The Replacements, Euphoric Recall, Peter Jesperson

Peter Jesperson’s ‘Euphoric Recall’ Remembers His Wild Years with the Replacements

In Euphoric Recall, the Replacements’ manager Peter Jesperson is often as drunk as the band is, little more in control of their careening path than they are.

Euphoric Recall: A Half Century as a Music Fan, Producer, DJ, Record Executive, and Tastemaker
Peter Jesperson
Minnesota Historical Society
November 2023

It would be hard to think of another band as committed to not cleaning up their act as the Replacements. The band responded to most opportunities to position themselves for major success by going out of their way to drug heavily and suck publicly. They were both the best and worst live band people ever saw, full of high energy that could go either way, depending on their level of inebriation and quality of motivation.

Today, the Replacements stand in history as the exemplar of 1980s protest music: uncompromising and anti-corporate, authentically punk at heart, the genuine rock article on record and onstage, always putting their (lack of) money where their potty mouth was. They were almost painfully true to themselves and the “left of the dial”, as the song title of their de facto manifesto puts it.

Bound up in the Replacements’ fraught story is Peter Jesperson. The founder of Twin/Tone, which released the band’s early albums, and their first manager as well as coproducer of their first four albums, Jesperson launched and helped guide (and misguide) the Replacements’ career. In turn, they launched his and then changed its trajectory when they fired him in 1986. After struggling with alcoholism, Jesperson recovered and has had a long and sober career as a music industry professional, most notably as an A&R executive for New West Records.

Jesperson’s resume now includes the credit of memoirist. His debut book, Euphoric Recall, covers virtually his entire life in mostly anecdotal strokes, from his teenage years working at Minneapolis’ illustrious Guthrie Theater—still one of America’s most important theatrical institutions—to his post-New West life as a music industry freelancer. Euphoric Recall is an essential resource for Replacements fans, for adepts of Minneapolis’s indie rock scene of the ’70s and ’80s, and for anyone thinking that the indie rock music business of the era had any glamour or money in it whatsoever. It was a hard, hammered life. Jesperson nearly drank and drugged himself to death in his mid-30s, not terribly long after the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle claimed the Replacements’ guitarist, Bob Stinson.

Euphoric Recall gives a thorough account of Jesperson’s coming of age as a record store fixture (he ran Minneapolis’ legendary Oar Folkjokeopus) in an era when record stores were important drivers of the music sales industry, and as a rock club DJ, another trendsetting and tastemaking role. A true and total rock enthusiast but not a musician himself, he helped create and drive an indie scene from the inside, and when he discovered the Replacements, cofounded Twin/Tone, and signed the former to the latter, his destiny was set in motion.

People like Jesperson are (or were, anyway) essential to the viability of regional rock and pop music ecosystems. Euphoric Recall chronicles how Jesperson, his colleagues, and, of course, the Replacements formed part of a groundswell that eventually spilled out of Minneapolis and into the national consciousness, thanks in part to their connection with R.E.M., whose indie-turned-mainstream success carried the Replacements along on their current and made them natural confreres: alphabetically adjacent in record store bins, musically and ideologically connected in the world at large.

In the summer of 1983, Jesperson took a temp gig as R.E.M.’s road manager, with the Replacements’ blessing, or so Jesperson writes. He was startled when the Replacements fired him three years later, evidently harboring resentment that he’d left them for those few months. The R.E.M. section of Euphoric Recall is, in fact, somewhat inert: the tour, which included dates opening for the Police in mega-stadiums, went by without incident. (The nearest drama occurs when Jesperson almost whacks Sting with a swinging van door—but, alas, doesn’t quite.)

In Jesperson’s account, R.E.M. were a relatively phlegmatic and professional combo compared to the Replacements. Nearly every Replacements anecdote he shares seems to teeter on the edge of genius or disaster, whether the band is blowing everyone away with their live set in some college-town club, getting wasted before appearing on SNL (royally blowing a major chance at mainstream success), or trashing an expensive tour RV after they finally had major-label money to afford one. Jesperson’s A&R with the Replacements apparently stood for Amphetamines & Rip-roaring-drunk, and for a while, it worked perfectly for all parties. It’s easy enough to deduce that he was probably often as fucked up as the boys in the band were, little more in control of the Replacements’ careening path than they were.

By the time Jesperson chronicles his own crash-out in 1991—he nearly died from drink and had to go to rehab—his reader will have long since been tracking the mounting substance abuse and its effects on him and the Replacements. It’s just as well that the Replacements fired him in 1986, or they might all have perished, and it’s almost a relief when he finally hits bottom and lands in the hospital. The final third of Euphoric Recall naturally lacks the grip of Jesperson’s account of his years with the Replacements. Jesperson’s long recovery and mostly happy post-Replacements career don’t have that sense of drama or history-making resonance, notwithstanding that it’s heartening to read about his sober afterlife.

If the job description of tour managers is to keep their charges at least vaguely near the straight and narrow, then Jesperson stands as some kind of brilliant failure. The truism that a band’s manager needs to be someone who’ll discipline them at least a little seems to be affirmed by Jesperson’s inability or unwillingness to do it for the Replacements. Booze and drugs were major culprits, of course, but it also seems as though something deeper in Jesperson’s character was at work.

When R.E.M. decided not to retain Jesperson after the agreed-upon summer tour stint ended in 1983, the reason their manager Jefferson Holt gave Jesperson was that “they wanted someone who was more forceful, more of a bulldog, on the business side of things,” Jesperson writes. He was “too nice.” The problem with that niceness was that Jesperson didn’t have a problem with it. He liked being a nice guy, but he was holding down a job in which niceness was a liability.

Still, without him, we might not have the Replacements and their enduring music. Without the Replacements, we also might not know today who and how great Alex Chilton was and why he matters. We might not have Wilco (as Jeff Tweedy acknowledged), and R.E.M. would have flown the indie skies of the ’80s without their essential, livid copilot. Jesperson was in that cockpit with them, feeling the same turbulence and contributing it to himself. Given how wild the ride was, Euphoric Recall is a surprisingly anodyne and easygoing remembrance: there are moments when you almost wish one or both Stinsons would barge in and make some unwonted noise to shake things up.

Euphoric Recall also seems to elide as much as it includes. Jesperson has virtually no grievances to air or scores to settle, and he’s much longer on anecdote than insight. You can’t help but notice, for example, that there seem to have been virtually no women in the indie music game at all, which gives the book an inadvertent boys’ club feel (and sheds light on how unfortunately male the era was; it wasn’t until the ’90s that women broke into indie rock). But perhaps limitations like these are appropriate: the Replacements always had a modest audience—they’re a far bigger deal now than they ever were in the ’80s—and Jesperson’s book will appeal to a similarly narrow but enthusiastic readership. Still, as a complement to Bob Mehr’s definitive biography of the band Trouble Boys, Euphoric Recall provides valuable context, along with a backstage pass to Minneapolis indie rock history.

RATING 7 / 10