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2004.08.25 - The Oregonian - Stinson Hits New Artistic Peak

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2004.08.25 - The Oregonian - Stinson Hits New Artistic Peak Empty 2004.08.25 - The Oregonian - Stinson Hits New Artistic Peak

Post by Blackstar on Wed Aug 26, 2020 11:25 am



Guns N' Roses was once famous as the ultimate high-rolling, hard-partying rock 'n' roll band. Since 1997, when Tommy Stinson joined as bassist, the group has instead been one of the music world's biggest mysteries. It has performed in public very rarely and usually outside of the United States. Already a tarnished star for his onstage temper tantrums and last-minute cancellations, bandleader Axl Rose is gaining a reputation as a sort of rock version of Howard Hughes.

So, what has it been like being in GNR the past several years: "The Wild Bunch" or "The Invisible Man"?
"That's hysterical!" says Stinson -- currently on a tour of his own -- when the question is put to him. "For me? 'The Invisible Man,' and I'm totally into it. We played to 250,000 in Brazil, 35,000 in Japan, 15,000 in London. And I could walk to the front of the room and nobody would notice me. It was great."

The Axl-loving masses may not know who Tommy Stinson is, but the 37-year-old musician has a special place in rock history and lore. The band he joined at age 13 (or 12, depending on the account) grew within a few years into one of the most beloved and influential groups of the 1980s American rock underground, the Replacements.

Stinson's baby brother status (his older brother, Bob, was the band's original lead guitarist) was immortalized in tunes such as "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out," but the boy wonder didn't restrict himself to milk and cookies. The Replacements were known for dancing on a tightrope between inspiration and raggedness, using alcohol as a lubricant in either direction. The band's shows could distill all the raw glories of great rock 'n' roll or they could wobble right off the rails.

Two extreme examples of the latter occurred in the late '80s at the now-defunct Pine Street Theater. On the first occasion, the band tossed a couch out of a second-floor dressing room window several hours before showtime, then hit the stage clearly still inebriated. On the next trip to town, Stinson and frontman Paul Westerberg were so soused that they could hardly play at all, and spent three quarters of the show stumbling around with their pants bunched about their ankles. The band's next LP, "Don't Tell a Soul," came with a small inscription in the vinyl: "Sorry Portland."

These days, Stinson is far from the "Behind the Music" burnout you might expect. In fact, he's reached a new artistic peak with his debut solo album, "Village Gorilla Head," arguably the best release yet by any former member of the Replacements. Recorded piecemeal during breaks from GNR duties, the album shows tremendous growth in songwriting quality and stylistic range from Stinson's short-lived bands Bash & Pop and Perfect.

"I didn't intentionally set out to make a weird record, but one where each song is its own character," he says. Fittingly, the album veers confidently from Dylanesque country rock to Rolling Stones/New York Dolls glam boogie to the kind of biting yet vulnerable Everyman poetry that Westerberg once did so well. Stinson plays bass, most of the guitars and keyboards, and sings with winning conviction.

For his Thursday night show at Ash Street Saloon, he'll open on his own, then be backed by Seattle's worthy Alien Crime Syndicate.

Stinson says he doesn't feel weighted by the legacy of the Replacements or the association with Guns N' Roses. And if he's famous mostly to guys who were in college 15-20 years ago, he's deservedly happy with "Village Gorilla Head" and confident that he can stand on his own musically.

"I've been around and people either come out (to the shows) or they don't," he says. "People are coming around, and younger people are digging that (Replacements) stuff up. So hopefully it'll be more than just those people reliving their drunken Replacements experiences. If that's what they wanna do, I'll welcome them; but I'd like it to be more than that."

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