Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Certain Songs #1461: Paul Westerberg – “Man Without Ties” | Medialoper

B-Side, 1993

While I definitely enjoyed 14 Songs as a whole, one of my favorite songs from the sessions wasn’t even on the album, and as far as I could tell was only released here at the time on a promo-only CD single of “Knockin’ On Mine,” though Discogs says it was also part of a U.K. maxi-single.

In any event, I ended up finding that promo-only CD single at Ragin’ Records, and almost instantly loved “Man Without Ties,” an sing-along ode to living alone. Which seems contradictory, I know, but somehow made sense with me during 1993, when I fancied myself to be as self-sufficient as the guy in the song while at the same time totally desperate for communication and community.

In the spring of 1993, having read about something called “the internet,” I got my first PC — with a 2400K modem — and because the software for Prodigy came with the PC, I loaded it up, got online, and made a beeline for the music message boards.

I think I tried a few, including R.E.M., but they were still one of the biggest bands in the world, as well as maybe Neil Young, but there wasn’t a whole lot of action there. So I ended up settling on Bob Dylan — cos, well, Bob Dylan — and The Replacements, cos I’d never met a ‘mats fan IRL that I didn’t like, and I thought maybe that would replicate itself online. And, sure enough it did, as I almost instantly became part of an online community of people who’d seemingly led alternate parallel lives in the previous decade, which led to tons of tape trading and even some actual face-to-face meetings.

Man without ties don’t dress for dinner
It’s Friday night frozen pizza thing
Don’t want no wife or no beginner
Friday night frozen pizza king

“Man Without Ties” starts with just Paul and an acoustic guitar, reminiscent of the classic early b-side “If Only You Were Lonely,” but far more subdued, as Paul continues on with more details about the man without ties. The weird thing is that none of the actual details in “Man Without Ties” were things that I personally related to: I wasn’t eating frozen pizza or smoking cigarettes all day or anything like that.

So it came down to the attitude of the song, and the double meaning of “man without ties:” both a man who had no need to wear ties, as well as a man who fancied himself totally and completely self-sufficient, which was how I tried to think of myself in 1993.

Which was horseshit, of course: I had a steady job and relationship, one of the ironies of and while the Fresno scene was winding down for me, I was also making online friends. Though I wasn’t wearing ties.

And it was kinda horseshit in the song, as well. Before long, Paul is joined in the song by a bunch of other men without ties. And sure, it’s all Paul overdubbing himself, but that’s the the feeling of the song. As “they” sing, laugh and clap along with the song, you realize that he’s simulating a community of men without ties, much happier that they’re together celebrating their aloneness.

Of course, part of it is because if the song was just Paul by himself singing it over and over again, it would get awful boring awful fast, so the singalong aspect works much better musically than it does thematically, but it’s also part and parcel of what makes the song so effective. Because even the man without ties knows that it’s sometimes more fun to hang out with other people.

Meanwhile the community built around our mutual love of The Replacements has waxed and waned over the last quarter-century, even as I’ve hung out IRL with people I first met online — Scott, Ranjit, Anne, Lori, — as far back as 1994 and as recently as 2014. And maybe Matt doesn’t send around his Skyway emails much more than his yearly blast of “Valentine,” but its still the only mailing list I subscribed to back then that I’m still on, and maybe I don’t visit Kathy’s website — entitled Man Without Ties, of course — as much as once did, but I’m sure glad it’s there, as it’s already been an invaluable research tool for these posts.

Man Without Ties

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