I grew up a good ten years after The Replacements were at their height of recognition. I was thirteen years old when they broke up and just in the middle of passing from my New Kids On The Block phase into “grownup” music and they were still too sophisticated to cross my newbie radar. I don’t even remember how I got into them–it was probably that stupid Can’t Hardly Wait movie or something. The point is, however I started buying their albums, they made an indelible impression on my post-teenage soul.
Here was this guy singing in this scratchy as hell voice about girls and being drunk and being lost and misunderstood in the Midwest, and something in me reacted. Something in me wanted to feed Westerberg a sandwich and pet his hair and tell him everything was gonna be okay, but another part of me was screaming along with his every word, screaming “FUCK YES, I AM UNSATISFIED TOO.”
Cut to the most excruciating road trip I have ever been on. Cut to driving through Nebraska and being stuck in the back of your car with your family where there is nothing to do except stare out the window and watch the cars and, like, the cows, and brood about the fact that you have just lost your temp job again and your new stepmother has absolutely nothing to say to you and your sister just got married and you’re trying to hold your shit together, but fuck, you are not sure how you are going to make rent next month and you kind of just want to sink under the car seat and die.
You dig around in your bag and find that you have brought The Cheater’s Introduction To The Replacements: All For Nothing/Nothing For All. You slip it into your Walkman and close your eyes.
And you are absolutely transported.
There is nothing that can describe what you feel when you are in a bad situation to begin with and “Achin To Be” comes on your headphones. There is nothing that matches the absolute (and slightly ironic) ache that worms its way into your heart when the song comes to the lines “I been achin’ for a while now, friend / I been achin’ for years.”
You don’t want to crawl into anywhere and die anymore, you want to crawl into the song and wrap it around you and just live in it for a little while. You want to bless the universe for making these people who write and say these things, in a way that is so simple and yet says everything all at once. And the scream that starts off “Anywhere’s Better Than Here?” Fuck, you would marry this entire band based on those three seconds alone.
It’s not just the teenage rebellion/self-absorption that gets you, though. The Replacements were much more than that. They were gorgeous choruses matched with equal parts venom and integrity that’s still unmatched today. Their pop sensibilty kills you to this day and even though you were four or five when they disbanded you can’t understand why they were confined to college radio and incredibly uncomfortable appearances on the MTV Video Music Awards that you just know were called in as a favor by some dorky intern or child of a music exec. And when they were drunk and recording? Watch out. The version of “I Don’t Know” that’s included on All For Nothing/Nothing For All will reduce the listener to fits of giggles every single time, which is awkward when you’re in a car with your family and you are wondering if they recently redrew the border of Nebraska because it could not possibly go on for this long.
The Replacements lived in a world that I will never live in or be able to approximate, and there is a very good chance that I am glamorizing the drunkenness and pain that bleeds through the songs they left and dares me to touch it. But when it is the dead of night and we finally cross through the border to Iowa and it’s all fireflies and weary truckers driving beside us and thoughts that I cannot articulate for fear of being kicked out of the car, they are there. And they understand.
And everyone has felt this way sometime or another, but it’s really easy to convince yourself that if you met this band on the street and immediately threw your arms around them, they would know exactly why you did it. That is how I always want music to make me feel, and that is why if I get evicted from my apartment and never work again or never speak to my family again, it’s gonna be okay… as long as I can keep their records and my Walkman and scrape together enough change for batteries.