This is Hardcore

It made less history than '77 punk. It sold fewer records than Nirvana. But the suburban rebellion of Eighties America found its own potent way to say no.

Azerrad writes that the Replacements "never even got close to a political song," but many punks would disagree. Let It Be was its own little opposition rally in teenage wasteland. "Seen Your Video" trashed MTV; "Androgynous" showed tender solidarity with the post-gender punkers. And buried deep within the lap-steel drone of "Unsatisfied" you could hear a mumbled summation of everything punk had helped me feel about America: "Everything goes, anything goes, all of the time. Everything you dreamed of is right in front of you. Liberty is a lie."

Of course, Westerberg quit the job we gave him--who needs it? And years later, when Spin dubbed him the "soul" of rock 'n' roll, he seemed only bemused. "It's sad for the...Replacements that they are so revered and yet they got so little to show for it," says guitarist Slim Dunlap in an audio clip featured at the Minnesota History Museum. "They have this reputation, but what do you do with it? Does it help you in your current work? No, it doesn't. If anything, it hurts it."

The punker in Westerberg would probably just as soon jettison the past. After signing to Sire/Warner Bros. in 1985, Westerberg and his mates waltzed into Twin/Tone, grabbed their master tapes--all four indie albums, including Let It Be--and tossed them in the Mississippi. Though Azerrad writes that "the tapes were only safety masters," Greg Calbi, who remastered the albums for Restless Records, confirms that he worked from digital copies, not the original masters (which apparently couldn't be found). In December old friends will gather at the Turf Club to remember Replacements guitarist Bob Stinson, whose drug addiction overcame him in 1995. The bands' self-destructiveness--their most hardcore trait--was the theft that keeps on taking.

Jacks of all basements: The Replacements' Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, Bob Stinson, and Chris Mars, circa Let It Be
Daniel Corrigan
Jacks of all basements: The Replacements' Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, Bob Stinson, and Chris Mars, circa Let It Be

 

Let It Be was hardcore's to be or not to be--and characteristically, many punks answered in the negative. The Replacements didn't even call themselves punks, so why should we? I can remember Ruth Conniff--future editor of The Progressive--balking when I predicted the Replacements would inspire slam-dancing. As it turned out, their 1985 show at a gymnasium near WilMar was the most playfully chaotic concert I have ever seen. (Favorite moment: Stinson tossing inflated inner tubes into the audience, along with bucketfuls of water provided by road manager Bill Sullivan.) Yet while I was happy to see non-punks excited about the band, I sensed with ambivalence that hardcore was graduating into college rock--on its way to corporate Nirvana.

Neither Westerberg nor Hüsker Dü wrote as powerfully once they shed hardcore's yoke. And as they entered the major-label arena opened up by R.E.M., who brought the Replacements and Minutemen on tour with them, both the 'Mats and Hüsker seemed to stop mattering. By the end of the Eighties, the Minutemen's D. Boon had died in a car accident, the Dead Kennedys had disappeared, and hardcore had hardened into just another musical genre. The subculture's DIY model would go on to inform indie pop, just as its politics seeped into other realms: crusty vegetarianism, WTO theater, homocore queer pride. But as a collective expression of suburban blues, hardcore evaporated.

My friend Joel grew his mohawk into a pompadour. And I was initiated into irony. When a high school friend, Madison's future rave godfather Nick Andreano, dragged me to a Beastie Boys concert in 1987, it was a distancing experience--as if I was finding a way out of the punk cult and back into the religion of mainstream America. Nick was the briefcase-toting head of Students for Nuclear War (a response to the group I had joined, Students for Peace)--and yet he found the cage dancers and giant inflatable penis onstage hilarious. Deflating that scene would have to wait until the Nineties.

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