March 24, 2016

THE GREAT AMERICAN BAND (profanity alert):

REVIEW: of Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements By BOB MEHR (Gavin Edwards / March 22, 2016, Barnes & Noble Review)

The Replacements perpetually had one foot on greatness and the other foot on a banana peel. On some nights, the Mats (as fans called them) were all joy and chaotic energy and loud guitars. But if they thought the crowd was full of punk purists, or if they just weren't in the mood, they would deliver a set of half-assed covers of songs by the Jackson 5 or Bachman-Turner Overdrive -- on occasion, literally starting a riot. What made them more than drunken punk rock provocateurs was that Westerberg was one of the finest songwriters of his generation, capable of passion, bruised yearning, and lyrics full of self-lacerating humor: "I hate music / It's got too many notes."

Mehr, a critic at the Memphis Commercial Appeal, conducted over 200 interviews for this book -- just about everybody associated with the band, including Westerberg and Tommy Stinson. While only the most devoted fans will cherish the digressions on Minneapolis's leading nightclubs in the 1980s, Mehr's tendency toward over-documentation also gives the story behind just about every crucial Replacements song. The chorus of the almost-a-hit "Alex Chilton," asking, "What's that song?": the answer was Big Star's "Watch the Sunrise." The inspiration for "Androgynous": a period when Westerberg was hanging with R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, drinking and messing around with eye shadow. The target of "Waitress in the Sky," seemingly a stewardess who stopped serving Westerberg: it's actually the obnoxious narrator, as Westerberg intended the song as a gesture of solidarity with his sister, a career flight attendant.

The stories of mayhem on the road are as entertaining as one would hope for -- the band almost tips over their van on the highway by moshing to the Bad Brains, Bob Stinson arrives at a gig in Genoa pursued by an Italian mob brandishing knives -- but as they accumulate through the pages of Trouble Boys, it becomes clear that even more than music or booze, the band loved self-sabotage. Any time they had an opportunity to make an alliance -- with a radio station, with a producer, with a label -- they found a way to foul their nest instead. "If they were an ordinary band, they would have been dropped," observed one of their managers. "But it was the brilliance of Paul's writing, and the humanity that would come out of him, and the magic of the group, that would keep everyone believing . . . even when you wanted to kill them."

The Replacements left behind an expensive trail of chaos: tour buses systematically dismembered, hotel rooms trashed, favorite guitars destroyed. "That's the difference between you and me," Westerberg told a horrified soundman. "You cherish things that you love. Me? I destroy 'em." Eventually the band took this profligate philosophy to its logical conclusion: when given a per diem on the road, they would pull out a lighter and burn the cash.

Pretty much the only band, other than The Clash,  I regret not seeing live.

Posted by at March 24, 2016 3:38 PM