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.