The Replacements were considered by many to be the best rock band in the world about ten years ago. Let It Be (1984) and Tim (1985) captured the foursome at its apex by blending the hard stuff A "Gary's Got a Boner" and an inspired cover of KISS's "Black Diamond," both of which featured the raucous but penetrating rhythmic drive of drummer Chris Mars and bassist Tommy Stinson behind the heavenly/hellish riffs of wild man guitarist Bob Stinson A with the bare gentleness of front man Paul Westerberg's touching and compelling ballads ("Unsatisfied," "Here Comes a Regular"). In the latter songs, Westerberg exposed raw emotional nerves to the point that any thinking fan might turn to something brain-numbing to overcome the depression; drugs, especially alcohol, were what the band prescribed, for themselves at least. Listening to "Unsatisfied" in a sober condition easily could lead to suicidal thoughts. Then again, it could just as easily lead the other way A to that cathartic connection between artist and listener that shouts, "It's okay, you're not alone in your depressing insights about the human condition."
Though they had one more worthwhile album in them (1987's Pleased to Meet Me), by 1986 it was time for the Replacements to fall headlong off the ledge of greatness. Their charming mix of personalities and musical prowess was perfect, but nothing perfect lasts. Tommy's brother, Bob, was fired in 1986, before the recording of Pleased to Meet Me. Bob Stinson, whose heartfelt guitar playing could shatter steel hearts with piercing hard-core riffs one moment and then ring melodically and harmonically the next, had taken the band's well-known advocacy of getting fucked up beyond the pale. When Bob was axed, I asked Tommy how he could reconcile the dismissal of not just a bandmate but his own brother. He mumbled some rationalization without confirming the widespread rumor: that Bob was a heroin addict and abuser of other chemicals who failed to grow up with the rest of the Mats.
If he'd been fired a year or two earlier, the hypocrisy might have destroyed the group in the eyes of its fans. But maturity had set in for the band, and the discharging of Bob Stinson was only a small part of the overall tragedy. By 1989's Don't Tell a Soul, the whole party was over. The record A which I called "Don't Sell a Soul" A sucked. The next one, All Shook Down, was even lamer. Mars, Westerberg, and Tommy Stinson all went on to solo careers. Bob Stinson was forgotten, left to his self-induced obscurity. Last week he died of an apparent drug overdose.
Over the years, I had heard rumors that the loss of his artistic career did little to slow down Stinson's intake of mind-altering substances. He married and had a son, Joseph, now six years old. Contrary to what the Miami Herald mentioned in its brief Stinson obituary last week, he wasn't estranged from his family. They didn't live together, but they did keep in touch. Bob Stinson was 35 years old.
Details about Stinson's death were scarce last week. A woman at a record company who told me about it said, "I wonder how MTV is going to report this. The Replacements didn't do videos back then, so what will they do for footage?" Stinson had no record label, no PR flack, no one to make the obituary process simple and easy.
I spoke with Peter Jesperson in Minneapolis as he was leaving his office to attend funeral services for Stinson. Jesperson goes as far back with the band as anyone, and he has remained close to the members ever since he signed them to Twin/Tone and guided their early studio work. "I can tell you that before anybody came to see them because of Paul, they came to see them because of Bob," Jesperson offered. "He was the real attraction. Right now we only know that it was an overdose. We don't know if it was accidental or what."
Bob Stinson was always too funny A he wore a dress on-stage long before it became a marginal trend A and often brilliant on guitar. But as for climbing inside his mind, well...he was always funny and often brilliant on guitar. And it's too late now.
But whether his OD was accidental or intentional, Stinson should've known better. Way back on their first album, the Mats recorded a song about notorious junkie-guitar hero Johnny Thunders. Its title: "Johnny's Gonna Die."
If you still haven't, do yourself a favor and obtain Rooster Head's latest album, Traditional Cock. It recently won the Jammy for best album. I don't believe awards bestow validity, and in this case it's particularly irrelevant. Traditional Cock is simply one of the most important CDs released in the past year.
So many clubs closing, and there's Squeeze chugging along and celebrating its sixth anniversary with a big to-do on Saturday. Marianne Flemming, Magda Hiller (Jammy winner as best female vocalist), and InHouse perform. Then at midnight alt "hits" of the past six years get spun by house DJ Charles Arnold, Glenn Richards, and the club's original house DJ, Joe Disano. Plus other stuff.