After years of living in squalor on the road and playing countless gigs for little pay and sparse crowds, most bands break out to a larger audience that enables them to live a life of luxury. The tour buses grow larger, the venues grander, and the public adoration more intense.
Then there’s the Replacements, a group of Minneapolis punk legends who refused to grow up, refused to quit drinking and refused to attain success. In a ten-year span (1981-1991), the band managed to squander every legitimate shot at fame in riotous fashion. They were banned from Saturday Night Live; they would drunkenly stumble through cover songs they didn’t know in front of record label executives; they played “dodge-knife” (think dodgeball, but with knives) and scared Metallica while recording Don’t Tell A Soul, and forced at least one bus driver to quit his job and become a born-again Christian.
Ultimately they became one of the most influential punk bands of all time and recorded some of the most beloved music of the 1980s despite their appetite for self-destruction. As author Bob Mehr says, “They (became) ‘legends’ without ever really becoming stars.”
Mehr’s new book, Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements, leaves no stone unturned in the Replacements’ history. Trouble Boys traces the start of the band from when Paul Westerberg hid in the bushes of the Stinson home on Bryant Ave to listen to the proto-Replacements band Dogbreath practice, to the triumphant “Back By Unpopular Demand” reunion tour in 2015.
No other book in print comes close to the unrelenting depth of Trouble Boys. Die-hard fans will rightfully recognize it as the definitive Replacements Bible, while casual fans will find more laugh-out-loud tales of absurdity than they knew existed.
Each member of the band (singer, songwriter, guitarist Paul Westerberg, guitarist Bob Stinson and his half-brother Tommy who joined as the 11-year old bass player, drummer Chris Mars) has their entire story shared from birth to the present.
The bold prologue begins at Bob Stinson’s funeral with the haunting image of his son Joey, who suffered from Cerebral palsy and was quadriplegic, grasping Bob’s cold hands at the open-casket service, while the rest of the band sheds tears in a corner with former manager Peter Jesperson. After five pages, it’s clear that the content of this book will spare no detail too unpleasant.
Much like a Replacements song, the writing feels both meticulously crafted and effortless. The stories spring to life through new and preexisting interviews with the band, and those who know them best. Readers are inserted into Oar Folkjokeopus where Jesperson discovered the ‘Mats, the CC Club that inspired “Here Comes A Regular” and the corner on St. Mark’s Place where Westerberg watched Alex Chilton of Big Star check on his hidden marijuana stash by the trash.
Every story that fans proudly told one another while waiting in lines during last year’s reunion shows are immortalized here, while countless other unheard tales of bored midwestern teens with an unnatural knack for chaos become forever engraved in ‘Mats lore.
Peter Jesperson’s prominent role conveys how his unwavering love for the band was challenged nightly as the lone clapper at early shows. His involvement results in a first-hand recollection of the funniest moments they experiences, along with the brutal reality of the band’s darkest days and most embarrassing moments.
Most importantly, Westerberg and Stinson are involved and recall, fairly objectively, where they screwed up, and what they feel no shame for. The most memorable passage of the book is when Westerberg reveals why he carried out his career in the highly unstable manner he did, and how he transformed from an indestructible punk to a “Rock And Roll Ghost.” As always, Westerberg is full of memorable sharp-tongued quotes.
Mehr tells the story with no bias. He is not afraid to show how downright awful the band could be to other people. It will make you want to slap your forehead; it will make you want to listen the entire Replacements discography.
This band is the definition of the saying “for every high there’s a low” and neither is either glorified profusely or criticized too harshly and it answers the age-old Replacements question: How Did The Vomit Get On The Ceiling? (hint: it’s vile).
They were always “Treatment Bound” and to this day the surviving members remain Trouble Boys. For any level of interest, this is the definitive book to seek out about the Replacements.
Check out the Emerald’s investigation of the Replacements Dec. 1987 show in Portland, widely regarded as the band’s worst here.
And a review of Westerberg’s new album Wild Stab with Juliana Hatfield as the I Don’t Cares here.