To say that Minneapolis writer and musician (and City Pages vet) Jim Walsh has a special connection with the Replacements is a massive understatement. Walsh literally grew up with the band, sharing in their legendary hijinks and witnessing countless shows during their ten-year run as one of our most seminal local bands.
As the author of 2007's The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History, Jim helped cement the mythos that led to this year's Riot Fest reunion gigs, and he's back with a new coffee-table book in honor of the group, The Replacements: Waxed Up Hair and Painted Shoes: The Photographic History.
Walsh makes it clear off the bat that this book wasn't meant to be a cash-in on the new wave of 'Mats nostalgia in the wake of their reunion and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination. "This was still in the mode of archiving, I want to make sure this story is between two hard covers," he explains, "All this shit is so ephemeral, and to have it not just hyperlinks, but cardboard and stock paper, it's important."
Then again, it's tough to doubt his motives when you witness the way he talks about the band. There's a breathless admiration, and a trace of starry-eyed fanboy in his expression that tells all. After all, this band really was his life. "The Replacements fit my 20s exactly. I was 19 to 29 with them," says Walsh. "It was such a burst of expression in music, that lives, and sort of transcends the here and now."
Along with his editor and co-writer Dennis Pernu, Jim has crafted a truly gorgeous suite of photos of a group that's not often known for being photogenic. In fact, many have categorized the shambolic Placemats as completely un-photographable, but Waxed Up Hair captures the band from infancy to break-up, warts-and-all.
As we talk our way through Jim's favorite photographs within the book, you really get the sense that it's almost a scrapbook for him. "It's funny for me to see these things that the editor put in," he says with a laugh. "Like 'Courtesy of the Jim Walsh collection' like I have it under glass or something. I have these photos in cardboard boxes in my basement."One evocative shot of the band from a 1983 show in Hollywood sets the author off. "This photo of Bob and Paul is one of the greatest photos that's ever been. Look at that, it's in L.A. and their expressions say "Fuck you, L.A." right on the Sunset Strip." Indeed, the angry glare flickering over Westerberg's face, and Stinson's frown speak volumes about the band's ambivalence to the big time. Candid photos brimming with deep insight like this one litter the pages of Waxed Up Hair, and you start to realize that The Replacements are as perfect a vessel for myth-making images as any other punk icons.
Walsh is quick to point out that he's deeply indebted to the photographers who made this book possible, as well. "Not to make too big out of a deal out of it, but this was pre-digital," Jim elaborates. "Pre-everything-is-shared-everywhere, and there's something to that experience of making art in a more concentrated way. They all went into darkrooms to have these emerge."It's easy to see what he means when you gaze at the parade of amazing photographs that line these pages. Greg Helgeson's vividly captured photos of the band in their practice space at the Stinson family home contain shocking levels of detail that put HD to shame. You can see the rippling veins in Chris Mars' arms, and the dust flaking off of the T-shirts he uses to mute his drums. It's the kind of stuff that makes rock nerds salivate, and the Waxed Up Hair has many, many more where that came from.
As a dead-to-rights Replacements geek myself, the photos that make my heart flutter the most are none other than the band's famous shoot for the cover of their masterwork, 1984's Let it Be, shot by Daniel Corrigan. The four men, barely seeming to acknowledge the camera, relax on a rooftop in the perfect intersection of heart bearing sincerity and snarling apathy. While my gaze is drawn again and again to Tommy's rueful smile and Bob's baleful glare, Jim looks deeper into the photo.
"There's something very evocative about that fire-escape," Walsh muses. "Every kid has a bedroom window that they want to get out of. They're looking out at that world, and there's a fire escape. This is a band that expressed that flight to freedom of adolescence better than anyone."
More info about the book, and order a copy here.