Trouble Boys: The True Adventures of The Replacements — BOOK REVIEW
By Bob Mehr
I’ll give it to you straight. If you’re a die-hard Replacements fan, don’t read this book; it will make you hate the band you thought you loved. If, on the other hand, you’re a rubber-necking reader who loves one good car crash after another then strap yourself in for a rough ride with some of the worst people, and unprofessional musicians, you’ll never have to spend any imaginary facetime with. Paul Westerberg comes off as the biggest asshole you’ve never met. That’s saying something considering all the notorious assholes out there. Sure, I suppose G.G. Allen was worse but he had to good graces to die young.
When the book gets around to the Mats meeting Dave Edmunds, one of the band’s heroes from day-one (yes the book’s title comes from a Dave Edmunds song), the British rocker can barely contain himself from kicking all of their asses because he hates them freaking so much. Heavens knows he had good reason. I just wish he had done; someone needed to do it. Far too many people suffered these fools quietly, even if never gladly. Considering Westerberg’s proclivity for religiously fucking up every personal relationship and business opportunity ever put before him, Edmunds should have put this incorrigible fucker out of his misery. Dave Edmunds only gets a couple of sentences in the book, but he’s by far my favorite person in it.
Westerberg comes across as such a consciously uncultured idiot that you’ll want to throw the book across the room. He was famous for saying, “We’re not tourists, we’re touring” as an excuse to never do cultural things like go to the Louvre Museum when the band was in Paris.
There are anecdotes a plenty. When a fan approached Westerberg to gush about how his music changed his life, Westerberg stuck his straw in his coke, filled it, and blew the sticky liquid all over the fan’s face. Classy.
When a fan gave a beautiful handmade bass guitar that he slaved over for months creating to Tommy Stinson, the band’s bass player smashed it to smithereens on stage during their performance and threw the remaining scraps into its creator’s face in the audience. Just wow.
Author Bob Mehr drank plenty of the Replacements Kool-Aid to be able to describe Paul Westerberg as the “preeminent post-punk songsmith of the ‘80s.” Sure “16 Blue” is a respectable song, and “Alex Chilton” is a catchy pop tune, but nothing in The Replacements’ cannon of Westerberg-penned songs holds a candle to (here we go) Warren Zevon, Iggy Pop, Jonathan Richman, The Damned, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Johnny Thunders, Jim Carroll, Stiv Bators, The Buzzcocks, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Wreckless Eric, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, or Robyn Hitchcock. “Preeminent post-punk songsmith” indeed. Sit down and shut up.
I’ll go one better and say that the Replacements never had a lick of style to begin with. Wearing overalls isn’t just bad taste, it’s imbecilic. It was always one of the reasons I was never impressed by the band. Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers looked incredible onstage because the band dressed great and dripped with attitude. Take a look at the cover for D.T.K. and you’ll see what I mean. The Replacements were rarely ever even in tune.
Listen to The Replacements’ “Talent Show” to hear what arrested development sounds like. There’s a huge difference between a brilliant 1983 Jonathan Richman song like “That Summer Feeling” as compared with “Talent Show” from 1989. The Replacements were too busy getting shit-faced drunk and tearing up tour busses and nice rooms to begin to mature as people or as musicians. Even Johnny Thunders, who Westerberg slagged off in his crappy little ditty “Johnny’s Gonna Die” (with a line about Thunders “knows a few chords”) had to suffer an earful from Tommy Stinson about Thunders’ cabaret act with a horn section and a busty backup singer. I saw that Johnny Thunders tour, and it put any show the Mats ever performed to shame. Johnny was a hopeless junkie, but he was 1000 times the entertainer than Westerberg ever was.
“Trouble Boys: The True Adventures of The Replacements” is well researched if redundant; it could have used another editorial once-over. The band was doomed from the start due to elements of mental illness and Paul Westerberg’s fascination with failure that he imposed on those around him. I’m still happy to hear a Mats song come on my Pandora, but I’m not impressed by their songs anymore. They weren’t merely terminal professional amateurs; the Replacements were just failure-infatuated assholes.