Music News

The Replacements Get Goofy

Poor, deprived Tommy Stinson. Twenty-two years old, he's been a slave to rock 'n' roll and the Replacements--the grown-up garage gods he plays bass for--nigh on ten years now. As of last year, between rehearsals, recording sessions and gigs, not once did little Tommy ever make it to Disneyland.

Then, last August or September (Tommy boy can't quite remember which), in a B-movie twist of fantasy pumped full o' the wickedest irony imaginable, Stinson went to work for Disney. If you hate the Minneapolis band's guts, you're probably hoping it made the bratty bassist sweep up after other people's gum or peddle Daffy Duck condoms in the gift shop.

Close. In fact, the kiddie conglom put Stinsy and the Replacements to work in the image-alteration department. Disney thought it would be totally, like, liberal to get the band to remake a cheesy chestnut called "Cruella de Ville" from 101 Dalmatians. Then it was slapped on an album stuffed with other lib and glib cartoon covers by hipper-than-anything pop artisans like Michael Stipe and Tom Waits. (Not to drop names or anything, but Stinson and the fellas waxed a B-side called "Date to Church" with Waits at around the same time.)

"They hounded us for a year to do the thing," sneers Stinson, shifting gears into his recall mode. "We were in the studio, we screwed around and said at the last minute, `What the hell, we'll give it to 'em.' It was a favor to a friend of a friend of a friend."

Disney, it's safe to say, wasn't one of those friends. "They didn't want anything real racy and way out of context," Stinson says. Needless to say, the 'Mats (short for the band's secret code name, the Placemats) goosed the entertainment conglom, delivering a right tawdry remake.

In a major executive decision, Bette Midler and the rest of Disneyco's gray suits voted to be offended and threatened to boot the band off the record. Only after album producer Hal Willner whined long and hard did Bette and her flunkies relent.

Predictably, Tommy Stinson is not planning a trip to Disneyland. Ever.
And just in case anybody thinks he's a sucker for saying uncle to a bunch of 'toons last year, he adds that if any of the creeps from Disney's corporate office had asked the Replacements to do "Cruella" back in, say, 1981, when their first LP, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, came out, here's what he woulda told 'em: "Get. Fuckin'. Lost."

That Stinson and his drinking buddies decided last year to breathe their boozy breath at Disney's bequest was proof positive they'd undergone at least minor surgery on their attitudinal glands.

Their willingness to play the industry game by throwing Disney a bone set the stage for the group's then-upcoming LP. Since signing with Sire Records after releasing Let It Be, the 1984 indie album critics are still hyperventilating with praise over, the 'Mats had put out two fair-to-middlin'-selling albums (Tim and Pleased to Meet Me) for the big label. In February, the band proved it could sell (some would tack on the word "out" to define "sell") by writin', 'rrangin' and recordin' eleven radio-ready ditties and pressing them onto a slab of vinyl they called Don't Tell a Soul.

Old Replacements fans across the nation and overseas wept uncontrollably upon giving Soul a spin. The same band that had given our culture untouchable youthful celebrations like "Gary's Got a Boner," "Fuck School," and "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" was now cutting and pasting together importantly sentimental songs like "Talent Show" and "I'll Be You." To many listeners, what the Replacements were now floating over the air was mush.

The finicky former fans, Stinson snarls, "can pretty much take a hike. People don't think that's natural that we've changed from Tim to Pleased to Meet Me to Don't Tell a Soul. They're the people who want to see us lying on our back not able to play."

Stinson's referring to the band's early days, when the 'Mats were almost as prone to passing out on stage as they were to stringing together three chords in some semblance of order for a whole song. Bored punks bought Replacements tickets not so they could see the band ROCK AND ROLL, but so they could brag afterwards of having seen them do something stoopid. Any time you get a couple of aging 'Mats fans together these days, one of them will tell you he once saw Tommy's big bro' Bob Stinson (the group's guitarist who was booted out of the band in the mid-Eighties because he couldn't hold his liquor) urinate behind an amplifier during the first encore. The other will tell you with a gleam in her eye of the time singer Paul Westerberg heaved on himself before the set's third song was over.

Is the ironically titled (in an economic sense) Don't Tell a Soul the album that finally establishes the Replacements as a band that can play as well as it can pass out? Westerberg was quoted in a recent press release telling his record company as much, adding, "I think, in a way, this is the most daring album we've ever done, just because we made the choice to take the songs to a wider audience."

And how in the holy name of Madonna n' Roses is increasing one's popularity daring?

Stinson answers this 'un most craftily: "We took more time in learning how to play things. Rather than just winging it and succumbing to the old Replacements image, we said, `Let's fuckin' show 'em we can play.'

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David Koen