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When It Began

The Replacements got together and played a gig last night (Aug. 24, 2013) in Toronto.  It was the first time they’d performed together since July of 1991, and for me, though I was not there, it was as if the Beatles got back together.  I never thought it’d happen.  I’m not the only one who thought that, rabid ‘Mats fans all over thought the day would never come.  Why do we people who love the Replacements give such a shit?

I can only tell you when it began for me; and that was when I was in college.  Like a lot of music fans, I dived into their music more than halfway through their catalog. Pleased I started with “Pleased to Meet Me” and 1987 and then worked my way all the way back to “The Replacements Stink.”  What made it different for me was the musicianship (which was usually ragged) and Paul Westerberg’s voice, which sounded like he’d been screaming at loud neighbors all night (what music critics loved to call ‘whiskey soaked’).

The music was ragged, Paul’s vocals were torn; and then you had the lyrics.  Paul wrote the songs and he played the part of a disaffected poet with a serious “I don’t give a fuck” attitude.  Seen live, that “I don’t care- so fuck you” thing was even more appealing to me when I knew it was a put-on.  Which it always was.

“Pleased to Meet Me” had songs about a kid pondering suicide, the frigid squalor of the Minneapolis skyways, and an ode to Alex Chilton.  Interspersed were songs about the clumsiness of attraction and the sloppiness of being drunk.  Somehow they managed to do the latter without sounding like total meatheads.  They were intellectuals who wanted to stick their thumb in your eye; to see what they could get away with.  And they got away with a lot.

At various times, live, you never knew what would happen.  They’d change their clothes and instruments in between sets.  They’d stop in the middle of a song and play a 8hand of poker.  They’d be so drunk they’d scream at each other, pissed off, while also trying to perform.  They’d do all fan requests, but only if they were corny covers – no ‘Mats songs.  Guitarist Bob Stinson would sometimes show up in only a diaper.

They were often antagonistic towards the audience, the one show I saw, I heard Paul stop in the middle of a song and say “Hey I know we suck, but you bought it!”  I loved it, we all loved it, because we knew that inside they really did care.  They always gave their fans….something (their poke at doing a live album was called “The Shit Hits the Fans”).

They’d tear through their sets, variously inebriated.  They’d have what was known as their “on” nights and their “off” nights, and Replacements fans seemed to treasure them all.  Their fans love telling about their own experiences so much that a book (“All Over but the Shouting: An Oral History”) and a DVD (“Color Me Obsessed: A Film about the Replacements”) are out, and they just have to do with people reliving their old memories.

My history of them lives through the cassette tape.  After 1987 I purchased backwards, “Tim” from 1985, “Let It Be” from 1984 etc.  The songs got rawer as you went back, they wouldn’t delete the false starts and commentary from other people at the recording studio.  They carefully cultivated that “uncaringness” with things like:

Sound guy: “Tape rolling…” and then Westerberg: “So what…”

6My favorite albums are “Hootenanny” and “Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash.”   I relished playing the tapes in my dorm room and annoying my roommates with Paul, off key, screeching “it’s a hoo-te-nanny!” over and over.  And then the song “Run It,” where Paul admonishes some driver of a car he’s in to run a red light.  “Red light, red light, RUN IT!!!!!”  That line was also repeated over and over.photo 1

Even though I knew they had to be playing around about their apathy, I and all ‘Mats (‘Mats being the nickname for the band) fans wanted to not care too.  It sucked being in the real world and rock and roll could just take you away from all that.

The band seemed to fear success as much as they grasped for it, and that’s something I could really relate to.  I’d read once that after their first vinyl pressing was released, Westerberg went to his local Minneapolis record store and walked quietly over to where they were (under ‘R’), breaking each album one at a time where they sat.

9  In 1989 “Don’t Tell a Soul” was released.  I had by that time gone back and exhausted their other tapes and was ready for a new release.  Don’t get me wrong, it was really good; it had flashes of “Pleased to Meet Me” but was even more controlled, a little more produced.  It was kind of cold, they vibed “unhappy” to me; which of course is itself a strong manifestation of caring.

C’mon, don’t give a shit fellas, so I can join in and not give one along with you!

But really, don’t misunderstand me, I played the hell out of “Don’t Tell a Soul;” they just seemed…different.

Because I read it in the free Tower Records magazine, I knew that “All Shook Down,” released in September of 1990, would be their last.  With a heavy heart, I purchased the cassette.  It was good, mind you, great even; but it was even more polished than its predecessor.  They cared even more, yet ironically, this time they seriously didn’t care at all.  I’d heard it was really Paul Westerberg’s first solo album, just with the Replacements moniker.photo 2

They played gigs for almost another year; I saw one of their last, at New York’s Beacon Theater in March of 1991.  I was a true believer, so of course I loved it; though I don’t think it could have been their best effort.  But I could now talk on and on about my attending one of their “off” nights.  I was an official ‘Mats fan and part of the legend.  I heard for their final gig ever they handed off their instruments one by one to roadies and had them finish out their set and ultimately their career.

They broke up and we fans entered the wilderness.  Though I liked Paul’s solo stuff, it missed Tommy’s guitar and Christopher Mars’ crashing drums.  Paul’s stuff was thoughtful.  He may have cared but every once in a while he’d convince for a bit that he didn’t.  It just made me long for the old days.  But don’t think for a minute I didn’t love it, I played the hell out of Paul’s solo CDs.

There was a little oasis in the ‘Mats desert when “All for Nothing” came out in 1997.  They hadn’t reunited; but the CD was a double, the first being a “greatest hits” photo 3compilation and the second disc, “Nothing For All,” had unreleased and B-sides that I’d never heard.  I trundled over to Tower Records on Broadway; it was just like the old days, just for a bit.  I felt like I was 19 again.  In the meantime I’d mix up their songs with Paul’s solo stuff and record them on cassettes,anything to get a new angle.photo

We fans waited years to see if they’d get back together, deflated by the ongoing refusals from Paul – “not for love nor money,” he’d say.  Then old bandmate Slim Dunlap had a stroke.  Tommy Stinson and Paul got together to make a reunion CD with the profits going for Slim’s very expensive hospital bills and ongoing care.  Chris Mars didn’t join in but contributed a painting of his for the cover.

  They had so much fun together they decided to play 3 cities (Toronto, Chicago and Denver) this summer as part of Riot Fest 2013.  Paul and Tommy are in.  Chris Mars is a successful painter now and is going to stick with that for now but we’ll see, right?  You never know what can happen, maybe they’ll record again.  Maybe they’ll come to Atlanta, where I live.

 So now you’re caught up with the saga of the Replacements, partially conveyed and only from my perspective.  Hopefully you’ve gotten a glimpse of how much I cared about their caring about their non-caringness.  If that makes any sense.

Tommy and Paul

Tommy and Paul

2 replies
  1. Suradap
    Suradap says:

    Cool Stories Dude…Never got to see them myself and was very jealous my Mom let my older brother go see them at the Visage in Orlando on the All Shook Down tour in 91. But, because of my persinstant complaining she allowed me to go see the Ramones the very next month….Silver lining but still sucks. …lol


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