No mere replacement

Chris Mars looks back at the 'Mats even as he runs forward

For several months, rumors have circulated throughout the music industry and among die-hard Replacements fans that the band would reunite--for a show, perhaps even for an entire album. A reunion only made sense, reasoned some: each member's solo albums sold poorly, some failing to live up to the potential and legacy one expected from a band hailed as one of the greatest of the 1980s. Talk of a reunion escalated to such a frenzy that recently, former 'Mats bass player Tommy Stinson was forced to go into a Replacements message board on America OnLine and inform fans that the rumors were just that--unsubstantiated, unwarranted, unlikely.

Chris Mars, the Replacements' founding drummer who himself was replaced before the band broke up four years ago, similarly shrugs off the talk. There is too much bitterness there, too many steps taken forward to ever go back.

And besides, he explains, a Replacements reunion already took place just a couple of months ago.

There they were, just like in the old days when the 'Mats garnered their legend as rock's hardest drinking band on and off stage, a band that was both excruciatingly sloppy and exhilaratingly brilliant whether performing their own material celebrating the pathetic loneliness of the alcoholic or destroying the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" or Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak." All four original Replacements were, for the first time in more than a decade, in the same place at the same time--Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, Chris Mars, and Bob Stinson. And, as usual, Bob Stinson--the man often known for his affinity for drink and drugs, who often took the stage wearing a dress--was the center of attention.

Bob lay in a coffin, dead at the age of 35 by "natural causes" (so said the coroner) on February 18--discovered in his Minneapolis apartment, a syringe next to the couch, gone from the Replacements for nine years and now gone from this world. The three remaining original Replacements stood around Bob's grave and said farewell to their old friend, and even bid a half-heard goodbye to the acrimony and backbiting that had turned bandmate against bandmate, old friend against old friend.

"It was good," Mars says of the experience. "The band got together. They say death brings you together. Not that we all have any dislike for each other, but it was good to see everyone again. I hadn't seen Tommy for a long time, and I hadn't really seen Paul for a long time. We were talkin', shootin' the shit for a bit. But it was just bathed in this really sad, sad thing. It was tough, it was tough. I don't want to go through that again, man. Anytime someone that young dies that tragically, it's hard. It is not good."

Of his old friend Bob, with whom he was in a band even before Westerberg and Tommy Stinson joined, Mars is anxious to set the record straight. Bob had been kicked out of the band after the release of Tim in 1985, his drug habit so out of control he had become unwilling and unable to perform; the incident would forever follow him, and he became known as the unstable junkie too insane to remain in a band filled with men almost as out-of-control. Mars points to an article in Spin magazine two years ago--in which Bob was painted as a pathetic fool who suffered from an incurable madness--as proof that Bob was, to the end, tragically misunderstood.

"Bob lived two of our lives," Mars says. "He lived to the fullest and he had a lot of good times, and he was a pretty happy-go-lucky guy through it all. That Spin article was a bunch of bullshit. Bob is the kind of guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. He'll just blurt out anything, ya know? So who knows what people said about him? Obviously we all had problems with drugs and drinking, and we all went through that phase, and Bob might have continued that.

"But I know he had a lot of good times, and I think it's just at the very end when it got bad. I didn't even know he was that bad. When I read stuff about Bob, I would just go, 'That's Bob and his antics.' At his funeral, there were so many people who had known him up until the end, in the last three years, where I hadn't known him at all. I hadn't been around him, and just some of the stories they told were just Bob being Bob, pulling funny shit all the time. It was just hilarious. Everyone was in stitches. It was fun. I mean, it wasn't fun, but at least it lightened things up."

Sometimes, Mars half jokes, he wakes up in a cold sweat, still finding it hard to believe all the shit he pulled when he was a 17-year-old--riding half-drunk down the freeway on a motorcycle, sitting down every night behind his drum kit as the room spun around him, sharing the stage with a grown man who wore women's clothing. "It's kind of scary to think of some of the stuff I did and made it through, ya know?" he says now, 14 years after the Replacements formed.

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