I am going to see The Replacements on Saturday.
No, I’m not going to see “The Replacements” as they once were; Chris Mars is retired, Bob Stinson is deceased, and Bob’s replacement, Slim Dunlap, is still recovering from a massive stroke. But it’s Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson and two ringers, and if the “two ringers” portion of this sentence matters more to you than the “Paul and Tommy” part, let’s agree to disagree and move on to arguing about the best R.E.M. song*. The guy who wrote all the songs is gonna be there, and so is Tommy, the Sundance to Paul’s Butch. That’s enough for me.
As I was saying, I am going to see The Replacements on Saturday. This isn’t as weird to write as it would have been last year, before they’d gotten a string of reunion dates under their belt, their first shows since 1991. They have played the festival circuit, and even made an appearance on The Tonight Show. What they have not done, though, is play in Minnesota, where Paul and Tommy (and I) are from.
They’re playing at a ballpark. Not Target Field in Minneapolis, home to the Minnesota Twins, but Midway Stadium in St. Paul, home to the St. Paul Saints, an independent minor league team. This makes sense. For one thing, Paul’s apparently a huge baseball fan. And despite being critically adored in their 1980s prime, they were never big stars (but they were bigger than Big Star). Playing in the “other” Twin City, in a minor league park, suits them. To torture this comparison further, imagine Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw laboring in Kenosha or Toledo, putting up phenomenal numbers, getting called up to the bigs, then watching the bigs just shrug its shoulders. That’s The Replacements.
Of course, this metaphor is imperfect. Trout or Kershaw would have to fall face first into the dugout while wearing their grandma’s housecoat, double-fisting bottles of god knows what, to do that. There are so many stories of the band’s soused antics and tendency for self-sabotage that sorting out the real from the apocryphal is a fool’s errand. Did they throw up in their hands then heave the vomit onto the studio ceiling while recording Pleased To Meet Me? Sources say no. Did they steal their master tapes from their old record label and dump them in the Mississippi River? Kind of. And so it goes.
Here’s one Replacements story that I can confirm: In college in 1990/91, I was reading the paper at my friend Tony’s apartment. The entertainment section had front-paged a big, above-the-fold photo of the band. Tony looked at the picture. He looked at it closer. Finally, he said, “Jesus Christ, that’s Tommy Stinson!” Tony had gone to grade school with Tommy in Minneapolis; then Tommy just quit showing up. Not being familiar with the band, he had no idea what happened to him. I suppose the possibility that his 13-year-old classmate had dropped out of school to go on tour and play bass in his big brother’s rock band never occurred to Tony.
Now, though, Paul has settled in Minneapolis. Tommy is still probably better known to the world-at-large as the bass player for Guns ‘n Roses. And they’re finally playing a show on their home turf, a show that sold out in an instant, in a sign that maybe the rest of the world is finally loving them as much as some of us have for decades. Or maybe it’s just a cool thing to do with your friends on a September weekend before the weather goes south.
Either way: I am going to see The Replacements on Saturday. That’s enough for me.