Remembering Norman Truman, Beloved Minneapolis Punk Personality
For decades, Truman was everywhere in the local punk rock community. We spoke with a handful of the many lives he touched.
7:51 AM CDT on August 23, 2021
If you didn't personally know Norman Truman—and a lot of people personally knew Norman Truman—there's a good chance you saw him around town. The face-tatted, tender-hearted Minneapolis punk was hard to miss. Truman played in bands (UFO Tofu, Still Pissed at Reagan), was a constant at shows, and worked the gamut of service-industry jobs at Triple Rock Social Club and Hell's Kitchen.
Truman, who died in a coma on August 4 after suffering brain swelling, has been met with a tidal wave online mourning from the scene he was such a vital part of.
The universal consensus: Norman was a great fucking guy.
Truman was born in L.A. on December 14, 1966. He grew up in suburban Garden Grove, California, and moved to London shortly after high school. Following a brief stint in San Francisco, he eventually train-hopped to his "cherished" hometown of Minneapolis in the early '90s, according to his widow, Alisha Truman.
Alisha describes her husband as "a jack-of-all-trades, a true working-class hero." Norman worked as a psychiatric tech in the '80s, a silk screener in the '90s, a union stagehand in the '00s, and in clubs and bars throughout his life as a cook, barback, swamper, and doorman.
Norman loved punk rock, and he'd travel the world seeking it out at festivals and clubs. The Stranglers, the Boomtown Rats, and the Kinks were among his favorite bands, but he was never discharged from the KISS Army (Ace Frehley's signature was among Norman's many tattoos). Norman was an avid record collector and "a walking and talking musical encyclopedia," Alisha says.
At a May 2020 protest, Minneapolis police shot Norman in the head with a rubber bullet from close range, Alisha says, noting that she and her husband were innocent bystanders. The so-called "less-lethal" round caused a traumatic brain injury, skull fracture, brain hemorrhaging, and a broken wrist, Alisha says. (When asked for comment, MPD PR deferred to the City Attorney’s Office, whose PR rep declined to comment.)
The injuries "completely disrupted and affected Norman's life in every way possible," Alisha says—mentally, physically, psychologically. He attended speech therapy to re-learn how to talk; he took anti-seizure medication; his short-term memory was shot. On July 27, doctors put Norman in a medically induced coma. He died eight days later surrounded by Alisha, his mother Julie Truman, and brother Matthew Truman.
Norman is survived by Alisha, his mother Julie, brother Matthew and sister-in-law Jessica Truman, nieces Chasity, Rael, Paige, and Shelby, and beloved dog Notorious P.U.G. He's preceded in death by his father Stephen Truman, younger brother Neil Truman, and best friend Bob Murderer, a fellow Twin Cities punk fixture who died last year and will be celebrated September 3 and 4 with a memorial fest.
And, of course, Norman is survived by a whole lot of friends.
"Everyone knows Norm," says friend/Bryant-Lake Bowl manager Peggy Dainty. "He’s a local icon."
We asked a handful of those friends to remember the beloved Minneapolis punk.
How would you describe Norman to a stranger?
Alisha Truman, wife and musician: The most handsome—kindest blue eyes, fanged smile. His face was tattooed for over 30 years when just a single tattoo was still taboo. He looks intimidating at first, but as soon as he opened his mouth and started talking all preconceived notions and judgmental opinions went right out the window. He was the prime living example of "never judge a book by its cover"; he has changed the most menacing judgments of him in mere sentences. He changed lives and lifted stigmas daily.
Luke Hjort, friend, musician, and former bandmate: Trying to describe Norman to a stranger is easy: Don’t be a judgmental asshole. The reality is, once you actually talked to him, got past his tats and piercings, he was way more in-depth than the barista at Starbucks who has a half-sleeve.
Peggy Dainty, friend and manager at Bryant-Lake Bowl: Punk rock mythic humanoid... but then I would have to describe what that means. He was every kind of punk-rock sprite; he had a great sense of which sprite to share and how to share his magic.
Andy Lefton, friend, musician (War//Plague), and promoter (Organize & Arise): The most sincere and honest friend one could have. Norman was a person who was able to live his life by his standards while accepting the lives of others with no judgement. Norman was an irreplaceable soul.
What was his impact like in the music scene?
Truman: He loved all things music-related. Record collecting and clown memorabilia. Reading. Traveling the world. Getting tattooed. Going to shows and music festivals across the country. DJ'ing. Punk rock. And hanging out with his beloved wife and dog, Notorious P.U.G.
Hjort: Norman's impact on the Minneapolis music scene goes on before I lived here. He eventually sang in many bands and booked touring bands. There were bands he was not fond of, but that did not stop him from going to as many shows as possible and making connections.
Dainty: Norm was at every show. In the front, rooting for music and his friends who play it. Energetic and proud. Genuinely supportive of all types of music. He was pretty musically diverse, so his impact in many different musical categories was present in different scenes. But because he loved all types of music, it was almost impossible for him to be at every show each night—but if he could have, he absolutely would have! Norm was the most open-minded and spirited supporter of music and music fans.
Lefton: Norman was one of the driving forces in our community that brought a sense of love, trust, and honesty to what we did. He was one of those people you knew would always be there at any show, event, or simply to hangout. He was a staple in our scene and the loss of him will leave a lifelong scar.
What made Norman so beloved in the community?
Truman: Norman was humble, genuine, caring, compassionate, non-judgmental, and wise of all things.
Hjort: The guy was everywhere. He was sociable and charismatic. Like I stated, once people got past his outer appearance, he was an incredibly fun person to be around. Most people I know gravitated towards him 'cause he was entertaining and could hold conversations about any topic over the last 40 years.
Dainty: Norm was a very open-minded goofball. He engaged with every person he met. From the corner store to my own family, he made everyone feel special. Looked everyone in the eye and addressed them as individuals no matter what they looked like! He liked to hear other people’s stories. And he liked to make people laugh. Very kind. Very charming. Very funny. I have never heard one ill word about him. He was so charming and congenial and made you feel special if you knew him even in the slightest. I’ve been collecting stories from people I know around the city that are not punk but feel super proud to have known him. Every walk of life.
Lefton: His light. He had an aura that attracted everyone from all walks of life. Norman had no bias; he was his own free-thinking soul who kept his arms open to everyone.
What's one of your favorite memories of Norman?
Truman: Slow dancing in our living room. And our love-at-first-sight story in Las Vegas during a Punk Rock Bowling festival.
Hjort: This was a favorite of his to tell, cause it was embarrassing for me [laughs]. It’s all true. We were out on tour sometime in the early 2000s, we played a gig in Milwaukee and our friends took us to a bar that had $1 shots of whiskey, Jägermeister, and something else... at this point, who cares. We got wasted. Somehow we literally stumbled back to the van and passed out. Next morning, we wake up lost, boots and shoes off—as required by punk law—wondering where we are. I end up having to take a shit. Can’t find my boots, end up finding a flip-flop—singular—and a copy of City Pages. We didn’t know what house our friends lived in, so Norman pointed down an alley and I went between some garages. He thought it was hilarious I walked in a flip-flop, found sunglasses, and dumped my ass. He might have written a song about it, but that’s another story.
Dainty: Pffft, too many! I suppose my favorite time with Norm was almost 20 years ago when he started calling me "Mom." He’d come over and I would paint his nails, dye his hair, sew his clothes, feed him snacks, and we’d watch cheesy cable TV. Even though I’m younger than him I love that he still called me Mom after 20-plus years. And so many other personal, sweet, heartfelt memories... he was truly a friend to me.
Lefton: It’s impossible to nail down one single memory as there’s just too many. But the fondest memory I had was our first-time meeting. It was 1995, and I just stepped off the Greyhound bus after a long ride from Colorado and my first time to Minneapolis. My goal was to jump right into the epicenter of punk rock, but instead of gigs, beer, and social chaos, we ended up at a bowling alley with a group of hardcore crusties. And here’s Norman, introducing himself to me and asking how the trip was, why I was there, and to just hang out and have some fun. I’ve never seen a person with his facial markings, so I was quickly thrown off, but within that moment, I felt welcomed. We sat down, took off our combat boots and put on these clown-like bowling shoes. It sounds uneventful, but the impact that moment had for me solidified our relationship forever. Beyond that, it was decades of gigs, adventures, and shared stories that left such an impression that I feel a large portion of me was torn away when he passed.
What's it been like seeing the outpouring of love after his passing?
Truman: Not surprised at the outpouring the least bit. Norman was beloved by all walks of life throughout the globe. There has never been a negative thing to say about him. No matter where we were at in the world, he was known. We can't go anywhere without him running into a friend or someone he knew.
Hjort: Norman is a great person. The outpouring is expected. He knew more people than most, was involved with many aspects of our city, way more than any politician or law maker. He held many jobs over the years. How do you not make contacts or meet people when you are actually working class?
Dainty: Incredible. That stinky-butt made such an impact on so many people worldwide. He’s got friends all over the globe sending love for him, sharing funny stories, funny pics, his cheesy jokes. He is one of a kind, no ill words ever spoken about him other than how bad his vegan farts were! What a beautiful legacy to leave in life. I would hope most would want the same for themselves, but there is only one army-of-one, Norman Truman. I hope everyone takes a bit of his soul and carries his torch. Seeing Norman homages around town keeps him alive. Immortalizes him in spirit. I’m still inviting him to all of my BBQs but he’s either “out of town” or “had to work.” I’m taking a piece of his soul. Makes my heart feel better.
Lefton: Surreal. The thought of him being gone, for one, is an unfathomable one. However, the universal love and support that has come through has taken something that was beyond tragic and brought it to a level that shines a light on what this one single person was capable of doing to the human spirit. He left a lasting impact that will undoubtedly keep rippling through the ages.
How do you feel Norman would want to be remembered?
Truman: He would want everyone to live life to the fullest. Take chances on love at first sight. Get outside the comfort of your little bubble to travel and see the world. Dance like no one's watching whenever you desire to do so. Dress and look how you want, regardless of what others may think. Just be yourself... and own it!
Hjort: Norman was from California but Minneapolis was his home. I can’t answer this question 'cause everyone who knew him, toured, worked next too, sat at the bar, and had conversations with him will have there remembrance. None of them are wrong.
Dainty: Punk forever. Forever punk.
Lefton: Just like this. Norman was the embodiment of all things good in the world. It really was a true honor to have lived during his time and shared so many memories with his life.
Anything else about Norman you'd like to share?
Truman: Norman was the love of my life. My soulmate. My husband. My protector. My ultimate best friend. I will never be complete or whole again. He was my entire existence. The devastation is indescribable and I am in utter shambles without him.
Hjort: Over the years I had the fortune to spend a lot of time with Norman—not as much as others, but a fair share. What I personally take away the most is that Norm and I could always disagree, argue like brothers, and still drink tequila. Don’t be afraid to tell people you love them or hate them, don’t leave words unsaid, and, most importantly, if you play music with them, record everything! Don’t lose the memories. Keep an eye out for the s.p.a.r. EP. It was a project Norm wanted to see become a reality. Rest well my brother, and have the tour set up when we meet again!
Dainty: Too much.
Lefton: I came to Minneapolis in 1995 to have a sense of belonging, and Norman was right up front to welcome me with open arms. I’ll never forget that, and I will forever be grateful for what he’s done for our community and our family. He will be greatly missed, and our love and support go out to his wonderful wife Alisha.
On September 3 and 4, Andy Lefton and his label Organize and Arise are hosting a punk festival in memory of Bob Murderer and Norman at Part Wolf in Minneapolis. Find more info and get tickets here.
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