A writer for the New York Times decided to do a story on churches in the U.S. He began his trip in Boston at Trinity Church and noticed a golden phone hanging against the wall. Above it, a sign read, "Calls: $10,000/min."
The writer asked the priest, "Why does a phone call cost $10,000 a minute?" The priest looked at the man and said, "That phone's a direct line to God. If you can pay the fee, you can talk to God." The writer thanked the priest and continued on his way.
He traveled all over the country - south, then west, then north again, making a circle around the country. In each church, he found a similar phone with the same sign. Finally, the writer made it to a small church in rural Minnesota. He saw the same golden phone with a sign that read, "Calls: 35 cents."
The writer asked the priest, "I have been to hundreds of churches across every part of the country and every one of them had a golden phone that cost $10,000 a minute. Why does yours only cost 35 cents?"
The priest looked at the writer and smiled. "That's because you're in Minnesota. In God's Country, it's a local call."
It's appropriate that one of music's most important blessings was born and raised in God's Country. America's greatest songwriter was born in Duluth, raised in Hibbing, and briefly educated at the U of M. It was here that Robert Zimmerman became Bob Dylan - crafting his persona and his sound under the influence of "Minnesota-nice."
Dylan's 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited was recently rated the #4 album of all time by Rolling Stone, which seems to have an overly biased obsession with him in my opinion. Yet even though it's his most critically praised album, it doesn't stand up to his follow-up release, 1966's Blonde on Blonde.
From start to finish, Blonde on Blonde is Dylan's most complete recording. As he opens with the jovial and horn laden "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35," Dylan takes the listener on an epic journey that finishes with the lengthy, but beautiful ballad "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." In between, Dylan pleases with each track as he tightens his sound and his stories.
While I could write about Dylan for hours, there are many more Minnesotan artists who cannot be forgotten. Forever immortalized in Chappelle Show glory, Prince has stayed true to his Minnesota roots. Born and raised, he honed his musical ambition in Uptown during his early years. His Paisley Park recording studio in Chanhassen is well known for its state of the art facilities and its close vicinity to the purified waters of Lake Minnetonka. If anyone could be held up as a foil to the stereotypical Minnesotan as portrayed in Fargo, it would be the funky, sexually charged Prince, who is known to play every instrument on his recordings.
After years of trying to spread word of an amazing singer-songwriter with Dylan-esque qualities, Mason Jennings is starting to make some noise of his own. His acoustic style and his soothing voice compliment his captivating storytelling. He's the closest thing we've had to Dylan since Dylan. And he's got a better voice.
After releasing his sixth album Boneclouds this past year, Mason has proved he has the staying power to become one of Minnesota's all time greats. One of his best qualities is that he's known for his live shows. Often times people are so produced that their sound will not come through in a live setting, but Mason shakes that stereotype with his strong performances and crowd rapport. With Boneclouds, Mason has markedly matured as his family has grown in size, described so vividly in "If You Ain't Got Love." His faith is more present than ever with the introspective "Jesus Are You Real" and throughout the rest of the CD. While not as commercially well known, Mason stands with the best in today's music world.
One of the most underrated bands to make it to the national scene is Semisonic. Their breakthrough album Feeling Strangely Fine, was a commercial success due to the overplayed single "Closing Time." However, the rest of the album far surpasses the pop quality of what is for many people the only Semisonic song they've ever heard. Sadly, most people have never listened to the acoustic goodness of "Gone to the Movies," one of my favorite album-closing tracks (which is another post altogether...).
Honorable mentions the Jayhawks, the Replacements (with Paul Westerberg), Tapes 'n Tapes, and rap artists Atmosphere and Heiruspecs, are all fantastic bands who call Minneapolis home.
A Minnesota music post is never complete without a mention of the glorious rise and fall of Soul Asylum. Their runaway hit with "Runaway Train" was too good to be true as they rode their success quickly into mediocrity. Other one hit wonders to come from Minneapolis include Next ("Too Close") and Marcy Playground ("Sex and Candy").
So in closing, I'll leave you all with my favorite Dylan song off, of course, Blonde on Blonde, an underrated Semisonic classic, and an introductory song to the happiness that is Mason Jennings.
God's Country sample:
Bob Dylan -
*Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.mp3
Mason Jennings -
*Singing in My Sleep.mp3