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Continued: Music: 'Chocolate Rain' falls on YouTube star's hometown

"He's a hometown hero," the DJ said. "I thought he was amazing, I'm really glad he came out."

Like many in the local music scene, First Avenue's staff had no idea how to get in touch with Zonday to invite him to perform. Club booker Sonia Grover said, "Girl Talk's agent worked really hard to track him down, which shows how much they really wanted him here."

Where did he come from?

Zonday grew up on the north side of Chicago, leading what he called a "pretty isolated" childhood with "very protective" parents. His older brother Damon Bahner, who has taken over as his manager, said, "He never really was a kid that was into pop culture much."

When asked whether "Chocolate Rain" was in any way a "Purple Rain" homage, Zonday said, "I admire Prince, but never really listened to him."

Said his brother, "He created his music from his own unique perspective, which I think is why it stood out."

The younger Bahner began posting his clips as Tay Zonday on YouTube in January and got to "Chocolate Rain" in April. By July, it became big enough for late-night TV host Carson Daly to do a skit about it. Zonday then performed on Kimmel's show in August.

Posting clips "comes as natural to me as making a phone call," Zonday said. "It's a sign of the times. Everybody does it."

He did it from his apartment in Minneapolis, where he arrived two years ago to earn a graduate degree in American Studies -- which, by the way, he's still pursuing.

"If I could make a living creating my art, then I would of course love that," he said, "but I'm fully aware that very few people are able to do that successfully."

That doesn't mean he's not testing the waters. He's close to signing an advertising deal with "a large beverage company," his brother/manager said. Until that happens, his biggest payoff has been from a couple private gigs around the country, plus he's now a so-called YouTube Partner, earning some advertising money from the site.

Zonday said he has fielded many offers to collaborate with big-name music stars, but he doesn't want to name them until it happens. He is also considering offers from record labels to make an album, but he remains most skeptical of that prospect.

"Is the album even a relevant art form any more?" he asked.

Of all people, Zonday is certainly raising doubts that it is.

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658

Chris Riemenschneider • chrisr@startribune.com

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