Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy Birthday, Paul Westerberg

Categories: Replacements
Photo by Erik Hess
Many happy returns, Paul Westerberg. Somehow, you've been blessed (or cursed) to enter this world on one of the best dates for celebration -- of something else entirely. Today, most well-meaning and dyslexic-hearted folk have their cheeks rosy off 2013's last punch bowls of holiday cheer or just the frigid outdoor air. We'll forgive them for letting it go mostly unremarked that you were born on New Year's Eve in 1959, but here are a few words while the day is still upon us.

And since Minnesotans come into this world with modest, steep-sloping shoulders, you shouldn't have any trouble shrugging off this short intrusion.

See Also: The Replacements: 2013 in review

As you turn 54, it's worth noting that your 53-year-old self proved a lot of people wrong, but even more folks correct. For all of the nattering about what condition you'd be in after a couple 'Mats-free decades, there were a lot of people quietly believing that the Replacements v. 4.0, or whatever we're on now, would be spectacular.

In rock 'n' roll, every night onstage has the potential to become a riotous birthday party. So you got one in Toronto, one in Chicago, and another in Denver already this year. Each featured you, Tommy, David, and Josh with your bells on. The shows even seemed to hit the wrong notes at the right times. Well done.

But for the more-private days of this past year, there's the Paul Westerberg who has a lengthy resume line as "Songwriter." For that guy, who got a few column inches in the New York Times to explain how to "drain the 99 pieces of hooey" and got a band together forSongs for Slim, it's not as clear when a big fete should occur.

Is it a solo moment when word hits page, or is it when you (or someone like you) records your melody and lyrics? Is it when a whole Frankenstein monster of an album gets stitched and glued together and shocked to life with a bolt of lightning? Or do you have to move 600,000 units in week one before there's cause for a toast?

A brief argument for something else that has everything and nothing to do with Paul Westerberg: As long as there are gatherings -- of the swingin' 50,000 variety or just one person and their earbuds -- where even the crudest recordings of your turns of phrase and guitar tricks are enough to ignite the party, that is worth a hootenanny with sparkling trim and presents. Or at least a cluster of spotlights that look like a cake with one finger-like candle lit up right in the middle.

Photo by Erik Hess
So, Happy Birthday, Paul Westerberg. Today might not mean much to you, and you might not want to let on if it does. But you can bet that your music will make the rounds, mostly without birthday fanfare, as one year is extinguished and a new one brightly ignites.

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