Achin' to Be
A new book by noted local music critic Jim Walsh chronicles the unlikely rise and controversial fall of the Twin Cities’ most influential rockers—the Replacements
(page 1 of 2)THEY WERE BORED PUNKS, disillusioned with authority and by lack of opportunity—or were they? They could hardly play their instruments—or could they? They were the Replacements: Paul Westerberg, the fiercely intelligent singer-songwriter who became the band’s misanthropic maestro; Chris Mars, the dreamy drummer turned artist; Bob Stinson, the outrageous guitarist whose unpredictability defined the band’s anything-goes attitude; and Tommy Stinson, the remarkably young bassist. Some say the Minneapolis quartet rescued rock ’n’ roll from the 1980s, launching the smarter, tougher era of “alternative music.” Others say they were too obnoxious, too careless, too drunk.
In The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting, released this month by Voyageur Press, longtime Pioneer Press and City Pages critic and columnist Jim Walsh gathers the stories of those who knew the band, were influenced by them, and sometimes competed with them before the group sputtered to an end some 16 years ago.
Westerberg himself is represented in this oral history only via quotes from previously published articles. An “unauthorized” tome, he told Walsh, would sell better. It makes sense: There was very little about the Replacements, after all, that was authorized.
In these excerpts, Walsh recounts the Replacements’ formation and the recording of their debut album, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, in 1980, when few would’ve guessed the band would eventually appear on—and subsequently be banned from—Saturday Night Live, or that Rolling Stone would one day deem Westerberg a “post-punk Bob Dylan.”
Jeff Culhane, musician: I met Paul at a kegger in Richfield. Everyone was in high school. Four or five guys were playing. He wasn’t as outgoing as the other guys, but he was really good. The next day I called my friend and asked him who he was. He goes, “Oh, that’s Paul Westerberg.” I got his number and called him. He was into the idea of playing together, especially when I told him my brother could sing. We called the band Resister. I got him a job as a janitor, cleaning office buildings. I figured if we got him a job, we’d keep him out of other bands and he’d make enough money to buy a new guitar. He didn’t have a driver’s license. We drove him everywhere.
Dave Ayers, former Twin/Tone Records executive: I remember Paul telling me about being a janitor in Walter Mondale’s office…and sweeping up under his feet. That’s what he was doing as he was making up these songs: sweeping up under people’s feet.
Culhane: [Paul and I] were in Resister together for six months. We both wanted to do something big, and we weren’t very good. I remember him saying we should just be big and loud and do KISS covers, saying, “I’d rather be really good at being crappy than really crappy at trying to be good.”
Steve Kent, musician: Resister was a power-pop band. I was the drummer. Paul did one show with us at the Longhorn, then he quit. He used to yell at me to not sing harmony on his songs.
Chris Mars, to Guitar World, 1995: I had played with Paul once before I met the Stinson brothers. He was real nerdy. When Paul first joined the band, he would be drinking orange juice while we would be getting really drunk.
Paul Westerberg, to the zine Riding the Blinds, 1984: Coming home from work and my janitor’s job, I used to hide in the bushes and listen [to the Stinsons’ band]. I could hear them from a block away. I’d peek in the window. And Chris called me up one day and he asked me to come over and play with his band. I was secretly thinking, “Oh, man, if I could play with this band that’s playing here....”
Bob Stinson, to Goldmine, 1993: There was no singer; we’d just get together and jam, and see what we could play. When I went over and heard [Westerberg] play, he was way too mainstream. He was doing Tom Petty, Bad Company, whereas we were just freelancing.
Westerberg, to Matter magazine, 1983: When I first met them they didn’t have a singer and they had another guitar player. Then they got a singer—a hippie who had, like, a sheet, sat down, and read the lyrics. I just started yelling into the mike and stuff. Bob didn’t like that. Bob wanted to get another singer. We tried another guy and they all liked him, but I sorta told him, “The band doesn’t like you. I think you’re great, but the band says you’re out.”
Stinson, on the Dewey Berger Show, 1995: To tell you the truth, I don’t think Paul—if I didn’t ask him to play with us—would have done anything. He was always depressed. He didn’t sing in his other bands.
Jay Walsh, musician: We were at a party when our bands were just getting going. Paul was there, too. People got up and played a tune and then passed the guitars around. Paul did “Johnny B. Goode.” He just ripped it. It was like seeing Rod Carew when he was 10. He was on another level, even then.
Gina Arnold, writer: Places like New York and Los Angeles were scene-driven and radio-driven; Minneapolis was store-driven: Its punk-rock axis centered around a tiny mom-and-pop record store called Oarfolkjokeopus Records.
Craig Finn, lead singer, the Hold Steady: I grew up in west Edina, but you couldn’t get a record out there. You couldn’t go to Knollwood Mall or Southdale and get a Replacements record. You had to go to Oarfolk. So to take the bus into the city to Oarfolk was like this journey to Mecca.