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The Fauxplacements. Or “What Makes A Reunion A Reunion?”

September 23, 2014

I was not particularly fond of the Replacements during their initial go-round; I felt they had a disrespect for their audiences that bordered on the offensive, a disregard for their band member’s health that bordered on the criminal, and a disregard for making cohesive recordings that was abusive of their clearly visible skills.

So I was not especially engaged, as so many of my peers were, by the prospect of their reunion. But my personal feelings about the Replacements are hardly relevant to the point I’d like to make here.

RELATED: Revisiting My Thoughts on The Replacements and The Captain (Plus Let’s Honor Malcolm Young)

The Replacements, 3/4ths of whom are still alive.

We are so eager to see the Replacements, to bask in the bittersweet recall of a youth happily spent in low-ceilinged nightclubs chatting up cat-eyed college girls and haunting narrow record stores befumed by the musky scent of used vinyl, that we overlook the fact that it’s debatable whether the band on stage is actually the Replacements. Personally (and I insert that caveat because, despite the righteousness of my ornery ire, I do believe that there is a lot of gray area here) I don’t buy it. Paul Westerberg plus Tommy Stinson doesn’t, in my mind, equal the Replacements. Stick Chris Mars behind the drums, and then we can talk.

See, whenever I consider the reunion of the so-called Replacements, I remember this: If Paul Westerberg went out on a solo tour, he would probably get a guarantee of (let’s call it) X dollars (“X” would be a decent amount of change to you and I, but that is not the point here). Now, if Westerberg and Stinson went out on the road billed as, oh, “Westerberg and Stinson,” that number would probably change to X times 5. But…if they call the same band The Replacements, the original “X” becomes X times 15. And X times 15 is a lot of money.

I can pretty much guarantee that this didn’t happen: After many moments – nay, years – of grave consideration, Paul Westerberg didn’t decide to “reunite the Replacements.” Instead, Westerberg very likely thought “I can make fifteen times as much money – shit, add merch and we’re talking twenty times as much – if I can rope Tommy into this and go out as the Replacements.” See, personally I have certain semi-articulated criteria regarding a reunion. Let’s examine these, shall we? If a band originally had four members, one writing/singing member going out with one other member who didn’t write or sing lead and only one other member who didn’t write or sing does NOT feel like a legit reunion to me. And don’t bring in the dead (Bob) or incapacitated (Slim) members issue…even Led Zeppelin, who stood to make about a billion dollars from a reunion tour, I mean literally a billion dollars, only performed as Led Zeppelin when they had three of the original four on-board, and otherwise went out as Page/Plant.

David Minehan, around the time he was America’s answer to Paul Weller.

(A wee bit of extra credit to the Fauxplacements for including the amazing David Minehan in the band on guitar; Minehan’s dynamic, slashing, bobbing moddy Neighborhoods were one of the brighter bands of the late 1970s/early 1980s.)

Let’s look into this a little further.

Now, the Buzzcocks are also out on the road (and have been, for many years) with “just” two original members. Yet I consider this a “legitimate” reunion, even though I don’t consider the Replacements legitimate. Why? Well, the two “original” members of the Buzzcocks in their current touring line-up were both primary vocalists and composers – in fact, the only singing/writing members of the band. Let’s take this a step further into history: Through much of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Pink Floyd toured and released records. This band contained two of the original four members of the band, and three of the four “prime” members of the band. Was this a real “Pink Floyd”? Why, yes it was. 1) Any band that includes three out of four “prime” members, including one of the prime vocalists, can always claim legitimacy; 2) Roger Waters is a bitter old sexist dickwad, and I endorse anything that made him frown. Having three-fourths of the prime line-up PLUS one of the prime vocalists, as the ‘80s/’90s Floyd did, means that you are way legitimate.

Roger Waters, a bitter dickwad.

Using the same logic, if Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon (and/or Terry Chimes) went out as The Clash (unlikely, but one never knows), would that be legitimate? Strangely, I’d have to say yes. I’m almost unhappy saying yes, but, “Scoreboard!” as Jim Rome might say. Going just by the numbers – 3/4ths of the prime members, and one of the prime vocalists – I’d say that was legit.

Yet, Tim, you’re still insisting the Replacements weren’t legit? Why, yes I am. A lead singer and the non-singing/non-writing bassist do not comprise a legit line-up, but just a money grab.

“Now, how about The Damned?”

Poet Siegfried Sasoon, who came back from the dead to discuss the Damned with me.

Good question, Siegfried! See, legendary English poet Siegfried Sasoon has entered my consciousness and has now, strangely, joined this conversation. This is especially odd since Sasoon’s verdant, moving, tumbling and defiantly lucid poems about the horror of The First World War makes his work integral to understanding the extraordinary, almost incomprehensible suffering and loss the British endured during the Great War; yet I am not aware of him ever expressing an opinion about rock’n’roll (Tim Page is likely to correct me now, and draw my attention to a comment Sasoon made about P.J. Proby in a 1965 interview). Yet here he is, standing in front of me, asking about the Damned and puffing on a rather pungent Turkish cigarette! Its acrid smoke fills the room with memories of narrow, twisting, sunless alleys behind the ancient Spice Market! I ask if I can smell Siegfried’s tobacco-stained fingers; inhaling deeply, I imagine I am gazing heavenward, towards the impossibly beautiful arch of Santa Sofia’s dome. Naturally, he considers my action a little peculiar, and with a few soft words I explain that the scent of his Balkan Sobranie brand tobacco has brought my senses back to the extraordinary experiences I had as a University student writing haiku about new wave music while lying alongside the Bosporus. I recite an example for him –

“The Yachts Make Me Glad
Strong songs, great organ sound, yet
I sense much irony”

Sasoon, wavering between this world and the next, doesn’t care about my archival literary efforts (though he does express a mild degree of pleasure in another haiku that goes “Oh, Bram Tchaikovsky/I’m glad you left the Motors/to do Byrds + Who”). He is only interested in my assessment of the legitimacy of the current line-up of the Damned.

“The Damned! Two original members, like the Replacements and the Buzzcocks,” Sassoon notes, in a pleasant Cambridge lilt. “Legitimate or not?”

Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian of the Damned, whom I discussed with the hovering spectre of Siegfried Sasoon. I really wanted Siegfried to discuss his relationship with Robert Graves, but we didn’t get around to that.

“Totally legitimate,” I snap, “but with an asterisk! See, the two original members of the current touring and recording version of the Damned include the sole vocalist, Dave Vanian, and one of the primary writers, Captain Sensible. So I’m buying that one. I mean, primary writer, primary vocalist, and two original members. So, I mean, you have to buy that one. But why the asterisk? Because the current Damned are missing another primary writer – Brian James – and a key member, drummer Rat Scabies. In fact, if Scabies and James wanted to, for some reason, go out as the Damned, that would be legitimate too, even if it lacked the prime vocalist; because — and follow me here, Siegfried, because it’s an important point — a James/Scabies Damned would include one prime writer and one key member. And I define a key member, in this and most cases, as someone whose contribution to the band is so distinct as to make them essential to their recorded sound and live performance. I mean, I’ll definitely buy that the current Damned are the Damned, but I buy it a little less because it’s missing Rat Scabies. I mean, the Damned without Rat Scabies are sort of like the Who without Keith Moon; yeah, I’m kinda buying it, but it’s not really the same thing.”

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War: Not Just something Roger Waters whines about.

September 2, 2014

My brother Peter turns 60 this week.  That is a singular event that I would like to mark pleasantly – Peter is a kind, handsome, and brilliant man who has made a considerable mark as an educator – but I mention this event only to note this:

Peter turned 18 in 1972.  That’s pretty significant, and here’s why: American males who turned 18 in 1972 were the first 18 year olds not subject to the draft lottery, the system by which young men were randomly chosen for service in the military (which at that time likely meant a trip to Vietnam).  Prior to 1972, young American men lived with the idea that only a randomly chosen number stood between them and extraordinary hardship, sacrifice, and possible death imposed by the policies of their government.

I want you to take a moment and imagine what it would be like for a young person today if the draft existed; shit, imagine what it would be like for you.  What if you were walking around today thinking “Dammit, in eighteen months I could be standing in the desert while someone I never met tries to kill me.”

Also, this week marks three remarkable anniversaries:  September 2nd was the 69th anniversary of the official end of the Second World War (on that date aboard the battleship USS Missouri docked in Tokyo Bay, the official Instrument of Surrender was signed by representatives of the Empire of Japan); September 1 was the 75th anniversary of the Invasion of Poland by the armies of the Third Reich, the date usually connected with the beginning of the Second World War; and it was on that same day, 75 years ago today, that the Free City of Danzig was annexed by the Third Reich, marking the first of many foreign cities to fall under the yoke of the Nazis.

As we watch our cat videos, it seems that we are extraordinarily distant from these events.  Possibly due to the 42 years we have gone without the draft, possibly due to the overwhelming plurality and ubiquity of the media (which is to say it is everywhere, all the time, dramatically altering our ability to filter the important from the trivial), war seems like some concept that belongs to someone else, or perhaps something we relate to fantasy novels or video games. Touched by the random horror of terrorism, we are certainly aware that there is a world out there that fights and dies for religious and political beliefs; but for 42 years, we have been removed from this reality, the idea that we might have to kill or be killed to defend our way of life, or to defend the choices of the government we live in.

But the extraordinary events of the 20th century are within spitting distance of most of our lives.  War is only one burp of history away, one incident in the Balkans away, one over-eager button pusher in the Middle East away, one click of a keyboard from some zealous cyber terrorist away.  True: we are a cursor click away from another conflagration that will re-draw our maps, define the lives of our children and grandchildren, and leave a million civilians dead.  My draft-less generation were very, very fortunate, which only means that we must work even harder to possess and maintain two very, very crucial characteristics, as individuals and as a culture:

Memory and empathy.

All other factors – education, wisdom, the ability to make a reasonable assessment of the actions of your government and the actions of other nations, the ability to see military action within the context of history, the ability to assess the human cost of military action — all stem from a strong underpinning of memory and empathy.

I was 10 years old when the draft lottery was extinguished.  My entire adult life has been led without even the remote fear of conscription, or the idea that I may be called upon, involuntarily, to fight against a foreign (or even domestic) power for the beliefs of my country.  If another military event or engagement requires conscription, I will be too old for this.  In other words, I, like others of my generation, have lived without any real idea that we were going to have to fight in a war. My deeply fortunate and ultimately unrealistic generation learned to think of war as something distant, something fought by an economic underclass, something fought vaguely “for” us and in far away places, and only representing our interests or protecting our way of life in uncertain ways.  But memory can teach us that war is real, was real, will be real, must be real; when it is real, we can have an understanding of the motivations on both sides and compassion for victims and victimizers; when we can relate, say, the assassination of the heir to throne of Austro-Hungary by Bosnian/Serbian freedom fighters in 1914 to what’s going on in the Ukraine today, or when we can relate the atrocities of Isis in Iraq to the siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Empire in 1683, we are at least one baby-step closer to understanding that today’s events are part of history’s community and continuity, and not isolated episodes of cultural narcissism.  Likewise, the wisdom of awareness of the past makes us see the human cost of history, and apply this to everyday compassion.

I doubt any other generation in American history will have this privilege, to have lived with no threat of conscription.  This underlines the need to somehow establish a strong foundation of empathy and memory within our culture.  Our children and our children’s children will almost without a doubt hold weapons and be fired upon, and they will need memory and empathy to negotiate the fear, hatred, and ignorance that are endemic to war. Our children, and our children’s children, will almost certainly know war.  It may not be war as us, our parents, or our grandparents considered it; it may involve entire economies or entire electrical grids being shut down via the click of one key on a computer, it may involve shadow armies belonging to no nation threatening civilian lives and infrastructure.

But like any “conventional” war, any reasonable approach will require grounding in memory and empathy, history and compassion.



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