The origin surrounding the formation of The Replacements is one that sounds like the set-up line to a groan-inducing joke: So, a janitor, a fry cook who has recently been released from a mental institution, an 11 year old juvenile delinquent and a drummer enter a garage in Minnesota...
But this isn't a joke. It's a tragedy. It's a drama. And it's a song:
We are the sons of no one
Bastards of the young
. . . The ones who love us best
Are the ones we'll lay to rest
And visit their graves
On holidays at best
-Bastards of the Young/The Replacements
Most rock n roll biographies end with a funeral. Bob Mehr's Trouble Boys: The True Story of The Replacements begins with one. It starts with the surviving members of The Replacements brought together by the death of their original guitarist Bob Stinson. Beloved by Replacements fans for his roaring guitar, his reckless childlike abandon and penchant for sometimes wearing a tutu during live performances Stinson was also the most troubled of the trouble boys that made up The Replacements. Tossed aside by his original father, sexually abused by his stepfather and in and out of mental institutions throughout his teens Stinson would find the seeds for both redemption and destruction in his beloved Rock n Roll.
"We were just kids," a broken Paul Westerberg tearfully whispers into Bob Stinson's ex-wife's ear at his service. "We didn't know shit. We were . . .just kids."
And so begins Trouble Boys, which follows those "kids" journey from their loud, raucous, dusty beginnings in a Minnesota garage to their gradual transformation into a left of the dial, disaffected voice of a generation and the accidental fathers of alternative rock. The Replacements were a band, who in their early days, intuitively railed against the institutions that they would come to embrace and that would slowly strangle the very life out of them.
Seen your video
Your phony Rock n Roll
And we don't want to know
-Seen Your Video/The Replacements
The band's destructive, intoxicated escapades and drunken rock n roll hi-jinks that would come to define them and become part of their legend are all brought "lovingly" to life in Mehr's book: the band alienating MTV executives with bare bones black and white videos about teen suicide, the band pissing off producer Lorne Michaels and the cast of Saturday Night Live by swearing and drunkenly falling all over themselves during their live national television debut, and the band dumbfounding and enraging Tom Petty audiences for an entire summer by sucking on helium and singing in high-pitched Mickey Mouse-like voices after being given the "break" of their career by landing the opening slot for Petty's 1989 Strange Behavior tour. "Thanks," a dejected Westerberg sarcastically tells a tepid Petty crowd midway through the tour. "We'll be better by next week, but by then we'll be in Memphis."
As bassist Tommy Stinson says "We may not have been great, but we were fucking special." There is no lack of truth in Stinson's declaration, but contrary to popular belief what made The Replacements "special" was not the blood alcohol levels that flowed through their veins but the bruised hearts they foolishly and fearlessly wore on their battered flannel sleeves.
To the brown-eyed beholder, see the chip on your shoulder
That fools everyone to believe
That you're so hard to talk to and so easy to read through
Yet nobody looks past your sleeve, yeah
'Cause they're blind
They hold you too close to the light
-They're Blind/The Replacements
Mehr's exhaustive biography raises the squeaking garage door on the legend of The Replacements to shed some light and capture in vivid detail the pain, disappointment and heartache of a group of four disparate, self-loathing suburban misfits. And like so many other social outcasts who came before them they sought solace not in silent prayer and meditation but in shitty amplifiers and thrift store drum kits.
. . . And the world was made better for it, even if only for a few of us and even if it was only for awhile.