Monday, May 14, 2012

Too late to turn back, here we go

I’ve written at length already about my love for the Replacements. But I found them very late in life, as it were. Here's how.

So Scott and I, as our cryptic little bios on the side of this page indicate, have known each other since high school, and have been talking music for most of those years. We share similar tastes with most things, and have introduced each other to important artists over the past 30 years.

He told me to get Before the Flood in high school and I did, and listened with the amazement and awe the live album merits. I told him to get Rattle and Hum a few years later and he did, and went from being a non-U2 fan to a big one. He got me into Dinosaur Jr. long after I should have known, and I like to think I got him listening to the Kinks again.

When added to the bands/artists we simultaneous count among our very favorites—The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., Bob Dylan, the Who, Nirvana, Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison—this has been a healthy experiment we’ve conducted over the last 30 years. And the fact that we’ve barely had to see each other in the last 20? Bonus!

Not all of them have worked, mind you. I will never love Brian Eno and Genesis the way he does—appreciate, yes, but love? Not really. He will never feel the love I do for Little Feat and Warren Zevon. Stuff like that.

Oh, and we both think the Wallflowers and John Mayer suck. Which is a quite good thing.

But here is the reason Scott will always be able to lord his musical education of me over mine of him – The Replacements.

He brought me to the Replacements, made me a fan of theirs. I never saw it coming, but once it happened, I was sold instantaneously. And considering how the Mats are now on a plain for me with the Fabs, Bruce and R.E.M. and no one else? Yeah, my Reason to Believe partner wins this round. Dammit, he wins! [Editor's note: by "wins," DT clearly means "crushes like a grape."]

Because it wasn’t that he said, “Dan, you should listen to this band” and I slowly acquiesced over time. No. I literally remember exactly where we were when it happened, and I became a lovestruck devotee (to the band, not to him…what?...WHAT???) in a heartbeat.

It was late 1988. We were home on break from college—me in Connecticut, him in Virginia—and were driving in his LTD across the Bissell Bridge over the Connecticut River, north of Hartford. We were probably going to see a movie or something. He said, “You gotta hear this. You will love.” And he popped in a tape into the car’s cassette deck.

A mid-tempo acoustic guitar came on, melodic and cool. Then within seconds a ragged voice started to sing:

In my waxed up hair and my painted shoes
Got an offer that you might refuse
Tonight tonight we’re gonna take a stab
Come on along we’ll grab a cab
We ain’t much to look at, so
Close your eyes, here we go
We’re playin’ at the talent show

I. Was. Dumbstruck.

“Who are these guys?” I asked, not believing what I was hearing.

“The Replacements. Their new album, Don’t Tell A Soul. This is the first song, 'Talent Show.' Pretty groovy, huh?”


Scott nodded and smiled. Maybe he didn’t know then, maybe he did. But I was hooked. All it took were those first few chords, some great throaty vocals with some delicious little wordplay effortlessly thrown in (“We ain’t much to look at, so close your eyes here we go.”—I mean, that’s brilliant!) and I was on board with the Mats forever. Right then and there, on a bridge over the Connecticut River, eight miles from my home but a million miles away from anything I had ever heard before.

Yes, I know now it wasn’t their best song. It wasn’t their best album. And it wasn’t even their “best” lineup (or at least their original lineup). Didn’t matter. This was music for me. It rocked, it wept, it presented honesty and effort, and spoke nothing of glamour or conquest or glory. Instead it was about outcasts and ne’er-do-wells, about self-discovery and self-realization and even a little bit of self-loathing.  It was amazing songwriting, something I looked for heavily back then. It was angry and defiant, but didn’t sound like young punks. Instead it sounded like punks and/or geeks who’d grown up a bit, were a bit wiser, but still needed to be heard. It was for me.

Within weeks I owned their entire collection. I would see them open a year later for Tom Petty on their ill-fated tour with him. I'd see them in the front row in Springfield on their final tour and on their last legs—still a thrill with nearly no equal for me. And every time I would mention my love for the band to Scott in the 24 years that have followed—whether in person, via email or on the phone—he would smirkingly say, at some point, "You're welcome."


But he's right.

See, that moment when I first heard "Talent Show" left me with something all music fans should have, yet I fear many do not. It gave me a freeze-frame moment that I recall crystal clear, a moment when I knew I was hearing pure greatness for the first time. When I knew I was hearing something that was going to change my life. I wish, for example, I could recall the first time I heard, say, "Backstreets" or "Tomorrow Never Knows" and knew it was among the greatest things I have ever heard. But I can't. With the Mats, though? I can. It's quite something to have, really.

Truth was, I felt like an idiot after that for not hearing the Replacements sooner. But I was so consumed with Springsteen and R.E.M. and Gabriel—they were pretty much all I was listening to at the time—that I didn’t have time for anything else. And I was so disgusted by the overproduced, underwritten, crotch-grabbing glam metal that ruled the day that I pretty much shut my eyes to everything else around.

Until that night that Scott popped in the tape, the night my musical DNA changed—forever. And I had no choice—the Replacements gave me no choice. This was my band now, formed and created for me. And I was hooked forever.

After all, as they sang in that first song I heard that night, it’s too late to turn back, so here we go.


  1. "We apologize: here they are—The Replacements."

    1. This was my favorite awards show, for the 1-2 or so years that I actually watched it. It always had cool acts and stuff, and one year had Elton John smacking down Sam Kinison.

      But yeah, how great is that "apologize" line? A few years later Charlton Heston forgot to thank Paul during the closing "Thank you" segment on an SNL they both hosted. Oh well.

    2. I love how happy Matt Dillon looks at the end.

  2. Nicely done.

    I started with Tim, on vinyl. Saw them on the Pleased To Meet Me tour, when Westerberg was still drinking, and he was too drunk to stand up to play the encore; he sat and played a "Skyway/ Fuck School" mashup.

    The Talent show tour, they recorded a bit of the show I saw at the UWM Ballroom, and released it on a radio-station only CD; I like to think you can hear me in the crowd singing along with "Here Comes A Regular".

    1. I think I could hear that too - and I think you may have known the words better than Paul did that night. :-)

      "But we won't say nothin' bad on TV!" Love that. And I love how satisfied Paul sounds (with the crowd and the band) after finishing "Talent Show" in the UWM show.

    2. So...hold on. WAIT. Are you tellin' me. I paid an arm and a leg to get that promo-only live CD back in college when I couldn't afford anything more expensive than Milwaukee's Best. And that was YOU I was listening to?!

      Oh the humanity...

  3. and a bunch of my friends. I lived half a block from UWM back then, and we pre-gamed at my place.