No one likes to piss off a rock god, but oral histories thrill most when they're packed with gossipy first-person accounts. The author of The Replacements: All Over but the Shouting, Jim Walsh, wrote about the Minneapolis scene for years and has such depth of feeling for band leader Paul Westerberg that he may as well be attempting an oral history of his own family.
Similar works, like Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk and Edie: An American Girl had a crucial advantage. At the time those projects began, principal characters had already moved on to the afterlife—circumstances that no doubt loosened the tongues of the living. If God had called Paul Westerberg home, this would be a very different book; as it is, its most complete character is the late Bob Stinson.
Westerberg, whose originality and vision formed the band's spirit, remains an enigma. He speaks through clips culled from interviews over the years, but neither he, drummer Chris Mars nor bassist Tommy Stinson lent their voices to this story. Those who did cooperate openly admire Westerberg's talent, but no one besides Walsh himself seems to feel too warmly toward him. Both manager Peter Jesperson and guitarist Slim Dunlap (Bob Stinson's replacement) make it clear that they were witnesses to ugly behavior, even if they won't be testifying about it publicly.
Worshipers of the standoffish songwriter won't find any new revelations here—he's a distantly cool figure, mocking, sloppy, drunk and prone to taking control by refusing to play along with anyone else's agenda. (Those in search of Westerberg's humanity might want to turn to Petal Pusher, the recently published memoir by his second wife, Laurie Lindeen. She captures an older, sober version, true, but in more personal detail.)
Yet just as Please Kill Me brought the Stooges' Detroit to life and Edie resurrected Warhol's Factory, Shouting takes you back in time to a moment when the whole universe revolved around south Minneapolis, where a street separated Oarfolkjokeopus from the CC Club and every musician on the scene lived within a few miles of one another.
The memories of the Oarfolk folk, the Twin/Tone staff and fellow rockers from the Hold Steady's Craig Finn to Bob Mould to ex-Babe in Toyland Lori Barbero give the book its insider's perspective. From their mouths, the scene evolves from Catholic girls' school dances to the mainstream success of Soul Asylum.
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The narratives try to reveal the source of the band's magic. It's elusive. But you don't have to squint to see the source of the myth. One testimonial after another tells the same story: The Replacements got wasted before the show. Then they played a bullshit set of cover songs.
You've been a teenager, so you know why this is cool: It made them look like they didn't care. If they really had no talent, no one else would have cared either. But if you have the proven ability to write genius rock songs, and you have an adoring crowd of fans in front of you, and you choose to risk alienating them by laughing your way through five renditions of "Hello, Dolly," you relay a very powerful message.
In Reagan's America, with its yuppie consumer worship, jock-filled high schools and submoronic hair-metal gods, you have just said "No" to success, popularity and rock star-ism. Do you remember the vileness of '80s culture? The Replacements were reacting against it, and maybe they were immature drunks, but maybe they were also... sorta... philosophically rigorous?
In the end, of course, the band followed their aesthetic of not giving a fuck to its logical conclusion: They broke up. But for every kid who cares to trace the alternative scene back to its roots, the passion they inspired is preserved in Shouting.