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I’ll be the first to admit that I was late to the dance on The Replacements. It was 1987 when a college friend, frustrated with the overwhelming majority of Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith in my music collection, demanded that I accompany him to the used record shop for an afternoon of modernization and fine tuning. In the same trip that I insisted on buying Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction on CD (which had just been released), that friend forced me to take the plunge and expand my horizons beyond hair metal and mainstream ‘80s radio rock. As such, I found the cassette copy of the Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me, also from the new release rack,in my hand at the checkout line. You see, the CD format was relatively new, not to mention twice as expensive as vinyl or cassette. So if you wanted to experiment with an unknown, you dropped $7 on the cassette. If you knew something would be a mainstay in your collection – like Appetite for Destruction – then you gladly spent the $13 or so for the compact disc.
Now I won’t even attempt to suggest that Appetite didn’t get 10 times the amount of playing time that sophomore year at Ohio University, but following an appearance at Memorial Auditorium and a grass-roots movement within our fraternity and a couple of regular drinking holes, the Replacements started getting exposed in our little corner of the world. In fact, the chances of hearing a room full of glossy-eyed 20-year-olds, arm in arm, screaming “I’m in love, what’s that song!” along to “Alex Chilton” were as about as good as running out of Natural Light by midnight.
It didn’t take long for the Pleased to Meet Me phenomenon to spill over into their back catalog. Both Tim and Let It Be soon became added to our heavy rotation list. What we didn’t realize, nor do I suppose we cared, was that things were starting to come unraveled for the Replacements. As the band toured in support of Pleased to Meet Me, founding guitarist Bob Stinson had been dismissed because of his life-long battle with drugs and alcohol (he would eventually lose this fight, passing away in 1995). It’s ironic that a band whose legacy is that of belligerently drunken and wreck-loose live shows would cast off a founding member for partying too much. This was the beginning of the end, though, as front man Paul Westerberg was assuming more and more control of a group who always prided themselves on being, well, a group.
The ‘Mats had formed in Minneapolis in 1979, one of the very first in the post-punk, pre-grunge garage band movement that included Hüsker Dü and eventually the likes of Soul Asylum. Their first two albums (Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash and Hootenanny) were furious and crude, to say the least. But with 1984’s Let It Be, signs of maturity (musically, at least) and refining a more listenable product brought widespread attention to these barroom brats. The very next year, Tim became their breakout endeavor, as ex-Ramone Tommy Erdelyi took control of production. Even though they were still too nasty for MTV, unshakeable cuts like “Bastards of Young” and “Kiss Me on the Bus” became instant classics among their cult fan base and college radio.They would follow up the rapid success of Pleased to Meet Me with the slick and polished Don’t Tell a Soul in 1989, and it was now clearer than ever that the band’s collaborative approach was no more, and Westerberg was calling the shots. In 1990, the stoic, acoustic offering All Shook Down was essentially Westerberg’s first solo record, and the ‘Mats made a very non-public split the next year following a historic gig in Chicago’s Grant Park for the 4th of July holiday. All remaining members, including Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars, would enter the ‘90s with their respective solo projects. Rumors have been building for years now about a reunion, but Westerberg and Stinson have never been able to get on the same page. Stinson has been consumed by his on again/off again relationship with Axl Rose, who’s been trying to breathe life into the Guns n’ Roses reunion for what seems like a lifetime. How funny that this whole timeline for my personal Replacements experience has gone full circle from the used record store in 1987, where I bought Appetite and Pleased to Meet Me on the same day. Today, it’s G n’ R who stand in the way of a ‘Mats reunion, though hopefully not for long.
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