It was the winter of 1984, I had just left my day-job at Ross Laboratories in January. (Ross Labs, by the way, was simultaneously my highest paying AND easiest warehouse job ever, but also came with a boss who once called me into his office and told me, quote – “I am going to make it so you don’t have one single interest outside of this job.” – when I dragged-ass into work one too many Monday mornings after roadie-ing for Willie Phoenix & the Shadowlords all weekend. He was wrong. I quit.) One cold morning in February I got a phone call from Curt Schieber, who was then the co-owner of Schoolkids Records on campus and local promoter of “alternative” rock shows. (Curt is currently the host of Invisible Hits Hour Sunday nights on CD 102.5.)
It seems The Replacements were headed from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Columbus for a show that week when their van broke down. They had it towed to Krieger Ford on the West Side and the band was all crashing at Curt’s house. (We should get Curt to write an entire separate blog about the amount of damage done to his home by the band that week.) (Also the amount of drugs & alcohol ingested by said band.) Anyway, the band’s manager – Peter Jesperson – needed to run errands that day, Curt knew I wasn’t working and asked if I wanted to make a quick $50 driving Jesperson around all day. (Note: asking an unemployed West Side boy if he wants to make a quick $50 is like asking Colin if he wants a beer at a gig.)
I picked Jesperson up around 11 am at Curt’s house near campus. The band was splayed around the living room in sleeping bags, sound asleep & snoring. I don’t really remember all the places we had to go that day, but at one point we drove out to see how the van repair was coming along at Krieger. Peter decided while we were there that we might as well get a load of laundry together so we could hit a laundromat. When he slid open the side door of the van I couldn’t believe my eyes: EVERY SURFACE of that van was covered with beer cans, liquor bottles, fast-food wrappers, cigarette butts, porn magazines & other sundry garbage. We literally COULD NOT TOUCH the actual floor of the van from the dashboard to the back door as Peter & I bundled around picking through the debris for articles of clothing: a flannel shirt here, some t-shirts there, jeans spread around everywhere. (I wouldn’t TOUCH the underwear; that was their manager’s job, as I saw it. I was only makin’ fifty bucks.)
By that point, in 1984, I had been a musician since I was 16 years old in 1968, a roadie since 1978. I had been in a LOT of band vans, and I had NEVER laid eyes on anything like the condition of that vehicle.
By the end of the day, Jesperson and I were getting along like old buddies from the war. He mentioned that Curt had told him I was a roadie and a recovering alcoholic. Jesperson said they were looking for somebody sober to drive the van and help roadie the shows, offered me the job. My family was proudly Italian, I had started drinking wine with dinner at age 12, mixed-drinks by 14 with total parental approval. I was solidly an alcoholic from 16 to 30. And I just couldn’t get the sight of the floor of that van out of my head. I KNEW I hadn’t been sober long enough, knew I wasn’t strong enough to counter that brand of temptation. (I had moved from the West Side to up around Northland just to put some literal distance between me and my old drinking buddies.)
The Replacements stayed at Curt’s house for a week on that tour – renting vans each day to make it to gigs in Ohio & Kentucky, and then driving back to Columbus to crash – until their van was repaired. Looking back, I should have gone along on those short hauls just to see if my sobriety would hold up. But I didn’t: shoulda, coulda, woulda.
I have very few rock & roll regrets in this life: one of them is turning down a job writing for England’s New Musical Express in 1978; the other, perhaps bigger, regret is not being smart enough or strong enough to become a roadie for The Replacements in 1984. – Ricki C. / Sept. 10th, 2014.
ps. It's been brought to my attention that my contributions to Replacements Week here at Pencilstorm might lead people to believe that I'm not that crazy about Westerberg & the guys. NOTHING could be further from the truth. From the very first time I heard "I'm In Trouble" in some now-forgotten campus record store - remember when you could still discover great new music IN A RECORD STORE? - I was hooked. And, as time went on and Westerberg's songwriting got better & better - from "Take Me Down To The Hospital" > "Unsatisfied" > "Kiss Me On The Bus" > "Left Of The Dial" > "Within Your Reach" > "Here Comes A Regular" > "I'll Be You" - CHRIST, what more are you gonna ask for than that from one guy from Minneapolis? Plus the fact that Westerberg could move effortlessly from "Alex Chilton" to "Skyway" - from flat-out rocker to killer ballad - in the same breath and on the same album, put him in a league with Pete Townshend, Ray Davies, Ian Hunter & Bruce Springsteen, four of my other all-time favorite rock & roll songwriters.
I just wish they'd've rehearsed a little more, or drank a little less, or tried a little harder when they played live.
pps. Apropos of the Replacements appearance on Jimmy Fallon's show earlier in the week, and the song "Alex Chilton" in general: The Westerberg line (which I love, make no mistake) "Children by the millions wait for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round" is either the hugest overstatement or the biggest lie ever rendered in a rock & roll lyric. I would venture to say that even at the peak of the popularity of The Box Tops - when "The Letter" hit Number One in 1967 and was awarded a gold record - that children by the millions DID NOT, in fact, wait for Alex Chilton when he came 'round-'ound. I think even Alex Chilton would have concurred. But God bless Paul Westerberg for making the claim. (Conversely, the bridge-statement/advice - "Never travel far / Without a little Big Star" - might be the TRUEST, MOST ACCURATE rock & roll lyric ever penned.) - Ricki C. / Sept. 13th, 2014.