Rock & Roll Ghost
The Last Temptation of Paul Westerberg
Reports of Paul Westerberg's resurrections have been greatly exaggerated. Until now. His latest solo album, the 2-CD Stereo, composed of the gentler "Stereo" and the all-rock "Mono" (his second disc under the pseudonym Grandpa Boy), finds the ex-Replacement in a form not seen since circa Pleased to Meet Me.
A one-man production recorded in the basement of his Minneapolis home, Stereo adheres to a 42-year-old's semblance of maturity, yet is also drenched in the same profane attitude that made Westerberg the most important post-punker to pick up a guitar. To promote this, his fourth solo album, Westerberg is doing a 10-city in-store tour with just his guitar. Waterloo Records was scheduled to host Westerberg this Friday, May 3, but he canceled at the last moment, citing exhaustion.
Austin Chronicle: I'm not sure how to put this without it sounding like a backhanded dis, but you sound comfortable playing rock & roll again.
Paul Westerberg: I don't know when I was not comfortable playing it. Certainly playing it for the reason I did it, which was to amuse myself, was the reason I started doing it in the first place. I mean I didn't have an audience when I first started, and there was no audience or people hanging around this time. So the instinct was the same.
AC: What was the time frame after 1999's Suicaine Gratification? Did the stuff trickle out over time or did it all come out in the last year?
PW: There was maybe a six-month lull after Suicaine came out that I didn't touch an instrument. Then I went and traded in a couple of my guitars and got an old red Gibson that I really fell in love with and started playing again. Like a kid with his first electric guitar. I think that's where you get that freshness of "this is fun again." It was a new toy for me so to speak.
AC: Why Austin? Except for Ann Arbor, it looks like we're the smallest city on the tour by a factor of about three or four.
PW: Am I playing in Austin? It's a long way off. Maybe I'll do the first one in Seattle and say, "Fuck this," and go home. Which I could certainly do if I wanted to.
AC: Why set up an in-store tour at all?
PW: We're not charging admission. We're not doing shows. This is to whet my appetite for the notion of coming back and playing shows if I feel like it. I wouldn't want to make people pay money and back out. I'd never do that. So I figured I'd do this free in-store thing, and if it sucks, then I'll pull the plug on it.
AC: And if there's no tour?
PW: All kinds of offers have been made, so I'm sort of putting a band together and I'm sort of looking at the possibility of doing it solo. MTV and VH1 have made offers. All the things that I've never wanted to do, which is play on television, are things I think I may do this time in lieu of a large, 100-city tour. Because every time I do that, I never make any money and it never seems to sell any records and it's only for the thrill of the performance. If I feel the need for that, I'll do it, but right now I don't foresee me wanting to go away for three months.
AC: Do you see any irony in an offer from MTV, since when it could have mattered for the Replacements, they'd hardly touch you guys?
PW: No, I don't care. People grow up, and the guard changes all the time. There's a whole brand-new breed of young, narrow-minded people, just like there are young hip people who don't care if something is old or young or new or if it's used just so long as it's real.
AC: Talk about the Replacements, and how you think about them now. Do you feel like you're still battling your past?
PW: I really don't. I feel like it all ended with [Suicaine]. My three solo albums were an extension of my career in the Replacements. I was in a rock & roll band, then I went out with other musicians to play those songs from that rock & roll band, then I quit that. I went back to square one, which was playing in my bedroom and basement, and made a record out of it.
AC: What do you think about seeing yourself in so many different incarnations? By that I mean there are scores of bands today that are just newer versions of the Replacements.
PW: I'm grateful they give us credit. The ones that don't give us credit or maybe are too ignorant to know -- sometimes you don't even know who you're ripping off! You take it second- or thirdhand from someone who took it from the real thing. [The Replacements] were the same way. We stole blatantly from Johnny Thunders and stuff, but we always admitted it and were up front about it. I'm flattered I guess.
AC: And the ones who don't give you credit? Ever want to tell them to do something original?
PW: I passed even giving them my time. I don't even bother. Who am I to say I invented three chords? The older I get, the more I think it's not even mine to say that I started anything. Yeah, I see and hear our influence everywhere to where it could drive you crazy to listen to the radio, but it's also satisfying to think, "Yeah, I was right." We were definitely ahead of our time. I'd rather be ahead of my time than behind. And if you're with the time, then all you have to look forward to is that one moment.
AC: Ever think a royalty check from the Goo Goo Dolls should show up in your mailbox?
PW: Put it this way: All they have to do is record one of my songs and put it on one of their greatest hits records then, you know, all would be even.
AC: Does not having achieved that kind of commercial success ever bother you?
PW: I only can soothe myself by seeing what sells, and I don't see things selling 10 million copies that I would piss on. So I guess I'm doing something right.
AC: And if you did sell 10 million albums ...?
PW: I would wonder why. At this point in the game, I would stop to wonder, "What the hell did I do now?" But I don't think I'll ever be a pop star, that's not part of what I ever was. I can see that when the whole generation changes and it's a whole different audience, and I just continue doing the same thing forever like I am doing, sooner or later, I can see everyone in the world understanding it and liking it, but I am certainly not going to change and chase it.
AC: Do you really think you've been doing the same thing forever?
PW: To a certain degree. I mean, I'm limited by the notes I can sing and my knowledge of music. The Rolling Stones sort of do the same thing.
AC: What about your place in rock & roll history, do you ever think about it or even care if there is such a thing?
PW: I don't think about it. It's not for me to care. That's the kind of shit that makes mom happy. Awards and all that crap -- that's for the people who had to wipe your ass when you were little. It has nothing to do with how cool or good you were. Did Gene Vincent ever get anything? No, but he was 100 times cooler than anyone in his era.
AC: Well, thanks for the time. Again, the new album has a vitality that seems to have been missing -- the thing makes you go, "Yeah, that's the guy. That's the guy who did 'Color Me Impressed' and 'Left of the Dial.'"
PW: Well, it resounded out of my own lips. If it's not like falling off a log, you're doing something wrong. It's rock & roll and if it isn't instantaneous, then it's labored and it's fought over and it's wrong. And that's how I intend to live the rest of my life.