Short Thoughts On Westerberg

I’m sitting here listening to the Paul Westerberg in-store from Chicago. I currently own copies of all the in-stores except New York, Boston and Philadelphia. All three of those are currently en route to me.

Yes, I’m obsessed.

I’ve listened to them all repeatedly. Portland was my favorite, but right now Chicago’s about to knock that out of the running. Portland seemed small and not very well attended, and Paul was very chatty. He started the evening by asking if anyone knew who had died that day 11 years ago, and then went into “Another Girl, Another Planet”. (The answer being, of course, Johnny Thunders.)

Seattle, the only in-store I actually physically attended, was wonderful but it was Paul’s first show in six years. I don’t know who was more nervous, him or us. I’m lucky I didn’t break down in tears standing in the front row, when the ‘curtain’ (a metal store shutter) went up and there was Paul, sitting on a couch. I got all sentimental during “Waiting For Somebody,” a song I almost totally forgot about. When 600 voices strong were singing along to the American Indie Rock Anthem of 1985, “I Will Dare,” it was equal parts wonderful and overwhelming.

I did not expect this kind of emotional reaction. I worshipped The Replacements and it was one of my all time biggest musical disappointments that Paul did not become the great American songwriter of the 90s.

San Francisco was a little rougher. By all accounts, attendance was sparse, and it’s most notable for the heckler that Paul ended up dealing with by going out in the audience and slapping him in the face. (He’d make a note of this at the Chicago show, by joking that they’d hired security “for YOUR protection”.)

Los Angeles: Winona Ryder, and “Unsatisfied”. I groveled mercilessly for the L.A. show because, as I told a fan I was trading with, I thought I would die without hearing him sing that song. It’s a gem of a moment, but overall the performance and setlist put it pretty low on the list.

So now I’m listening to Chicago (which came in over the weekend, along with Philadelphia) and once again I am this little puddle of mush. It’s not even because of The Replacements songs, although the audience sing-along to “First Glimmer” is something you absolutely have to hear if you give a damn. I can’t claim nostalgia or memories of days gone by as the culprit, it’s the entire body of work that is affecting me. It’s the same things that grabbed me about The Replacements: simple, insightful, straight-ahead songs about thoughts and feelings we’ve all had, set to timeless, poppy, wonderful melodies. Now, combine that with a performance that’s raw, honest, sometimes heart wrenching, and always self-effacing.

I started this article because I wanted to talk about Paul’s performance on Leno the other week. He’d been on Letterman and surprised us all by rocking out as his alter-ego Grandpaboy. We had no idea what to expect on Leno. There were confirmed reports that he’d chatted with Cheap Trick about being his backing band, but no matter what might have been planned in advance, we knew that we’d never know what was actually going to happen until it did.

So the appointed evening arrives and I’ve got it on in the background while I do some writing. I then hear the magic words: “Paul Westerberg” and I rush to turn up the volume and watch. It was just him and that beat up blonde Tele, in one of those spray painted suits he was wearing on the in-store tour. At first you think: he’s playing it straight. It was Paul, not Grandpaboy. While I was standing there, transfixed, watching, thinking about how powerful he was, just him and that guitar and that voice… he got to the ‘Showin’ baby home’ line in “Let The Bad Times Roll,” he sang ’Joey and Dee Dee home’ (twice, because he kind of stumbled a bit the first time) and I was utterly overcome with sudden emotion. My eyes just filled up with tears. I could not believe he did that. I mean, I believe it, it’s Paul Westerberg and if anyone knew how to monkeywrench a situation it was The Replacements, but he did it on national TV!. He did it on fucking Jay Leno, of all things, right to the heart of Middle America! He played it straight BUT – he didn’t. It was still 100% pure Paul Westerberg, totally his way, zero compromise whatso-fucking-ever. It was nothing short of incredible.

So I’m thinking about all those in-stores, all those people who waited in line and drove for hours in some cases, all those voices singing along. Why the fuck is this man not a star? Why is he not a national treasure? Why are all these third-rate songwriters having people fawn all over them, while Paul languished for so many years? I don’t know, but I think his time is finally here. He’s playing three theater shows in Minneapolis at the end of June, and Vagrant keeps making noises about a tour. Maybe the Rock and Roll Goddess is finally going to mete out some justice. Hope to see you there.