The story of Tommy Stinson might just shape the way music-lovers handle telemarketers forever.
The one-time Replacements bassist and current solo artist recently made some easy cash selling toner over the phone for a major telemarketing company. Did he get to meet some interesting people? "Uh ... yeah. That would be the understatement of the decade," Stinson says. "It was crazy, but I got good at it, and that was the scary thing."
Stinson's story seems one of rock lore. As a teenage thief (he stole only useful things, because he wasn't just "stealing just for the sake of stealing,") his brother Bob Stinson forced Tommy to be a part of his newly formed band, the Replacements. "The Mats" -- as they are lovingly called -- would go on to achieve massive amounts of critical acclaim smeared with all the usual rock star fanfare (drugs, egos, deaths, etc.). Inevitable break-up ensued, and after that came the well-recognized solo career of Paul Westerberg, the inevitable passing of Stinson's childhood, and some time with a few ex-cons selling toner to strangers. Then Stinson did the next most obvious thing: He joined Guns N' Roses ...
"November Rain" aside, why a former member of the Replacements would join a whacked out Axl Rose seems to defy explanation. It could not have been the appeal of Buckethead, because, as Stinson confides, "[Buckethead's] just about the most socially inept person I have ever come across. Even waking up in the day is uncomfortable for him. It's just a nightmare, hence he wears a fuckin' chicken bucket on his head." It certainly can't be for the glory, as the revamping of GNR only brought with it cancelled tours, bad press and those wretched braids on Rose's head. But Stinson is having a great time and being a member of such a huge music entity has its bonuses (read: press, arena tours, money). Now that Buckethead is gone, he has every intention of continuing. "Obviously we're bummed because the tour ended in a bad way. None of it had anything to do with us or Axl, it was another entity involved that made that such a nightmare," Stinson explains. "Hopefully we'll get the record out in a timely fashion and get out and try it again."
That's not to say the man isn't taking his solo career seriously. Having been in the business for over 20 years, Stinson's 37 years of age seem meager. "My heart, I suppose, is still intact from being a kid. I still have the same little kid excitement about music," he confesses.
His first solo effort, Village Gorilla Head -- a year in the making -- may not be the album for Westerberg darlings. Hell, it may not even be the album for Guns N' Roses fans. But it doesn't depart too far from either and, if nothing else, it's a valiant and solid effort from the soul of a true rock and roll boy. With his voice sounding a little Dylan, a little Mick Jagger, maybe even a little Elliott Smith, and the appropriately titled track "Not A Moment Too Soon," Stinson took on the challenge of his solo debut much the same way excess energy makes children run rather than walk -- he was simply anxious to see what's next.
"I kind of did it right in front of people," Stinson recalls of his decision to go frontman. "I didn't really take my time and ease into it." Westerberg can have his indie cred and Axl Rose can have his bandanas, but Stinson is the most eloquent in explaining how far he's come since his Mats days, "I was kind of a prick -- well from what I'm told by several people," he says, laughing. "I learned that that wasn't really becoming." Just don't hang up on him when he tries to sell you toner.
Catch Tommy Stinson at the World Cafe Live (3025 Walnut St.) on Wed., Feb. 2. 8 p.m. $10.