Record label exec and music curator Tim Carr’s successes on the national level are well known: as an A&R rep for Capitol, Warner Bros., and Dreamworks he worked with bands from David Byrne to Megadeth to Cibo Matto, and, most famously, he’s credited with signing the Beastie Boys to Capitol. But news of Carr’s death in Thailand last week at age 57 hit us closer to home: Carr got his start in the Twin Cities, including a stint at the Walker Art Center from 1978 to 1981, during which he produced the M-80 festival, widely noted as a key moment in Minneapolis’ rise as a music mecca.
Raised in Hopkins, Carr started out as a music critic for the Minneapolis Tribune in the late ’70s, before coming to the Walker as associate director of Performing Arts. He worked on programs still talked about today, including projects with Brian Eno, David Byrne, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. But he’s perhaps best remembered for his role as organizer of M-80 (Marathon ’80: A New-No-Now Festival). Music writer Jim Walsh recently reflected on the Walker-sponsored festival, which was held at the University of Minnesota Fieldhouse on September 22 and 23, 1979:
With the scent of sawdust permeating the airplane hangar-size barn, the weekend served to simultaneously bid adieu to the ’70s and light the fuse on the ’80s with performances from new music pioneers the Contortions, DEVO (performing as DOVE), the Fleshtones, the Suburbs, NNB, the Girls, the Commandos, the dB’s, Fingerprints, Monochrome Set, and many more, all joined under the same flag of raw, no frills, forward-pushing rock-as-art.
The festival was hugely influential for a generation of musicians, notes Walsh, including Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould, who said it felt like “something historic was happening.” Mould wrote: “In my mind, it was equal to Woodstock or Altamont or the Beatles at Shea Stadium. There was a great scene building in the Twin Cities.”
A focus on that scene and the artists at the center of it are what Chuck Helm remembers of his time working at the Walker with Carr. Now director of Performing Arts at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Helm is the former technical director for Walker Performing Arts (and, later, music consultant). “As an A&R rep, Tim could hustle with the best of them anywhere, anytime but also champion the artists he cared so deeply about with a passion few could match,” he recalled. “He was a fun-loving force, always with his finger firmly on the pulse of what was happening and with an incredible entrepreneurial flair for spreading his enthusiasm to others.
“He stirred up action at the Walker as well as all around the Twin Cities where his presence at the Longhorn or First Avenue meant that the party was truly on. As fantastic as his knack was for what was breaking in the world of music, Tim was equally at home with artists in all fields like Cindy Sherman and Bill T. Jones, among many others, who all greatly respected his spirit and skills.”
After moving to New York in the early ’80s, Carr stayed connected to the Minnesota music scene, including through his work with Minneapolis-based alt-rock band Babes In Toyland. Drummer Lori Barbero recalls that Carr, who signed the band to Reprise, was friends with many contemporary artists, eventually introducing the band to Cindy Sherman, who appeared in a Babes video and whose photographs appear on the covers of two albums.
Philip Bither, the Walker’s Senior Curator of Performing Arts, didn’t overlap with Carr at the Walker, but he’s long admired him, both in Bither’s pre-Walker years as associate director/music curator at Brooklyn Academy of Music and after Carr moved to New York. “He had a real impact both as a music curator in the not-for-profit world and in the commercial recording business, not easy worlds to straddle,” he said. “He kind of defined the free-wheeling, deal-making, fiercely independent A&R guy, but one who retained a very strong artistic sensibility and a deep love for vanguard music and art makers.”
Carr’s career saw diverse music projects, from a few music programs he curated at BAM before Bither’s stint there to, most recently, Ramakien, a “rak opera” directed by Rirkrit Tiravanija that Carr ultimately produced at the Lincoln Center Festival (with Festival Director Nigel Redden, for whom he had curated a number of music events when Nigel was the Walker’s director of Performing Arts).
“Tim was a force and an intriguing, magnetic presence,” Bither said. “He made a lot of great things happen for musicians and artists, especially from the ’70s through the ’9os. He will be missed.”