Still a Rebel
by Jim Walsh
St. Paul Pioneer Press; Apr 26, 2002
"Got a saw?"
That's how Paul Westerberg greeted a visitor
to his suburban Minneapolis home. The former leader of the Replacements was
standing in his garage, smoking a cigar and wearing a baseball cap, black
work gloves, white jeans and tennis shoes, while wrestling with a guitar
shipping case with "The Bangles" stenciled across the front.
Westerberg is preparing for a tour of record
stores that starts Monday in Seattle. He is scheduled to appear on "The
David Letterman Show" Monday night.
The live dates are the influential
songwriter's first public appearances in four years, since the tour for his
last album, "Suicaine Gratification," came to an end.
Westerberg says he grew weary of performing
and of playing the major-label game. His subsequent hiatus was the longest
of Westerberg's career, prompting many fans to wonder about his whereabouts.
"After my 'Suicaine' record, I came home
waiting for a nervous breakdown, and it never came," Westerberg says.
"Then I ran out of money. And I sort of feel like, I'm not a
break-downer. I'm a bender. I'm not big and strong; I'm thin and wispy, and
I will bend with the wind. I really think, like a cat, I'll be landing on my
Now he's back, with a new band (drummer
Michael Bland and bassist Jimmy Anton) and a two-CD set that hits stores
Tuesday: "Stereo," a collection of mostly acoustic tracks, and
"Mono," by his alter-ego Grandpa Boy, both released by the Santa
Monica, Calif.-based independent label Vagrant Records.
For the past four years, Westerberg has been
happy to be out of the public eye, opting instead to record in the basement
and spend time with his son, Johnny, and Johnny's mother, writer/musician
The relatively languid pace of the creative
and self-recording process has resulted in the truest snapshot to date of
Westerberg's voice, which sounds tougher -- and more tender -- than ever.
Many of the new tracks are one-time takes
recorded in the middle of the night. "Only Lie Worth Telling,"
"Between Love & Like" and "Baby Learns to Crawl"
expose his soul without artifice.
"I love that guitar," he says,
pointing to a beat-up electric guitar decorated with black-and-white
pictures of Hank Williams, Johnny Thunders, Gene Vincent, Ronnie
Lane and Little Richard. "I love the feel of that guitar
through the amp and that simple little back-beat. I love . . . I hate to
sound like Joan Jett, but I do love rock 'n' roll.
Since the Replacements first formed in 1979,
Westerberg, who cut his teeth on AM radio, dreamed of having hit records.
That didn't come to pass with the Replacements, nor has it happened with
Westerberg's solo recordings.
Now, the brass ring holds almost no appeal
for him, as such songs as "Boring Enormous" and "Nothing to
No One" attest.
"I feel like I've already done it. I've
already fulfilled my destiny, and I can do (music) for fun, or whatever, but
I'm in control. If I don't feel like playing 'David Letterman' 10 minutes
before (showtime), I'll walk out of the (expletive) building. Who's going to
stop me? I feel like there's no one who can slap me down now. I'll do
whatever I please. I feel like I've been kicked enough."
That rebel-resilience can be heard all over
the new records, in the counterculture mini-anthem "Let's Not
Belong," the ode to anti- ambition, "Knock It Right Out," and
the infectious crush-on-you rocker, "Eyes Like Sparks."
There are some disturbing tracks, such as
"Let the Bad Times Roll," which Westerberg wrote for the film
version of "Prozac Nation," and "No Place for You,"
which he wrote after the suicide of a friend. Westerberg calls one of the
weird cover snapshots, "Portrait of a Mad Man."
"I no longer struggle with depression,
and I no longer fight it," he says. "It's just there. It's like
I've got a bad knee or something."
Then the man who named his band's first
album, "Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash," walked down his
driveway, picked up the empty recycling bin by the curb and returned to his
Credit: St. Paul Pioneer Press