First Avenue is a local treasure

If anything, it deserves a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

The news went from bad to worse Nov. 2. I was bummed when Ohio gave President George W. Bush another four years, but I was absolutely furious when Allan Fingerhut took 35 years from the Twin Cities on Black Tuesday two weeks ago.

Fingerhut, a San Francisco art gallery collector and son of a billionaire, mail-order magnate, filed for bankruptcy and closed the doors of the hallowed First Avenue nightclub on Election Day.

First Avenue is far more than the Midwest’s best rock room. If anything, it deserves a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. So what’s the allure of a sticky, smelly, mosh-pit bath house with an interior spray-painted black, a staff apparently trained in manners by junkyard dogs and all the warmth and coziness of a Bosnian bomb shelter?

Look no further than the “Wall of Fame” encompassing the entire street-level exterior of the building. Hundreds of silver stars, each containing the name of a music luminary who stopped by on their ladder to superstardom.

First Avenue was to the early 1980s what the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England, was to the early 1960s. We had Prince and the Revolution, they had the Beatles. Both were pioneering groups that had albums and movies with a distinctive flavor that quite literally set the tone for the rest of the decade’s popular music.

Three years ago, I had the sublime pleasure of gracing First Avenue’s main stage for 24 nerve-wracking minutes with my band Mad Hatter for a regional “battle-of-the-bands” contest. We were so devastated by the awe of playing on the same stage as youthful, fledgling versions of Nirvana, U2, Radiohead and all the other heroes, that we wasted no time in removing our shirts and proceeding to roll around on the culture-stained floorboards of the stage, hoping to soak up any prospect of the sweat and spit of the mind-blowing genius that had crossed those very panels before us.

For months after that night, I’d entertain myself with the possibility that saliva from my mouth could have survived on a microphone that Ben Folds might have used in his performance at First Avenue a few days later, thus resulting in the existence of a brand new microbacterial organism fathered by Folds and myself.

In April, I saw the Strokes play a very special show at First Avenue. Here was a band accustomed to selling out 5,000-seat theaters and arenas, opening for the likes of the Rolling Stones and Weezer. The tickets were $25 – expensive for First Avenue, but cheap for a big name and for an even bigger fan. I can still remember myself loudly concurring with a drunken Julian Casablancas, who was complaining that First Avenue’s backstage area looked nothing like it did in “Purple Rain,” Prince’s 1984 breakthrough film/extended music video.

As for now, rumors run rampant about the closing. There is talk of everything from a house of blues to a parking ramp opening up at 701 First Ave. in downtown Minneapolis. If the building is torn down, consider it a sacred burial ground containing the ghosts of warriors who fought with every fiber of their beings to keep the hopes of those of us too funny-looking to be hipsters alive and well in an increasingly homogenized scene.

“You could take First Avenue and transplant it whole to New York City and clean up,” a successful booking agent said 20 years ago. If only our venerated club could find a way to do that in the grotesque shadow of the Hard Rock Cafe and the Target Center, then independent local music and its fans would stand a chance.

Adri Mehra welcomes comments at [email protected]