Originally posted October 29, 2009:
The autumn of 1989 – twenty years ago – was a quiet one. I’d landed in Anoka, Minnesota, a town about twenty miles north of Minneapolis, after my two mostly unhappy years on the North Dakota prairie. I wasn’t in Anoka long, just a little more than ten months, but it was a good place to recharge my batteries and decide in which direction to go next.
I did a little bit of teaching at a nearby community college and spent half of my time working for a newspaper chain, reporting for a paper that covered the small towns of Champlin and Dayton. (Champlin has grown into a good-sized suburb in the twenty years since; Dayton is far more rural and has grown, too, but not as rapidly.) After one quarter of teaching, I left the community college and worked full-time for the newspaper chain, reporting and taking care of special projects.
It was a pleasant, undemanding time, which was exactly what I needed. Those months were made more pleasant by weekly visits from a lady friend from St. Cloud, who would stop by on Wednesdays for dinner on her way to teach a course at the same community college. I’m a pretty decent cook, and Wednesdays were my favorite day of the week during that time, what with the regular visits to the butcher shop and the bakery and the chance to cook for someone other than myself. We generally had chicken or fish although I do recall trying my wild rice and turkey curry – a favorite of mine – for the first time. Those weekly dinners were among the highlights of my life in Anoka.
We always had music playing, sometimes the radio but usually records on the stereo, and here are a few tracks from that year, some of which we might actually have heard while eating dinner.
A Mostly Random Six-Pack from 1989
“Texas” by Chris Rea from The Road to Hell
“Where’ve You Been” by Kathy Mattea, Mercury 876262
“Vanessa” by Alex Taylor from Voodoo In Me
“Have A Heart” by Bonnie Raitt from Nick of Time
“No One” by the BoDeans from Home
“Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls from The Indigo Girls
“Texas” is a moody piece from a moodier album. I recall hearing “Texas” when the album was released; it got a lot of play on Cities 97, which was my radio station of choice during my months in Anoka. The Road to Hell and another Rea album from about the same era, 1991’s Auberge, remain among my favorites.
“Where’ve You Been,” a story song about soulmates, was pulled from Mattea’s Willow in the Wind album. I very well could have heard it on Cities 97, but I’m not sure. I wasn’t listening to a lot of country radio at the time, though, so that’s not the answer. I do know I heard it frequently during my months in Anoka, as the story resonated with me. And it’s a beautiful song: The next year, it won Don Henry and Jon Vezner a Grammy for Best Country Song, and Mattea walked away with a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
I know I never heard Alex Taylor during those dinners in the autumn of 1989, because his work was something I didn’t discover until years after it was recorded and years after he died in 1993. “Vanessa” is a fine piece of bluesy rock, as was the entire Voodoo in Me album, which turned out to be Taylor’s fifth and last released album. Taylor, whose siblings were James, Livingston and Kate, also recorded and released With Friends & Neighbors (1971), Dinnertime (1972), Third for Music (1974) and Dancing With the Devil (1989). I’ve heard them all but Third for Music. Anyone out there got a line on it?
The story of Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time is one of the great tales: A failed album in 1986 (Nine Lives), followed by work with producer Don Was, leading to a handful of Grammys, including the award for Album of the Year. As to “Have a Heart,” as a single, it went to No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart and to No. 49 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The little note that pops up on the RealPlayer whenever I hear a tune by the BoDeans says, “The very definition of heartland music, the BoDeans’ rootsy pop rock is a cross between the Replacements and Tom Petty.” I suppose that’s not a bad description, but like most capsule characterizations, it skips the subtleties entirely. You actually have to listen to the music for those, and although I didn’t listen much back then, I do now, and like the work of the boys from Waukesha, Wisconsin, pretty well.
I’ve told the tale before, in another venue: I was sitting in a restaurant in Edina, Minnesota, during the late summer of 1989 when I heard a pair of young women in the next booth discussing the best new group they’d heard in a long time: The Indigo Girls. I jotted a note to myself, finished my lunch and then drove to a nearby record store and bought The Indigo Girls on LP. For twenty years, ever since the moment I heard the opening strains of “Close to Fine,” the Indigo Girls have been among my favorite performers and The Indigo Girls has been one of my favorite albums.