Album: Pleased to Meet Me
. . .
One foot in the door, the other foot in the gutter
After the uncharacteristic sincerity of “Alex Chilton,” things were almost instantly back to normal with the raucous, rollicking “I Don’t Know,” which starts out with a fucked-up drum loop inserted by meddling producer Jim Dickinson over which was heard crazy laughter dominated by Tommy Stinson’s cackling. When the song proper started, it was another speedy rocker fueled by a series of shouted questions from Paul, each one answered the same way from Tommy and Chris.
Do we give it up? (I don’t know)
Should we give it hell? (I don’t know)
Are you makin’ a fortune? (I don’t know)
Or don’t you wanna tell? (I don’t know)
Should we give it up? (I don’t know)
Or hang around some more? (I don’t know)
Should we buy some beer? (I don’t know)
Can I use your hairspray?
The third straight fast one in a row to start off Pleased to Meet Me, “I Don’t Know” is also the funniest and most revealing of the “state of the ‘Mats” songs that Paul wrote throughout their career, fueled by the contrast between Paul’s increasingly looney questions and the bored, dull answers, topped by a chorus that laid out Paul’s ambivalence about success.
One foot in the door
The other foot in the gutter
The sweet smell that you adore
Yeah, I think I’d rather smother
And they keep it up going into the second vers– wait, hold on, what’s that sound? Is that a goddamned saxophone? What is this, fucking Bruce Springsteen or some shit?
It’s true, ladies and gents, Pleased to Meet Me was the album where the Replacements well and truly expanded their musical palette, using the lack of their former lead guitarist to experiment sonically. On “I Don’t Know,” it was just a goddamned saxophone, played by Teenage Steve Douglas, but on other songs, meddling producer Jim Dickinson — using the sobriquet “East Memphis Slim” (which led to a lot of confusion when I found out that someone named “Slim Dunlap” joined the band) — played keyboards. Fine, the Rolling Stones and The Clash both used saxophones and keyboards on albums whose sweet smell I adored, so it was fine that the Replacements did, as well. Just no fucking strings, OK? Good.
Should we top it off? (I don’t know)
It’s startin’ to smoke (I don’t know)
Who’s behind the board? (I don’t know)
They tell me he’s a dope (I don’t know)
What the fuck you sayin’? (I don’t know)
Our lawyer’s on the phone (I don’t know)
How much are you in for? (I don’t know)
What did we do now?
Westerberg’s yawp on “what did we do now?” has the exact right amounts of pride, defensiveness and resignation, no doubt being something that he had to say the many times he woke up and wondered where he was. In any event, it also signals the craziness that dominates the second half of “I Don’t Know,” where after the second chorus, the call and response changes to:
and then the whole song just stops. Done. Finished. Kaput.
Whereupon Paul counts from 4-12 (as you do), and Teenage Steve Douglas basically goes: “yeah, you heard right, it’s a goddamned sax, and I’ll be pretty much soloing in the background for the rest of the song.”
After that, it’s the abbreviated third verse.
Are you guys still around? (I don’t know)
Whatcha gonna do with your lives?
That last one, BTW, I think is Paul answering himself, and for me, turned “I Don’t Know” into a slacker anthem a few years before the term was used to describe me and my people. In 1987, “nothing” was pretty much my plan for my life. After that, “I Don’t Know” basically disintegrates — I mean as much as you can while Chris Mars is keeping a big stomping beat — into a plethora of sax, guitars, bass disco runs and Paul sounding like he needed to be taken back down to the hospital while Chris and Tommy screamed for joy.
Oh!, awwwwww! (wee-ooh!)
Oh!, owwwwww! (wee-ooh!)
Awwwwwww!, awwwwwww! (wee-ooh!)
This basically went on until the fade, an utter cacophony of madness as strange and weird and rocking and fun as anything they’d yet recorded. And somehow epitomizing the contrasting poles of cockiness and insecurity continued to define the ‘Mats. In the process they managed to make one of Paul’s most trenchant lyrics sound like a throwaway. Or was it a throwaway that somehow contained some of Paul’s most trenchant lyrics. Either way, it was a neat trick.
“I Don’t Know”
“I Don’t Know (Demo)”
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