Monday, October 24, 2011

Left of the Dial

My mother spent her childhood in then rural Long Island. As she got older and her father moved up in his company, living closer to Manhattan was important. They settled on Queens, where there were many other family members and also a large, vibrant Hungarian community. Many of these folks were the children of Holocaust survivors, which colored their ways of thinking. My mother, being the token Gentile amongst them, spent her teenage years swooning to Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
Then there is the matter of people she knew from the hood. One was Chaim Weitz, who later reinvented himself as Gene Simmons. Another was Tommy Erdelyi, who became Tommy Ramone. Despite outward appearances, my mother had a bit of hipster in her.
During my teenage years, as I attempted to shock her with my musical taste, I failed miserably. She introduced me to the Clash and the Go Go's; many of the hardcore bands I thought were obscure she had heard about already. she grew up with the Ramones in Forest Hills for goodness sakes!
Then came the Replacements. This was one band that we really didn't see eye to eye on; out of the Minneapolis punk scene she liked Husker Du better (side note, as a kid that was my favorite game). Finally, I could outdo her with a band.
I do have a confession to make...I was introduced to the Replacements by a friend in 1983 via a mix tape. The following year Let it Be came out, and it was the first Mats album I owned. I saw them in Salt Lake City, at the fairgrounds a couple of years later. I want to say they played with Husker Du, but if I think long and hard about it, it was probably 2 seperate shows.
Almost 30 years on, aging hipsters like me are still talking about bands that defined their youth. For me, it was the Clash, U2 and the Replacements.
Over the intervening years, Let it Be would find it's way onto my turntable, tape deck, cd player and now iPhone/iPod.
I am not the only major fan out there; in fact, Gorman Bechard made a movie about it called Color Me Obsessed ( About 130 fans and fellow musicians were interviewed about quite possibly the most influential band of the last 30 years. Some of my favorite musicians and taste makers were featured like members of Husker Du, Colin Meloy from the Decemberists; Craig Finn of the Hold Steady, Dan Zanes of the del Fuegos and of course, Tommy Ramone (who produced Tim). Matt Pinfield (who was part of the City Gardens scene, made the Melody Bar a go to place to hear live indie rock & later hosted 120 minutes on MTV), Legs McNeil (who wrote the seminal history of punk, Please Kill Me) and the godfather of all taste makers, Christgau of the Village Voice. If he liked a band or album back in the day, you knew it would be good.
The movie is not a straight forward rock doc. The music of the Replacements is never heard; you don't see the band until the very end. It is a movie by a fan, featuring fans and putting the Replacements in their proper perspective in the rock & roll histiography. What is fascinating is the diversity of the folks featured: Jack Rabid from the Big Takeover magazine; Tom Arnold, the goo goo dolls, and a whole host of others.
(Even the Brooklyn Vegan has a few articles on the movie!)
It's fascinating because you don't think of a band impacting so many diverse folks (the manager of Nirvana! Minnesota farm boy! Norm from Cheers!) but that's the beauty of the Replacements. You would not have Nirvana's Smells like Teen Spirit if it were not for Bastards of Young. Kiss Me on the Bus was the direct ancestor of power poppy punk like Green Day, Sum 41, Good Charlotte and the ilk.
I had the opportunity to see the movie at the Reel Dakota fest this weekend. Yes, South Dakota has its own version of Sundance. It was actually much better than I had expected it to be...I don't hold much weight for this genre, since it usually winds up being closer to Behind the Music than End of the Century (a really great look at the Ramones).
The Replacements have a special place in the rock god pantheon. If it wasn't for them, bands like Green Day and Nirvana would have never happened. They were the sonic siblings to the Pixies/Breeders, Social D and Sonic Youth. Their legendary stage shows with guitarist, the late great Bob Stinsob wearing a garbage can or tutu (or both) paved the way for the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing in their underwear or the infamous sox on c----s. They belong in rock & roll Valhalla.
However, if you talk to most alt music fans, especially the hipster/indie crowd, they either a. Never heard of the Replacements or b. not quite sure what to make of them in terms of today's music environment. Today with you tube, Facebook and twitter, I really don't think that the band would find their fan base as they could 30 years ago. There was an interview in the movie, and I think it was Jack Rabid speaking, about how you had to search these bands out. There was an underground network of xeroxed fanzines that crisscrossed the country. You had record stores that you could go hang out in and the staff could play stuff for you and recommend bands...the only place like that I can think of today is Princeton Record Exchange. It was wholly organic...and the network spiderwebbed across the country. It was a very special time in music history. I can trace my musical genealogy as such:
The Who/Rolling Stones/Beatles begat
The NY Dolls/Stooges/Velvet Underground begat
The Clash/Sex Pistols/Ramones begat
The Replacements begat
Everyone else.
If for no other reason, you need to see Color Me Obsessed to understand why this band matters to the history and evolution of rock music.

No comments: