Thursday, August 28, 2008

When It Began 

It was a total bummer when news broke this week that Steve Foley died of an apparent accidental overdose on prescription drugs. He was 49.

The Replacements introduced me, sideways, if you will, to punk. The first time I saw The Replacements, they were opening up for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford. It was the summer of 1989, I'd just gotten my driver's license and I was on a major arena-concert jag. I was two years away from discovering the pleasures of small club shows (thank you, Fishbone at the Palladium), so I spent some special nights that summer seeing some of my classic rock idols at the two Meadowlands venues and the Garden State Arts Center. Petty didn't quite earn idol status, but I was a fan. The fact that the opener was The Replacements, about whom I'd read enough good stuff that I'd bought their new album Don't Tell A Soul, was a huge bonus.

So much for that; they sucked. Sure, it was cool to see them--I was 17, and it was cool to see anyone I liked live--but they were sloppy. This was their reputation, sand you just had to go with it. I did, although most of the rest of the audience was less than impressed. I was sufficiently sold on the band's 'tude and tunes to investigate further, buying the previous album Pleased To Meet Me a few months later. That was a couple days before New Year's, and I remember it was the last CD I bought during the '80s.

Pleased pleased me enough to that I officially considered myself a full-fledged fan. By early '91, I'd acquired their new one, All Shook Down, and when it was announced the band was coming to play a gig at the College Avenue Gym, just a five-minute walk from my dorm room, I dove into the back catalog to prepare. The show was on a Saturday night, and my 19th birthday to boot, and I couldn't have been more pumped.

The show was everything the arena appearance wasn't: generous, focused, reasonably tight. The set list was great, as were the ad libs. I recall a verse and chorus of "All Right Now" for no good reasonre. A friend of a friend remarked, "They were drunk, but they weren't that drunk," and it seemed like they'd struck the right balance. Still one of the best shows I've ever seen, and for sentimental reasons, in my many ways, my favorite ever.

Before that final Replacements tour started, founding drummer Chris Mars left the band. I'm glad I saw the 'Mats with Mars once, even if it was at that Petty performance. I became a fan--probably one of the biggest fans, in fact--of Chris Mars' subsequent solo work, sending one of the few fan letters I ever wrote to him after the release of his fine 1992 debut Horseshoes And Hand Grenades. He responded with a nice note scrawled on a small publicity pic. After four albums, Mars decided he was done with music and has concentrated on painting. Every once in a while, a postcard promoting one Chris' art shows will show up in my parents' mailbox.

At the Rutgers show, it was replacement Replacement Steve Foley keeping a solid beat behind the kit. It would be a lie to say the bespectacled Foley was a magnetic presence on stage. But for a band notoriously unable to keep itself together in a live setting, it was satisfying to watch them do just that. And anyone who's ever picked up a pair of sticks knows how crucial the drummer is to such an endeavor. The new guy seemed to fit in just fine.

The band played their last show ever a few months later in Chicago's Grant Park, and that was that. Foley was part of Tommy Stinson's solid but short-lived post-'Mats band Bash & Pop, but he was inexplicably not included when Stinson and Paul Westerberg recorded two new tracks for a compilation a couple years ago. It's especially odd in light of the fact that Mars, though on friendly terms and willing to participate, could and/or would not play drums, so session pro Josh Freese was used. Foley did keep busy with other musical projects post-Replacements, though Rolling Stone notes he also logged some time selling cars.

Bob Seger's wrong; sometimes rock & roll does forget. Here's one small voice noting for the record that there are those who will always remember.

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