Rock and roll is a business largely founded on a kind of voyeuristic cannibalism: Take the most vulnerable, volatile performers you can find, place them in the most intense circumstances imaginable, and watch what happens next. A lot of times what happens next is grim, sometimes lethal. By rock and roll’s demented logic, that can be kind of OK too, as those artists failing to survive the crucible achieve a sort of special martyrdom, and also become reliable commodities in perpetuity. To term this attitude exploitative would be an understatement, but from Eddie Cochran to Elliot Smith, that’s a big part of how the game has been played.
Paul Westerberg always seemed to understand that for the kind of band he was going to run, danger was a part of deal. Indeed, the Replacements seemed to revel in it. One of their very first songs was a tribute to Westerberg’s great hero and soon-to-be inevitable heroin casualty Johnny Thunders. On “Johnny’s Gonna Die,” Westerberg sings with an offhand casualness: “Johnny always takes more then he needs / knows a couple chords / knows a couple leads / and Johnny’s gonna die.” The sentiment is decidedly not, “Hey, we should probably do something before Thunders finally kicks it!” It’s more like he’s noting the weather outside, an absolutely prosaic dispatch. Westerberg even ends the song with a sort of cheerful refrain of “bye, bye” — it was 10 years before Thunders would finally leave the building, but the Replacements had already skipped ahead to the eulogy.
Original Website: Stereogum