If you happened to catch Jimmy Fallon in the recent months, you may have noticed a bunch of scraggy old dudes performing a song named “Alex Chilton” on the Tonight Show. The performance was not bad, but wasn’t exactly spectacular either. So who are these people and why should you care? The answer is simple: the Replacements are simply the best band in the universe you have not heard of.
The Replacements were formed in Minnesota in 1979, which also happened to be the year that I was born. While the Replacements sound can best be described as a hybrid of college rock and punk, such an abbreviated description would be selling them short, since the Replacements were much, much more than that. Self-deprecating before it was popular to do so, the Replacements were always exceptional with their brand of lacerating punk rock that was tempered with a sense of wistful regret. Paul Westerberg’s distinctive howl, which at times toed the line between piss-taking and desperate yearning, tugged at the heartstrings in ways many alternative rock bands (whether today or back then) fail to do so.
Seriously, who else can write and deliver lines like those in Answering Machine:
How do you say I miss you to an answering machine?
How do you say good night to an answering machine?
How do you say I’m lonely to an answering machine?
To those who are too young to be in the know, speaking to an answering machine is essentially the 80s equivalent of waiting an eternity for a Whatsapp reply that will never come. While the technology that the Terminator used to deduct that Sarah Connor was still alive and well is obsolete by now, the sentiments of the song are relatively timeless. Is there anyone who cannot relate to the universal phenomenon of unreciprocated love and loneliness in general?
It’s a shame that with his uncanny grasp of the trappings of human relationships, Paul Westerberg and company never really make it big. This was partly due to the fact that the Replacements were the kings of self-sabotage. Their live performances were often a shambolic, alcoholic mess that alienate fans and record label executives alike. They were banned permanently from SNL after performing drunk before a national television audience.
When presumably pressured by their major label to produce a music video for Tim (it was the 80s, where MTV ruled the roost), the ‘Mats produced the now classic black and white video that can only be construed as the ultimate “fuck you” message. With its cynical and somewhat tragic view of life, Bastards of Young was the Replacements song that I find myself returning to time and again.
The ones who love us best are the ones we’ll lay to rest
And visit their graves on holidays at best
The ones who love us least are the ones we’ll die to please
If it’s any consolation I don’t begin to understand them
For some, the above sentiments may come across as a bit extreme, but there is a tinge of authenticity in them. How often do we take for granted the people who were there for us and work to please people who can barely give a shit about our well-being?
After the ‘Mats disbanded in 1991, Bob Stinson and Steve Foley died in 1995 and 2006 respectively. Paul Westerberg had a middling solo career that didn’t really take off, although I did come to learn about him and subsequently the ‘Mats from the Singles (Cameron Crowe’s 1992 film) soundtrack. While I am not particularly excited by the news of the Replacements’ reunion, I can’t deny that I would love to see them play live if they ever come to this part of the world.