Music News

Off the 'Mats

"Most people in bands don't drink if they're serious and professional," Bono testified during Peter Buck's recent air rage trial -- and anyone who understands how absurd the words "serious" and "professional" are in connection to rock 'n' roll may also understand why the Replacements -- and not U2 or R.E.M. -- were the greatest rock 'n' roll band of the 1980s.

Which would explain why the rumors were so appealing -- and so rampant -- when they started making the rounds in February and March. "Replacements reunion at South by Southwest!" read one of many such e-mails circulating in the weeks prior to the Austin music festival. "Paul, Tommy, Slim Dunlap and an unknown drummer with Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum!" For a core group of Replacements fans, the idea of a full-fledged 'Mats reunion is second (if at all) only to that impossible dream of the Beatles getting back together. But, alas, it wasn't to be. Nor was the more recent (and less exciting) rumor that leader Paul Westerberg would be joining Pirner and former Hüsker Dü leader Bob Mould on a sort of Minneapolis Super Postpunk tour.

What is true is that Westerberg recently embarked on his first-ever solo acoustic tour, performing free shows at record stores throughout the United States to support his first new album in three years, Stereo (last week, he canceled two dates, citing exhaustion). The new album -- which comes packaged with a second CD, Mono, performed by Westerberg's currently more rockin' alter ego Grandpa Boy and released via the L.A.-based, punk-heavy indie label Vagrant -- is obviously what triggered all those hopeful reunion rumors in the first place.

Except it wasn't completely a rumor. Sitting in a West Hollywood hotel bar, nursing a ginger ale, Westerberg admits that he did talk to Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson about joining him on a Midwest tour in February that would go to the same cities Buddy Holly was scheduled to play before his tragic 1959 plane crash. "The idea was sort of, it would be the revenge of Grandpa Boy arising from the grave," he says. "So I called Tommy [and said], 'Can I tell you this is the stupidest thing I've ever thought of?'

"And he was like, 'Yeah!' His word was gold. Because Tommy knows my stupid ideas and he knows my stupid ideas that are potentially brilliant. Unfortunately, he called me back two days later and said he couldn't do it because his cohort [Axl Rose] needed him. So the idea lasted about half a minute. Dave Pirner did want to be part of it, but that thing's come and gone. Now I'm thinking of putting a band together that's a little more versatile than a bar band. But I figured at that time, if it was to be a bar band, it would have to be with Tommy.

"Ah, Dave Pirner gets too much ink," Westerberg says of the other rumor, the one that had him, Pirner and Mould about to board a tour bus together. "I also just heard that I played great guitar with Dylan at the Grammys!

"It's funny. By not doing anything, I'm as hot as I've been in 10 years. So do I want to ruin that by going out and doing stuff? But hell, I am. I'm talking to people. My picture is being taken. I'm alive. And I do live on a farm. I have one lung. I have AIDS. And I am a junkie." He laughs. "These are the ones that I love, that I covet the most.

"The truth is, I was sick of it," Westerberg says of his career, "and I ran out of dough. So what did I do to entertain myself? I wrote a shitload of songs. When I made that last record [his third solo LP, 1999's Suicaine Gratifaction], I felt it was the end of something. I, of course, also had the pleasure of turning 40 on the last day of the century, and I really felt like, 'Well, that was that?' So I went home and waited for phase two to transpire, and nothing happened. I waited and waited for an idea -- and the idea became loud and clear: 'Go out and buy a new guitar!' So I went out and bought a red one that looked really cool, and went down in the basement and played rock 'n' roll for three years.

"I lost contact with everyone, sort of became a recluse. I also had a little boy" -- with longtime partner Laurie Lindeen, formerly of the Minneapolis rock trio Zuzu's Petals -- "although more has been made of that than should be."

Westerberg may protest a bit too much. The new album kicks off with a track called "Baby Learns to Crawl." "Mr. Rabbit" is a Burl Ives song from one of Westerberg's son's favorite albums. And "We May Be the Ones" concludes with an appearance by 3-year-old Johnny (as in John Paul) Westerberg, whose favorite song, his dad boasts, is currently the New York Dolls' "Trash."

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Bill Holdship