On the Replacements' long shadow, and achin' to be out of it
|Artwork by Chris Strouth|
Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.
The Catholic Church figured out something during the Middle Ages: If you build a church to look like a castle, the serfs will feel safe in its massive shadows. So churches moved from modest affairs to great sprialing towers so that the people would feel as comforted within the structure as they did with the royal overseers.
We hang out in shadows today still, but they tend to be more personal. Now, it's the shadow of the Longhorn Bar, of Hüsker Dü, and of the Replacements -- really, of the the generation that came before. We stay close enough to these artifacts to duck in if we're ever attacked by a new generation filled with ambivalence for our legacy.
What makes the Replacements difficult for me is that in the '90s I worked for the label that launched them: Twin/Tone, or as it was known, the TRG (Twin/Tone Records Group). I was there during the non-famous years: post-Suburbs, post-Soul Asylum, post-Babes in Toyland, and of course post-Replacements.
We did, however, have Lifter Puller, Colfax Abbey, Brother Sun Sister Moon, Ousia, the Vibro Champs, Marlee Mcleod, Savage Aural Hotbed, and a slew of other bands that make up the Current's Local '90s weekend marathon. I was the director of Artist and Product, so my task was to discover and develop bands and market them. We had amazing groups that put out some terrific albums, but the Replacements were like this big drunken god that all of our bands would get measured against, and they would all suffer in the comparison.
Guns N' Roses were at one time the biggest band in the world. Slash, at the time the world's most famous guitar player, quits and starts his own band, Slash's Snake Pit, and you're the bass player in his band. That is to some extent the definition of career suckitude. It doesn't matter if you're a great bass player, it will never be Guns N' Roses. Now you don't know this right away so you try, and then you try harder and you may get to be really good but it all gets lost, not because of what you are, but because of what you are not. (Strangely enough, Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson now plays in Guns N' Roses.)
Over the years, the Replacements became sort of the gold standard that "Mpls Indie Rock" was judged by -- well, them and Hüsker Dü, and Soul Asylum and the Jayhawks... Okay, so there are a lot of bands that fall into that category, but the 'Mats stand out a bit more today, if for no other reason than there are a number of books about them currently on the market.
I first heard about the Replacements from my friend Greg. He was the cool punk rock guy in Coon Rapids, complete with fin mohawk and Agnostic Front shirt. I was a token wannabe punk guy in carefully distressed clothes from Fridley. He started dating a girl from my school. She was very preppy and dated him mostly to annoy her parents. Greg had seen the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag ("before Rollins ruined it"), and turned me on to the wonders and joys that were the Circle Jerks. Even the guy at Sun's head shop knew him by name.
Greg became my guru. I thought he could help me leave my little private school life and discover the true punk rock me. He was the guy who showed me how to draw the perfect anarchy symbol on the left leg of my self-ripped jeans, he showed me where to buy the DK button that would go on the right side of my Sharpie-laden jean jacket, and he showed me how to be a nonconformist. All of which in 1984 meant looking like every other angry-at-their-parents 14-year-old. If only teenagers in youth movements could understand irony, but then I suppose we never would have gotten emo.
The entirety of my "hardcore phase" was six months. It was a short tenure mostly because I got bored with a three-chord vocabulary, and looking like a post-apocalyptic lumberjack. Soon enough I would jump on the much more embarrassing train of Goth, but for now, I was still searching and destroying.
One day while watching Repo Man for the sixty-trillionth time, Greg put on a cassette of a local punk band that he thought I would like, and also to stop me playing R.E.M. and Wall of Voodoo incessantly. The tape was Let It Be, and the band, the Replacements.