I was never much into punk rock, though I tried to be for a short time. I did wear a short woolen army surplus jacket my freshman year in Seattle, and I sported a sort of mullet in the New Wave style.
The following summer, back in Minnesota, my friend Kenny and I drove around the lakes listening to London Calling, and I suppose I knew all the words, but my heart wasn’t in it. When they came to St. Paul to play at the Civic Center, I got a ticket and spent most of the concert wandering around the concourse, but at one point I decided I should see enough so I could say I was there someday, which I’m doing now.
I fought my way pretty close to the front of the stage, into the “mosh pit.” (Did they even call it that back then?) I was close enough to see the spit coming out of Joe Strummer’s mouth. From time to time, the whole crowd would be pushed either to the left or the right, and we would all stumble to a new station. During one of these surges, a girl next to me fell down. She was dressed in black (of course) and had black hair that likely hid her identity as just another Swedish blond. I reached down to help her up, and she sneered a punk rock sneer and slapped my hand away, confirming my sense that I was not cut out for punk rock, and I returned to the concourse for another lap, while waiting to meet my friends after the show.
This morning I was sitting in my wife’s fancy new used truck, and “Talent Show” by the Replacements came on, and it took me back to my punk rock summer and my short-lived tolerance of The Clash. I never really cared for the Replacements, either, my tastes trending more toward lite rock and classic country (as they still do), but some of my friends thought they were geniuses, and others got on board later. I taped some of the records and liked some of their songs okay.
What struck me this morning was the reason why The Replacements meant so much to our generation of Twin Citians: They were our version of The Clash.
A common urban legend in those days (which may have been true, but there was no way to google it) was that The Clash didn’t know how to play their instruments when they started their band, a fact that got us all thinking “what if?” If they could do it, why couldn’t we? So we played electric guitars in the sculpture studio at Bethel, poorly and passionately, but never really believing in ourselves or having anything to say.
One day my dad, who was a professor at Bethel, wandered in and heard me singing and thrashing away. I never shared my musical skills (such as they were) with my family, so he was no doubt surprised to see his youngest child growling in a poor imitation of John Fogerty.
A few months later, I decided to hitchhike to California, and Dad, in a rare moment of vulnerability (as Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” played in my mind), said he would support me in whatever I decided to do, “…music, or whatever.” It was a last-ditch effort to get me not to leave, and it didn’t work, but it came as a pleasant shock. I didn’t take my music very seriously, so it surprised me that he did, and still gives me a feeling of affection for my late old man.
In the end, the practicality of earning a degree won out over my half-hearted dreams of rock and roll stardom.
Not so for The Replacements. God bless them, they did what we all dreamed of doing, and it worked, and they were great, even though I didn’t care for them much.
I believe I saw them play once, at Coffman Union in the fall of 1983. A group of us heard five minutes of their drunken cacophony, and I was ready to hit the concourse. Too irrepressible for the likes of me, which reveals my faults more than theirs. If I remember right, we headed over to Chef’s Café, and Rob, who was in love, and never stopped loving The Clash, walked into a light post.
Twenty years later I played some music in some bars, just like I’d dreamed of doing. It was kind of a letdown, but I wish my dad had been there just once.