Their fathers had fought in the Second World War II, which makes them old men now, but they were boys in the 80’s. The Stinson brothers, Bob and Tommy; Chris Mars, and Paul Westerberg, who was first among equals. Bob was crazy, and an alcoholic, and his step-dad raped him throughout his childhood; he was never well. Tommy dropped out of school to go on tour at age 14, and was an alcoholic. Paul (an alcoholic) had nine or ten personality disorders competing with each other for dominance, chief among them an aversion that bordered on allergy to even the mildest authority. Chris played drums.
They looked like this:
There was no money in the budget for cool shoes, or new trousers for Tommy. He had outgrown the pair he was wearing because 14-year-olds do stuff like that.
The first two records are unnecessary; Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take out the Trash and Stink! are blueprints for the albums to come. The last two are Paul Westerberg solo records. Those middle four, though? Just as good as the Stones’ run from Banquet to Exile.
Paul wrote all the songs. He looked like this:
His dad sold Cadillacs, and he was a terrible student. He liked pop music–what Bob would call “Doodley-bop shit” and walk out of bars to avoid–and Slade and all the punkers except the political ones, and White Crosses. Never weighed more than a buck-twenty. Dropped out of high school because of course he did. Teachers, man.
Give my regards to gym class.
He’s a janitor. This is an important detail in the Origin Story. Queen met through a note pinned on a bulletin board at college, but Paul first encountered the Stinson brothers while walking home from his job cleaning up other people’s messes. Beginnings are important; everything starts with them.
I am trying to remember how I heard of them. It could not have been MTV–the channel did not play the band’s half-assed, snotty videos–so it must have one of the Rock Magazines I devoured. There was Rolling Stone, of course, which I had a subscription to, and RIP, which was dedicated to Sunset Strip bullshit, and various instrument-specific periodicals redolent with tablature.
And Musician. That was for the Rock Nerd bullshit. I read about Warren Zevon in that magazine, and The Replacements, too. (I think.)
The Livingston Mall had two record stores back then: Sam Goody ‘s and Alwilk. Sam Goody’s was the cool one. They had the giant metal fan of posters on one side of the shop, and guitar strings and straps on the other. Sheet music in the back. Cassettes in the middle, individually trapped in plastic caskets. Vinyl was dead as disco. Compact discs were ramping up. The guy at the counter would KerCLACK the tape free when you paid.
Did I read about them? None of my friends recommended the band: I do not recall bonding over the Mats in the way I did Van Halen or the Dead or even Cheap Trick. (Me and my high school buddies were HUGE into Cheap Trick’s first three records, and I believe we were in the right.) But my teen band did not cover Can’t Hardly Wait or Bastards of Young, and those are both songs with few enough chords so that A Bunch Of Guys From France could have handled it.
They’ve just always been there.
Imagine you worked at MTV and some assholes sent this in. It’s a middle finger. I wouldn’t play it, either.
This is Bob:
Bob was simple, and broken, and then broken again. Step-dad raped him over and over. Family gave him over to the state for a while. Group home for the disturbed, that kind of thing. Bob played guitar and heard voices. Drank a lot. Worst hair in the group. Thought it was his band, even though Paul wrote all the songs and did all the singing. Sometimes, he’d black out and beat his wife.
But, boy, could he play guitar.
He mammothed about stage left in his dress, or tutu, or maybe just jeans and a filthy tee-shirt, with a Telecaster or SG or Strat–the Mats were not one-guitar type of dudes–and slopped about the chord structure of the song like King Kong with a hard-on. After Paul fired him, a reporter from Spin magazine came out for an interview; Bob suggested scoring some heroin and shooting up. When he died, he was 35 and shared an apartment with roommates in Minneapolis. The walls of his bedroom were decorated with Led Zeppelin posters.
This is the point at which I usually compare a band to the Dead, but I can’t here. The Dead were surely Bush League in every way, but not like The Replacements. It is the difference between Chaotic Good, or even Neutral, and Chaotic Evil. The Mats were trying to fuck up–these young, snotty men were some of the very trolls–while the Dead just fucked up a lot. The Grateful Dead didn’t mean to play poorly at Woodstock, it just kinda happened.
Whereas The Replacements meant to do this shit:
They released this. 30 people showed up to a venue that held 1,200. The manager of the venue recorded the show FOB, and the Mats’ soundman stole the tape. The band gets all the way through–at most–30% of the songs; it is the single most unprofessional hour you’ve ever heard. They released it.
Steve Albini hates The Replacements, and that is good enough reason for me to love them. Fuck that guy and his rules.
Geography used to matter. This is before the internet, Younger Enthusiast. Whatever-and-a-half was going on in The World, and you’d hear about that on the nightly news with that Texas fellow or that Canadian gentleman, but mostly what mattered was what was going on in your city. Who was playing your venues, and who your radio stations were bumping, and who your local alternative paper was on a rampage about this week. Bands were from somewhere. Ramones were from Queens; Pearl Jam was from Seattle; Bruce was from Jersey. Skynyrd was from the South, and Rush was from the Great White North, and those facts were important.
The Replacements were from Minneapolis.
This is Tommy:
He looks like a kid because he was.
When Tommy was 11, he was doing stupid shit. Breaking windows, stealing, shit like that. His older brother Bob figured music was a good outlet for his energies, and plunked a bass guitar in his hands. When he was 12, the Mats played their first gig. Minnesota’s economy is based on lakes, hockey, and rehabs; they were booked to play a sober dance; they showed up drunk, of course, and the show was cancelled. 14 when the first album came out. The band’s manager had to be made Tommy’s legal guardian, so they could tour without any worries. 17 when he signed the contract with the major label, Sell-out. 20 when he was banned from Saturday Night Live.
Tommy Stinson had a more interesting youth than you did.
I saw him once in Los Angeles, at an AA meeting. He was wearing the suit you’d imagine him wearing, and sitting with his legs draped over the stage; it was a multi-purpose hall that could be used as a cafeteria or gum or auditorium. His hair was…well, you know. I resented his presence; Jesus! this fucking city! I wasn’t even cool enough for AA meetings.
Tommy was both the most fuckable–due to his dewy twinkiness–Replacement, and–due to his underagedness–the least fuckable Replacement.
In my waxed up hair and my painted shoes
Got an offer that you might refuse
Tonight, tonight, we’re gonna take a stab
Come on along, we’ll grab a cab
We ain’t much to look at so
Close your eyes, here we go
We’re playin’ at the talent show
Come on along, here we go
Playin’ at the talent show
Check us out, here we go
Playin’ at the talent show
Well we got our guitars and we got thumb picks
And we go on after some lip-synch chicks
We’re feelin’ good from the pills we took
Oh, baby, don’t gimme that look
Well it’s the biggest thing in my life I guess
Look at us all, we’re nervous wrecks
Hey, we go on next
Playin’ at the talent show
Wish us luck if you can’t go
Playin’ at the talent show
An empty seat in the front row
We might even win this time, guys, you never know
That’s the opening track from Don’t Tell A Soul, which didn’t sell. Dudes in thick, black eyeglasses loved it, and so did bookish women with drinking problems, but the general public remained aggressively indifferent to The Replacements. Music critics loved ’em; the kids bought Bon Jovi records.
They looked like this:
The guy in the Harpo Marx wig is Slim Dunlap. He played the guitar solos after Bob got fired, and did not make the band any better-looking.
Paul was in charge, and he gets all the credit, and bears all the blame. Tommy was a child. Bob was crazy. Chris was the drummer. Paul wrote all the songs and sang all the songs and he was in charge; the band was a process of shedding. Paul fired the manager, and the record company, and the guitarist, and the drummer, and the record company again, and then he fired the bass player and himself and there were no more Replacements left.
This is Chris:
He played drums.
Again: you cannot compare them to the Dead, at least not to the Mats’ favor. The Dead were winners. Enthusiasts like to play the aggrieved minority, but the Dead headlined stadiums for a decade straight. The Replacements biggest tour was opening for Tom Petty in 12,000-seater sheds; usually, they played ballrooms and theaters, and were not guaranteed a sell-out. The Dead had to resort to begging teens not to come to their shows; varying record companies and management firms spent hundreds of thousands–real money in the 80’s–futilely trying to drum up interest in the Mats.
The Dead were personable, at least. Bobby and Garcia? They were downright garrulous! Sure, they’d bitch about doing radio interviews, but once you got ’em down to the station, they’d start chatting away. If only to be polite. The Replacements would shit on the studio floor while making hard eye contact with the deejay.
Sometimes, the Mats would play a cover tune but only know the verse and chorus, so they would abandon the song at the bridge and stand there grinning like assholes. Dead never pulled that shit.
We were the Bastards of Young, my generation. Generation X. We didn’t take what’s ours. I wouldn’t claim us, either.
God, they didn’t give a shit.
This was The Replacements’ big break. Tim was their first major label release, and Warner Brothers was backing them. The record’s sales had stalled, so Mo Ostin made a call to Lorne Michaels. All the rich Jewish assholes in New York know all the other rich Jewish assholes in New York. 1/18/86. Harry Dean Stanton was the host. Sam Kinson did a monologue.
Lorne was stressed. SNL seems inviolable now, but it was vulnerable in 1986. He had left the show along with the major stars in 1980, to be replaced by multiple showrunners of varying incompetence, and returned in 1985 with a cast that featured Randy Quaid and a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey, Jr. The ratings were exactly the same as always–there is a fixed audience for that time period–but the critics were harsh, and Lorne lived in a world where that kind of thing mattered. Lorne Michaels has always cared deeply about what the other rich Jewish assholes thought of him.
Maybe Lorne heard a tape. His buddy Mo Ostin, who had gotten him laid a number of times, had called him up and asked him to book a band, so he had his assistants pop him up some corn and bring in Tim. Listened to side one, maybe. Okay, whatever. This is what’s hip and today.
Also, the Pointer Sisters had to cancel.
I used to be on teevee, before I reclused myself. I speak from experience. You show up and they keep you in the building; you may not leave. Usually, they send a car so you do not have access to a vehicle of flight. The PA comes with you if you step out for a smoke. They’ll run to the store to fetch you a bottle of wine. Once the showrunner knows you’re on premises, you’re not allowed to leave. It’s a “bird in a gilded cage” type of situation. This treatment made the band itchy. Various pages were dispatched for various beverages. The band became schnockered, as did Harry Dean Stanton, whom they had befriended because of course they had.
Paul makes it 90 whole seconds before walking away from the mic. Boredom? Disgust? Tommy is whirling and bopping, and Bob is wearing a striped leotard that hugs his hairy chest and beefy thighs; Chris is in overalls. There’s a “fuck,” apparently. I can’t hear it, but it’s supposed to be right before Bob’s solo. Lorne heard it, though. Yelled real loud, and banned the Mats from ever appearing on the show again. Their performance still isn’t available on the official site.
The Replacements took their chastisment with humility and chagrin and nah just kidding they did thousands of dollars of damage to their hotel rooms.
New York stopped spending money on the band after that.
They toured again in 2013 and ’14.
I don’t know who the randos on the ends are. Legally, Paul and Tommy were allowed to tour as The Replacements, and so they did. They played all the old hits. They played Bastards Of Young, the old motherfuckers. Paul had a different letter taped onto his jacket at each show; spelled out, they read NOW I MUST WHORE OUT MY PAST. Which is graduate-level audience-contempt. The Sex Pistols called their reunion shows the “Filthy Lucre Tour” but that’s nothing compared to Paul’s dickery.