An in-depth biography of a beloved, exasperating band that never quite made it.
Early on in this impressively researched and well-rendered biography, Commercial Appeal music critic Mehr describes how the Replacements became “ ‘legends’ without ever really becoming stars” and then proceeds to show how the qualities that made them legendary prevented them from achieving the success that fans thought they deserved. Frontman Paul Westerberg may well have been the greatest rock songwriter of his generation, the equal of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, and others who would follow his punk-pop lead to far greater glory. And the rest of the band was never simply the rest of the band but musical misfits who contributed to the chemical equation that resulted in brilliant performances one night and absolute disasters the next. Guitarist Bob Stinson, abused and neglected as a child, was the initial leader, recruiting his younger brother, Tommy, not even in his teens when he became the bassist. Drummer Chris Mars was the band’s initial songwriter and creative force, but he was increasingly marginalized as Westerberg joined and asserted himself (Mars, also an artist, now sells his paintings for thousands of dollars). Add lethal doses of alcohol, increasing quantities of drugs, and the rebellious irresponsibility fueled by both, and you’ve got an explosion waiting to happen—which it did, frequently, as the band fought with managers, record labels, and producers and sabotaged promotional efforts with journalists and radio stations. As a straightforward, ramshackle rock ’n’ roll band, they never quite fit with either the punk rock that inspired them or the so-called “alternative rock” that would enjoy such success in their wake. “We were five years ahead of our time, we were ten years behind,” said Westerberg, who never achieved expected success as a solo artist. A recent reunion effort featuring Paul and Tommy brought them their biggest paydays but fell apart because of familiar tensions.
The dynamic that made the band great also tore them apart, as this biography superbly documents.