Photo by Len IrishHe was raised in Minnesota's Twin Cities and is known for his romantic style; he tasted early acclaim, peaking with his third major work, and then that early acclaim cast a shadow over the rest of his life. While it's a description of F. Scott Fitzgerald, it could work just as easily to describe Paul Westerberg. Both men touched greatness, but then went on living and in some ways failing as spectacularly as they'd succeeded.
Melding Beatles/Big Star-style pop, folk and Americana with punk should have been enough to place the Replacements prominently on the cultural radar, but it wasn't. Falling down drunk onstage one night and delivering the best live performance anywhere in the world the next brought the band most of their attention. Surprisingly, a lot of the ineptness was by choice. The band most capable of poignantly describing the pain of modern life was also a collection of bratty misanthropes. It added to the beautiful-loser mythos Westerberg's made a living from, even as it's handicapped his career. As he told playboy.com in 2003, "It unfolded naturally, and it collapsed naturally. We did what we were supposed to do, which is spawn a million other bands like us and, out of it, a handful of good ones."
Westerberg offered perhaps his best view of the tragedy of drunken inertia on "Here Comes a Regular": "A person can work up a mean, mean thirst after a hard day of nothing much at all," he sings, conjuring up dark Minnesotan afternoons and the people you'll find in a bar at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. But he also explains the attraction: "Everybody wants to be special here. They call your name out loud and clear."
Westerberg went on to a solo career about as erratically successful as that of the Replacements. Following the tour for his second solo album, Eventually,Westerberg sank into a deep depression—and happened to find inspiration that still sustains him. "There's deep despair, but when you get so deep into despair, there's also beauty there, you know?" Westerberg told LAWeeklyin 1999. "This is, like, a serious, dark hole, and you find beauty. . . . I went in deeper and deeper. Maybe the beauty was, like, a present or a gift or something, to say, 'Okay, you've suffered long enough; here's something to be proud of.'"
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Paul Westerberg performs at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-BLUE. Sat., 8 p.m. $25. All ages.