Tonight I waited in line for two hours to have Paul Westerberg sign my cd and a poster, and just lean on the counter and look at him and say “Thank you for doing this” and telling him that I really needed to see that show today.
“Good, at least it served some purpose…”
He’s still adorable as all get out, looking all the world like a 90s version of Ray Davies. Which is about where he belongs & where he should be.
I fully intended to bolt from work around 4:30. But traffic wasn’t bad and I had a ton of work, so I waited until 5 and then hightailed it to the new Easy Street, which set up shop in the old Tower Books on Queen Anne. I came around the corner and saw that the line was already down the side of the building. I grabbed a great space on Mercer – 15 minute parking only until 6pm, but it was 5:30 and I said ‘fuckit’ and decided to gamble. I hurried across the street and grabbed a place at the end of the line. I’m sure most of these folks wouldn’t wait in line for much these days, but here we are, by the time the in-store started at 7:30, 600 people strong. Easy Street is serving us drinks and coffee. I am calling one friend whod said she wanted to go after hearing “I Will Dare” on the radio the other morning, and another pal who’d emailed me this morning saying, “Sre you still going? What time are you getting there?” I told her to get her butt in gear and they arrived around 6:30.
We walked in and of course show instinct goes into effect. I take us around the side where we get right up to the stage. There was this empty space, like people didn’t want to act like they wanted to be too close or something. Luckily, I do not have this problem and move us into the second row. Then it’s more standing and catching up on gossip and chatting with other friends who arrive.
The stage at the new Easy Street is covered by one of those metal shutters that cover every storefront in New York City. Underneath it we can see this pair of bowling shoes, and then the grate goes up. There’s Paul, wearing this funky thrift store suit he has spraypainted with red and white polkadots, and a Curious George shirt underneath. He looked great. I have not seen him since 1988 and it was a bit overwhelming.
He did new songs, and a song from “My last flop….”
“I love that record!” yells someone in the crowd.
“I love it too, but it was a flop….”
I am confessing to ultimate dorkiness now, but hearing “Waiting For Somebody” sung by Paul, live, in front of me, standing in the middle of Seattle, was a tearjerker for me. I remember listening to that album while living on the other side of the world, when Seattle not only was thousands of miles away physically, it seemed light years away from what and where my life was at the time. As silly and childish as it is, Singles meant a lot of things to a lot of people. And for me, especially, it was the first emergence of Paul after the decline of a band that was a huge part of my life for a while. I didn’t realize how many Replacements stories I really had, until I was standing in line today telling them to people who had their own set of stories.
Singing “I Will Dare” along with 600 other voices, with Paul urging us on, was this amazing communal moment. All of these people of various ages – the kid standing front and center giving Paul the lyric cues could not have been older than his mid-20s, so there’s no way he ever got to see the ‘Mats – singing this song that at the time was the anthem of the great American underground of the 80s. Even 15 years later – especially 15 years later – it still is:
How young are you?
How old am I?
Let’s count the rings around my eyes
How smart are you?
How dumb am I?
Don’t count any of my advice
Oh, meet me anyplace or anywhere or anytime
Now I don’t care, meet me tonight
If you will dare, I might dare
Being a Replacements fan used to be a badge of honor. People loved to hate the ‘Mats. They weren’t musicians, they were drunks, the usual complaints leveled against someone trying to do something new and different and against the norm. When they signed with Sire, it was a whole other backlash, the backlash of selling out. And it wasn’t like they overnight became this smooth polished commodity. They were still unpredictable and mercurial and tempermental and sometimes it was infuriating as hell, because underneath it all these were great songs and Paul was a great songwriter. But their reputation preceded them, and what people wanted to see were the sloppy drunken orgy shows. They wanted to see a show that consisted of “Light My Fire” into “Ironman” and “Hitching A Ride” followed by “Billy Don’t Be A Hero.” They wanted to see the fistfights and onstage confrontations. While that was fun and great and a huge fuck you to a music business who fully deserved it, after a while, they’d proven their point, and we were ready to just sit and listen to the songs. Because they were great songs. They had huge meaning to so many of us. We knew the replacements weren’t just a bunch of drunken buffoons from the Midwest. They could play, and play well, and on a good night, when there wasn’t too much booze and they weren’t too pissed off and the audience was sympathetic, you really did feel like you were seeing the great white hope.
And I was reminded of all of this today. I relived every roadtrip to see the ‘Mats, every show, every experience I’ve had with them, opening for R.E.M., playing at City Gardens in Trenton and people being pissed off and calling the local college radio station, and the band heard the phone calls and stopped at a pay phone and called in themselves to say ‘fuck you’, and coming out of a show at Maxwell’s at 4 in the morning and seeing a sign saying that tickets for two Replacements shows went on sale the next morning at Pier Platters and being there when Bill opened the front grate the next morning because we were afraid that the shows might sell out immediately.
And the songs. How even today, right now, last week, last month, last year, they are still relevant, still ring true, they change and morph but they apply to your life because they were written from the heart.
The last song was “Swinging Party” and he asked us to sing it with him, and sing it we did, Scott McCaughey hanging out behind the stage, Jon Auer in the audience with the rest of us, everyone else who was there, from the front near the stage to the very back near the cash register.
Now, to take the devil’s advocate position, Paul could have come out and totally played it straight and sang every song clearly and concisely and nailed them all. I don’t know, that’s not what I was expecting, and not just because it was his first show in six years. I guess I could take the position of, shouldn’t he have gotten his act together by now (which was the position Chris Nelson was taking)? And all I could do is say, I just love this man and his songs too much to hold him to any kind of high standards. He is who he is, he is what he is, and I love him because of it and I love him in spite of it, and I’m just glad he’s still writing great songs that play on my heart strings and that he’s out there again trying to make it happen. Maybe if he gets 600-1000 people at every one of these in stores he’s doing, he’ll come out and tour and then we’ll really get to see what he’s made of. Maybe it will be more polished, maybe it will be more professional. But it won’t be more heartfelt, and I just don’t believe it’s any less heartfelt because he mumbled a bit and forgot the words in a few places today.
And when the show was done at 8:30, I got at the end of the line and waited until after 10pm to get a chance to say hi and thank him and have him sign my cd and a poster, while all my friends went off to eat or go home. And I’m exhausted right now, and I was half asleep by the time I got to the front of the line, but I can’t think of that many people I’d still do this for, nor can I think of that many people who deserve that much of my faith.
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