review: book - trouble boys

The story of The Replacements is one of addiction, desperation and just not giving a fuck. Published in March of 2016, Bob Mehr’s biography Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements provides a vivid account of the most undocumented yet influential chapter in music history. Mehr chronicles the lives of Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, Bob Stinson and Chris Mars, the founding members of the punk rock/alternative outfit The Replacements, as they navigate through the Minneapolis music scene in the early 80s.

“It’s death, jail, or janitor if this music thing doesn’t work out.” recounts Paul Westerberg And that was the truth, throughout the biography, Mehr highlights that for the 4 musicians, music was their only way to safety. For these boys, music was a way out of the complacency that comes with living in the Midwest.

Early songs like, “Stuck in the Middle,”(a reference to the Midwest) “Taking a Ride,” and “I Hate Music,” are melodic and lyrical representations of how the members of The Replacements felt in their early years. Westerberg’s agonizing, slurred vocals coupled with Bob Stinson’s assaulting lead guitar established the band as a serious force in the alternative music scene in Minneapolis in 1981.

Mehr details the bands early shows in the Twin Cities area as being spontaneous and erratic; sometimes they played well and sometimes they played for 5 minutes. This “curse” would follow the band throughout their career, largely due to their alcohol consumption. One cannot discuss The Replacements without talking about their alcohol intake. According to Mehr, Westerberg and Tommy Stinson would finish a bottle of whiskey, play a gig, go to sleep, wake up and do it again.

Their self-destructive behavior is a recurring theme throughout the biography as it was the main reason they never made it above the top 40 on the music charts. It was during their 1986 SNL performance that they squashed any chances of being signed to a major label. Mehr recounts that it was Westerberg’s use of an expletive during their song “Bastards of Young,” that got the band blacklisted from the show.

Trouble Boys is a thrilling read to anyone who is a fan of The Replacements and anyone who has ever wanted to be in a punk band.

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