The MP3 era began in July 2008. At that point, it had been four years since Paul’s previous record, “Folker”, came out. In December 2006, Paul severely injured his left hand in a candle accident (yes, a candle). According to Jim Walsh in CityPages:
“He put a screwdriver through his left hand trying to get some wax out of a candle and cut some nerves and ripped some cartilage and hurt himself pretty bad..He’s in a cast. He’s seen a couple of doctors who say he won’t be able to play guitar for a year.”
Paul did an interview with Jon Bream for the Star-Trib in June 2007 and talked about the injury:
“I’m one-third of the way to being possibly 80 percent all better,” he said the other day. Translation: Doctors say he will regain 80 percent use of his hand, but recovery will take 18 months. He’s about six months into the process. As for his left hand, he suffered nerve damage in the webbed area between the ring and pinkie fingers.
“It still feels like I’ve got 12 pins in it. It feels like I have something in my hand and I want to put it down and I realize it’s my finger,” he said. “I cut an artery and severed 12 nerves. Half of the ring finger is numb and the other half is tingling like it’s growing back the nerves. It’s just another guitar player’s injury. I used to have swelling in the elbows from playing guitar.”
Because of the injury, Westerberg has modified his guitar style and sound. “Laurie has asked me: ‘What the hell kind of instrument were you playing downstairs?’ It was a guitar. She didn’t know if it was steel guitar or a slide or something else. I’m using different fingerings ’cause my finger doesn’t want to stretch.
“I was disappointed that I could actually play. I was excited by the notion that I may never play again. I thought that would be great and now I could learn the violin or flute. It was not to be.”
Despite his self-deprecating outlook, Westerberg, 47, admits that playing guitar is now work for him.
“What was effortless and painless now is a little uncomfortable and takes a little effort. I won’t use this as an excuse. If anything, I’ll probably end up playing better than I used to.”
As for his recording career, the singer-songwriter recently sent 60 songs to his manager to try to figure out what to do with them. He said he’s had offers from Universal and Sony to start his own label, but he’s not interested.
“I’m busy learning how to play guitar,” he concluded. “It’s like I’m 15 again. It’s attached to my hip. I’m playing cleaner and my rhythm is better because I can’t do as much with my left hand.”
It had been quite a long stretch since we’d heard any update and then in July 2008, I got the news that Paul would be releasing 49 minutes of music for just 49¢ on July 19, just a few days away. There were some technical issues that pushed the date out to July 21 and it was available for download that day from Amazon.com (it’s no longer for sale but the page is still up on Amazon, along with many reviews).
And what was it…well, it was glorious but confusing. It was one MP3 file – one very long file, with some complete (or close to complete) songs, some snippets of songs – some of which were covers (and that became an issue). The cover art was very DIY, continuing in the Grandpaboy tradition – you don’t get more DIY than duct tape! It also showed a sub-title: “49:00… Of Your
Time Life”. As you would expect based on the title, the run time was… 43:55.
In addition to the cover art above, the following liner notes were included:
And that’s all the info we got. Thanks to the diligent posters on the message board and other folks around the Internet, here are the list of songs/start times/titles (best guesses on titles since none were supplied by Paul):
Who You Gonna Marry? – 00:00
Kentucky Risin’ – 03:57 (aka With or Without Her)
Something in My Life is Missing – 06:57
Visitor’s Day – 10:38
Thoroughbred – 14:14
Devil Raised a Good Boy – 14:28
You’re My Girl – 17:38
Everyone’s Stupid – 18:04
You’re My Girl (Reprise) – 20:42
What Do You Want? – 20:48
Never Coming Back – 21:07
Goodnight, Sweet Prince – 21:52
Guess I’ll Be Going Then – 25.47
Outta My System – 25:54
C’mon, Be My Darling – 29:16
Down on the Farm – 33:01
100,00 Pieces – 33:12
I’m Clean – 34:24
Your Sister – 35:35
It’ll Never Die – 35:43
Short Cover Medley* – 39:46
I Think I Love You – 40:41
Oh Yeah! – 41:46
*The medley includes: “Hello Goodbye” – The Beatles; “Lost Highway” – Hank Williams; “Born To Be Wild” – Steppenwolf; “Stupid Girl” – Rolling Stones; “I’m Eighteen” – Alice Cooper; “I Am A Rock” – Simon and Garfunkel; “Rocket Man” – Elton John; “Dandy” – The Kinks
The Amazon download was not available to non-US customers and a few days later, “49:00” also was being sold by Tunecore to accommodate everyone. So good, so far. The music was amazing, there was a good deal of press coverage, the reception was universally positive, and it was #1 on the Amazon download chart.
Paul Westerberg Offers New Album For 49 Cents – Billboard
“He finished it on Monday, sent it to me on Tuesday and it was out this weekend,” Westerberg manager Darren Hill tells Billboard.com. “It’s just wonderful that you can actually do this. The freedom an artist can enjoy these days is fantastic. Can you imagine me pitching this idea to a label?”
The 49-cent price was a joking suggestion from Westerberg to charge “a penny a minute,” but Amazon.com was the only digital retailer that “would play ball with me on the price point,” Hill says.
“49” has no track list or lyrics, keeping with a long-standing Westerberg tradition…Westerberg played all the instruments on the decidedly lo-fi recordings, which often feature two songs playing at once for a few seconds and short snippets that abruptly cut off. “It’s almost like you’re scanning a radio dial,” Hill says. “You’re getting a glimpse inside of Paul’s head here.”
Things started to go awry quickly though. On July 30, “49:00” was no longer available from Tunecore and on Aug. 1, Amazon stopped selling it as well. And that was the end of anyone being able to purchase “49:00”. Ever.
A YouTube poster made this fantastic video for “Kentucky Risin”/”With or Without Her” – thank you, UndertowJones.
But wait, there’s more! On August 5, a new PW download appeared only on Tunecore, “5:05”. Yes, it was five minutes and five seconds long and combined with the 43:55 time for “49:00”, that equals 49 minutes. You could pay either 99 cents or $5.05 for the download, which included more PW cover artwork:
In an interview with Brett Milano in Nov. 2008, Paul addressed the disappearance of “49:00” – the coverss were the culprit.
BM: Let me ask, your last album – you put it out as a download and sold it for forty-nine cents. Did that work? I mean, did you make anything off of that or was that not the idea?
PW: No [laughs]. I’ve had to pay money for putting that out for one week because we had to pay. Ten publishers came after us immediately ’cause I used all these snippets of songs that I recorded. It was either pay up or pull the thing. So we pulled it after a week and the [name withheld] of course being the only publishing company that still wants their money to this day for my eight seconds of my cover of [name withheld]. But that was fun. I mean, that was a fun week or two when I was putting those things out.
BM: Why did you choose to do it that way?
PW: Because it was wrong. You know? Because it did what we used to do. And I’m capable of doing that alone, by accident. It kind of, it just shot everyone down in the world who’s putting out their record for a dollar a song and it said, you know, here I’m gonna give you forty-something minutes of music for basically a penny a minute. It turned everything on its head for a week. It was nice. It was nice for me to grab a big handful of my songs and get them out of my system. I kind of have a list. I crossed fifty songs off there. It was like, “Oh this f*****n’ blows, I don’t have to worry about those” only if you even heard one second of it, it’s like in my mind it’s done. I have to do that from time to time because I write sort of all the time.
“5:05” is no longer for sale either but you can listen to both “49:00” and “5:05” in this one YouTube video, though this doesn’t include the offending cover songs from “49:00”.