The Replacements, one of the biggest punk rock bands of the 1980s, is planning to reunite this summer at Riot Fest 2013, a multi-band tour heading to Toronto, Denver and Chicago.But what I didn't really expect was that my professional and musical lives would collide quite so directly. This is a column by Matt Reed, the recently-outed longtime author of one of the most realistic columns in academia, Confessions of a Community College Dean from Inside Higher Education. It's not a place I'd usually go for music writing, but Reed is a few years ahead of me professionally, and obviously inhabits a comparable generation and field. I read him like an acolyte: he's the mentor I've never met.
An active band from 1979 to 1991, the members of The Replacements have not performed as a single live band since July 4, 1991. That last show, performed in Grant Park, Chicago, has become legendary -- roadies gradually replaced band members on stage until all were gone, leading to the nickname "It Ain't Over 'Til the Fat Roadie Plays."
Technically, The Replacements never broke up. The band members just stopped playing.
So imagine my surprise when I saw this terrific piece:
My affection for Westerberg/Mats music is based partly on the music, and partly on the persona. Westerberg (fun fact: in the movie Heathers, the high school is named after him) is a distinct type: he’s a talented screwup who succeeds despite himself and fails despite his talent. (One writer described the Replacements as “the little band that could, and didn’t.” That’s about right.) The Mats’ sound, when they were sober enough to play, conveyed both an ambition for greatness and an indifference to practice. Their aesthetic dictated that an album with such undeniable classics as “Satisfied” [we know it's Unsatisfied: he gets that right later in the column. --Ed.] and “Answering Machine” also had to have “Gary’s Got a Boner,” which sounds pretty much like you’d think it would.I'v been fearing for a while that my move to academic administration--which kicked in about a year and a half ago and has put the kibosh on all kinds of things--meant that I wasn't exactly ME anymore, if that makes sense. But I find Reed's reminiscences strangely comforting.
I discovered the Replacements in my twenties, and still think of them as capturing something about that age. They veered uncertainly from eloquent longing (“Skyway,” “Left of the Dial,” “Answering Machine”), to narcissistic drama (“The Ledge,” “Talent Show”), moping (“Someone Take the Wheel,” “Here Comes a Regular”), and stupid restless energy (“I Don’t Know,” “Alex Chilton”). Unburdened by musical competence but with a telling weakness for catchy hooks, they hid vulnerable self-awareness under bluster and jokes. Contradictory as hell, but accurately so, and full of good lines (“you’ve got a voice like the last day of Catholic school,” “how do you say good night to an answering machine?”). They made the best anti-video ever (“Bastards of Young”), and their concerts were famously feast-or-famine, sometimes both. (At a show I caught in ‘91, they delivered a show-stopping version of “Alex Chilton,” and followed it with about thirty seconds of a cover of “All Right Now,” before stopping because Paul forgot the words. It was an exemplary ‘Mats moment.)