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The Replacements/My One Good Dose of Thunder

In Ohio, we had college radio 87.etc way left of the dial and only receivable on perfectly clear airwaves or by moving your radio near something conductive. In the garage of my parent’s house, I heard the Replacements for the first time. It was somewhere around April, definitely a Saturday. I didn’t have a car, so I had nothing else to do but sit on the steps and listen to music. The Replacements/Can’t Hardly Wait blindsided me. I didn’t know who Paul Westerberg was or why the lines in that song were so clever, but I knew in the midst of all of the elitism of college radio, that The Replacements were one of “us” not one of “them”. Midwesterners don’t know how to pretend to be anything. Most of us were raised in towns that forced us to find interesting things in basic places. Like laundromats and convenient stores. Like driving for hours on empty roads, listening to music, smoking cigarettes, never arriving anywhere. Up until this point, I was obsessed with English bands. The Cure, the Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees. They seemed out of reach, like from a another world.  And to a girl in the suburbs who never really fit, they were an escape from malls and fields. But the Replacements spoke to that part of me who grew up hearing Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Kiss blaring from a stereo the size of a smart car. They weren’t polished. They smelled like a bowling alley. They looked like borrowed shoes. And I fell in love with them because they were familiar but so far ahead of everything. They had that something that not everyone could hear but the ones who could hear it, became fans for life.  “Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out the Trash” is punk rock at its best. It says…”I don’t give a damn about anything”. It’s young, mean, and loaded with references and irreverence. “Hootenanny” is when you really begin to see legend potential. “Within Your Reach” contains lyrics that should have never been written by a kid as young as Westerberg.  Even he knew that. When he came up with the lines…”I can(‘t?) live without your touch. Die within your reach.” He said…”You aren’t going to believe this line. ” He knew that the Replacements were going to be more than just a local band that practiced in a basement. “Let it Be” was released in 1984 and music just wasn’t in that place in 84. Everything was synthesized and plasticized. “Unsatisfied” is the song on the album that makes you remember why the Replacements will have their time. “Tim” and “Pleased to Meet Me” were released two years apart (1985/1987), but they are identically magnificent. They share my #1 spot. It is on these two albums that you hear the Replacements fully develop their sound, yet they purposely remind you that they are ok with doing a few sloppy screw you songs. Sometimes I think they were deathly afraid of being too good.  Don’t Tell a Soul” was released in 1989, one of the best years in music. It was lost among some of the most memorable albums but it was not lost on me. It still remains my #2 Replacements album only behind Tim/Pleased to Meet Me. It’s lyrically heartbreaking, honest, and you clearly see Westerberg’s mastery of phrase turning. He is a poet. Period. Every time I listen to “Don’t Tell a Soul”, I have to remind myself that this is Paul Westerberg and he is unpredictable. And that I shouldn’t feel too much for a song because he will follow it with a loud, drunk anthem that will kick my ass for noticing his heart on his sleeve. I guess that is why he remains my favorite musician. I see myself in him. But what I did not see coming, was a last Replacements album. When “All Shook Down” was released gas was $1 a gallon, I was 19 and my part of Ohio finally had an alternative radio station. It felt more like a beginning. I can’t possibly sum up what that album meant to me.  A girl in a $600 car who saw a knife in the road instead of a fork.  Early fans heard Paul Westerberg leaving the Replacements in every song on that album. But I heard a brilliant songwriter who wanted to be taken seriously. Something Paul Westerberg opposed violently in the early days. “All Shook Down” has been called a commercial album, a studio album but I don’t hear it. I hear a band that grew up and out of itself. Everyone had something else that they wanted to do. It happens. So, I continued listening to my Replacements’s albums like they were still making music. I got excited when they popped up on soundtracks. Told my younger friends about them. And waited for their return. There was always a part of me that knew the Replacements would play again. I’ve talked to fans over the years (and there are no lukewarm Replacement fans), and we all felt it. When I heard rumors about the Replacements playing Riot Fest, I have to admit that I wanted their first show to NOT be a festival. But as a starving fan, I had to take it. Unfortunately, the closest show was Chicago and I was broke. So I had to endure pictures on Twitter and Facebook, invitations that I had to turn down, and a returned email about inquiring too late for a press pass. And damn’t, it felt unfair. Then I heard about the Replacements nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and come on, that’s my home state. But my closest chance at seeing the band and maybe meeting Paul, fell apart when they didn’t make the cut. So here I am, writing about the single most influential band and lead singer of my life, and waiting for a chance to see the Replacements lay it down.

About Ara Harris

Ara Harris
Music junkie, Atari 2600 bringer backer, word maker upper, loves to photograph and write about suburban decay. Ara grew up on a corner lot in small town Ohio. She began escaping the micro minds of the Midwest by listening to music, watching b films, and touring the cities in her mind. She wrote poetry on the back of algebra tests and asked Lou Reed to take her to prom. Two decades later she self published a full collection of poetry that one reader described as “a Tom Verlaine riff in every synapse”. She believes that we all have a gift, we just have to find it.

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