Saturday, August 8, 2020

Certain Songs #1887: The Replacements – “Never Mind” | Medialoper

Album: Pleased to Meet Me
Year: 1987

. . .

The words I thought I brought I left behind

The second time I saw the Replacements was early in the summer of 1987, when the days were long and hot. It was also in Fresno, down the Ikeway at the Old Town.

Even cooler, I was able to secure yet another on-air interview for 90.7 KFSR. And so I wrote up a bunch of questions for Paul, hoping to get his thoughts on the two major-label albums, and Bob leaving, making videos, writing a song about Alex Chilton, etc. All the things you would have asked Paul Westerberg in 1987. I was sure he was going to be as awesome of an interview.

Except that it wasn’t Paul who showed up in the studio, it was Tommy Stinson. A surly Tommy Stinson. And of course, the whole situation wasn’t made any better that I had to toss out and/or restructure my questions for Tommy. I remember that the whole thing was kind of a disappointment, though in the pantheon of weird interviews I’d had, not nearly as weird as Camper Van Beethoven asking me the questions I wrote to ask them, the Toy Dolls saying they were going to write a song making fun of me or the Beastie Boys acting like the Beastie Boys.

Afterwards, we went down to the Old Town way before the show because our close personal friends, The Miss Alans, were opening the show — and who the Replacements made fun of during their set by playing “I Will Follow” — and in the course of hanging out, Tommy started admiring my girlfriend’s thrift-store purse, and offered to purchase it right there on the spot. She declined. I mean, how was she going to carry her stuff around for the rest of the evening. Looking back on it, he was probably hitting on her, though to be fair, I remember it as being a really really cool purse.

30 years later, I had to opportunity to meet Tommy Stinson at a post-Cowboys in the Campfire meet-and-greet after a backyard charity show in Los Angeles, and tell that I’d met him 30 years previously. But I demurred, because I’m sure that is basically his life: old ‘Mats telling him stories about things he did in his 20s. Also, I was too busy taking pictures of my friend Tod’s visible delight in meeting him. So never mind.

Is out of the question
It makes no sense to apologize
The words I thought I brought I left behind
So never mind

According to Bob Mehr’s Trouble Boys Paul recorded most of his in a tiny space dubbed “The Dungeon,” and out of all of the songs on Pleased To Meet Me, “Never Mind” feels the most like it, cramped and claustrophobic, and with the drunkest-soundest lead vocals since at least “Treatment Bound.”

All over but the shouting, just a waste of time
Never mind
All over but the shouting, just a waste of time

So you had this weird effect: Paul holding out the word “miinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd” but also sounding kinda mush-mouthed, as he grappled with his feelings about sacking Bob Stinson. But, of course, you didn’t need to understand that specific to know that it was a fucked-up breakup song.

I’m not ready as I’ll ever be
I climb the walls, I fall into the sea
I’m not ready as I’ll ever be
And I suppose your guess is more or less as bad as mine

Also really cool about “Never Mind:” the arrangement. Especially the drums, which build in at the end of the first verse, and really never settle in, always darting off in an unexpected direction, maybe reflecting Mars’ uncomfortableness with the whole situation, but probably something they worked out in the studio. My favorite bit is the Phil Spector beat that accompanies the bridge.

You oughta tell me
You oughta say if you’re not sure
Oh, you oughta tell me
You gotta help me remember

After that, Westerberg pulls off a solo that mirrors the melody line and then brings the song to a halt, so his guitar can jingle and jangle and jingle some more, over what I always thought was an organ, but nope, it just turns out that meddling producer Jim Dickinson ran it through a Leslie speaker, a trick he stole from The Beatles (and a trick my close personal friends The Miss Alans did on their 1994 major-label debut, Blusher), and added a bit of frisson and confusion to the song.

It all comes together at the end, when they shut the song down to just that swirling, fuzzy guitar, followed by Tommy’s bass and Chris’ drums building while Paul screams “never miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiind” for the first of many times, while Mars continues to be just off enough that it was definitely on purpose.

And then one more time to end the song:

The words I thought I brought
I left behind
So, never miiiiiiinnnd

Even if it wasn’t the missing link between Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols and Nevermind, it’s fun for me to think that it was influenced by the former and influenced the latter, regardless of what any of the parties involved might say.

Oh, and the Replacements were great that night, too. Even if — or especially if — they made fun of my friends and there was supposedly a backstage, er, disagreement over whose booze was whose.

“Never Mind”

“Never Mind” Live in London, 2015

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