Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dr. K's Annals of Authenticity, Vol. 1: The 'Mats on SNL

I remember very clearly the evening of January 18, 1986, when the Replacements performed on Saturday Night Live. It was the day after my 17th birthday, for one thing. I was going to high school in North Dakota, but lived close enough to the Minnesota border that I felt I could authentically claim the Replacements as a "local band," and I eagerly anticipated their appearance on SNL.

It's difficult to overstate the significance of the Replacements at that time and place in my life. I was just starting to date, and a song like "Kiss Me on the Bus" gave me an idealized notion of being romantic. And as I was developing certain anti-establishment tendencies at the time, the Replacements' video for "Bastards of Young," featuring a single-take shot of a stereo playing the song and somebody smoking, gave the finger to MTV and its recent dominance, which I was convinced would destroy the music industry. (I still think it's the greatest music video ever made.) For their next album, Pleased to Meet Me, the band put out a video for their song "The Ledge," which was banned from MTV. Though the song is about a young man contemplating suicide, the video featured the band eating lunch and smoking. This was further evidence that MTV sucked.

But, at the most, the Replacements represented authenticity to me--specifically, an uncompromising purity in their rock 'n' roll ethos--and that video is just one example. I was obsessed with authenticity at the time probably because of Catcher in the Rye: as a kind of flip side to Holden Caulfield's objections to "phonies." Further evidence of their authenticity was demonstrated in their SNL appearance. The band was pretty wasted, as is immediately evident in the first song, "Bastards of Young," and Paul Westerberg forgets to sing huge chunks of the lyrics, including the best line, "We've got no war to name us." He also says "fuck" when he drops that line, which, for me at 17, was the epitome of cool. The second song, "Kiss Me on the Bus," goes a little better, until Bob Stinson (who was kicked out of the band during this tour because of his drug problems and later died of an overdose in 1995) drops his guitar on the stage at the end. While "being wasted" was not a necessary criterion in my conception of rock 'n' roll authenticity, being wasted and still outperforming any other band in music history can help to make a strong case.

So, at 17, this performance fascinated me. Though I was never a really rebellious kid, I respected the impulse to rebellion a lot, and I admired anyone who could follow through on it. Of course, one could argue that the Replacements would have had much more longevity as a band if they'd played the game better, but then we wouldn't have had moments like this.

And I still think that "Bastards of Young" should be the anthem of anyone who grew up in the 80s.


gorjus said...

This is an awesome post. And the boys doing those videos after doing "Seen Your Video"--still the greatest rebuke of just about all time ("your phony rock and roll!").

Anonymous said...

Great post, Doc!