Project X Goes Looking For Some Replacements

replacements2.jpgAs part of Idolator’s continuing effort to geekily analyze every music chart known to man, we present a new edition of Project X, in which Jackin’ Pop editor Michaelangelo Matos breaks down rankings from every genre imaginable. After the click-through, a list from the 1995 Spin Alternative Record Guide provides a proverbial springboard to explain how a new history of the Replacements will leave you unsatisfied:

In 1995’s Spin Alternative Record Guide, Rob Sheffield began his overview of the Replacements’ catalogue by listing his Top 10 Paul Westerberg proverbs:

1. “Meet me any place or anywhere at any time now I don’t care/ Meet me tonight/ If you will dare, I will dare.” (“I Will Dare,” 1984)
2. “Lonely/ I guess that’s where I’m from.” (“I’ll Be You,” 1989)
3. “Bring your own lampshade/ Somewhere there’s a party” (“Swingin’ Party,” 1985)
4. “I hate music/ It’s got too many notes.” (“I Hate Music,” 1981)
5. “I’ll give you my jacket if you give me your glamour/ Gimme that racket, gimme that clamor.” (“Gimme Noise,” 1982)
6. “It beats picking cotton and waiting to be forgotten.” (“Bastards of Young,” 1985)
7. “You wish upon a star that turns into a plane.” (“Valentine,” 1987)
8. “I ain’t too good but I get practice by myself/ Forgot my one line so I just said what I felt.” (“If Only You Were Lonely,” 1981)
9. “Used to live at home/ Now I stay at the house.” (“Here Comes a Regular,” 1985)
10. “Yesterday’s trash/ Too bored to thrash.” (“Treatment Bound,” 1983)

The Replacements were the first band that made me realize that you could be popular, even famous to some degree, and still break up because you couldn’t stand it anymore. That’s not because I was a fan or, despite being from Minneapolis, because I was part of the band’s milieu–I was too young to have gotten into them while they were active. Instead I’d caught mentions of them in the local daily, seen a segment about them on a PBS special called The Minneapolis Sound (here’s the Hüsker Dü clip from that show), read Steve Pond’s feature in the June 1, 1989 Rolling Stone and, a year later, a sidebar in City Pages that the group was finished after a terrible show in Chicago. Boom. Done. Just like that.

Like a few people from Minneapolis I know, I sometimes resent the Replacements’ grip on the hearts of many Twin Cities residents. This doesn’t necessarily stem from any particular dislike of the band; it has more to do with the sentimentality that ‘Mats lore invariably comes doused in. Sure, all lore is doused in sentimentality. Still, the kind of self-defeating ironic triumphalism that in many ways the Replacements exemplified is one of those traits I find tiresome–about the Midwest generally, about the Twin Cities in particular, about punk rock as an ideal frequently enough. I understand it, and I’ve never entirely held it against the Replacements. Scratch that–I’ve never held it against their music. But I do have to remind myself occasionally how much I actually like their records. Let It Be is on the short list of greatest rock records ever made, never mind made in the city where I was born. But the legend can even get in the way of a masterpiece.

This sort of sentimentality saturates Jim Walsh’s new oral history of the band, The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting (Voyageur, $21.95), and it’s one of the book’s main problems. The other is its choppy flow. Oral histories read more effortlessly than just about any kind of biography; even when disorganized, they can be devoured quickly. Walsh’s book goes down speedily enough, but reading the first half, I kept thinking that the main reason I was able to follow it was that I’d already read the Replacements chapter in Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life. (All Over But the Shouting uses quotes from many outside sources, particularly the band itself, whose surviving original members didn’t talk to Walsh for the project, forcing him to rely on old interviews from a variety of places. Notably, Azerrad’s book isn’t one of them.) Why, I wondered, didn’t Walsh provide some kind of stand-alone timeline or intersperse some omniscient, italicized narrative, a la Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s Live From New York: The Oral History of Saturday Night Live?

I discovered why midway through the book. There, Walsh reprints an entire Replacements live-show history he’d written for his college newspaper on the eve of the five-night stand the band undertook in the tiny 7th Street Entry in October 1985 to promote their Warner Bros. debut, Tim. The piece wasn’t used–Walsh turned it in too late, and it was too long–but while the author disclaims its “warts and misspellings and green writing,” it actually helps put the half of the book that came before it into perspective. Too bad it follows 144 pages that could have used the coherence these concert synopses supply.

What’s most distracting, though, is Walsh’s over-reliance on fan testimonials. Around 15 percent of the book is given over to this stuff, and a lot of it reads essentially alike. Walsh isn’t wrong that one of the things that made the Replacements special was how their fans heard themselves in Westerberg’s lyrics, how deeply they identified with his reflexive-smartass outsider-looking-in stance. But every time another album comes around we get not a specific, well-placed tale or two about how Paul really understood, but a litany of them. In aggregate they’re a slog–like stumbling into the wrong group therapy session. (Can you imagine how tedious Legs McNeil, Jennifer Osbourne, and Peter Pavia’s porn history The Other Hollywood would have been if they’d interrupted the stories of Sharon Mitchell’s coke binges for a few quotes from dudes going on about how her girl-girl scenes totally changed their lives?)

There are, of course, some excellent stories collected here; as an oral history of the Replacements, it could hardly be otherwise. Substances are abused, the underage Tommy Stinson learns about life, the band blow hot and cold onstage–the usual stuff, sure, but at times vividly rendered. It’s also a kick to hear how giddy Westerberg became whenever he’d topped himself as a songwriter, from boasting about having come up with the hook line of “Within Your Reach” to insisting then-manager Peter Jesperson come over to hear a new tune Paul was certain to be a hit. (Jesperson didn’t go; when he heard “I Will Dare” a week later at a concert, he knew instantly that this was the song Westerberg had been talking about.)

But too often, All Over But the Shouting flaunts its own insularity. I don’t mean the exorbitant amount of local Twin Cities color (one of the book’s charms, actually); I mean the sense in reading it that something is missing–and that if you don’t already know what it is, too bad. That’s tedious enough to encounter in person, in a local music scene. In a biography, it just stinks.