Trouble Boys Charts the Replacements' Rise and Fall
by Tom Haugen
This is the book about The Replacements we've all been waiting for. While multiple documentaries, biographies, and endless speculation exist and will probably continue to multiply as the band's legacy becomes even more prominent, Bob Mehr goes right to the source here with information from all the members, as well as managers, roadies, ex-girlfriends, family members and those handling their day to day duties since day one. It's all spelled out in a way that's easy to absorb and matter-of-fact, often presenting different versions of the past since The Replacements can’t always agree on exactly how some events unfolded.
Mehr starts the book with perhaps the most important detail of the band since their break up: the untimely and sadly expected death of Bob Stinson in 1995. Mehr offers an extremely intimate recollection of the details of Bob's funeral, so much so that it's likely to make even the most stoic reader tear up, ensuring you'll have a hard time putting this book down.
From there, Mehr goes back to the beginning, before Westerberg was even in the band and the Stinson's and Mars were playing together as Dogbreath. Mehr digs deep with each members formative years and familial background. He provides necessary details of The Replacements rise from the keg parties and basement shows and the transformation from being booed off stages to having people show up to specifically see them to, of course, the cult status they finally reached near their demise.
While chronicling the making, touring, and reception of the first few albums, Mehr interviews members of The Suburbs, Suicide Commandos, Husker Du, and even R.E.M., getting insightful information about how their peers interpreted the music and behavior of The 'Mats. You'll find yourself laughing out loud on many occasions here, and Westerberg and Tommy Stinson also provide plenty of comic relief with their reflections on the past. Chris Mars, known as the quiet one of the bunch, isn’t included as much, but Mehr drags up plenty of quotes from Bob, as well as Slim Dunlap, who was Bob’s friend and replacement.
Speaking of Bob, much attention is paid to the older Stinson’s problems in and outside the band. While the details of exactly what happened are often confused between several parties, Mehr often does the research to find the correct timelines and presents an objective view about Bob’s departure from the band. In a lot of ways, though this book is truly a story of The ’Mats, much of the text goes back to Bob’s influence on the band both personally and ‘professionally,’ uncovering a lot of details about Bob’s life that only his closest companions probably knew.
When The Replacements signed with a major label, purists were quick to quip that the band sold out. Tim, their major label debut and finest album in the opinion of many fans (this one included), is dissected here from beginning to end, breaking down the recording process for most of the songs on the album. While casual fans might not care for these details, fans will be excited to hear about the studio process, the origin of the songs, and, of course, the drama involved with laying the tracks down.
A similar approach is taken to their following albums, and the subsequent pushes from the label executives for the sales that eluded the band. While the band was struggling with producers, internal strife, and label squabbles, the albums still produced great songs, with “I’ll Be You” becoming the hit that came the closest to meeting the numbers that the label wanted. However, the legions of new fans coming to the shows just to hear “I’ll Be You” didn’t exactly sit well with Westerberg.
Westerberg’s post-Replacements work is brushed over quickly compared to the full band work, as is the work done by the other members as The ‘Mats went dormant. Seeing as how this book is already over 400 pages, Mehr gives us the gist of what the members have been up to lately without adding another 100+ pages to the read. He even covers the recent activity of the band as Tommy and Paul reformed to come to Slim’s aid (Dunlap suffered debilitating strokes in 2012).
The biggest question when reading a biography of this magnitude is, of course, how reliable is this information? Considering that 200+ people were interviewed, access to The Replacements’ archives at Twin/Tone Records and the Warner Music group was granted, and a decade of painstaking research went into it, this strikes me as being the most true account of the band’s career, though there will always be disagreements within the band about many points. Due to the high level of drug and alcohol use for so many years, it’s amazing The Replacements can recall much of anything during the decade, much less enough to piece together their story.
Due to its length and meticulous writing, as well as Westerberg and Stinson’s involvement (Mars declined to participate; his quotes must have been gathered before 2009), this is an absolutely crucial read for any fan, just as essential as owning any of their albums. I think we can all agree that The Replacements was really something special, but reading Trouble Boys illuminates their novelty and nods to the realization that there will never be another band like The Replacements again.