This afternoon, I found myself doing something I hadn’t done in at least two decades. Earlier in the day, MPR’s The Current announced they would be debuting a new Replacements track, their first since 2006’s “Message to the Boys” and “Pool & Dive”, at exactly three o’clock.
Not long after, I was asked to pick up my nephew from school, so I was sitting in the parking lot streaming the MPR app through my vehicle’s sound system. I was immediately transported to those days back in the 70’s and 80’s when radio stations would debut not only new singles but entire album sides. When the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls came out in 1978, I had my cheap Radio Shack tape recorder ready when a local radio station broadcast the entire album. This became a regular occurrence on the station that ultimately became KRRO years later, and continued on with KAUR’s Virgin Vinyl, which played an entire new release every night of the week…and sometimes they even promoted them!
This just doesn’t happen anymore. Besides the fact that radio is so tightly formatted that nothing is aired that isn’t put into the system by a consultant in another state, the rise of pre-release leaks has diluted the excitement. When tracks or albums surface, they’re now just thrown onto the iPad for future access.
Today’s premiere was a different story, for so many reasons. While the reunion EP will hit stores next week, none of the tracks had yet to surface, outside of some thirty-second previews on Amazon that were almost immediately yanked.
Plus, this was The Replacements! Everybody knows my insane obsession with this band, so clearly nothing was going to stop me from tuning in.
The backstory to this reunion also added to my anticipation. On February 19, 2012, guitarist Slim Dunlap suffered a severe stroke that has left him and his family with massive hospital bills. Friends have gathered to create Songs For Slim, a charity that has various artists covering Dunlap’s songs. Limited edition vinyl copies of these will be auctioned to raise money.
This project led to a semi-reunion of The Replacements. Last fall, Replacements members Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson, along with guitarist Kevin Bowe and drummer Peter Anderson, entered a Minneapolis recording studio. Besides Dunlap’s “Busted Up”, the also tore through covers of Leon Payne’s “Lost Highway”, Gordon Lightfoot’s “I’m Not Saying”, and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from the Broadway musical Gypsy. Replacements drummer Chris Mars, who didn’t participate in the reunion, added a cover of Slim’s “Radio Hook Word Hit”.
A ten-inch vinyl EP of these tracks went up for auction in late January, and the 250 copies raised a whopping $105,743.42. The second release in this series is a split 7” that features Steve Earle and The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, and it was just announced today that the next one will include covers by Lucinda Williams and Tommy Keene. Future auctions will feature tracks by Jakob Dylan, John Doe, Joe Henry, The Jayhawks, Frank Black, and many, many more. (There are also plans for traditional, non-auctioned releases of all of these recordings.)
Today’s MPR debut was for Lightfoot’s “I’m Not Saying”, a track made semi-famous by the Velvet Underground’s Nico. It was everything I wanted it to be; the sort of surprise rockin’ cover that they’d throw into their sets throughout their career. A giant grin came across my goofy face, accompanied by a tear or two. I’m sure the other family members waiting for their kids thought I was a nutjob. Ok, maybe they’re not entirely wrong.
Yet this wasn’t a complete throwback to the “olden days”. Unlike those days when I’d be sitting alone in my bedroom glued to my portable radio, social media turned this into a global activity for all of us “Wester-nerds”. My Facebook and twitter timelines were full of people doing the exact same thing as me, and there was nothing but notices of smiles, tears, and pleas for tours. We’re never really alone these days as long as you have an internet connection.