There is a new book out called “The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History” by Minneapolis super writer Jim Walsh, Its been making a lot of head lines here in my hometown, well because it’s the Replacements and it’s their hometown too. Here they are the stuff of legend, but I guess like all legends they didn’t start out that way.
What makes the Replacements difficult for me is that in the 90’s I worked for the label that launched them Twin/Tone or as it was know the TRG (Twin/Tone Records Group), during the Non-famous years post Suburbs, post Soul Asylum, post Babes in Toyland, and of course post Replacements. We did however have Lifter Puller, Brother Sun Sister Moon, Savage Aural Hotbed and some other bands that 90’s survivors might remember fondly I was the Director of Artist and Product so my task was to discover and develop bands. The Replacements were like this big drunken God that all of our bands would get measured against, and they would all suffer in the comparison.
Imagine Guns and Roses, biggest band in the world, Slash at the time worlds most famous guitar player quits and starts his own band “Slash’s Snake Pit” and you’re the Bass player. That is to some extent the definition of career suckatuide. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re a great bass player it will never be Guns and Roses. Now you don’t know this right away so you try, and then you try harder and you may get to be really good but it all gets lost not because of what you are, but because of what you are not.
The Replacements became sort of the gold standard that Mpls Indie Rock was Judged by well them and Hüsker Dü, and Soul Asylum and the Jayhawks …Ok there are a lot of bands that fall into that category but the Mats stand out a bit more today if for no other reason there are a number of books about them currently in the market.
I first heard about the Replacements from my friend Greg Holmka, he was the cool punk rock guy in Coon Rapids complete with fin Mohawk and Agnostic Front shirt, while I was token wanabe punk guy in carefully distressed clothes from Fridley. He started dating a girl I went to school with at Totino-Grace; she was very preppie and dated him mostly to annoy her parents. Greg had seen the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag (before Rollins ruined it.) and turned me on to the wonders and joys that were the Circle Jerks (ok that sounds really wrong), even the guy at Sun’s head shop knew him by name.
Greg became my Guru, I thought he could help leave my little private school life and discover the true punk rock me; he was the guy who showed me how to draw the perfect anarchy symbol on the left leg of my self ripped jeans, he showed me where to buy the DK button that would go on the right sight of my sharpie laden jean jacket, he showed me how to be a non conformist. Which in 1984 meant looking like every other angry at their parents fourteen year old. If only teenagers in youth movements could understand Irony, but then I suppose we never would have gotten EMO.
The entirety of my “Hardcore phase” was six months, it was a short tenure mostly because I got bored with a three chord vocabulary, and looking like part of a ragamuffin army, soon enough I was to leap on the much more embarrassing train of Goth, but for now I was still searching and destroying.<
One day while watching Repo Man for the sixtietrillionth time, Greg put on a cassette of a local punk band that he thought I would like and stop playing REM incessantly (which apparently could mess with my punk credibility), the tape was Let it Be, and the band the Replacements.
On first impression, I hated them. Not just dislike mind you, but truly hated them. The record seemed sloppy, and downright silly (Gary’s got a Boner?!). Perhaps had been recorded while being drunk- It was just so amateurish. The big question is were they Punk? This is the sort of things we debated for hours, like some sort of hipster student council, at the Zantigo’s downtown. I was confused, everyone called them Punk; they weren’t hardcore, these were songs and they weren’t political, Regan wasn’t mentioned once. They weren’t new wave; there was none of that polish and sheen. And they sounded nothing like the Clash, Siousxe or the Damned. That first listening experience left me with the very solid impression that they were the crappiest band in the world, and would never have the importance of a Jody Foster’s Army. I pushed the stop button on the tape, and put on a Die Kreuzen record.
Greg forgot the Replacements tape at my house; it sat in the stereo cabinet of our suburban Fridley home for about two months. By this point I had discovered the Velvet Underground, and would literally listen to nothing else. It was during this period of time that I had a very bad reaction to far too many caffeine pills, which in turn convinced me that I had been dosed with speed. Which lead to me doing many stupid things, not the least of which was running around the block in my boxer shorts singing “Run Run Run Jig a Jag a Jew-Scared to death of you, Say what you do”. My friend John who had convinced me to do this in the first place coaxed me inside thinking the best way to get me to stop running and jumping about was to put on some music –that wasn’t the Velvets. Of course he put in the Replacements cassette, this time however, I didn’t hear it as the mess it originally seemed to be. This time “I Will Dare” made sense. This time I too would dare. It was a golden moment, where the album was perfection. It was an epiffany that lasted until the pizza came, and was quietly forgotten in a post speed haze.
Greg took the tape back later that week, but wanting to try and recapture that moment I went to the Wax Museum at the Northtown Mall and bought the new Replacements record “Hootenanny”. I hated it. I didn’t play it again till 1989.
Eventually I did come to understand their genius; it took a long road trip to Chicago during which the driver played the entire catalog. It was the right context and I was now in possession of a much wider musical vocabulary; I was walking in the Skyway, after being colored impressed. Hell I even liked Gary’s got a Boner.
Sometimes my favorite music takes the longest to like. Maybe because it’s not about when it comes out rather when we are ready to hear it. In 1984 I just wasn’t ready, in 1994, well that was a different story.
During the interviews for the job at Twin/Tone the owner asked me what my favorite Twin/Tone golden age release had been, I responded with the Wallets. I never brought up the Replacements once during any of our conversations, when he asked me what I thought of them; I said they were my least favorite band, possibly of all time. Surprisingly they hired me.
Sacrificing bands to the shadow of long gone gods: pretty much how I spent the 90’s.
Not that we knew it at the time, we were just making records and playing shows and hoping to get some fans and make some scratch. It’s only after the game that we know why the play didn’t work, at the time you are far busy to see the game for what it is.
I am not suggesting that this is a conscious effort on the groups part, rather it’s an influence woven into the subconscious culture of the city. The bands today and even those of recent yesterdays don’t necessarily consider those bands of yore; but the press does. As does the rest of the machinery that makes up a scene: the stores, the clerks, the clubs, the bookers, the elder statesmen scenesters (read those who are over 30 and still go out); this is how the new talent gets measured and judged – will they add up? Sadly, the answer is almost always no. No band starts out ass a legend, but that is how they will always be compared. We will never have another Beatles, another Rolling Stones, a Hüsker, or Replacements, for the same reason we will never get another Einstein or Edison.
They got to the field first, and have the benefit of history washing away their sins, and reinforcing there deeds true or not.