“Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung” – P.T. Barnum.
Trouble Boys is a long overdue 400-page historical re-telling of the story of Minnesota’s greatest underachievers. Fans of The Replacements have gotten used to waiting longer than fans of most bands for things like anthology’s, documentaries and the predictable reunion tour. So of course, we had to wait almost 25 years for a complete biographical telling of their story. Written by Bob Mehr it starts with the dysfunctional family upbringing each of the four (Guitarist/Vocalist – Paul Westerberg, Lead Guitarist – Bob Stinson, Bassist – Tommy Stinson, and Drummer – Chris Mars) Minneapolis high school drop-outs were raised in and goes past their predictable breakup and beyond.
Growing up in Minnesota the stories of The Replacements were so farcical they almost seemed more myth than factual re-telling. I mean who would break into a record company and steal the master tapes to their own records and throw them in the Mississippi river? You don’t need to get far into Trouble Boys to realize the truth is more unlikely than the myth. By the end of the book, they no longer seem like a band that could have or should have attained greater success. On the contrary. About midway through you find yourself in a state of disbelief they achieved any level of success.
It’s not uncommon for bands to engage in self-destructive behavior. Those bands rarely make it out of the basement. The levels of self-sabotage told in this book only highlight how remarkable it is they managed to even attain a level of almost fame. As stated in the book; “A process was establishing itself. When it came to choosing a label, manager, booking agent, or producer, The Replacements would behave in horrible, offensive, alarming ways, and whoever survived was typically who they worked with.” At a label showcase gig at CBGB’s, Mat‘s manager Peter Jesperson tried to keep the news that major label rep’s would be in attendance away from the band for fear of self-sabotage. Of course, they did find out and rather than put on a blistering set they opened the show with “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and by the end of the set they had played snippets of 34 songs with only about half a dozen being Replacements songs.
Whether belittling DJ’s on the air, purposely trying to get kicked off the Tom Petty tour or the aforementioned tale of them throwing their master tapes into the Mississippi river, the entire book is filled with stories that make the success they did manage, all the more unlikely. There are also many examples of the spirit of Rock n Roll that seems to have long been forgotten. Reading the stories of their shows it’s hard to miss how predictable the live performance has become. I can’t think of the last time I attended a show where something unique and memorable happened. While the Mats‘ may have often made a show memorable for hostile reasons, I do think rock n roll used to be less predictable. And no proved that more than the Mats‘.
As with any Rock bio, there are stories of alcohol and drug excess and abuse. Culminating with the ouster of Bob Stinson for being too fucked up for The Replacements. A dubious distinction. In the beginning, the drinking reads more like irresponsible hi-jinx. But by the time you get to the pinnacle of their career in the late 80’s it no longer has the feeling of some sort of feat and it starts to feel sad. There is a weight to it. Plus the inevitable growing apart. Bands starting out are all for one. Eventually, people start wanting different things. Getting sober just before their last tour, it became clear to Paul Westerberg that he didn’t need alcohol to face the audience. He needed it to hide the disillusionment. “It came thundering down on me that, sober, I could face my feeling, which was ‘This is not any fun'”.
The story of The Replacements is one of rock’s most organic. These guys had no connections in the industry. They started out as four kids from south Minneapolis and went on to become one of alternative music, if not rock’s, most unsung heroes. Along the way alienating their audience and each other. At the end, you may find yourself wishing they were all still buddies but the real story is they never were. A reality, it seemed original manager Peter Jesperson took the hardest. I’m not sure The Replacements were a band destined for greater things if not for their own self-destructive tendencies. The giant middle finger they lived in was part of who they were. And part of what made them great also made them a band without a wide-ranging appeal. Taking that away would just neuter them. Maybe it’s better they weren’t for everyone. Were it not for who they were, they wouldn’t be the Mats‘.
Some may look at the story of The Replacements as ‘How-not-to’ guide. They’d be wrong. This is not a guide or some sort of warning of any kind. Trouble Boys is just the story of The Replacements. It’s well told and you should read it. Out now and available almost anywhere books are sold.