Thursday, November 15, 2007

I'm In Love, With That Song...

It's not everyday that a large, photo-filled, hardcover book about your favorite band of all-time is delivered to your home. By courier, no less. But that was the case yesterday when the long-awaited ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTING: An Oral History arrived on my doorstep.

I first heard the 'Mats back in 1985 when I was doing a radio show at Drexel's WKDU. My show that semester aired on Saturday afternoons sandwiched between a boyfriend/girlfriend team that wore black turtlenecks and Ginny, an older DJ who I'll always associate with the Comsat Angels.

And introducing me to The Replacements.

A caller phoned in a request for "Gary's Got a Boner" from 'Let it Be' and when I couldn't find the LP on the shelves I mentioned it to Ginny who was there early pulling records for her show. She informed me that the record had been lifted from the station as had more than one replacement copy (no pun intended). That, she said, was the sign of a good record and I should probably give the band a listen. She thought I'd dig their mid-American rock sound.

Little did she know the Pandora's Box she was opening. I picked up a copy of 'Let it Be' before I got on the bus back to Jersey and threw it on the turntable as soon as I got home. I played it and played it again. And played it again. And again. Within days I'd picked up all their other albums and was making compilation tapes for anybody who would listen.

Up until that time I'd been searching for a musical identity. My tastes were all over the place and still are, but I didn't really have a sound or a band that I could call "mine". Sure, I liked the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and Ramones but I was hardly a punk. I dug the new wave represented by Missing Persons and A Flock of Seagulls, but I was doomed to a lifetime of hair like Chachi – there would be no cool 'dos in my future.

But The Replacements were a different story. They were about my age and their music was a pastiche of all the genres I'd grown up on thrown into a blender. Listen closely and you could hear Top 40 pop. And KISS. A little bit of country. And Black Flag.

Pretty soon I was championing the band to everybody I knew. I was, for lack of a better term, a Replacements Evangelist and looking back it was probably pretty obnoxious. For me there were the Mats... and all other bands fell somewhere behind them. Each record seemed to arrive at a crossroads in my life and like every other fan of Paul Westerberg I felt like his lyrics were speaking directly to me.

I still have a fat manila folder filled with articles about the band pulled from newspapers and magazines. At one point I even entertained the idea of writing a book about them myself and promptly shelved it because who else would read it?

It's more than 20 years since I "discovered" The Replacements that winter afternoon and they remain my all-time favorite band. I don't continue to labor under the misconception that they never recorded a bad song, and the bandmates' solo work has been hit or miss at best. (Call me crazy but I think Slim Dunlap's first solo disc – 'Old New Me' – may be the best of all the post-breakup albums and his second one ain't bad either.)

Reading the preface to the book last night I couldn't help but remember my own encounters with the band over the years. The first came in 1987 when they were touring in support of the great 'Pleased to Meet Me' (which flip flops with 'Tim' as my favorite, depending upon my mood). We'd arranged an interview at the radio station and I was going to conduct it. Though station rules prohibited smoking and drinking in the recording studio we threw both out the window and stocked the room with plenty of ice cold beer and didn't bat an eye when Westerberg pulled out a smoke and lit it up as he grabbed my notepad from my hands and hid my questions.

Though it was more than 20 years ago I can remember it like it was yesterday... Slim, drummer Chris Mars and Paul cracking jokes and avoiding questions they didn't want to answer by cackling "So how about them Phillies?" Tommy Stinson, his hair spiked to an unnatural size and wearing checked orange pants, getting up in the middle of the interview because I'm pretty sure he was annoyed. The band drinking and smoking and seeming to have a good time, so good that we were later informed by their record company that they weren't allowed back to the station on future tours. (I have a transcript of the interview somewhere and will have to dig it out.)

It was also one of the few times in my life that I allowed the "fan" in me to overrule the "journalist" in me. I've interviewed more than my share of celebrities, actors, directors and musicians over the years, and I've always felt compelled to maintain an air of professionalism. But that day in 1987 was a different story. I lived and breathed the Replacements and though I felt like a dork doing it (and still do) I got Westerberg and Mars to sign my promo 12" of "Alex Chilton." (Slim told me "You don't want my autograph" and Tommy never returned from his trip to the bathroom.)

Though I've sold off a good deal of my 'Mats-abilia over the years, that signed, framed 12" remains one of my prized possessions.

Oddly enough, I'd encounter the band again years later thanks to Ginny, the former DJ who had first told me to give them a listen. As I said, they'd been banned from the station and our repeated interview requests had been turned down. As it turned out, though, Ginny was now working for Warner Bros. and had the unenviable task of acting as their "handler" during their spin through Philly.

Running into her before their show in support of 'Don't Tell a Soul' she told me that they'd be hanging out at a local bar after the gig. Sure enough that's where they were and at one point I found myself in a booth with Westerberg, Stinson and two women, drinking red wine we "bought" with tickets they seemed to have an endless supply of.

At one point Paul got up and sang a couple Doors covers with the local band playing to one side of the bar while Tommy continued to hold court in the booth. Mars and Dunlap stood back, far from the melee surrounding their bandmates and it was the first time it dawned on me that the band would not be together forever. You could sense a schism even in that smoky, boozy room in Upper Darby, PA.

A few years later that schism would open wide. Mars left or was dismissed from the band he helped form. Paul was pushed further and further into the role of frontman, a fact I always assumed bothered Stinson. I think Slim was just happy to play. Original guitarist Bob Stinson died and dreams of a reunion featuring the band's first lineup were dashed.

These days I'm a far cry from the drunken lout who screamed at a couple of "new" Replacements fans during a show at the Tower Theater. They didn't know "Another Girl, Another Planet" by The Only Ones – a favorite cover performed by the band – and the beer and Cisco and hatred for my then-girlfriend coursing through my veins spilled over as I let loose on them. How dare they worm their way into my inner circle? Where were they in 1985 when I was bumming smokes off cute girls and taking photos of the band at Penn's Houston Hall?

These days I'm more likely to get choked up as I sing "Achin' to Be" to my daughter or feel a rush as "Message to the Boys" comes up on my iTunes. I'm looking forward to reading the book and hearing what other people have to say about their memories of the band, but like many other fans I'll always have my own.


Synd-e said...

Dude, what a beautiful post. And I don't mean that in a snarky way.

With the release of the book, I've been feeling the same warm fuzzies about the music again.

And as far as the '89 debacle in UD, you forgot to mention the question you asked Tommy about Superman vs. Batman. But I'll let you tell it.

Dan said...

Jesus... that whole night is such a weird, fuzzy blur but I still remember large parts of it. If I remember correctly I asked Stinson who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman. Around this time I also had a tendency to ask people if a team of basketball players came down from another planet and the fate of the Earth hung in the balance, who would be their starting five. Alcohol and drugs are bad kids.

Synd-e said...

Actually, many parts of that night were incorporated in the final script that I had to write for D. Jones' screenwriting class. Wow. I haven't thought about writing that for about 15 years. Damn, we're getting old.

Unknown said...

I was at that 1987 buddy had won front row tickets from a radio station. I didn't know the Replacements except for the new album and I still had a great time. One of the all time regrets of my music-fan life is that I drank so many beers before the show in my friend's Jeep that I had to go to the bathroom and puke my guts out in the middle of the show. I was in high school, what did I know. Of course now that I think about it, that was the way the Replacements would have preferred it...

Dan said...

I actually have a tape of that 87 show at the Chestnut Cabaret. When I get my USB tape deck I'll digitize it. Funny... I think half the people at that show were under age and drunk.