The theme of this issue was unexpectedly hard for me to write about.
Maybe that’s because for a good 15 years, my relationship with The Replacements was a private one. Is it weird to describe your connection to a band as “a relationship”? Maybe. Is it weird to never talk about that band even though so many of their songs make your heart feel like it will burst in a flurry of happiness and sadness and longing and that oh-fuck-that’s-exactly-how-I-feel-ness? Probably. Is it weird to think nobody else could ever possibly “truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts?”1 Well, since I’m well beyond my teen years, yeah, I guess that is kind of weird. I’m willing to admit that.
But I don’t think I’m alone.
Loving this particular band isn’t exactly a “dirty little secret,” but there is something kind of dirty and something sort of secrety about it. For one thing, I never know how to explain my attachment to the ‘Mats. It feels wrong to describe myself as a “fan,” and it’s not because I’m, like, some “SUPER FAN” who thinks the word “fan” doesn’t do my fanaticism justice. It’s just that my relationship with this band is different. It’s second-hand. It’s accidental. It’s solipsistic. And it’s tangled up in nostalgia.
Do you remember me long ago?/Used to wear my heart on my sleeve/I guess it still shows
I was first introduced to the The Replacements by way of 14 Songs, Paul Westerberg’s first official solo album. My memory for dates is horrible, but Wikipedia tells me it was released in 1993, which means that by the time I first heard it while cruising around in the passenger seat of my (then) boyfriend’s black, convertible Chrysler LeBaron, it had been out for a couple of years. I guess you could say I was a little bit late to the party. BTW, I just did a Google Image search for “1989 black convertible LeBaron,” and the car seems about one million times cooler in my memories. 14 Songs, however, is still just as cool. Probably cooler.
Anyway, this boyfriend was several years older than me, and in many ways, he was a terrible influence. He had dropped out of high school. He drank, he smoked, and he never, not even once, got me home before curfew. My parents obviously hated him, which, of course, made him that much more attractive to sixteen year-old me, and looking back, I can now completely understand why I was grounded for most of 1995.
Even with all the grounding, we still managed to figure out ways see each other, and it all seemed to revolve around music. Instead of trading love letters, we traded mixtapes. While other couples went to movies and dances, we went to concerts. But mostly, we just drove around a lot and listened to The Replacements. The jewel case for Tim was a permanent fixture on the floor of my VW Fastback, and I had both a Replacements sticker and a Hüsker Dü sticker peering out my back window. (Although, truth be told, to this day, the only Hüsker Dü song I really know is “Green Eyes.”) And, as we meandered our way through the mid-90s, “I Will Dare” was kind of an anthem for us.“Valentine” was a close runner- up.
If you were a pill, I’d take a handful at my will. And I’d knock you back with something sweet and strong.
Even the most tragic songs resonated because deep down, I think we both knew that this relationship had an expiration date. At the time though, we were too busy chasing the highs (and recovering from the lows) to ever think about the future. We were young.
Futures are for grownups.
We are the sons of no one. Bastards of young. We are the sons of no one. Bastards of young. The daughters and the sons...
Eventually, though, it all blew up one too many times and slowly fizzled out from there. And for a long time, I thought that my love of The Replacements was exactly the same as my one-time love for this boyfriend. So it became pretty painful to hear those songs, and I guess I eventually just stopped listening to them. That’s the nice thing about a band like The Replacements, you don’t have to roam the earth worried that you might accidentally hear them somewhere. That almost never happens.
So, imagine my surprise some fifteen plus years later when, having just moved to this midwestern-and-totally-foreign-to-me-city, my (now) husband and I are listening to the local public radio station and I hear this stranger saying,
I wanted to play a song by Grandpa Boy, which was an alter ego for a singer named Paul Westerberg, who listeners may know as the frontman for a band called The Replacements. So, that’s like a [laughs] a big explanation of who he is, um, and The Replacements were a really shambolic rock band from the 80s that were kind of like the, I don’t know, the next version of Faces or The Rolling Stones to, like, REM’s Beatles, I guess, for example. So, they were renowned for their drunkenness and always having the ability to ruin any opportunity that they had to be the next big thing.
And the song that plays is “Eyes Like Sparks,” and for the first time in this new town, something is both new and familiar--like an ex-pat who moves to France and finally runs into another English speaker. I have to keep listening. And, a couple songs later, that same stranger says:
So, that [last] song, there’s a line in it where [the singer] says, “I ain’t that good at saying things but I can tape you certain songs,” which is really true. And, like, aww man, I long for those days before it was so easy to make playlists, you know, when you had to make mixtapes. You know, they meant so much, there was so much thought into it… It was like a major thing. Major statements could be made, and that was definitely true for me. And this song, I thought kind of perfectly captured how I felt about that girl that I met when I was sixteen. And, so, I got this album, and she was going to Purdue (I was in Bloomington), so I bought an extra copy of it, and I drove up to put it underneath the windshield wiper of her car and then drove back… Yeah, that’s commitment. So, then, you know, I think that’ll all make sense more when you hear the song, but the song, it just, like, captured that story, and it kind of captured that… that longing, you know? And maybe, there’s something beautiful about maybe not getting the girl…
And as he says this, it rolls into “Disco 2000” by Pulp, and even though I don’t really know who this Matt Kelley guy is, I know exactly what he’s talking about. It’s somewhere in that moment that I realize that my love of The Replacements has very little to do with my memories of some ex-boyfriend and everything to do with my memories of myself, of having fun and getting in trouble, of my first job and my first car, of falling in love, of getting my heart trampled on and of getting over it, of “that longing,” you know?
And I guess that isn’t such a private thing after all.
So, that’s my long-winded way of explaining what this issue is all about. It’s about The Replacements, of course, but more than that, it’s about how “some silly little piece of music” can capture something so universal, how if you get The Replacements or if you get something out of The Replacements, you are somehow “in the know.” And I’m not sure exactly what we all “know,” but I’m pretty sure “that longing” is part of it. And, Matt’s right, there is something beautiful about it--something beautiful about maybe not being totally satisfied.