I Wanna Be Literated #227.1

I Wanna Be Literated #227.1

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements
by Bob Mehr

Sure, we’ve reviewed this book already, but something this awesome deserved to be revisited. So, here’s a special edition of I Wanna Be Literated.

I don’t quite understand why I never made this book a priority. I’m a very big Replacements fan and this is quite possibly the definitive biography on the band. Also, it’s critically acclaimed (5 stars on Amazon!?) and my favorite podcasts talk about its greatness (Bob Odenkirk and Tom Scharpling both praise it). I’ve always loved the Replacements and after reading Trouble Boys I’m in love with them all over again. I even became inspired to revisit their catalog. You know why? Because that’s what a good book does to you.

After having devoured Trouble Boys, I’m convinced it’s absolutely essential if you want to truly understand the Replacements because it puts the band’s troubled legacy into perspective. This is most definitely an exhaustive book, so don’t let the mere 450-page length fool you. Trouble Boys is complex and dense and Bob Mehr’s writing is fun, lucid, exciting, fast paced, and focused on the right details to keep the story moving. You would expect a book like this to have its boring parts, but instead you’ll be sneaking off to get in a couple pages here and there.

But what do we learn about the Replacements from this book? That they were a complete and total mess of a band. Westerberg was the driving force of course but, as a unit, the band wasn’t exactly on friendly terms. They didn’t hang out with each other aside from rehearsals and gigs and whenever they were together, alcohol fueled their very existence, with the band functioning as an enabling force. Their shows would range from brilliant to an absolute mess, with managers and their labels keeping the band together because they knew they had a brilliant songwriter in Westerberg. What’s sad about their story is that they are completely and solely responsible for their own “lack of success.” Sure, the Replacements are legendary now but, at the time, they wanted to become the biggest band in the world. Their peers REM made it, and if their songs were indeed better, why couldn’t they? Well, because they had total contempt and disdain for everything they did and self-sabotaged themselves at every opportunity. They put themselves in the game and then refused to play it. They would antagonize their audience, promoters, managers, label heads, and each other and would, basically, act like spoiled brats; ably dodging the possibility of being held accountable for their actions and blaming everyone but themselves. It’s both jaw-droping and frustrating to learn how close they would get only to blow it all over again.

Going back and re-listening to The Replacements’ entire catalog after digesting Trouble Boys has made me feel closer to this band and their songs. Somehow, I feel like I understand them better. This is an essential read for anyone even remotely familiar with this band. I don’t think there’s been a more beautiful trainwreck than the Replacements.

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