Brilliant Band Biography: Trouble Boys: the true story of The Replacements

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Replacements are one of the most fascinating rock’n’roll bands of the 80s (maybe of the entire last century), first and foremost because—despite their talent—they never really got that famous. I myself am not a lifelong fan; but after being introduced to the ‘Mats earlier this summer, I haven’t stopped listening to them, and just had to read their recently published biography. Trouble Boys, by Bob Mehr, is an intricately researched book about the band that explores not only the roots of all the band members, but carries readers through their years together, breakup, and ultimate reunion in 2012.

The four original band members—guitarist and lead singer Paul Westerberg, guitarist Bob Stinson, bassist Tommy Stinson and drummer Chris Mars—are all Minnesota natives with troubled childhoods that haunted them throughout their careers. The band formed in Minneapolis in 1979 and began performing locally, gaining attention not only for their sound but because bassist Tommy was only 12 years old at the time. Alcoholism and mental health issues plagued the band, and Paul is quoted as once saying that “there isn’t a high school diploma or a drivers’ license among us,” but that didn’t stop them from rising up within the underground rock scene of the early 80s. One of the best things about the Replacements is the drastic dichotomy in the types of songs they wrote. Their second album, Hootenanny, opens with a song of the same name involving a seemingly drunken Westerberg yelling only “It’s a hootenanny” over and over, accompanied by vaguely coherent drums and guitar. On the same album though, is a deeply sensitive song called “Within Your Reach.” A fan favorite song is “Alex Chilton,” a tribute to the lead singer of Big Star, whom the Replacements were heavily influenced by and worked with at various points. The band inexplicably decided to name their first major-label album Tim, which was well-received but lead to a disastrous performance on Saturday Night Live, after which the Replacements were banned from ever playing the show again. Time marched on, Bob Stinson was fired dramatically, more albums were made (including the beautiful Pleased To Meet Me), the band broke up, and then the Replacements finally set out on a reunion tour in 2012 that concluded with their supposed “final show ever” in Portugal on 2015.

Trouble Boys tells this wild story and more of it in much greater, more vivid detail and draws on hundreds of interviews from the band members themselves, and others who knew them and worked with them over the past decades. Reading it, it’s hard not to have a soft spot for these, indeed, troubled boys from the Midwest who just wanted to play music and drink beer, but perhaps did both of those things a little too well.

Want to hear some of the Replacements’ music before reading? Try Let It Be, Tim or Pleased To Meet Me.


This sounds like a really absorbing read, even for people who might not be big fans. Thanks for the in-depth review.

I enjoy that we are highlighting books on music and musicians.