Why The Replacements Matter

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 you.
They’re real.
They’re honest.
They’re human.
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.


Left of the Dial*

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
– Socrates

What’s that saying “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”?

or is it “What the fluck”?

Either way, today I am launching my first digital magazine entitled wait(er). As the name suggests, it is a magazine devoted to stories about the front of the house workers of the restaurant industry. It would seem that television has gone to great lengths to make the back of the house employees, like chef’s, superstars. I might suggest those shows are disrespectful to the true culinary artisans, but that is another argument.

Somehow waiters, waitresses, bartenders, busboys, hosts, etc. have been left out of the small tube mix. It’s not that there isn’t any lack of dynamism among the workers, there is. Something tells me it has more to do with the fact that so many of the FOH workers are most certainly not ready for prime time.

I should know. I was one of them for over ten years.

If you read my post yesterday, you got a sample of what wait(er) is. “Losing the Gamble” is my article for the inaugural issue and available for free by clicking on that link.

The editorial objective of wait(er) Magazine is simple, to provide a home for good stories from, for or about those people in the service, or “serve us”, industry. Some of those will be first hand accounts, some will be profiles, I’m developing some profiles of organizations. There will be solid journalism and there will be loads of snark. As a result of my secondary objective, to provide a home for new and developing writers, there may be grammar hiccups to start, but we’ll get them ironed out.

I hope you will share in the excitement…by doling out the .99 cents a month!

About two weeks ago the idea came to me and I decided to test the water, as it were. I cast a net across craigslist placing ads in San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, New York, New Haven, Austin, Houston, Minneapolis/St.Paul, Chicago, St. Louis, and a few others, looking for writers. The response and feedback was overwhelming. I thought maybe, just maybe, I was onto something…I dunno, we’ll see.

I can tell you that I received emails from writers of all sorts. Bloggers, experienced journalists, high school kids, recent graduates, et al. and it seems that a lot of people have either worked or work in the “serve us” industry and were eager to share their stories. wait(er) Magazine will provide them an avenue to do that.

I recently sat down with myself to ask me a few questions that I thought people may be curious about.

Why wait(er)?  I dunno, the image popped into my head like that and seconds later I though, “Yea, that looks and sounds kind of cool.” Seriously. Oh sure, I could pontificate about some sort of significant meaning behind the parenthesis and lower case, but I would be making it all up. I’m too tired to go down that creative rabbit hole. I honestly just thought it looked cool.

Why not waitress(es)?  Truthfully, that was a concern but in the research I did (albeit, extremely limited) I realized that waiter is not defined as gender specific, we assigned it the masculine property.

So, just restaurant workers?  No, of course not. Barista’s, fast food employees, food truck employees (please I’d like anyone to explain that phenomenon to me), pretzel cart guys, I don’t care.

Why digital and not print?  My last name is Higgons, not Newhouse. I don’t have the kind of scratch, or access to it, to bankroll a print magazine. Besides, then I would have to move to an advertising based model and frankly, I see no need for that. Personally, I feel we are slammed with advertising everywhere we turn and it would be nice to escape from it now and again.

Trust me, you don’t really wanna open up the advertising business model discussion with me. I have thoughts.
Suffice it to say, digital made the most sense personally and economically.

Did you read everything that was sent to you?  I did. I still am actually. It’s just me right now. Well, the dogs and cats try to help, but they’re not literate beyond “sit”, “get off that” and “shut the fluck up” and they have enough trouble with those. So yea, I read everything and will continue to.

Did you edit as well?  I did and admittedly, that is not a strength of mine. So, you may see a few mistakes here and there. There is beauty in perfection and imperfection. If anyone knows someone willing to do some editing, pro bono or at a seriously reduced rate, contact me!

Did you pay the writers?  Yes. Well, not as of this writing, but I am going to. I think it’s important to pay people what you can for their creative efforts and time. I get doing stuff for free, but having done a lot of free work, especially writing, over the past five years, I wanted to be able to offer writers something, other than a venue, to recognize that I value their work.

I felt vindicated today when I read an exchange between journalist Nate Thayer and The Atlantic. They wanted to re-purpose a blog post of his…for free. They claimed to be out of money to spend on digital. They further went on to say they only pay 100 dollars. The Atlantic. COME ON! Thayer has been getting some flack about his stance, but I think he’s right. Free is fine if you are starting out but eventually you gotta get paid and you deserve to get paid.

Anywho, yes, I am paying the writers. It ain’t much but it is what I can afford, with the promise that as wait(er) grows, so will the rate.

Are you getting paid?  No. I’m bootstrapping everything so it’s unlikely I will see any personal returns for some time, if ever. For me, it’s about the experience and constructing a hive of like minded individuals.

How much did it cost to start?  None of your business. More than I have but not enough to stop me from doing it. That is one of the true joys about them Internets, you can go from concept to fully realized vision in two weeks and not break the bank. And look, I am a firm believer that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. This just feels right.

Where do you see yourself in five years?  Go to hell, this isn’t an HR interview.

Is there any type of story you are interested in?  Nope. Not at the moment. Pitch an idea. All I am looking for is honest stories that are told well. Leave the revenge piece about a shitty manager or owner for the blog.

Does everyone have a story to tell?  Oh yea! If you have worked in the food “serve us” industry in any capacity for longer than two weeks, you have at least ONE story. And if you don’t have ONE story, then you either weren’t paying attention or weren’t working hard enough. People are crazy and, eventually, they go out to eat.

Will you share all of your stories? All of them, no. I did that work for a long time and am thankful for the experiences and the living it provided me. Truth be told, it’s a job like anything else and it had its routine. BUT when it went bat shit crazy, hilarity ensued, especially in hindsight.

In a restaurant, it’s not just a Power Point slide malfunctioning, it was usually something far worse. It’s those bat shit crazy stories that still make me laugh and shake my head. Let’s be honest too, the story behind some manager who builds an epic PP deck only to have it malfunction is just never going to have the legs of a story about trying to explain to a customer why there was a spider in their salad or kicking someone out of the bar because they haven’t tipped you in four hours.

Will you tell a story in each issue?  That is not my plan. I didn’t create it so I could relay my own personal experiences. I have a blog for that. If I feel they fit, sure. If I feel the need for content, sure. Mostly, I am looking to build the hive.

wait(er) Magazine is for other people to share their stories and to give new writers some exposure. Front of the house staff are a unique group of people…and we’re everywhere. In the restaurant business, after a busy night (actually after any night) you would go drink and talk about your shift. I’d like wait(er) Magazine to be the bar you went to with your fellow workers to commiserate. Sometimes you’ll laugh, sometimes you may get angry, hopefully never cry; hell, sometimes you might learn something but above all else, I am simply hoping you’ll enjoy it.

How often will you publish wait(er) Magazine? A new issue will come out the first Tuesday of each month…to start.

What platforms is wait(er) available in?  Currently, just web subscription, Kindle, MOBI and EPUB. Apple iOS is forthcoming, but they require one issue to be published before submitting it to them for approval. I suspect iOS will be available soon. I’m reticent to give a time frame. Follow us on Twitter @writermag, Facebook, Google+ or on WordPress, for all the updates, etc.

Any last words? Never any last ones, but I will leave you with these:

“We learned more from a 3-minute record, baby
Than we ever learned in school
Tonight I hear the neighborhood drummer sound
I can feel my heart begin to pound
You say you’re tired and you just want to close your eyes
And follow your dreams down
– Never Surrender
Bruce Spingsteen


Waiter Issue 1

* – The phrase used to mean something, sadly now it doesn’t. Nonetheless, this is a nod to a constant source of inspiration for me, The Replacements.

The Wild One, Forever


The hours that were yours, echo like empty rooms
The thoughts we used to share, I now keep alone
I woke last night and spoke to you,
not thinking you were gone
It felt so strange to lie awake, alone
No Regrets
Tom Rush

So, here I find myself banging on the keyboard with the one woman who won’t leave me (mother’s don’t count), my cat Lulu. I am not saying she may not split if I let her out the front door, but she’d probably just go far enough to chase birds. Lulu and I share that in common, we both chase birds and both seem to end up in the same chair, alone, listening to all kinds of sad bastard music. Currently spinning on the digital Wurlitzer is the master of romantic verisimilitude, Tom Petty and his appropriately named Heartbreakers.

The X is still gone. She said she would think about what she wanted. I foolishly believe she may actually be doing it. Those of you who think I am a cynic or negative, I defy you to find someone with my degree of optimism. What cynic would really get back together with the woman who pounded on his  heart once before?

Here the Lu and I sit, listening and thinking. Sure, I hope she is thinking about the relationship and just how foolish her reasoning was for leaving, but the reality is in what she said and not in the tears she held back. “You’ll never be what I want you to be” followed by “I love you.” Seems conflicting doesn’t it? It’s not. I know she loved me. And this time around I felt it. But, I do think she sold the whole relationship short. Sometimes when you short the market you win (see Goldman Sachs) and sometimes you lose (see everybody else).

The truth is I never will be what she wants. Not out of malice or stubbornness, it’s just that the ideal person for her, or for anyone, does not exist. You love the whole person or you don’t. Love is all encompassing and not selective. You can’t pick what you love about someone any more than you can pick who you love. She doesn’t understand that…yet. She will. Yes, there is behavior I could have modified and changed. Most of it I probably would have over time. Could she say the same thing?

“They call you the wild one, said stay ‘way from her
Said she could love no one if she tried”
The Wild One, Forever
-Tom Petty

I met her four years ago at a friends birthday party. The funny thing about the party is that I knew no one. They were all up and coming comedians and I wasn’t. I had been drinking…a lot, and had forgone dinner in exchange for one more pint of Guinness.

It was about midnight when we finally met. I had spent most of the night talking to one girl thinking I could sweet talk her into coming home with me, but she flatly told me she would never date a white guy. She looked pretty irritated when I said “Who said anything about dating?” Furthermore, who says six hours of drinking removes any charm?

Now, I recall talking to her, but I have no recollection of any formal introduction and certainly had no idea what the hell I said. After meeting her, I remember three things. The first was when I was talking to her, my buddy who’s birthday it was called me over and literally said “be careful with that one dude”. I had no idea what he meant. The second thing I recall was drinking scotch on his roof and smoking a cigarette. And the third was going to a bar and closing it out. I remember not having any idea where I was and her offering for me to stay with her. OK, so that’s four things.

We’re all adults here, I think we can surmise what happened next, even if no one can recall it. In the morning, I tried to sneak out because I had a writing workshop to get to, but she convinced me to stay…well into the afternoon. As I was leaving, I got her phone number, wrote in on my hand because I had not yet grasped the idea of putting someone’s phone number DIRECTLY into my cell phone. I was on the fence as to whether I would call her.

I knew we worked for the same company, so I checked her work stuff out. Did the requisite Google searching and the like. I did a little internet recon (myspace, etc) and decided to email her at her work because, in what will come as no shock, the phone number got all mucked up with sweat and grease and was illegible by the time I got home. I emailed, she replied and we agreed to have dinner. Although she would come to admit later she almost bailed on that date.

Blah blah blah, we fall in love, we move in together, we fight, it goes poorly, she asks me to leave (it was her place), I leave but stay in the neighborhood because I naively think she will come to her senses. All of that happened in the span of about 14-15 months.

We broke up and I began acting out, like ya do. Mostly just drinking too much and going into some very dark places emotionally. Fortunately, I have good friends who pulled me out when it looked too dark. I eventually righted myself and moved on. It’s the only option. Well, it’s the only option I considered.

About 14-15 months go by and she initiates contact with me again after seeing a photo of me on my web site with my then girlfriend. You see, while she may not have wanted me, God forbid someone else want me. I was with someone, it was a fine relationship and I just wasn’t terribly interested in moving backwards in my life. She doggedly pursued me. “Let’s get coffee.” “What time are you taking the train in the morning?” , etc. In no great surprise, the relationship I was in spiraled downwards and I ended it…poorly.

“Baby, time meant nothing, anything seemed real
Yeah, you could kiss like fire and you made me feel
Like every word you said was meant to be
No, it couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me.”
Even the Losers
-Tom Petty

For the longest time, I read that song that HE was the loser and today for the first time it dawned on me that SHE was the loser. “No, it couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me”, for years that line never registered. And you know what? Today it sounded clearer than it ever had in the past 30 years.

So the X and I reconvened and do you care to guess how long Act II lasted? If you guessed 14-15 months, you would be correct.

The X attacked this second round of the relationship with a ferocity I had never known she had. She wanted me, me. She wanted a future with me. I, because I am an optimist, bought it hook line and sinker and am a sap. I believe in the power of love (damn you Huey Lewis and your News). I made it a little difficult at first because I had never gotten back together with someone after that amount of time and there was some blood under the bridge. Wrong girl at the right time, I suppose that about sums it up. But I was dumb enough to think she was the right girl at the right time.

I had said the only way that it would work is if we were honest…and we were. We talked openly and honestly about everything. I don’t think she withheld too much from me. It was good and more often than not it was great. We talked about kids, we talked about places we would go, things we would do. We made love, we had sex, we fucked. We laughed, we cried, we sat in silence. We did things, we didn’t do things. We had a relationship. Apparently, we were having two different relationships.

I’d by lying if I said it was all great. It wasn’t. We fought, sometimes viciously, but we always righted the boat. It would take one of us (usually it was me) to clear the air by clearing the head and putting perspective on what the real problem was. Intelligent discourse is something I can get on board with, even when it comes to emotions. Yes, it may take a day or two to get there.

It’s funny to think about it. I have been in love a few times and I have loved some terrific women. And everyone has “the one that got away”. Well, all things being fair, there is a reason why everything ends and time taints your ability to see those reasons. So in some cases, what we see as “the one that got away” may, in fact, just be the one that ended before it got tragic and sad.

I’ll end up some story the X tells her kids. The one about the older guy she dated and who “got away”, how “he was maybe a little much too handle, but he was good and treated me well. He really loved me.” She’ll tell her girls to not make the same mistake. And they will, we all do. She’ll tell her sons to treat their girlfriends the way I treated her and they will…and then they won’t. The circle will never be broken, it’s the way of this sort of thing.

In a previous post I had mentioned that my parents represent a spirit of rock and roll because they have stuck it out for almost 50 fucking years now! And no, maybe their relationship is not perfect (whose really is though) but they made the commitment to one another and come hell or high water they have slogged through it. And THAT says more than a thing or two to someone like me.

Here we are, about 16 months after our reconciliation (is it just me or is this 14-16 month thing a trend) and it’s done…again. I love her. That will never change. I want her. I desire her. I want her to want that with me. But she feels there is someone else out there who is going to fulfill her in some way I don’t. And I suspect that is true. I also suspect it will last for less than two years. I’m not entirely convinced she will ever know the meaning and value of what it means to be in love.

Love is what it is, a word. It’s the emotion behind it that defines the word. And unless you can understand and wrap your head around that emotion, love is, and will always be, just a word. Love is also the easiest part of a relationship.

The government has the military industrial complex and those outside government have its romantic equivalent, a relationship. Both are expensive to maintain, contradictory, invariably involve some degree of deceit and covert activity and always end with people getting hurt.

“You better watch what you say
you better watch what you do to me
don’t get carried away
Girl if you can do better than me
go…yeah, go
But remember, good love is hard to find,
good love is hard to find,
you got lucky babe
you got lucky babe, when I found you.”
You Got Lucky
-Tom Petty

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, pop star for the broken hearted. I mean really, the songs are unending, “Stop Draggin My Heart Around”, “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, “Straight Into Darkness”, etc. Some broads really put their hearts through the ringer.

The Lu and I sit and write and listen to the sounds of the people who could put this sort of thing to music. The type of music that resonates with everyone. Rock and roll knows A LOT about a couple of things and one of them is love and lost love.

The X is still gone and I don’t anticipate her return. I anticipate a call when she sees me with another woman or in 14-16 months, whichever comes first. Life is about choices and you can’t always make the right one. And with love, you never know if it’s right. You only know when it’s wrong.

Maybe I am just wrong for her. I’m no saint and I sure as hell am not the easiest guy to get along with, but I am real. I am always me. I stopped trying to be someone I wasn’t in my early 30’s. I don’t want to hurt anyone and I don’t want to hurt and I find that the easiest way to do that is to be honest. Honest with myself and honest with those close to me.

She has an ideal in her head, don’t we all? The X owes it to herself to see if that person exists. I never said she was the right one for me, did I? No, I simply know I want her. Big, big, BIG difference. I never promised I’d spend the rest of my life with her, that would be a lie. I know I WANT to, but I can’t say for certain. If I made that promise, rest assured that is what I would strive for, but to make it now would be a lie.

Who knows, maybe that Hollywood ending of true love forever exists for her. But my experiences, my friends experiences, every artists experiences, every musicians experiences, every writers experiences, tells me that love has more to do with work, compromise, acceptance, understanding, hurt, empathy, respect, pain, tenderness, support, understanding, laughter and ultimately sacrifice and so much much more. And all of those can change on the drop of a dime.

When you fall in love, and I mean true love, you strap yourself in, put your helmet on and go for the ride.

Lulu and I both share a love/hate relationship with birds. Both are bipeds, but one has literal wings and the other has figurative wings. I pine for them out in the word while pines for them through the window. While our desires are similar, something tells me our motivations are different.

Nonetheless, I think perhaps I will join the Lu and just look at them through the window for awhile.

Neil Young

Lover, there will be another one
Who’ll hover over you beneath the sun
Tomorrow see the things that never come

When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go

It’s over, it’s over.

in your wings my little one
This special
morning brings another sun
see the things
that never come


When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go

It’s over, it’s over.

Songs for Slim

sfssigning1“And we’re standing in the shadows
forever on the brink”
Someone Take the Wheel
– The Replacements

If you’ve never heard of The Replacements then you’ve never felt alone, alienated or out of place. Gob less ya. But if you have heard of them and listened to them then you know they are one of those once in a lifetime bands. But don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with a historical piece about the band. I’ll leave that for some Ivy League editor from a music magazine that’s only worth reading for the articles about anything other than music or some bearded, irony riddled, skinny jean wearing trust fund music blogger putz in Brooklyn.

I just want to tell you about The Replacements new EP “Songs for Slim”. First things first, it is a benefit for former Replacement guitarist Slim Dunlap, who replaced original guitarist Bob Stinson.

On February 19 of last year Slim suffered a serious stroke and, as a result, needs long term medical care. Obviously, this being the American health care system and all, his insurance doesn’t cover all the long term care he needs. So former Replacements manager and Minneapolis music guru Peter Jasperson stepped up and rallied the troops and thus “Songs for Slim” was born.

But “Songs For Slim” is not just a Replacements reunion EP, the concept “was devised to raise money for Slim and his family by having various artists cover his songs, pressing them as a limited edition series of split 7” vinyl 45s in beautiful, numbered picture sleeves and putting them up for auctions.” Artists participating include Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Craig Finn, Tommy Keene among others as well as a host of local musicians, all covering some of Slim’s songs.

“Songs for Slim” is an auction based endeavour, so the fruits go to the highest bidder. On the block first was a limited edition run of 250 numbered copies of a brand new, deluxe 10” vinyl EP package by The Replacements, their first new release in over 20 years. Of course it only made sense that The Replacements had the first release. Turns out, ‘mats fans came a running, raising over 100K on that auction. The EP became available for digital download on Tuesday, so that 100K should continue to trend upwards.

Hearing brand new Replacements music gives me the same feeling I get every two weeks when I get my paycheck. It’s that feeling of the knots and anxiety leaving your stomach, that feeling that “OK, I’ll be able to get by for a little bit longer.” To be clear, my paycheck is not enough to fly to Fiji for the weekend (not even close) but it is enough to keep me alive (albeit, barely). In other words, hearing brand new Replacements music makes the intolerable more tolerable.

The bad news, Chris Mars participated fully, but did not play drums with Tommy and Paul. He contributed a song, did the artwork and was present. Mars has become a rather well established painter and visual artist and, by all accounts, has little interest in playing drums.

The good news, Tommy Stinson and Paul Westerberg reunited for a day last fall and cut some new songs…and it sounds pretty effing good. To be fair, they did reunite for some contractually obligated “best of” that came out awhile back but those songs were pretty mediocre*. These are not.

In typical ‘mats fashion, no one from the band has said much beyond the coy acknowledgement of the “Songs for Slim” existence. For the geeks and ‘matheads, Westerberg friend, touring guitarist and replacement Replacement Kevin Bowe talked a little about it here. (worth reading if you are a fan)

Songs for Slim
Song by song.

Side A
Busted Up (Slim Dunlap)
Having the EP open with a bluesy piano boogie seems about right for the first Replacements recording in 20 years. Sure I wanted some kick ass power chords that matched my excitement, but that would have been completely out of character. “Busted Up” is lyrically pretty simple, it’s about the shitty feeling after you loose someone. ’nuff said. You can almost picture the guys sitting around warming up with this track. It’s a great intro to what follows.

Radio Hook Word Hit (Slim Dunlap)
While Chris Mars didn’t record with Tommy and Paul, he did cover a Slim song. This is that song. The one thing that has always stood out about the Replacements is the same thing that stands out about any great band. The sum is greater than the parts. Which in no way means the parts are inferior, as this song proves. This is a catchy little number that fits nicely here. The title says what its about.

Side B
I’m Not Sayin (Gordon Lightfoot)
Now, THIS is The Replacements. The count in, the chords, the sound, the simplicity and the genius. While it’s not a Westerberg composition, it’s certainly a REPLACEMENTS song. The trademark brattiness, contradiction, irony, playfulness, honesty and soul are all signature markers of a Replacement track and they are present, loud and clear, here. In a perfect world, this would be a hit. We don’t live in a perfect world.

Lost Highway (Leon Payne)
The song was initially made famous by Hank Williams and is a tribute to Slim’s love of rootsy country music. Diehards know it is not the first Hank song the band has covered, “Hey Good Lookin” was a live staple and recorded around the “Let It Be” era. Obviously, the song is rooted in country & western and then put through the filter of The Replacements where it comes out something entirely different. Not better, not worse, just different. It’s fun and playful which brings us too…

Everything’s Coming Up Roses (Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne)
According to the Kevin Bowe interview, this is the one song they spent the most time on and it begs the question, WTF? Look, hearing the band cover the leather lover Sondheim classic is great. Again, all the Replacement trademarks are there, the irony, the humor, the playfulness, etc. One of the reasons it works so well is because you don’t expect it to work, at all. The Replacements were masters of making shit work that has no business working. This song should be a disaster and it’s not. Quite the contrary and while I remain befuddled by the choice, they did what they always do, they made it their own.

So, is the first Replacements release in 20 years worth the time and money investment? Without a doubt. If you are a fan. If you’re not a fan, odds are this won’t convert you. That’s not to say it’s “only for the fans”, it’s certainly not. The band and it’s die hard fan base (the previously mentioned ‘matheads) share a common sensibility which is “Great, check it out, if you like it, awesome, welcome…if you don’t, bugger off.” But if this is your entry to the wonderful and whacky world of the Replacements, you’ll probably walk away scratching your head wondering what the fuss is about.

But don’t forget, this is about much much more than a Replacements reunion, it’s about helping an ailing musician and his family get the type of care they need and deserve. So, pony up the money regardless you cheap bastards.


Songs for Slim
Paul Westerberg
Tommy Stinson
Chris Mars

* – even mediocre Replacements is better than most peoples best stuff.

And this too shall pass.

AKAlice H. Kanner

“I left in love, in laughter, and in truth.
Wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.”

– Bill Hicks

Much like every teenager, I was a rebellious and moody kid. Which provided a fair amount of tension in our household, especially in the conservative enclave of Centerville, Ohio. Suffice it to say, the ear piercings, underage drinking, pot smoking and overall recklessness did not go over well with anyone, but mostly, my parents. Accordingly, sometime in my last semester of high school my father entered into negotiations, as secretive as the 1971 Paris peace talks, with my aunt and uncle in Chappaqua, New York for me to spend a month with them after I finished high school. Presumably to get me out of the house and maybe slap some sense into the 18 year old.

It’s not that my family, immediate or extended, was, or is, particularly close, we’re not. There is plenty of love just not a lot of chatter. And my interactions with my aunt, uncle and cousins probably numbered under five at that point. Nonetheless, one month after I graduated high school, I went out to Chappaqua to attempt to figure out a future game plan for my life with the aid of my aunt and uncle. I’m not entirely sure I understood that was the objective then. Looking back, it most certainly was, but at the time I suspect my thinking was more of “I’m spending a month with the cool side of my family.”

Now my uncle was an advertising executive and seemed, to me, to be one of the most powerful men on the planet. Watching him enter their home when he came home from work, you’d think he was 6’11” and unafraid to snap you in half, and I suspect in his suit, he could have. But then he’d go upstairs to change and come back down in his blue cords and his red stripped Rugger polo, hop on the counter in the kitchen and have a vodka on the rocks in his juice glass and just be my uncle. Of course, I’d heard horror stories of how stern he could be, but, thankfully, I never saw any of that.

Now my aunt was just about the warmest and kindest person you could ever know. And easily one of the smartest and most intuitive people I have ever known. She was always quick to make anyone feel welcome in her home, your home, ANY home. My aunt was just one of those people that made any house she entered immediately a home. She had the most infectious smile and the most genuine laugh. When she laughed, she laughed with her whole body and her mind and it was real. There was no pretense or falseness in her or anything she did. Being on the receiving end of my aunt’s love was to know that, whatever it was was going to be OK.

Hindsight has taught me that the one-month visit after I graduated was a trial to see if I would drive my aunt and uncle as crazy as I drove my own parents and to find a post secondary school that fit for me…and I could get into. My aunt drove me to a number of interviews at colleges whose names have long since escaped me, but I am fairly certain Columbia University was not on the list. It was on these sojourns I got to know her better and learn a little about my family. More importantly, I learned why everyone called her “lead-foot” and quickly realized that she may have done extremely well as a New York City cab driver. But to no great surprise, all of the college interviews went poorly. It turns out a sullen 18 year old with a high school GPA of somewhere south of 2.0 does not make a strong collegiate candidate. Who knew?

It’s worth noting that I was a pretty rudderless 18 year old and my parents had the intelligence to ignore my high school guidance counselor’s advice of “Well, maybe he just shouldn’t go to college.” I can’t imagine their decision to send me off and live with my aunt and uncle was an easy one, but my parents are pretty good at seeing the bigger picture…or maybe they had just had enough. Probably a healthy combination of the two.

Apparently, I passed the “not driving my aunt and uncle too crazy” test because during one of the nightly kitchen talks during the CBS Evening News, with my uncle on the counter, my aunt cooking and me standing off to the side with a Rolling Rock in hand, I decided that it would be best to start at Westchester Community College and then transfer out. At the time, I was under the impression that this was mostly my decision. Hindsight and maturity have made me realize that my aunt and uncle pointed me in that direction and when I made the decision let me believe it was mine. Brilliant.

So after that month was up, I went back to dull and boring Ohio and waited out the six months until the second semester started in January. I recall those six months being a snapshot of what my life might have become had I stayed there.

January came and I moved out to live with my aunt and uncle and started classes at Westchester Community College. For the first time in my life, I had some educational success and it’s hard to put into words what good grades can actually do for ones self esteem and sense of worth. More importantly, I learned that I had a voice and an opinion and that it mattered. I learned I was capable of having intelligent discussions with adults. I learned that if you work, you will be rewarded. I learned that there is way too much truth to Woody Allen’s classic saying, “90% of success is just showing up.”

Despite the growth I was experiencing, the things I was learning and the positivity, I was still 18 and kind of a moody fella. While I am sure it drove both my aunt and uncle a little batty, my aunt’s positivity and good nature made it almost impossible to stay down for too long. She had a way of luring me into some sort of innocuous discussion that eventually led to me talking about whatever it was that was bugging me. She’d listen, really listen, and help me sort it out. And without fail, every single time, she would say to me “And this too shall pass.” It never really made sense to me then because the problems of an 18 year old are devastating. But now I can think of no phrase that rings 100% true 100% of the time.

The six months I spent with them had as much influence on me as almost anything else in my life. Certainly on par with the jolt I received when first listening to The Replacements “Let it Be” (coincidentally, discovered while living with my aunt and uncle).

I got to see my aunt and uncle in October of last year and was able to say some of these things to them both. I didn’t say all I wanted to, mostly out of my own cowardice, but enough that she seemed genuinely surprised that six months had such an impact on me. Over dinner I said, “I shudder to think what would have happened if I had never gone to live with you guys all those years ago.” My aunt looked at me and simply said, “You wouldn’t be sitting here now.”

Those six months shaped much of who I am today (even if I took one, two or three detours to get here) and my life was changed in ways I’m still figuring out.

My aunt passed away last weekend.

I’m sad and I hurt that my aunt has moved on. But I, along with so many others, am blessed to have known her. And even with this loss and all the sadness and emptiness, I can still hear her saying “And this too shall pass.” These feelings will pass to be sure. The love she showed me, the things she taught me, along with my memories of her, no, those will never pass.

To my father and my other aunt, your big sister was the worlds big sister.
To my uncle and cousins, your wife and mother was the worlds wife and mother.
I am thinking of you all and I love you all.

You need not be a world leader to lead a world. My Aunt Alice led her world and, as a result, changed our world.

Aunt Alice, thank you and I love you.

NYTimes Obituary

Music Industry’s Obi Wan Kenobi


It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love music. Today’s commute consisted of Gordon Lightfoot and mid 80’s LA rockers Broken Homes, how’s that for a blend? For me, music has provided me with more than a soundtrack to my life, it’s given me almost as much joy as a kiss from a puppy (good God, did I really just write that?). It is one of the more powerful mediums of artistic expression because of its’ capacity to reach and impact so many…when done well.

Excluding my personal feelings on the state of music today, the business that surrounds it has been in a tailspin down a rabbit hole for about 14 years now. More alarming to me is the bevy of young and developing artists who still feel that being on a major label is the crown jewel. It’s a level playing field for the majority of artists these days, especially musicians. If you fancy yourself a musician, an insider, a music “biz” professional(?) or just a fan and you are not reading Bob Lefsetz, you are doing your self a grave disservice. Come to think of it, if you are in any sort of creative pursuit, you should be reading Lefsetz because you can extrapolate some serious jedi advice (and opinions) from The Lefsetz Letter.

Here are some recent highlights from my personal creative Obi Wan Kenobi:

Network news was killed by cable news which was killed by the Net. People want the latest on demand. And you’re dropping an album every year or so? And the radio is eking out the music track by track, if you’re lucky? In today’s world you want to be in the public eye constantly. I’m not saying you should make less music, just that you shouldn’t see it as an album.

From radio to newspapers to movies it’s old world thinking, a circle jerk trying to perpetuate something that’s dead. The sooner old media dies, the clearer the landscape will be. Radio is not coming back. Newspapers will not survive in print, and most won’t survive at all. And while we’re at it, CDs are history and physical books are goners. The fact that something still exists does not mean it isn’t over. If you’re discussing piracy, the death of the CD, singles and streaming, you’re wasting your breath. The modern music world is not like Congress, there’s no consensus amongst an elite. Instead modernity is an endless rushing river controlled by nobody. If you’re doubling down on old media, you’re probably investing in the PC business and feature phones.

So if you think lining up trophies, diplomas from the best schools and your parents’ network of friends, is the key to success, you’re sorely mistaken.
It all comes down to you.

And know that if you’re down the food chain you’ve got to earn entrance. Knocking on the door is not enough, it’s closed to you. How can you open it? If you think persistence is the key, you’re reading too many self-help books. What do you have that the person above you needs? A record exec is only interested in your music if it can make him money. Instantly. If it can’t, if you just want kudos and encouragement, stay away. Money is always a good entrance point. But few have it. You’ve got to find your entrance point.

There’s great music today, there is in every period, but why were the sixties and seventies such a fertile era, why did we get not only the Beatles and the Stones, but the entire British Invasion, the San Francisco Sound and the great acts of FM radio?

Lay it out there. Then not only is it behind you, you garner respect from those who care, for being forthcoming, for being honest.
Dishonesty is for politicians. But dishonesty has crept into not only the musicians, but the music itself. The biggest records of all time have been honest, whether it be “Jagged Little Pill” or any random Eminem album.

Everybody can play the lottery, but almost no one wins.
Almost no one wins making music. The odds are incredibly long. And if you think luck is key, you’re never going to win. You make your own luck. Through hard work!
So good luck.
Know that no one wants to hear your music other than you and your relatives. It’s ultimately got to be so good that people find you, as opposed to the opposite. Are you really that good?

There is some tough love in there, but make no mistake, it is love. Bob Lefsetz paid his dues working in the industry, so he’s not some flunky banging out an opinion in his parents basement. And he’s not always right. And you won’t always like it. It’s just his opinion. Depending on your age, you may agree more often than not. And if you don’t like what he has to say, let him know. I can assure you he reads every email, he won’t necessarily reply, but he will read it. He reads all his emails and the emails he posts is like a who’s who of music industry professionals (Seymour Stein, Irving Azoff, Jimmy Iovine, etc).

All of this may seem like a Lefsetz love letter, I can assure you its not. OK, maybe a little cuz I made the Obi Wan Kenobi reference (and I don’t even give a shit about “Star Wars”) but I don’t know the guy and gain nothing by helping get his message out. I’m just spreading the word because I continue to be amazed by people that I meet, both in the business and musicians, who have no idea who he is and that, to me, is unacceptable. I have yet to find someone writing as honestly about this stuff as he does. And honesty means something these days.

And for the love of God, don’t send him your stuff.


Rock & Roll

“So get off your ass and come down here
‘Cause rock ‘n’ roll ain’t no riddle man
To me it makes good, good sense”

Rock & Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution

Long is the argument about whether or not rock and roll is dead. Personally, I find it is in the ICU and while not necessarily on life support it can appear to code (as in code blue) every now and again. Being the infinite optimist I am (yes, I am being serious) I think it may in fact one day walk right outta the hospital. Leading that charge towards the exit may in fact be Tommy Stinson.

There are two people who embody the essence of rock and roll for me, Keith Richards and Tommy Stinson. Keith Richards for obvious reasons, and not for the drug and alcohol abuse reasons or for the fact that we share the same first name (although it does increase my cool cred exponentially). He never seemed to buy into the bullshit that Jagger did. He was, and will always be, Keef. And Tommy…what can be said about Tommy Stinson? The guy has had a career most people could only dream of. Founding member, at the ripe old age of 13, of seminal rock band The Replacements. The ‘mats went on to tear up and apart the burgeoning college rock scene of the 1980’s, along with R.E.M., fellow Twin City natives Husker Du, Black Flag, etc. No, the ‘mats  never did achieve the mainstream success they should have, mostly because of their own self destruction. God knows the talent was there.  When the Replacements called it a day, he went on to start Bash & Pop, then Squirrel and finally, in what perplexed the most die hard matheads, he became the bass player in Guns n’ Roses. Rock and roll is all this guy has EVER done. And THAT in and of itself is so rock and roll. While Stinson is not the household name that Richards is, he is just as spirited and passionate about his music. And much like Richards, he has spent his career playing to the side of formidable front men, Paul Westerberg, Axl Rose and Dave Pirner, in addition to leading his own group of misfits throughout the years.

I’ve seen Tommy play with every band he has been in. The Replacements in 1987, then in 1990 and 1991. Soul Asylum in 2008. Guns n Roses in 2011 and last night, I finally got to see him perform solo at Union Hall in Brooklyn, New York. What a fuckin treat, but more on that in a second. Allow me a a mild detour into the world of the opening act, Trapper Scheopp and The Shades. I am old enough to remember the opening acts were always shitty, or poorly paired with the headliner (Blue Oyster Cult and The Ramones, anyone?), but here? Great bill, and this little roots rock band from Milwaukee was  spot on. They had clearly ripped out the chapters of the rock and roll handbook that highlighted The Replacements, Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown. If you like that shiz, you will like these kids. They’re that good. Trapper Scheopp and The Shades, check them out and buy their stuff.

Union Hall in Brooklyn is tiny. I mean really small. I had never seen a show there before, but having played bocce upstairs numerous times (note: that means it is big upstairs) I was struck by how incredibly intimate it was. I was looking forward to the intimacy and after hearing Trapper Scheopp, I knew the sound was spot on. In between Trapper Scheopp and Tommy taking the stage, he walked by me a few times. Neatly dressed, as he always is. Last night it was a black suit and red t-shirt, spiked hair and chained wallet. His solo look. I am no fanboy so I am not gonna bother the guy. He’s at work. But it was tempting. But what the fuck are we gonna chat about?

So what can I really tell you about the show? It was a rock show. Tommy came out, played an acoustic number, then brought the band out and played a really solid representation of his solo catalog. The band was solid and he was engaging and funny if not entirely in great voice. But then if we are really honest, he doesn’t have the best voice. He has the rugged voice you’d expect a guy 30+ years in the business to have. He’ll never be a consultant on any of the God forsaken “talent” shows. I’m not gonna bother you with the set list, you wouldn’t know the songs. Hell, I barely knew them, but I was extremely pleased to hear “Never Aim to Please” off the Bash & Pop album Friday Night is Killing Me. Yea, that song is sort of a personal favorite of mine, guess why.  But alas, myself and the 40 odd former college DJ’s ate it up. I cut out before the encore, so I am not sure what he finished with. If I had one criticism, it would be that whole encore business. There weren’t that many of us there, just bang it out and leave. Enough with the games already.

But here is what makes Tommy so rock and roll. The guy is a work horse. You see, a few months ago he is playing in front of 70K people with GnR at the Rock in Rio festival, does a club tour in the states with them, he releases a solo album, takes a week off to do a solo tour, is in the studio helping Soul Asylum put the finishing touches on their new album, has time to raise funds for Haiti. Sure, these are not high profile gigs, GnR notwithstanding, but he works. How many people in his position, with his legacy, 30 years into their career would still be putting in that kind of effort? I submit to you, not a fuck of a lot of them. Hell most people who don’t have that legacy don’t work that hard, I’m talking to you Nickelback! The guy works. And he’s good. He’s not the world’s greatest bassist, guitar player or songwriter, but then I don’t think he aspires to be. Tommy does what Tommy wants to do. And he does it well. I am a die hard Replacements fan and when he joined Guns n Roses, I was a little put off…until I kept seeing photos of him in his trademark zoot suits. It made me realize that to him, that was just a gig. I sighed a little sigh of relief and accepted it.

There will be the die hard fans who think he continues to sell out by playing with Guns n Roses. There are those who will think it odd he plays bass for Soul Asylum (this is not so odd, Dave Pirner and he went to high school together and both The Replacements and Soul Asylum came up in the Minneapolis scene). There are those who may think he’s not that great. And lastly, there are those that ache for a Replacements reunion. In true rock spirit, I don’t think he cares. He’s simply Tommy Stinson, rock and roll troubadour. He does what he wants. Tommy is..well, he’s Tommy. And the rock and roll world remains a little more honest and real with him in it.

I’d nominate him for President, but I suspect he wouldn’t want to be bothered with that sort of foolishness.