David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 89: The Replacements (Can't Hardly Wait)

July 24, 2020

When I was living in Bloomington, Indiana, in the late 1980's somebody stole a whole case of cassettes from my car. I was stupid as I left the car unlocked in the parking lot right outside of my apartment; in a college town, leaving music out in an unlocked car through the night should probably get you kicked out of grad school on general principle. I am sure the case was closed, so I figure that whatever punk stole it, ran about 500 yards to a store parking lot, opened the case, pulled out tape after tape and went "ew, what the hell is this?" and proceeded to throw most if not all of them in a dumpster.  The least he (or she) could have done is return them to the car with a note saying, "dude, you really need better taste in music."

Probably the most "popular" tape in there was Paul Simon's Graceland.  After that it was all downhill in terms of popularity. Many of the cassettes were mixed tapes, so if he could even read my handwriting, I can't imagine he wanted to hear the obscure tracks on them. Add in Graham Parker's Steady Nerves, The Pogues' Rum, Sodomy and The Lash, The Hindu Love Gods (REM and Warren Zevon collaborating to cover a bunch of blues artists . . . and "Raspberry Beret"), Richmond's Death Piggy (a present from my friend, Joe, replete with "Goats and Mangoes"), a collection of Australian underground bands from my trip to Australia in 1987, and The Replacements Pleased To Meet Me.  Most of these I never replaced, picking up (such as Graham Parker) the better songs from the cassettes on compilations or other releases.

Until this week, I forgot how much I loved Pleased To Meet Me. I have never been a huge Replacements' fan. I know they made their career by being sloppily great, but I focused too much on the sloppy and not enough on the great. Then last week I heard "Alex Chilton" off of a compilation and was reminded of the heights they could hit. The chorus to "Alex Chilton" is near perfect: "Children by the millions sing for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round/they sing, 'I'm in love. What's that song? I'm in love with that song.'" Try to walk away not humming that chorus.

"Alex Chilton" led me to go searching online for the other songs off of Pleased To Meet Me, which, thanks to the unregulated beauty of YouTube, can allow me to find the whole thing. Being the organized, at least in terms of music, guy I am in, I start listening to the songs in the album's original order. Good or bad, that made me wait a long time to get to "Can't Hardly Wait," the masterpiece from Pleased To Meet Me.

"Can't Hardly Wait" sounds like the kind of soul music Phil Collins wanted to make in the 1980's.  A crisp Paul Westerberg guitar riff that belies his punk roots, a funky Tommy Stinson bass line, Muscle Shoals-type horns filling up the spaces, and Chris Mars supplying the back rat-a-tat beat. Musically, it's about as lovely as The Replacements could get (something that they accomplished also on All Shook Down a few years later).

Even in the 80's when I owned the cassette, I don't think I realized how literally I was to take the album's title or cover.  The Replacements were transforming in front of everyone's eyes from ragmuffin punks to potential pop stars. I have no idea how coincidental it was, but for They Might Be Giants to release "We're The Replacements" at about the same time as Pleased To Meet Me, adds to the lovely confusion of who's The Replacements now versus who are the fake replacements (I am about ready to slide down The Vogues rabbit hole again).

I suppose in the long run it didn't matter as The Replacements never became anything bigger than a cult band, no matter how drunk and feverish that cult got. The lyrics may have been too heavy. In "Can't Hardly Wait," we have a drunk stoner wanting to come home, but unable "to hold a pen" to write a letter or perhaps even get the address correct on an envelope. "Jesus rides beside" him, he sings, noting that the savior "never buys any smokes," imploring him to "hurry up, hurry up," asking him if he "ain't had enough of this stuff/ashtray floors, dirty clothes and filthy jokes." It's a pretty depressing lyric, especially when you take into account that "the lights that flash in the evening/through a hole in the drapes" might symbolize a crack house our stoned narrator is collapsed in. All this sets up the devastating final line: "I'll be home when I'm sleeping/I can't hardly wait."

Apparently the record company or the producer asked Westerberg to rewrite this song from an earlier version that is much more overtly about suicide (apparently two songs about suicide, which includes "The Ledge," on Pleased To Meet Me is too much). This is the less suicidal version. Typical Westerberg, he didn't listen that closely.  Take out some references to being on top of "scummy water tower screaming I can't hardly wait" and this is still the same depressing song.

It's a damn sad song, especially as the closing track.  However, 33 years later, I can't hardly wait to get it back in my life.

"Can't Hardly Wait." The Replacements. Pleased To Meet Me. Sire. 1987. Link here.

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Day 90: Nada Surf "Popular." ->

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