LET IT BE: The Gospel According To Paul

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last night it was announced that The Replacements will be reuniting for a series of live dates.

SPIN: Even during their ’80s heyday, the Replacements were an unpredictable live entity. And though footage exists of the group at their explosive peak, that was 30 years ago. Still, the Paul Westerberg-led indie-punk icons are “reuniting” as the headliner for Riot Fest 2013. The three-city engagement marks the ‘Mats’ first billed performance in 22 years; they last performed in Chicago’s Grant Park on July 4, 1991. In a statement, founding bassist Tommy Stinson contended that the band never broke up despite the hiatus. No word yet on who will replace guitarist Slim Dunlap (replacement for original guitarist Bob Stinson), who suffered a debilitating stroke in 2012. In June of that year, Stinson let slip that he and singer Paul Westerberg were working together on a tribute album — what later became the auction-based Songs for Slim EP and split 7-inch series. That almost-reunion raised more than $100,000 to help offset the “considerable challenges” Dunlap and his family continue to face as a result of his condition. According to the band, the connection forged during those sessions inspired band’s return. MORE

MAGNET: When Paul Westerberg was 17, the neighborhood stoner dude with the awesome stereo system and ultra-hip record collection turned him on to the Sex Pistols. “I shat myself,” he says. “It was noisy rock ‘n’ roll screeched by a guy who couldn’t sing. I thought, ‘This is my music.’” After that, he stopped wearing his glasses and, predictably, fell in with the wrong crowd, sampling just about every controlled substance short of heroin. One month before graduating, he stopped going to class. “I saw this film called The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner about a guy who stops just short of the finish line, and that was very influential,” he says. “Besides, wearing a cap and gown was just not cool.”

Making the best of somewhat limited options, he took a job as a janitor in the offices of U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger. By this point, Westerberg had bought himself an electric guitar and joined a neighborhood rock group called Oat. Walking home from work one day, he heard a band stumbling through Yes’ “Roundabout” in the basement of a house at 36th and Grand. He hated Yes, but he heard an opportunity. Every day on the way home, he would hide in the bushes and listen to them rehearse, never summoning the courage to knock on the door and introduce himself.

“One day a friend asked me if I wanted to go hear a band play,” he says. “We pull up, and it’s that house on 36th and Grand. I walked in very casual and didn’t tell them that I had been listening to them. I was immediately struck by Tommy. His amp was bigger than him.”

The band was calling itself Dogbreath and featured 12-year-old Tommy Stinson on bass, his 19-year-old half-brother Bob on guitar and 18-year-old Chris Mars on drums. By the time Westerberg left the Stinson house, he was officially a member of Dogbreath.

Although he kept it to himself, he was going to make some changes. The classic-rock crap had to go, as did the name. “Bob had the absolute worst record collection I ever saw,” says Westerberg. “The next time I came over, I brought three albums with me: Dave Edmunds/Rockpile’s Tracks On Wax, Singles Going Steady by the Buzzcocks and the first one by the New York Dolls.” The guys in Dogbreath asked Westerberg if he knew any singers, so for the next rehearsal he brought along Oat’s vocalist. Dogbreath liked him fine, but Westerberg had other ideas.

“I pulled him aside afterwards and told him that I liked his singing, but the other guys weren’t into it,” says Westerberg. “I told them he wasn’t into it and I would sing until we found somebody else.”

He taught Dogbreath the songs from the first Heartbreakers album, passing them off as his own. “They figured it out after a while,” he says. “I remember walking up the stairs to take a piss and Chris whispering to the other guys, ‘This is friggin’ punk rock!’ like I was trying to slip them angel dust or something.” Westerberg got them to change their name to the Impediments. They practiced every day for months, as Westerberg slowly changed the Johnny Thunders songs into his songs, altering the chords ever so slightly and making up new words, giving them titles like “Shutup,” “Careless” and “Shiftless When Idle.”

They passed a practice tape to Peter Jesperson—a local disc jockey, record-store clerk and all-around tastemaker—hoping he could get them a gig at the Longhorn, where all the cool bands played. Jesperson was also one of the partners at a local indie label called Twin/Tone. When Jesperson heard the tape, he called Westerberg excitedly and asked if the band would be interested in making an album.

“I remember thinking either I’ve lost it or this is the greatest thing since sliced bread,” says Jesperson, now a senior vice president at New West Records. “I remember being lambasted by a lot of people for being so passionate about these guys. I remember Bob Mould saying, ‘I suppose the red carpet is going to be rolled out for these guys.’”

The first Impediments gig was at a halfway house for recovering alcoholics, but the band arrived drunk and was shown the door before playing a single note. “The guy who ran the place told us he would make sure we never played again in this town,” says Westerberg. “So we changed the name to the Replacements to cover our tracks.” MORE

RELATED: “The way punk was going, it was obvious that we couldn’t be the fastest, loudest, toughest band on earth,” says Westerberg. “So I returned to the acoustic guitar. I used to always show those guys new songs on an acoustic, but we always recorded them electric. This time, we cut them with the acoustic. And we really arranged the songs, adding mandolin and 12-string. In the back of my mind I was thinking Beggar’s Banquet. And it was right in the autumn and the weather was beautiful, the nights were cool. There was something in the air that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.”

Along with his acoustic guitar, Westerberg brought to the studio some of the best songs he’s ever written: “Unsatisfied,” “Sixteen Blue,” “Androgynous” and the country-tinged gem “I Will Dare.” Says Jesperson, “I remember the first time I heard [“I Will Dare”], thinking, ‘Oh my god, we’re gonna be rich.’” Peter Buck was asked to play the solo on “I Will Dare.” Says Westerberg, “We liked Peter, we hung out with him and we had done a couple of tours with R.E.M. But that was totally Jesperson’s idea, him being Brian Epstein about it. Nobody else was that keen on it. I remember looking over at Bob when Pete was cutting his solo, and it was like, ‘Sorry, dude.’”

Calling the album Let It Be was the band’s way of pissing off Jesperson, a huge Beatles fan. “We were in the van kicking around names,” says Westerberg. “We were going to call it Whistler’s Mammy, and then we were going to call it Stunk. And then we decided that the next song that came on the radio was going to be the album title. The next thing you know, ‘When I find myself in times of trouble … ’ comes on the radio. I remember we took photos of the band walking across the street like Abbey Road, and that’s why we were on the roof (on the album cover). It was supposed to be like the Beatles on the roof at Apple, but it was too steep for us to take our instruments up there.” MORE