“Trouble Boys,” Bob Mehr’s thoroughly researched and eminently readable biography of The Replacements, is the type of book any band (or any artist of any kind, for that matter) would kill for. Assembled over a decade from some 230 interviews, it gives the ragged Minneapolis rockers a fairer shake than even they themselves might’ve thought they deserved. It’s a monumental tribute to a group that never quite made it. The reasons for that is the central question and subject of this book.
With anthems of failure and frustration like “Unsatisfied,” The Replacements were one of the great could’ve-beens in rock history. But by asking all the conceivable questions of anyone involved, Mehr paints a more complex picture than that of a band that just didn’t live up to expectations. When he was a kid, Westerberg scoured the library for books about show biz. He was especially taken by the story of P.T. Barnum. So when it was his turn in the limelight, he made sure it was a circus. The fact that it made some of the crowd happy and some of it horrified was all part of the show.
Equal parts Greek Tragedy, J.D. Salinger short story and John Updike novel, Mehr gets out of the way and allows the principals to tell their own tales and then seamlessly stitches all the pieces together in 520 pages to show how any other outcome than what transpired was unthinkable as well as impossible. But still, reading accounts of Bob Stinson’s harrowing abuse at the hands of his stepfather, you hope for a different outcome, even knowing full well the facts of the story. When Bob finally succumbs to a life of hard living at the age of 35, it’s like a foregone conclusion.
In the excellent epilogue, Trouble Boys takes us all the way through the band’s 2013 successful but ultimately turbulent reunion, inspired initially when Westerberg and Stinson got to together to record an EP to pay for Dunlap’s medical bills after he suffered a series of strokes. While they balked at first, Dunlap insisted from his hospital bed in a strong, unslurred voice that his former bandmates “go play.”
But the story doesn’t end there. Mehr takes us through Westerberg’s hard won sobriety, his two divorces and six solo albums as well as becoming a card-carrying member of the Sandwich Generation; caring for his young son and dying father.
Mehr injects a searing humanity into the rather unlovable character that emerged in the earlier chapters of Trouble Boys. He does similar justice to Stinson’s, Dunlap’s and Mars’ lives; wrapping up all the loose ends and histories, showing how they all fared post-Replacements. In the end, Mehr’s book is as much mystery novel as it is rock biography with an O. Henry ending, like Westerberg’s best solo songs. Which is really no ending at all.
Interviews with Bob Mehr:
• Podcast: Interview by Andy Kamenetzky, ESPN LA
• Podcast: Dad Rock, USA Today (recorded at Ardent Studios)
• Only Rock ‘n’ Roll – Trouble Boys: Mehr and Jesperson Discuss
• The Current’s Rock and Roll Book Club: Bob Mehr’s ‘Trouble Boys’
• Here & Now – The Replacements Straddled Line Between Fame And Failure
• Hazlitt – ‘Men Out of Time’: An Interview with Bob Mehr
• Argus Leader – At long last, Replacements book is being published
Bob did an interview with Mary Lucia on the Current and you watch it on Facebook (I have thrown in the towel on figuring out how to make embedding Facebook video work on this site).
Interview Part 1 | Part 2
And there’s a promo video for the book: “In this short film – filled with new, vintage and unseen footage — Mehr discusses the challenges and journey of writing the book, and telling the Replacements’ story in full for the first time.”