March 10, 1996
Joyce Campbell (from left), owner of the Recycla-Bell in Duluth, stands in front of the building with regular visitors Malahn Amend, 20, Genevieve Gaboriault, 16, and Leah Smith, 17, in February 1996. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)
RECYCLA-BELL PATRONS FIND FUN, RESPECT AT OLD BUILDING TURNED MUSIC VENUE WHERE DRUGS, VIOLENCE AREN’T TOLERATED
Cutting lyrics and a raging electric guitar blast through giant speakers. In a room with black walls, a band is pounding out music and a group of kids are “moshing” — pushing against one another, trying to get to the center of the group.
In the other room the kids are more subdued, sitting and talking in booths that look like leftovers from a ’50s diner.
This is the Recycla-Bell in Duluth’s Endion neighborhood, and on this particular Saturday, around 200 14- to 20-year-olds have come to listen to music, talk and just hang out.
Once a Northwestern Bell telephone building at 1804 E. First St., it’s now a music venue for Northland bands and the only place in the Twin Ports these young people feel belongs to them.
A young woman in flowing clothing with glitter in her eyelashes stands next to the booths talking to Joyce Campbell, the Recycla-Bell’s owner.
She is Michelle Pesek, a 20-year-old pre-med student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and she is thanking Campbell for keeping the Recycla-Bell open.
“There’s a feeling of peace and camaraderie and the freedom to be ourselves here,”‘ Pesek said.
Despite minimal supervision — Joyce and her husband, Chris, are the only chaperones — the crowd at the Recycla-Bell is calm and self-controlled.
“The owners are very good-hearted and respectful, and the kids don’t feel they are being repressed,” Pesek said.
“If they are repressed, they will rage against it,” she added, “but if they are treated like thinking, respectful teen-agers, they will act like thinking, respectful teen-agers.”
Some of them have dyed their hair unnatural colors and pierced their bodies in socially incorrect places. Others look like the kid next door in flannel shirts and blue jeans.
Regardless of their fashion statements, they defy some of the negative stereotypes adults hold about today’s young people.
Freedom through responsibility
Recycla-Bell kids cooperate with and appreciate the Recycla-Bell rules: no alcohol, no tobacco and no drugs.
“It just doesn’t fly if you break the rules,” said Joel Hardesty, 19, whose band played at the first concert at the Recycla-Bell in 1991.
There is one compelling reason: the music. It is one of the only places teens in the Twin Ports can see local bands, along with occasional groups from Canada and other parts of the United States, playing music they like — rock, alternative, punk or ska (the precursor to reggae).
The young people here know they will decide the fate of the club themselves, and nobody wants to mess things up.
As insurance, John Stone, a Recycla-Bell regular, acts as the unofficial bouncer. He has kicked out people only one or two times. Drugs, alcohol and violence are not problems, he said.
Besides making sure the moshing doesn’t get out of hand, Stone, 20, recruits bands and runs the sound system. He said it’s important that the music and the environment at the Recycla-Bell are largely controlled by people under 21.
There is no decor except for a few posters, and the music room’s black walls and empty floor provide the perfect backdrop for bands and dancers who are attempting to escape the trappings of the adult world — if only for a few hours.
Besides having the minimalist atmosphere they crave, young people say the Recycla-Bell is a place to go and feel respected and accepted.
“It’s a place where kids can be in charge while still respecting some rules,” said Joel Monsaas Kilgour, 19.
“Anyone who comes in here isn’t labeled,” said Jessie Huard, 17. “The Campbells accept any group.”
Owners’ attitudes key
“Young people need what we all need: love, respect, hope and to feel like we have some choices. I started with this basic premise,” Joyce Campbell said.
She and her husband bought the old Northwestern Bell Telephone building in 1991, made an apartment for themselves on the third floor, and turned it into an activist center for anti-violence and environmental causes and a music venue for young people on the weekends.
Joyce often plays the part of mother to the “Bell kids,” as she calls them. She knows many of them well, gushes with praise over their accomplishments and snaps their pictures, telling them to pick them up the next time.
The kids smile or fidget with embarrassment — many of them are not used to having an adult earnestly compliment their dyed hair and eccentric outfits.
“My opinion has always been that hair color or length and clothing styles are some of the safer choices that young people trying to figure out who they are can make … they don’t have the dangers of other choices like drugs, alcohol, sex and violence,” Campbell said.
Political activities still take place at the Recycla-Bell, but they are separate from the concerts, the Campbells said.
There are some political signs in the building promoting peace and opposing a couple of military programs, but most kids are oblivious to them and say the owners have never tried to open political conversations with them.
But Campbell does live by her principles, and tries to instill a sense of respect in the young people who go there. Besides the anti-drug, tobacco and alcohol rules, she will not tolerate ill treatment of others or discrimination.
Setting such rules and still giving kids room is a delicate balancing act. Campbell described one band she prohibited from playing because it had what she considered a sexually explicit, offensive name. But she gave in when the band changed its name, for one night, to “Appeasing Joyce.”
The kids respect her authority and her flexibility, and Campbell has had little need for discipline.
The music stops playing around 10:30 p.m. and, with few exceptions, the kids shuffle out quietly and are gone by 11 p.m. Many of them call their parents on a bright orange phone, Campbell’s private line, that sits on a piano in the main room.
Campbell has had parents call her on that same phone, asking what the Recycla-Bell was all about.
She always invites them to stop by, and many of them take her up on it.
“I’m really happy about it,” said Roxanne Stahl of Duluth, whose 14-year-old daughter frequents the Recycla-Bell.
Stahl went in to check the place out for herself and said she was glad the crowd was young, explaining that she felt uneasy when her children went to places where the patrons were older.
“If there’s a place these kids can go and hang out for a few hours, then I’m all for it.”
A surprising number of Recycla-Bell kids share Stahl’s relief that there is an “under 21” place to hang out.
Ask around, and the majority of them will tell you they are glad there is no smoke or drunken people to deal with (and most of them say they have experienced both at parties elsewhere).
Coffeehouses and cafes, the only other places in the Twin Ports where under-age people can enjoy live music, are all filled with smoke, complain many of the kids at the Recycla-Bell.
Community rallies to protect the ‘Bell’
The hangout almost disappeared a few years ago when the city of Duluth brought charges against the Campbells of disturbing the neighborhood and of committing zoning violations for running a commercial establishment in a residential zone.
The disturbance charge was dropped quickly as people in the neighborhood, rather than complaining, rallied to support the Campbells. The Duluth police had only a couple of complaints about loud music while Campbell was able to produce letters of support from several neighbors close to the Recycla-Bell.
Supporters wrote letters to the city and Mayor Gary Doty, and young people collected more than 1,000 names on petitions supporting the Recycla-Bell.
Campbell argued that she was running a charitable operation, which is allowed in her neighborhood. She makes no profit from concerts and spends her own money to keep the place heated.
Nearly two years and seven court appearances later, the Campbells were informed in April 1995 that the city had dropped all charges “in the interest of justice.”
City Attorney John Smedberg said one of the deciding factors was the overwhelming support of the community. He said the message he heard was that, in this day of gangs and drive-by shootings, it made no sense to close down a place where kids gather peacefully.
“Yeah, you do listen to stuff like that,” Smedberg said.
The police department has not experienced any trouble with the Recycla-Bell since the lawsuit.
“As far as I’m concerned, we feel they’re trying to do a great thing there,” said John Christensen, license officer for the Duluth Police Department. ““For a group of young people, that age group, they don’t have anyplace else to go to be together, listen to music, dance and hang out.”
Recycla-Bell looks for real support
With the legal difficulties past, the Recycla-Bell is back to the business of being the music scene for young people.
The Campbells are there every concert night as chaperones, counselors, supporters — whatever the “Bell kids” need.
Support from the community is great, but Joyce Campbell says she wishes some tangible support would back it up.
“We are committed to keep doing what we are doing and we are going broke,” said Campbell, whose income is from two small “Ma and Pa-type” motels she and her husband own.
“The kids, who organize and plan events, usually give us a donation from money collected at the door, but this small amount doesn’t begin to touch our expenses,” Campbell said.
She strongly encourages the bands to keep admission down to $3 per person to keep the concerts open to all income levels.
Campbell said if the Recycla-Bell were run by an organization such as a church or the city, it would not be as free and open as it is. But that lack of affiliation also means lack of regular funding.
If she had one wish for the Recycla-Bell, it would be that adults in the community who support it would get involved — stop by to help chaperone and clean up. Give a few financial donations. In the past two years she has received only around $100 in private donations.
“The typical parent says, ‘I’m really happy for what you are doing for the kids,’ ” Campbell said. “My response is usually, ‘Get involved, we could use some help.’ ”
Most have yet to accept her invitation.
— end —
Joyce Campbell sits in one of the booths at the Recycla-Bell before the visitors arive on a Saturday night in March 1996. Behind her are some of the many political messages that some of the visitors have put up on the walls. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)
Here’s one more article from a couple months earlier – Jan. 6, 1996:
ANYTHING GOES IN MUSIC, DRESS AT DRUG- , ALCOHOL-FREE RECYCLA-BELL
If you have nothing to prove and don’t take your fashion statement too seriously, check out the live music and atmosphere at the Recycla-Bell in Duluth.
Fluorescent dye-jobs mix easily with baseball caps and bandanas at this all-inclusive gathering place which features live bands in an environment free of tobacco, drugs and alcohol.
The rules may seem conservative, but the atmosphere and the crowd are not. The music ranges from loud rock to alternative, and the dancing ranges from too-cool-to-move to moshing and body passing.
Walk in the door and you’ll probably see a fair share of black leather and dredlocks but you also will see representatives from the sweater-and-jeans crowd and some who would be hard to put into any group.
The lack of group identity is the main pride of regulars at the Recycla-bell. They get especially annoyed if you call them “alternative.”
“Alternative is almost popular now, like preps and jocks are,” said Jessie Huard, 17, who has been coming to the Recycla-Bell for about three years. “We are very much our own selves.”
The only people who would feel out of place at Recycla-Bell, according to Malahn Ament, are those who put down a certain group or style — or those who might come in looking for drugs.
“We are not trend-setters. The only statement we try to make is that we’re not drug users,” said Ament, 19.
The Recycla-Bell building, in a quiet East End neighborhood, was owned by Northwestern Bell before Joyce and Chris Campbell bought it and transformed it into a meeting place and music venue.
Two rooms in the basement are open when bands play. One is jammed full of booths right out of a ’50s diner where people gather to talk. The other room is usually dark except for the stage lights that illuminate the bands and the giant American flag hanging over the stage. The only other noticeable decor: a few political signs promoting peace.
The bands are a mixture of local high school and college groups, and traveling bands from the Twin Cities and elsewhere.
The Recycla-bell is only open for concerts. The next is Jan. 27 and will feature several “ska” bands including Flux Capacitor and Slapstick. The music is a mixture of reggae and punk.
On Feb. 17, several alternative bands will play including Puddle Wonderful, Blind Shake, Life of Riley and Omega 2000.
Doors at Recycla-Bell, 1804 E. First St., usually open about 6:30 p.m. with music from 7 to about 10:30. Doors close at 11 p.m. Cover is usually $3 but may go up a dollar or two depending on who is playing.
— end —
I’ve been meaning to do an entry on the Recycla-Bell, also listed as the RecyclaBell and the Recyclabell – for some time. I was reminded by a recent Perfect Duluth Day post about a reunion concert coming up later this month.
The News Tribune does have some earlier material on the Recycla-Bell, in a folder I set aside a while back – and now can’t locate. When I do, I may post some more items.
The paper’s electronic archives don’t contain any more full articles all about the club (there’s no mention of when the Recycla-Bell closed), but they do have a number of mentions of the club in passing, noting upcoming shows. Here’s a sampling of bands and DJs who played the Recycla-Bell in the 1990s:
December 1995: Puddle Wonderful, Fromundas, Sourpuss and Omega 2000
May 1996: Flux Skapacitor
January 1997: Acidine Solution, U.S.V., the Riff Randells and the Krammies; Ferd Mert, the Rydells and Edible
February 1997: House of Large Sizes, Puddle Wonderful, Unbelievable Jolly Machine and The End; Doutang, the Swingtones and Alex Mac; O2, J. Hendrixson, MVP, Stonz’, DJ Boo and Elam
March 1997: The Dames; Area 51 (mister e and grandmaster kevin), Xaq from the Shack of Xaq, the House of Tod and Demonica Del Rio from the S & M Mausoleum; Blind Shake, Apathy, the Dames and Da Sonics
April 1997: Shapht vs. Shaft and Buggin’ Out
Spring 1997: The Sellouts
As always, share your memories by posting a comment.