Mr. Irreplaceable

The replacements never had a big hit--just love from critics and fans, compelled by both the raw, smart music and the rock-and-roll behavior. Original lead guitarist Bob Stinson died of an overdose in 1995, but his brother, Tommy, continued to play bass. Since the band broke up in 1991, singer-songwriter-mastermind Paul Westerberg, 46, has had a respectable solo career, and makes good money writing songs for films ("Saved"). Now the Mats have reunited, sort of. Westerberg, Stinson and a ringer on drums (original drummer Chris Mars dropped by to sing backup) recorded a pair of Westerberg songs for a new "Best of" compilation to be released on June 13 by Rhino Records, and the band has a few others in the can.

WESTERBERG: I've got two answers. No, and no.

Yeah, I washed my hands of it. Not being able to pick the winners in the past, I let the powers that be choose the songs. Tell me about the new song "Message to the Boys."

I wrote that, oh s---, I don't know, 13, 14 years ago. I always kept it in my back pocket in case we ever played again. This is something I dread having to divulge, because we have enough weird fans as it is, but it's sort of in honor of one of our more dedicated fans who used to come see us all the time and, eventually, you know, ended up dead. I don't want to encourage that at all, but it was something that affected all of us. We could spend the whole time talking about dead people involved with the band, but we don't want to do that .

We were a little uncomfortable at first. I didn't even recognize Tommy in the hallway because he had dyed his hair black. It had been that long since we'd seen each other. But by the third time we'd played together, he said, "Hey, let's go," which pretty much means "Let's pack a suitcase and go make a record." I told him I had a movie to finish, and I said, "I'll see ya in the fall. Let's see what happens." Those two aren't the only songs that we cut in the course of a three-month period.

Right now, no. But I don't think it's out of the realm of us making one, Tommy and I.

He's very responsible now and has, like, an art career. He's matured to a point where I don't think he wants to relive the past. Chris just came down and hung out and said hi. You know, Tommy hadn't seen him in about 10 years, and it was amazing. We hung around, sang a little, goofed around and then he took off. That's kind of the way the Replacements started and ended. You know, a guy walks away.

I got a general consensus from everyone involved that he wasn't interested in it. Tommy and I are kind of the heart and soul of the band, so why bother him? Leave the poor man alone.

I know he plays solo--he does his own little Dylanesque act, so I'm told. You know, we live like six or seven blocks away and I haven't seen him in 12 years.

Much farther away. At least a mile.

I just wish there would be a newer one we could be blamed for. About a month ago, [Goo Goo Dolls lead singer] Johnny Rzeznik called me up and said he had something to give me, which of course frightened me. I ended up having one of the road cats go over, and he'd bought me a 1965 cherry red Gibson guitar, probably worth $4,000 or $5,000. He'd just gone into a shop, picked it out and wanted to give it to me. That was a lovely gesture.

We only gave them two songs. So that kind of indicates what kind of money they gave us. We turn down a lot of offers to perform. Tommy's got other commitments, and I've got a baseball team to coach.

Well, that would be the magic question. No, it's more the willingness. I don't know what it would take for us to actually rehearse these old songs ... Also, in the course of the last six years I've gone from being completely sober to one inch from death to completely sober again. Right now I'm very healthy, but I know secretly, in the back of my mind, that when you go on tour, that's when you tend to weaken when it comes to whatever vices you might have. I know Tommy's aware of that, too. So a little part of the reunion thing is us being afraid of getting back together and falling into our old ways and not making it home.

Yeah, Johnny. He'll be 8 in a couple days. I coach his baseball team. We played last night, and the third baseman from the other team said they'd lost their last game by 43 to nothing. So I started stopping our guys on third base and holding 'em up, but we murdered them anyway.

Yeah, he gets more reminded of it by his friends at school. The classic one so far has been "Daddy has arrived in an ambulance because he drank too much wine." And the other day a grown-up comes to the door with a child, and he was, like, "Hi, Paul. I want you to meet my daughter, blah, blah, blah. She wants to be a singer. Honey, why don't you ask Paul what it's like to be a singer?" And I knelt down and, "Well, strangers come to your door at dinnertime and, you know, everything else is fine. Bye." Johnny was there and he goes, "That's weird, man."

Yeah, he plays piano, and he's starting to fool around with the guitars and of course he goes right for the drums. He wanted to come down and see the Replacements play--if you want to call it that--in the studio. So he was there checking out me and Tommy. He thought we sucked.

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