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The record came and went with little notice and less acclaim. Bash & Pop's membership became a revolving door, one that would eventually evolve into Perfect. But there were hurdles. His past had meant some career doors were open to him, and the crowded Los Angeles club scene offered a large talent pool to draw from. And yet he found too many possible collaborators attracted less to Stinson's music and more to the potential profitability of his reputation as a survivor of the mighty Replacements. His daughter Ruby remained with his ex-wife in Minneapolis. His brother Bob died in 1995. (Even now, Tommy doesn't talk about it.) Tommy's money ran out. Reality hit: He took a job selling computer supplies over the phone.
"For two months I felt like 'worm-boy,'" he says. "But then I got kind of good at it. As hard as it was getting up at five in the morning to do that gig, it's the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. It made everything make a lot more sense. It was the first job I ever had. It did a lot for me and made me a lot stronger person."
The job also took pressure off of Stinson to write songs with profits in mind. When he finally got Perfect together with drummer Gersh and guitarists Marc Solomon (born and raised in Dallas) and Dave Philips, the difference was audible. You can hear it on Seven Days a Week, which reunited Stinson with producer Jim Dickinson at Ardent Studios in Memphis, where they had worked together on the Replacements' 1987 album Pleased to Meet Me: It's a collection of bristling, taunting pop-rock. No ballads necessary. And Stinson sounds revitalized.
"I have more invested in the Perfect record than I did in the 'Mats, because I'm writing the songs," Stinson says. "I can understand what Paul felt a lot now, freakin' out a lot of the time from having his soul on the line, and having it just come back as a piece of coal."
His own soul is up for grabs once again as Perfect gathers a few weeks later at Spaceland in the hipper-than-thou area of L.A. known as Silver Lake, the part of town where the Dust Brothers and Beck and the Beastie Boys rule as honorary mayors. It's Oscar night all across town, but this is just another warm-up gig for the Stinson quartet, so he's working the crowd, greeting friends and acquaintances in a slick black suit, the collars of his silky shirt folded across the lapels. The show is already an hour behind schedule, and the opening band hasn't even plugged in yet, though one of its members tells the crowd: "We know you're here to see Tommy, so we'll play fast."
Perfect is still wheeling its equipment onstage nearly an hour later when the club DJ spins a Black Sabbath track. Solomon plugs in his silver guitar and bangs out some appropriately edgy, sludgy riffs, and Stinson gives him a hug like a long-lost friend: "Hey, Marc! Howya doin'?" In minutes, the band is deep into its pure anthemic pop, tough and tender amid all the fuzzing and buzzing guitars. Stinson is almost wistful as he shouts: "Do you laugh, do you shove? There's so many ways to love/Do you smother, leave them hanging? Are you abusive or demanding?" The voice is ragged but strong, bathed in energy and charm. Any cracks in the vocals are unintentional, or might as well be.
Stinson's now retired from telemarketing, determined to get back into the music game full time, and he's discovered another way to pay the rent: performing his songs solo, with an acoustic. He's proven himself an unlikely and endearing presence alone with his guitar, standing beneath his pineapple haircut, the wallet chain hanging against his thigh, and exposing himself in an altogether different way than he's used to.
"I haven't been very good at it, but that's sorta why I keep doing it," Stinson says. "Damn it, one day I'm going to be all right at it, and it'll be fine. It's a challenge. It's more about the words and emotion. That's a hard bit."
It sounds almost adult from a guy who's spent most of his life as the perennial youth. Some of the Replacements faithful still come to his every show, discuss his every career move across the Internet, and trade bootleg cassettes. But Restless Records, which will release Perfect's Seven Days a Week this summer, also plans to have a Stinson solo EP next year. Somehow, the teenage bassist from Fuckup, Minnesota, is turning into a thoughtful singer-songwriter. With perspective.
"My band is the first priority," Stinson says, "but it doesn't take up the whole day either.