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Die even harder with a vengeance IV

Welcome to the working week, folks.  The first full week of spring, and my last week in the Bermuda Research Triangle.  Over the weekend, Janet and Jamie came to visit, and we drove down to Wilmington—more precisely, to Wrightsville Beach—for some sightseeing.  It was extravagant, but you know, Janet needed a break, and so did I, for our various reasons.  So we file it under “extravagant but obviously necessary.” And Jamie (as you probably know) loves to travel, loves to stay in hotels, and loves to go to aquariums and beachfront arcades.  Why, he even managed to enjoy himself at the arboretum, which was lovely despite the 50-degree weather.  And when we got back to Durham yesterday afternoon, he pronounced my apartment complex “cool.” Then he dug into some fine North Carolina barbecue.

But because I have only four full days remaining on my fellowship, and because last Friday turned out to be Manuscript Day (I received my page proofs for What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?, which were promptly followed by Phase One of the copyedited version of Rhetorical Occasions), I’m going to be all about the mss. for the next two days at least.  So I’m going to reprise yet another Ancient Post from ‘way, ‘way back in May 2004.  I figure Friday’s post on Neil Young deserves a followup that is also, somehow, a flashback, so here’s my almost-two-year-old musings on the Replacements.


May 20, 2004

For my trip down to Norfolk / Virginia Beach last weekend, I borrowed / stole one of my son Nick’s CD cases—partly because I didn’t have time to go through my own CDs and pick music for the trip, and partly because I thought it would be a good time to catch up on what the kids are listening to these days, with their long hair and their electrical instruments.  (Nick turned 18 last month.) I know the rudiments—I’m familiar with the Vines and the White Stripes and Interpol, and I’m aware that the second anti-Strokes backlash is so over—but I just don’t have the time to keep up with lesser lights like And You Will Know Us from the Trail of Dead or British Sea Power, unless I have a few hours to myself in a car (or kind of to myself, while Jamie occupies the back seat with his own CD player full of the Beatles, the Pretenders, and Robert Palmer—I take all the credit for introducing him to the melodic and inventive Palmer of “Clues” and “The Ballad of Johnny and Mary").

Actually, it turns out that both these bands—Trail of Dead and British Sea Power—are quite good, despite their fondness for these humorously ponderous names.  I listened to the Trail of Dead through much of central Pennsylvania, then after jumping around through the happy pop of the New Pornographers and deciding that the Doves were ultimately too boring to follow, I switched to a couple of things Nick files under something like “ancient alternative” (I’m kidding—Nick doesn’t file anything under anything), namely, The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead and The Replacements’ Tim, neither of which I’d heard in its entirety in over a decade.  (I’m fascinated, by the way, at the continuity, or what’s passing for continuity, between good alt.rock bands 20-25 years ago and good rock bands now.  Thanks to this intergenerational alliance, it is possible for me to say to Nick, “if you like this you should also buy X’s Wild Gift,” or “you might want to pick up the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa” or “some people I trust really liked Sonic Youth, but I never cared one way or another” and for him to say to me, “British Sea Power sounds like one of your old bands,” by which he surely means “one of your old bands that did not suck.")

So, then, TimTim reminded me of a long-term, long-distance Replacements conversation I had through the 1980s and early 1990s with my friend and former bandmate Larry Gallagher, whom I’ve plugged here once or twice.  I’m more than familiar with “Hold My Life,” “Kiss Me on the Bus,” “Bastards of Young,” and so forth, so listening to them was like going to 80s Nostalgia Nite.  But I’ve always thought that Tim was an every-other-song record:  incendiary, brilliant stuff followed by self-parodic dreck followed by a gorgeous riff followed by stupid adolescent sneering, and so on.  I hadn’t listened to “I’ll Buy” or “Lay it Down Clown” or “Dose of Thunder” for twelve years or so, as a result.

That’s not to say that I listened to those songs on this weekend’s trip and realized for the first time their hidden charms.  Quite the contrary.  I was right the first time: they have no hidden charms.  Westerberg, in my humble opinion, always needed a sympathetic editor, someone to tell him that you can only open a song with a flourish and an ear-splitting scream once per record, and that it worked on “Bastards of Young” but not on the tuneless “Thunder.” Or to tell him that the premise of “Waitress in the Sky” makes him sound like an asshole (or at least like a drunken rock star complaining that the flight attendant won’t serve him champagne, and who doesn’t know that flight attendants, unlike waitresses, are actually trained in CPR) and that the melody is a note-for-note ripoff of the verses of the Harold Dorman song “Mountain of Love” (sent to # 9 on the charts by Johnny Rivers in 1964).  Westerberg’s occasional ripoffs were a problem for me at the time, fussy listener that I am, because I never knew what to make of a guy who titles a record Let it Be on which the catchy pop highlight, “I Will Dare,” is an uptempo version of the chorus of the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping.” I mean, when I first heard this, I thought either he’s an ignoramus or a charming rogue, or some irritating mixture of the two. 

I was introduced to Let it Be shortly after its release by one Andy Bienen, whom I met in graduate school at the University of Virginia and recognized immediately as (a) a fellow resident of northeastern Queens, (b) a dark and brilliant wit, and (c) a charming rogue.  (Andy has since gone on to co-write the screenplay for Boys Don’t Cry, and thus to be thanked by Hilary Swank at the Oscars, which is something I can’t say about anyone else with whom I went to graduate school.) For most of the 1980s, the Replacements were one of the few bands that people cared about in both the circles I ran in—the post-punk scene in Charlottesville and DC, and the grad-school hothouse at the University of Virginia.  You could say that they had crossover appeal—between these two minuscule 20something constituencies, that is.  And for Larry Gallagher, Tim was It, as he told me in a couple of letters as he made his way from freelance writing / music in New York to freelance writing / music in San Francisco.  The Replacements’ followup, Pleased to Meet Me, he said, was terrific—but listening to it and trying to love it completely was like pretending you’re crazy when you know you’re not, whereas Tim was the real thing.

This kind of exchange, as many of you know very well, turned out to be part of the standard critical line on the Replacements: their Classic Period consisted of the years between Let it Be and Pleased to Meet Me, and all the fans who called them Mats (you know who you are) discussed among themselves which of the three was truly their best effort.  But we all agreed at the time, as Larry put it, that the Replacements were the present of rock and roll.

Some years later, in 1992 or 1993, I wrote to Larry to say that I’d been listening to the Replacements’ 1989 record, Don’t Tell a Soul (technically not their last—that would be All Shook Down—but effectively their last), and that I was surprised to find how much I liked it, especially given its word-of-mouth rep as a slickly produced, sellout version of Replacements pop.  There wasn’t anything incendiary and brilliant on it, true enough, and three songs stuck out as retreads:  “Anywhere’s Better than Here” (flourish, scream, yadda yadda yadda), “I Won’t” (plodding) and “Rock and Roll Ghost” (also known, by me, as “Here Comes a Regular—Again").  But the other songs were fresh (the entire first side—remember “sides?”—as well as “Asking Me Lies” and “I’ll Be You"); Westerberg had a better melodic sense than ever; and the lyrics were as catchy-clever as always ("take me to your followers”; “a rebel without a clue”—which later became a device by which you could distinguish genuinely clever lyricists like Westerberg, who toss off these things at the end of lines, from smug hacks like Tom Petty, who blow them up into concept albums) without going the Declan McManus route (that is, moving from early-Elvis Costello gems like “I know you’ve got me and I’m in a grip-like vise” or “I’ll do anything to confuse the enemy” to Serious Songwriter material like “Indoor Fireworks").  All in all, it sounded to me like more mature and less drunken Replacements, and for reasonably sober people over the age of 25, I thought this might be a good thing.

Larry wrote back and said this:

In the formulaic quality of the later Replacements stuff I hear the sound of someone “achin’ to be,” to borrow a phrase.  It’s a Groucho kind of irony, and one that reminds me of one of my favorite Mad magazine cartoons that I saw in a Don Martin anthology a million years ago.  It’s called “The Rejection Slip” or something like that.  It’s about this guy who has the world’s largest collection of rejection slips and is writing to Mad magazine requesting theirs so that he can complete his set and put it on the shelf.  He accompanies the request with some little drawing of himself and his set of rejection slips.  The editors of Mad reply that they loved his letter and would like to publish his drawings.  He writes back to them that he’s not really interested in contributing, and would merely like to have a slip.  Again he accompanies the letter with some funny picture of himself with his head sticking through a mailbox, awaiting a reply.  This exchange continues back and forth a few more times, with greater and greater accolades from the editors, until the guy finally decides to burn his collection and submits ten drawings for publication, which of course gain him the official, impersonal rejection slip that he had been looking for all along.  It’s kind of like that with Westerberg.  He’s saying, “I’m a bum, see?” and we’re saying, “You’re an artist.” Until he gives up and says, “Okay, I’m an artist” at which point we tell him he’s a bum.  Can’t blame the guy for feeling had.

I remember this (obviously, I kept the letter) for a reason, namely, it seems to me exactly right.  In fact, I can no longer think of Westerberg without thinking of Don Martin.  (And earlier in the letter Larry had even agreed me with about Tim, saying that “‘Dose of Thunder’ and ‘Lay it Down Clown’ are so utterly turgid that I forget they are on the album.") But there’s another reason, as well.  I don’t think the difference between Classic Period Replacements and Late Replacements is the difference between alt.rockers being true to themselves and alt.rockers falling all over themselves to try and cross over.  You can’t tell me that the guy who wrote “I Will Dare,” “Swingin’ Party,” and “Alex Chilton” doesn’t have pop instincts in his bones.  It’s just a shame that 1980s radio was such a vast wasteland, dominated by crap like “We Built This City” and “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” that’s all (which, by the bye, is a fine example of what Janet and I call Paradox Songs, like Orleans’ undanceable 1970s hit “Dance with Me,” insofar as there is no possible way for a person to have fun while listening to “Everybody Have Fun Tonight").  A decade later, post-Nirvana, it’s much likelier that the Replacements would’ve had the couple of smash hits they deserved, but that could only happen in the parallel universe in which Nirvana helps pave the way for the Replacements.  (And let’s not even get into the question of whether hardcore Replacements fans—let alone Westerberg himself—could bear the thought of the Replacements being rich and famous.)

Instead, I think the difference between Tim and Don’t Tell a Soul is the difference between a spotty, erratic, annoying but occasionally amazing pop-music bum / artist and a saner, more competent, more assured but less inspired or inspiring pop-music bum / artist.  And I think this is a significant—and psychologically revealing—kind of difference.  As if you’d rather date Tim but would feel better, all around, marrying Don’t Tell a Soul.  So, dear readers, which do you prefer?  And (for you over-40 types, like me) has your preference changed over the decades, one way or the other?

Posted by on 03/27 at 10:53 AM
  1. Holy crap, Michael, we have frightening similar tastes in music. 

    That said, I always liked “Waitress in the Sky” precisely because it made me think Paul was comfortable being the asshole he knew he was.  And no love for “Left of the Dial”?  It’s only, you know, the best song on the album...but I won’t turn this into one of those conversations.

    Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman  on  03/27  at  12:31 PM
  2. Strangely enough, I sort of addressed this issue in a random shuffle post last year, although I didn’t get into late era ‘Mats.  As I get older, I worry less and less about albums and any kind of arbitrary success or failure associated with mostly arbitrary groups of songs.  What stays with me are the songs themselves and nothing on the later albums haunts and inspires me like “Kiss Me on the Bus” or “Bastards of Young” or “Alex Chilton”.  I suspect Westerberg himself may have known this bum/artist dilemma was in play when he wrote:

    “Those love us best are the ones we’ll lay to rest.
    Visit their graves on holidays at best.

    Those love us least are the ones we’ll die to please.
    If it’s any consolation, I don’t begin to understand.”

    Posted by corndog  on  03/27  at  02:24 PM
  3. Really, Hootenanny was the beginning of the classic phase. ‘Color Me Impressed’ and ‘Answering Machine are inarguable.

    Reminds me: I posted this super-quality ‘81 live vid of the Replacements awhile back (one of three or four segments of the same 7th St. Entry show), but it didn’t quite fit in with our regular programming.  Here’s the link:


    Posted by Gavin M.  on  03/27  at  02:26 PM
  4. Let’s leave it to the art historians to figure out where the “blue period” starts and “synthetic cubism” ends. I agree that it’s all about the individual songs - there are a few perfect tunes on every Replacements album, they just kind of bubble up amongst the dreck.  I’m particularly fond of early gems like “I hate Music” and “Johnny’s Gonna Die”, “Go”, and “willpower.” That’s some great shizzle.
    -john i

    Posted by John I  on  03/27  at  02:45 PM
  5. I’ve been through them all, but the one I always come back to, that still sounds relatively fresh, is Hootenanny. “Run It!” Now there’s a driving song.

    Posted by helmut  on  03/27  at  02:47 PM
  6. When I got the iPod and started using iTunes w/ wireless to my stereo as my primary listening devices, I realized that after I ripped all my CD’s to iTunes, I could skip all the filler/ marginal songs by creating playlists or deleting.
    Life too short to listen to songs like “less than you think"-Wilco more than once.

    And it’s F88king great to have 5000 songs at hand when traveling.

    Posted by  on  03/27  at  02:54 PM
  7. Michael:

    I like your analogy, and am always delighted to be in good company (i.e. with other fans of the old *Mad* Magazine--William Gaines and the “usual gang of idiots” were the high water mark of 60s culture indeed.

    Don Martin was also my favorite. How, by the way, do you pronounce his character Mr. Fonebone’s last name? 2 syllables, or 4? (I think Chris Clarke may know, if we don’t.)

    But...I think that was Tom Wilson, and not Don Martin, who did the Rejection Slips article for *Mad* Magazine.

    Posted by david ross mcirvine  on  03/27  at  03:03 PM
  8. Yes, I am smarter than my last post indicates.
    (English professor’s blog, English professor’s blog)

    Posted by  on  03/27  at  03:04 PM
  9. er, make that Tom HUDSON, not Tom Wilson, who was the author of the article “The Rejection Slip.” I think he was NOT a member of Gaines’s “usual gang of idiots.”

    Posted by david ross mcirvine  on  03/27  at  03:14 PM
  10. The place mats.  Wow.

    I was late to the party and loved “Don’t Tell A Soul” before I heard the earlier stuff.  By then I was ruined, xcept for “Tim” for some reason.  I can’t choose one over the other, to me they’re both the best mats album.

    I agree with the comment about “Waitress"- Paul’s being a jerk is a big part of the charm, because I guess we can relate.  He doesn’t present the usual cool package of artist.

    I like the alternative universe where Nirvanna comes before the Replacements.  I think you’re on to something there that could give rock critics something to do during the off season.

    Posted by Smokin' Dutch Cleanser  on  03/27  at  03:24 PM
  11. "And (for you over-40 types, like me) has your preference changed over the decades, one way or the other? “

    No,I still prefer aquariums to arboretums.

    Posted by  on  03/27  at  03:39 PM
  12. Scott said exactly what I was going to say about “Waitress.” And I also happen to agree with him about “Left of the Dial,” too.  I think Corndog has a point, too, but there is a substantial difference between early and late Mats even song by song.  They get safer.  Too safe for me (although occasionally charming).

    Anyway, I’d rather have the non-marriage-material early Mats because who the heck wants to marry rock —I have affairs with it.  Sometimes they’re long-lasting, sometimes they’re on-again, off-again, sometimes they’re drunken, what-the-hell-was-I-thinking one-nighters, and sometimes they start strong but fizzle out quickly, but they’re always open and uncommitted and messy, messy, messy.  So it’s Tim for me.

    Posted by Dr. Virago  on  03/27  at  03:41 PM
  13. insufferable pedant
    Whoever it was, he got it from a PG Wodehouse story
    /insufferable pedant

    Posted by julia  on  03/27  at  03:41 PM
  14. Westerberg has sort of a melodic gift, maybe, but occasionally sounds sort of like a hungover Carole King. Another one of those exploited by Granola, Inc. CEO, Bobby Weir.

    Tonality is Oppression, man, as is pop culture. or the GOP or Democratic party for that matter.

    Free Ted Kacynski!

    Posted by perezoso  on  03/27  at  04:09 PM
  15. Julia: Ah ha! Out of curiosity, which P.G. Wodehouse story was the origin of “The Rejection Slip”?

    (I’ll be fine unless somebody tells me that Don’s Mr. Fonebone originally appeared in a medieval French romance or something. I can believe that Tom Koch’s 43 Man Squamish (MY all time favorite *Mad* article and apparently a parody of Australian Rules Football?) originated in a Medieval French Romance, though.)

    Posted by david ross mcirvine  on  03/27  at  04:54 PM
  16. Geez, make me do my homework, why don’t you.

    It’s called An Unfinished Collection.

    Posted by julia  on  03/27  at  05:25 PM
  17. Replacements were sort of like acceptable punk, a kind of tamer, suburban version of the NY and LA bands.  They wore plaid, didn’t they? I mean compared to like a REAL punk band like say, X, the ‘ments were a bit weak.  X may be a bit too tres sauvage now for aging freaks (it is for moi) but that is the edge, and with some LA noir meets rockabilly cred. Alright, who’s mensch enough to admit to breaking out a Dead Kennedies or X beer-spattered cassette once in a great while.

    Posted by perezoso  on  03/27  at  05:50 PM
  18. But really all of that high energy folderol was done best by Mr. Pop, as in Iggy. Search and Destroy sort of created and killed Punk back in whaa, ‘69; most everything else a mere reiteration. Or maybe not, but’ he’s the original compared to later extra crispy. Great soundtrack for a krack of like, a state university. “Im a streetwalkin’ cheetah with a handfull of napalm.......” Not exactly Masterpiece Theah-turrd or PeeDee Wodehouse

    Posted by calibanned  on  03/27  at  06:07 PM
  19. ’’Alright, who’s mensch enough to admit to breaking out a Dead Kennedies or X beer-spattered cassette once in a great while.’’

    First of all they are called cds now, pops.
    X I can listen to anytime, and Fresh Fruit sounds to me like it could have been written last year.  California Uber Alles should Arnold’s official campain theme song.  I could only be so lucky, oy.

    Posted by Prudence Goodwife  on  03/27  at  07:34 PM
  20. We see it over and over again in pop music. Most artists don’t have more than three good albums in them. In the old days, with six a side, two sides per lp, that would make 36 songs. I think you go so far and then you hit the wall, you’ve done it before, you’ve lived through it before. How many broken hearts? How many rebellious acts against parental figures? Costello went way beyond those limitations, but even he hit the wall. My favorite band of the sixties, Arthur Lee’s Love, hit the wall about halfway through Four Sail. Lee’s gone through all sorts of experience over the last thirty-five years (like jail and everything else everyone else goes through getting old) and has been touring again, but there is nothing great past 1970.

    It’s like the circus coming to town. After you see it a few times, even though you enjoy them, you remember the amazing things from the last time and anticipate them coming up. At a certain point you want more, or different, and if you get something different you might not like it. It gets tiresome. Who goes to the circus anymore?

    “Bastards of Young” was the Replacements best song, I think.

    Posted by Bob in Pacifica  on  03/27  at  07:54 PM
  21. “California Uber Alles should Arnold’s official campain theme song.

    Ja. BIAFRA, Jello, poet laureate, has my vote. I think he’s slightly more authentic and talented than that wank Billy Collins or whatever clown occupied the post for a few years. Plus a sense of wit: To Drunk to F*ck (all that’s missing is “u”...wink ) DK, social realism circa late 20th century.

    Posted by perezoso  on  03/27  at  08:22 PM
  22. It’s hard to take seriously the opinion of someone who refers to the Mats and the ‘ments.  I mean, I’m sure he has insightful things to say about the Beats and the Stoners, but I’m don’t know that I trust him to know what he’s talking about.

    Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman  on  03/27  at  08:45 PM
  23. Don’s Mr. Fonebone originally appeared in a medieval French romance or something

    That’s where I saw that name before. I’m thinking three syllables (Fone-Eh-Bone).

    David in #7: the pre-age-13 era me (this is partially in the 80s) loved 60s era mad, read a biography of Gaines, etc. Two cheers for public libraries w/out the cash to update their collection of mad anthologies.

    And thanks, folks, for this Replacements thread. I’ll admit that I’ve never been that into them, although I’m surrounded by Mats fans (including some people I remember who were in a tribute band called The Place Mats). But in my mp3-organizing project, I finally got through a bunch of Replacements mid-80s live tracks I cribbed from a friend. And suddenly my tepid feelings about them from Let It Be (the only album I know well) intensified into an incipient mad enthusiasm: their 1987 cover of ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ just floored me. I’ll use MB’s post and this thread as a guide.

    Posted by  on  03/27  at  08:50 PM
  24. I’m with Corndog—it’s the songs.  Albums are collections of . . . songs.

    That said, I tend to like more songs on “Let It Be” than any of the others.  Even with the Beatles cop.  Followed by Hootenanny.  (I don’t know Pleased to Meet Me that well.)

    Unfortunately, the Replacements preceded Nirvana—not unfortunately for Paul Westerberg, but unfortunately for Kurt, who inherited Paul’s crazy-making ambivalence about stardom.

    Now that I remember, my irritation with Paul’s ambivalence steered me away from “Pleased to Meet Me.” Whatever, dude.  Feel bad about fame?  OK, I’ll ignore you.

    Misfortunately, critics loved the singers who hated to be loved and cheered on their viciously circular pronouncements of ambivalence.  Kurt, according to his suicide note, really did feel sick about his fame, as though it betrayed “Punk Rock 101.” Not the only, or even the main, cause of Kurt’s troubles, but it’s one he named, and there’s no reason not to take it seriously.

    In retrospect, I don’t blame Paul or Kurt.  I do blame the critics who lap it up and repeat it and endorse it.  It’s real snob stuff:  “Love the guy who hates to be widely loved because being widely loved means being loved by those un-cool people, unlike you, who read me,” etc.

    I saw the Replacements twice, both memorable train wrecks of shows, full of entertaining pain.  First time I saw them, ‘82 or ‘83, I had no idea who they were; Westerberg was a charismatic yowling whirl.  Between songs somebody yelled, “You suck.” Westerberg said, slowly, quietly, “Hey, that hurts my feelings.” My friends wanted to leave & I didn’t care so I left.

    The other time, their audience had pushed them out of the little clubs and into the theaters.  Bob didn’t show up, so a parade of random guitarists they didn’t know sat in, including a guy I’d been in a band with.  At one point, Westerberg said, “You miss Bob?  Well FUCK Bob.” A little while later Bob showed up, walking down the aisle of the theater, climbing onto the stage, being pushed back by the security, convincing them he in the band, getting his guitar, and playing great noise.

    Such unhappiness.  Riveting unhappiness that invites ticket-holding rubber-neckers.  Very soap opera, really.  Like at a restaurant when 2 people are screaming at each other, and you can’t help but pay attention, except you pretend not to at a restaurant, but with the Replacements it was “the show.”

    Anyway, I’m glad the “fame ambivalence” ethos has gone by the wayside.  Give Paul & Kurt this:  they seemed to be the only 2 musicians who really believed it.  Poor conflicted double-bound bastards.

    Great post, Michael.  Some of the best stuff I’ve ever read on the Replacements.

    RIP, Bob and Kurt.

    Posted by john  on  03/27  at  09:45 PM
  25. I’ll take the skyway… Pleased to meet me is going to be my favorite just because it was associated with so much of college life.  I remember hearing it on the radio and the disk jockey on WLIR asking “Who Is Alex Chilton Anyway, I’ll bet its a girl...”

    And there was nothing wrong with Don’t Tell A Soul, but you are right, it is undangerous.  So is pleased to meet…

    Funny that X came up here. I remember buying the vinyl pleassed to meet me at the same time I got the last X album, the one with Dave Alvin instead of Billy Zoom.  All at Tower Records in downtown manhattan.

    I haven’t been able to bring myself to listen to solo Westerberg.  Should I.

    Posted by  on  03/27  at  10:19 PM
  26. Gotta agree, _Let It Be_ is the one:  “Sixteen Blue” and “Unsatisfied” the two great songs--oh, and what about that Kiss cover?  The Replacements weren’t exactly punk because in the American context punk was a purist subcultural style, a form of snobbery, at least in part--they _liked_ Kiss!  As for sloppy; this too was part of their thing; the neat band with self-control never puts “Answering Machine” on that album--I’d rather have “Answering Machine” than “Achin’ to Be” any time....

    Posted by  on  03/27  at  10:22 PM
  27. My grad school musical guru was John Callahan, a sad Irish scholar of Russian literature, who introduced the Replacements to me as the antithesis of REM.  I listened to the albums trying to work out the Manichean opposition between the two bands.  John’s greatest tip though was the Mekons, whom he described as “the least reified band in rock."-- Have you heard from Andy Bienen lately?

    Posted by  on  03/28  at  10:13 AM
  28. "fussy listener that I am”

    Well that line should disqualify you from commenting right out of the gate. <G>

    If you bring a critical fussiness to the messiness that is listening, you are playing by different rules than those the Replacements lived by, and holding them to standards they didn’t aspire to.  I was about 25 or 26 when “Tim” was released, and being from the NY/NJ area, had lived for years on the lower end of the FM spectrum, so the first time I heard “Left of the Dial” I just couldn’t stop smiling (still haven’t, whenever I hear it). In a kind of dessert island choice, I’d take “Tim”.  But there were still great songs, even as late as “All Shook Down”, with “One Wink”, and a kind of brilliant, summing up in “Someone Take the Wheel”, already looking back.  A nice demonstration of the balance of fire and talent that made the Replacements, is the Alex Chilton, Tim-era version of “Can’t Hardly Wait”, contrasted with the official release “Pleased to Meet Me” version.  By the late, official release on PTMM, they had been playing versions of the song for years, and if it had lost some its initial charge, it was also a deeper and better song by then. I don’t know which version I prefer, and it doesn’t seem necessary to decide.

    The Replacements could do highest quality pop-rock because they had the goods.  It’s damn silly to think they had to renounce their 10-year history of throw-away, tear-away jags to get real production values.  I never bought into all that “beautiful losers” stuff, because there was always something so willful in the Replacements’ evasive maneuvering around breakout success.  Part of what made them so compelling is that they weren’t pretenders knocking at the gates, they just weren’t sufficiently moved by the trappings, at least not for long.  Westerberg was almost too talented to pull it off.  If you use those Google News alerts that give you updates whenever a story mentions Westerberg, you would be amazed by the frequency with which he is invoked to describe new artists, as there seems to be a rush on lesser Westerbergs for the last few years. 

    As for the knockoffs, I have this image in mind of Berube gathering himself to full height and confronting the Replacements, “J’Accuse!”, whereupon the Replacements cackle scruffily and pelt Berube with garbage.  They were always doing these mocking covers, in a kind of “so what” way.  It’s like Glen Matlock waffling on about nice things like the Beatles, or how you can’t change the lyrics to the sacrosanct “Substitute”.

    Posted by  on  03/28  at  11:14 AM
  29. "Unsatisfied” has been a common thread through rock, from the Stones’ on. But the complaint was shared, over and over, it touched. “Alex Chilton” was fantastic, always guaranteed me bumping up the mphs when I was heading home from the union office. “I never travel far without a little Big Star. (wooo...)”

    After “Alex Chilton” everything was downhill. When you advertise yourself as a determined wastrel you lose your position for social criticism, and complaining, as we’ve determined, has always been an important part of rock and roll.

    Posted by Bob in Pacifica  on  03/28  at  11:21 AM
  30. is it just me, or is the focus too westerbergian in this debate? i’ve always thought the absence of bob stinson was part of the problem with don’t tell a soul (and with pleased to meet me, tho i like that one better). while it’s westerberg on guitar on ‘unsatisfied,’ a great song, it’s stinson blistering elsewhere on let it be, which remains (with hootenanny) my preferred ‘mats.

    Posted by  on  03/28  at  12:19 PM
  31. They were always doing these mocking covers, in a kind of “so what” way.

    Right. I forgot to mention this one, but I have a copy of their version of ‘Fuck my School’ set to ‘Let it Be.’ Seems pertinent somehow.

    Posted by  on  03/28  at  12:19 PM
  32. “the Replacements...as the antithesis of REM.”

    Measured against some ostensive criterion of artiste-try, I’d assert REM wanked a bit more elegantly and enigmatically than the ‘mats, a fratboy band if there ever wuz won. Pete and the Stipester doing Country Feedback....sort of cut-rate Faulkner or maybe Flannery O’Connor on vodka and tonics and some vicodin; the Snopes have moved into the ‘burbs and the hardware store’s been replaced by Walmart, but its still a cowtown, but wired. But the REM bois needed more spine; like, add some Mingus and some vegas showgirls, a few catchy rhythms from, yass, Trout Mask Replica

    Posted by perezoso  on  03/28  at  12:58 PM
  33. and now for something completely different (and no, the larches have not yet begun to show green).  When we have previously dismissed the insanity of the one whose name will not be typed out for fear of manifesting more evil, has indeed taken it upon himself to manifest more evil:

    EDUCATION—HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER BOEHNER LEADS RIGHT-WING ATTACK ON COLLEGE PROFESSORS: David Horowitz, author of the “Academic Bill of Rights” and the leading voice of the “conservative movement whose supporters say college campuses are increasingly dominated by a liberal ideology,” reveals in a column today that House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) has taken up the banner of squelching free speech on college campuses.

    According to Horowitz, Boehner told him: “This is a fight I want.” Horowitz’s witch hunt against university professors has been described as “Worse Than McCarthy,” and like McCarthy, Horowitz has an enemies list of the “101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.” “In the name of establishing intellectual diversity,” wrote Yeshiva University professor Ellen Schrecker in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Horowitz and his allies want to impose outside political controls over core educational functions like personnel decisions, curricula, and teaching methods. Such an intrusion not only endangers the faculty autonomy that traditionally protects academic freedom, but it also threatens the integrity of American higher education.”

    Posted by  on  03/28  at  01:27 PM
  34. Re #31:  yes, Westerberg was the straw that stirred the drink, but Bob was a big part of what gave the drink its kick.

    Posted by john  on  03/28  at  02:20 PM
  35. perezoso -
    characterizing the replacements as some kind of poprock reaction to “real punk” bands like X and the DK’s kind of misses the point; the ‘mats were creatures of their surroundings, a reasonably bucolic and isolated Minneapolis that had heard some or most of that music, but just couldn’t muster up the nihilist fury engendered by being really f**king poor in an urban wasteland like NY or LA.  Plus, they all grew up listening to the weird melange of rock, surf and country that showed up in the clubs and on the Mpls radios in the late 70s and early 80s. 

    I think its a mistake to take such time-and-place-specific music as LA punk and hold it up as some ideal that everything else falls short of.  Since bands like the ‘mats couldn’t have felt the pressures and realities that led to that music, what you are really asking for is just imitation.  The ‘mats were as rebellious, diy and sick of it all as anyone else; its just that rebellious, diy and sick of it all sounds different in Mpls than it does in LA.  If you want to see this principle in action, listen to “Land Speed Record” by Husker Du; it’s just a ripoff of other punk they heard other places.  By the time they got through with “Zen Arcade,” however, they weren’t imitating anybody.  Not coincidentally, a lot of people who I have heard make the same points about “real” punk that you do tend to say that LSR is HD’s best record.  To which I can only reply with a helpless shrug.

    That said, “a hungover Carole King” is funny.

    As for “Waitress in the Sky,” I always kind of thought that there was something else going on besides the (undeniable) crass egotism.  Westerberg isn’t angry at the stewardess, or if he is, its mainly because she’s kissing the rich folks asses “up in first class” while they are yelling at him and giving him shit as he knees himself in the face in coach.

    But yeah, “dose of thunder” sucks badly.

    Posted by  on  03/28  at  03:02 PM
  36. >characterizing the replacements as some kind of poprock reaction to “real punk” bands like X and the DK’s kind of misses the point; the ‘mats were creatures of their surroundings, a reasonably bucolic and isolated Minneapolis that had heard some or most of that music, but just couldn’t muster up the nihilist fury engendered by being really f**king poor in an urban wasteland like NY or LA.<

    I think that’s exactly right.  The Replacements could and did play loud, fast and bad when they wanted to, and slower, lower and better, when they felt like it.  They were what they were, without the forced quality that some of these post-punk bands have.  Original punk was the antithesis of affectation, so maybe that’s why imitators sound so strained and off.  A lot of bands have trouble aging, because their fans want them locked into a time when the band was young, and years later, aged, wry commentary on your own youthful exuberance, no matter how clever or what the level of virtuosity, can not have the original youthful exuberance.  The only people who can pull this off are those whose songwriting subject matter lends itself to mature interpretation, which is not always a good thing.

    Posted by  on  03/28  at  04:41 PM
  37. I think John Doe would give props to the Mats.

    Hell, that video Gavin M. posted above with Careless on it is pretty much the Midwestern version of We’re Desperate.

    As for the Mats internal frisson Tommy once had a great quip. Westerberg said that Bob was the balls of the group, Tommy said, “Yeah, an’ Paul’s the dick”. It might have been practiced, but it works you know?

    And it really does look like Westerberg (whose solo output sucks) was a giant asshole. Chris Mars released two pretty good rock records after leaving the group, both of which were riddled with songs about how much he hated Westerberg.

    But you can’t argue with the highlights. With Color Me Impressed and Favorite Thing, they were the American Buzzcocks. With Unsatisfied and Answering Machine they were every anguished punk romantic. Even Westerberg’s soft stuff—which sounds forced and awful on his solo records—seems natural and fluid for folks just coming around to emoting.

    As for their later stuff, I liked Talent Show in particular, but I find some of the stuff I didn’t quite love in their later work better than I remembered—unlike the filler from the albums I loved from the start, which I, like Michael, always skipped (by moving the stylus over the grooves...Why is this going to be difficult to explain to my kid?).

    Posted by Jay Brida  on  03/28  at  06:45 PM
  38. Great re-post Michael. What a band. They weren’t just great, they were as cool as a rock band could be (I mean that in the best sense; like the early, early Who). Although, I believe your point about Don’t Tell a Soul is well-taken, you just can’t compare it to Tim.

    I think what happens to successful songwriters is that they start to believe their own hype (and get tired generally). It’s hard tell a good song from bad when you write it (I’ve read that Mellencamp thought Jack and Diane shouldn’t have even been released). And once you are successful, the people who could tell you a tune sucked (and you’d listen) are no longer around. And that is why the less popular/successful songwriters stay better for longer periods, while amazingly talented songwriters suddenly can’t write a good tune to save their lives (see, e.g., Ray Davies).

    Still, Michael, too harsh on Tom Petty. Wildflowers is a killer, killer record. And how about that Twin Cinemas record? I think that was my favorite release of last year.

    Posted by a-train  on  03/28  at  11:51 PM
  39. Mats ‘06.  A Simpsons cameo can’t be too far off.

    Posted by Jason  on  03/29  at  09:22 AM
  40. The Replacements were cool, but they were part of an era. Chronic Town was something different and good too, and Stipe took the concept of not understanding what the hell the singer was singing to the ultimate. Like most bands, the Replacements (I never felt like calling them Mats) stayed too long, and Westerberg’s solo stuff has been pretty weak. Every time I’m tempted to get a CD of his I’m disappointed. Too bad other groups, like Cool It Reba, never broke through. Tom Petty was almost as good as Dwight Twilley’s first album. Imagine Television if they had a lead singer that didn’t yowl so much. Nobody loves Matthew Sweet although for a time he was a master of writing pop songs.

    Please wipe the rock and roll spittle from my chin and push my wheelchair to the breakfast nook and spoon me my oatmeal.

    Posted by Bob in Pacifica  on  03/29  at  11:16 AM
  41. Re: #21,

    I was in SF during the DKs run but was never a real big fan. More annoying than inspiring to me. Liked “Police Truck,” especially the live version from the Deaf Club sampler album, though, and voted for him for mayor after Moscone and Milk were gunned down (Feinstein won). The Clash’s remake of “Police and Thieves” was more on point.

    Remember, “California Uber Alles” was a protest song against Jerry Brown, and considering the shit that’s floated downstream, he wasn’t a particularly worthy target in retrospect.

    Posted by Bob in Pacifica  on  03/29  at  11:25 AM
  42. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had fun while listening to “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”, but the phrase “Everybody Wang Chung tonight” does have its occasional uses.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  12:19 PM
  43. The Disposable Heroes of Hiphopracy cover of “California Über Alles” is dedicated to the very deserving Pete Wilson regime, though. A song whose curdled sentiments, maybe unremarkably, have proven apt all down the years, I’m thinking.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  12:48 PM
  44. Ah, the Mats--I could write reams about them. (And have, actually.) But to stick to the topic at hand, Tim remains one of my favorite records of all time, though Let It Be, the album that made me a Mats obsessive way back when, holds a slight edge. Whereas to this day, I can’t listen to more than two songs from Don’t Tell a Soul.

    This isn’t due to any perception that they were selling out; at least 50 percent of the original lineup always wanted to be commercially, massively successful and made no secret of that fact. (Unfortunately for them, Westerberg was only part of that “at least 50 percent” about 45 percent of the time.) It’s simply because the songs were almost all substandard. Try playing, say, “Hold My Life” and following it with “Asking Me Lies,” the worst song the band ever recorded, and you’ll see what I mean. Heck, try playing “Dose of Thunder” followed by “Asking Me Lies,” and the point may still come through, though I’m not defending the filler tracks on Tim.

    And to perezoso: the Replacements weren’t tame punk, because they were never punk. Oh, they kind of pretended to be for a little while, and Stink is closer to punk than to any other genre, but they never considered themselves punk, and rightly so. They were always a rock band, whether you want to call it indie rock or alternative rock or very loud power pop. Minneapolis had punk rock bands at the time--Hüsker Dü preeminent among them, of course--but the Replacements weren’t one of them.

    Posted by Amy  on  03/29  at  06:30 PM
  45. Most rock including punk is disposable, or at least expendable, however momentarily tasty. Perhaps there are a few “authentic” punk albums here and there, but I wouldn’t count Replacements’ manga among ‘em; though the first X album might make it, and DK--at least for Jello’s lyrics.  .... Waitress in the Sky is lame, man; if you want rock parody you need look no further than, yass, Zappa, however occasionally annoying: FZ and a bunch of LA studio cats doing parodies of hippies or Dylan or heavy metal idjits, or instead some old-fashioned libertarian obscenity with monster grooves guaran-teeeed to irk the neighborhood soccer mommies (Dirty Love required listening for any true rock reprobate): pretty f-n hilarious. Westerberg is like one of those radical party boys who goes to all the right fratboy shindigs when in his 20s and then ends up being like an insurance salesman, if not born -again Xtian. But there are some who think the Midwest is all like backlots from Children of the Corn, and the sort of farmers’ kids even scarier than dixie hickland.....there’s not much muzak that lasts....old standards...autumn leaves, cherokee, kind of blue .. a few Steely Dan cuts...more kick and even a sort of cezanne-like realism than the rock noise, the hippie sentimentality, hymns, the free jazz irritations....stoli over stale beer

    Posted by perezoso  on  03/29  at  11:17 PM
  46. None of the three classic albums are perfect. But they all have absolute gems on them, each about half an album of just great stuff. 

    From Let It BeThe standouts are Sixteen Blue, Androgynous, We’re Coming Out, Favorite Thing, Answering Machine, and Unsatisfied. 

    From Tim, the standouts are Bastards of Young, Here Comes a Regular, Left of the Dial, Little Mascara, and Swinging Party.

    From Pleased to Meet Me<i>, the standouts are Alex Chilton, IOU, I Don’t Know, Can’t Hardly Wait, Nevermind, and Skyway. 

    All of those songs still hold up as well as anything. 

    <i>Hootenanny also holds up well, Treatment Bound being my favorite. 

    The early thrashy stuff can be fun to listen to occassionally, but it kind of frivolous. 

    The last two albums have fewer gems and you could tell that well was dry.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  01:40 AM
  47. No question that Paul was an asshole.  From Michael Azzerad, Our Band Could Be Your Life, page 229:

    No one knew that catch-22 better than Bob Stinson.  He had gone through a court-ordered thirty-day rehab program and had been dry for three weeks when the Replacements played the last gig of a five-night stand at 7th Street Entry in the summer of ‘86.  “Paul came over with a bottle of Champagne,” recalled Stinson’s then-wife, Carleen, “and he said to Bob, and I’ll never forget this, he said, ‘Either take a drink, motherfucker, or get off my stage.’ It was the first time I’d seen Bob cry.” Westerberg fired him a couple weeks later.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  01:58 AM
  48. blah,

    damn, that story of Paul’s cold cruelty almost brings tears to my eyes.  almost like putting a gun to his head.

    Posted by john  on  03/30  at  02:34 PM
  49. The eighties were a blur (or is that a 90s pun?) having been into Earl Klugh and Yes. The only thing out of the eighties that stuck was Ronnie Earl and The broadcasters and Elvis (the Costello kind) This Years Model is a desert island disk as far as I’m concerned. But further to Trail of Dead and other Alt. Rock my son being at the UNGH!! age moved me onto them and Rival Schools, and have since gone onto Hundred Reasons (FG!!) and Hell is for Heroes whilst he moved on Hendrix Traffic and early Who!! Whats going on? I’m more confused now than when my voice broke. Roll on warm and I can chill on a wave.  The subnormal type we get here anyway! He calls me a hippy ...cheeky sod!

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  02:56 PM
  50. That rejection slip story is pure gold - I can imagine Zizek slipping some variant on it into his next half-dozen LRB articles…

    captcha: cannot

    Posted by Dominic Fox  on  03/31  at  07:04 AM
  51. It warms my soul to read that someone so much more intelligent than I enjoys something I love so much. It’s fair to say that, at times, I’ve been completely obsessed by the ‘mats. This started just after my obsession with DOCTOR WHO subsided. Now they’re both back (the Replacements only a little bit), and what’ll I do?

    The three album sequence of LET IT BE, TIM, and PLEASED TO MEET ME is their heyday. TIM is my favorite. Although I share your opinion about “Dose of Thunder”, etc, I’ve always thought “Waitress. . . “ was amusing. “Hold my Life”, “Left of the Dial”, “Bastards of Young”, “Little Mascara”, “Swingin’ Party”, and “Here Comes a Regular” are all indispensible to me.

    I have this half-baked theory that bands reach a point where their musical proficiency catches up to their vision, and that’s when they do something extraordinary. LONDON CALLING is my prime example. TIM is another, although it ain’t quite LONDON CALLING. I can’t decide from among THE WHO SELL OUT, TOMMY, LIVE AT LEEDS, WHO’S NEXT and QUADROPHENIA, but I think you get the idea. Often the chops continue to get better, but the fire is gone.

    Still, the later Replacements albums (quaint word that) have some gems, some of which were in the OP. I’LL BE YOU is probably my favorite from the last two, I but I thing the professor hits the highlights pretty well.

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  01:55 AM
  52. Ahhh, I can’t let this one go by without comment.

    Hootenanny and Pleased to Meet Me are their secret best records (that is, the pleasures reveal themselves after multiple spins, not as immediately as on the intervening two), but Tim contains Westerberg’s best songs and Let It Be is their ticket to the canon (all the X talk is funny—Xgau sez Let It Be “stands beside Wild Gift as Amerindie’s very peak” [in other words: X sang about mature love and had catchy toons, guys—they were indiepop, and if you want to play punker than thou, the Germs would kick their asses])—and “Waitress In the Sky” is Paul making fun of his sister, guys, just a little fun.

    But yeah. I could write an essay or two about ‘em, so I’ll just say that Westerberg solo: better than people give him credit for. After spending the ‘90s in overproduced MOR hell, he retreated to his south Minneapolis basement to record Keith Richards-inspired open-tuning misanthropic rootsrock. See ye Mono (and his last one, Folker, weren’t so bad neither).

    Also: Left of the Dial is, in fact, the greatest song on Tim and possibly the best American rock song of the 1980s. Produced by Alex Chilton. (Tommy Ramone’s production on the rest of the album sucks the life out of it, alas).

    Posted by Alex  on  04/02  at  04:47 PM





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