bob stinson, 10 years on
One of the first things I looked for on the internet back in 1994 was a Replacements mailing list. What I found was The Skyway, which wasn’t so much a discussion list as a newsletter. Matthew Tomich would compile things people would email him into a monthly digest. I liked the old-fashioned almost-zine-like quality of the publication. Nowadays, it’s far more infrequent, but I still stay on it for old times’ sake.
Today, he emailed everyone on the 10th anniversary of Bob Stinson’s funeral. He died on February 18, 1995. The post (which includes the eulogy from the service) follows below, and after the jump. I found it extraordinary, and heart-wrenching, and it helped dig up a million little ‘Mats memories. If you’ve got ’em, I hope it does the same for you; if you weren’t there, maybe this will help explain what those days were like.
Ten whole years have elapsed since the world has been poorer with the loss
of Bob Stinson.
Here is his eulogy, as delivered by Jim Walsh of the St. Paul Pioneer
Press at his funeral at the McDivitt-Hauge funeral home on February 22,
Words fail me, as they have failed most of us over the past few days.
Yesterday, Carleen asked me if I had known Bob very well. I couldn’t
rightfully say that I did in the traditional sense of the term. For that
reason, I was a little reticent when Anita asked me to deliver this
eulogy. But like everyone here, and another multitude who aren’t, I know
Bob’s spirit very well.
And it is a spirit, as I have discovered, that is next to impossible to
hold in a room, pin down on a piece of paper, or capture with a couple of
stories. At first, I didn’t have my own words, so I stole someone else’s.
This is from “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac:
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live,
mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the
ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like
fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and
in the middle you see the blue center light pop, and everybody goes,
That was Bob. That is Bob. And you know what I mean, because we all have
our Bob stories. They’re etched in our faces, planted in our hearts, like
seeds we never thought would ever bloom into anything much more than
memory. Of course, now we know better. This week, all the seeds blossomed
into vines, and tangled permanently around our hearts. This week, we
learned a lot about Bob, a lot about ourselves, and just how much we will
miss this fabulous yellow roman candle.
Bob stories. Over the past few days, I’ve had the privilege of hearing
quite a few told and retold. It was like a wonderful game of dominoes
that elicited as many tears as laughs. Everybody recounting tales about
Bob’s wit, his loving gentleness, his sense of humor, his appetite for
And, as a matter of fact, there have been an inordinate amount of stories
about just his appetite.
Anita remembers when Bob was five years old. The family had moved from
Minnesota to San Diego, and Bob and Lonnie made a practice of taking the
25 cents Anita would give them for the church basket, and buy cherry pies.
Clearly, it was a pattern that would play itself out in adulthood, or when
Dog’s Breath, and later the Replacements, started up, Anita remembers
feeding the entire band, and often a slew of their friends, after they’d
practiced at the houses on 36th and Bryant and 22nd and Dupont. Bob would
always eat his fair share. With the Replacements, his penchant for eating
fast food in the van earned him the nickname of Bob “To Go” Stinson. As
the rest of the guys would sit in the restaurant, Bob would go in, get his
food, come back and sit alone in the van until he was ready to eat. Two
hours would pass, sometimes, before he’d dig in. Peter always figured it
was because he liked to eat his food at room temperature.
One of my earliest food memories of Bob is 15 years ago, when the ‘Mats
were making “Sorry Ma” over at Blackberry Way. Steve Fjelstad and Peter
were in the control room, and had just finished a take, and they were
getting ready to do another. Suddenly, Bob was nowhere to be found.
Then just as suddenly, he was back. Before anyone could say, “Where’s
Bob?” he had snuck out of the studio, raced to Burger King which was a
good two blocks away and returned. He set up his Whopper, fries, and Coke
on his amp and was ready to go.
One of the last times I saw him, we sat at a bar and I bought Bob and Mike
Leonard some drinks. Bob caressed the menu, rolled his eyes with that coy
look he’d give you, but he never asked, because that wasn’t his style.
He just looked at me out of the corner of those mischievous winking eyes
until I melted, caved in, and bought him a cheeseburger and fries.
Bob stories. It seems like we’ve been telling them for most of our lives,
and I have a very good feeling that it is a tradition that will not end
after today. Carleen remembers his love for skipping stones, fishing,
walking around the lakes and by the railroad tracks, and as a father who
loved Joey with the fierce, all-encompassing passion of a papa bear.
Tommy remembers his as a great brother, the two of them running around the
house as kids, flicking the sides of each other’s heads with their fingers
until it felt like their ears were going to fall off.
Chris remembers the day Bob physically grabbed then 12-year-old Tommy, who
was running around with his friends, by the shoulders, and dragged him
into a Dog’s Breath practice. Like any good big brother, he talked the
other guys into letting the kid play with the bigger kids. Paul remembers
Bob’s special genius, his ability to rail against the stuffed shirts, the
status quo with aplomb. Paul calls it, “creative insanity.”
My memory is of him walking, always walking down Hennepin, around the
lakes, down Lyndale, clutching that omnipresent brown bag of his. I swear
I saw him last night around midnight on 22nd and Hennepin I even did a
double take and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was him. Last night.
That’s when it hit me: the streets of this town are going to be a lot
quieter, and a hell of a lot less fun, without our Spanky roaming them.
Bob stories. The ones that probably stick in most of our heads are the
ones that have to do with his guitar. It all started on Christmas in
1969, when Anita bought Bob his first guitar, an acoustic one. He took to
it right away. By then, the family had moved from San Diego to West Palm
Beach, Florida, where Bob played softball, joined Cub Scouts, and
continued a love for the water that had started in California. Anita
remembers the time he took a summer job mowing lawns, and, after a
rainfall, tore up a customer’s lawn on a riding mower. Clearly,
landscaping was not his forte.
Around the same time, he learned how to play guitar, and he made some very
good friends through it. When Bob’s grandfather died in 1973, Anita moved
the family back to Minnesota, to the house on 36th and Bryant. Bob was 15
at the time, and the move was rough on him. He found solace, and learned
to express what he couldn’t verbalize, through his music.
For the first couple years after moving to Minneapolis, Bob was unhappy
until he found friends, again with his music. First time Christ ever saw
him, Bob was bumming around the neighborhood on a girl’s bike. He had
long hair, like his hero, Steve Howe [of Yes], and was sitting on the curb
smoking a cigarette, sneaking a listen to Christ playing guitar and drums
up in the bedroom. They eventually hooked up, formed Dog’s Breath, and
later the Replacements. The rest, as Anita says, “was destiny.”
Throughout his life, the guitar was Bob’s main mode of expression. And
even though he will be remembered most as founder of the Replacements, the
fact is, he got just as much joy playing in Static Taxi, as the collage
attests, the Bleeding Hearts, and the numerous other bands he played with
over the past few years. He brought the same no-holds-barred approach to
all o fit. He did not play for fame or wealth. He played simply because,
as he once said, “I have a gas playing the guitar.”
That was abundantly clear, just from watching or listening to him. He
became an inspiration to hundreds of thousands of guitarists out there,
but there never has been and never will be another guitar player like this
I’m sorry to have to bring everybody down ever more, but I have to report
that I saw the Eagles last night. Bob was there, too during “Rocky
Mountain Way.” But I’m here today to say that there are countless quote
musicians out there like the ilk of the Eagles rich, famous, practiced,
accomplished, clean, stylish who don’t, in the entire membership or body
of work, have the artistry, abandon, instinct, ability, guts, humor, or
feel that Smokin’ Bob Stinson had in his little finger.
There are a million Eagles out there, but there was only one Bob Stinson.
More than any guitar player I have ever seen or heard, Bob had an uncanny
ability to actually fuse his personality with his guitar, and express
himself through it. His leads made you actually crawl inside him they
were funny, intense, sad, and joyful, all at once.
Chris talks about when the ‘Mats would do “Rock Around the Clock” at 100
miles an hour, and about how much he loves it when the lead came, and Bob
would, unfailingly, nail t to the floor. There are countless other such
moments you could name: the other worldly magic “Go” and “Johnny’s Gonna
Die,” the manic force of “Dose Of Thunder,” the goofy insanity of “Tommy
Gets His Tonsils Out,” the barely controlled chaos of “Customer,” and on
and on and on.
Along with his playing, of course, there was Bob’s special panache he
rough to the stage. I remember that magnificent face, scrunched up like
he had a secret. I remember his falsetto on “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,
Yeah” and “Little G.T.O.” I remember him ripped off a lead he’d be
particularly proud of, flicking his wrist like “waiter, my check,” then
patting himself on the back, all in one motion.
And, of course, there was the wardrobe. The gorgeous, and always
tasteful, dresses. The Hefty garbage bags. The overalls. The Prince
“1999” t-shirt. The little jean jacket. The genie get-up that prompted
Chris to start calling him “Sim Salabim.” One night at Duffy’s, my big
brother and I rolled a garbage can up on stage. It came to rest
perfectly, next to Paul. Bob pulled it back by the drum riser and climbed
in it as the band spun into “Rattlesnake” or something.
Halfway through, the thing tipped over in slow motion, and Bob and the
entire contents beer bottles, food wrappers, everything- spilled out all
over the stage. I remember being worried about Bob for a second, but he
kept playing, never missed a beat, and popped up, indestructible as ever.
And when he did, we all saw that he’d lost his skirt and that he was buck
To this day, I have never laughed harder or had a single moment so fill me
with the pure wonder and liberational power of rock n’ roll. That power
was evident off stage as well. Paul talks about the last time he saw Bob.
They were both walking on the same block, at different ends of the street,
and they met in the middle. They hadn’t seen each other in a while, but
they talked about guitars, music, and Tommy like no time at all had
Others have said the same thing. Bob was one of those guys you had an
ongoing conversation with. It always seemed like you picked up where you
left off with him, even though you weren’t even quite sure if he
remembered you, or if you had mattered to him. But then he’d amaze you
with some remembrance, or a lost nugget that he wanted to tell you that
he’d filed away in that wonderful spin art mind of his.
Slim remember Bob as a teacher; the most uncompetitive, giving musician
he’s ever met. Lori Barbero remembers the last time she saw Bob. He was
tugging on her shirt at the Uptown, urgently, peskily, until she finally
turned around and gave him a hug. He didn’t want anything else. That was
all. That’s all he wanted to give, and to get. A hug. In some of their
last encounters with Bob, Peter and Jim Boquist had similar experiences:
After a typically all-over-the-map Bob conversation, he surprised them
both with a hasty, out-of-the-blue, “Love ya, man.”
Yesterday, Anita got a letter from one of Bob’s many fans. “I’m not sure
guys like Bob know what they mean to people who love their music,” he
wrote. “For me, Bob’s guitar playing always made me feel like I should
keep moving in life, no matter how much the odds seemed stacked against
me. I grew up with Bob as one of my heroes. He will always be one of my
heroes, somebody I’ll tell my kids about someday.”
I think that pretty much sums it up for all of us. Late Monday night as I
was gathering my thoughts to write this, my little brother called me up on
the phone, and he was sobbing. He articulated some things that I had been
feeling; that Bob’s death was more than the passing of a tremendous
musician, a wonderful father, son, brother, friend, husband, grandson, or
uncle. He said that a little bit of all of us had died with him.
I suppose that’s what people say whenever someone dies, but everyone here
knows exactly how true it is. The weird thing of it is, my little brother
had never even seen Bob play. Still, he felt it. He felt the connection.
He felt the spirit. He felt the loss.
And at the end of the day, that may have been Bob’s greatest contribution:
through his guitar, through his magnanimous good nature, he made people
feel like they were his closest friend. Better yet, he made us feel like
we were in on that secret little joke that hid behind his omnipresent
There are people in this room that I haven’t seen, or seen together, for a
very long time. Leave it to Bob to get us all together for one more
swingin’ party. HE would’ve thought the suits and ties and pomp and
circumstance were silly, he would have wondered where the beer was, and he
would have been embarrassed by all the attention and the tears. And what
his passing means I can’t begin to explain, but as Robert Frost said:
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes
And Bob goes on. On the phone the other night, through his tears, my
little brother told me that his band played “Sixteen Blue” at the Cabooze
last week, and that when he went to Slim’s gig Saturday night at the 400
Bar, Slim played one of his newer songs, “Big Star Big,” and sang, “I
wanna be a big star like Bob Stinson.” At this, my little brother and I
were both getting pretty choked up, so we started to say goodbye. As we
were about to hang up, I heard myself say something that I haven’t said to
him in a very long time:
“Love ya, man.”
In the past few days, you’ve probably said something like that to someone
you haven’t said that to in a very long time. Rock n’ roll doesn’t always
lend itself to such blatant sentimentality, but this week we have all been
provided with a chance to get a little closer to each other, and a lot of
unspoken feelings have been spoken. WE have been reminded that people are
precious, that the bonds that we have made through this slippery thing
called rock music are not dismissible, or intangible, or imaginary, or
Other. They are real. For that, for all of that and so much more, we have
Bob to thank.
So thank you, Bob. Thank you for bringing us, all of us, together not
just for a day, today, but for yesterday, all the yesterdays, and
tomorrow. Thank you for touching us, for linking us, for helping us to
recognize all the phony bullshit, all the stuff that doesn’t matter, that
the world throws our way. Thank you for cutting through the crap, always.
Thank you for making us feel like we were part of something, like it was
us against the world, and you were the third base coach, wildly waving us
all in. Jumping up and down. In a dress.
Most of all, thank you for allowing us to glimpse, ever so briefly, your
irrepressible, childlike spirit. Thank you for allowing us, forcing us,
to acknowledge the very natural connection between hopelessness and
happiness. Thank you for this glorious gift. Thank you, you fabulous
yellow roman candle, for lighting our fuse. May it never burn out.
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