatever Smiths song seems appropriate.


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