I remember visiting this quaint, little Mennonite town my grandparents live in. As evening rolled around, and playing pool in their basement was getting horribly droll, I went for a midnight walk through the main street of this settlement, a village so small it was only one step away from being a modern day representation of a colony. Within about twelve seconds of leaving the house I was ‘downtown’ (the phrase ‘a stone’s throw away’ had to have originated here, it had to), and within about seventeen seconds I was approached by a group of three or four roving teens, about my age.
“Hey there, whatcha doin walking around here alone?”
“My grandparents live here, and I’m just out for a walk. Say, what do you guys do around here for fun on the weekends?” There definitely were no movie theatres, pubs, or rub-and-tugs to be found within fifty miles.
“We mostly walk around and fuck with the other people who live here.”
“Really, like what do you do?”
“Well that depends, but most of the time we stroll around looking for stuff to break.”
“There can’t be more then two hundred people here. Don’t they know who did it, or at least have a good idea?”
“Oh, for sure, but they just do it right back to us. Everything evens out.” I laughed and walked away, thinking that it’s probably a good thing they didn’t have a library here, as I’m pretty sure they’d rip out the pages and stick them in the spokes of their bikes for that cool noise as they travelled within the microcosm of Point A.
I got home and thought more about this, the whole everything evens out thing. The more I ran it through my brain, the more the utter stupidity of the whole thing began to drain away, and in its place I began to see this was a fairly systematic anarchic organism they were feeding on a regular basis. While I wasn’t totally converted to their hillbilly, backwoods, “you-smash-my-window, I-smash-yours!” arrangement, everyone seemed to be ok with in this brainless, Unpleasantville I had stumbled into. I did dig the almost ceremonial accountability of it all, and, as I drove out the next day, I opened all my windows blasting the Replacements album ‘Hootenanny’ at top volume, my soundtrack offering to their lives of routine destruction and repair.
If it wasn’t for Joy Division sneaking into the eighties and releasing the best album of the decade with ‘Closer’, ‘Hootenanny’ would claim top prize, and, if it wasn’t for Ryan Adams releasing ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Hootenanny’ would reign as the definitive Replacements album, but nooooo, we must constantly reference and patronize the past through unvarying and insipid compare and contrast models that accomplish nothing other then ensuring a line in the sand becomes graffiti in wet concrete. This is my theory as to why ‘Let It Be’, their third and subsequent album, gets all the hoopla, but I’m tired of talking about perception. I’m here to talk about facts.
When it came to he Velvet Underground, their real influence wasn’t the creation of art-rock, or making avant-garde music a valid form of musical expression, or making speed a designer drug of choice. Let’s be honest here, save for a couple hip kids tripping out on opium in some seedy London tavern, nobody really got the Velvet Underground. To most, it just sounded like they were fucking around and making noise was just too radical for its time.
Obviously we’ve over-intellectualized their music to the point now, where we are literally hearing instrumentation and lyrics that are just plainly not there, but back when it came out, the idea of a fairly well-known band making a living off of making a racket, got people’s brains a-workin. It will pain them to hear it, but I’ve always viewed their biggest influence as dominating the primal 80’s punk explosion, not sophisticated noise acts like Sonic Youth and the Boredoms, because more then anything, they represented a sound that came across like anybody can do it. Even if you can’t play and it just turns out to be nasty feedback, well you might sound like the Velvet Underground and be able to hang out with famous hipsters like Andy Warhol and Nico.
Out of the rubble emerged the Replacements, and they struck that golden balance to me that makes certain music timeless. They could play well enough to make big, loud, raucous, rock n’ roll level that worked both in studio and in concert, but not so well that we stop feeling the music and begin to consider it. See, to me the Sex Pistols made some great rock music, but when I’m feeling impulses and thoughts that stretch beyond, oh I don’t know.....an urge to run down the streets naked covered in jello beltin ‘Mexican Radio’ at the top of my lungs, then their music falls a bit short. On the other hand, I absolutely love Pere Ubu, but sometimes their music and lyrics are intelligent to a point where I feel guilty for sometimes having an urge to run down the streets naked covered in jello while beltin ‘Mexican Radio’ at the top of my lungs.
‘Hootenanny’ is your answer to indecision; it just simply removes the element of choice, leaving you stranded on an island of drunken stupidity, but one that means well, and one where the mainland is never too far away (though why you’d ever want to swim back, I have no idea, and neither do the restless natives).
My word is not my bond, but it is my goal, and today my goal is to get ‘Hootenanny’ off skid row. Forget all that “Who loves the Sun?” bullshit, and look at the music with clear blue eyes. Hell, as far as the Replacements are concerned, the sun could be rotting for all they care, but everything is alright, because there is loud music to be made, and beer to be drunk and you know what, revolution is glamorized anyways. It’s blood, and it’s entrails strewn about, and at some point, certain people involved probably step on an eyeball or two, and I can’t imagine what that might feel like (probably like a rotten pickled egg I’m guessing). There’s nothing romantic about it, unless you consider battalions of people fully immersing themselves in a death-trip of a cause they only half-understand, as something we should all look upon with starry-eyes.
If you’re going to take anything from what’s been written so far, it’s all freedom really means is most of us can walk to our vehicle every day in the morning and start it without a crippling fear there might be a car-bomb waiting to blow our asses to smithereens, and that’s as close as we’re going to get to liberty. Considering the state of this crazy world, I’ll take it. The more I think about it, the more I realize what an abstract term ‘freedom’ is, since most people I know inexorably and meticulously craft their lives in direct contrast to the core principles we have historically associated with the concept.
The Replacements don’t give a shit about changing the world, and they sure aren’t the band to question “What does it really means, to be free?”, an inquiry every boneheaded group tries to shove down our throats whenever they have nothing of interest to say, but desperately want to have an academic rationalization as to why they have a parental advisory sticker on their new album (think of the chorus of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’ if their vitriol was directed towards high school teachers, or their parents....the band’s collective IQ would immediately drop at least twenty points in the public’s eyes, reducing them to a rap-metal version of Twisted Sister, but since it’s about some monk who burned himself to death, they’re revolutionaries on a major label. Go figure).
Since I’m flying around off-topic, you’re probably thinking “How much concentration does it take to subscribe to the chaos theory of ‘Hootenanny’?” The answer is somewhere between a casual jig with friends, and a full-on mucus scraping of the brain. I’m not ADD, and I don’t write speeding out of my mind like Lester Bangs, but when it comes to ‘Hootenanny’, it’s tough to stay on point, because so much of the exuberance of the record reminds me of other things in life I am passionate about, and perhaps that’s the greatest compliment I can give the music on this album. The jollity of ‘Hootenanny ‘expressed through a gamut of totally varied ardours really moves too fast for the tranquil, and the ultimate reward for keeping up is an eventual allowance to embrace all that is stupid within oneself, as well as the complex parts that are riddled with paranoia and self-doubt.
I remember the first time I listened to ‘Hootenanny’, and, after every track, I looked ahead with horror, firmly believing a catastrophe is just around the corner, but it never really arrives, and that thin line, that teeters between creation and collapse, is constantly straddled and abused, yet never actually fully crosses over to either side. At times, ‘Let it Be’ seems to be weighed down by the world’s problems, and by world, I mean whatever ethos the DIY punk scene they were a part of seemed to deem appropriate in regards to any band that had ‘made it’. The carefree, festive spirit of ‘Hootenanny’ was still there, but the more I listen to it now, the more the band seems at odds with themselves, each other, and even the music they were creating.
Perhaps more then anything, ‘Hootenanny’ represents more absences then ingredients. The absence of self-awareness. The absence of scene-awareness. The absence of allusions to a ‘bigger picture’. If the Replacements’ world was a treacherous and complex moral compass on ‘Let it Be’, it was simply a playground on ‘Hootenanny’, one complete with kegs and personal ads (once you check out ‘Lovelines’, you’ll see what I mean).
All of this isn’t to denounce the literal music on the album, I really hope I’m not making it sound like this is just an ‘attitude album’ and the songs are an afterthought. I mean yes, I have never heard rock n’ roll sound so alive as I do on ‘Hootenanny’, but there really isn’t a weak auditory moment on the entire album, from start to finish.
The true charm and immediate appeal of ‘Hootenanny’ is carnage serving as the band’s faithful bodyguard, nearly constantly staggering by their side, but however the soul of the record seems to be when the blitzkrieg bop melts away (albeit briefly) into something more gentle, more placid. This only happens twice on ‘Hootenanny’, in the forms of ‘Within Your Reach’ and the almost impossibly cool surf-instrumental, ‘Buck Hill’.Both boldly go where no Replacements track had went before them (both are played at a mid-tempo pace, courageously too), and the results not only prove to be fascinating and two of the finest moments of ‘Hootenanny’, they would lay the groundwork for possibly their biggest hit and arguably best song, ‘I Will Dare’, found on the aforementioned ‘Let It Be’.
I want you to invite ‘Hootenanny’ into your lives. I love this album for many reasons, but I think what really makes it something special, is the title track, the opener of the album, in which the band members all switch instruments and just mess around for a minute or so. It’s not particularly memorable in any traditional sense of the term, but that outlook stays with them throughout the course of ‘Hootenanny’, even after they switch back to their standard instrumental setup. The Replacements were simply too obsessed with all the trivial satisfactions life can offer to be able to comprehend anything less then hurtling into the mystic at warp speed. Maybe Brandon Lee said it best in ‘The Crow’ when he muttered “Nothing is trivial”.
I remember one time my friend John ate magic mushrooms for the first time. Another friend of mine, Megan, asked him what it was like. He replied, “I think I saw god”, to which she innocently inquired, “That’s it?” All of this just proves that one person’s trip, is another person’s god, is another person’s disappointment, and somewhere between all that subjective interpretation lays the belly of 'Hootenanny'. ’Elucidations’ are smashed, or at least, eradicated to the point of irrelevance, and our hearts are opened, as our feet smash the floor, and as our brain careens wildly between believing everything matters, to nothing mattering, all the while not really caring which is true, because ‘Hootenanny’ gives us the greatest gift of all: immediacy absent consequence. If you want to start believing in the present, this is the music for you.