A Love Letter to The Replacements

Artwork by dholms

It was a whirlwind of an affair that began in the lamest way possible.

In 2015, I had just graduated from my local community college with an Associate’s degree in Transfer Studies. That same year Kindness released a cover of “Swingin Party” for the John Green adaptation, Paper Towns. Sometime that summer I saw the movie, which was odd because I hated the book. To this day the only thing I remember about it is how much I loved that song.

I would put it on playlists for years without ever realizing it was a cover.

Somehow, this gets worse.

The first time I became subconsciously conscious of The Replacements must have been in April 2014 when I attended the Coachella Music & Arts Festival. I was 20 and ooh, did I consider myself a fan of indie rock. Really I only had a cursory understanding of what that was. Six years later I shudder to picture myself scanning the lineup on that fateful day. I would see Grouplove, Ellie Goulding, Bastille, Flume and Zedd among other dancey acts as I was then wont to do, but no…not The Replacements. I’m sure I said it at some point: “The Replacements…who are they?” Worst of all, I’m 80% certain that when they took the stage that night I wasn’t even seeing another show. Around 9PM I was eating pizza and getting drunk on the grass somewhere with my sister, young, stupid and totally oblivious to what I was missing.

Moment of silence. Or perhaps agony.

I did come around, but this is owed only to chance. One rainy day in early 2020 I was listening to a playlist on Spotify when “Swingin Party” — by The Replacements — happened to come on.

Huh. Hmm. Gee whiz. What’s this?

I kinda like this better. What’s going on here…

This is the ORIGINAL version? Oh. Whaddya know.

This is where it really began. Replacements Replacements Replacements. I was in quarantine with plenty of time on my hands and they were floating around in the back of my mind someplace. It was around that time that I came across Jim Mowat’s article about the band. Then I started listening.

Prior to my Replacements come-to-Jesus I discovered the origins of punk and felt that I’d found the treasure of all treasures — the Velvets, Television, Blondie, Suicide, the Stooges, Patti Smith, Richard Hell...I loved it all and was convinced I needed nothing else to be happy. So “Johnny’s Gonna Die” was a fitting introduction since I was a fan of the Dolls and Johnny Thunders. The first time I heard it, the bass line stole me away to another planet. Then there was Bob Stinson’s searing guitar and Paul Westerberg sounding his barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world in a throaty rasp. “Na na na na naaa na…” Kind of like when someone catches your eye and you know you won’t be able to stop thinking about them, I knew right then. This was the band for me.

Their punk, snot-nosed sound on Sorry Ma and Stink won my heart, but it was when those songs stood next to “Answering Machine”, “Androgynous”, “Within Your Reach”, “Sixteen Blue”, “Skyway”, “Here Comes a Regular”, “Nightclub Jitters”, “Portland”, “Sadly Beautiful” (among others) that they became something more to me. All of their songs together — the thrashers with the heart wrenchers — told a story that was my story too, raw and aching, lonely and searching.

It was Tom Waits who summed up my feelings best, as noted in Bob Mehr’s Trouble Boys. “The Replacements? They seem broken, y’know? One leg is missin’. I like that.” [1]

And then there was “Bastards of Young.” For a 26 year-old college graduate working at a grocery store in the middle of a pandemic, nothing could have been more cathartic: God, what a mess. That song came out in 1985 but the words didn’t feel so far off. Missing the whole first rung on the ladder… Dreams unfulfilled, graduate unskilled. Paul Westerberg had me pegged in 3 lines or less and we weren’t even of the same generation.

Don’t get me wrong. Legless or not, The Replacements were fun and I felt good listening to them. It was magic, rock and roll at its best. Their Hank Williams cover…I haven’t been the same since.

The Replacements were scrappy misfits, self sabotaging, simultaneously loved and rejected, maddening, lost, messy. And from all of that, a sense of truth emerged. They weren’t speaking inane wisdom from some greater, forever unreachable height. They were right there in the mud with me, doing it all wrong.

Dear ’Mats —

I was born late to the party. I hope it’s okay that I’m barging in like this.

It all happened so fast. I haven’t even listened to your entire discography yet so, this is a bit soon.

But you’re easily the best thing that happened to me in 2020. (That might not sound like much…but I swear it is.)

I spent most of it dancing around my house to your songs, and maybe crying on the floor to “Unsatisfied” a few times.

You were with me on all the long drives home.

Not a bit tamed and untranslatable.

I’m glad those bullets always missed. You might’ve shielded me from a few.

  1. Source: “I Just Tell Stories For Money”. New Musical Express magazine. Sean O’Hagan. Los Angeles. November 14, 1987

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

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