The heyday of The Replacements (whom I refuse to call ‘Mats’) was before my time, so much of my knowledge about them comes filtered through elder hipsters who go on about how awesome it was to be in on the Minneapolis music scene back in the 80’s. By the time I was hitting clubs back in the 90’s, the Replacements had broken up, and news about them was scarce. “I’ll Be You” would pop up on the radio occasionally, but Prince, Matthew Sweet and Sugar were getting all the airplay.
Grunge was king in the 90’s while I worked the midnight shift at a recording studio in Minneapolis, and habitually scanned the Reader and the City Pages for new and interesting bands. The Nixon Pupils, Johnny Clueless and Mile One were my main staples back then. I was playing solo-acoustic-dark-rock (like my heroes Neil Young and Stuart Davis) and my circle of friends coulda cared a whole lot less about the Replacements.
One particular night shift, I listened to “The Replacements A to Z” on KQ92, and thought they were pretty good. Eventually I purchased their CD compilation, “All for Nothing and Nothing for All” and what I was told was their definitive album, “Tim”.
It wasn’t until after I started enjoying the Replacements music that I started hearing the stories. Stories about a band that shone so brightly they burned a hole in the heart of Minneapolis. Every tale put a look on my face as if I had just taken a sip of Windex:
“They stole back their own master tapes from the record company, and tossed them in the Mississippi River?”
“They played ‘Hello Dolly’ over and over until everyone left?”
“They did entire gigs without finishing a single song?”
I felt like someone who just found out that so-and-so and you-know-who did you-know-what years after it happened. It’s like the entire city of Minneapolis kept these dirty secrets until they were safe to be discussed. But just how much of it was true?
The book is described as an Oral History. It’s written in quotes from a large number of people, including (some) members of the band. It’s interesting to read the different perspectives on key moments of the band’s history.
Readers should keep in mind that this is the current-day perception of the band, a conglomeration of The Replacements As Certain People Remember Them. There are some assumptions made, and there are undoubtedly people who either cannot or did not participate in the book. Those looking for the actual, official history of the Replacements might want to look elsewhere. But I think Jim Walsh wanted to capture the enduring spirit of the band, the parts that survive in people’s memories, the brightest and darkest moments.
However, the quotes of ‘oral history’ did make the book a disjointed read. It wasn’t till I was halfway through the book that I stumbled upon a glossary of names in the back, which makes the book easier to manage. Many of the quotes required that information to provide context.
It amazes me how hard the Replacements tried to sabotage their own success, and how everything they did simply made them more and more famous. It makes me think some bands are destined to be famous, and have no choice. The Replacements seemed to be dragged kicking and screaming into popularity, confounded by the personality of Paul Westerberg, which glares through the cracks of the writing.
After reading it, I can say that the Replacements deserve a book like this. Jim Walsh has done a great job. I’m glad I read it. It should be required reading for anyone who is in a bar band in Minneapolis, because whether you know it or not, you are living under the shadow of a glorious tragedy.