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.
Jim Peterson, former manager, Oarfolkjokeopus Records:
The Stinson brothers spent a lot more time hanging out at Oarfolk than the other guys did. I can only remember seeing Chris [Mars] there a few times, and Paul [Westerberg] just a little more often. Tommy would come by after school just to hang around and listen to music.
P. D. Larson, former music writer, City Pages: South Minneapolis was kind of where everybody lived, and 26th and Lyndale [where Oarfolkjokeopus Records was located] was the Ground Zero for all of it.
Jon Bream, writing in the Star Tribune, September 1979: Peter Jesperson is not a disc jockey for a far-reaching radio station or a columnist for a big-circulation newspaper. Yet he is the most important rock music taste-maker in the Twin Cities. He is the gatekeeper to the hip crowd, the guru of the underground, the godfather of the rock cognoscenti. Walk into Oarfolkjokeopus, that wonderfully eccentric record store on 26th and Lyndale, just about any afternoon. That’s where Jesperson holds court.
Peter Jesperson, former Replacements manager: Paul had given me a four-song basement tape [of the Replacements], and I didn’t play it right away. He called and came back into the store a time or two and asked if I’d listened to it yet. One day when I was feeling particularly guilty, I took a pile of tapes back in the office with a boom box and was just putting them in one after the other while I was doing paperwork, and the tape came on. For me, it was as magical as anything will ever get. I called Steve Klemz, Bill Melton, and Linda Hultquist and said, “You have to come down here to hear this. I need some corroboration here.” I couldn’t believe how good it was.
Ryan Cameron, owner, Let It Be Records: I had just moved to town and I was a regular shopper [at Oarfolk], and I’d overheard Peter going on and on, raving about this local band he’d just heard.
Jesperson: What occurred to me immediately was, “It’s all there.” It wasn’t like, “This is good, and they’ve got to work on this.” Everything was great already. It was almost like, “Is someone playing a joke on me? I kept expecting someone to come out of the bushes and say, “Ha! Ha! We were just kidding. This band has already been signed to Warner Bros.”
Tim O’Reagan, former Jayhawks drummer: My first impression was, “What’s all the fuss about?”
Dave Ayers, in the Minnesota Daily, 1982: Paul Westerberg is likable. Even on stage at his worst, when he’s shrug-shouldered, grumbling, half-drunk, he’s magnetic and a little disarming. He takes great pains to be honest, even if that means contradicting himself. In his words, “Sometimes my mind goes a hundred different ways at once.” That’s a pretty fair description of a young man trying to come to grips with his own raw genius.
Jesperson: I called Paul and said, “Were you thinking of [recording] a single or an album?” He said, “I was just trying to get an opening slot at the Longhorn.”
Kevin Martinson, musician: I was at their first bar show at the Longhorn. After they played, I went into that bar in the side room, and Peter Jesperson was having them sign their Twin/Tone contract right there in the bar.
Jesperson: I told [Twin/Tone Records cofounder] Paul Stark we had to do an album with these guys right away, and he said, “Calm down. We have to do a single first, and see how it goes.” I said, “I think it’s bigger than that.” We went into the studio in July 1980 and they knocked off 15 songs in a half an hour or 45 minutes. I remember Paul looking at me and going, “Okay, you’re right. I guess we’re talking album.”
Westerberg, on KQRS, 1981: Where is it written? Where is it written that you have to pay your dues?
Jesperson: It took a while to make the record. We’d just get studio time when we could. It was wildly exciting. You’d hit “record” and they’d play like they were playing in front of an arena full of screaming fans.
Tracie Will, former Westerberg neighbor: I don’t remember [Paul] ever taking out the trash. Maybe he never did. You can have it on good authority that his next-door neighbor never saw him take out the trash. But my mom has an autographed copy of Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash because I think she used to complain about the drumming.
Jesperson: I had a layout of the artwork for Sorry Ma at Oarfolk, and when I wasn’t looking [the band] drew graffti on it. They drew a Hitler mustache on Chris on the insert, and I went, “What are you doing? This is the photograph for your album cover.” Then I thought, “This is a perfectly Replacements-esque thing to do.”
Willie Wisely, musician: I walked into Oarfolkjokeopus on the day Sorry Ma was released, looking for my usual—anything in the used-vinyl section with an Apple Records logo on it—when Peter Jesperson pointed out to me that I should really think about buying something different. Well, me being in 11th grade, and those clerks being the six hippest guys in the Midwest, I listened.
Craig Finn: I remember the liner notes to Sorry Ma. You know, “Could have been better if we’d tried harder.” It was the first time, as a kid, I remember rock ’n’ roll that was self-deprecating.
Danny Murphy, guitarist, Soul Asylum: I was 19. We used to be able to get into Duffy’s when we were underage, and they had strippers in the front room and they put [the Replacements] in the back room. We saw them for the first time right after Sorry Ma came out. It was like four guys that were in four completely different bands. It blew my mind.
Ayers: [Sorry Ma] is the best American punk-rock record ever. I’ve always felt that way. Song after song, in terms of capturing that thing—pure octane, terrified and fearless at the same time. All that stuff that’s wrapped up in that moment in time of being a 19-year-old kid.
David Carr, reporter, New York Times: I was working at the Little Prince near Loring Park and I would just walk to the [7th Street] Entry from there without looking to see who was playing. I walked in and there was some kind of shoving match and a lot of laughing going off on stage, and I asked a kid next to me when the band started. He told me that they were in the middle of the set. The next day I asked a pal at work who these jokers were. He explained that they were the future of rock music.