Rusty's World

Rusty’s Reading List 2017 | May 6, 2017

The Replacements- trouble boys Book

This one if a bit different.
On this reading list, when I finish a book I post it here, usually with a few comments, but nothing I would call a real review.
This isn’t a review either.
The book just made me remember things. And think about things. And feel sad about things.

My first exposure to The Replacements came via Brent Bambury and Brave New Waves. BNW was a show that ran on CBC radio late nights from 1984 to 2007. I listened to it around 1985 and 1986 as a kid who had about reached his fill of MuchMusic and could never stand mainstream radio but was begging for real music. It is a cliché but I was a pained soul looking for anything that felt like it could understand. Teen angst, sure, but it is definitely real when you are living it.

Bambury played ‘alternative music’. I was already a fan of bands like The Smiths and The Cure – bands that skirted the line between popularity and the fringes of the industry. BNW took it just one step further. It was through this radio show – which I dutifully recorded every night so it became my Walkman mainstay – I learned about Bauhaus, Billy Bragg, Linton Kwesi Johnson, The Clash (beyond the relatively mainstream Combat Rock), and lots more. The first time I heard (and recorded) a Replacements song was ‘Swinging Party’, which meant I came at the band from a different angle than the post-punk roots that many people did. Next was ‘Waitress in the Sky’. I dug these songs, but other than being stuff in my Walkman, they did not drive me to find more.

I graduated high school in 1987 and spent a year at Camosun College. I finally was able to pick up CFUV (the University of Victoria’s radio station) so I was not stuck just listening to late night CBC. I was still spinning my wheels, though. Getting out of high school did not allow me to turn the corner. I was still drifting through the world with no idea how to move forward. My friend Shawn and I spent most of our evenings just driving around in his Dad’s Chevette – doing nothing – eating awful 7-11 cheeseburgers and listening to music on my stereo, which rode in my lap in the passenger seat. (His dad’s car didn’t have a tape player.)

Somewhere in there, I picked up ‘Pleased To Meet Me’.  I remembered the band from those CBC tapes and it became my current favourite album. I listened to it a lot, both on my own and as part of our Chevette soundtrack.

A year later, I had moved to Ottawa, failed at trying to get anything out of University, and was working at a store called Arthur’s. It was mostly a comic store by that point but also traded in used books, records, tapes, and – as a relatively new addition – CDs.

I didn’t yet own my own CD player. My roommate Wayne had one and Shawn and I would fall asleep every night that previous summer listening to Simon & Garfunkle’s Greatest Hits. (Wayne and I had a one bedroom apartment where I slept in the living room. When Shawn moved in he also set up shop in the living room until we got a bigger place with the three of us and Wayne’s brother Ken.) Rockstar life. 🙂

But Arthur’s had a CD player and during the evening shifts, I could play anything I wanted from the used CDs we had for sale. A lot of what people brought it was the standard, popular radio stuff, but it was through these CDs that I discovered Tom Waits. (At first we played ‘Frank’s Wild Years’ because it was funny. Soon I realized that it was brilliant.) I also gained an appreciation for Branford and Wynton Marsalis.

At some point, someone sold us three Replacements CDs – ‘Hootenanny’, ‘Let It Be’, and ‘Tim’.

Since I was already a fan from ‘Pleased to Meet Me’, these CDs joined my evening rotation and then I bought them before I stopped working at the store. The albums blew my mind. They joined groups like Husker Du and The Jam in my ‘constant rotation’.

Now I could see the evolution of the band, from their early (at least what I called early at the time, having no idea that ‘Hootenanny’ was actually their third record), through to them getting a little slicker and more… produced.

I already LIKED the band. Now I LOVED the band.

After spending a lot of my teenaged years with fairly electronic music (I don’t mean it by today’s usage of the term. I mean things like Depeche Mode and New Order. Drum machines and keyboards dominating), I was now really turned on to the ‘garage rock’ aesthetic – something I still really dig.

And the LYRICS! These guys were talking about real shit, hidden in among the punk chords and lambast. Songs like ‘Answering Machine’ and ‘Here Comes A Regular’ really jumped out from amongst the guitars… but when they rocked, they could do that too!

The rep that went with the band… I was mostly unaware of any of it. I just liked the music. I read somewhere that Bob Stinson left because the band was getting too slick for him and he preferred a more punk rock vibe. (The latter was kind of true, the former, not so much.) Later I heard that their concerts were epic.

I assumed that this meant that they were really good.

Later, I started grabbing up whatever I could find by them (including Westerberg’s solo stuff, Bash & Pop, whatever), which also meant ‘The Shit Hits the Fans’ and discovered that… maybe no. Their concerts sounded like an absolute mess.

Somewhere along the way I started referring to them as my favourite band. Which they are, though I still didn’t really know that much about them.

On a parallel track, I quite like biographies of artists. My friend Jason left a copy of ‘Scar Tissue’, the Anthony Keidis bio, when he stayed here and I devoured it, even though I am not a huge Red Hot Chili Peppers fan. I read an R.E.M. bio and when I posted it on this blog I said that I wished there was one like that for the Replacements.

I read of the existence of this book in the year-end issue of either Mojo or Uncut and then I saw Peter Simpson say good things about it on Facebook. I knew I wanted it and Ruthanne knew it too so she bought me a copy for my birthday.

I have spent the last couple of weeks reading it.

It was difficult.

These were the guys I was such a big fan of? They were awful. Angry, nasty people who took self-destructive to a whole new level. They constantly had people trying to help them become successful and share their music with more people and the band just came doing their level best to destroy it. They were drunks and juvenile delinquents (and I don’t just mean Tommy).

But the further into the book I got, the more I saw that this was a group of really damaged individuals.  How could I reconcile the band that methodically destroyed everyone near them with the people who performed songs about being ashamed of a barfly life? Or singing about loneliness?  Or about watching a fellow performer drive himself to death?

Because they are those people and don’t know how to deal with it.

It WAS the damage that created the art, even as it destroyed the people.

Part way through I had this image from the movie ‘Bird’ (the Charlie Parker bio starring Forrest Whittaker), where Parker was going to undertake a procedure to alter his behaviour, which may have also destroyed his creative drive. His wife successfully stopped them from doing it, because without his creative drive, he was no longer Charlie Parker.

It made me wonder, would Paul Westerberg have been able to write all of those brilliant songs if he was not also plagued by the demons that beset him and his friends? Could he have written ‘The Ledge’ and ‘Here Comes a Regular’ if they didn’t also cause him to break down in the recording studio and go diving back into the bottle?

And if he could have chosen to be emotionally healthy and stable OR a creative genius, which would he choose?

It is almost a ‘joke’ in the spoken word poetry scene that trauma is rewarded. It is the ‘joke’ part that annoys me because it really makes light of the things that drive many people to create. It isn’t that poets need trauma. The traumatized (at least some of them) need poetry. Or music. Or art. Or any other way they can make sense of the roiling, seething, mixed up emotions and energy that never truly make their way out of their brains.

I can honestly say that I have never been as self-destructive as anyone you will find in this book, but becoming an artist has made be dredge up some painful things that otherwise would have stayed buried. Was it for the better? I think so. Confronting these things can help us make better sense of the world. But that was me.

Was it better for Bob Stinson?


Books read in 2017

Trouble Boys – The True Story of the Replacements – Bob Mehr
A Magical Mystery Tour – Inside the Coach House Press
Arc Poetry Magazine #80
Dancing Alone – William Hawkins
Peter F. Yacht Club #24
Canticles I (MMXVI) – George Elliott Clarke
Touch the Donkey #9
Touch the Donkey #12
Arc Poetry Magazine #81
The Emperor of Water Clocks – Yusef Komunakaa
Warhorses – Yusef Komunyakaa
The Mosquito Coast – Paul Theroux
Guff Ink – Wes Ryan
Hurting God – Rita Ann Higgins

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