Friday, January 14, 2011

Some Sung Heroes: Bob Stinson

Page, Hendrix, Clapton, Beck… the greatest guitarists in rock history, right? Um, yeah, I guess, but who gives a fuck? Stones or Beatles? What does it matter? Enough has been said, written, and endured in the name of these classic rockers. Why spend more energy discussing them? Okay, they made some great music (some greater than others), but I propose a series of informal, half-assed (what else would you expect?) posts on some lesser discussed figures, though, what with the internet making all cult art no longer quiet works of out-of-proportion worship, there’s clearly more than enough on these guys as well. Still, I’m throwing some more space their way. Why not?

Why? I’ll tell you why.

I asked for Hootenanny by the Replacements for Xmas this year. I got it. Rhino has reissued all the records by the legendary group—every 80s/90s alternative rock fan’s favorite. I was a mad nut for the Replacements myself, discovering them late in their career and not long before their demise, though the real Replacements, as some would argue, died when they kicked out Bob Stinson. We’re coming up on the 16th anniversary of his death, which makes him my candidate for the first of Hungry Inferno’s Some Sung Heroes.

Stinson represents the first half of the Replacements’ career: drunk, sloppy, and brilliant simultaneously. Some have said that anything could have happened at a Replacements concert, but really only one of two things were possible: you’d see a brilliant rock show or a total disaster. Both, allegedly, were great fun. They were notorious substance abusers who would play shows consisting of almost only cover songs that they barely knew how to play. As a sloppy guitar player who faked his way through shitty covers that were all winged, off key messes, the Replacements represented something wonderful: the possibility that anyone could make rock and roll magic, no matter how wasted. But there was far more to the band than drunken louts butchering Muddy Waters. Paul Westerberg was (is) a fantastic writer of enduring songs that have earned him his well-deserved reputation. But it was Bob Stinson, his foil, who added to these gems the out-of-control element essential to the ‘Mats’ sound.

Stinson’s dislike of the new direction (less shambolic, more melodic) and intense drinking and drugging got him kicked out of the band, an act that always seemed cold to the fans, but we didn’t have to live with him. All accounts are that this was next to impossible, and the worst place for a manic depressive addict to be is in a rock band. His half-brother was still a member, to the bitter end. That had to make for some awkward Thanksgivings. From all the reports, and there are many if you look, Stinson’s last days were as a couch surfer popping up often in many bands centered in his native Minneapolis where all too many people were willing to buy him a drink and feed him dope. (Echoes of Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan, other great drunks killed, some day, by their fans.) Few in the world of big rock noticed when he died, but Spin and Rolling Stone gave the guy his due, sort of. One of them said something like, “No one could fuck up a guitar solo like Bob Stinson.” True, true, but the recklessness that did him in helped make an otherwise fine band a little riskier and a lot more interesting. I’m one of the annoying fucks who think the Replacements were never the same post-Bob. (This is not to say I only like the rocking ‘Mats—oh no. “Swinging Party” and “Androgynous” are two of my favorites.) The band seemed always on the brink of implosion and Stinson’s departure, while making room for a few so-so, considerably calmer records, can be read as the first step down, but that seems neither here nor there. The band “matured” some but listening back to their final performance at the Taste of Chicago, only somewhat. Really, no one, including the members of the band, expected them to last forever.

Westerberg is always going to be remembered as the heart-on-his-sleeve, unsatisfied rocker with a gift for penning inspired, enduring songs. Tommy Stinson has a good gig going in G&R, though many Replacements fans are overlooking that (or not holding it against him—we all gotta eat). Chris Mars apparently paints and has retired from music. The ‘Mats have grow up and moved on. Bob Stinson has moved on for good, but here’s hoping the recent reissues resurrect his name.