Monday, November 12, 2007

Don't Tell a Soul

Oh, boy, oh boy, I am excited - there is a new Replacements book out, All Over but the Shouting. Not only are they one of my favorite bands, but it's in the oral history format, which I really dig. Seems to work well for music bios and histories, especially one of my favorites of all time, Please Kill Me.

The 'Mats are one of those bands that were so important and brilliant at the time, but I think it might be difficult for someone to get into them now. The production on most of their records is really bad - but each record has it's own unique badness. From their classic era, Let It Be still sounds pretty good to me, but Tim seems thin and tinny. Pleased To Meet Me is too slick and stiff (more on this later), and Don't Tell a Soul is way too boomy and mainstreamy. But the songs are great.

I have 2 Replacements stories. The first is from when I saw them play in 1987 at Tipitina's in New Orleans. They were riding high on the critically-acclaimed Pleased to Meet Me. I was super-excited about seeing them and told all my friends to go to the show. Surprisingly, a large number did. Unfortunately, this was one of their legendary bad shows. Westerberg was so drunk that he could barely stand. He seemed to purposely avoid singing any chorus or hook of a song and constantly seemed on the verge of vomiting. I remember my friends being really disappointed and pissed at me that they had spent money on the tickets. Well, they probably brag about being at that show now.

The second story takes place 3 years later. Pete of 1987 would never have believed it, but there I was in 1990, recording my first album with Pleased to Meet Me's producer, the legendary Jim Dickinson. This was my first band, the House Levelers, destined to go down in obscurity.

We had got turned on to Dickinson after our friends Dash Rip Rock had recorded their Not of This World album. It was a great sounding record and the fact that he had produced the Replacements and Big Star really sealed the deal.

I tried to play it cool with Dickinson at first, I didn't want to barrage him with questions about working with those bands, not to mention his sessions with Dylan and the Stones. Luckily, he was a real character, a born storyteller - a raconteur, you might say. His philosophy was to smoke a joint every hour on the hour - and he did.

He had many interesting theories, one was that he didn't want to record in New Orleans (our home) because it was below sea level. Apparently, that leads to substandard recordings. Who knew?

So we headed up to Memphis for the sessions. Eventually I worked up enough nerve to ask about some of the bands he worked with. His 'Mats stories were priceless. The guys were drinking so heavily back then that they literally could not play a song all the way through. They would play for an hour or two and then stagger out into the night. He ended up piecing the entire album together on a primitive sampler called the Fairlight - which is why the album sounds so stiff and artificial. There are no real full band performances on it.

One night, someone from the label came to check in on them. The band was out at the time but Dickinson was there. After surveying the trashed studio the label guy was speechless. Finally he asked one thing, "How did they get vomit on the walls?"

Dickinson replied, "Well, they threw up in their hands and wiped them on the walls."

And that is what we call "rock".

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