Left of the Isles
by Todd Smith
“Hey, man, you got any of that blue lawn-patch shit?” Paul Westerberg asked me, as I worked at Sunnyside Gardens, an independent garden center located in Linden Hills where Westerberg is a neighborhood local.
“Ugh, yeah,” I said. The former lead singer of the legendary Minneapolis punk band The Replacements followed me to the large bags of lawn patch, a blue-ish lawn repair concoction made of mulch, grass seed, and fertilizer.
“That’s the stuff,” Westerberg said excitedly. As I stood next to Westerberg, a dude who is Minneapolis rock royalty and permanently chiseled into the Mount Rushmore of the Twin Cities music scene (along with Bob Dylan, Prince, and Bob Mould), I had a very simple thought: who knew Paul Westerberg was such a seasoned lawn pro? Heck, I just assumed Paul Westerberg, ring leader of one of the most debaucherous rock and roll circuses in music history, had a front lawn made of cactus and fire. But life in this mellow neighborhood had apparently turned him into a Ward Clever of sorts. Minutes later, I watched Westerberg get on his beach cruiser bicycle – lawn patch in hand - and ride off to his house a few blocks away.
Now I don’t want to sound like some sort of jag-off namedropper, but Paul Westerberg is just one of the many rock stars that parade through my daily life in Linden Hills. As a Real House Dad of Linden Hills who lives and works in this cozy little Minneapolis hamlet just west of Lake Harriet, I notice top tier Twin Cities musicians everywhere I go. They’re in my local grocery store, school, toy store, and most recently, local garden shop. In fact, I see so many rockers in my neighborhood it’s starting to feel like I’m living inside a game of “Six-Degrees of Twincy*.” Chris Mars, the original drummer of the Replacements, and his lovely punk-poet wife Sally live two blocks away from me and we are in constant contact, orbiting in the same Linden Hills universe of the Co-op, library, and pharmacy. Plus, the Mars live right next door to my brother, making it the tightest Six-Degree turn on record. Last winter, I completed my Mats trifecta when at Sunnyside I sold a Christmas tree to Tommy Stinson, the original bass player for the Replacements (and currently in Guns and Roses), when he wore little more than a hair helmet of styling products and skinny jeans. The weirdest Six-Degree turn, though, was when a few years ago, my brother confirmed that Chris Mars and his actual replacement Replacement (drummer Steve Foley) lived on their same block! Two Mats on one block! My Six Degrees even extends into fatherhood. For the last three years, Seth Zimmerman (Bob Dylan’s nephew) of the raucous band The 757s has been my wingman as our kids have grown up together in our local parks, preschool, and now kindergarten.
Since we don’t have paparazzi in the Twin Cities to keep track of all this Linden Hills hotness, let my peeping eyes be your TMZ. A golden smog of A-List musicians have been seen all over Linden Hills and the adjacent Lakes neighborhoods: I recently spotted Gary Louris of the Jayhawks shopping at the Calhoun Whole Foods; Mark Perlman, also of the Jayhawks, and I used to slog through our workouts together in the gulag basement of the YMCA; I lapped Dan Murphy of Soul Asylum as we roller bladed around Lake Harriet; Mason Jennings and I had a bizarre conversation about how racist the cartoon movie Dumbo is while our sons played at the train table at Creative Kid’s Stuff in Linden Hills.
For the last two decades, Uptown has been a Mecca for the Twin Cities hipster elite. Bob Stinson, the rip snortin’ Replacements lead guitar player, once said, “All musicians, I don’t know if I should tell you this, live from Franklin and Lake Street, Lyndale to Hennepin. Every dang one of them.” Well, I have to respectively disagree. Ever since Uptown went from Funkytown to Bummertown (has anyone seen where the Uptown Bar went?), a migration of musicians has occurred. Against a docile backdrop of mini vans and the cake eating Edina border, Linden Hills has surprisingly become Twincy’s coolest home for musicians. So when those Twin Cities raised rockers from the Hold Steady end their New York City tryst and finally move back to Minneapolis, you now know where to send’em.
*The term “Twincy” is Senior Editor Chuck Terhark’s fresh new nickname for the Twin Cities.