Monday, August 17, 2020

Certain Songs #1893: The Replacements – “Portland” | Medialoper

Album: Nothing For All
Year: 1988

. . .

It’s too late to turn back, here we go

Near the end of their 1987 tour, the Replacements played a gig in Portland, Oregon with the Young Fresh Fellows that was so drunken and debauched even by their standards, Paul Westerberg felt compelled to write an apology song about it.

Naturally, the song was acoustic and mellow, the other side to “Wake Up” in a strange, but also featured a melody line so strong that when the decided not to record it for the second round of sessions for Don’t Tell a Soul, he repurposed the chorus for the outro of “Talent Show.”

Shared a cigarette for breakfast
Shared an airplane ride for lunch
Sitting in between a ghost
And a walking bowl of punch
Can you play a little hunch?

Because it’s a quiet, contemplative look at bad behavior, and because it came a decade after it was recorded, “Portland” has turned into a favorite among middle-aged ‘Mats fans like me, nearly all of which probably wish they could write apology songs this trenchant and lovely, both reveling and regretting their bad behavior. Or am I just projecting?

Predicting a delay on landing
Well I predict we’ll have a drink
Lost my money on the first hand
Got burned on a big fat king

And your ears just wanna ring
And your eyes just wanna close
Nothing changin’ I suppose

The further away I get from my 20s the more I marvel that I made it this far away from my 20s. At that point, the inevitability of bad behavior was a given. Only the shape of that behavior was unknown.

It’s too late to turn back, here we go
Oooh, Portland, oh no
It’s too late to turn back, here we go
Portland, oh no

Of course, all of that is hindsight. All I know for sure is that songs about behaving badly in Portland is one of the smallest cohort of Certain Songs there is, consisting of this song and that one by Loretta Lynn.

Sitting like a backwoods junkie
Caught down in a southern trust
Look at the funny monkey
Putting silver in his cup

And your silver turns to rust
And your secondhand clothes
Trust no one I suppose

As a song, “Portland” never quite takes off, sticking to it’s low-key Sunday morning wake up and remember what you did vibe, with really cool low-down phased guitar leads from Slim Dunlap, as Paul spills out his chagrin verse by verse, barely even acknowledging anybody else.

Shared a cigarette for breakfast
Shared a pack of lies for lunch
Credit card almighty
Bringing in the next little bunch

And you owe me on a hunch
And your eyes just wanna close
There’s nothing changin’ I suppose

In the end, they get get stuck on “it’s too late to turn back, here we gooo / ooooh, Portland” and it feels like one of the most sincere moments on any Replacements song, right down to the almost whispered “Portland, we’re sorry,” at the fade. Hell, even though “Portland” didn’t make it on Don’t Tell a Soul, they had “Portland / We’re Sorry” etched on the run-out groove. (And on the Dead Man’s Pop vinyl is says “Portland / We’re Still Sorry”, because why not?)

In any event, out of all of the songs that The Replacements left off of their albums, I think that “Portland” is the most egregious, even though that’s not even the biggest mistake they made for Don’t Tell a Soul, which could have easily been their fourth straight all-time great record, as the Matt Wallace mixes have proven definitively. Imagine Dead Man’s Pop — what a great title! — coming out in 1989 with the Matt Wallace mix, and the following tracklist:

Side 1
1. Talent Show
2. I’ll Be You (Chris Lord-Alge mix)
3. We’ll Inherit the Earth
4. Achin’ to Be
5. They’re Blind
6. Date to Church

Side 2
1. Anywhere’s Better Than Here
2. Askin’ Me Lies
3. We Know The Night
4. Wake Up
5. Darlin’ One
6. Portland

And while it might be a little bit light on the rockers, so was Let it Be, but this is a helluva batch of songs right here, and I love the circular thing of the coda of the opening tune being the chorus of the final tune.


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