Time is often a great equalizer when it comes to recognizing talent in music, and that’s never been truer than the case of The Replacements. The band was modestly successful, selling a few hundred thousand copies of their albums at their commercial peak, but their legend has grown exponentially since breaking up in 1991. There’s been a Replacements film (Color Me Obsessed), a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination, a wildly popular reunion tour, an oral history book, and now this band bio, penned by Bob Mehr. If you’re a Replacements fan you probably know the basic outline of their history – punk rock beginnings, wild behavior, acts of self-sabotage, signing with a major label, and some brilliant albums – but until you’ve read Trouble Boys you really don’t know the full story. Mehr’s book is the definitive telling as his material is well-researched, well-written and presented in a serious manner more befitting of an Abraham Lincoln bio than the band that recorded “Dope Smoking Moron” and “Gary’s Got a Boner”.
Had Mehr simply limited his book to chronicling the band’s activities Trouble Boys would have been perfectly enjoyable, but nothing more than a typical rock bio. The book is invaluable because he dives beneath the surface, creating a detailed portrait of the band members, their inner circle and their families. The stories about the often broken homes and mental problems that plagued the band go a long way to explain their chronic drug and alcohol abuse and complete disregard for just about anyone that tried to help them reach their full potential. At first the band’s drunk and surly antics come across as funny. For example, they’d often piss off fans by playing sets of half-remembered covers, sometimes switching instruments. However, somewhere around the mid-’80s these antics take on an increasingly dark quality as the mounting commercial pressure put on the band, combined with Herculean cocaine and booze intake, led to disturbing behavior like lighting money on fire, damaging tour busses to the tune of $60K, frequent firings, and general mistrust within a band that began with two brothers (Bob and Tommy Stinson) jamming in a basement. By the end, everyone’s lives had spiraled so far away from anything resembling normalcy that you almost feel relieved when they break up. Like Holly George-Warren’s recent biography of Alex Chilton (himself the subject of a Replacement’s song, and one of the few people they respected), Mehr has taken readers to the tenuous point at which brilliance and madness meet and painted a wonderful portrait of the artists who lived there.