Too busy to finish formulating my thoughts for tonight, so here’s a classic by one of the Greatest Bands of All Time.
The Replacements are a Criminally Underrated band (at least in the mainstream; musicians and critics worship them). Paul Westerberg is the voice of my generation. Our theme: “Bastards of the Young” (maybe for a later post). His lyrics are some of the finest songwriting ever. Period. I tend to conflate the band with the lead singer/songwriter, although I don’t mean to diminish the roles of the other musicians; The Mats couldn’t have existed without them. But Westerberg has always been the main attraction for me.
As a former English major, words are very important to me; I majored in English largely because I loved books. I myself am a very verbally oriented person. Numbers often escape me, but words rarely do. I’m not especially witty (you have been reading this, so you should know), but I like to think I can turn a nice phrase every so often. Paul Westerberg turns a nice a phrase, on average, once a song. One of my favorites, one that floors me every time, is from “Anywhere’s Better Than Here”: “They play with your head, but they’ll never stroke your hair.” I mean, dear god, how do you pack so much despair, heartbreak, and love into just one line? Westerberg has a knack for it. “Answering Machine” keeps it coming with increasingly desperate questions about the impossibility of connecting with a human being through technology: “How do you say you’re lonely to an answering machine?”
The disconnect and loneliness of the people who don’t quite fit in is a recurring theme in Westerberg’s songs, coming to a horrifying peak with “The Ledge,” which was written from the POV of a young man about to commit suicide by jumping off a high building’s window ledge (“I’m the boy they can’t ignore. For the first time in my life I’m sure.”). That song is from Pleased to Meet Me, which I initially bought because I thought it was the coolest title ever. Turned out the songs were pretty cool, too.
One of my favorites is “Valentine,” which is chock full of lyrical goodness right from the first line: “Well you wished upon a star, that turned into a plane.” It’s a boy loves girl from afar story, a high school story of unrequited love. Or something like that. It’s clear he’s got a thing for her, but she’s not exactly receptive. “Are you strung out on some face? Well, I know it ain’t mine.” The chorus spells out his longing, “If you were a pill, I’d take a handful at my will, and wash you back with something sweet as wine.” Westerberg never writes about the driven overachievers; his songs are populated with the slackers and stoners, with dreams they’re pretty sure are never going to come true, but they can’t help dreaming anyway. Like this guy. Because at the end he declares “Yesterday was their’s to say, this their world and their time. Well, if tonight belongs to you, tomorrow’s mine.” He knows he might not get the girl, and he might not rule the world yet, but he is sure he’s going to win in the end.
Which brings up another song, reminding us that the freaks and geeks at the back of the class might actually have something to say about how the world is run: “You can’t hold our tongues, at the top of our lungs. We’ll inherit the Earth, but don’t tell anybody. It’s been ours since birth, and it’s ours already (don’t tell a soul).”
After all, even the losers get lucky sometimes.