By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
The little bastard balled up his tiny fist and sucker-punched me as we were walking down the hall to Shabbat services, knocking the wind out of me and sending me to my knees. I was a good foot taller than him back then, and the only consolation I ever took from the moment was how the Hebrew-school bully hurt his hand on the giant gold buttons on my Lurch-sized blue sports coat.
Marc Solomon--never did like the boy much, and never knew what happened to him after that. So when he called out of the blue, after 15 years of peace and silence, he could have wanted only one thing.
"Hey, man, I'm in a band."
This is how most of my phone conversations begin, and how most of them end. Of course--the schmuck wanted a little free press from his old punching bag. He said he was coming to town March 14 to play at the Rehab Lounge, opening for critical-fave (read: really fucking dull) singer-songwriter Jack Logan. He said he was playing guitar for a new band. He said he was living in Los Angeles. He said lots of things I didn't give much of a shit about.
Then, as he had done 15 years earlier, Marc Solomon threw another sucker punch: "I'm playing guitar in Tommy Stinson's new band, and it's called Perfect. You know Tommy Stinson, from the Replacements?"
"Yeah, I know the Replacements," I told him, staring at the poster of a 13-year-old Tommy Stinson hanging in my office. In the picture, an old Replacements Twin/Tone promo shot, Tommy's hair is long and askew; he stands next to an already weary-looking Paul Westerberg. Behind Paul stand drummer Chris Mars, the only guy kicked out of a band for being too good, and Tommy's brother Bob, who kicked his drug habit the hard way by dying last year. Sure, I know the Replacements, you putz. They're my favorite band--the last great drunken white-trash four-piece, the bastards of young who were achin' to be the stars they never became.
At first, I didn't believe Marc. I had no idea that since last I saw him, he had gone to Booker T. Washington High School, joined a band or a dozen (including Zane Gray, best forgotten), moved out to Los Angeles and moved in with former Last Rites-current Goo Goo Dolls drummer Mike Malinin. Another guy lives with them, too, and his name is Robert Cooper, who used to play bass with Pete Droge but quit because "he wanted to rock a little harder than Pete did," Marc explained. (Cooper also used to play in various local bands, and once filled in for Mike Daane in Last Rites when Daane went on the road with Sara Hickman. Bonus trivia points all around.)
Fact is, I really didn't believe Marc until Tommy himself called a few hours later; or maybe I didn't buy it until the following day, when Marc sent two demo tapes, on Warner Bros. sleeves, that contained seven terrific songs that sounded like the Replacements did when Tommy was 16 and Paul wasn't Mike Nesmith. The publicity photo, which arrived in the mail the day after that, was the clincher. Underneath the shaggy black hair, behind those shades and that smirk--there was that same ol' Marc Solomon, looking like the demon seed of Slash and Joey Ramone.
Marc explained that he met up with Stinson when Tommy moved to Los Angeles around three years ago with his post-Replacements band Bash & Pop; the two would meet at bars, bump into each other and nod hello. At the time, Marc was playing with Malinin in a band called Careless, and Bash & Pop was slowly grinding its way toward a lethargic end. Bash & Pop had released one hit-and-miss album, Friday Night is Killing Me, in 1993, and Tommy had grown increasingly frustrated with being in a band that wasn't really a band--more like a frontman and studio musicians who just happened to go out on the road every so often.
Marc said he heard from Brian Baker, now a guitarist for Bad Religion, that Tommy was looking for yet another guitarist to fill the slot in the revolving door that was Bash & Pop. Marc auditioned but didn't get the nod; only after a few other candidates came and went did Tommy call Marc and offer him the gig. Robert Cooper would also receive an invitation to join Stinson's band, even as their other roomie, Malinin, was beginning to enjoy the success that comes from platinum record sales and endless radio and TV exposure.
"I realized I made a mistake not hiring Marc," Tommy said when he called. "He's a versatile musician. He can fuckin' play anything. He'll fuckin' try anything, and he plays left of me, which is good. Even on Bash & Pop, the second guitar stuff is unconventional, and he hit on my weakness. I've always liked a guitarist who can do something different underneath the song."
When Marc joined Bash & Pop, the band was nearly history. Tommy was, by then, hating his own songs--"I always felt like I was holding back," he shrugs, "'cause you couldn't rock out with those songs"--and looking to start over. He missed the camaraderie of a true band, the sparks that came from the clashing of four personalities who were willing to give all of themselves to the common good. It's what made the Replacements great during their heyday, and the lack of that spirit made Tommy begin to loathe Bash & Pop.
"When I went out to make Bash & Pop, I set out to make that a band, but it never took off," he said. "I never found the people that were bandworthy. It went on and on, and when I moved out here it was a year before I decided to change the name. I tried other people, and at the point of finding Marc and Robert, it seemed stupid to call it Bash & Pop because the songwriting was so different."
"Tommy decided he wanted to start fresh," Marc said of the decision to form Perfect. "Tommy's big trip since the Mats was he wanted to be in a band again--with all the camaraderie, the sense of the roving youth gang."
The proof can be found in the demos, a spirited batch of songs that only prove the long-held theory that Tommy Stinson was the soul of the Replacements--the spark that ignited the gasoline, the perennial teen-ager Paul Westerberg always wanted to be. Perfect sounds more like the Replacements than Bash & Pop, but with the Faces fetish excised and the self-consciousness dismissed.
Stinson no longer sounds like a kid trying to step out of an older brother's shadow, but a frontman leading his own confident band. The songs--with titles like "Alternative Monkey," "Makes Me Happy," and "Don't Need to Know Where"--are powerful and catchy, bursting at the seams with reckless energy. It's hard to tell which guitar is Marc's, but he'd come out OK either way.
"The difference between Bash & Pop and Perfect is this is less blues-based and more pop-based," Stinson said. "There was a lot of that lingering Faces and shit influences on the Bash & Pop record, which is all fine, but I turned in a more pop direction. It's just the difference between writing songs in the attic and hashing them out with other guys. You just get a more collective and cohesive sound when you're hashing it out with other guys."
Yet Stinson said Warner Bros. did not want these songs, and for the first time since 1985's Tim, he's no longer signed to the label. Instead, Perfect is signed to the indie, Restless Records, which is planning on releasing a Perfect EP around June or July. Appropriately, Peter Jesperson--the man who signed the Replacements to Twin/Tone way back when--is in control at Restless, and he was the reason Perfect has a new home.
"It fucking comes completely full circle," Stinson said, laughing. "It's totally laughable and funny and ironic. Peter was my musical mentor from the time I was 12, and it's cool to have him back in my musical world." (Stinson also plays bass and trombone on one track on Westerberg's new record, Eventually, which is due to hit stores April 23 and the cutout bins some time in May.)
It is the great irony of Stinson's life that even as he approaches the rather young rock-and-roll age of 30--young especially considering he was 12 when the Replacements started--he's now playing in a band filled with Mats worshippers. Marc explained to me it's something of a fantasy come true to play with Tommy: "My big joke," he said, "is if you can't be the Replacements, join 'em." At the very least, Stinson figures playing with guys who used to worship you from afar at least cuts down on the practice time.
"It helps because they know where I come from and they can relate to the things I want," Tommy said during our conversation. "It's different than playing with people who aren't familiar with what I've done. I'm not that different from those old records, so it helps Robert loved the Mats and knows the Mats because he can integrate his style with mine. Marc knows where I come from, so he can put the two things together and come up with the right thing. That adoration thing went out the first day."
Yeah--with the first argument, the first fight, the first fist in the gut. Marc was the first, and last, guy to sock me, but I never mentioned it to him during our conversation. I was too busy trying to figure out whether I should believe him, and then too busy trying to decide whether or not to be sickened or impressed by his dumb luck. Probably a little of both, and I told this to Tommy--who then told Marc, who called back later in the day. "Man, I thought you forgot," he said, his grin perceptible through the long-distance line.
"Not on your life," I told him, and he laughed that familiar laugh one more time.
Comet--profiled in these pages not so long ago when they were a young Mesquite band struggling just to get a gig in Dallas--ain't so young and struggling anymore. The band is preparing to release two albums in the upcoming months. One is the much-rumored and long-anticipated (no, really) 10-inch, six-song EP on the Denton-based Atomic Sound label; Comet's Jim Stone says it will consist of three studio recording and three home four-track songs, all of which date back more than a year. The second release will be the band's full-length debut on the English label Dedicated, home to the likes of Spiritualized. The band just finished recording the album in Baltimore with ex-Mercury Rev Dave Baker, and it's scheduled for release in April or May.
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