Sunday, 28 September 2008

Paul Westerberg & Reno

I tried and tried to get Paul Westerberg to contribute to I Shot a Man in Reno. I’d interviewed him a few times before and we always hit it off, and with or without the Replacements Westerberg has written some seriously weighty songs about death. “The Ledge” (from Pleased To Meet Me, which has just been reissued with extra bells and whistles, alongside the rest of Replacements back catalogue) is perhaps the best, one of the great songs of teen empathy, putting itself in the shoes of a boy about to jump to his death. It’s not melodramatic or gratuitous or told with a transparent emo-relish. It just cuts straight to the heart of the matter. The video, such as it is, conforms to the ‘Mats classic anti-MTV mode. But never mind the pictures, listen to the voice and the words.

Anyway, for one reason or another I never quite pinned Westerberg down for the book, though the Replacements are well covered in its pages. However, I spoke with him again for an hour last week, for a feature that will run soon in the Guardian. Towards the end we got talking about our kids – his ten-year old son Johnny is just a little older than my eldest daughter – and I finally got to steer him towards death.

“My son knows more about the Replacements than I think he knows. I just have to talk to him a little bit about drugs and alcohol. We had a wonderful night together recently when we watched Lust For Life, about Vincent Van Gogh. I forced him to watch it and tried to explain how some people are ahead of their time and laughed at, and looked upon as fools, and he had a lot of very hard questions – why did he kill himself? I felt like I could answer that, but I had to pretend that I had no idea why someone would want to take their own life. But he’s going to find out that I’ve certainly written about that particular event in other people’s lives. It’s one of my topics. I’ve never been one to write about sex, I tend to be more like [Jim] Morrison or someone, who is obsessed with death.

As a listener, do you actively seek out music that deals with issues relating to death?
"Sure. I’ve found great solace listening to bluegrass music on Saturday mornings, knowing that there’s an entire art form that came from England or Ireland that deals with death as part of the songs – they’re all about murder, death and suicide. I mean, Hank Williams, half of his songs were about going down three times and coming up twice. I've always loved that. It’s good to know that I’m not alone. But I feel like I'm damned to live! That's the problem. Only the good die young, which means I'll live forever."


Anonymous said...

"But I feel like I'm damned to live! That's the problem."

Brilliant! You gotta love Mr Paul Westerberg. Thanks for sharing.

John Mark said...

"Towards the end we got talking about our kids ... and I finally got to steer him towards death."

Ha ha... awesome!

Anonymous said...

How is that awesome?. He's a real person with real issues about serious things in life like any of us. He's just being honest and a bit ironic and sardonic as usual.
It is a good interview though, short or not.