Kings, a low-lit lounge in south Minneapolis, is a startlingly adult place. In the corner, a wine tasting is under way. Elaborate dishes garnished with shiitake mushrooms are shuttled from the kitchen to the dozen tables where sensible, grown-up conversations are taking place.
But at one of the tables, Jim Walsh is talking the Replacements: a band as well known in their time for boozed disintegration as for their recording career. A band whose live shows at times resembled a pack of blood brothers, at others, mercenaries in close combat. A band made immortal by a mythology that billows and spreads over them like a thunderhead. And a band that, as the years between their time and ours have piled into decades, has become one of the most influential rock acts 1980s America produced.
Walsh should know. He was there.
"I wanted to know where the music came from," he says. "The drugs, the alcohol, the wild living, that was all implicit. I didn't care. I wanted to know the source of that music. And it's all spelled out—Midwest, itchy kids, Reaganism, punk rock, and all these scenes happening at the same time."
He's talking about All Over but the Shouting. That's the book he wrote on the Replacements in 2007, and it's no stock rock bio. Open to any page—you won't see a line of narrative. Instead, it's a dense, anecdotal oral history, pulling quote after quote from the hardy multitudes who survived the blast—Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, the Replacements' deceased bassist Steve Foley, Lori Barbero from local legends Babes in Toyland, and dozens of others. It's a daunting and unorthodox approach. But the Replacements were a daunting, unorthodox band for whom a straight story is an absurd impossibility. According to Walsh, this piecemeal presentation was the only way.
"I didn't want to write it as a straight narrative," he says. "I couldn't. There's no god's voice, nor a god's eye, for what happened with that band. I couldn't make that cliché."
It's been almost 20 years since the Replacements performed their final show in Chicago on the Fourth of July, a span of time that has seen their cultural currency appreciate to staggering new values. In 2009, the Replacements are a gold standard of visceral honesty. And in an age that has seen the mass filtration and sterilization of all media, a backlash is underway. As vinyl lust keeps places like Treehouse and Cheapo stocking their 12-inches, a rediscovery of the virtues of rawness keeps the Replacements at the fore.
"There's a human desire for the raw," says Walsh. "Especially in these times when everything we get is through a filter. That's why the Replacements are a vital source of mystery. They can be whatever we want them to be now."
Proof of the Replacements' lasting draw? The Tribute Show, which takes over First Avenue on Friday. It began in 2007, when Walsh's book was first published, and has since become an annual success, stocking the stage with the Cities' best bands, all performing their own versions of the Replacements' work. This year's lineup includes Lookbook, Gospel Gossip, Idle Hands, Brutal Becomings, and almost a dozen others—an homage en masse to a band that continues to cross generations and genres from beyond the grave.
After all the music, and after all the blood spilled, what remains as their most precious artifact is their most indefinable and fleeting trait, the rarest element that, for fans and critics like Walsh, has yet to be reproduced: their mystery.
"There's always mystery to life," he says. "Two of these guys are dead. And it was only for a moment that all of them got along enough to make these records. It taught me a lot about how to live. How to feel. Feel. Feel. Feel. It's in the records. It's on videotape. They did good work. And it'll never happen again."
A TRIBUTE TO THE REPLACEMENTS will take place at 7 p.m. on FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 27, at FIRST AVENUE AND 7TH ST. ENTRY; 612.332.1775