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About Paul Westerberg
Duluth to Madison, treatment bound
In the beginning, there were the Replacements from Minneapolis, Minnesota:
Paul Westerberg (guitar, lead vocals and songwriter); Tommy Stinson (bass); Bob Stinson (Tommyís older half-brother, guitar) and Chris Mars (drums).
The Replacements (heretofore known as "the Mats") released their first record on the Twin/Tone label in 1981. "Sorry Ma Forget to Take Out the Trash" was your basic hard-core punk thrash on the surface - but there are glimpses of Paul Westerbergís irony and intelligence hiding underneath all that wondrous noise. "If Only You Were Lonely", the B-side to the "Iím in Trouble" single from "Sorry Ma" is a mournful country ballad, and remains one of the most touching songs Westerberg has ever written.
Next up for the Mats was the "Stink" EP, more hardcore in the "Sorry Ma" vein. With 1983ís "Hootenanny" LP, the band's sound began evolving as they broke away from the standard hardcore noise and branched out into ballads and pop, without sacrificing any of their manic energy.
Their true breakthrough came with 1984ís "Let It Be", which fulfilled - and exceeded - the promise of "Hootenanny". The Mats had arrived. "Let it Be" was the last record the Mats did for Twin/Tone. They signed to a major label (Sire) and released "Tim" in 1985. The band seem to be conflicted about pursuing mainstream commercial success: signing to a major label and doing a gig on Saturday Night Live to promote "Tim", but showing up drunk and obnoxious at the SNL taping, with Paul uttering the "F" word on the air and incurring the wrath of Lorne Michaels.
After the "Tim" tour, Bob Stinson left the Mats. The real facts surronding his departure are only known by the band members themselves, but the generally accepted story is that Bob was fired because his alcohol and drug use had gotten completely out of control. Given the entire bandís penchant for drinking, drugs and destructiveness - both of self and property - some people feel that he was made a scape goat for all the Mats' problems. Regardless of the reasons, when it came time to record the follow-up to "Tim", the Mats were a trio. Paul took over the guitar chores for recording 1987ís "Pleased to Meet Me" and the band asked longtime Minneapolis guitarist Slim Dunlap to join them for the PTMM tour and to become a band member after that.
Despite containing some of the Matís best work ever, neither "Tim" nor "Pleased to Meet Me" broke through with the kind of commercial success the Mats and their record company had hoped for. Perhaps in response, the next Mats album "Donít Tell a Soul" (1989) had a glossy over-produced sound that may have won the band some new converts but left many longtime fans puzzling over the direction of the band.
Paul has said that after "Donít Tell a Soul", he wanted to do a solo album. That may have been his plan, but the record company vetoed the idea and "All Shook Down" was released as a Mats album, though it was recorded with many studio musicians. When it came time to tour in support of the record, drummer Chris Mars was gone, leaving the band under strained circumstances. As Tommy said in an appearance on 120 Minutes to promote the album: "He decided to quit and we decided to help him quit". The Mats toured in support of "All Shook Down" with Steve Foley on drums. To no oneís great surprise, the band played their last show on July 4, 1991 at an outdoor festival in Chicagoís Grant Park.
For more info on the Replacements, I recommend a book by Michael Azerrad called "Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Rock Underground, 1981-1991" . The book chronicles the world of 80s indie rock, covering 13 bands, including The Mats. The other bands are Black Flag, Minutemen, Mission of Burma, Minor Threat, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Dinosaur Jr., Fugazi, Mudhoney, and Beat Happening.
Something went wrong, my name is Paul...
After the Mats split, Paulís next project was the soundtrack to the movie "Singles". A terrible movie (IMHO) but a pretty good soundtrack, with two great songs from Paul: "Dyslexic Heart" and "Waiting for Somebody". Paulís first solo record "14 Songs" was released in June 1993. The supporting tour kicked off in Cambridge MA with a 'surprise' show at a small club called T.T. the Bearís. The lineup included Dave Minehan (of the longtime Boston band the Neighborhoods), perhaps accounting for Paulís decision to rehearse and launch the tour in Boston.
Unfortunately, the tour was sidelined in November when Paul injured his back. After a month or so off, the tour resumed, with a stop on Saturday Night Live. Guess Lorne Micheals had recovered from Paulís last visit! The guest host was Charlton Heston, who capped the appearance by forgetting Paulís name at the end of the show. The band played two songs - "Knocking On Mine" and "Canít Hardly Wait".
After the "14 Songs" tour ended in December 93, Paul seemed to keep busy mainly contributing to soundtracks, including a duet with Joat Jett on the "Tank Girl" soundtrack and two songs on the "Friends" soundtrack. According to an interview in Rolling Stone, the death of Bob Stinson in February 1995 prompted him to get serious about recording the next record and he ended up in Atlanta, recording with Pearl Jam producer Brendan OíBrien. That collaboration didnít pan out, and Paul recorded the rest of the record in L.A., co-producing it with Lou Giordano. The record, "Eventually", was released in May 1996 to mixed reviews. Paul embarked on a fairly lenghthy tour that summer (click here to read reviews of every show on the tour!) with legendary power popster Tommy Keene on guitar, Ken Chastain on bass and a "Spinal-Tap"ish revolving roster of drummers.
Although it would be nearly three years before another official Westerberg solo album, Paul semi-covertly released a single and an EP in the summer of 97, under the name Grandpaboy. A single and 5-song CD were released under the name Grandpaboy by Monolyth/Soundproof Records and you should still be able to order both online. Grandpaboy is Paul's rocking-er side, as noted by that astue music journal, People Magazine:
"..while most of the CD rocks with the abandon 'Mats fans have missed in his recent solo work, his audience will be equally thrilled to see how much brainpower he can pack into 3 minutes of snarling rock. Boy, Grandapboy rocks."
Next up for Paul (and the rest of the Mats) was the release of ALL FOR NOTHING, a 2 CD collection from the Mats' Reprise years in November 1997. IOne CD is called "All for Nothing" and is a greatest should-have-been hits from the Reprise albums. The second CD, entitled "Nothing for All" contains some unreleased material and some material that has only been available on promo or compilation releases. Songs on "Nothing for All" include "Like A Rolling Pin", a re-writing of the Dylan song (sample lyrics: "Once upon a time, you threw the Mats a dime..."), and "Birthday Gal", "Beer for Breakfast", "Nude" (all three are outtakes from the Pleased to Meet Me sessions. Most of the tracks on "Nothing for All" have been available to traders, but there are a few songs I haven't heard before: "We Know the Night", "Portland" and "Wake Up". The CDs are multimedia-enhanced with 4 Mats videos: "The Ledge," "Aching to Be," "Merry-Go-Round," and "Bastards of Young."
A Capitol idea (not)
In May of 97, Paul officially switched labels, moving from Reprise to Capitol. Here's the scoop on the move from Jim Walsh of The St. Paul Pioneer Press.
After 12 years with Warner Bros./Reprise Records, Paul Westerberg has jumped ship and made a verbal commitment to Capitol Records. ``I needed a breath of fresh air,'' the former leader of the Replacements said. ``I was there a long time, and it was time to move on"....Westerberg chose Capitol, due in no small part to the impression that Gary Gersh made on the songwriter. Gersh is the president of Capitol and will also act as Westerberg's A+R representative. "Gary Gersh's commitment as president and A+R guy, who is going to personally oversee my record and my career, was hard to turn down," said Westerberg. "I mean, I had fans at every other label, but they weren't all necessarily the presidents of the label. I felt that having the most powerful guy at the label interested in my career would be the smart move to make."Sounds like a great big love fest, right? Unfortunately for Paul and his fans, Gary Gersh was gone from the label within a few months. It took nearly two years for Paul to release his first - and only - record for Capitol, "Suicaine Gratifaction", which came out in the spring of 1999. (One happy contributing factor to the long delay was the birth of Paul and Laurie Lindeen's first child in the spring of 1998, a boy named John Paul Westerberg.) Although Paul did a few TV/radio appearances in Europe, to my knowledge, he did no appearances in the US, only a few print interviews. The interviews he did were very copen and candid - he told Robert Hilburn in the LA Times that he was "clinically depressed" after the "Eventually" tour:
"I think Paul is one of the truly great songwriters of our time,"' said Gersh from his office in Los Angeles. "And I'm hoping that with a renewed start for him at a new label will spark something in him that maybe we haven't seen in a long time....Nobody could ever be the Replacements again. It's not possible. And there are so many bands that can do the Replacements copy thing better than Paul can right now. Why should he have to do that? He's much too talented to do that."'
"I came home from the last  tour clinically depressed, realizing that performing the same numbers for an audience night after night no longer made me happy.....I always said I'd quit if it was no fun and it was no longer fun--touring at least." Westerberg...is now wrestling with the issue of live shows. He knows the importance of touring to promote the album, but he didn't enjoy his last tour, and he worries that an entire evening of the [Suicaine Gratifaction] material might be too demanding."Some selected bits and pieces from the official press kit for "Suicaine Gratifaction" give a good idea of the dark tone of this record:
A few other SG items:
SUICAINE GRATIFACTION was recorded at Paul's Minneapolis home and in New York and Los Angeles. The album - a stormy blend of rockers, acoustic guitar ballads and piano-and-vocal songs - features Paul on guitars and piano, backed by such esteemed players as Don Was and keyboardist Benmont Tench. From his days fronting the legendary Replacements, to his recent solo works - 14 Songs (1993) and Eventually (1996), plus 2 songs on the Singles soundtrack - Paul Westerberg has always blazed his own uncompromising path.
Paul Westerberg (in his own words):
Father. Artist. Mid-Westerner. Eccentric. Walker. Movie hater. Tree lover. Pill taker. Songwriter. Gardener. Floor sweeper. Floor sleeper. Dyslexic. Weather enthusiast. Rock singer. Janitor. Romantic. Has Been. Hero. Has made a new record, SUICAINE GRATIFACTION.
When pressed to describe the music on SUICAINE GRATIFACTION, PAUL says "it's fucked-up folk music."
What inspired PAUL WESTERBERG to title the new album SUICAINE GRATIFACTION? "Over the years, I've come up with words that I guess are incorrect but mean something to me, he explains. "I don't want to think about it too deeply other than the fact that it seems wrong, and therefore it's attractive to me."
Talking about the album, PAUL says: "This is a dark record--you'd be hard pressed to find a joke on it, which might be the greatest departure, because there's always at least one joke on my records, but I don't think this one has one."
- I got a Suicaine Gratifaction magnetic poetry kit that was done as a promo for BordersBooks (Paul was the featured artist there the month the album was released and they named a coffee after him...don't ask). It's a pretty neat collector's item. You might try checking eBay if you're interested in finding one.
- I transcribed all the lyrics to Suicaine Gratifaction The lyrics were included in the limited edition CD, a first for Paul, enjoy.
The album was not a huge success on the sales charts (52,000 copies sold) -- combine that with the departure of Paul's biggest supporter at the label, and it's not a shock that Paul and Capitol parted ways less than a year in March 2000, after SG was released. According to Rolling Stone:
Paul Westerberg and Capitol Records have called it quits after just one album. The break comes less than a year after the former Replacements frontman released the highly acclaimed, but commercially disappointing, Suicaine Gratification.
Despite reports that Capitol had released Westerberg, the break was a "mutual decision," according to a source in Westerberg's management. "Capitol was going in a different direction, and there were not a lot of hard feelings on either side," the source said.
Paul and the Mats rated a few mentions in the 2000 "Music" issue of Vanity Fair: Elvis Costello picked "All Shook Down" as one of his top 500 albums of all times. The Mats also rated an entry in a feature called The Rock Snob's Dictionary:
Replacements, the. Shambolic 80s guitar band from Minnesota whose plaid-shirted, raspy-throated leader, Paul Westerberg, was a profound influence on both grunge movement and the more recent "modern rock" travesties of the Goo Goo Dolls. Westerberg broke up the band in 1990 due to poor sales and has subsequently alienated his fan base by "going soft".
Paul was one of several artists who sent in a video message to be played at Joey Ramoneís 50th Birthday Bash on May 19, 2001 in New York. Jim Walsh, who is a Minneapolis music write and Mats fan wrote a tribute to Joey, recalling a show where the Mats opened for The Ramones and Paul said to the crowd "The best band in the world is up next. If you don't think so, fuck ya." Succinct as always.
In Dec. 2001, Paul contributed a song to the soundtrack of the new Sean Penn movie "I Am Sam", it's a cover of The Beatles "Nowhere Man". Click here for an audio sample. Paul was interviewed by VH-1 in Feb 2002 and some of his comments were included in an episode of a show called "Ultimate Albums", saluting Green Day's "Dookie".
Paul Signs With Vagrant
And at long last, Paul signed with a new label, Vagrant, in January 2002. The following is taken from their press release announcing the signing: 1/28/02:
The news is out and it's true. We are lucky enough to have signed one of the greatest American song writers in history....Paul Westerberg. The Replacements ,one of the finest bands of all time from ANY country (you blew it BIG time Spin with your stupid list) and the inspiration for starting this label 11 years ago, so needless to say, this still feels like a dream. The new album will be out April 23rd and is titled "Stereo". It will also include an album from a band calling themselves "Grandpaboy". Now ,we can neither confirm nor deny that this band may or may not include some or all of a certain Midwest based, highly influential 80's post punk band. Nor can we confirm rumors of a tour that would start in 3 weeks....stay tuned.....And this from Billboard.com:
Paul Westerberg has signed a multi-album deal with Los Angeles-based independent label Vagrant and will release a two-CD set April 23, Billboard exclusively reveals this week. The package will contain a single-disc Westerberg solo album, "Stereo," featuring a collection of acoustic-leaning songs, plus an entire new album from the former Replacements leader's punk-veering side project, Grandpaboy, titled "Mono." Appropriately, the Westerberg album was recorded in stereo; the Grandpaboy effort in mono. Westerberg tells Billboard that the albums together will "instantly sound like the first Replacements record, and it'll sound a lot like my last solo record."
While the tour with a band mentioned in the press release as happening in February didn't happen, Paul did FINALLY get back on stage after 6 years, with a short but amazing tour in April/May 2002, playing solo in records stores in Seattle, LA, New York, Boston and a few other lucky cities. He played a 3 night stand in his hometown, at The Guthrie Theater (June 29-July 1) and hit the road for a tour in August. The "Come Feel Me Tremble" tour kicked off in Buffalo on August 1 and ended in NYC at The Bowery Ballroom on August 28.A year later (Oct 2003) saw three (three!) releases from Paul:
- "Come Feel Me Tremble" (the CD)
- "Come Feel Me Tremble" (the DVD)
- "Dead Man Shake" (Grandpaboy CD)