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Let’s Talk About the Weird U of M Replacements Photo Situation

Fragile Zoomers spooked by cigs? "Respectfully deaccessioned"? Photographer Daniel Corrigan's famous shot of the band inside Coffman Memorial Union is gone, causing a stir among very online 'Mats fans.

1:13 PM CDT on June 5, 2023

We set our little reporting wheels in motion when, last week, the following tweet came over the transom:

Taking a couple steps back: Steller is referring to the revelation, first discovered by local tweeter Tim Johnson, that two famous photos of Minneapolis rock greats the Replacements had been removed the elevator at the University of Minnesota's Coffman Memorial Union. The photo-removal intrigue heightened when U of M librarian/'Mats fan Shane Nackerud reportedly heard from Coffman's front desk that the images receive "dozens and dozens" of complaints from students, many related to the fact that frontman Paul Westerberg is pictured with a cig dangling from his lips. "I believe this is the first time I have been negatively impacted by 'wokeism,'" Nackerud joked, adding that he was told the photos might reappear but "it won't be for a while."

Snapped by famed Twin Cities photographer Daniel Corrigan, the photos depict the band inside that very elevator circa 1984; the Replacements album to be released that fall, Let It Be, would cement them as cult figures of '80s college rock, as their genre was known at the time. Legend has it that Corrigan, who we were unable to reach for this story, enticed the band inside the elevator with promises of cocaine, prompting 'Mats biographer Bob Mahr to tweet last week: "Please, no one tell these students what substances the photographer lured the band into the elevator with."

Enjoy this relevant passage from Mehr's masterful 2016 book Trouble Boys:

The band marked the album's completion that spring at the Coffman Memorial Union on the University of Minnesota campus—a benefit for a relative of a student who was getting a heart transplant. But the heart proved to be the wrong size. The gig was put on hold until another suitable organ could be found.

A few weeks later, the 'Mats finally had their moment. "It was really exciting that they were playing a big room full of kids at the university," said [band manager Peter] Jesperson. "It's like, 'Wow, we're really making progress here.' I just remember the band looking so cool… and Paul strapping on the guitar as he's getting himself situated."

Just before the 'Mats slammed into a Let It Be-heavy set that began with a fitting cover of "Heartbeat (It's a Lovebeat)," Westerberg paused at the microphone: "Let's just hope the fucker fits this time—'cause we ain't coming back."

(And click here for an exhaustive thread from Steller about the band's history in and around Coffman, including at least one benefit show for the U's alpine ski team.)

But back to the drama at hand! By Friday the story had broken locally and nationally, thus spoiling Racket's tailor-made scoop. Yet, in service of fellow aging rock dorks, our reporting persisted. We asked the U of M's PR department for answers, and it supplied the following statement from the Student Unions & Activities Office:

"The historic photos of The Replacements, which were displayed near the elevators in Coffman Memorial Union for nearly a decade, have been respectfully deaccessioned and returned to their owner," reads the statement, which also includes language about how the photos might be replaced by wayfinding signage in service of accessibility. Unsatisfied ('Mats ref.!), we followed up by asking who owns the photos ("The artwork is privately owned by a University employee who has a personal relationship with the band and a passion for Minnesota’s local music history") and whether complaints about Paul's tobacco use contributed to their removal ("While we have gotten a few comments about the photos over the years, the subject matter was not a factor in the removal of the artwork").

"You know, this is all kind of faux outrage," says Nackerud, who has worked at the U since 1998. "Am I upset that the photos were removed? Yes! However, I realize Coffman is the student union, not the faculty and staff union. If students want the photos removed then so be it. Having said that, for years every time I walked into Coffman I got a little burst of joy when I saw the photos. I would intentionally walk by them. I really loved seeing them! It is understandable, though, that they wouldn't hang there forever."

"I love the Replacements and saw them at the [Coffman's] Great Hall in 1983, among the 50 other times I saw them," adds former U student Dean Carlson. "Also I think taking down the photos is dumb. But other than that I'm not sure if I have a quote."

Good enough for us.

This entire ordeal blew up, in part, from outrages real and faux surrounding the idea that delicate Gen Z sensibilities were at odds with a 39-year-old image of someone smoking. The implication was that students let their supposed hall-monitor impulses blind them to the rock history significance around photos of a band that broke up long before they were born. In other words, it was a way for old people to complain about young people.

That got us thinking: How aware of the 'Mats are current U students? By this point our scoop had long since dissolved, so forgive the limited scope of our answer-seeking: a single email to recent Minnesota Daily A&E editor James Schaak, who's also the author of this fantastic Racket story about another old local band.

Is he aware of the 'Mats?

"Yeah, I’m aware of the Replacements. My dad explained to me who they are while eating at Al’s when I first visited campus on a tour as a high school student. Looking back, that was a formative experience for me as a future Minnesotan."

How about the photos?

"Yeah, I’m aware of the photo too. I walked past it a bunch over the last few years."

Finally and crucially, what's his take on the photo-removal situation that has so gripped a specific subset of local music Twitter?

"I’m surprised they removed the photo and I’m curious why they did it. The Replacements photo added an edge of cool to the U’s campus and simultaneously taught kids a little about our state’s culture. It definitely caught my eye every time I walked past it. If the school removes it permanently, they better replace it with something even better, pun intended."

And if they don't, 'Mats-loving Gophers of all ages can imbue new meaning to this classic treatise on education:

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