Minnesota loses its identity. What now?

You know what could put a little extra bounce in a Minnesotan’s step? Something like this.


And this…

And this…

And this…


Even in the collective grief of Prince’s death, there is the pride that he was “one of us.” Lots of people born and raised here got out when they made the bigtime. Prince came back and became our symbol.

“In a state that can also claim Bob Dylan and Paul Westerberg as its favorite sons, Prince was the biggest icon to emerge from here musically and the biggest there will ever be,” The Current’s Jim McGuinn said. “We have a lot of pride—not only that Prince was from here, but that he came back in the last six, seven years to live in Minnesota.”

A planet full of grief for a man who put Minnesota on the map has a geocenter: 44.978 -93.27594.

For many on the globe, Prince was why Minnesota mattered at all and, therefore, why we could occasionally be more than flyover country.

The inability to define Prince helped define the Twin Cities.

As The Current’s Mary Lucia pointed out yesterday while holding our hands and handing out hugs, people moved to Minnesota because Prince represented.

Garrison Keillor takes questionsThe same is true for Garrison Keillor, whose Prairie Home Companion gave Minnesota its unofficial nickname, and who is another performer whose persona changed when he stepped on stage. He came back, too.

If Prince gave us our hipness, Keillor made it stylish to be unhip and awkward.

Prince is dead and Keillor’s tales from Lake Wobegon are in their last episodes.

We want desperately to feel special and that’s what icons do.

Who represents us now? Who puts the bounce in Minnesota’s step? Who’s left to declare to the world that Minnesota matters?

Related: How a Local Radio Station Became the World’s Prince Memorial(Daily Beast)

How Prince and critic Jon Bream learned to see eye to eye (Star Tribune)

What Prince Meant To Minnesota And The World (ThinkProgress)

  • John

    I don’t think we can answer your question – not right now.

    Philosophically, we didn’t know the answer before either, because those people were out doing their thing, and they weren’t intentionally representing us at the time. (Didn’t Dylan more or less hide the fact that he was from here for a long time?) Garrison may be an exception to that – it seems he has made a career out of gently observing the unusual nature of the people of my state.

    I think only time will tell us who “matters” to the larger world. F. Scott Fitzgerald was once our person who mattered to the rest of the world, right? As was Charles Lindbergh. Both had their time as the public profile of MN, and both were eventually supplanted as their legacies fell out of cultural view.

    What I’m trying to say is that I think we can only be certain of the answer to your question in hindsight.

    For me, I’m content for my home to stay a bit out of the spotlight. We seem to do better (insecurities and all) when we’re not having attention thrust upon us (grape salad, anyone?).

  • Rob

    It’s time for a woman to be Minnesota’s “representer,” and I’m thinking of Amy Klobuchar, whose profile will increase exponentially when Hillary taps her for running mate. Walter Mondale did a pretty good job of representing us to the world when he was VP and when he ran for Prez, breaking political ground in the process by choosing Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. Mondale continues to be an exemplar of decency and civility, and a sagacious, erudite public affairs commentator. And like Prince and Garrison, Mondale lives mostly in Minnesota.

    And if it’s a Clinton-Klobuchar ticket (catchy, right?) I think the results will be a little better than they were for the Mondale-Ferraro team.

    • The trouble with politicians is every place has one.

      • Rob

        If pols are out because they’re too plentiful, who are you proposing for icon duty?

        • That’s pretty much the question, isn’t it?

          • Rob

            So, you’re playing Switzerland ?

    • John

      I think politicians should be barred from being the cultural representative of a state, unless they do something particularly spectacular. (The only examples I can think of off hand are Lincoln, FDR, and. . . that’s it)

      edit: maybe Kennedy, but he’s really most well known for getting assassinated, so maybe not him.

  • PaulJ

    The “Gopher Protocol” was felled by the wide world and all the kings horses can’t put it back together again.

  • John

    Just because I believe we can’t know, doesn’t mean we can’t guess.

    I’ll put Dessa and The Coen Brothers at the top of my list of potentials. Both do things that feel fundamentally unique to me. Both need to keep doing that for many more years before they can make it official.

    • Angry Jonny

      But the Coen Brothers aren’t funky.

      • Do they still live here?

        • Angry Jonny

          I dunno.

        • John

          I don’t know, but they are from here, made a movie here, and set that most iconic film here.

          As you point out, we’ll often claim anyone who transfers planes at MSP as an honorary Minnesotan. I think the Coen brothers have done significantly more than that in identifying as Minnesotan – even if it was darkly tongue in cheek way.

          • Good point.

          • Michelle Par

            Made a couple of movies here.

          • Paul

            Sort of like Lindsay Vonn – born here, hasn’t lived here since she was what, twelve? No amount of her success was done while she lived here, but somehow Minnesota gets the cup for the “hometown girl.”

      • Rob

        But some of their films are funky.

        • Angry Jonny

          Can you dance to them?

  • Mike Worcester

    Considering the tone of our cultural landscape now, will we ever have another person like a Keillor or Prince to define who we are? When celebrities come and go so quickly that we barely have time to appreciate what they do, will another Prince come along who will have the longevity? I really wonder.

  • Laurie K.

    I think what made Prince so unique is that he was both iconic and iconoclast. He became an icon by destroying our perception of what an icon is.

  • MrE85

    I should hope our identity is something greater than which entertainers chose to live and work here, which athletes play on our teams, or which politicians represent us. Certainly a great talent has been lost, and another unique voice is fading into the background. There will be others. No one had any idea in 1958 that three babies born that year would later be world-famous as Prince, Michael Jackson, and Madonna. New stars will rise. They are likely here in Minnesota already.

    • John

      I think our identity is greater than the things you mention. I also think that most places are identified by (or at least publicly attached to) those in the entertainment industry. I can think of many great things that have come out of this state, but the public perception of a place is largely driven by that which is seen most frequently – i.e. entertainment.

      If we want to expand beyond “who” we should be known for, into “what” we should be known for, I’d propose the following as a starting point. These are all things that were invented in MN:

      water skis
      post-it notes
      roller blades
      the furnace thermostat
      masking tape
      magnetic recording tape
      open heart surgery
      indoor malls (not really proud of this one, but you can’t deny the impact)
      the super computer
      zubaz (also not proud of this)
      microwave popcorn

      there are probably some ethanol things that should make the list too, but I leave those to the experts to identify :).

      • If you look at the last half dozen years, I think the “poster children” for Minnesota were Prince, Keillor, Jesse Ventura, and Kirby Puckett. Beyond that, I can’t think of anyone. I don’t think Wellstone had the fame worldwide that the above mentioned did.

        • John

          That may well be true. It is tremendously difficult to tell from where I sit what is visible to the larger audience.

          I still think Ventura was a fluke, and doesn’t now (and never really did) represent us. Wellstone is disqualified because politics.

          That leaves the three names that have already come up (Puckett – he was here for work, really – born in Chicago, died in AZ).

          So, we’re back to nobody new on the list.

          • And I think the area was or had walked away from Puckett because of the charges that were filed against him. By the end, he was a tragic figure.

        • PaulJ

          I don’t know if the “too cool for school” southern Canada identity of Minnesota really lends itself to poster children. It is too hard for icons to be cool.

        • Michelle Par

          I know she’s nowhere near as famous, but the comedian Maria Bamford really captures something uniquely Minnesota in her work.

  • Tyler

    I would agree that the Coen Brothers are our next big cultural stamp, but I also think someone like Prince can’t be “generated.” To mangle a quote I like, cultural icons don’t come from a place, they come through a place. We can only keep doing what we’re doing – encourage the arts, foster a collaborative and inclusive home for them, and perhaps adopt Portland’s “Keep Portland weird” mentality.

    Just if not more importantly, we need to find a reason for these artists to stay and/or come back home to Minnesota.

  • MarkUp

    There’s a transcript from a 1996 Oprah interview http://princetext.tripod.com/i_oprah.html making the rounds on social media that bears repeating here:

    OPRAH: And you’re living in Minneapolis of all places.
    0{+> : Minneapolis, yeah.
    OPRAH: Yeah.
    0{+> : I will always live in Minneapolis.
    OPRAH: Right. Do you — do you — you will always live here?
    0{+> : Mm-hmm.
    OPRAH: Why?
    0{+> : It’s so cold, it keeps the bad people out.

    It flips Sid Veda’s tweet on its head: I don’t know that any artist identified more to a state than Prince did to Minnesota.

  • Dan

    The thing about Prince was, he was a generational talent. The odds of such a globally recognizable icon coming from this state *again* in our lifetimes are exceedingly low.

    But just because Prince is gone, it doesn’t mean we can’t keep reminding people he was one of us. Along with claiming contemporary celebrities of whatever level of talent or fame, we can keep claiming the true icons forever. Minnesotans are experts at saying “he’s from here.” Did you know Charles Schulz was from here?

    • Jeff

      He was from here and chose to stay here. I think that’s a huge difference. Everyone else moves away.

      • Dan

        Keillor stayed here.

        It’s true, of course, Prince *was* different from Dylan, Schulz, etc., in that he actually did stay here… and in LA, but what’s more Minnesotan than being a snowbird? There were Prince sitings all the time. My social media feeds are filling up with Prince stories my friends had that I didn’t even know about.

        But that doesn’t change any of my above points.

  • Jeff

    There’s Robert Zimmerman but I think we want him more than he wants us.

    I travel to Spain and everyone knows Prince and maybe Dylan and of course Ricky Rubio. I hope we don’t trade him.

    • Yeah, and he got out of here. He’s one of us, but he’s not really one of us in a state that will gladly precede a name with “Minnesota’s own” if all they’ve done is made connections at MSP.

    • Dan

      Depends on what we could get for him, but now we’re getting off-topic 🙂

  • Jack Ungerleider

    The thing is Minnesota is known for all the things mentioned. Depending on the person you are talking to they will identify Minnesota by its entertainers, politicians, athletes and/or products.

    The answers to Bob’s question will be many and few. Many people will emerge from Minnesota on the many stages that play out in our culture. These people will become representatives of Minnesota with in the smaller circles that focus on a particular area. But a few will rise above that compartmentalized fame to become household names around the country and possibly the world. But they will only become “icons” if what they are famous for is linked to Minnesota. Prince is famous for creating the “Minneapolis Sound”. If he had just been a transcendent pop star, he would have been Dylan. The fact that Keillor’s stories are based here makes him an icon of Minnesota Culture. If like Fitzgerald he had based his stories in New York, then like Fitzgerald he’d be a famous story teller “from Minnesota” not “of Minnesota”.

    So I guess the answer is to find the figures in culture whose great work is tied to being Minnesotan and you’ll find your next icons. (This also maybe why politicians don’t count.)

  • Tim

    I think the 80’s may have been the last decade in which someone could become as iconic the way Prince did, so even if someone has all the talent in the world, they’re not going to achieve the universal acclaim that artists from earlier eras could get. Culture is just too fragmented and has too many niches now; there’s more depth but less breadth.

  • Postal Customer

    This whole discussion amounts to: “we matter, don’t we? Tell us we matter.”

  • Lobs

    Atmosphere. The Honeydogs. The Jayhawks.Sigurd Olson. Kate DiCamillo. August Wilson. The Sounds of Blackness. Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO and MN Opera.

    • wjc

      Of course, August Wilson died over 10 years ago.

      A number of the people / groups you mentioned are terrific, but they don’t necessarily bring Minneapolis / St. Paul to the minds of people around the country and the world the way Prince does. We may have to wait a while for another person.like that.

      • Of those, maybe two (MN Orchestra and the Sounds of Blackness) have any great (from my experience) international recognition. Maybe add Jeveeta Steele to the list (a hit song from “Baghdad Cafe”).

      • I think people confuse name recognition and symbolism. I don’t think they’re the same.

  • Cathy

    Dear god everyone, get a grip. He was talented, broke some ground, etc … but he certainly wasn’t our “identity”.

    • Lobs

      He often was. When I lived out of state in the 90’s (maybe things have changed) people heard Minnesota and would ask one of three questions– are you a Twins fan? Are you from Fargo? Do you know Prince?

      • ChrisF

        I lived in England for a while in the late 80’s and there was simply no comprehension of Minnesota (why would there be?) besides Prince being from here and knowing there was something called Lake Minnetonka. Internationally maybe the Fargo movie and series did a little something since then but, yeah, Prince was pretty much our place at the big peoples table.

        • Xerophyte

          Exactly. When I studied abroad in the Netherlands and people asked where I was from, I quickly learned to say “Minneapolis, where Prince is from,” rather than “Minneapolis, which is sort of 8 hours from Chicago.” I actually figured this out because on more than one occasion when I was going through the Chicago spiel, Dutch people would interrupt me and say, “oh, Minneapolis, where Prince is from!”

          With that said, I think in the digital age no place is really going to be known for a specific icon anymore. Increasingly places are known for what they do, not who is from there. So I think the challenge really needs to be to continue doing the right things. Minneapolis specifically and Minnesota overall already land so high on lists of healthiest cities, best park systems, best educated, etcetera. If we successfully tackle the racial income gap issue, we could really become a model city and state for the rest of the country.

    • We still have the Mall of America.

      • ChrisF

        And Josh Hartnett!

        oh wait…

    • I disagree. Somewhere in the ’80s into the ’90s when traveling overseas, whenever someone asked me where I was from and I would reply “Minneapolis”, their response changed from “Oh, the city with the car race” (bzzzzzt! wrong!) to “Oh! Prince!”

    • As already stated, when encountering someone not familiar with Minneapolis (generally a foreigner) one of the first “identifiers” for Minneapolis was Prince.

      • Rob

        Soon the major identifier will be the egregious eyesore known as US Bank Stadium.

  • lindblomeagles

    Since moving to the Twin Cities from Chicago 25 years ago, I’m shocked, really, that Minnesota doesn’t have larger cache nationally. Think about this for a minute Bob. Every time an American opens a box of Rice Krispies, Cheerios, or a dozen other brands of cereal for breakfast, that person is eating something from Minnesota based General Mills. For years, the country thought Land O’ Lakes was based in Wisconsin instead of here, in Minnesota. Older Americans are familiar with spam, another Minnesota creation, this time coming from Austin based Hormel. Think about this too. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Lindbergh, Garrison Keillor, Bob Dylan, Prince, Judy Garland, Little House on the Prairie’s Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Louie and Loni Anderson, were all born here. These are not slight stars. Yet, for some reason, we here in Minnesota have HOLD ONTO Mary Tyler Moore, whose show probably did more to diminish our rep than expand it. Yes, the show was funny, but the show always made references to our cold, snowy weather, which we haven’t really had in the past 5 years. The Metro Dome didn’t help either. It always made news when the snow blew in the roof or a baseball got lost along its snow white Teflon cover. That was screaming COLD, COLD, COLD. But every time I visit some place here in Minnesota, I keep wondering why the State hasn’t benefited more from all the wonderful things it has already given to the world.

  • Craig

    In my experience, attaching one’s self to the accomplishments of others, and celebrity worship are contrary to the perception of Minnesotans around the country.

    When visiting a friend in LA, his wife told me how near to them several celebrities lived. Her husband terminated the topic, explaining that I would not be interested, the unspoken reason being that I’m from Minnesota, hence unlikely to find validation in it.

    Similarly, when at the NY branch of my company a coworker told me “I’m just down the hall from X’s office.” Another then explained how important it is to be near the boss, she assumed the idea of corporate courtier-ship had to be explained to me because I was from Minnesota.

    I think the Minnesota identify has to do with a grounded ontology, not celebrity embodiment.