Songs I Love – The Replacements, “Here Comes a Regular” (1985)

There are days when I’m convinced the best thing that ever came out of Minnesota was Paul Westerberg.

This album came out in late 1985, and it’s the first real solid song collection from the Replacements. Both 1983’s Hootenanny and 1984’s Let It Be are brilliant, but they have their rough edges too. On the other hand, The Mats were a mess of a band, and it was a mess that worked for them. I recently listened to Hootenanny for the first time in years, and I’d forgotten just how good an album it is. (“Love Kitten! Oh yeah, oh yeah, Kitten! Oh yeah, oh yeah!”, for a badly edited taste.) Rock music critics melted over Let It Be like an orb of whipped butter on a short stack of buttermilk pancakes.

But there’s something serious about Tim. As a record, it goes beyond late adolescent angst and wanders into the land of young adult unease and melancholy. Which is no longer cute. And which no one really cares about. (This probably explains why so few paid sustained attention to Scott Miller’s “Young Adult Hurt Feeling-a-Thons.”) There is a dark and haunted quality to this entire album. It’s not the mess of Let It Be, but it’s not trying to please in the way that Pleased to Meet Me or Don’t Tell a Soul were. Now, that may be because the tape of Tim generally found its way into my car stereo was at 2:30 in the morning as I was somewhere on I-5 or U.S. 101 or possibly in-between, on highway 198 heading to Coalinga or making my way through a dark and foggy Paso Robles, as I wound the long road from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey to my parents place in Upland, California. This album just does dark and fog for me.

I couldn’t find the actual Tim recording of “Here Comes a Regular” online, which is a pity. It’s a beautiful recording. The acoustic guitar sounds and feels so tight, like the strings are about to break. They swirl and echo, like a cold gentle wind blowing autumn leaves around. Westerberg’s voice also sounds like its about to break when he sings “Well, a person can work up a mean, mean thirst / after a hard day of nothing much at all,” or as winds himself up for the refrain, “Everybody wants to be special here / they call your name out loud and clear / here comes a regular / call out your name / here comes a regular / am I the only one here today?” He isn’t just walking into a bar, he’s walking into the only place in the world he belongs. Adding to the swirling tightness of the guitar is a fragile and echoey piano solo, and a very basic basic synthesizer — fake strings — very carefully filling in the bottom. What strikes me as stunning about this recording is how little there is to it. Westerberg’s guitar, his voice, the synthesizer, the piano. The production is even fairly minimal — on the album version, it’s all down the center. Even the synthesizer fills in some of the sides. But it’s basically a mono recording, even as it echoes.

This song is lonely for me. And yet, it seems to believe there’s actually something more than lonely possible in the world. Which is about where I was at the time. And, as noted above, this song evokes some very specific memories for me. I can’t hear this song and not feel the wheel of my 1979 Plymouth Sapporo in my hands, the California highway under my wheels, can’t smell the heavy wet air of the Central Valley, the curves in the road, driving slower than I’d like because of the fog. For some reason, I only hear this song on the Monterey-to-SoCal run. I probably played this cassette on the return trip. But those were generally daytime trips, and this song only evokes night for me. And the California winter, which is early autumn where I currently live.

Here’s Westerberg playing this solo in 2005, I think.

I had the fortune of seeing The Replacements perform live twice – in San Francisco in 1986 during their tour for Tim and in 1987 in Reseda during their tour for Pleased to Meet Me. And both times they were relatively sober and played fairly solid sets of album material. (The Replacements were well-known for getting stinking drunk before going on stage, and playing nothing but covers. Twin/Tone put out a cassette-only recording of such a performance, The Shit Hits the Fans.) I’ve not kept up with Westerberg’s solo career. Maybe I should.

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From the Annals of Very Bad Timing

This may be hard to read, but it’s the cover of the January 1914 of the Luther League Review, the publication of the Luther League, the youth organization of (I believe) the United Lutheran Church in America. Those would be the non-Missouri Synod German Lutherans.

The January issue featured a short but glowing profile of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Especially the role faith played in his life.

You will be happy to know, by 1919, this magazine was regularly featuring American flags and patriotic symbols on its cover. I’m surprised any copies of this issue survived.

Songs I Love – The Bobs, “The Deprogrammer” (1983)

Okay, so it’s time to leave the world of jangly pop (and sympathetic string arrangements), get flung through the air at almost 737 speed, and hit the ground with a plop! only to discover you are in a strange, foreign land where no one speaks the language you speak, no one wants your money, and your food looks back at you.

I think that describes The Bobs.

They billed themselves as “acapella new wave,” and perhaps that explains things. It is certainly very unique music, made by nothing but the mouths of the four original Bobs — Gunnar “Bob” Madsen, Matthew “Bob” Stull, Janie “Bob” Scott , and Richard “Bob” Greene. I listened to this record a lot after I bought it in in late 1985. It was amusing and the humor was dark (what else is there to say about a song called “Bus Plunge”?). But as funny as I found this record, there was an “I dunno” factor for me. So, I didn’t get their 1987 follow-up, My, I’m Large, even as Franklin Bruno told me told me the song “Please Let Me Be Your Third World Country” was a title of the kind of song he thought I would write. (And I kinda did a little later…) There was just something so one-note about this band, and that’s why I didn’t invest in them. I know, I know, this is hard to justify, since it is so subjective.

At any rate, I do like this album. I especially like the final cut off the original LP/cassette, “The Deprogrammer.” It’s the story of a man whose profession is to kidnap young adults who’ve joined “cults,” deprogram their cult indoctrination, and give them back to their families. Only it’s not working in the song.

How to explain this? In the dark days of the 1970s and very early 1980s, suburban middle class parents all across America were terrified that their kids would would leave the rational and reasonable religions they were raised in — Catholicism, Episcopalianism, Lutheranism, Judaism, so forth — for the siren call of the charismatic cult leader with the strange name, shave their heads, chant mantras, eat bear survival rations of lima beans while living and working collectively on some farm, and in their spare time, hand out literature at airports. Middle-class Americans must always be afraid of something, I guess, and for a time, it was strange and charismatic religious leaders — often grounded in strange and exotic “Eastern” religions — enticing their teenage and mostly grown-up children away. The Unification Church (“Moonies”) and the Krishna Consciousness Movement were the two biggest examples that come to mind (I remember being solicited by Moonies at San Francisco State, eager as they were to say hello to anyone looking vaguely down or alone), but there were others. (I myself took the Scientology personality test — the one with no good answers — on a lark in late 1985, and then had a wee bit of fun with an auditor and an e-meter.)

Parents looking to “get their kids back” would hire a “deprogrammer,” who would kidnap the person (often times an adult), sequester them (often times in a cheap hotel room), and work ’em over. And hopefully, at some point, deliver a child free of the pernicious influence of the evil religious people.

This meme was wandering about in the culture enough so that a group of literate musicians could have some fun with it. Which is what The Bobs did.

I like this song for two reasons. First, it has that vaguely eastern sound to it (I have an unfinished version of this song I recorded a few years ago using a bunch of the Indian instrument sounds in GarageBand), but mostly, I love the refrain, and I think I’ve made it my Facebook status a time or two:

The mindless words you are repeating,
We are the light of a beautiful world!
Logical thoughts are self-defeating!
We are the light of a beautiful world!

Here’s the only video of the song I could find on YouTube, and I find myself wondering: WTF? Stuffed dog puppets? What bizarre cult made this? And made this so badly? (Clearly, one under the influence of lima beans and airport literature.) I’m puzzled, and not in a good way. But it’s what there is. It doesn’t linger quite as long as it should, but you get the general idea here.

For other wonderful Bob-ishness, I invite you to see the original line-up live, doing “Bus Plunge” and another of my personal favorites, “Art for Art’s Sake.” And dig those 1980s clothes!

Apparently, in the early 1980s, The Bobs were most famous for their acapella version of “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads.  But I was never that enamored of the Talking Heads, and so I really don’t find The Bobs’ version that impressive. Their take on “Helter Skelter” is another thing entirely…