Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bob Stinson

It's hard for me to believe that Bob Stinson, founding guitarist of The Replacements, died 10 years ago today. He's probably my all-time favorite guitarist and has long been a hero of mine for the simple fact that he was so talented and also so screwed up he squandered it all. Or did he? He simply was who he was and I love that guy. I've been a big Replacements fan for a long time and it was Bob's insane guitar work that brought me in. Later I got hooked on Westerbergs lyrics, but it was Bob who got me first.

He was a funny, bnoxious, loser, winner, drunk sweetheart and I wish I could've seen him play. In rememberance of one of my true heroes, here's a eulogy delivered at Bob Stinson's funeral. See you at that swingin' party down the line, Bob....

Here is his eulogy, as delivered by Jim Walsh of the St. Paul Pioneer
Press at his funeral at the McDivitt-Hauge funeral home on February 22,


Words fail me, as they have failed most of us over the past few days.
Yesterday, Carleen asked me if I had known Bob very well. I couldn't
rightfully say that I did in the traditional sense of the term. For
that reason, I was a little reticent when Anita asked me to deliver
this eulogy. But like everyone here, and another multitude who aren't,
I know Bob's spirit very well.

And it is a spirit, as I have discovered, that is next to impossible
to hold in a room, pin down on a piece of paper, or capture with a
couple of stories. At first, I didn't have my own words, so I stole
someone else's. This is from "On The Road" by Jack Kerouac:

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to
live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same
time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn,
burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders
across the stars, and in the middle you see the blue center light pop,
and everybody goes, 'Awwwww.'"

That was Bob. That is Bob. And you know what I mean, because we all
have our Bob stories. They're etched in our faces, planted in our
hearts, like seeds we never thought would ever bloom into anything much
more than memory. Of course, now we know better. This week, all the
seeds blossomed into vines, and tangled permanently around our hearts.
This week, we learned a lot about Bob, a lot about ourselves, and just
how much we will miss this fabulous yellow roman candle.

Bob stories. Over the past few days, I've had the privilege of hearing
quite a few told and retold. It was like a wonderful game of dominoes
that elicited as many tears as laughs. Everybody recounting tales about
Bob's wit, his loving gentleness, his sense of humor, his appetite for

And, as a matter of fact, there have been an inordinate amount of
stories about just his appetite.

Anita remembers when Bob was five years old. The family had moved from
Minnesota to San Diego, and Bob and Lonnie made a practice of taking
the 25 cents Anita would give them for the church basket, and buy
cherry pies. Clearly, it was a pattern that would play itself out in
adulthood, or when Dog's Breath, and later the Replacements, started
up, Anita remembers feeding the entire band, and often a slew of their
friends, after they'd practiced at the houses on 36th and Bryant and
22nd and Dupont. Bob would always eat his fair share. With the
Replacements, his penchant for eating fast food in the van earned him
the nickname of Bob "To Go" Stinson. As the rest of the guys would sit
in the restaurant, Bob would go in, get his food, come back and sit
alone in the van until he was ready to eat. Two hours would pass,
sometimes, before he'd dig in. Peter always figured it was because he
liked to eat his food at room temperature.

One of my earliest food memories of Bob is 15 years ago, when the
'Mats were making "Sorry Ma" over at Blackberry Way. Steve Fjelstad and
Peter were in the control room, and had just finished a take, and they
were getting ready to do another. Suddenly, Bob was nowhere to be
found. Then just as suddenly, he was back. Before anyone could say,
"Where's Bob?" he had snuck out of the studio, raced to Burger King
which was a good two blocks away and returned. He set up his Whopper,
fries, and Coke on his amp and was ready to go.

One of the last times I saw him, we sat at a bar and I bought Bob and
Mike Leonard some drinks. Bob caressed the menu, rolled his eyes with
that coy look he'd give you, but he never asked, because that wasn't
his style. He just looked at me out of the corner of those mischievous
winking eyes until I melted, caved in, and bought him a cheeseburger
and fries.

Bob stories. It seems like we've been telling them for most of our
lives, and I have a very good feeling that it is a tradition that will
not end after today. Carleen remembers his love for skipping stones,
fishing, walking around the lakes and by the railroad tracks, and as a
father who loved Joey with the fierce, all-encompassing passion of a
papa bear. Tommy remembers his as a great brother, the two of them
running around the house as kids, flicking the sides of each other's
heads with their fingers until it felt like their ears were going to
fall off.

Chris remembers the day Bob physically grabbed then 12-year-old Tommy,
who was running around with his friends, by the shoulders, and dragged
him into a Dog's Breath practice. Like any good big brother, he talked
the other guys into letting the kid play with the bigger kids. Paul
remembers Bob's special genius, his ability to rail against the stuffed
shirts, the status quo with aplomb. Paul calls it, "creative insanity."

My memory is of him walking, always walking down Hennepin, around the
lakes, down Lyndale, clutching that omnipresent brown bag of his. I
swear I saw him last night around midnight on 22nd and Hennepin I even
did a double take and I wouldn't be surprised if it was him. Last
night. That's when it hit me: the streets of this town are going to be
a lot quieter, and a hell of a lot less fun, without our Spanky roaming
them. Patrolling them.

Bob stories. The ones that probably stick in most of our heads are the
ones that have to do with his guitar. It all started on Christmas in
1969, when Anita bought Bob his first guitar, an acoustic one. He took
to it right away. By then, the family had moved from San Diego to West
Palm Beach, Florida, where Bob played softball, joined Cub Scouts, and
continued a love for the water that had started in California. Anita
remembers the time he took a summer job mowing lawns, and, after a
rainfall, tore up a customer's lawn on a riding mower. Clearly,
landscaping was not his forte.

Around the same time, he learned how to play guitar, and he made some
very good friends through it. When Bob's grandfather died in 1973,
Anita moved the family back to Minnesota, to the house on 36th and
Bryant. Bob was 15 at the time, and the move was rough on him. He found
solace, and learned to express what he couldn't verbalize, through his

For the first couple years after moving to Minneapolis, Bob was
unhappy until he found friends, again with his music. First time Christ
ever saw him, Bob was bumming around the neighborhood on a girl's bike.
He had long hair, like his hero, Steve Howe [of Yes], and was sitting
on the curb smoking a cigarette, sneaking a listen to Christ playing
guitar and drums up in the bedroom. They eventually hooked up, formed
Dog's Breath, and later the Replacements. The rest, as Anita says, "was

Throughout his life, the guitar was Bob's main mode of expression. And
even though he will be remembered most as founder of the Replacements,
the fact is, he got just as much joy playing in Static Taxi, as the
collage attests, the Bleeding Hearts, and the numerous other bands he
played with over the past few years. He brought the same
no-holds-barred approach to all o fit. He did not play for fame or
wealth. He played simply because, as he once said, "I have a gas
playing the guitar."

That was abundantly clear, just from watching or listening to him. He
became an inspiration to hundreds of thousands of guitarists out there,
but there never has been and never will be another guitar player like
this one.

I'm sorry to have to bring everybody down ever more, but I have to
report that I saw the Eagles last night. Bob was there, too during
"Rocky Mountain Way." But I'm here today to say that there are
countless quote musicians out there like the ilk of the Eagles rich,
famous, practiced, accomplished, clean, stylish who don't, in the
entire membership or body of work, have the artistry, abandon,
instinct, ability, guts, humor, or feel that Smokin' Bob Stinson had in
his little finger.

There are a million Eagles out there, but there was only one Bob

More than any guitar player I have ever seen or heard, Bob had an
uncanny ability to actually fuse his personality with his guitar, and
express himself through it. His leads made you actually crawl inside
him they were funny, intense, sad, and joyful, all at once.

Chris talks about when the 'Mats would do "Rock Around the Clock" at
100 miles an hour, and about how much he loves it when the lead came,
and Bob would, unfailingly, nail t to the floor. There are countless
other such moments you could name: the other worldly magic "Go" and
"Johnny's Gonna Die," the manic force of "Dose Of Thunder," the goofy
insanity of "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out," the barely controlled chaos
of "Customer," and on and on and on.

Along with his playing, of course, there was Bob's special panache he
rough to the stage. I remember that magnificent face, scrunched up like
he had a secret. I remember his falsetto on "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,
Yeah" and "Little G.T.O." I remember him ripped off a lead he'd be
particularly proud of, flicking his wrist like "waiter, my check," then
patting himself on the back, all in one motion.

And, of course, there was the wardrobe. The gorgeous, and always
tasteful, dresses. The Hefty garbage bags. The overalls. The Prince
"1999" t-shirt. The little jean jacket. The genie get-up that prompted
Chris to start calling him "Sim Salabim." One night at Duffy's, my big
brother and I rolled a garbage can up on stage. It came to rest
perfectly, next to Paul. Bob pulled it back by the drum riser and
climbed in it as the band spun into "Rattlesnake" or something.

Halfway through, the thing tipped over in slow motion, and Bob and the
entire contents beer bottles, food wrappers, everything- spilled out
all over the stage. I remember being worried about Bob for a second,
but he kept playing, never missed a beat, and popped up, indestructible
as ever. And when he did, we all saw that he'd lost his skirt and that
he was buck naked underneath.

To this day, I have never laughed harder or had a single moment so
fill me with the pure wonder and liberational power of rock n' roll.
That power was evident off stage as well. Paul talks about the last
time he saw Bob. They were both walking on the same block, at different
ends of the street, and they met in the middle. They hadn't seen each
other in a while, but they talked about guitars, music, and Tommy like
no time at all had passed.

Others have said the same thing. Bob was one of those guys you had an
ongoing conversation with. It always seemed like you picked up where
you left off with him, even though you weren't even quite sure if he
remembered you, or if you had mattered to him. But then he'd amaze you
with some remembrance, or a lost nugget that he wanted to tell you that
he'd filed away in that wonderful spin art mind of his.

Slim remember Bob as a teacher; the most uncompetitive, giving
musician he's ever met. Lori Barbero remembers the last time she saw
Bob. He was tugging on her shirt at the Uptown, urgently, peskily,
until she finally turned around and gave him a hug. He didn't want
anything else. That was all. That's all he wanted to give, and to get.
A hug. In some of their last encounters with Bob, Peter and Jim Boquist
had similar experiences: After a typically all-over-the-map Bob
conversation, he surprised them both with a hasty, out-of-the-blue,
"Love ya, man."

Yesterday, Anita got a letter from one of Bob's many fans. "I'm not
sure guys like Bob know what they mean to people who love their music,"
he wrote. "For me, Bob's guitar playing always made me feel like I
should keep moving in life, no matter how much the odds seemed stacked
against me. I grew up with Bob as one of my heroes. He will always be
one of my heroes, somebody I'll tell my kids about someday."

I think that pretty much sums it up for all of us. Late Monday night
as I was gathering my thoughts to write this, my little brother called
me up on the phone, and he was sobbing. He articulated some things that
I had been feeling; that Bob's death was more than the passing of a
tremendous musician, a wonderful father, son, brother, friend, husband,
grandson, or uncle. He said that a little bit of all of us had died
with him.

I suppose that's what people say whenever someone dies, but everyone
here knows exactly how true it is. The weird thing of it is, my little
brother had never even seen Bob play. Still, he felt it. He felt the
connection. He felt the spirit. He felt the loss.

And at the end of the day, that may have been Bob's greatest
contribution: through his guitar, through his magnanimous good nature,
he made people feel like they were his closest friend. Better yet, he
made us feel like we were in on that secret little joke that hid behind
his omnipresent grin.

There are people in this room that I haven't seen, or seen together,
for a very long time. Leave it to Bob to get us all together for one
more swingin' party. HE would've thought the suits and ties and pomp
and circumstance were silly, he would have wondered where the beer was,
and he would have been embarrassed by all the attention and the tears.
And what his passing means I can't begin to explain, but as Robert
Frost said: "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about
life: It goes on."

And Bob goes on. On the phone the other night, through his tears, my
little brother told me that his band played "Sixteen Blue" at the
Cabooze last week, and that when he went to Slim's gig Saturday night
at the 400 Bar, Slim played one of his newer songs, "Big Star Big," and
sang, "I wanna be a big star like Bob Stinson." At this, my little
brother and I were both getting pretty choked up, so we started to say
goodbye. As we were about to hang up, I heard myself say something that
I haven't said to him in a very long time:

"Love ya, man."

In the past few days, you've probably said something like that to
someone you haven't said that to in a very long time. Rock n' roll
doesn't always lend itself to such blatant sentimentality, but this
week we have all been provided with a chance to get a little closer to
each other, and a lot of unspoken feelings have been spoken. WE have
been reminded that people are precious, that the bonds that we have
made through this slippery thing called rock music are not dismissible,
or intangible, or imaginary, or Other. They are real. For that, for all
of that and so much more, we have Bob to thank.

So thank you, Bob. Thank you for bringing us, all of us, together not
just for a day, today, but for yesterday, all the yesterdays, and
tomorrow. Thank you for touching us, for linking us, for helping us to
recognize all the phony bullshit, all the stuff that doesn't matter,
that the world throws our way. Thank you for cutting through the crap,
always. Thank you for making us feel like we were part of something,
like it was us against the world, and you were the third base coach,
wildly waving us all in. Jumping up and down. In a dress.

Most of all, thank you for allowing us to glimpse, ever so briefly,
your irrepressible, childlike spirit. Thank you for allowing us,
forcing us, to acknowledge the very natural connection between
hopelessness and happiness. Thank you for this glorious gift. Thank
you, you fabulous yellow roman candle, for lighting our fuse. May it
never burn out.


We miss you, Bob.


Anonymous said...

No comments for Bob. Now that's sad as hell.

Ten years. Hard to believe. Reading this really brings me back. 22nd and Hennepin, The Cabooze, The Uptown. Man oh man. The past is a heavy weight for something that doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

Ready this is choking me up. I miss Bob.

Anonymous said...

amazing eulogy. 10 years. thats insane. seems like yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Just found this page, love what is written here. Now I know a lot more about where all that beautiful guitar work came from. Then I listened to Let It Be.

Anonymous said...

Spin did an amazing piece on Bob right around the time of his death. I've been looking for it ever since.

Bob's story is one of the great triumphs and tragedies of rock and roll. I spun "Here Comes A Regular" in honor of him while reading that tremendous eulogy.

Anonymous said...

i remember when bob passed it was one of the worse days of my life...i didnt know this was here and i stumbled across word glad i read it

r. w. krause said...

you know i'm reading this 17 years after bob has passed and the words still ring true... i had let it be on today and it reminded me of bob who is one of my favorite guitarists and someone who has influenced my own playing. yeah paul is a genius but bob was the spirit of the band. (No knock on Slim) So much of the sound was bob. the octave leads on tommygets his tonsils out. the slide guitar on unsatisfied; hospital was bob's lead to me... i've heard the song a million times and can barely remember the lyrics, but the lead is still fresh 27 years later i only saw the matts with bob once all the other times pale in comparison. just missing bob stinson today long may he live in our hearts and minds