Yesterday I saw a glimmer of hope for future generations. I was perusing the stationary/book store, in the bowels of Rockefeller Plaza, on the prowl for unneeded reading material. I found nothing…came close, but decided against the Peter Criss autobiography. I settled on purchasing a few unneeded Moleskin booklets, a package of three for 8.95, how could I go wrong? As I went up to pay I heard an all too familiar tune. A song that caused my heart to almost stop. Could it be really playing here? Was I in some way to hip independent film? Did I break the time space continuum? As I walked up, playing just loud enough for those who knew to know was “I’m In Trouble” by The Replacements, from their first album Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash.
Trying to deconstruct why The Replacements are one of the most important bands in rock and roll is an exercise in futility. If you don’t understand them by now, you never will. That’s not an indictment against you or your taste (OK, maybe against your taste). It’s not that their music or lyrics are in the same esoteric zip code of Frank Zappa or The Grateful Dead. They’re not like that at all. In fact, the ‘mats are as welcoming a band as you could hope for…as long as you can stomach alienation, sarcasm, snark, love and rebellion.
I chuckled and said to the clerk “It’s not every day I get to hear the ‘mats in a store.” Truth is, even when they were a full time working band you seldom heard them…anywhere. I used to get in trouble for playing the piss out of Don’t Tell A Soul when I worked in a record store during my Rob Gordon days. Since their break up almost 22 years ago, you hear them even less than seldom…if that is possible.
Nonetheless, hear they were playing a live version of “I’m In Trouble”…in 2013…in some tiny paper product store in Rockefeller Plaza. The kid, barely 25 if I had to guess, and I looked at each other and smiled. He said “Yea, this is from this weekends show in Toronto.”
“Oh, yea, that’s right they are doing those three festival dates this year.”
To a Replacements fan, a reunion seemed almost always likely to happen, but we just never knew when. They had reunited for a couple new tracks for a Best Of album a few years ago. And the new songs were pretty disposable. They weren’t bad, they just didn’t seem into it. But then they reunited last year to record some material for their former guitar player Slim Dunlap who suffered a serious stroke awhile back. Songs for Slim is an ongoing project where artists cover some of Slims songs and release special packages to help pay for his care. The first in that series was a reunited Replacements. And on this EP they sounded reinvigorated.
I said to my new found kindred ‘mats friend “I wanted to go to the show in Chicago, but it didn’t work out. I guess I will have to hope for a full fledged tour.” He handed me my change smiling and without gloating said “Yea, I’m going to the Chicago show.” I about fell to my shoes. The lineup for the upcoming Riot Fest in Chicago is a Gen X’ers wet dream: Bob Mould, Public Enemy, The Pixies, Mission of Burma, et. al.
“You bastard” I replied jokingly. I took my changed, shook my head and smiled, “Enjoy the show.”
The Replacements are more than just the folklore of drunken debauchery. They’re more than Tommy Stinson playing bass for the current incarnation of Genu-n-Roses. They’re more than Paul Westerberg’s self imposed exhile in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. They’re more than Chris Mars paintings and art work. They’re more than Bob Stinson’s death. They’re more than Slim Dunlaps stroke. They’re more than their history, real or embellished, and they’re more than their music.
Purists might argue that it is not the Replacements without Chris Mars and there is some legitimacy to that. Purists might also argue that they were never the same after they kicked Bob Stinson out. To that I would say, with all respect to the memory of Bob Stinson, that’s probably a good thing. The soul of the band has always been Tommy and Paul. So as long as it’s them, it is really the ‘mats. Is it perfect? No, absolutely not, but The Replacements were absolutely never ever about being perfect.
Obviously what makes The Replacements significant is the music. The names of bands they have influenced is ridiculously long and ever growing, thankfully. Listening to Paul Westerberg grow from wise ass punk to pure songsmith is one of the greatest rewards in music. Seriously. From the start, their songs straddle the fence of brilliant and tragic. Their songs, their music and their career are probably best summed up by Westerberg’s own song “I Don’t Know”, off Please to Meet Me, “One foot in the door, the other on in the gutter”.
What makes The Replacements matter is their connection with the fans. I mean, the fans. When you find someone listening to The Replacements you know, you just know it’s a kindred spirit. Whatever walls you may have up immediately come crumbling down. There is a calmness that comes over you when you run across someone listening to them, it’s like an auditory Xanax. For some reason, and it’s hard to truly explain in a blog post, when you meet a fan you just know you have a connection that will transcend the music.
I’m not entirely convinced this is something the band set out to do, but it’s what they did. I’m not even sure it is something that could be done by design. They accomplished what every band dies to do. they connected with their audience. And they still do. Sure, they embraced the beer swilling jocks, the angry punks but longed to talk to the kid in the back shouting out to hear “Skyway”. Those where they people they played to.
No, they never got the huge record sales they deserved, but somehow, that seems fitting. It’s not like they didn’t try, they did. In their own way. A video of just a speaker playing your song as your first video, for your first single off your major label debut at the height of MTV (they really did play videos once) and at the dawn of the college rock movement in the early to mid 80’s was probably not the smartest career move. But it was uniquely, purely and brilliantly The Replacements.
Watching that video you can almost hear the record company snarling, pissing and moaning because they knew what they had. They had a band, the band, that could have defined a generation. You can almost hear the band sitting off to the side drinking their Mickey’s saying “Flcuk you fellas, we’re doing it our way.” The Replacements were the epitome of rebellion when we needed rebels the most. And maybe they didn’t define a generation, they influenced generations.
So, why do The Replacements matter? They’re not good looking, they have a reputation for being prickly, they’re not a perfect live act (Westerberg always forgets lyrics), they’re not super stars, they’ve never shied away from their foibles and missteps and often times, embraced them.
What makes them matter?
The Replacements are me.
They’re not Gods.
They’re just The Replacements.
If you have never heard The Replacements, start with Please to Meet Me, then work backwards, then go forwards. PTMM is just brilliant. Some may say start with Tim, but I find the production on that album a little too tinny for me. Great album, but for my money PTMM captures them perfectly.
Below is a video from some crap ass awards show (the statue was actually and Elvis) where they perform “Talent Show” off Don’t Tell A Soul. While the introduction is certainly tongue in cheek, it about sums up the industries attitude towards them.
They bleep out this line “We’re feelin’ good from the pills we took” because the band wouldn’t change the lyric for the live telecast. So what did they do? They changed this line “It’s too late to turn back, here we go” to “It’s too late to take pills here we go“. God bless them.