The Replacements are an odd band. I feel that they're both over and under rated. They created some absolutely melodic and powerful that, underpinned by Paul Westerberg’s clever word play, provided a template for many to both express sensitivity and disguise it with loud distortion and bluster. On the other hand, they could be sloppy and in desperate need of editing – some of their music and lyrics sound tossed together at the last minute.
Trouble Boys explores this dynamic and much more. Bob Mehr spins a comprehensive (and well documented) look at the band, painting a vivid picture of early 80s Minneapolis, and the often heartbreaking background of the ‘mats – especially Bob Stinton, who had a truly horrific childhood. It’s almost enough to excuse how often the ‘mats sabotaged their career by falling (drunk) on the wrong side of the fine line between good ol’ rock n’ roll rebellion and plain old assholery. I knew they behaved badly, but I wasn’t expecting them to be as horrible and offensive as they come off here.
All this lead me to read Trouble Boys as an addiction book. The drinking and drugging stories – and there are a LOT of them – can be amusing, but the more they pile up, the more difficult it is to see them self-destructing. They were fucked up drunk addicts and I left the book pondering what their lives would have been like if the band could have coped – even just a little bit! – with their talent and success.
But they myth is all about that they couldn’t – that they felt too much, and had to drown it in booze, and they paid a heavy price. Poor Bob didn’t make it, Tommy grew up to be a professional musician (and member of Guns n' Roses!), Chris (a strangely vacant presence in the book) faded away into visual art, and Paul never found that illusive balance of improvisation and polish that could endear him to the masses. While Bob’s story is interesting, Paul’s story is riveting, from watching him struggle to come up with his moments of musical genius to the story of him clean and sober (the tale of him coaching little league with a SpongeBob hat is priceless). I also appreciated Mehr’s insights into the music, which let me hear their albums – especially Tim and their requiem All Shook Down – in a newly revelatory light.