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TROUBLE BOYS: The True Story Of THE REPLACEMENTS - Bob Mehr {488 pages, Da Capo}
I concluded my review of the other book about the REPLACEMENTS, All Over But The Shouting, stating that I was doubtful a better book about the band was possible, unless it came from Paul Westerberg himself. However, at that stage I didn’t reckon a book would be published that took ten years to research and write, and would be endorsed by Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, Slim Dunlap, Peter Jesperson and just about every other notable person associated with the band including parents, wives, ex-wives, roadcrew, producers, managers - the lot - nor that it would be laden with new and exclusive interviews. Then Trouble Boys arrived.
It’s clear that this is something special, something to be cherished and devoured from the very first page - a letter from Westerberg to the author from 2012. This is followed by an Introduction, the locale of which is Bob Stinson’s funeral, which is written with equal parts panache and gravitas, virtually placing the reader there.
The narrative then goes back to the early days of the original band members, including the relationship they had with their parents (and the damage those parents did to Bob in particular is quite harrowing) and the trouble they got into before progressing through the early days of the band, their internal battles, the recording of each record and inspiration behind some of those classic songs, self-destruction and problems with the bottle, right through to the split and what each person has done post ‘MATS.
Mehr hasn’t written a run-of-the-mill biography though. This is meticulously researched, is incisive and most importantly, passionate. When he details the life of Bob Stinson and all his troubled ways, it’s written with empathy and honesty. When he documents some of the willful destruction of tour buses or backstage areas, he doesn’t allude to it being cool or done in an act of rock-starness. He doesn’t shy away from stating the arrogance of Westerberg or the petulance of Tommy Stinson. We get the stories of the infamous ‘pussy sets’, of the riot in Portland, of stealing the clothes of the wives’ of Tom Petty and performing in them when THE ‘MATS supported Petty, of money burning, multiple attempts to sabotage themselves, of Mars’ rarely seen ‘Pappy The Clown’ alter-ago, of depression and deception, of stupidity and genius and flawed perfection. It’s joyous and harrowing, uplifting and heartbreaking and a multitude of other contradictions that only make sense in the confines of THE ‘MATS.
Given that THE ‘MATS were among the most provocative, rabble-rousing, dangerously drunken urchins to ever strap on guitars, it’s a minor miracle that Mehr has managed to extract as much information as he does in this book. It’s a major miracle that he has managed to compile all of those facts, interviews and research into a text that is faultless in terms of accuracy, cohesive and written with pristine journalistic acumen but without being stuffy or pretentious yet remaining the language of the band, and its fans.
The book, which is Mehr’s first, is filled out with 32 pages of rate photos and comprehensive notes.
The only negative, and this is not Mehr’s fault, is the non-participation of Chris Mars - even though he did support Mehr during its writing. Some fresh perspective from him would’ve balanced out the Westerberg/ Stinson leaning of much of the narrative.
I’ve stated many times on this site and elsewhere that I consider THE ‘MATS to be the single greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll band that has ever graced the earth. I’m not saying Punk, or Garage, or Alt. Rock or any other genre bar Rock ‘n’ Roll. I’ve also stated, as I mentioned in my opening paragraph, that I thought the best book possible had already been written about the band. I was wrong. Mehr has not only written the definitive biography on the most cantankerous, infamous and myth-laden of bands, but one that can stand among the best music biographies ever written. (29.03.16)