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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A BEAUTIFUL MESS

In 1986 my brother and Brian Spears, separately but simultaneously, turned me on to The Replacements. I was hooked immediately. They were a perfect fit for me. The Replacements were refreshing; during a time when nearly everything in Rock was polished to perfection, the Mats had not a shit to give.

Notorious for disastrous gigs and absolute intoxication, the contrast of the brilliant songwriting of Paul Westerberg set a perfect dichotomy that spoke to me, as it did many others.

The album that was first thrust upon me by the previously mentioned parties - people whose taste I trusted implicitly, was the Sire Records debut, 'Tim'.






'Tim' marks a critical moment in the band's development, and is considered by many to be their best work. As previously noted, it was their major label debut, having released their first three records on the independent Twin Tone label. By this time two major developments had occurred that would greatly affect the band. Paul had become a great songwriter, and Bob had become a problem. Though Bob's guitar playing on 'Tim' is vital, by the time they recorded the follow up, 1987's 'Pleased to Meet Me', Bob was no longer in the band.

'Tim' was your quintessential College Radio success, and it brought them to another level regardless of, and despite the fact that they didn't really belong there. They could play well, but often they didn't. There would be on-stage band fights, both verbal and physical, and impromptu attempts covering tunes they didn't really know. It could be very entertaining, but it could also be very disappointing.

The record, however, did not disappoint.

The single was 'Bastards of Young', a brilliant ode to angst.

"God, what a mess, on the ladder of success
Where you take one step and miss the whole first rung
Dreams unfulfilled, graduate unskilled
It beats pickin' cotton and waitin' to be forgotten"

Uptempo, loud, an unstable, 'Bastards of Young' sounded like I felt much of the time in my early twenties.

The video is genius.

I never much cared for how the record kicks off. Although the opener, 'Hold My Life', and the second cut, 'I'll Buy', have grown on me over the years, I'm still not a big fan of the third song - and second single, 'Kiss Me on the Bus'.

The following eight songs, however, fell into heavy rotation on Jackson's turntable and cassette player.

'One Good Dose of Thunder' succinctly sums up cocaine use over a barrage of sublime volume rock.

"Goin' down t' the pool hall
Lookin' for the eight ball
When it comes, when it comes
Only want a little, you'll need a ton"

It was 'Waitress in the Sky' and 'Swingin' Part' that sealed the deal for Jackson.

'Waitress...' is a snarky swipe at flight attendants set over a simple acoustic arrangement, and it highlights Westerberg's masterful turn of a phrase.

"Sanitation expert and a maintenance engineer
Garbage man, a janitor and you my dear
A real union flight attendant, my oh my
You ain't nothin' but a waitress in the sky"

I think 'Swingin' Party' is the best song on the record. Set to a smoky jazz combo lounge act feel, 'Swingin' Party' is declaration of the righteousness of apathy, defeatism, and bad behaviour.

"Bring your own lampshade, somewhere there's a party
Here it's never endin', can't remember when it started
Pass around the lampshade, there'll be plenty enough room in jail

If bein' wrong's a crime, I'm serving forever
If bein' strong's your kind, then I need help here with this feather
If bein' afraid is a crime, we hang side by side
At the swingin' party down the line"

Lyrically 'Lay It Down Clown' isn't much, but it rocks well enough, and I never bothered to lift the needle when it came on.

'Left of the Dial' is superb. Watching 'Microdot' play this for me at TEDSTOCK was a highlight of my life. I think I know what this song is about, and I'd like to get some feedback on this. The Replacements previous record, 'Let it Be' was produced by Peter Buck of R.E.M., a band who was about to leap to the next level themselves. I have no actual knowledge to back up my theory, but I think that Paul felt abandoned by Peter after the project wrapped, and not too little envious of R.E.M.'s ensuing success.

"Read about your band in some local page
Didn't mention my name, you didn't mention my name
Sweet Georgia breezes, safe, cool and warm
I headed up north, you headed north

On and on and on and on
What side are you on?
On and on and on and on
What side are you on?

And if I don't see ya, in a long, long while
I'll try to find you
Left of the dial"

An excellent example of Westerberg's considerable talent comes in 'Little Mascara' where he manages, as he so often has, to soundly represent a personal condition, the condition of a human, complicated as we all are, in a few lines of verse.

"For the moon you keep shootin'
Throw your rope up in the air
For the kids you stay together
You nap 'em and you slap 'em in a highchair
All you ever wanted was someone to take care of ya
All you're ever losin' is a little mascara"

The album wraps with the superb 'Here Comes a Regular'. An acoustic guitar, with some help from some subtle keyboard padding is the sparse backdrop to a perfect character study which I'm sure doubles as self observation.

In '86 I was twenty-one, I hadn't logged enough time in any bar to be considered a regular, much less have any understanding of such a distinction and what the baggage attached might be. Paul did. Since that time I have become all too familiar with the phenomenon. Both in practice and observation. I can attest that Paul's observation, or testament of practice is spot on.

Well, a person can work up a mean mean thirst
After a hard day of nothin' much at all
Summer's past, it's too late to cut the grass
There ain't much to rake anyway in the fall

Sometimes I just ain't in the mood
To take my place in back with the loudmouths
You're like a picture on a fridge that's never stocked with food,
I used to live at home, now I stay at the house

And everybody wants to be special here
They call your name out loud and clear
Here comes a regular, call out your name
Here comes a regular,
Am I the only one here today

Well a drinking buddy that's bound to another town
Once the police made you go away
And even if you're in the arms of someone's baby now
I drink a great big whiskey to you anyway

And everybody wants to be someone's here
Someone's gonna show up never fear
Here comes a regular, call out your name
Here comes a regular,
Am I the only one who feels ashamed

And even alongside old sad eyes, who says
"Opportunity knocks once then the door slams shut"
All I know is that I'm sick of everything that my money can buy
A fool who wastes his life God rests his guts

First the lights, and the collar goes up,and the wind begins to blow
Turn your back, gonna pay you back last call
First the plants, the leaves, the grass and here comes the snow
There ain't much to rake here anyway in the fall"

At the time most of my friends didn't get it. I'd put the Replacements on during parties and the reaction was always cool. The people wanted 'Pour Some Sugar On Me'. They wanted slick, and The Mats were not slick.

The band would release two more records, 1987's 'Please to Meet Me', 1989's 'Don't Tell a Soul', and 1990's 'All Shook Down'. Bob was replaced by Slim Dunlap who was not in Bob's league, but I guess Paul was comfy with him.

It seems that after 'Tim', what was comfy for Paul was what the focus was on. I love both 'Please to Meet Me' and 'Don't Tell a Soul', but it was clear that The Mats were fast becoming the Paul Westerberg Band.

By 'All Shook Down' that was exactly the case. Paul had dissolved the band. The problem was Sire Records wasn't comfy with that. The band owed them another record, and a Paul Westerberg solo album was not what they had in mind. Paul was forced to release the record as a Replacements album. Chris left the band before a short lived tour, and the Replacements were then formally put to rest.

Chris went on to a solo career that, at least initially, was met with critical success. Paul has enjoyed a life after The Mats that has brought him creative control, unhampered sobriety, and, one would hope happiness. Tommy, in time, would find a home helping Axl Rose not finish 'Chinese Democracy'.

Bob died.

Slim has a band and can be seen playing in and around The Replacements hometown of Minneapolis.

Jackson still gives them plenty of spin time.

Comments:
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
So do you like The Replacements?;)
 
Great post. Great song. More takes on "Left of the Dial" here:

http://www.hitsville.org/2008/04/08/songs-about-rock-vi-left-of-the-dial/

http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=5087
 
Playing "Left of the Dial" was our pleasure, Ted. I'm just bummed that poor Mike had a head cold and couldn't sing. You should also know that Tedstock was the only time "Paper Airplane Crash" has ever been played live.
 
Dave, it couldn't have been better had Mike been well. It was a gift, and was taken as such.

So what are you guys gonna play at my 50th?
 
this post made my day (along with getting a replacements book to read which i will pass on to you when i am done)

and plenty of material for my lyric of the day post tomorrow

thanks

fred
 
I dated a girl from Minneapolis in college who turned me into a hardcore 'Mats fan in time to catch their last show, 7/4/91 in Chicago. It was a low-key affair - a daytime show in Grant Park - but it was still phenomenal. Random trivia: Material Issue was also on the bill that day - anyone remember Valerie Loves Me?
 
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