By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Michael Jordan’s Rookie Season
In December 1984 I had only a limited knowledge of Michael Jordan, then an NBA rookie. I remembered him playing on the 1982 North Carolina national championship team, and a season later he went pro after his junior year. When my parents, who were then briefly living in the Chicago area, called me at my University of North Dakota dorm room and told me that Dad would be taking my brother Randy and me to see a Bulls game while we were visiting for Christmas, I'm sure I thought, Hey, that's the team Michael Jordan plays on. I was curious as to just how good this guy was. What interested me most was an article in a fall 1984 issue of Sports Illustrated about the incredible hang times of certain NBA players. The writer claimed that Jordan stayed in the air so long that he had time for a sandwich while he was up there. Accompanying this assertion was an SI cartoon showing Jordan enjoying a sandwich in midair as he prepared to dunk.
We drove into the city on game night, through neighborhoods filled with Old Style signs. Chicago Stadium was full of, as people might kindly say, character. But we had outstanding seats and the sight lines were solid. The place wasn't close to being sold out. The Bulls were playing the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team with ugly orange uniforms whose sole star was the unforgettably named World B. Free.
Michael Jordan wasn't yet a figure in popular culture. While in the Chicago area, I saw him in exactly one commercial, for Chicagoland Chevy dealers. He was alone on a dark basketball court dribbling toward the basket, and the voiceover said: "Sometimes, all I think about is driving." He hadn't yet shaved his head; he didn't yet have baggy shorts. Nor did he have Air Jordan shoes or the supporting cast that helped him lead the Bulls to multiple titles in the '90s. But certain trademarks were in place. He stuck out his tongue while playing, he hustled his ass off, he played amazing (and then unheralded) in-your-face defense, and he lit up the joint that night with about 10 dunks (some of the jaw-dropping variety) and 48 points. The Bulls won. We loved the show. Over the years, while watching him in the playoffs or seeing his spectacular highlights on SportsCenter, I would think of that one time I saw him play live. It's like telling people I was at the Cavern for the Beatles or the Stone Pony for Springsteen. I still shake my head when I think of it.
The Replacements Were Funny, Heavy, and Better Musicians Than You Think
For all the legends of ramshackle shows fueled by booze and snot, the lip service paid to Paul Westerberg's clever, poignant lyrics, and the bawdy pathos that informs the mythology of the Replacements, one petty detail is almost always overlooked: The 'Mats were a tight little unit.
I mean that these guys could play, that they were--and still are--underrated in that regard. But then again, this is how it is with most great bands: Folks are aware of, say, Dave Grohl's ferocious drumming, or McCartney's lock-groove melodic bass playing, or even Malcolm Young's bump 'n' grind rhythm guitar work, but it's hardly the first thing they think about when listing the attributes of the bands those fellows happen to have played in. (And as for those who did get credit for their technical skill--well, nobody talks much about how a Steve Vai record saved lives. And if you do, get the fuck away from me, you wank.)
But trust me, the Replacements--Stinson, Stinson, Mars, Westerberg--could play. Any other talk is simply a disingenuous DIY ruse. This was never more evident than on Let It Be, a record that carries so much affirmation and emotional heft for me that I can barely write about it in anything other than technical terms. It's hard to imagine drunken punk heroes sitting in a concrete room, plunking away at tunes, hammering away on mundane music-class things like tempo, harmony, and arrangement. But, sports fans, I'm afraid that's exactly what the band did before entering Blackberry Way Studios to record the best record to ever emerge from the indie underground.
Case in point: "Seen Your Video." A quasi-surf instrumental, the tune seems tossed off. The song is anything but, however, and Bob and Paul's two-guitar give-and-play not only constitutes a deft piece of writing, but offers something as great as anything Mick Taylor brought to Sticky Fingers. Back-cover liner notes hint at the seriousness of it all, for anyone keeping score at home: "Paul on 12-string electric, piano." Actually, on the sleeve it says "acoustic" rather than "electric," which may be an attempt to dismiss the so-uncool notion of musicianship. But I'm not fooled: It's a masterpiece.
The rest of the album rumbles and soars with the kind of intensity and confidence that results from men at work. I've been playing in bands playing Replacements songs for damn near 20 years, and I can honestly say that in all the times I've been a part of covering "I Will Dare"--probably no less than 300, but who's counting--all the various combos I've played with have really nailed the song maybe five times. That song is a bitch. The rest of Let It Be, wisely, I've rarely ever tried.