Paul Westerberg Saved My Life

FUCK YES, I AM UNSATISFIED TOO.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.

Previously: The 21 Best Replacements Songs (as fought over and eventually sort of agreed on by the members of the GLONO Message Boards).

11 thoughts on “Paul Westerberg Saved My Life”

  1. I discovered the ‘Mats as a pre-existing Alex Chilton/Big Star fan, during a time when my life was in flux, which is probably why their songs resonated (and still resonate) with me. I started with Pleased to Meet Me, wasn’t hooked, bought Let It Be, and that was all she wrote, I was snared. Their tunes let me know I wasn’t the only fuckup in the world, that I had company. Excellent tunes. I grew to love PTMM as well…

  2. I got into the ‘Mats during Tim. I quickly went back and got Sorry Ma’, Hootenenay, and Stink. I bought Pleased to Meet Me the day it came out.

    I saw em w/ Bobby, I saw em w/ Slim, I saw em w/ Steve on drums. Some saw the Beatles or the Who w/ Keith Moon. I consider myself as lucky and those who didn’t see them the unfortunate.

    You can try and sell me Oasis, Wilco, or Ryan Adams but it all pales in comparision to the Mats. They were the last great American band (ok Cheap Trick is going strong).

    I don’t know what else to say.

  3. Thank-you for this article. Like you I was post teenage when I found Westerburg. Thankfully, it was the movie, “Singles” that introduced me and not that other one. Once I heard the Westerburg tracks I did my research and discovered The Replacements.

    Best evocation for a fit of giggles courtesty of their drunken recordings is at the end of “Treatment Bound” on the Hootenanny disc. When they mess it up at the end and the drummer finally peters out. Someone says, “f ’em up” and it cracks me up every time the way he says it.

    You wrote a really great article. You completely understand their purpose.

  4. The YouTube clip isn’t from the MTV Music Awards it’s from an ABC broadcast of the “World Music Awards.”

    “Playin’ makeup and wearin’ guitars…”

  5. Stacey, this is really well written and I know exactly what you mean about hearing Westerberg’s voice speaking your feelings into your ear. It had the identical effect on me and it was the same album — Don’t Tell a Soul. Immediately I felt someone understood my boredom, frustration, restlessness, loneliness, etc. I worked backwards though their albums and found more of the same — till I was so sure I was understood that it was painful to see them play and not get to talk to them. Paul, mainly. It was torture. But he/they saved my life in many other ways, most importantly in turning me onto rock and roll after a confused musical existence. Nothing made sense to me till I heard the Replacements. Or they made sense of it in a way that made the most sense. Your article seems to say that too. I really liked it. (Also thanks for that YouTube clip.)

  6. um, I’m Sarah. :)

    There is also an inconsistency that no one seemed to have picked up on in the piece–at one point I say I was thirteen when they broke up and at another point I say I was four or five. This is what happens when you edit your writing while you’re still drunk, people.

  7. Oops. Sorry, Sarah. Writing comments while drunk also breeds mistakes.

    I didn’t notice that inconsistency about your age — we’re always our worst critics.

  8. This is what happens when you edit your writing while you’re still drunk, people.

    What’s your editor’s excuse? Fire the staff of proofreaders and fact checkers!

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