Thursday, September 13, 2012

Paul Westerberg—10 Examples

As in, 10 examples of why he was the finest songwriter of his generation. Someone who could be sad while being funny, lonely while being whimsical, and achingly poetic without being sappy or trite.

While he wrote many terrific songs as a solo artist and continues to do so ("Dyslexic Heart," "First Glimmer," "Century," "These Are the Days" and "It's a Wonderful Lie" being some of my favorites), for the sake of simplicity...and a touch of laziness...I am limiting this 10-song sampling to his days with the Replacements.

So here we go. Ten examples of why there will never be another Paul Westerberg.

10) "I'll write you a letter tomorrow; tonight I can't hold a pen."—"Can't Hardly Wait" (Pleased to Meet Me, 1986) Such a terribly lonesome line, we can hear in Paul's voice how difficult it is to get this idea across. "Can't Hardly Wait" is an easy candidate for being among the greatest Replacements songs ever; this opening line is sorrowfully and graphically perfect.

9) "There was liquor on my breath, you were on my mind.""If Only You Were Lonely" (B-Side to "I'm In Trouble," 1981) The first time they ever slowed it down; a B-side to a single that went nowhere. This acoustic country shuffle is probably the first tale of longing in a career that would come to be defined by longing, fear and emptiness. Paul's wordplay genius surfaces for the first time here, blending in nicely (if not ironically) with the alcohol-fueled problems that played such a large part in the band never exploding into the mainstream as they should have.

8) "Staying out late tonight, won't be getting sleep. Giving out their word, 'cause it's all that they won't keep.""Color Me Impressed" (Hootenanny, 1983) There is some serious prose at work here, what with the word-trickery and turning a well-worn idiom appropriately on its head. It played into the band's nihilism, as if to say, "Sure, I can tell you what you want to hear, but I won't mean a word of it."

7) "If being afraid is a crime we hang side by side at the swinging party down the line.""Swinging Party" (Tim, 1985) As much as any, I always hear this song as the band's statement of purpose in stepping away from their earlier, more reckless incarnation and into the post-punk world they would shape and reign over. The move also coincided with Bob Stinson's being sacked from the band. But this gorgeous ballad lays out the legendary fear that so often stood in the band's way, embraces it, and swings back and forth with it, over and over again.

6) "How young are you? How old am I? Let's count the rings around my eyes.""I Will Dare" (Let It Be, 1984) The band's first anthem, and one of the best. More word games and tuneful cheekiness, this song (and album) announced to the world that music was changing, courtesy of this foursome from Minneapolis.

5) "You're still in love with nobody. And I used to be nobody...I ain't anymore.""Nobody" (All Shook Down, 1990) Technically this could maybe even be called a solo track, because so little of All Shook Down involved the entire band. But this mid-tempo rocker, a lamentation on watching an old flame take to the altar with someone else, pours straight from his jagged heart.

4) "Everything you dream of is right front of you. And everything is a lie.""Unsatisfied" (Let It Be, 1984) This song is so sad and so lost that it would probably even leave Leonard Cohen bummed out. But Paul channels his inner Leonard as well as his inner Lennon in this aching cry of honest defeat, the song that very well may be (as Scott suggests) the long-awaited answer to the Rolling Stones "Satisfaction." Not to mention the kind of lyric that wouldn't seem out of place in a Nirvana song a few years later.

3) "Well, you wish upon a star that turns into a plane.""Valentine"(Pleased to Meet Me, 1986) How great is this line? Seriously. It's wry and it's dour and it's just so very, very Paul Westerberg. A remarkably underrated track in the middle of a great album, this opening line gets things moving in inimitable fashion.

2) "A dream too tired to come true, I'm left a rebel without a clue.""I'll Be You" (Don't Tell a Soul, 1988) He said it first. Many would come to use "rebel without a clue" in the years that followed (including, unfortunately, 1989 tourmate Tom Petty) but it's all Paul's. And this knockout little couplet sums up the very best of the kind of wordsiness constantly kicking around inside Paul's head. Gotta dream? Nah, too tiredI'd rather just rebel. Against what? No idea. Ladies and gentlemen, The Replacements.

1)"If I don't see you there for a long, long while, I'll try to find you left of the dial.""Left of the Dial" (Tim, 1985) The very essence of the band, and everything that made them great and seminal and everything that held them back from the bigtime, can be found here, in very likely the finest song Paul ever wrote. It was inspired out of, no surprise, a sad storydriving on tour with the band in the early days and hearing a friend's song come on the radio, only to have the station fade before the song finished. "Left of the Dial" became an anthem for the college rock genre, a reassurance that somewhere out there was a place for the music we like, the music that moves us. "Which side are you on?" Paul asks over and over again. Whatever the answer may be, we always know where we can find the Replacements. On the left side of the dial, playing their hearts out. For us.

1 comment:

  1. A very amazing band. I would include 'We know the night', 'little mascara' and 'I hate music' on my list, but I love all the ones included on this as well.
    Great article!