Why The Replacements' Paul Westerberg Rules!

When I first heard Tom Petty sing the words “even the losers get lucky sometimes”, I couldn’t help feel that this was a guy who, no matter how rich and famous he got (for he was already both when he wrote the song), would always see himself as someone life has, to borrow his own term, “kicked around some”.

Then, of course, Paul Westerberg arrived a decade later with songs sung from the perspective of a lovable ne’er-do-well, albeit one with a deliciously acerbic sense-of-humor and clever, yet heartbreaking honesty.

“Well, I laughed half the way to Tokyo , I dreampt I was Surfer Joe, what that means I don’t know.
A dream too tired to come true left a rebel without a clue and I’m searching for something to do.” – I’ll Be You


Petty obviously saw something in Westerberg that he liked. He would handpick the Replacements as his opening act for the Heartbreakers’ U.S. tour in 1989 and introduce Minneapolis ’ favorite sons to their largest concert audiences ever. Those who came to see Tom Petty showed little interest in the Minneapolis foursome and the “Mats did not exactly flourish in such an “arena rock” setting.

Was the tour a failure?

Depends on how you look at it and, in doing so, how you view the Replacements and Westerberg. From my viewpoint, the Replacements were a remarkable punk band with a songwriter whose songs bristled with potential for greatness and, therefore, appealed to the critics. At the same time, Westerberg and Co. had just enough of a nihilistic streak to appeal to the hearts of music fans like me who were tired of rock music polished to a high, formulaic sheen. How could we not fall in love with a band that had the capability of showing up on any given night and either blowing the roof off - or stinking up - the joint insanely refreshing?



The ‘Mats weren’t the only band in America – or even Minneapolis for that matter- that were playing it fast and loose, with a devil-may-care attitude. What ultimately set them apart from the rest were the songs. Around the time the band released their second full-length album, Hootenanny - which featured the gems Color Me Impressed and Within Your Reach - Westerberg was showing some rather unexpected maturity. Of course, then you’d see him onstage, drunk off his ass, and wonder how the two extremes could co-exist within the same body.

That, of course, was all part of the charm for me. See, I’ve always been the guy who was capable of sweeping a girl off her feet with sweet words and promises, then risk losing it all in a drunken display. The perverse thrill, of course, came when the girl in question, having seen both sides, chose to stick around. Likewise, fans of Westerberg have seen both sides and have decided to stick around. We don’t want to miss the next flash of brilliance.

“I’m the best thing that never happened, I’m the best thing you never had.” –Best Thing That Never Happened

The great thing is that Westerberg has carved out a lengthy career in an industry that has developed an insatiable appetite for destruction (obligatory GNR pun intended). Despite a lack of bonafide commercial success, there remains enough label interest to ensure that there is a worthy home for all present and future recordings and that our hero doesn’t find himself schlepping java at Starbucks.

What truly makes Westerberg great isn't his way with words, but his honesty.  This is literally a man who cannot "sell out".  Heck, even the Replacements current reunion itself is a truncated, three-show blow-out. Whether these shows lead to more down the road, Westerberg's finger is never far from the "eject" button, ensuring that this reunion doesn't come to resemble the never-ending globe-trotting cash-grab that most reunion tours become.

Instead, Westerberg and Co. will continue taking the stage in almost apologetic fashion, with an endearing wink and a smile. The results, of course, will continue to be at least twice as interesting as anything with the name “Timberlake” on it (seriously, it sounds like a brand of hiking boots…with pink shoelaces and fake rhinestones that keep falling off, but I digress).

“I’ve been achin’ for a while now, friend, I’ve been achin’ hard for years.”-Achin’ To Be


Westerberg rules because he does what he does with no regard for fashion, little concern for the charts, but a strict devotion to that inner child that just wants to keep rocking, all the while allowing the grown man on the outside to express the doubts, worries and experiences of a life lived very much like the rest of us who don’t get called “winners” all that often.

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