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Paul Westerberg: Empathy for all ages

Paul Westerberg, singing from the perspective of a variety of losers, loners and lost causes.
Photo by Stacy Schwartz
Paul Westerberg, singing from the perspective of a variety of losers, loners and lost causes.

“Ghost on the Canvas,” Paul Westerberg’s beautiful new song and video recorded by Glen Campbell, is yet another powerful example of the former Replacements leader’s long legacy of putting himself in another’s shoes.

Though not written specifically about Campbell’s early-stages Alzheimer’s (the tune was written in 2009), the plight of the fading 75-year-old singer’s memory is obviously not lost on Westerberg, who has spent a lifetime singing from his own guts, and from the perspective of a variety of losers, loners and lost causes.

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” wrote Henry David Thoreau, and Westerberg has consistently practiced as much with his art, from his teenage laments “16 Blue” and “The Ledge” to the shout-outs to kindred spirits in “Achin’ to Be” and “Here Comes a Regular.”

For me, the one that’s been playing in tandem with “Ghost” is “Everyone’s Stupid,” which Westerberg introduced at First Avenue a few years ago by saying, “Really quickly, it’s about a friend of my son’s. His parents got divorced, and they were going to tell him after the last basketball game. Everybody knew but him. It was a horrible day, and I went home and I thought this is what he would think.”

So let’s call the 51-year-old Westerberg a sandwich-generation advocate for both ends of the age spectrum: At a time when the entire nation is haunted by an image of one helpless child in a college football locker room, at a time when Me culture so often and regularly partakes in a form of world-class narcissism, it’s refreshing to hear Westerberg, as he so often has, looking out for the other guy.

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