I recently bought an album called Boys and Girls in America, by the raised-in-Minneapolis-but-based-in-Brooklyn band The Hold Steady. It’s very good, very Springsteenish, but it might as well be called Boys and Girls in the Twin Cities for all the metro area references made by lead singer and songwriter Craig Finn. If it had been, we would have loved the attention. We’re that kind of town.
My brother and I owned a house near the University of Minnesota when we were going to college there, and one spring, a film crew showed up in our Como neighborhood to shoot parts of Beautiful Girls, a guilty pleasure of a comedy that we enjoyed even more for the scenes that were shot in the places we knew. Early in the movie, Timothy Hutton and Michael Rapaport shopped for snacks at the convenience store right down our block. We thought it was pretty cool.
That’s what most of us native Minnesotans think about seeing ourselves on film, hearing bands sing about us, and reading about ourselves in magazines and books. Whenever it happens, we get junior-high looks on our faces. We get giddy and point. It validates us. See? We aren’t just some frozen American gulag in the middle of fly-over country. The national media think we’re really cool, and you know what? If people from other places would bother, they would see it too. That’s what a lot of us are thinking.
This under-rated-underdog sense of self stimulates a need for this kind of attention. It has a Rottweiler appetite, waiting for scraps under the table of public attention, and the local media love trying to satisfy the beast. When Woody Harrelson creates a big stir for writing and starring in a play at Theatre de la Jeune Lune, you know this place has sycophantic tendencies. We love hearing about Bob Dylan and his days living above Gray’s Drug in Dinkytown. We love that Josh Hartnett bought a house in uptown and hangs out at Bryant Lake Bowl. We love it that Thomas Friedman continues to be the best foreign policy columnist on the planet.
We’re even proud that Craig Kilborn can parlay his minor talent for sports-highlight narration into a talk show and bit movie parts. We appreciate when evil characters on Lost pretend they are from here. We’re confused when some obscure singer calls himself Har Mar Superstar, but we figure all press is good press (evidently musicians love malls). We tolerate Prince and his big box of a music studio in the suburbs; he’s weirder than Dylan but he’s still a genius.
Conversely, we keep a running tally of those who slight us. We liked Fargo, but were irritated with the outrageous accents, which means former locals Joel and Ethan Cohen are on probation (why dontcha make fun of dem der Californians and leave us alooone). We’re still peeved at the national sportswriters who told the world in 1992 that the Super Bowl should never be held in this or any other cold-weather town again. And we’re especially mad at the Seattle grunge band Soundgarden for perpetuating the line “I’m looking California, and feeling Minnesota.” Didn’t they know cities like Seattle and Minneapolis have to stick together?
No, they don’t actually. Seattle is entirely different. Seattle people like people from Seattle. Seattle hates it when others move in, particularly people from Southern California, who supposedly move to Seattle and buy two little houses to tear them down and build one big house, ruining the neighborhoods. They also eat two Seattle kids for every California kid they produce, or that’s the rumor anyway.
Even though it was a spoof, Seattle columnist Emmett Watson’s fictional organization Lesser Seattle captured the spirit of some native Seattlites who wanted to encourage the non-natives to stay away. Its slogan was, “Keep the bastards out!” If you ever see the movie Hype!, you’ll see the isolationist attitude of a city that can’t stand hypocritical outsiders, especially media folk, even if they do want to spread the word about their dark, heavy music and coffee.
We say, be that way Seattle. More potential limelight for us. We don’t understand why don’t want the press, why you aren’t happy and proud to get it. Sure it’s a little bit juvenile to crave the attention. Sure, it reveals our insecurity and our need for assurance that our home is good, which it is by the way. There is a tiny bit of us that fears what the critics say is true, that this is a cultureless town built on a permafrost plain, with no sophistication, no reason to visit, only Lutherans and their lutefisk. But whatever we are, we are who we are.
The last song on Boys and Girls in America is called “Southtown Girls,” which opens with the line, “Southtown girls won’t blow you away…but you know that they’ll stay.” This great song about Southtown, that second-tier shopping area in Bloomington that has never been the latest cool, should be our metaphor. It should be our anthem. Maybe we’re second-cousin to the bigger fancier cities, maybe we want to be more than we are, but we’re solid, dependable. We get the job done. Southdale (New York), Rosedale (Chicago), Ridgedale (LA), they’re all cool places to shop, but you can get what you need at Southtown.
The Hold Steady may not live here anymore, but they sure sing about it a lot. They know Minneapolis won’t blow you away, but they know that we’ll stay.