Bastard of middle age

Page 4 of 6

But there were a handful of songs on Hootenanny and Let it Be that seemed to mask all the flaws, that made them essential albums for the lost and lovelorn who found solace in electric guitars and drunken howls. "Within Your Reach" off Hootenanny revealed for the first time the softer, lonelier side of Westerberg: "I can live without your touch," he sang, the drum-machine-and-slide-guitar music sparse and empty behind him, "but I could die within your reach." That it was sandwiched between "Mr. Whirly" (which mutated the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields" into a punk-rock rant) and the surf-rocky instrumental "Buck Hill" only made it seem that much more an anomaly--The Geek hanging out with all The Jocks.

Certainly the transcendent moments remain on Let it Be: "I Will Dare," "Answering Machine," and "Unsatisfied," three songs that could--and did--cover a multitude of sins. The first track on the record was this weird little pop song, so catchy and inviting, so desperate and real: "Meet me any place or any time or anywhere / If you will dare meet me tonight / If you will dare, I will dare." And the last was so utterly pathetic, the sound of a coward trying to proclaim his love for a woman and finding only her answering machine to talk to--and "how do you say I love you to an answering machine?" Westerberg wondered over nothing more than the sound of a furiously strummed electric guitar, his voice ripped in half. But it was "Unsatisfied" that remains Westerberg's gilt-edged moment, and it's nothing more than a ripped-off KISS riff ("Hard-Luck Woman," actually) and a man yelling over and over again: "I'm so...unsatisfieeeeeeeeeed." You could feel the song in your bones.

Westerberg was always a wimp deep down, a softie, a broken-down romantic; the later records on Warner Bros., including 1987's Pleased to Meet Me and 1989's Don't Tell a Soul, were full of such lullaby moments: "The Ledge," "Skyway," "Achin' to Be." But the way Westerberg explains it now, he was almost too ashamed of those songs, afraid the guys in the band wouldn't understand that he didn't always want to write stoopid drunk-rock songs the rest of his life.

"I'm proud of something like 'Unsatisfied,' but I probably would have written lyrics to the thing if I had written it now, and I probably would have ruined it rather than just screaming out," Westerberg says. "It's like, that was my way of making it appeal to the guys. Now, I probably would have written more. You'd have to go back to, like, 'Answering Machine' and stuff like that. You can hear me trying to include the group in almost everything. It's like...I don't know. Does it fucking matter?"

Jesperson says that every now and then during the early days of the Replacements, Westerberg would write a ballad, record it at home, rush the tape 20 blocks down to Jesperson's apartment and slip it in the mailbox, then disappear before Peter ever got to the door. Jesperson explains that Westerberg was too afraid that he would either erase the tape or that one of the other Replacements would find the song and laugh at it. One such song, the Paul-alone "If Only You Were Lonely," made it to the B-side of a single in 1982.

Another such track actually made it to a band rehearsal, a song titled "You're Getting Married," which features among its lyrics such lines as "You're like a guitar in the hands of some fool who can't play." But when Paul offered it to the band for inclusion on Hootenanny, Jesperson says, Bob Stinson stopped him cold. Bob is said to have told Westerberg, "That's not a Replacements song. Keep it for your solo record, Paul."

"I have a live recording of them doing 'You're Getting Married' made on February 11, 1984, in Trenton, New Jersey," says Jesperson, who has spent the past several months compiling dozens and dozens of unreleased Replacements songs for a Twin/Tone boxed set he hopes to release within a year's time. "They attempted to do it in a completely drunken stupor, and it's one of the most precious things they did in their entire history. Paul makes up words, and I remember him singing this to a really hardcore crowd, this mohawk audience, and I thought at the time, 'They're gonna kill him.' But by the end of the song they're transfixed. And at the end of the song, Paul tells them, 'At least you fuckers ain't enemies. That's nice to know.'"

Eventually, Westerberg would begin slowly dismantling the band, crawling toward the inevitable solo career. When he finally debuted all alone on 1993's 14 Songs, he sounded very much like a man still trying to reconcile who he wanted to be with who he thought he should be. Half the songs were tepid ballads; the other half, tepid rockers. It was ironic that when he toured for 14 Songs with a four-piece band--the Replacements' replacements--the songs came alive, sounding whole instead of like fragments of old reverberations.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky