Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Paul Westerberg and Me

It was the spring of 1990. I was a teenager, and going to see the Replacements for the very first time.

I had worshipped Paul Westerberg ever since I had gone to the indie bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ, bought a copy of a month old Village Voice, and read the Greil Marcus piece on the new “Greatest Band In The World.” I soon had all of the Replacements albums (on cassette) and thus began my great obsession with Paul.

The Replacements. For God’s sake, who didn’t love the Replacements? The greatest band that never was. Always on the very cusp of greatness, and failing miserably yet perfectly. Screwing themselves over by performing both brilliantly one night, and then being too fucked up to remember Paul’s heartfelt, angry and gorgeous lyrics the next.

For my birthday that fateful spring, my cousin Cristina purchased tickets for us to go and see the Replacements. I got her drunk on Pink Boones Farm in the parking garage, after promising my aunt I would take good care of her. We watched the show, drunk and dancing in our seats. I was ecstatic. As we watched the roadies clear the stage after the show, I longingly stared at where the band had once stood: I was hoping to somehow cross paths with the great man, when suddenly, my little cousin pulled sharp at my sleeve.

“What?” I said, thoroughly annoyed, thinking she would want to leave right away. She crooked a delicate finger to the right.

“Look!” she said. My eyes followed her hand to the right of the stage, where, yes, there was Paul Westerberg, drunk and hanging out of the stage door, signing autographs.

We made a beeline over. There were a few people in front of me. I looked around, so very nervous. I had no paper of any kind. I tipsily asked him if he could sign my hand. "Your hand?” he asked. I just stared at him, overcome. “How about a kiss?" I squeaked out. “It’s my birthday!” Well, it was last week. But boy, did that do the trick.

It’s your birthday!?” he shouted, grinning sloppily. Then, with my mouth wide open in some kind of shock he mysteriously pulled a wrinkled, backstage pass out of his back pocket. He smiled again.

I stared at him again, and gestured helplessly to my cousin. Paul instantly produced another frayed backstage pass, and put his arm clumsily around me. I practically lost consciousness then, as he led us both across the wide stage, his arm slung casually over my shoulders.

Now, let me clarify something. It sounds a bit shady, maybe even a little untoward. But it what it really was, was-sweet. When we went “backstage,” there was only beer. No girls, no coke--only a wilting plate of cold cuts, and Tommy Stinson, in full eyeliner. The sweet drummer Chris Mars sat quietly in a corner. They offered us beers, and my cousin did all of the talking. Because I couldn’t. I was just speechless. But somehow, I think he knew he was making my dream come true.

I noticed Paul smoked Parliaments and drank Heineken. For the next year and a half, I would do exactly the same. He squinched the filter together, so it made the shape of a heart, which, naturally, charmed the hell out of me.

We were then invited to hang out with a “bunch of suits” in the basement for a radio station party. Did we want to go? (Did we want to go?)

We quickly lost Paul in the party’s throng of local celebs and hangers-on of all stripes. I noticed Tommy trailing my cousin around, she sporting a Guess mini skirt and a somehow brand new Big Girl attitude. Uh-oh. The lead singer from Treat Her Right, (and later Morphine, who died tragically and young in the last few years) tried picking me up, which honestly, rarely happened to me. But where was Paul?! I looked nervously around the room. No Paul.

The Man was nowhere in sight.

Then, I saw it. There was a large, red exit sign for the stairway. Where would Paul be in the midst of a party to which he was the undisputed center? That’s right. I suddenly had a brainstorm. Fate and karma was finally buffeting me in the right direction.

And then, I found him: Sitting by himself, smoking quietly, on the stairs. And yes, he was alone.

Paul Westerberg and I sat side by side, a few well-wishers stopping to sing his praises on their way out. I remembered that he wore huge, black suede creepers. Our feet touched gently, as if they were saying hello. We did this for awhile, not speaking at all.

Paul looked at me. He asked me if I wanted to kiss.

To my GREAT regret (to this day!) I made some lame joke about his age. (His age! He was about eight years older than me, and yes, I was legal at the time!) Tommy burst in, demanding they get back to the hotel, and pronto. My poor cousin soon came into the stairwell, and gathered me up. It was time to leave.

And that’s the end of the story. I did keep that backstage pass, and changed the date to get backstage when they played New York. I met Johnny Thunders for half a second. But we didn’t fall in love, or stay in touch, or see each other, ever again.

But the great thing is, about Paul to me, is that we have sort of grown old together. He has never disappointed me. Yeah, he never “made it” in some millionaire rock star, Jack White-type of way. But people who know and love good stuff know how great is. He is respected without EVER having sold it, and he’s a little bit self-destructive, just enough to keep himself sane and on course, probably.

My cousin swears, to this day, that when she walked into the stairwell, we were making out. That I have blocked that memory out, because not being able to have had him, to call Paul my own, was way too much for my tiny little psyche to grasp, after so many years of teenage worship.

I don’t know. I still don’t believe it. I guess I still love Paul because that’s the way I’ve always wanted to view myself. And I don’t know what would have happened if had kissed me. I guess my cousin was right. Probably just broken my heart a little bit more than his songs already had, and still continue to do, whenever I hear them.


  1. How fantastic! A Replacement dream come true!

  2. *sigh* Wow. When they were in Norfolk, Va, my boyfriend's band's singer (the OTHER big 'Mats fan in town) went to the Boathouse to meet him and hung out with him before the show. Oh, how I wanted to, but I didn't...Of course we went to watch the show, but I kind of always wish I'd said "F*ck it!" and beat Marty to it. Truth is, I was already a recovering alcohlic, and was kind of afraid of falling off the wagon. Still...
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful memory.

  3. Sweet experience - have you checked out The Mahones cover of Here Comes a Regular on their new release? Singer Finny McConnell is obviously influenced by Paul - so many of his songs sound hauntingly Paul-like.