Today's Wall Street Journal features the story of local rock legend Paul Westerberg's latest project(subscription required):
Paul Westerberg, leader of the legendary rock band the Replacements, isn't a household name -- except in homes where the kids are dressed in vintage punk T-shirts and Mohawk hairdos. He gained notoriety and influence in the 1980s with songs such as "Treatment Bound," "Dope Smokin' Moron" and "Bastards of Young." But when contemporaries such as U2 and R.E.M. soared to commercial prosperity, the Replacements ran their career into a ditch.
Now Mr. Westerberg is set to receive a jolt of mainstream exposure -- thanks, improbably, to a big-budget animated children's movie for which he wrote a clutch of songs and the cinematic score. "Open Season" is the debut feature from Sony Pictures Entertainment's new Sony Pictures Animation division. It features the voices of Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher, and concerns a bear (Mr. Lawrence) who has lived his whole life in comfortable captivity. Circumstances force him to try living in the wilderness, where he must choose between his old life of ease and the rigors of the forest.
For the 46-year-old Mr. Westerberg, whose career could be characterized as a series of near-misses with big-time success, Hollywood represented both a gilded cage and a fearsome wilderness. It's a land of plenty: He was paid handsomely (he won't say how much) for his work on "Open Season" and recorded with bigger budgets and more musicians than he ever had before. Yet he also was put through the Hollywood wringer -- the studio even hired another singer to record a showpiece song Mr. Westerberg wrote for the film (though both versions appear in the movie and CD.) He now jokes about accepting the movie gig as "community service after my last arrest."
I'm sure that some of Westerberg's hardcore fans, still desperately clinging to the long past glory days of teen angst and rebellion, will denounce this effort and brand Westerberg with the dreaded scarlet "S" as in sellout. Personally, I applaud his decision to dip his toe into the pond of mainstream entertainment and introduce his skilled songwriting to a whole new generation. Rather than continuing the Quixote pursuit of "breaking through" and bringing "my music" to the masses, as so many would-be rock stars do well past the age when they should know better, Westerberg is taking a realistic approach and recognizing that while this may not be exactly the future he dreamed of back in the heyday of the Minneapolis music scene, it ain't a bad way to make a living.
Long-suffering Replacements fans may get something out of it, too. They have waited more than 15 years to see the band, or even just some of its members, reunite for a live performance. That finally is set to happen at the film's premiere in Los Angeles on Monday night, when Mr. Westerberg is to be joined by Replacements bass player Tommy Stinson to play two songs. It's an appropriately bizarre twist for rock's most lovable losers.
"We get back together to open up for a cartoon, in front of a bunch of people who never heard of us," Mr. Westerberg says. "That's fitting."
If this mini-reunion warms the hearts of diehard Replacement fans, I'm happy for them. I don't count myself among them, for while I appreciate the music the Replacements made, I consider them to be perhaps the most over-hyped band of all time, especially on a local level. Like Paul Wellstone, the legend that has emerged after their demise does not match the reality of what they actually did.
UPDATE-- I should have put an over/under on how long it would take to receive the first e-mail like this one submitted by Jim:
I take it you weren't in the Uptown, Cabooze, Duffy's, or the 7th Street Entry to see it first hand.
Never before, never since, on any level; local or national, have I experienced a rock n roll show like the one The Replacements could put on.
I don't really blame you. You can't hear it in the record if you haven't seen it live. It was a bloodletting release of hostility, anger, angst. It was a comic aside. It was yawn at the world outside the club. It was a nod to 60s and 70s pop, 70s metal, and a thumbing of the nose at anyone and anything of authority.
And for the record, I stopped liking anything they did after 1988 or so.
For the record, no, I do not claim to have seen The Replacements first hand, which makes me unique for someone of my age cohort who grew up in the Twin Cities. It's not unique not to have actually seen them, but it is unique not to have claimed to have seen them back in the "day." Seriously, if as many people who now say they went to see The Replacements at The Entry actually did, the band would have broken through to mainstream success.
I don't mean to diminish Jim's affinity for The Replacements in any way, but I wonder how much of his adulation is based on an objective appraisal of the band and how much is simply fuzzy nostalgia for the simple-minded rebellion of youth. I know, I know. That's what rock and roll is supposed to be all about. Flipping off authority, expressing your frustration, alienation and all that. But was it really The Replacements being that good or was it just that they came along at a particular point in time in their fans' lives where they filled an emotional hole? I don't know if the question can be answered with any authority, but I think it's worth considering.