In the last 10 years, I’ve developed an aversion to nostalgia that’s somewhere between allergy and phobia, mostly because I’ve seen too many of my peers embrace it at their own peril. By peers I mean people who grew up fully immersed in one insular music scene or another. Adult survivors of everything from hardcore to indie rock get trapped in nostalgia like amber, becoming so fixated on the good ol’ days that they not only lose sight of the present and future, but of the fact that those days weren’t so great in the first place. Ask a former-hardcore kid to describe the early ‘90s, and his eyes will mist over as if he were recalling Valhalla but with baggy pants and krishna beads.
In 1997, I went on a cross-country trip with a friend to the Yo Yo A Go Go festival in Olympia, Washington, just as the first, grand wave of indie rock was starting to crash, and when I look at those pictures, I remember how fun it was to sit on stage to photograph Modest Mouse and Elliott Smith. But I also recall how shitty it was when the friend I was traveling with could not stop bickering over the dumbest things (which is what people in their late teens do because they’re kind of a pain in the ass and because being that age frequently sucks).
When The Replacements broke up, I was in middle school. I didn’t become aware of/completely enamoured with them until I was almost done with high school and Paul Westerberg, the band’s lead singer, was a bona fide solo artist. In fact, I remember coming home from a dreary post-prom party — I skipped the actual prom to go to two separate concerts — turning on MTV and seeing the video for Paul Westerberg’s “The Love Untold.” The song is a straightforward telling of a guy and girl getting excited for a date that never happens, building up to the line, “Does anyone recall the saddest love of all / the one that makes you fall, nothing to hold?” It was a classic Westerberg couplet, earnest, dramatic, unabashedly genuine and too perfect for someone sitting in an empty house alone after a not-prom experience.
It was a friend’s idea to go to Chicago to see The Replacements at Riot Fest, part of a three-stop, quasi-reunion tour (only Westerberg and original bassist Tommy Stinson were involved, with the rest of the line-up either uninterested, ill or dead). Unfortunately, Riot Fest involved the kind of large-scale festival garbage that I’ve managed to avoid most of my life. There were five stages, a carnival fairway and a lot of drunk teens who were clearly there to fest’ it up. It felt like a slightly classier Gathering of the Juggalos, right down to a couple of attendees who were inexplicably dressed like clowns.
This was not like the festivals I had known, not like Yo Yo or Michigan Fest in 2002, nor was it like the ones I assume The Replacements had ever known (although their initial run predated events like this). The Replacements were to close out Riot Fest on Sunday, so that was the day we spent almost entirely on the grounds. It was also the day with the worst weather, so if I ever longed for the days that I could easily sit on stage to take photographs or just geek out, it wasn’t because of my passion for the music, but my yearning for somewhere I could sit and stay dry.
As The Replacements’ set time approached, the sun had gone down, the rain had stopped and any and all young people — those in the audience who had come for the fest-ness and the Warped Tour-redux line-up — seemed to disappear, leaving just us olds with our sensible raingear and earplugs. And this is when I realized I was going to enter a deep nostalgic state — but not in a bad way, at least not entirely. I would be reliving my youth a bit, but mainly the part in which music could be really, really exciting and seeing a band live, especially one that I adored, felt like a potentially life-changing experience. It’s the part that made it worth it to schlep to shows, to compulsively buy singles and CDs and magazines, to care with a kind of energy that I can’t even remember having.
As the band began to play, knocking off a couple of early songs before getting into the meat of their catalog with tracks like “Favorite Thing,” “Color Me Impressed” and “I Will Dare,” I did feel a bit like I did when I was 17, watching that stupid Paul Westerberg video and laughing out loud at how perfectly crappy the moment was and how ridiculous my evening, and my highschool years, had turned out.
There I was in a muddy field in a terrible neighborhood in Chicago, watching half of a band that meant the world to me half a lifetime ago, and having one of the more enjoyable evenings of my adult life. At their best, everything about The Replacements — from their lyrics to their sound to their attitude — captured what it’s like to be young, for better or worse. Mid set, after playing a dozen songs he’d written in his teens and 20s, Westerberg declared, “I’m having the time of my life.” We all were, in more ways than one.
Sarah Bennett has written for various publications (Women’s Wear Daily, Glamour UK,YM), websites (Vulture, About) and sketch comedy teams at the UCB Theatre. She’s the founder/former president of Black Top Street Hockey in Tompkins Square Park, an on-foot hockey league whose credo is “Don’t be a Dick.” Sarah has a small dog named Avon Barksdale and lives in both the East Village and Western New Hampshire.
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