Review Summary: We are uncool. While women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very problem. Good-looking people, they got no spine; their art never lasts. Great art is about guilt and longing and, ya know, love disguised as
Two chords. Two simple guitar chords, played over and over in a carefree, jaunty rhythm—that’s all it took to change my life. I was now sentenced to a life of shifting though the dust-bins of local record stores in search for some long-lost relic. A life of fighting off the urge to inform people just how “uncultured” their music taste really is (and occasionally failing). A life of trying to impress girls with my expansive knowledge of obscure anarcho-punk bands, and it’s all because of those two damn chords.
Before the early spring of 2010 my music taste had been refined, yet limited. I listened to the “classics”—of course!—consuming all of the music that 50 year-old rock critics enthusiastically informed me was “the best stuff of ALL TIME”: Zeppelin, The Beatles, U2, and all the aging, long-haired dudes with guitars that the infamous “they” played ad nauseum on classic-rock radio. I enjoyed this all very much, and yet I was getting a little tired. I mean, after all, there are only so many times one can listen to Abbey Road, and I had my sincere doubts that The Beatles were going to put out anything new in the near future. The way I saw it, I had heard all there was to hear; I needed something new.
Now, I had heard of this elusive genre known as “alternative” (as in “an alternative to everything you’ve already heard”), but my familiarity with it only ranged to early-aughts garage heroes such as The White Stripes and The Strokes. Then I bought the-book-that-started-it-all: a small, innocent-looking hardcover tome entitled VH1’s 100 Greatest Albums of All Time. Listed inside were all albums I already owned and cherished, as well as a few “classics” that I already knew I needed to get around to, such as The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back. Then—innocuously placed at number 75—was the one band on the list that I had never even heard of before: The Replacements, with their 1984 cult masterpiece Let It Be. The music-elitist in me practically screamed, “I must hear them!”
So I went about, asking each and every one of my friends and acquaintances about their awareness of the band: “Do you know of them" If so, could you burn me a copy"” One by one, they all replied: no. (Sure, maybe post-punk is old hat to all y’all city types out there, but fer all of us in the middle of Podunk South Dakota/nowhere , I darn near reckon a ‘Mats fan is as uncommon as a consistent weather pattern.) Disheartened, I was sharing my frustrations with my then-girlfriend when her father piped up from the other room, “Yes, I’ve heard of The Replacements. I own every single one of their albums.”
He picked up a dusty jewel-case from a large rack of CDs in their basement and handed it to me. I was immediately struck by the album cover featuring a blue-tinted photograph of four disheveled young men awkwardly trying to avoid the camera lens; clad in tight skinny jeans, beat-up flannel and weary old converse, such an image wouldn’t look out of place at a modern hipster convention. Later that night I popped the disc into my “old-school” Walkman, and I haven’t thought about music the same way since.
The opening track, “I Will Dare” burst out from the gate like a bottle-rocket, as if those four fresh malcontents couldn’t wait for me to hear what they had up their plaid flannel sleeves. Those two recurring chords buzzed and hummed with distorted intensity; this didn’t sound like anything I had heard before. Every band I had ever come across before sounded like they made it their mission to use the latest cutting-edge technology to make their sound as clean, precise and unencumbered as possible. These guys sounded like they had tossed an old microphone into the middle of a smoke-filled, dingy basement, turned the amps up to 10 and pressed “record.” Several seconds in, a raspy, determined voice began to make its way through the lo-fi fuzz: “How young are you" How old am I"” Far from the polished virtuosities of standard pop singers, this young man sounded like he made no attempts for his voice to be aurally pleasing. There it was: raw and exposed, sounding boundlessly youthful and wretchedly weary at the same time. With no polishing production or fancy vocal-acrobatics to hide behind, the singer’s every emotion was on the table. I could hear him pleading, “Meet me anyplace, or anywhere, or anytime/No I don’t care, meet me tonight/If you will dare, I will dare.” This man had something to say, and he was going to make damn sure that everyone listened the *** up.
The rest of the album barreled along at a brisk pace, as if they only had a short amount of time left on this earth, and they were going to spend it playing loud, joyously frustrated music. Alongside the up-tempo numbers were a few slow-burners, insightful interludes where the volume was decreased for just long enough for some genuine emotion to seep through my speakers. I could recognize that this was a “punk” record, but it seemed to break all the rules associated with the genre—which is funny considering that punk is supposedly the genre dedicated to rule-breaking. The Replacements didn’t care. Who says you can’t have a lounge-jazz style piano break-down in the middle of a double-time, hardcore thrasher" Who says you can’t feature the mandolin in a burning song about adolescent angst" As I listened to that record, The Replacements took every single “rule” that I knew about music into a strangling, shambling hold and hurled them out the window and into the cruel Minnesotan cold. I was left with just this: when it comes to expressing one’s self through music, there are no rules.
Let It Be clocked in at just barely over a half-hour. Yet, when those thirty minutes were up, all I could do was stare slack-jawed at the wall and frantically ask myself, “What else is the radio hiding from me"”
From that moment on, I made sure I would never again simply consume the pre-packaged music that the record companies “wanted me to hear.” For better or for worse, The Replacements sentenced me to a life of dedicating myself to finding my music on my own. I sure as hell wasn’t going to let a gem like that one slip by me for so long again.
Looking back, it’s interesting to see just how far The Replacements’ influence has spread, despite the fact that very few enlightened souls have ever heard of them. Two whole years before Stefani Germanotta was even “born this way,” Let It Be featured singer Paul Westerberg desperately shouting at a lonely piano with the track “Androgynous,” a gay-love anthem far before it was considered cool. At the time, such a statement could possibly be deemed career-suicide. Westerberg didn’t care (not that this beer-swilling miscreant had much in the way of a lucrative career anyway.) He was going to sing what he wanted, and if there was anyone who felt like he did, they’d listen. Ignored in their time, they might have been a little “cooler” had they come around a couple decades later, but perhaps if they had not been there to be “uncool”, our very definition of “cool” might not be what it is. It’s an unpleasant job, being uncool, but somebody has to do it.
So to anyone who has ever felt “uncool,” overlooked or possibly even a little slighted, maybe Mr. Westerberg has something to say to you. Just take a trip on down to your local record store and ask the scruffy dude at the counter for the ‘Mats; he’ll know what you’re talking about. Meet me anyplace, or anywhere, or anytime. Dare. I did.