Sunday, May 15, 2016

Trouble Boys: the True Story of The Replacements

Like books, music is a thing I try never to deny myself. There was always music in my house growing up. I started plunking a guitar at 12, got my first bass and amp as a bar mitzvah gift from my family, and I still play today.

In the 80's, I began to absolutely devour music. The punk explosion and the post-punk and new wave that came after truly spoke to me. The difference today is you can hear practically anything, anytime. Scarcity is a thing of the past but back then, I couldn't afford all the music I wanted and so we all borrowed cassettes from friends and "dubbed" them on the ubiquitous dual tape decks of the decade. That was a time when the major labels lamented that "home taping is killing the music industry". Actually, those dinosaurs went extinct more recently.
The Replacements were a band I had heard of but never heard much. My freshman year, a kid down the dorm hall lent me his cassette with Tim on one side and Let It Be on the other. While there were elements I liked, their music just didn't reach me and I moved on.

A few years later, The 'Mats played a sizable venue on a Saturday night and then stumbled across the street to the much smaller joint where my band was playing. As we took a break between sets, I walked up and told them they were welcome to take the stage if they wanted. Wasting no time, they immediately got shirty with me, telling me they'd blow us off the stage. In the parlance of times I could only think, "Well duh"! We were a bar band playing for small change and sandwiches. They were pros with records and tours and a legendary reputation for being drunk and pugnacious. I was merely extending my hand to a fellow, albeit much bigger, band and in their customary fashion, they bit it. I wrote them off for good.

Years later, for reasons unknown, it clicked and The Replacements finally spoke to me. I had never known much about them, just their music and that infamous reputation. Trouble Boys: The True Story of The Replacements by Bob Mehr gives it to us straight and exhaustively, clocking in at 435 pages and a tiny font size that vexes a man my age.  Mehr, a veteran music journalist, writes nimbly and with authority. He was able to secure the surviving 'Mats, including the famously aloof Paul Westerberg, along with friends, family, fellow scenesters, and those behind the scenes, to tell all the stories that make up this much larger tale.

The trouble with Trouble Boys is that I don't think I can finish it. Not because of the length nor am I squeamish or prudish but because it's so achingly sad and I'm only as far as the band recording their breakthrough album. We already know how it ends--they never really "make it", they grow resentful of each other which leads to a terribly acrimonious break-up (is there any other kind?), Bob dies, and none of them rebound. While they re-grouped a few years back for a few festivals, it's not the same nor can fans expect it to be but to read another 200+ pages about their prolonged downward spiral is just too much for me. The tales of staggering drug abuse and boozing, the self-sabotage and self-destruction, the bitterness and pain they cause themselves and each other will only get worse and I just can't stomach it.

Please don't read this as a book I didn't like. I did indeed. ‘Mat’s fans will love it. Mehr is a writer good enough to make me put down his book because the story he writes so well causes me to flinch and cringe at the seemingly endless pain that shrouded The Replacements and their inevitable demise.