When I heard that Slim Dunlap had suffered a stroke last February, I looked up the hospital address, put pen to paper and mailed a postcard for the first time in as long as I could remember. When a Facebook group sprung up so that he could get a steady stream of well-wishes (GO…..NOW), I knew I should take awhile to talk about how much he means to me. After all, his music has brought me a ton of happiness and I guess he called my girlfriend once when she was sick. I owe him. But I knew it wouldn’t be an easy task, so I put it off. I felt guilty knowing how hard he was fighting. Funny enough it was the Facebook version of this blog, where I’ve been writing about each cd I own alphabetically, that finally drove me to it. There he was, sitting quietly between Dukes of Stratosphear and Bob Dylan. Alright, it’s time.
A friend’s older brother first exposed me to the Replacements in their punk days and even though I got a steady supply of the ‘Mats from friends & the radio, I didn’t flip for them like so many thousands of people did in the 80’s. Even after seeing them play one helluva show in San Francisco on their final tour, I didn’t lapse into fandom. It was many years later, when trading bootlegs with someone I’d never met, that they insisted on sending me some live recordings. One listen to the infamous Shit, Shower & Shave boot from their tour with Tom Petty and I was hooked. I joined their online fan mailing list and was immediately overwhelmed by story after story of how much the band had meant to these fans. How they’d literally saved their lives.
It was during this time that I was living with my girlfriend, Summer. She’d just turned 21 and was finally able to go to as many shows as me when we heard that Slim Dunlap was coming to play the Casbah in San Diego. Even though it was a weeknight, I assumed that rabid Replacements fans would be out in droves. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There were maybe 20 people there, so Slim invited people to sit onstage and even join in. He was so endearing that we all hushed up and busted our mouths smiling so much. Even the buzzing PA couldn’t ruin it, though I finally asked the soundman about it. “It’s his amp,” he said. “He won’t let me fix it!” It took me awhile to get the guts but I asked if I could throw brushes on a snare even though I’d barely ever touched the drums. Slim took pity on me and we got through Hank’s “Jambalaya” just fine.
Summer had started to take a notebook to shows to draw and commemorate each night out. She was a prolific, hilarious, genius artist, who drew just for the love of it. An art teacher of hers once said “I wish I was drawing lines like that when I was your age.” I haven’t put any of her artwork online in over a decade. Here’s what she drew that night….
Slim Dunlap/Jude (cancelled) @Casbah 9/27/97. Got us selves some coffee + the doorman (Andrew) some coffee. Me iced mocha x2. Mr door iced cap x2. Now I’m sitting in the outdoor Casbah sitting zoo. You can hear the planes out here. Punk zebra. Some guy is inside just bouncing a q-ball off the bumper.
Summer sitting outside. Car becomes face (a common theme). Sees someone dressed like our friend Mike Flynn.
The opening act, LA singer Jude, cancelled. She draws objects on the Casbah patio.
“Rock is dead but Dillon (sic) lives!” says Slim as he starts. Lots of pretty girls here tonight. Her stomach is in a spin cycle. She needs some shuteye.
He had a drummer and bass player that played on a few songs. One fantastic one was called “The Breeders Cannonball” about how he was all mixed up because some people wanted to hear the Breeders song but he thought they wanted Ernest Tubb’s “Wabash Cannonball”. Years later I tried to track it down and finally found it on a 2000 compilation of songs recorded at Missoula, Montana’s KBGA called Copper Wire. The station was so shocked that I wanted a copy that they refused to charge me and wanted to know how many I wanted, since they still had hundreds. Just one, thanks. God bless the internet. Finally put it up for all to hear on Soundcloud but got lax in keeping up my account. Fittingly enough “Bobstinsonsghost” put it up on Youtube….
Afterwards, outside Slim kept a small group of us entertained for a long while with stories. One must’ve been about how someone in South America told him how much he loved dancing to his album.
Immortalized and autographed.
He was so sweet that, when we were walking back to the car, one of us suggested that we give him a Cornymonica. We’d found them recently at Pic N Save and they were so amazing, we stood and stared in hysterics for a good minute or so with passersby giving us funny looks. Not only was it a barely functional musical instrument, but just LOOK at the outfit you could wear while playing it and the kick-ass backing band and lightshow you would surely need. We bought every one they had and figured Slim would appreciate it more than anyone.
When we got back to the club he was still outside telling stories. We waited and then presented him with it, not totally sure how he would take it. He stared at it confused for a few seconds and then his face lit up. “WOW!” he exclaimed. “I can’t wait to show this to a friend of mine who’s a corn farmer! Everything in his whole house is made of corn! The curtains, the furniture….” and off he went into another amazing story.
It was a few months later, in the beginning of 1998 that Summer became ill and was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Part of the plan to keep her in good spirits was to have some of her favorite musicians contact her. David J sang to her over the phone. Jonathan Richman let me film him singing a song just for her from the Casbah stage after he played. Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel dedicated a song to her from the band’s last Los Angeles show at Spaceland. I put the word out through the Replacements mailing list, Skyway, to see if someone would tell Slim, who was touring, to get a hold of me so he could call her in the hospital. To some mystery person’s credit, they did and his call thrilled her. She sadly passed away in April feeling more loved than ever. Thousands of people flocked to a website set up to wish her well (archived here with lots of great drawings & pictures) and thousands more learned about her thanks to the Songs For Summer memorial album featuring some of her favorite musicians.