There are more than a few rolled eyes when I announce that Joe College and I are headed off to Denver for a reunion performance of The Replacements. I am sheepish about my passion for the band until I see the documentary “Color Me Impressed,” the title borrowed from a Replacements song. When I hear about the film in pre-production, I cringe to learn it isn't really about the band, but instead a portrait of die hard fans of The Mats. I avoid it when it's released, fearing that all the dorks, losers and geeks spouting minutiae about the band would embarrass me. One night however, perusing the overpriced wasteland that is Amazon on-demand I come across the documentary. I am left buoyant, as articulate and learned folks put into perfect words everything I love about the band. Even without having been vindicated by the film, I would travel to just about anywhere on the planet for a reunion of the band that hasn't played together for twenty three years.
The venue is May Farm, about an hour outside of Denver. I call the day before to ask how much mud remains from the flood and the lady informs me, making it obvious that she's already informed scads of others, that there is no mud. Not only is the May Farm mud free, it is hot and dusty. Extremely so. There a three stages and the day begins with a lot of bands we've never heard of and one we boycott because the lead singer was mean to Spuds. Joe College is more familiar with a lot of the groups than I am. When he counsels me not to bother I walk around and people watch. Colorado is reportedly the thinnest state in the union but all of the food available is greasy and many of the customers in line are light years from buff. It is also remarkable that with weather in the mid 90s, many concert goers don jackboots and leather jackets.
I am disappointed by the performance of Guided By Voices but enjoy Super Chunk and am particularly blown away by L.A. locals Airborne Toxic Event who demonstrate great verve and athleticism. Other than that, I do quite a bit of walking. There is a VIP area which has several benches, the only seating available in the huge venue. Joe College and I nab a seat. A guy about my age sits down next to me. We fist bump when he announces he's come from Ohio and I report that I've traveled from L.A. to see The Mats. I believe this is my first fist bump. As Himself predicted there are far more 50 something men than women there to pay homage. My phone alarm pings every day at noon to remind me to swallow a fist full of iron supplements and probiotics, sort of the baby-boomer equivalent of Geritol. I pull out my little Ziploc bag of pills and Mr. Ohio starts to salivate. He asks if I have anything to trade. “Dude, these are friggin vitamins and my kid is sitting right next to me.” He is so embarrassed he gives up his prized seat and trods off into the dust. The penultimate act is Iggy and the Stooges. I skip this in order to stake out a position close to the Replacement's stage but I can barely decipher anemic versions of Stooges classics. I am not surprised when Joe College reports that while Iggy displays remarkable energy, the Stooges are many miles over the hill.
The Replacements are as legendary for their brilliance as for their capacity to be the biggest fuck ups in the history of the planet. They appear on stage in Western shirts, huge cowboy hats and long pink skirts. From the first note until it becomes clear there will be no second encore I am spellbound. Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson are the two original band members. One original member died and his replacement is recovering from a stroke. The original drummer has ardently disassociated himself from the band for years. Now it's just Paul and Tommy backed up by Josh Freese on drums and David Minehan on guitar. They play almost all of my favorite songs and a few that I've never liked. Songs aren't completely reworked nor are they note-for-note replications of the originals. The thread that runs through the whole show is that Paul and Tommy and the rest of the band love the songs they're playing. They have fun and it is abundantly clear that, after an acrimonious split, Paul and Tommy are happy to be on stage together again after over two decades. They mix up a bit of the introduction to “Alex Chilton,” my favorite song of all songs, a song about loving music. When I identify what's being played there is a physical rush that's hard to describe. Joe College pats me and his look says he is pleased to see his mom just about as blissed out as I'll ever be.
I feel that after listening day in and out to Himself's litany of complaints about his employer that I am entitled to freeload once or twice a year when they spring for him to attend a conference. This year we land in San Francisco's Union Square. I am bored by San Francisco, having visited so many times. I never get the big deal about the Ferry Building. None of the museums have exhibits that interest me. I've seen the permanent collections many times. I schedule one lunch with a colleague and otherwise am left to my own devices. After having had a wonderful experience with a walking tour in London I poke around on-line and discover that there are a number of free walks lead under the aegis of the Public Library. It takes me nearly an hour to walk from Union Square to Coit Tower, perhaps one of the steepest ascents I've ever attempted. The guide is magnificently knowledgeable about the Coit's WPA murals. As participants in the tour, we are permitted, in groups of six, to visit the second floor, which is generally closed to the public because the stairway is so narrow. This room too is filled with gorgeous murals which beautifully illustrate San Francisco life in the 1930s.
I take the Filbert Steps down to the Embarcadero. There are dozens of small cottages, former homes of Irish longshoremen accessible only by creaky wooden stairs. The guide informs us that the average sale price for homes in the area is three million dollars so I guess owners can afford to hire someone to schlep groceries for them. I join another tour that meets in front of the, still unremarkable to me, Ferry Building. This tour covers the history of the sea trade and the Barbary Coast. We are shown the site of the boarding house from which the term “Shanghaied” originated. I return to my hotel and check my pedometer. I've clocked over ten miles, most of it uphill but don't feel particularly achy or weary.
My walking pal Dianna says that I'm an athlete. This is specious but I do find myself looking forward to actually walking rather than looking forward to being done with walking. On the strength of my good experiences with tours in London and San Francisco, I sign up for a Sierra Club walk, exploring the stairways of Eagle Rock. I can't sucker anyone into going with me but I decide to go for it. About thirty people have assembled. We have to sign in and provide the license plate numbers of our car and emergency contact information. The leader refers to the event as a “hike.” We are read a list of rules and regulations. I fear I am in way over my head. The walk commences and I chat with some of the participants. Apparently, stair-walking is a thriving cottage industry. We are introduced by our leader to two luminaries, one man who has written two books about LA's hidden stairways and another who leads a weekly stair-walk through Silver Lake. We are instructed not to pass the leader nor straggle behind the co-leader who wrangles the end of the line. There are frequent calls of “car front!” or “car back” and we all have to squeeze unto the sidewalk. I am asked for my credentials. I report having walked up and down staircases in Mount Washington and Silver Lake but I reveal myself to be a total greenhorn when I am unable to name their specific locations. It is astonishing how many folks are so seemingly single minded and fanatical about stairs. Nevertheless, I see parts of Eagle Rock, which despite years in the vicinity, I never knew existed. There are charming little cottages and spectacular views. The others are serious and scrupulous about making sure we achieved the 328 steps we are promised. The zealousness borders on creepy. Even though it's been billed as a hike, I don't break a sweat. There are walks scheduled at stairways throughout the city that I would never discover on my own. I suspect there are more stair walks in my future but my inner geek will always belong to The Replacements.