General 5-31-2003

Hard Rock Blues

Reprinted by permission from the Ripsaw News, an alternative weekly published in Duluth. Mark Oberg rants here about the influence of economic infrastructure on the experience of music: what a difference a chain makes.

Hard Rock Cafe

The best thing about being a music fan in Duluth is that you are not a music fan in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Case in point, this humble music editor traveled down to First Avenue this past weekend to enjoy the sweet sounds of Steve Malkmus and the Jicks. During the course of the eve many a beverage was consumed, a great argument about the current state of the Democratic Party was had, and SM + Jicks covered “I Will Dare” by the Replacements. It really doesn’t get much better than that, I thought to myself, as I stepped outside First Ave’s sweat-soaked doors. Once outside, however, I was casually assaulted by the neon gloriousness of the Hard Rock Café. Suddenly, the fact that I just spent the last couple of hours being entertained by one of the past decade’s greatest indie rocker mattered very little. What I wanted was home.

Now, what’s this guy’s problem with the Hard Rock Café? I mean, it’s just a nice little music-themed place to take the kids, gawk at some old rock memorabilia, and slurp down some modestly priced buffalo wings. There are certainly more important things to worry about these days than the Hard Rock Cafés of the world, right?


Though there definitely are more important things to be ranting about, this is the music page, so my ranting is going to be strictly confined to the rock and roll arena. Besides, I’ve already given in to the media barons from Fox News and quit criticizing the government lest I be labeled an unpatriotic communist.

Unless you want Duluth to turn into Disneyland, you should go out and support this town’s musicians and the establishments that host them (and while you’re at it, someone please try and convince RT Quinlan’s to book bands). Whilst you are showing the musicians some love, be sure to let those fine folks in our city government know that when it comes to rocking, you don’t wanna rock theme-park style—you wanna rock Red Lion style! This is a very good way to make sure you are never caught drunkenly cursing out a very large building late at night. Those types of antics make one look foolish.

The Hard Rock Café is total bullshit. No one should be subjected to that monstrosity staring them down like a rabid dog after a sweaty, boozy evening with Steve Malkmus. It’s another shining example of the big money people putting up a mansion across the street from your hillside rambler, then sitting behind their gates laughing at you as their man-servants serve them cocktails and nose candy. I’m sick and tired of that shit. I’ve been to a half dozen shows at First Ave since the Hard Rock Café went in, and every time I leave I have the same reaction, which is usually punctuated by ten to twelve slurred expletives. I fail to buy into the notion that turning the world into one gigantic pastel and neon colored amusement park is going to make everything better. I long for cracked, blood-stained pavement, broken signs, and empty booze bottles after a show—not Disneyland.

Which is why it’s great to be a music fan in Duluth. No Disneyland. Sure, we have our own neon and pastel paradise, but it’s a casino and there’s always a pretty seedy crowd hanging out on the sidewalk, which is quite endearing. Also, everything in Duluth seems to be in a constant state of deterioration which, if you really think about it, is beautiful in the way that only imperfection can be. Yes, SM + Jicks were great, and I still love First Ave. shows, but after my fateful encounter with the neon guitar gods, give me Bone Appetit and the Lindquists at RT Quinlan’s any day of the week.