#Replacements on my mind // the once bashful Tommy Stinson

Happy Sunday, reading people. Twitter’s abuzz with the enthusiasm over last night’s show by The Replacements – their first in 23 years in their hometown of Minneapolis. (Check out this lovely review, by Andrea Swensson, and don’t miss the fabulous photos beneath by Nate Ryan/MPR– here’s a teaser.)


I picked up Tim based on a single review, and then converted dozens of friends to its virtues, with little proselytizing. In the summer of 1987, we drove through the valley heat into SF for their performance at Fillmore and, just before the end (spring 1990, I figure) at the campus gym at UC Santa Barbara. They were great, drunk, and ever-satisfying, and in the pic for Musician magazine, taken from the back of the stage, you can see my head just beyond Paul’s knee.

My favorite memory, though, of Mats live was at Slim’s in SF, when the Tommy-led Bash & Pop appeared in 1994 (or so). I figured the name “Bash & Pop” echoed the punk ethos of getting our noise on the radio. While their debut LP, Friday Night is Killing Me, was uneven, there were a handful of gems there, and how I wish I could find that damn CD. (Timmay, do you still have it?)

Upon taking the stage, though, I realized that echo was rather distant. Rather than the “I-don’t-give-a-toss” indifference Johnny Rotten perverted from Iggy Pop, T. Stinson entered the limelight as a frontman reluctantly: much more bashful than bashing, and we were old enough in mid-twenties to appreciate the desire for affection–“never disappointed by a show of hands,” in the words of Game Theory, and why should they be? “Never Aim to Please” was a song inspired by the past, but was fully reckoned with on stage. Fun times.

Holy cow, is that a non-punk fade-out at the cadence. Maturity, like death & taxes, is inevitable, to some degree.

I’m on the radio for the first time in six years Thursdays this fall, 1700-1800, EDT, @ http://www.wobc.org/, with my show, “The Spirit of ’77.” There’ll be some punk, and oodles of fun (and errors, I’m sure. Bear with me.) I’ll check @stealingclash this week if you have any requests. Have a fantastically rockin’ week!

parsing punk covers–and why Lester Bangs was right about James Taylor

Welcome back to W-SAT, where I’ll be spinning some punk and post-punk platters in just a few more syllables.

The boys over at Crave-online have come up with their 100 kickass songs under two minutes (it’s always boys, isn’t it, making allegedly definitive lists?), and there are plenty of tunes to celebrate here. I’m not sure how Beck’s “Cyanide Breath Mint” or anything by Soundgarden gets in above The Clash’s “White Riot,” but each her own–unless you omit The Replacements, then I’m taking issue. When half the songs on their debut LP start-n-stop within 120 seconds, they’ve earned the right.

Back in the day, amid many glorious and inglorious-ly drunken performances, The Replacements were regarded as the best cover band in the 1980s. The reputation was solidified one night when their road manager confiscated a newly recorded tape from a fan in the balcony and, after the band found the recording to be decent, sound-wise, and representative of their live shows, they released it on cassette as When the Shit Hits the Fans. Oddly enough, no one’s put the whole thing up on YouTube yet, but here’s a sample to whet your aural appetite.

The gesture of the cover, though, is more than merely indulging a few vocal fans. Once The Beatles–and, as a result, seemingly every other white band of that era–stopped offering tributes to their forebears, and started composing everything themselves, rock celebrated artistry. In turn, (white) people grew more earnest, stopped dancing, and abandoned joy altogether–i.e., they bought albums and went to concerts by Jackson Browne and James Taylor. The “singer-songwriter” appellation is not only racist, as a rule–e.g., Smokey Robinson sang and wrote songs, as did Stevie Wonder and George Clinton–but their music largely codified boredom, celebrated narcissism, and encouraged people to sit down rather than stand-up.

Punk as a great refusal p-shawed such navel-gazing, and reclaimed the joy of dancing and the glory of interpretation with fantastic and–in the case of the ‘Mats–fantastically blasphemous cover songs. As they did on so many fronts, The Sex Pistols arrived early, and helped ensure successive generations would offer The Modern Lovers their due.

The Clash followed suit, in part, with more earnest adulation for their Black Atlantic musical forebears. (Check out the brilliance of Topper herein.)

The Ramones, too, were a helluva cover band, and Joey is so adorable live in their version of The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird”:

I don’t know how The Slits have so effectively escaped their due attention in punk annals, so let me make another nod in their direction, via their cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

Before Chrissie Hynde offered the greatest act of fandom-devotion to Ray Davies by having his baby, she offered a brilliant cover of The Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing.”

Right around that time, The (English) Beat took stock of their influences and dialed up a lovely cover of a late 60s by Smokey Robinson, in a time when even the best bands had to lip-synch through TV appearances.

Their comrades from Coventry also dialed up some brilliant covers–including this double-time tribute to Toots and the Maytals:

I’ll wrap up with one of the more poignant tracks, in which one of the shabbiest bands pays tithe to true masters of rock artifice:

If spring’s arrived in your neck of the woods, please send a bit of it to your brethren here in the midwest. Have yourself a week rich with melody and delight.

my favorite US rocknroll rebels, pt. III

Thanks again for tuning in, and while it’s short of an obsession, I’m still thinking about Color Me Obsessed. It has plenty of moments for Mat-fanatics and, with a more judicious edit, might have had the capacity to convert a few more nonbelievers. (The bespectacled guy on the couch (80-85 min.) who spoke with his hands: whoa.) Still, there’s nothing else like it, and the origin myth (truth?) was quite good. The Stinsons and Mars bang out a joyful noise in the former’s basement, and Paul-the-janitor eavesdrops, endears himself to the band, and chaos and beauty and pain and joy soon follow. It’s stories like this one and that of The Minutemen (We Jam Econo is awesome–check NetFlix streaming, too) that should inspire someone to recast the theory of intelligent design around the history of rocknroll. Could it really all be happenstance?

Obsessed provides a capable back-drop of music history, indicating which LPs, in terms of sales figures, served as the benchmarks during that era — Thriller and Slippery When Wet, among them. As you may know, Replacements ouevre includes  seven albums, The Shit Hits the Fans (a limited edition concert cassette), and the Stink EP, whose first pressings included LP jackets were decorated with hand-carved potato stamps. DIY, indeed. As I noted in the previous post about which efforts still rate:  Sorry Ma … has a smattering of fine moments, and Let It Be and after represents a remarkable run by a remarkable band. In those seven years (The Mick-Jones Clash lasted that long), they released four brilliant albums and another with brilliant moments, including their one “hit” single, “I’ll Be You.” This video opens with Westerberg talking about “the goop” poured into the mix of Don’t Tell a Soul, which proved much too slick for Mats-fanatics, then and now, as many interview subjects attested to. (Just for Mats’ fanatics: a Soul press kit for $20 shipped! Only one in stock, of course.)

One of the finest moments in Obsessed is the camera time of Matt Wallace, who produced Don’t Tell a Soul (1989), their penultimate LP, and his explanation of what happened to that album. Sire/Warner provided the tapes produced by Wallace and the Mats to Chris Lord-Alge, whose Midas touch had graced LPs by Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Carly Simon and Springsteen’s slickest tracks from Born in the USA (“Dancing,” “Cover Me,” and the title track). The key treatment employed here is called “chorusing,” in which a given track–e.g., Westerberg’s slighty-out-of-tune guitar–is duplicated, pitched slightly up, down, or both, and multi-tracked to produce that “shimmering sound” that is scarce to non-existent on the early LPs. The self-identified authentic Mats’ fans decry this development on film, and some indicate proudly how they opted out after Tim (hardly a sell-out album). I wager the directors sniffed out such (largely-white-male) nonsense in advance, and luckily found fans able to praise Soul, including a woman who testifies that if the shimmering sound got The Mats on the radio (verdict: yes), it was an ultimately good thing.

Westerberg knew all-too-well the politics of the authenticity police, and spoke eloquently circa 1988 about the risks of refusing to grow dynamically: you ran the risk of becoming a self-parody. Now Westerberg didn’t name names–and it pains me to write this, for I still love them dearly (okay maybe Johnny less so)–but I can’t help but wonder if he had The Ramones in mind. (Between 1982 and 1987, I have reason to believe The Ramones played the same set list hundreds of times.)

The finest bit in the film comes at the 85th minute, when Elaine Pan, “fan,” who looks to be in her early 30s, nearly goes to tears recalling the impact of the songs on her adolescence. The memories, still raw, arrest the words, but they pour forth haltingly in her testimony on the lessons in the gospel according to Paul: “It’s okay to not be perfect, it’s okay to be the loser, and it’s okay just to be yourself.” It’s a rich, chilling moment, and anyone still harboring resentment against Paul, Tommy, and Chris for carrying on without Bob in “Bob’s band” will be hard-pressed not to let it go, forever, once they see this clip.

So check out Color Me Obsessed, or get a copy for your Mats-devoted comrades.