The first single from a Stillwater-raised singer-songwriter’s new album is out with a music video reflecting on how the river town has changed over the decades.
Directed by local resident Paul Creager, the video for Frankie Lee’s new song Downtown Lights, from the forthcoming album “Stillwater,” features archival footage of the swimming beach that was located across the river from Stillwater.
“We paired 8MM footage from the late 40s/early 50s of the swimming beach and diving platform with some newly filmed Super 8,” Creager says. “I liked how the late day sun setting over the valley and the couples on the beach worked with the mood of the song.”
Creager thanked the Washington County Historical Society for permitting use of the film, which comes from the collection of noted Stillwater photographer and archivist John Runk. The filmmaker previously produced a short documentary using film from the collection that was released in 2010.
Ode to a lost time
The song’s lyrics are also about the changes in the town, and the heartache of love and home.
“It’s an ode to Jessica Lange, who lived in Stillwater when I was growing up,” Lee says. “When she moved away she said it was because they killed the town with condos and tourist shops. Which I agree with. This song is about a dream I had walking down Main Street with her.”
Lee recorded the new album at his mom’s house on the north side of town. The album’s overall themes are about returning home, while previous work has largely been about traveling the country.
The film clips selected for the music video show sunbathers and swimmers reclining on soft sand and splashing in the river. The water looks dark blue, the sunlight is golden, and there is an idyllic but wistful feel to the scenes.
At the end of the video, there is a short burst of other footage, including riding up the river in a wooden speedboat to the Arcola Soo Line High Bridge, where a train is seen crossing. There are also shots of downtown Stillwater and the surrounding area.
Conservation connection digression
There is another interesting angle to the film footage of the river. It is about how not just the river towns, but the river itself, would change in the decades ahead. The post-World War II time period was at the cusp of significant changes in the waters of the river.
More than 400 tons of phosphorus flows into the St. Croix River from the surrounding area today, feeding more algae and turning the blue water green and brown during certain times of the year. Back when this footage was recorded, that amount was only about 360 tons.
The 1940s phosphorus level now happens to be the goal of a bi-state effort to reduce harmful runoff. That 360 tons per year also happens to be one inspiration for St. Croix 360’s name. Learn more about it in this report (PDF) from the St. Croix Watershed Research Station.
The footage was also recorded before the Clean Water Act of 1972 was signed, which means contaminants like sewage and industrial chemicals could still be dumped straight into the river. And the rate sediment is accumulating in Lake St. Croix has also come down from its peak around the time of the filming.
End of digression. Through all these years, the St. Croix River continues to run clean and wild, despite many changes in surrounding communities. Swimmers still love its water. It isn’t pristine, but cranes and turtles and sturgeon still call it home, and so do many people.
Get the album
Frankie Lee’s album Stillwater will be released May 24 and is available for pre-order on CD, vinyl, and digital at this link.