Friday, February 14, 2014

Left of the Dial

This month's band of the month post will not be as long as usual - because I have done it already, reviewing Color Me Obsessed, the Replacements movie. That post is really the model of these posts - right down to the heavy autobiography. The Replacements were extremely important to me - they marked a definitive break with pop music, and maybe most importantly, with the radio. All the bands I've listed up to now (except Johnny Cash, probably, who I discovered mostly through records people I knew had) I discovered on the radio, listened to and became a fan of from the radio, which led me to the records, and so on.

The Replacements were the first band I came to love that I did not discover through the radio. I did hear them on the radio - they got some airplay when Tim came out, and I think I heard Hold My Life and probably Kiss me on the Bus on the radio - and those songs were enough to convince me to buy the new record (Tim it was.) I also saw them on Saturday Night Live - surprised and delighted by that, making a point of watching it... But I was inclined to like them anyway - I mentioned in the DVD review that I read about them before I heard them, in college newspapers, maybe even in Time or Rolling Stone - and even then, I was beginning to find radio too restrictive. I'd heard a lot of the underground bands in college, on college radio, and late night specials on the more mainstream channels - REM, Husker Du, Mission of Burma, SSD - bands I didn't hear on the regular radio, and by the time I got done with college, I was growing restless. The underground bands that did get on the radio later - REM and X, say, or Joy Division - were better, certainly more interesting, than what was being played in 1985 - so by then I knew I wasn't getting the whole story, and had to find it.

If I'd had any money to spare, I'd have done it all quicker, instead of buying half a dozen records a year. But broke as I was, I spared it for Tim (and Candy Apple Gray, about the same time)> That proved the concept. I'll to paraphrase myself: songs like Hold My Life, Bastards of the Young, Little Mascara, Left of the Dial, Kiss Me on the Bus, Here Comes a Regular - struck me, from the first listen, as being the best written songs I had heard in years, as good as anything I knew. The words particularly - they told stories, I recognized the people in them, they were clever, full of word play, sharp, surprising images and turns of phrase, there weren't cliches - or the cliches were jokes, the jokes were funny - they gave us a world. They were set to the music they needed to be set to - and performed with almost unexplainable directness. Loose, almost careless sounding, but still, somehow, precise, sharp, completely committed. And after that, for a year or two, The Mats were my favorite band in the world. They were what I wanted rock music to sound like. It certainly helped that I saw them, right at the end of their Bob Stinson days, a couple weeks before Westerberg broke his arm and they cancelled their tour and a couple months before they fired poor Bob from his own band. Seeing them live - they came as advertised, an odd mix of drunken shenanigans, half serious covers, snarky noise, and those fucking incredible songs, given strange, sloppy, but usually completely committed readings. They were funny and mind-blowingly brilliant at once. They ended up playing Mississippi Queen until the cops escorted them off the stage at closing time. My god, they were great.

And after the Replacements, almost all the bands I discovered, loved, still love, I discovered somewhere other than the radio - and a lot of them, I never heard on the radio. The Feelies I saw live, the first time I had ever heard them; Pere Ubu - I heard Peter Murphy's cover of Final Solution, but otherwise, I read about them somewhere and bought records on the recommendation; The Butthole Surfers and Meat Puppets I read about, and they sounded interesting enough to check out - bought a Puppets record; went to see the Surfers without having ever heard them (that will make a lively essay when I get to it.) By the late 80s, even the more mainstream bands I liked I found somewhere else, usually MTV - Jane's Addiction; Public Enemy. (Talk about nostalgia - mentioning MTV makes me nostalgic for the days when people were nostalgic for the days when MTV played music.) In the 80s, though, most of these bands I found by reading - I could lay my hands on half a dozen little newspapers - college papers, indie papers, music papers. Since the 90s, most of the bands I have discovered I have found through the internet - a lot by clicking through the related materials on All Music or YouTube - and magazines, Mojo and The Wire mainly. There you go. It was liberating and still is - it means I am dependent on the amount of work am willing to do to find new music, not on someone else putting them on the radio.

And I was willing to do a lot of work in the 80s. The second half of that decade I may have been broke, but what discretionary income I had ended up at Newbury Comix or the Channel - I bought lots of records, went to lots of shows - national acts (almost all playing clubs - The Channel, the Rat, TT The Bears, The Paradise), local acts - or just bars with a house band of some kind. It was good, and I probably feel as much at home listening to music from that time as any time - Mats and Husker Du, Meat Puppets and Butthole Surfers, Feelies, REM (though this is a bit past their time), Public Enemy, KRS-1, NWA, Ministry, The Cramps, locals like the Zulus, Galaxie 500, Buffalo Tom, Christmas, The Blood Oranges... it was a good time, and it started with the Replacements.

That's enough. Let's do the list:

1. Within Your Reach
2. Hold My Life
3. Can't Hardly Wait
4. Answering Machine
5. Color Me Impressed
6. Bastards of the Young
7. Alex Chilton
8. I Will Dare
9. Little Mascara
10. Unsatisfied

Video - start with this, late, 1991, but an early song - I first heard it live, their Pleased to Meet Me tour, post-Bob - they were still good then, but far more professional seeming, and a good deal less interesting. But this is such a gorgeous song - and I went away obsessed with it. It's got Westerberg's way with words - the brilliant twists, sun keeps rising in the west - and the way he twists them live, coming up with new versions, as clever as the originals, sometimes... or - ignoring the originals. Downplaying them in a way that just reiterates how good he is... what can I say.

Saturday Night live - Bastards of the Young:

What a mess by mmr421

Music only version of Can't Hardly Wait, live in 86 - great stuff, which was never guaranteed in those days:

And a very fine live version of Color Me Impressed, 1983:

And finally - Hold My Life, 2013 - Paul and Tommy reliving the old days...

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