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Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound Hardcover – October 10, 2017
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"Got to Be Something Here nails the atmosphere that I grew up in. Clubs, policies, and things that didn’t make sense back then, after reading this book make all the sense in the world. I think anyone who wants to understand musicians who hailed from North Minneapolis needs to read it. There are answers in these pages."—André Cymone
"Anyone seeking to understand the community of black culture workers that birthed Prince and his peers should read Andrea Swensson's definitive history of the rise of the Minneapolis sound."—Zaheer Ali, New York University
"Prince didn't come from nowhere (though Chanhassen is pretty close!). In Got to Be Something Here, Andrea Swensson explains the roots and context of a musician who changed the world. The book is scholarly and supremely well-researched, but as cool, gripping, and fun as any of his Purple Majesty's finest grooves."—Jim DeRogatis, author and co-host of Public Radio’s Sound Opinions
"This is a book that reminds us that culture has no dead ends, only detours."—City Pages
"Got to Be Something Here is both an inspiring and an infuriating read."—The Current
"Andrea Swensson, is the first major book to discuss the Twin Cities’ unique contributions to African American music; it should go without saying that it comes highly recommended to anyone who reads dance / music / sex / romance."—Princesongs.org
"What’s surprising about Got to Be Something Here is how much farther and deeper it goes, how richly detailed it is, how it captures a past at risk of fading away."—MinnPost
"An illuminating slice of Twin Cities cultural and political history."—Star Tribune
"Andrea Swensson’s new book, Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound, is a tour de force that sheds light on a greater story that needed telling."—Twin Cities Geek
About the Author
Andrea Swensson is an author, radio host, and music journalist. She hosts a weekly program about the Minnesota music scene, The Local Show, at Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 The Current and contributes to the Local Current Blog. Prior to joining MPR, she was the music editor at City Pages, where she founded the AAN AltWeekly Award-winning Gimme Noise music blog.
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To be clear, this is not a book about Prince–though he casts a long, purple shadow over the story, lending foreshadowed significance to places like The Way community center, Sound 80, and of course Sam’s Danceteria, later known as First Avenue. Swensson’s history begins in the year of Prince’s birth, 1958, when a Near North doo-wop group called the Big M’s recorded Minnesota’s first R&B single; the narrative path continues through the “chitlin circuit” of early African American R&B venues, the ill-fated integrated dance club King Solomon’s Mines, and finally the grassroots Northside funk community that spawned Flyte Tyme, the Family, and Grand Central. This expanded perspective offers a broader, but ultimately more useful definition for the Minneapolis Sound than the usual “post-disco R&B with synthesizers for horns.” In particular, Swensson convincingly argues that from the 1950s to the 1980s and beyond, music from the Twin Cities was marked by an “aggressive blend of genres” that crossed Minnesota’s de facto but sharply-drawn color lines.
By focusing on the material conditions that necessitated this line-crossing, Swensson offers a valuable, politicized context for Prince and the other Black musicians who put Minneapolis on the map. The most eye-opening part of the book, especially for a non-Minnesotan like myself, is Swensson’s research on the construction of Interstate 94, which displaced St. Paul’s predominantly African American Rondo neighborhood and cut off Minneapolis’ North Side from the rest of the city. The story of the Minneapolis Sound is thus a story of unequal access to resources, and the things Black musicians had to do to get their fair share: chiefly, working twice as hard as their white counterparts, and becoming versatile enough to appeal to audiences outside of the city’s tiny African American enclaves. Pair this socioeconomic backdrop with the emergence of one phenomenally gifted individual, and you have as good an explanation for Prince as any.
If there is a complaint to be had about Got to Be Something Here, it’s that there simply isn’t enough of it: at just over 200 pages, it’s a surprisingly swift read, and it left me, at least, wanting more. While I understand why the book focuses on the Minneapolis scene “Before Prince,” it would have been great to hear more about the Purple One’s immediate peers: not just Jam and Lewis and Morris Day, but also Sue Ann Carwell, to name one perpetually underrepresented figure. I’m also curious to learn more about cross-pollination between the city’s funk and punk scenes: did Minneapolis have its share of Black New Wavers, or were Prince and André Cymone the only outliers? Again, it’s understandable that Swensson would narrow her focus here, as the story of First Avenue, Twin/Tone Records, and so on has been more thoroughly covered elsewhere; it would be fascinating, however, to find the connections between these parallel communities, in the same way that other pop historians have found the connections between punk and disco in late-1970s New York.
But again, these are quibbles: Swensson has made an important contribution to the study of Minneapolis’ musical history, and her passion for both the city and the music is evident on every page. If there are stones left to unturn–and there are–it will be the happy task of future researchers (maybe even Swensson herself!) to continue the work. For now, Got to Be Something Here is a great start: a story that needed telling, carefully and incisively told.
Got to be Something Here : The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound is an important work, because it gives that context of where Prince and the Minneapolis Sound came from and also how Black music struggled and thrived and survived in the mostly lilly-white environment of the Twin Cites. A lot of the the narrative around Prince kind of paints the picture of a singular musical genius who overcame all odds to make it out and become this worldwide sensation...which 100% is a thing, but books like this really provide a lot of foundational answers in regard “why” and “how” he was able to do this so successfully...and provides more of the stories around the community support structures that helped him get there.
What was especially striking to me was how familiar the musical traditions were from the sweaty dance parties held at local clubs and community centers to the creation of Paisley Park as a musical utopia. As much as we hear that P didn’t look back and was always moving forward, he most certainly carried those traditions forward with everything he did. Some of the pictures of people dancing their hearts out with the musicians right alongside them reminded me of when P would invite fams on stage to dance by him in the same way, or stories of parties at Paisley where he’d be part of “the house band” and say things like “turn off the lights nothing to see up here” and urging people to dance, or aftershows in small clubs....all honestly re-creating those dance parties from back in the day. Even Paisley Park as a place where EVERYONE could go and create and jam out...a sort of utopia that HE created because other similar performance venues had always been shut down due to racial tensions in the city he grew up in...maybe even as recently as his own forays with Glam Slam....
It’s all sort of remarkable...this perfect storm of culture, talent, tenacity, struggle, hard work, all part of the musical tradition that predated him...the tradition that shaped him, the tradition that he studied closely and embodied in all that he did, a tradition full of people that mentored him...combined with the business/marketing acumen he brought to this tradition to FORCE people to pay attention to that talent more than his race, something he saw his local heroes struggle with immensely as people saw only their Blackness and dismissed, ignored, or put them in a box...
More than him, this book is about THAT TRADITION, and it’s an important one to know and to learn to understand someone who maybe is not so much of an enigma after all...
I wish the photographs would have been printed in higher quality. If there is a re-print then the publisher should consider doing so.