The Replacements - “I Hate Music”

Sometimes it can be insightful to blend music analysis with band history, in order to get at the deeper meaning behind a song. But it turns problematic when the writer uses the narrative as cut-and-dry framework to fit his own convenience, like a reading of “Like A Rolling Stone” that makes it out to solely be about Edie Sedgwick (an extremely literal and chronologically inaccurate take, though widely disseminated). So we’ve got to be careful about how much we read into the lives of our favorite musicians. It also seems vaguely adolescent—like you use Spin and Rolling Stone the same way you used Tiger Beat—and gets especially weirder when the scene you’re reading about died years before you were able to appreciate it.

But this is going to depend on how you approach music—whether or not you think it’s viable to listen to a band because they’re “important,” or if you’ve ever justified downloading an album with the ever-blase, “I guess I should listen to this.” I’m going with more of a fan-based approach because I am a giant, dorky fan. A lot of what we know about The Replacements is documented history, checked with countless sources over multiple articles and books, not just idle speculation. I was going to pull from a number of those books I own, but they’re all at home in Chicago and I wasn’t going to stand in Borders for hours cherry-picking quotes. (That fanhood has limits.) So you’re just going to have to trust me on a lot of this backstory since I’m referencing most of it from memory and poorly-maintained fansites, though if you’re already “in the know” and I say something blatantly incorrect, shoot me an e-mail or bitch this out via Tumblr reply.

There’s a firm generational divide between The Replacements and the first wave of punk bands, even though they formed just three years after that first Ramones record came out. As the story goes, Paul Westerberg heard Bob and Tommy Stinson practicing Yes covers with their band Dogtooth as he was walking past their house, and wanted to join. How did he do this? Well, he told their singer that the rest of the band didn’t like him and joined right after that guy quit. After playing just a few shows in their native Minneapolis, they got a record deal with local label Twin/Tone and quickly progressed up the food chain. (This is an extremely truncated version of their history—the best entry level is Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life for a more thorough telling.)

I picked “I Hate Music” off their 1981 debut Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash for its sense of humor, because in a hardcore punk scene that took itself very seriously at times and would proselytize against everything from Ronald Reagan to capitalism and beyond, the Mats took the logical step in meta-humor and sung about hating music. Not every band that told jokes was this straightforward. Westerberg always said that he never felt that The Replacements fit in with the rest of the hardcore scene, as they simply weren’t that angry. They’d never write a song as deathly political as “California Uber Alles” or as forcefully satirical as “TV Party.” The message of “I Hate Music” is far less complicated: Westerberg’s simply naming stuff he hates, like an eight-year old might in a diary entitled “What I Did Today.” He’s kind of a brat, sticking his tongue out at anything tasteful.

Aside from all that commentary, the song is plain exciting! Tommy Stinson—just fifteen years of age when he played on this record—lays down a rattling, hellish bass line in between brother Bob’s blasts of distorted guitar. Westerberg’s caustic as hell, dropping all-time one-liners like “I hate music / It’s got too many notes.” While he’d get a little big for his britches as the decade wore on, he was a staunchly unpretentious songwriter at the start, offering blunt insights: “I hate my father / One day I won’t.” It’s real invigorating stuff, forceful and to the point. 

Originally, I was going to post a cover of “Iron Man” from a truly horrible show they played in 1984 as a representation of their early days. In the first half of the their career, before they sobered up and tried to go big, The Replacements were well-known for getting blackout drunk before shows and generally fucking everything up. They’d do covers of bands from R.E.M. to Led Zeppelin, forget their own lyrics and end the show early because one of the members would be passed out. On one night, you could be seeing the best band in the world; the next, they’d be worse than your local Whitesnake cover band. The “Iron Man” cover spoke to the latter element; they start out playing “Supernaut,” miss drum fills, forget the lyrics, and stop about two minutes in. It’s hilariously bewildering, the price of admission gone to paying for these dipshits’ beer money, the kind of thing your friends might do for shits and giggles at a battle of the bands.

But it’s an element of the band that its members have been quick to look away from. They’ve avoided mythologizing their excesses the way countless other bands have done in the name of “rock and roll.” I remember a quote from Tommy Stinson where he said how personally conflicting it was when people would come up to him and say, “I saw you guys when you were really drunk, and it was the best concert of my life!” Like the main thing people remembered was how fucked up they were, and not the music. The Replacements played some awesome, awesome shows when they were drunk—the SNL video I posted yesterday sounds incredible—and to focus on their crappy ones seems to be missing the point. So you have this song, which says everything about their early career I could think of. - Jeremy Gordon