The True Story of The Replacements
by Bob Mehr
Maybe it has something to do with the sort of “Little Rascals” image that The Replacements have always given off as a lateral by-product of the band’s popular “loveable loser” image and mythos, but even just reading the words “The True Story of The Replacements” – specifically that nagging word “True” included up front – can get a mind percolating.
This is a band around whom there are a lot of stories, after all; some seem like tall tales, but most of them alternate between succulent and savory. Part of the band’s appeal are those stories. Like that one about the band being so upset that their catalogue was being reissued on CD by Twin Tone that they stole the safety masters and threw them in the Mississippi? Classic. Or that time they shaved their eyebrows off? Or how about drummer Chris Mars’ penchant for dressing up like a clown when he’d had just the right amount to drink?
Fans know them all – many were recounted in the liner notes for the band’s first greatest hits comp, All For Nothing, Nothing For All – and love them dearly whether they’re true or not. Even so, there’s an attractive quality to “truth.” That one word will get even the biggest fans to crack Trouble Boys open because they’ll want to read and see how many fingers were crossed as members of the band and those in their closest sphere confess the truth on a stack of figurative Bibles. How could it not be attractive to see how much fans know by rote is really truth, and how much (to paraphrase Stephen Colbert) is simply “truthiness” intended to further cement the “Little Rascals”-esque image of the band in every romantics’ eye?
As it turns out, the best and most engaging part of Trouble Boys is that it clarifies some of the outrageous tales that every ‘Mats fan knows and arranges them in chronological order – which runs from shortly before that story where “Paul Westerberg hid in the bushes outside the Stinsons’ house to listen to Bob, Tommy and Chris Mars play,” up through to near present day, when Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson embarked on a reunion tour in 2015, as well as filling in all the gaps which have often existed in the chronology.
The result is very humanizing; here, author Bob Mehr carefully structures Trouble Boys in a manner which shows how Tommy Stinson really did grow up in public and better articulates Bob Stinson’s lifelong psychological problems as being more than just a variant on the story of Peter Pan (which had often been the case before), while also presenting Chris Mars as being sort of isolated from the group after the release of Pleased To Meet Me and Paul Westerberg as having a very clear plan regarding what he wanted to do with The Replacements, but also being very guarded on what exactly that plan was to the point that everything he had in mind got derailed more than a couple of times.
As each of those characters gets developed, readers will find that they’ve gained a greater understanding of each and so find themselves caring that much more about the bandmembers; readers will find themselves actively resisting the urge to chuckle out loud as they read, as well as getting a bit misty elsewhere.
As the storyline progresses, Slim Dunlap and Steve Foley enter the proceedings (the stories of how each ends up joining the band are great little additions which have been sort of glossed over before, for the most part) but don’t feature as great an amount of character development as the original four members enjoyed in part because their additions to the group were really more stop-gap measures to avoid collapse than anything.
While Trouble Boys does not go out of its way to overtly point that out or state it, the book really does leave that sense. At those points (and others in the later reading as well), the sequence of events does get a little confusing and disquieting, but the tone reflects that very well, and readers will discover that they feel it increasingly as the band’s story continues to the point that, when the band does eventually collapse and its initial run ends, readers will feel at least a small amount of relief.
By then, readers will find that they’ve developed a true, emotional attachment to these people/characters which is deeper than that which they may have developed through simply being fans of the band’s music, and hope that they find some satisfaction, in the end.
… And while it would be hard to contend that all the individuals involved in The Replacements found satisfaction by the end of the band, it would be harder still to contend that Trouble Boys ends tragically. The book ends with everyone finding something that they can appreciate about their association with the band. While it doesn’t end on the highest imaginable note (there is, after all, a fairly high bodycount associated with The Replacements), it ends with those left alive feeling good about their association with the band.
In that way, readers will find they’re leaving with a warm sensation in the pit of their stomachs. As was the case with the band’s music, there are moments of difficulty in Trouble Boys but, in the end, readers will find they’re elated that they got to experience it. Even if the subhead is a lie – if this story isn’t true – it’s good and close enough.