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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 feet."

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 Laurie Lindeen.

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 garage.

Credit: St. Paul Pioneer Press

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