Paul Westerberg on the Replacements Reunion and Being a Middle-Aged Rocker

From Rolling Stone:

When Paul Westerberg called Rolling Stone last week from his home in Minneapolis, the plan was to discuss “My Road Now” (right-click to download), a slippery piano ballad he recently released. But Westerberg also had some joyous news – he’d reformed the Replacements, one of the best rock bands of the 1980s, and in late September, recorded four cover songs for an EP. Around the world, crazy-eyed Replacements fans rejoiced.

Westerberg has released only a few songs since his last tour, in 2005, and has been ambivalent about a reunion of his old band. His reunion with Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson (now a member of Guns N’ Roses) came at the urging of Slim Dunlap, the Replacements’ guitarist from 1987 to 1991, who had a severe stroke in February.

Former Replacements manager Peter Jesperson and Stinson’s manager Ben Perlstein, along with singer Dan Baird, are leading an effort to raise money for Dunlap’s medical care. Eighteen artists have signed on to record his songs, including Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Jakob Dylan and Replacements drummer Chris Mars, who skipped the ‘Mats reunion. All recordings will be issued on limited-release vinyl (250 ten-inch EPs for the Replacements) and auctioned online to the highest bidders, with digital downloads also available. Details about release dates and the auction location are still being determined, but Jesperson hopes to begin with the ‘Mats record in December, followed by another single every month or so.

“Slim is still slowly recovering,” his wife Chrissie Dunlap tells RS. “He is still paralyzed on his left side, and still on a feeding tube. Our insurance will not pay for any more rehab, so we are paying out of pocket for his care when he is released from the hospital, probably next week.”

The Replacements were notorious for being chaotic, unpredictable and usually drunk – but the mayhem and sense of imminent disaster was paired with Westerberg’s songwriting, which ranged from insightful and poignant to cocky and comedic. Now 52, he told us about the dilemmas faced by middle-aged rockers, his struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and the conditions under which he’d agree to an extended Replacements reunion.

Your new song, “My Road Now,” is kind of like a card trick. At first, it sounds sympathetic, and then the sentiment switches to nasty.
Misdirection is my path. How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him lost? I’m there, baby.

I wrote it for The Band Perry, a country-pop group, to sing. Which goes back to something like “Sadly Beautiful” [from the 1990 Replacements album All Shook Down], which I wrote under the pretext that Marianne Faithfull was going to sing the thing. My tough-guy buddy Jim came over, heard “My Road Now,” and shed a tear. And I thought, “Goddamn, this has gotta be released.”

I’m getting offers to go on Jimmy Fallon and play it. But I don’t know how the hell it goes! (Laughs) I write this stuff, it comes out, I have a nervous breakdown, and then a year later, I don’t know how I did it.

At this point, what do you like about writing a song on piano, rather than guitar?
The piano makes a better ashtray than the guitar. (Laughs) I still write on guitar. You know, Tommy [Stinson] and I went in the studio last week. We strapped on the guitars, not a word was said, and bang. We still rock like murder.

Does the new song mean we can expect a full album from you?
An album? Do we make albums still? I’m always recording songs and I declared my independence from this technocracy, the whole notion of doing multiple takes and overdubbing vocals and making it sound right. That has turned me off to being a professional musician. I get offers all the time to make records, and I’ve got plenty of songs.

I mean, after playing with Tommy last week, I was thinking, “All right, let’s crank it up and knock out a record like this.” Maybe I’ll do my own little piano record on the side. The problem with a record is, people expect you to go out and play it [on tour]. I’ve never played piano live – I don’t know if I’d want to subject people to that.

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