Interview: Jim Walsh on the Bastards of Young

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The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting, An Oral History is the new book by Minneapolis writer Jim Walsh. Jim was in town last week as part of a book tour, reading at a local bookstore and chatting about the Replacements on-air at KEXP. It’s a book tour with an unconventional twist, however — in each city he’s visited, local bands have been getting together for a Replacements cover night. Seattle’s took place at the Comet Tavern, featured a dozen performers, and doubled as a benefit — all proceeds went toward local indie-rock icon Kim Warnick’s hospital bills. Anyone who saw Walsh at the event, snapping photos and singing along, knew immediately that these nights are highlights of his trip. “Being in a room packed with people as passionate about the Replacements as I am,” Walsh said from the Comet’s makeshift stage, “is just an incredible feeling.”


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Sgt. Major covering the ‘Mats
photo by Jim Walsh

Jim took time out between bands to talk for a few minutes about the book and the Replacements. Let’s get to it.

Folks who saw a Replacements gig always mention the chaos, the “this could spin out of control at any moment” tension that was so much a part of the live show. How do you capture that kind of adrenalin in a book?

Through oral history. There’s a narrative thread through the book, but it’s also very, very impressionistic. The Replacements were a haphazard experience — a lot of ideas and sounds thrown together into a jumble. And to some degree, that’s what this book is. But if you’re paying attention, there is that narrative thread as well.

One thing that stands out in the book is Slim Dunlap’s obvious desire to distance himself personally from the band. He takes pains to let people know he never wanted to be “Bob’s replacement” after Bob was sacked, and always considered himself simply a hired gun.

Slim sees himself as the classic sideman. And, you know, Slim’s no dummy; he knows there are plenty of people who think the Replacements ended once Bob was out of the band. And he knows that he wasn’t the reason the band went on as long as it did — it was Paul’s songs. All that said, they made great records and played some great live shows with Slim. It was a different band, certainly. But Slim had that ringing, almost Byrds-like guitar sound that really meshed with that era of the band. So I disagree when people say it ended when Bob was out. They made great records with Slim as well.

Michael Azerrad wrote a chapter on the Replacements in his book Our Band Could Be Your Life — do you think he captured the essence of the band?

I liked it. I liked the Minneapolis things, the Huskers and the Mats. It really captured the scene. Punk rock wasn’t like the Sixties, where pretty much everything was happening on the two coasts. Punk rock was in the midwest too. It was everywhere. Everyone was doing something, there were so many cities just exploding with great punk rock, or some version of it. Those bands really could have been our lives.

Laurie Lindeen — who’s obviously biased, but hey, she was a fan before a spouse — has said in interviews that Paul Westerberg is “our generation’s Bob Dylan.” Agree?

I think when people say that, they’re just trying to explain to other people how great a songwriter Paul is, and how deeply he’s touched so many people. And that’s certainly valid. But I’d hate to put that on him, you know? Dylan is Dylan, Westerberg is Westerberg. Who’d want to be called the Bob Dylan of their generation? I just reject that, because there’s just too much Sixties Boomer bullshit that comes with it. One big difference is, in the Sixties there were so many people listening. And in the Eighties, it wasn’t that way. It was so much worse. Paul’s songs never really had a chance to be on the radio.

What’s your take on Paul Westerberg’s solo work? I know some folks who love it, and others who treat it with almost a sort of disdain. It seems to intrude on the mythology of the band, the wilder years. What is it about Westerberg’s solo work that polarizes people?

Nostalgia. They want to live through another Replacements. And you know what? It’s just not gonna happen. That’s done, and that band could never be what it was. I hate comparing — you know, “Paul’s solo work vs. the Replacements” — because it’s too much like sports; making lists and rating this versus that. Maybe I’m a horseshit critic when it comes to that, but I don’t do that with music. The guy has given so much to me and to so many others over the years, both in that band and as a solo artist — why nitpick?

Sometimes I think people just don’t want an “adult” Paul Westerberg album.

But he was an adult when he was in the Replacements! A lot of those songs are very mature songs. The people who only heard the bratty kids playing music just weren’t listening very hard. He was a very deep, very soulful guy right from the beginning.

Maybe the polish of the solo records is what people find suspect.

(laughs) I think that’s the case with a lot of things people talk themselves out of. And it’s their loss. You got to bars to see a show, and all these people are standing around with their arms folded while there might be a brilliant musical moment going on. You’ve got to enter into things with an open mind if you want it to be any kind of rich experience.

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