Bastard of middle age

Paul Westerberg digs intoa deep, dark place and makes a brilliant, horrible record

The Replacements left in their wake both the best and worst that rock and roll has to offer: Nirvana and the Goo Goo Dolls, idols and enemies. They never became popular, never went platinum, never achieved the stardom they secretly pined for. And now, the Replacements will never get back together. Tommy Stinson recorded an EP and a never-to-be-released album with his own band, Perfect; now, he is paying the rent with Guns N' Roses, and the mind reels at the implications. Chris Mars has disappeared into the basement with his tape recorders and his paint brushes; when he will return is anyone's guess. Slim Dunlap, who replaced Bob as well as anyone could, is still making wonderful records no one is buying. And Bob, well, he's still dead.

As for Paul, he will not tour for this album. He doesn't see how it's possible to sit behind a piano and perform these new songs for an audience that will keep shouting out requests for "I Will Dare" or "Bastards of Young" or "I.O.U." or "Unsatisfied." He is content now to sit in his tinfoil-covered basement, black lipstick smeared on his face, and record in front of a new video camera with which he's become infatuated. Jesperson says he's heard rumors of Westerberg's showing up at South by Southwest in Austin next month, but don't count on it; Paul seems very much resolved to holing up with his piano and his son, shut out from the rest of the world with his Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane records to keep him company. He does like to say he is an unabashed misanthrope.

And perhaps it's just as well that he has chosen to shelve his rock-and-roll side. The Grandpaboy record has its moments--indeed, Westerberg insists the song "Lush and Green" is among the best things he's ever recorded, and maybe he's right--but it sounds too much like a thousand steps backward, right into a land mine. Suicaine Gratifaction is by no means a flawless record, but at least you can hear, feel, the ambition and thought and pain that went into its making. If nothing else, for all its faults, the new record feels like the most genuine record he has made since breaking up the band. And that's hardly an apology, simply a fact: Suicaine Gratifaction may be a mess, even a bore at times, but never does it feel like a fake.

"I'm now at a place where I ask myself, 'Why do I do this?'" he says. "You kind of have to slap yourself upside the head and go, 'You do this because you can do it better than most.' That's maybe not as rewarding, but if you're going to continue in life and have a place or a job or a purpose, you have to use that. I do it because I'm good at it and it's a challenge to myself to top myself. I want to make a better record next time. But I'm not holding this up against someone else's record and saying, 'Well, it doesn't sound as good as them.' I've learned the trick of only listening to my last thing.

"It all comes down to manic depression. When I'm in an up cycle, I'll go with it. Sometimes that down cycle lasts a long time, and it's horrible if you're caught either way. You're in an up cycle making a record, and then you just slowly slip down. I do have sort of a polar personality. I'm not an even-keel guy. Right now I'm starting to be in an up vibe again. If only I could just bring intelligence with it.

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