book review: “All Over But The Shouting”
It is odd to eagerly anticipate a book about a time or place or event you were part of. By “part of” I mean nothing more than I was one of the great unwashed, one of the thousands of people who discovered and fell in love with in the Replacements while v1 of the band were still an active, functioning unit. I never stopped to count back then but by a rough guess I must have seen them at least two dozen times, and that would include travel to outposts like Philly and Trenton and Boston and other locales within that magic three-hour radius from NYC that translated into “reasonable after-work drive” back then.
If anyone should have been the one to write this book, it was Jim Walsh. He was there on the front lines, in the hometown, knows the leading actors and the bit players equally. He knows the geography and the landscape. He knows the history by rote. His eulogy of Bob Stinson still brings tears to my eyes. I have been waiting for this book, eagerly, since I heard about it. I put the release date on my calendar so I could get it as soon as it was available. (The last time I did that was for the Strummer biography, which I wanted so badly, I ordered the import from the UK.)
The book is billed as “an oral history of the Replacements” and I for one thought that on the surface, this was the absolute, 100% true and right concept for a book about this band. They were the people’s band, so let the people talk. Given that there was an active, vocal community of ‘Mats fans online from the second the internet was available to people who weren’t rocket scientists (one of the first things I ever did online was to subscribe to The Skyway), I knew there was no shortage of people willing to talk and share… and existing material to pull from.
But Walsh took another approach. There’s a mix of on-the-ground interviews done specifically for the book, but they’re mixed in with quotes from press interviews and other articles and reviews. The principals weren’t interviewed. And while there is no doubt that the MLPS folks Who Were There need to be the ones doing the talking, what I was missing was a context to put all these people into. Having a bio section in the back where the participants get to define who they are and why they were important doesn’t tell me why Walsh thought they should have a voice in the book, and unfortunately, again, context. There isn’t enough supporting material from the other participants to help you place people as to who they are and why they’re there. It’s not even giving you the feeling of a bunch of friends sitting around talking about one of their favorite bands. I am glad that it isn’t a cut and dry “On this date, Paul Westerberg was caught eavesdropping behind the bushes of the Stinson house,” because that would have been completely inappropriate, but I’m not sure that this is enough of A History to do the band, this band in particular, justice.
Now, I know a lot of these names and who these people are and why they were important, and I still felt like I was deliberately shut out – ‘Ha ha, you don’t get it, private club, member’s only.” The boyfriend, who came to this party much, much later than I do, and truly loves this band, just kind of shrugged sadly and stopped reading it halfway through. He had no idea who these people were, why they or their record stores or their fanzines were important. I remember the whole spirit of “Either you get it or you don’t” that surrounded the band back in the day, but I don’t know if the reason there was no explanation presented was deliberate. is But given that this is the first and probably the only book on the history of the Replacements we are likely ever to get (one Azzerad chapter aside), I think this is a much needed element of the book that just not there, or if it was meant to be there, it’s not a successful one.
Aside from connecting you with the history of the Replacements, I think it is Important that you – especially someone who, again, was there for ALL OF IT – try to explain to someone who wasn’t there just what a store like Oar Folk meant, not just to the city, but to the entire ‘movement’ (for lack of a better word). One of my big gripes with recent rock and roll documentaries is that they get to R.E.M. – and then skip straight ahead to Nirvana, and don’t even attempt to explore those 5 or so years of the birth of the New American Underground. Punk! Attitude was a big offender on this point, and the recent VH1 documentaries did the exact same thing, so apparently this is going to be canon. Either we write our history or we need to accept that no one is going to do it for us.
Maybe it was an impossible, unreasonable task from the outset; people get old, move away, memories fade, priorities shift. I wish I could believe that in the future, the band members will have an epiphany a la Dylan or Young or Springsteen and start thinking about their legacy and how they want to be remembered, and decide to step up and start talking, but I don’t think it’s going to happen here. So instead of us having THE book about the history of the Replacements, we have A book about the history of the Replacements, written by the person who was practically born to do it. It is better than nothing but I just mourn a tiny bit because I believe it could have been so much more. But if you care at all, it is still worth reading.
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