Fans Relish The Replacements Reunion

Aug 23, 2013

The Replacements were an unruly rock band that emerged from Minneapolis in the ’80s. They broke up in 1991 but are still much-beloved. This weekend they are playing their first show in more than 20 years. Here & Now producer Alex Ashlock is one of those devoted fans and he helps us understand why “Mats” fans are so excited about this.

The Replacements are the band that saved my life. Their songs were messy and sentimental and they came around when I was scuffling along in my life in the 80s.

As I listen to them decades later, I still feel like Paul Westerberg is wearing my heart on his flannel sleeve. That’s why it’s so cool that the band is reuniting, briefly, for three shows.

The first one is this weekend in Toronto. I’m not going. I don’t even have a passport. Gorman Bechard does and he will be there.

Bechard is a filmmaker and he may be an even bigger fan of the band than I am. He made a documentary about the band called “Color Me Obsessed,” a play on the Mats’ song “Color Me Impressed.”

I was very jealous when I asked him how he excited he was about going to Sunday’s show.

“I feel like a 15-year-old,” he said. “I don’t think I have been as excited about anything as much as this in a long long time. I honestly thought hell would have to freeze over before this band would ever play again. I guess hell did freeze over.”

Bechard shares my love for the songs Paul Westerberg wrote for The Replacements.

“Paul Westerberg, honestly, is the latter day Bob Dylan, the greatest songwriter of the last 30 years, easily. He would write a song that could make you cry one second, make you laugh at his sarcasm the next.”

I saw the last show The Replacements played before they broke up. It was in Chicago’s Grant Park on July 4, 1991. In typical Replacements fashion, the show ended with the Mats leaving the stage and their roadies then played a version of the song “Kiss Me On The Bus.”

That was 22 years ago. Since then, Westerberg has made a few solo records. Bass player Tommy Stinson has played with Guns N’ Roses. Stinson’s brother Bob, who used to play guitar in the band, is dead, and Slim Dunlap, who replaced Bob, had a severe stroke last year.

The band’s original drummer, Chris Mars, isn’t involved anymore, so it’s just Paul and Tommy and a couple of their friends for these reunion shows. Bechard says that doesn’t matter.

“I think they’re going to play a kick-butt rock ‘n’ roll set of their best songs. I think they are just going to go out there and be tight. They’re going to be loud. They’re going to be a little obnoxious. They’re going to be everything The Replacements need to be.”

The days when I fell in love with The Replacements are long gone, but whenever I feel like I’m scuffling again they are my go-to band.

How can you not relate to songs that include lyrics like this: “God what a mess on the ladder of success where you take one step and miss the whole first rung,” or “if you were a pill I’d take a handful at my will and knock you back with something sweet and strong.”

The flannel is faded but my heart is still etched on that sleeve.

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PAUL WESTERBERG: (Singing) I'll write you a letter tomorrow. Tonight, I can't hold a pen.

HOBSON: Alex Ashlock is one of our producers, and today, he is a very jealous man because his favorite band, The Replacements, who had their heyday back in the '80s, are playing their first show in more than 20 years this weekend, and he will not be there. The show is Sunday and it's in Toronto, and Alex, unfortunately, is sitting right next to me. Alex, it is not the first time you have missed a Replacement concert.

ALEX ASHLOCK, BYLINE: Yeah. Thanks for reminding me of that, Jeremy.


HOBSON: Well, tell us what happened the first time.

ASHLOCK: I was stuck in the parking lot. The Replacements were opening for Tom Petty at this big outdoor venue in the Chicago area. This was 1989. We were stuck in a huge line of cars. I could hear The Replacements playing. We were kind behind the stage, I think. But I didn't get in in time to see them.

HOBSON: Why didn't you just get out of your car and run?

ASHLOCK: That's a very good question that I can't answer, Jeremy. I know you've done that before.

HOBSON: I did. I was at a Radiohead concert outside of Chicago also and they started playing. We were in the parking lot, and we just bolted to go and see them.

ASHLOCK: You're a smarter man than me.

HOBSON: Did you ever get to see them before they broke up?

ASHLOCK: Of course. I saw their final show. That was in Grant Park in Chicago, July 4, 1991. It was a typical Replacements show if you know anything about the band. They stopped by playing in the middle of one of their songs, their last song, and they had their roadies come out and pick up their instruments...

HOBSON: Really?

ASHLOCK: ...and finish the song. So it was a typical Replacements concert. It turned out to be their last one until this weekend.

HOBSON: Well, so let's hope things go better this weekend in Toronto. But help us understand, Alex, why people love this band so much.

ASHLOCK: Well, to answer that question, I went to someone who is maybe more of a Replacements fan than even I am. His name is Gorman Bechard. He's a filmmaker. He made a documentary about The Replacements called "Color Me Obsessed." I got him on the phone before he left for Toronto and asked him just how excited is he.

GORMAN BECHARD: I feel like a 15-year-old, seriously. I don't think I've been excited about anything as much as this in a long, long time. I honestly thought hell would have to freeze over before this band would ever play again. I guess hell did freeze over.

ASHLOCK: And I think I understand why you're so excited. But tell a listener who doesn't know their music why you're so excited.

BECHARD: Well, The Replacements, really, saved rock 'n' roll in the early '80s. 1975, give or take, rock 'n' roll was pretty much dead in the United States. Punk came along, gave it, you know, the needed boost. But again, punk then turned into new wave and synthesized and basically became bad dance music.

The Replacements, and also Husker Du, two bands from Minneapolis, really, just sort of took the basics of rock 'n' roll and really just, like, turned on its ear. I mean, it just - it was just balls to the wall. It was everything that rock 'n' roll needed to be, should be, hopefully, will always be.


WESTERBERG: (Singing) God, what a mess, on the ladder of success, where you take one step and miss the whole first rung.

ASHLOCK: The leader of band is Paul Westerberg. He'll be part of this reunited Replacements lineup that will be playing in Toronto on Sunday night. Remind us who Paul Westerberg is, and why he's so important.

BECHARD: Paul Westerberg, honestly, is the latter day Bob Dylan, the greatest songwriter of the past 30 years, easily. I mean, he would write a song that could make you cry one second, make you laugh at his sarcasm the next. No one was better playing with words maybe other than Elvis Costello.

I mean, I think they're equally brilliant. Look at something as heartbreaking as "Here Comes a Regular" and something that's just, you know, again, to use the phrase balls to the wall as, you know, the song "Color Me Impressed." You know, Westerberg knows how to write a song.


WESTERBERG: (Singing) Everybody at your party, they don't look depressed. And everybody dressing funny, color me impressed.

ASHLOCK: And you made a documentary about The Replacements in which none of their music and none of the members of the band appear. It just people talking about them. So just talk a little bit about that documentary and what it says about how important The Replacements were to people.

BECHARD: We actually made the film that way. We didn't want to include music. We never asked them for music, never asked the band to appear. I wanted to do something a little bit different. I wanted to make people believe in the band almost in a biblical sense as, you know, people believe in God by hearing the stories in the Bible.

So I get 145 interviews with fans, critics, other musicians. It really is just completely passionate people, you know, discussing a band that pretty much changed their life, maybe save their lives in a few cases. You know, I mean, The Replacements are great because I think they showed us that, you know, even losers could be cool.


WESTERBERG: You take the skyway high above a busy little one-way. In my stupid hat and gloves at night I lie awake, wondering if I'll sleep, wondering if we'll meet out in the street. But you take the skyway. It don't move at all like a subway. It's got bums when it's cold like any other place. It's warm up inside.

ASHLOCK: What are your expectations for the show on Sunday because, as you said, they could be great, or they could be horrible. They could be drunk. They could be sober. You just never knew what you're going to get at one of their shows. So what do you think is going to happen on Sunday?

BECHARD: I think, actually, they're just going to go out a play a kickass rock 'n' roll set of their best songs. I really do. I think at this point, you know, though they could, you know, there's a part of me that almost wishes they would just play their iconic bootleg when "The (bleep) Hits the Fans," if I can say that title, you know, from beginning to end, which would be semi-hysterical.

But I don't think they're going to do that. I think they're just going to go out there, and I think there are going to be tight. They're going to be loud. They're going to be a little obnoxious. They're going to be everything that The Replacements, you know, need to be.


WESTERBERG: (Singing) Absolution is out of the question. It makes no sense to apologize the words I thought, I brought, I left behind. So never mind. All over but the shouting, just a waste of time. Never mind. All over but the shouting, just a waste of time. I'm not ready as I'll ever be.

ASHLOCK: Do you have a favorite song?

BECHARD: Gun to head, "Here Comes a Regular," you know? Other - the other two that sometimes replaced that are "Color Me Impressed" or the flipside of their first single, "If Only You Were Lonely," which is just this great Hank Williams-esque ballad.


WESTERBERG: (Singing) Well, I walked out of work and I was tired as hell. Another day come and gone, oh, well. Somewhere there's a drink with my name on it.

ASHLOCK: You sort of said this about how people feel about them. But I said to someone that Paul Westerberg wore my heart on his sleeve. Did that make sense to you?

BECHARD: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I think it's how he spoke to people unlike anyone else of that era, anyone else since, really. The people who have passionate about this band are passionate still to this day because we felt like we weren't alone. They made us feel like, hey, someone out there understands us. And they happened to be really cool people with great hair playing in rock bands.

HOBSON: Film director Gorman Bechard and HERE AND NOW's Alex Ashlock talking about The Replacements, who are playing their first show in more than 20 years this weekend in Toronto.


Why do I think that Alex will be heading to Toronto?


HOBSON: He is going to try his best.

YOUNG: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.

HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.