The Sacred Version
The Sacred Version: L to R: Zel, Tim, Ginger, Shawn, J. [photo © Roger Rimnac]

The Sacred Version


J. Free: vocals, keyboard
Shawn Pike: guitar
Tim Mitchell: bass
Phil Schuster:
guitar, vocals
Ginger Kaufman: drums

Most of this “bio” was written in 2001, so I would have to have something to contribute to a “Minneapolis Bands” thread on the original TCPunk message board.

What that means, is that even then, I was writing about something that no one had probably given any thought to in twenty years. As you are reading this now, you can make that more than a quarter of a century.

[from a post on TCPunk, circa June 2002]:
I think I bummed out everyone else in my first original band, because I didn’t act like a good little punk rawker. I wouldn’t stick to the dress code – no leather jacket, no mohawk or died hair, no spikes, etc. I guess I was more into the post/art/punk angle, which was admittedly, a bit weird for a lot of people. Then again, all I did was sing – and write lyrics about how fucked up society is (another obviously dated sentiment, right?), and everyone knows a good lyricist/singer is a dime a dozen. The funny thing was, no one really quit, and no one really kicked anyone out. Someone decided that the band was breaking up, everyone else kind of went along with it, and then a week later, that member started a new band. Kind of like that relationship game, where you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, so you say you just don’t want to be in a relationship any more. Then a week later, you’re going out with their best friend. Ahh, those certainly were the good old days, were they not?

Strangely enough, all but two cassettes of this curious outfit seem to have vanished from my own collection – noticeably absent are the tapes of our infamous Seventh Street Entry inaugural sets. As audio artifacts, they would likely not give any indication of the mayhem which ensued during those sets, and which effectively saw us banned from the venue for the next 3-4 years. We were pretty tame, as these things go, but apparently we managed to create an impression that suggested otherwise. This is the lesson that would just keep on repeating itself throughout my musical explorations (to say nothing of my real life) for the next twenty-plus years: perceptions are everything.

My good friend Nick Leonard can be blamed for my introduction to this bunch, as it seemed he had heard a few of us mention that we wanted to start a band. Famous last words…

It was sort of a first “real” band for all of us, I think. Tim and Shawn had played together as The Burkes (which they claimed never actually existed, but which also involved Win Patrick, my future bandmate in Dancing In The Dark). Zel had played with some notables around town, but apparently nothing that really clicked (although I still have some cassettes of him playing some pretty incendiary riffs with David Blessing, one of the founding members of NNB). Ginger was a boxer who wanted to drum with a rock’n’roll band, and I had previously sang with a few cover bands that played in their families’ backyards, performing repertoires which included Led Zeppelin, Rush, David Bowie, Aerosmith and Captain Beyond. Collectively, we took our musical cues from The Damned, The Adverts, The Who, Talking Heads, Devo, Buzzcocks, Stranglers, and god knows what else. I’m not sure that any of us were that familiar with each others’ influences. Hey, we just wanted to be in a band. It wasn’t like any of us really had a clue what that might be like.

Our best gig – and possibly our first? – had to be the basement party in the home of Larry Batson, opening for one of my favorite groups at the time, Things That Fall Down. Larry was a renowned journalist, and his sons Bill and Ernie sang and played guitar in The Hypstrz (and some years later, The Mofos). Bill ran sound for us that night, and the basement was literally packed, as the audience pressed up against us during our set. Everyone seemed pretty supportive of us at the time. We had no pretensions about what we were doing, and there were no expectations for us to live up to.

Of course, after we had played together a bit, we became a bit more self-conscious, and our attitudes changed a bit. Some of us saw it as a soapbox, some of us saw it as the new cool, and we took turns concerning ourselves with what people might think. My favorite comment from an audience member was from a woman named Caitlin, who accused me of assassinating the concept of ego on stage, at the aforementioned Entry show. Sure, whatever. Nearly twenty years later, I met a woman who had previously dated our bass player’s dad – Mpls. poet Chris Shillock, who remembered this band well. He remembered the vocalist too: “A pretentious little asshole”, was his memorable description of yours truly. Ahh, if only we had more honest music critics!

As our former bass player Tim has mentioned elsewhere, The Sacred Version was the first band to play the Seventh Street Entry [the former liquor storage room turned “new” venue, annexing the still relatively new First Avenue], opening for Curtiss A. two nights in a row. Getting gigs was a lot easier in those days – in this case, it involved me dropping off a demo tape to Curt, during his afternoon shift at Comic City, and asking if we could play. He said we could do it without even listening to the tape. His actual comment was, “You can’t be any worse than any of the other bands that are out there”. Ah, who knew?

These photos are from the second night. The first night was fairly uneventful. In the interests of self-medication, I kept a bottle of cough syrup on stage (you could still get the good stuff over the counter back then); partly because I was sick, and partly because I blew out my vocal chords on a pretty regular basis back then.

The second night, I dragged along a few “stage props” from my friend Nick’s parent’s house – these included a handful of butcher knives, several rolls of toilet paper, a transparent plastic tarp, and a can of white house paint. Toilet paper was draped across the stage like party banners; our onstage lighting was limited to a single overhead blue light bulb. The visual effect of watching us through the plastic with the dim lighting was intended to portray a sickly sort of TV nausea at best. I had no idea what I was doing onstage, and during one song, titled “Cut It Out”, I ripped my clothes to shreds with butcher knives – along with a bit of my skin, it turned out.

The disjointed rhythmic skronk we passed off as music those nights was possibly entertaining, in ways one generally didn’t think about when they went out seeking entertainment. I don’t think any of us took what we were doing seriously, given that most people in those days tried hard to create an air of disinterest, disenchantment, disenfranchisement, and disgust. Somehow, though, we were sure that we wanted to make some kind of an impact – which we accomplished, without even trying.

One of my half-formed ideas was that I would scoop up handfuls of paint, and smear it around on our side of the tarp, during a song called “Modern Art”, which would presumably obscure us from view of the audience. What happened, was that the tarp started to come down, and at one point I decided to help it a bit. There was this guy that hung around the scene named Sprague Hollander, who was standing next to the stage kind of mocking us the whole time, and I got it in my head to see if I could get a rise out of him, by making it look like I was going to snap the paint-soaked plastic his way. Of course, the tarp actually snapped loose from the ceiling, and did send a stream of paint in his direction. He leaped clear across the room, and I thought it was so funny, that I whirled it around a few times, sending paint flying everywhere.

Believe it or not, that wasn’t such a big deal to anyone, although there was a bit of confusion after our set. Danny Flies, who booked the Entry, greeted me afterwards with an offer to impound the band’s equipment, as collateral for “damages”. I talked to Curt, who thought the whole thing was funny, and wasn’t concerned about the paint that got on his band’s equipment. His opening comment when he went on stage was, “Wow, it’s gonna be tough to follow an act like THAT!”

What we hadn’t realized was that a certain prankster had nabbed the can of paint from the stage, ran out into the street and splattered it all over the freshly-painted black exterior of First Avenue. Years later, I learned it was none other than my old Dadaist pal and first guitar mentor Dave Foley. We’re still good friends, but I think a couple of our band would have liked to had his head on a platter that night, as we had to clean off the outside of the building.

Subsequently, the first band to inaugurate the Entry was also the first to be banned from the venue – performing or otherwise. Although it is true that The Sacred Version was banned from the Entry for a number of years, we did play there again as Four Out Of Five Doctors, opening for Husker Du. Unfortunately, Huskers were opening for Suicide Commandos at The Longhorn the same evening – which drew the ire of both club managers, concerned that they each might be losing part of their draw to the other venue. Just about the same time Huskers ran in the door with their gear – Grant Hart shouting at us to hurry up and get off the stage – the First Avenue management came down to see what was going on, and realized who we were… ah, but we were already on our way out the door, before anything hit the fan(s).

As bouncers came and went over the years, we each tried our luck getting back in the venue – sometimes successfully, as was the case with Tim and Shawn, who continued playing together in Bwana Devil, and then Timbuktu – possibly one of the greatest expressionist bands to emerge from the Twin Cities to this day. A few years later, when I was booking shows for Luke Warm and the Late Girls, which featured our old guitarist Zel, I managed to set the record straight with the management at First Avenue. They conceded to let us back in the venue, just shortly before I would end up playing back on the Entry stage with The Hytones, Dancing In The Dark, and Borrowed Time.

I still have to chuckle, though, when I recall the night I was physically ejected from a Stray Cats show in the Entry, by a bouncer who recognized me from The Sacred Version – although at that point, the band had been long deceased. They even threw out my pal Ann D., just because she was with me – oh wait, I think she actually punched the bouncer after I was tossed on the sidewalk. Yeah, that’s more like it.

Ahh, if only I met more girls like THAT these days… then again, we used to get asked by First Avenue staff to not dance on the dance floor, because our moves were “disturbing other patrons” (actual staff quote). But I digress.

Okay, now I never have to tell this story again.